Toppling a three-legged stool

Stool4I think it's time to say this again: We have entered the age in which many reporters and their sources are going to have to record interviews that are linked to complicated and/or controversial stories. People on both sides of the notebook record each other so that the reporter knows that the source knows that the reporter knows what the reporter asked and what the source said. This can be a hostile thing or it can be a smart thing (or both) in an age in which just about anyone can, with a few clicks of a mouse, use a website to post a hostile review of a story or, even better, a verbatim transcript of the interview.

So turn on that digital recorder. Otherwise, we are left with he said vs. he wrote debates -- like this one.

Reporter Adam Parker of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., recently waded into the Anglican wars while covering the election of a new bishop in the Diocese of South Carolina. The headline was terrible, which is always a bad start: "Bishop vote reflects schism." So, who used the loaded "schism" word? This is important since this is one of the seven dioceses in the U.S. Episcopal Church that have asked Canterbury for "alternative primatial oversight," rather than submit to the authority of the progressive establishment on this side of the Atlantic.

Much of the story was based on an interview with Father John Burwell, dean of the Charleston deanery, including this passage:

Burwell explained the controversy by citing 14th century theologian Richard Hooker's "three-legged stool." The church, Burwell said, is governed by three primary forces, the most important of which is Scripture, followed by reason and tradition. God's word trumps all, he said, but he endowed human beings with minds and expects them to be well used. When Scripture and reason conflict -- which is inevitable because reason, a imperfect human quality born of the fall of man, can lead to sin -- the tie-breaker is tradition, or the precedence set by the church over the centuries.

Thus, Burwell said, "the Church can err. If the Church is doing something counter to Scripture, we have to stop it, we have to repent. This has been the genius of Anglicanism all along: Law."

Thus, it must be somewhat awkward for Parker and his editors to see Burwell's letter to fellow clergy, as posted at the TitusOneNine weblog for conservative Anglicans and others who want to read several dozen items a day about the Anglican civil wars:

If you saw this morning's Charleston paper, you saw quotes attributed to me that I did not make. ... I did not, nor would I ever refer to a "three-legged stool." I spoke to the reporter about the primacy of Scripture, and how, because of the fall we may err in our ability to interpret what Scripture says (what I called "reason"). I told him that many today are placing wrong interpretations of what Scripture plainly says. And I told him that we Anglicans have always additionally consulted what the Church has thought on a particular Scripture subject down through the ages (tradition), to counteract flawed reason. I called this reliance upon the primacy of Scripture the genius of Anglicanism.

There is not a "three-legged stool," nor can there be, because a stool, with three equal-length legs, would infer that Scripture, reason and tradition are equal. They are not. I did say that the Church can err. She does, and She has on numerous occasions.

. . . I never once mentioned the name Hooker. Not once. As you no doubt know, Hooker did not speak of a three-legged stool. Neither did I. I have no idea where Adam Parker (the reporter) came up with these statements that he attributed to me. Perhaps one of the other people he spoke to used "stool" language, and he assumed that I would agree. I only know that I didn't, and wouldn't, and don't.

Ouch. In effect, Parker quoted a conservative leader using language that is, these days, almost totally the vocabulary of the Episcopal left. This is not good. There is a snowball's chance in hell that Burwell said what he is quoted as saying.

However, if Parker has a digital audio file stashed somewhere, then the ball is in his court.

Does the priest have the interview on a disc somewhere? Does Burwell have a transcript he can post?

He should. That's the age we live in.

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