I wish we could cover Stephen Colbert and the Colbert Report more but I guess he's not officially mainstream media. Well, on Thursday night he did a bit on the Lambeth Conference, of all things. It wasn't just entertaining, it featured New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein! Anyway, the piece is hilarious and well worth watching for Colbert's omnipresent sense of Roman Catholic supremacy, the familiar soap opera history of the Anglican Communion, discussion of the complex Anglican polity and hilarious lines that I won't give away.
So, why is it that the Colbert Report, as with many of the topics it covers, manages to be more informative than most anything else you can catch on television about the conference?
That is if you can even catch anything about the conference in the mainstream. The whole event seems deliberately, remarkably un-newsy. I'm sure that was the plan and all but I was hoping for more coverage to look into. I have been following my regular sources for Anglican information as well as the British press. One thing that popped up was this blog account of disgruntlement over how the U.S. Bishops are playing their cards. One report, which was not attributed to the bishop in question by prior agreement, was interesting. It dealt with how the "indaba" small group discussions are going:
"Well, the funny thing is," began one bishop, "The Americans here have this cheat sheet that they use in our group. It has statements on it that justify their decisions in the last two conventions that led to the consecration of Gene Robinson and same-sex marriage. It is a prioritized list of talking points and the one in our group reads off this thing every day."
It was as if someone dropped a bomb in the room. Was I surprised that my church would utilize a tactic of this nature to persuade the rest of the Communion? No, I was not. Was I surprised that one of those same bishops would bring the document and read from it in a forum such as the Indaba group? No, I was not. Was I surprised by the strong counter reaction of the other bishops in the room, who considered this to be almost treachery? Yes.
A US bishop yesterday accused his own church of manipulating the Lambeth summit by providing its 125 representatives with briefing notes explaining how to promote liberal attitudes towards gay clergy.
The US Episcopal church has the largest presence at Lambeth, a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops in Canterbury, and the Americans have provided each of their bishops with a "messaging strategy" that tells them how to present a cogent, persuasive argument in favour of diversity and tolerance in their discussions with other bishops.
Liberals form the majority voice in the wealthy US church and are eager to liberalise attitudes towards sexuality, given the divisive furore that has ensued following the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire.
Butt's piece gives some examples from the document, which you can actually read in PDF form here:
The document, entitled Lambeth Talking Points, also provides advice for bishops when dealing with journalists: "A good message will reach the audience without giving the media more than they need or can use."
There is some criticism of the approach being used by the U.S. bishops as well as news of some politics from those opposed to them:
One US bishop, Keith Ackerman from the diocese of Quincy, said the document was "embarrassing". . . .
"The Episcopal church is attempting to manipulate this conference. It was hoping to convince the rest of the Anglican Communion that its innovations should be incorporated and respected."
News of the document has spread throughout the Kent campus and, late on Wednesday night, conservatives launched their own strategy to counter the prevailing liberal tone of Lambeth.
At a meeting attended by diocesan bishops from around the world, one conservative evangelical recommended: "In group after group, find out how many people support resolution 1.10 [the one from Lambeth 1998 enforcing a traditional stance on gay sex].
Such drama! It's good to see that the media covering Lambeth are hip to the media and political strategies being used by various groups. Please let us know if you see any particularly good or bad stories coming out of the conference.
The art, by the way, is an advertisement for The Episcopal Church from 1986.