For those of you who are looking for prime examples of the "big ideas" that motivate us at this here weblog, here's one. We believe that journalists should strive to avoid hard-to-define, shallow labels to describe complex religious believers and, whenever possible, describe those believers in terms of what they do and do not believe. What the heck, sometimes you can even quote them as they describe what they believe and, yes, how those beliefs shape their actions.
To see this in action, click here and head over to the Dallas Morning News report on the latest Episcopal diocese to leap out of the smaller pond of the Episcopal Church mainstream in order to -- they would say -- stay in larger mainstream of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In the News, that sounds something like this:
Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker championed the move, arguing that the national church has strayed from orthodox Christian faith in various ways, including ordaining female priests, allowing the blessing of same-sex unions and having an openly gay bishop.
"The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. It's been hijacked," Bishop Iker said.
Later, the newspaper offers this summary of the historical background:
The Fort Worth Diocese has long been in tension with the Episcopal Church. Though the Episcopal Church officially permitted female priests in 1976, the Fort Worth Diocese has still not had one. Bishop Iker and his predecessors hold that the Bible restricts the priesthood to men.
Conflict heightened in 2003 when top church leaders approved the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Iker has repeatedly argued that the Episcopal Church, at the national level, abandoned orthodox Christianity and "biblical authority" for a liberal social agenda, including acceptance of homosexuality.
To be honest with you, that isn't bad. However, it really isn't fair to say that "Iker and his predecessors" believe in a male priesthood, when the support for that doctrine is rather larger, when seen in the context of, well, the Roman Catholic Church, all of the churches of the Orthodox East and scores of Protestant bodies, including most of the Anglican Communion (if you are counting national churches and bodies in pews).
Then, in the next paragraph, you have the scare quotes around "biblical authority." You could simple say that the left and the right disagree on whether scores of ancient doctrines -- rooted in clashing methods of biblical interpretation -- need to be modernized or redefined. Both sides believe that their concept of biblical authority is the correct one. So there.
Meanwhile, check out this contrasting passage in the New York Times report on the same event. Yes, I am complimenting the Times. It happens.
Again, the question is this: How does Iker justify his big leap?
Bishop Jack L. Iker laid blame for the split on what he described as "a church that is increasingly unfaithful and disobedient to the word of God, a church that has caused division and dissension both at home and abroad, a church that has torn the fabric of the communion at its deepest level, a church that acts more and more like a rebellious protestant sect and less and less like an integral part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. It is time to say enough is enough."
The problem, of course, is how to balance that quote with a similar, blunt, concise quote from the other side. This is a case when the Times does not have that strong voice from the left. Perhaps there was no one willing to speak on the doctrinal level? We do not know.
One more thing: The News report includes links to several resources offering more info about this event, including URLs for the national and local headquarters. However, it does not include what I think would have been the most useful link of all -- this one. It takes you directly to the text of Iker's speech at the convention. When in doubt, we can use the resources of the WWW to let people speak for themselves.