Anglican wars: Who's calling who a "dissenter"?

Press coverage of the Episcopal House of Bishops is rather low key at this point, since anyone who has covered this story for a decade or two knows this "pastoral oversight" document isn't going anywhere. This conclusion is crisply stated, as one would expect, in a lead written by AP's Richard Ostling. Note that a British paper ran his story with the futility angle out front, at least on its website. Ostling wrote: "Episcopal Church leaders have offered a plan to help reconcile the denomination's split over the acceptance of gay clergy, but one cleric said the proposal was 'dead on arrival.' "

This is also a case in which -- even in short news stories -- it is interesting to compare the work of two veteran God-beat reporters who work in the same area code. That would be Alan Cooperman at the Washington Post and Julia Duin at the Washington Times. Of particular interest is Cooperman's summary statement:

To try to head off a schism, the archbishop of Canterbury summoned international leaders of the 75 million-member Anglican Communion to a summit in October in London, where they urged the U.S. church to make "adequate provision" for outside bishops to minister to the dissenters.

Here we have the whole story in a nutshell. Is this a story about the U.S. Episcopal Church or is it a story about the worldwide Anglican Communion? How you answer this question affects how you use that crucial word "dissenters," which is the kind of label that changes everything.

If this is a global story, then the majority view of the doctrinal issues involved is traditional. That means that the "dissenters" are the leaders of the Episcopal left who have stepped out in opposition to the overwhelming majority of traditional Anglicans, led by bishops in Africa, Asia and lots of other places far from New York City and London. This would mean that the U.S. conservatives, rather than being "dissenters" are normal members of the larger Anglican body.

But if this is essentially a U.S. story, then Cooperman is correct. This is a small band of "dissenters" fighting the majority will of the progressive Episcopal establishment.

It may help to note that there are about 2 million Episcopalians and somewhere between 40 and 50 million Anglicans in Africa, alone.

P.S. For an example of neutral language in a news report on a similar issue, check out the Reuters report by Greg Frost on reactions to the verdict in the United Methodist trial of the lesbian pastors.

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