Let's flash back for a moment to the eruption of Anglican warfare in Northern Virginia that drew so much press coverage last weekend. You may recall that I, well, blew up a bit over a wording in one of the crucial Associated Press stories, one written by religion-beat specialist Rachel Zoll.
That report is kind of hard to find online right now, since many websites took it down in favor of an updated report, one that does not include what I thought was an error that needed to be corrected. Still, here is the passage I questioned:
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.
I thought it was wrong to say that "this feud" erupted in 2003, when the actual issues behind the global warfare in Anglicanism have been haunting the communion since the 1980s and exploded into open combat in the late 1990s. My criticism brought this comment from the Associated Press:
I read your Anglican Wars post, and just want to note that the labeling of a sentence of our story as "way, way way off base" seems to be based on a misinterpretation. According to Mirriam-Webster, "erupt" does not mean "to begin," but rather "to force out or release suddenly and often violently something (as lava or steam) that is pent up to burst forth." AP religion reporters and editors well know that this latest debate over Scriptural authority dates back decades. But it's no stretch to say that 2003 was a major turning point for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Rachel Zoll, who covered the 2003 Episcopal General Convention, notes that "volcanic" is indeed a good way to describe the tumultuous meeting, which was why she was drawn to the word "erupted."
Posted by Kristin Gazlay, Managing Editor of National News, The Associated Press at 5:04 pm on December 18, 2006
Now I realize -- as a wire-service columnist -- the degree to which issues of word count often affect the contents of these kinds of stories. Honest, I do. Length is always an issue.
However, if you read the AP report you will note that there is no previous mention of an ongoing crisis in Anglicanism that predates 2003. I have no doubt that Zoll knows the warfare predates the Robinson consecration. However, there is no way the reader can know that by reading this report.
"Erupt" is a good word and I understand Gazlay's point. However, there is no evidence in the story that the volcano previously existed or that it has erupted in the past.
So what did the story need to say? All we needed was one tiny insertion of fact. Perhaps the clause "The ballots are part of a crisis over the Bible and sexuality" could have said, "The ballots are part of a three-decade crisis over the Bible and sexuality," etc. That would have done the trick. Then the next sentence says, accurately, that there has been a new eruption. Amen.
If you want to see an accurate reference in a short wire-service report, click here to see the Religion News Service story on these events by Daniel Burke. Here is the key passage:
The Virginia congregations have thrust themselves to the front line of a conservative movement, in which U.S. parishes are aligning with theological allies in the wider Anglican Communion. While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world's 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations on issues like homosexuality.
Tensions in the U.S. church, mounting since the decision to ordain women three decades ago, exploded after an openly gay man was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
Note that the tensions exploded, or perhaps it can be said that they "erupted." But they have been building for "three decades."
That's the ticket.
P.S. It is also interesting that a key player in the RNS report is "the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church." This is an accurate reference under Associated Press style. He is a bishop, not a priest who is a "bishop."