Wow, that's a subtle label!

If one looks up "reform" in a dictionary, it's obvious that, when used as a label, this is a pretty good finger-pointing word, a term that separates the good guys from the bad guys. For example, when used as a verb:

1. To improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects; put into a better form or condition.

2. a. To abolish abuse or malpractice in: reform the government. b. To put an end to (a wrong). ...

3. To cause (a person) to give up harmful or immoral practices; persuade to adopt a better way of life.

You get the idea. This is just as obvious when dealing with "reform" as a noun:

1. A change for the better; an improvement.

2. Correction of evils, abuses, or errors. ...

So what, precisely, is a "reformer," outside the reference in church history to Protestant Reformers? A reformer is someone who helps correct evils, abuses and errors.

So, what do you call a person who is the opposite of a "reformer"?

As it turns out, The New York Times has a simple answer to that question, at least that was the case in a recent story covering a key battle in the civil wars inside the global Anglican Communion.

LONDON -- The Church of England moved another step closer to an unbridgeable schism between traditionalists and reformers ... when its General Synod, or parliament, rejected a bid by the archbishop of Canterbury to strike a compromise over the ordination of women bishops aimed at preserving the increasingly fragile unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The rejection of proposals aimed at accommodating those who oppose women bishops appeared to strike a serious blow to the authority of the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, whose position as archbishop of Canterbury makes him the spiritual leader of the Communion. Although he has a long-established reputation as a liberal on theological issues, the archbishop, 60, has spent much of his seven years as the Anglican leader seeking to fashion compromises with traditionalists over the role of women and gays as priests and bishops.

Wow, what a balanced, neutral lede! This leap in labeling takes us light years past the whole "moderate" vs. "fundamentalist" question that was so troubling (and rightly so) to Times editor back in 2005.

In this case, the ancient tradition of male clergy is actually identified, in the mirror, as evil and abusive and, thus, in need of reform. Take that Rome. Take that, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Moscow, Athens, etc., etc. The majority of the world's Christians worship at altars in churches of this kind, of course. The issue of the ordination of women, and certainly the raising of women to the episcopate, also divides many of the world's Anglicans.

Now, no matter what you think of the ordination of women, is it really a good idea for the world's most powerful newsroom to bluntly label one side of this doctrinal debate the party of REFORM, which means that those who oppose them are the party of evil, abusive policies that need to be REFORMED? Surely there is some way to use language that is both accurate and neutral. That's what mainstream journalists are supposed to do, right?

Later in the story, the label for the doctrinal right is cranked all the way up to "hard-line traditionalists." However, it is pretty clear that someone at the Times has decided to completely tilt the scales in favor of the liberal Anglican establishment. Here we go again:

The proposed compromise in York was co-sponsored by the second most senior prelate in the Church of England, John Sentamu, the archbishop of York. The two men had staked their authority and prestige on winning support for their proposals, and their failure left the Church of England -- and the wider Anglican Communion, with an estimated 80 million followers worldwide -- facing a new low in its long battle to avert a breakup that would create two rival Anglican communions, one traditionalist and the other reformist.

So, it's "traditionalist" vs "reformist"? That's really subtle.

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