Context is everything

schori 01It must be fun, in a twisted sort of way, to be a religion reporter in those regions where the Anglican Wars are raging. The action just never stops. Recently, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been flexing her canonical muscles. There was her BBC interview where she claimed -- without substantiating the charge -- that Anglican bishops other than Gene Robinson were in homosexual relationships. They just don't announce they "always wanted to be a June bride." She inhibited San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield after his diocese voted to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The Archbishop of Southern Cone, for what it's worth, said Schofield was under his authority and the inhibition didn't mean anything.

Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori has also been involved in a war of words with Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker. Months ago, he complained about her "aggressive, dictatorial posturing" after she threatened to take disciplinary action against him if he let his diocese vote about whether to leave the Episcopal Church. This week he released another letter she sent him.

I've been wondering when we're going to get a good article analyzing these actions. Reuters religion reporter Michael Conlon summarized some of the recent kerfuffle here:

Leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church have stepped up a crackdown on conservative dissidents, ordering one bishop to stop his religious work and threatening a second with the same thing.

Both rebuffed the moves.

The second bishop is actually Pittsburgh's Robert Duncan and Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been all over the story (as usual):

Officials of the Episcopal Church have taken a first step toward removing theologically conservative Bishop Robert Duncan as head of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but he dodged an ecclesiastical bullet when the three senior bishops of the church declined the presiding bishop's request to immediately suspend him.

Instead, all the bishops of the Episcopal Church will vote on whether to depose him, most likely at their fall meeting, for "abandoning the communion" of the Episcopal Church. "Communion" is a broad term that encompasses the beliefs, fellowship and structure of a church.

Bishop Duncan yesterday denied the charge.

"Few bishops have been more loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church," he said. "I will continue to serve and minister as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh."

duncan Rodgers' story covers all the bases. She explains the intricacies of the church trial Duncan will undergo and the background for the "abandonment" charge. Pittsburgh was another diocese to begin the departure process when it voted overwhelmingly in November to do so. A second vote to confirm must be taken. Rodgers explains how Jefferts Schori tried to get Duncan inhibited but a committee of bishops refused to consent. She also explains that Jefferts Schori called on Bishop Duncan to recant.

Rodgers' full fleshing out of the story also includes some background on how charges were brought against Duncan. They came from a small minority of Pittsburgh clergy and laity who had previously tried to sue the diocese over the earlier vote to depart. They failed in civil courts before going to church courts.

In fact, the article is so full of context that it's a testament to how well Rodgers knows this story frontwards and backwards:

The Episcopal Church is fractured over issues of biblical authority, beliefs about the role and identity of Jesus, and sexual ethics. Decades of dispute reached a crisis in 2003, with the consecration of a partnered gay bishop in New Hampshire. . . .

The Rev. Jonathan Millard, rector of Ascension Church in Oakland, who presented the argument to secede at the November convention, called Bishop Duncan "a man of grace and conviction."

"Maybe this action highlights just how deep the rift is between those who hold a biblical understanding of the Christian faith and those in the extreme left of the church who would seek to depose a bishop for upholding biblical standards," he said.

Rodgers ends by talking to an opponent of Duncan who praises the disciplinary action against Bishop Duncan and an explanation of what's next for all sides.

The one thing I think so many stories are missing about the Episcopal Church's legal battles are a better explanation of the "why." I don't know if that's because Episcopal leaders are doing a bad job of making the case for why they're cracking down on the property battles as opposed to the doctrinal battles or if it's because reporters aren't asking the right questions.

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