Clearly, the Anglican vs. Episcopal warfare is just getting started at the local level here in the United States, which means that more and more religion reporters are going to have to wade into this journalistic swamp in the weeks, months and years ahead. This time around, it was reporter Liz F. Kay of the Baltimore Sun, writing about a Pentecost service attended by Anglican Bishop Hector Zavala of Chile, who was visiting a missionary parish of his diocese that is located in Baltimore County.
The heart of the story comes early, in the grit-your-teeth-and-write-it background paragraphs that reporters simply have to write in order to help readers understand what is, supposedly, going on. So here is Kay's shot at this almost impossible task:
The Church of the Resurrection is one of many in the United States forming relationships with foreign bishops after growing increasingly dissatisfied with the perceived liberal direction of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the international Anglican Communion.
For several Resurrection members, the 2003 election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire was a recent -- but not the only -- evidence of a church straying from biblical values and truths.
Reisterstown resident Vince Clews, a founding member of Church of the Resurrection, said its formation after Robinson's election may imply homophobia but had more to do with public statements by Episcopal bishops who don't believe in tenets such as the divinity of Jesus, his resurrection or virgin birth.
That isn't all that bad, as these things go. Saying that there are "many" U.S. parishes forming ties to traditional Anglicans in the Third World will raise some eyebrows on the left, since many newspapers are using words like "some," "a few" or "dozens." It would really help if the elves at one or more of the Anglican sites created a master U.S. Anglican parish list online to help reporters (hint, hint).
Then there is the issue of Clews' claim that there is more to his parish's stand than homophobia. This is, of course, a fact of history if anyone wants to study a timeline of the Anglican conflict.
However, this is what is really hard for reporters to capture in a mere paragraph or two.
The Anglican right is correct when it says that the doctrinal and creedal conflicts dividing this worldwide Communion are broader and deeper than sex. It is also true that this open warfare has been going on for a long, long, long time -- for a quarter century or so. This is why I came up with the questions in the "tmatt trio" back in the mid-1980s and added the Anglican "bonus question" in 1993. (Follow those links if you need background or you are playing the GetReligion drinking game.)
However, the Episcopal left is absolutely correct when it notes that the conflict -- for whatever reasons -- truly exploded as the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians entered the mainstream of the church here in North America. The Robinson election threw the final switch, especially in terms of media coverage. It personalized the conflict, which creates a story that is easier to write than one centering on often foggy theological language.
The most interesting word, journalistically speaking, in Kay's report is the word "perceived" in the statement that traditionalists are upset about the "perceived liberal direction of the Episcopal Church." This interests me, because I think we have reached the point where leaders on the Episcopal left are openly and honestly saying that God wants their church to move in a liberal, or progressive, direction.
"Perceived"? Let's turn that around. If the Anglican right was victorious tomorrow and somehow began to pass and enforce statements, well, that salvation can only be found through Jesus Christ, that clergy must preach that the resurrection literally happened and that sex outside of marriage is a sin, would The Sun write that mainstream Episcopal leaders were upset that their church was swinging in what they "perceived" was a conservative or even, heaven forbid, a "fundamentalist" direction? Would anyone doubt that the facts were clear?
Once again, I think we have reached the stage where newspapers can quote people saying what they believe and then let the readers figure out what is going on. At least that is my perception.
File art: Back by popular demand