New York Times finds the usual suspects behind Anglican division

We have a positive ID on those shadowy villains who are wreaking havoc.

No, not the guys who hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. Someone much worse: those who are dividing the Church of England over female bishops.

It's ... Dun-dun-DUNN! ... the Evangelicals!

Yep, those perennial bad guys popped up in a  New York Times' news article this week as the hardshell opponents against making the Rev. Libby Lane the first female Anglican bishop.

Much of the story is a bland, benign repackage of an announcement on the church's own website. It says Lane will be assigned to Stockport as an "assistant" to Bishop Peter Forster of Chester. (The actual title is "suffragan," as the church release says.) It has a statement from Lane and tells of her interests in saxophone and crossword puzzles.

Then it morphs into the treasured Times tradition of conflict journalism:

The halting process toward her consecration reflected deep divisions between liberals and conservatives that are likely to be cemented rather than resolved by the move.
“Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who backed the push for female bishops, said after a final vote on the matter last month.

Ah, there's that classic political dualism of liberal / conservative, which domestic mainstream media try to impose on so many topics -- from the Middle East to the Roman Catholic Church -- downplaying shades of differences or counter-indications. (Many Catholics, for instance, favor welfare spending and immigration reform.)

But who are the conservatives, Anglican style? Well, the Times names the Rev. Rod Thomas, the head of a group called Reform, "which led opposition to the consecration of women as bishops." And Rod and his crew are hanging tough:

The church leadership agreed in July to make concessions to conservatives, permitting parishes that are reluctant to acknowledge a female bishop to request supervision by a man.
That compromise is likely to be tested with the consecration of Ms. Lane in the diocese run by the bishop of Chester, the Right Rev. Peter Forster. Mr. Thomas said he urged the bishop to “enable the many thriving conservative evangelical churches in his diocese to continue to serve their communities with theological integrity under the oversight of a male bishop.”

There we are: Evangelicals are hidebound and change-allergic, straining attempts at compromise. Never mind that Archbishop Welby -- who, as the Times itself says, "backed the push for female bishops" -- is himself widely known as an evangelical.

There's also a glitch in the Times saying that Libby Lane's appointment will test the compromise. If Thomas' concern is male oversight for conservative churches, why wouldn't he be satisfied with a female suffragan who draws her authority from a male bishop? He should have been asked, don’t you think?

Nor does the article's grasp of history sound much better. Not when the story says, "The tradition of all-male bishops dates to the Church of England’s break with Rome five centuries ago, in the days of King Henry VIII."

Does this mean that before the break with Rome, the Church of England had female bishops? Or that churches elsewhere had them? As tmatt noted a month ago, "Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, many Lutherans and millions and millions of Third World Anglicans also want to retain male-only bishops."

Moreover, historians are not unanimous on the final Anglican break with Rome. Some regard it as a longer process, starting with Henry VIII and ending with independence under Elizabeth I.

OK, I get it. The New York Times wants to report in ways that make sense to American readers. So you relate news elsewhere to events in the U.S. Just acknowledge not only where the categories fit, but where they don’t.

Otherwise, why not just keep it at the bland press release stage?

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