While the votes have been announced in those two historic Episcopal parishes, we really won't know much about the actual media coverage of this event until tomorrow's full-length reports are out in the elite newspapers. Click here for the early draft of the Washington Post coverage by Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein. It retains the basic mainstream-media perspective, which is that a small percentage of American Episcopalians are trying to rebel against their national church. This is one way to express the conflict. The other is that the national Episcopal Church is rebelling against the overwhelming majority of the world's Anglicans, when it comes to issues of biblical authority, church tradition and sexual morality.
The hard part of covering this story is to manage to let readers know that both of these perspectives are true.
The early Post story begins:
Two large and historic Episcopal congregations in Northern Virginia have voted overwhelmingly to break away from the U.S. church and to seek to keep their property, setting up a conflict with their diocese that will be watched closely by other dissident Episcopalians around the country.
Officials at The Falls Church in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax City announced the results of the week-long vote following their worship services this morning. Their leadership has been at the forefront of a national conservative movement that has been alienated from the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, since the installation of a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.
At both congregations, more than 90 percent of the members voted to split from the U.S. church and to retain their church property.
However, you may be asking yourself right now: "Why does this post include a map of Lebanon?"
Good question. To answer, I would like to flash back to the Associated Press pre-game report that the Post ran the previous day. In that story, religion writer Rachel Zoll offered this background material:
The ballots are part of a crisis over the Bible and sexuality that is battering The Episcopal Church and threatening its role as the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion.
The feud erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Supporters argued that the biblical ban on gay sex does not apply to monogamous same-gender couples. However, most overseas Anglicans disagree and have been pressuring the American church to follow traditional Christian teaching.
Now look at that second paragraph. It does a nice job of balancing the American and the global elements of this conflict, even though it does use that controversial, and rarely defined, word "monogamous."
However, what I want to underline is the first sentence in that paragraph, the one that says: "The feud erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire."
This is way, way, way off base. Episcopalians have been openly fighting over the status of sex outside of marriage for a quarter of a century, and the conflict spread to the global level in the mid-to-late 1990s. So this statement is simply inaccurate, as I am sure Episcopalians on the left would agree.
Anyone covering this story needs to click here and look at the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that pushed the global conflict into overdrive, the moment when the rising power of Third World Anglicans drew a theological line in the sand for the Anglican establishment in England and North America.
Saying that "the feud" -- global Anglican conflicts over sexual morality -- began with the Robinson affair in 2003 is as accurate as saying that conflicts between Israel and Lebanon began in 2006, when Hezbollah fired rockets and mortars at Israeli military positions and border villages, while another rebel unit crossed the border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.
In other words, this simplistic version of the Anglican conflict is totally inaccurate and the Associated Press should issue a correction. It isn't even an accurate statement about conflicts in Northern Virginia, where tensions have been high over the leftward swing in Episcopal life for a decade or longer.
A personal note: Thank you to all of the readers who sent me links to the revised media-coverage memos issued by leaders of Truro Episcopal Church and the Falls Church. Obviously, I wrote yesterday's post without knowing that the previous rules (PDF) had been changed.
Quite frankly, the new rules look pretty good to me as a print guy, and it even appears that some wiggle room was provided for broadcast journalists. It will be interesting to see if tomorrow's coverage in the major newspapers includes any appropriate material gathered during the worship services themselves. It will also be crucial to see how the media guidelines were applied in the heat of the Anglican media storm -- which will not end anytime soon, in Northern Virginia or many other locations.