Changing times are threatening for people who are directly affected by the changes. Thus, more than a few journalists are afraid of the World Wide Web and the digital era -- with good reason. I mean, the entire news industry is shaking in its boots waiting for somebody, somewhere to create a form of digital advertising more winsome than the pop-up ad. Please. However, one of the best things about the emerging world of "multi-platform journalism" is that it allows journalists to use, well, more than one "platform" or media form.
So it's a tight news day and your story can only run 400 words. Perhaps your editor will let you run the full, uncut text of your article online (more from young master Daniel Pulliam on that subject in a few hours). Or perhaps the brilliant leader of the Episcopal Church insists that her complex, nuanced theology must be represented in a form in which readers can read each and every word that she says, so that she will not get in trouble when her critics are handed a blunt quote in a shallow forum such as The New York Times?
Remember the blunt quote in question, when the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori said the following?
Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children. . . . We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.
I predict that this was the quote that loomed over the advance team during the presiding bishop's recent visit to Arkansas to preside over the consecration of the new bishop of that state.
(Time out: If a female bishop consecrates a male as a bishop, does that mean that the male she consecrated is really not a valid bishop in the eyes of the millions of Anglicans around the world who do not accept the validity of the ordination of women? Or did the Episcopal Church make sure that there were enough male bishops involved in the Arkansas rite so that this objection could not be raised? Or did Jefferts Schori "preside" instead of "consecrate"? Just asking. It could be an interesting news story.)
However, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette did a good thing during the Jefferts Schori visit. They had her sit down, with a recorder running, and had her grace answer all kinds of questions from religion reporter Laura Lynn Brown. Then, religion writer Frank Lockwood -- i.e. The Bible Belt Blogger -- ran the transcript online. Three cheers for more information!
Click here to read the interview. Also, I think it's good to note that the section of the interview that is getting the most attention online has nothing to do birth rates or with news reports about sexuality, in general. It has to do with another very controversial topic in the global Anglican wars -- salvation and the nature of Jesus.
ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you've said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life" [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?
KJS: I certainly don't disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it's used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you're not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way -- that's certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I'm impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.
ADG: What about the rest of that statement --
KJS: The small box?
ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.
KJS: Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people's lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.
Well, that will certainly give the Anglican archbishops something to discuss during their meetings in Africa. I mean, something to talk about other than sexuality.
Again, three cheers for transcripts. Let's hope that journalists get to post more interviews of this type in this multi-platform age.
CORRECTION: I need to offer a bit of an apology, after receiving an email from the Bible Belt Blogger himself. Lockwood wrote:
Thanks for posting excerpts from the presiding bishop interview. However, I'm not the one who deserves credit on this. Although I've got it on my blog, the interview was actually conducted by Laura Lynn Brown, the Democrat-Gazette's Little Rock religion reporter. (I recently became religion editor here.)
It sounds like this is one newspaper that is building a solid religion-beat team. May its tribe (can newspapers have tribes?) increase.
And all the people said: "Amen."
Photo: Jefferts Schori speaks in Pine Bluff, Ark.