Rowan through the looking-glass

How many times do you really want to read the word "nuanced"? You better like it a lot if you intend to glance at recent press accounts of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's recent statement in the wake of the Epspocpal Church's decisions at General Convention. Denominational leaders removed canonical barriers to consecrating (more) gay bishops -- and officially began the process of moving towards the creation of a gay-union liturgy. Some of the stories are a lot more detailed than others, some more balanced than others. And it's safe to say that if anyone is happy with the Archbishop's latest reflections, they aren't quoted.

But all of the ones I've read, without exception, would have been broadened by some more diverse quotes.

The reporters elicit reaction from the usual suspects, reliable partisans geared to crank up the volume a bit in an already changeable situation. And while the articles attempt to interpret what Williams has said (admittedly, often a challenge), no one, outside of the parties most invested, is asked to analyze what it is the Archbishop hopes to achieve.

Here's a sampling of some of the stories published and posted in the last few days.

Kudos to Julia Duin of the Washington Times for interviewing Archbishop Robert Duncan of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, the Rev. Susan Russell of the Episcopal gay advocacy group Integrity and the Rev. Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council, another separatist group. She gets some powerful quotes from them. Duin's story also conveys well a sense of across-the-board impatience with Williams that certainly is reflected in many blogs and some of the British stories.

The Rev. Susan Russell, outgoing president of the gay Episcopal caucus Integrity said Archbishop Williams' statement "falls sadly short of recognizing all the theological reflection that has both moved and motivated this church over the years."

She added, "We are frankly tired of being told we 'haven't done the theology' when the truth is that there are those in our wider Anglican family who do not agree with the theology we have done."

The Rev. Phil Ashey, chief operating officer of the American Anglican Council, said the sentiment on the ground is: "Rowan has spoken. So what?"

Contrast Duin's story with Cathy Lee Grossman's thoughts at her Faith & Reason blog at the website. Russell and Duncan sound almost philosophical here, while in Duin's article they both go after Williams. It's possible that this is a difference in emphasis, or when the reporters interviewed them.

He (Williams) describes a "two-track" model that could put the U.S. branch, The Episcopal Church, at a sort of junior auxiliary table at family gatherings. And neither the traditionalists or the flag-bearers for changing views on sexuality and the Church seemed at all surprised.

Indeed, both Archbishop Robert Duncan of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America and Rev. Susan Russell, head of the gay Episcopal group Integrity, had similar reactions: They would keep in "being church," exactly as they intended all along and see when the "structures" catch up to reality.

There's really not much to say about the story in the Grey Lady. To my mind, New York Times writer Alan Cowell, while giving readers a useful contextual interpretation of the Williams statement, really should have done his own interviews instead of relying on Associated Press quotes for reaction. It's possible that the reporter didn't see much news here. Duke Helfand at the Los Angeles Times has an even scantier story.

While looking for reaction from conservatives within the church, I came across this point-by-point dissection from blogger Anglican Curmudgeon, in which he contrasts William's message with statements from Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies head Bonnie Anderson. This kind of commentary from a conservative member of the denomination(in quote form, of course) was what I was looking for in the articles.

It is possible that in future stories reporters will widen their lens a bit and include more of the "common folk" and a few experts to give some context for what is happening in the Anglican Communion. Naturally enough, reporters on deadlines tend to go to people they know will give them good quotes.

In addition, the articles here featured no reaction from outside the United States -- however, writers can't cover everything in one article. This may be a case of "apres GC 2009, le deluge." Such reaction will undoubtedly occur, and will make its way into future stories. But I hope that American reporters remember that there still are (a dwindling) number of conservative laypeople (c'mon, let's hear from the people who pay the bills) and clergy inside the Episcopal Church, and think to ask them how they feel about both the Anglican Communion and the aftermath of General Convention. That would liven up the stories considerably.

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