We have a vested interest in facts

vestments 01Last week I wrote about the noticeable lack of coverage of a recent Presbyterian Church (USA) ruling on issues surrounding homosexuality. The denomination has a few hundred thousand more members than The Episcopal Church but gets far less coverage. I asked why. Readers provided a number of interesting answers. Readers suggested that Episcopal Church types are better organized and better at getting publicity. Others noted the "Byzantine bureaucracy and semantics" of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Others said it came down to how much better Episcopalians photograph.

Reuters religion editor Tom Heneghan wrote:

Good question. I can't speak for U.S. newspapers, but the key factor for us at Reuters is that the Anglican crisis is an international story concerning a church that is teetering on the brink of schism. That makes a "gay issue" in the TEC more newsworthy than one in another church with much less impact abroad.

PCUSA minister Irenaeus wrote:

It's easier and more interesting to report on persons than committees. Our ecclesiology makes this less interesting: we don't have anyone with the stature of a bishop, and interviewing and quoting committee members ain't all that fascinating. That said, I do wonder what the coverage would be like when and if the denomination breaks apart, given the significant role Presbyterians have played in US history.

Bill wrote:

Because we Presbyterians are boring.

Too complicated, too many contradictions, and as one pointed out too little clarity. It would takes weeks of reading just to get the broad outlines of the story.

I'm one -- I should know.

But some of these problems don't keep the mainstream media from reporting on The Episcopal Church! Jonathan Petre, the Telegraph (UK)'s religion correspondent, filed this breathless report over the weekend:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is backing secret plans to create a "parallel" Church for American conservatives to avert fresh splits over homosexuality.

Dr Rowan Williams has held confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders. . . .

Dr Williams is desperate to minimise further damage in the run up to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference this summer which could be boycotted by more than a fifth of the world's bishops. . . .

According to insiders, Dr Williams has given his blessing to the plans to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues.

The story has no named sources. Which might have something to do with the allegation that it's not true. It is true that some bishops approached Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori with a proposal. They believe that five Anglican Primates could oversee some of the parishes that are in conflict with recent changes taking place in The Episcopal Church. But, as David Virtue wrote that reports of the meeting weren't up to snuff:

. . . nor did the Archbishop of Canterbury back a secret plan to create a "parallel" Church for American conservatives to avert fresh splits over homosexuality as the London Telegraph screamed in a headline. Furthermore, Dr. Rowan Williams did not hold confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders.

Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe said the purpose of the visit was to permit freedom of conscience for traditionalist parishes and dioceses who want to stay in The Episcopal Church and conform to its Constitution and Canons. "This is a step forward, albeit a small one," he said.

Even if Anglican worship and conflict are more exciting to cover than Presbyterian versions of the same, it doesn't excuse getting the facts wrong.

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