Good TV: WFAA on the Episcopal Wars

While GetReligion is on the topic of local television news religion reporting, let me draw your attention to a thoughtful, intelligent broadcast from Dallas/Fort Worth station WFAA. Quality local TV news reporting on religion? And on the convoluted Episcopal wars too? Is such a thing possible?

Yes -- Tune into this broadcast from the ABC affiliate Channel 8 entitled: "Episcopal blessings create theological divide over same-sex unions" to view an example of solid religion reporting. The uneven quality and quantity of reports on the Episcopal Church's recent decision to authorize local rites for same-sex blessings also makes this story stand out.

The recently concluded General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis (5-12 July 2012)  did not draw reporters outside of the church press. The local Indianapolis newspaper was present and I saw someone from Reuters at one point, and GetReligion's Sarah Pulliam Bailey filed a great report for Christianity Today. But unlike the last few Episcopal shows there were no satellite trucks from CNNFox or the networks and the national newspapers and religion reporters from the wire services were absent.

However, there has been a great deal of high-powered commentary from Time, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Power Line -- I even was pulled in by ABC (the other one, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) to add local color to their commentary on the fun under the Indiana sun. The WFAA report I would like to single out because it gives local context and meaning to the story. As TMatt has pointed out, as a medium local television news has its limitations and one should not expect a New Yorker-style 5000 word report -- but let's take a look.

FORT WORTH — St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is at the center of another theological divide.

When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized the blessing of same-sex unions last week in Indianapolis, the local church took out a series of half-page advertisements.

Sunday’s ad encouraged Episcopalians to “stand firm on the word of God in faith and morals.” Wednesday’s ad calls the blessings “false inclusivity and pluralism.”

Church rector Dr. William Dickson could not meet with News 8 because of scheduling conflicts. Instead, church member Rob Sell spoke on behalf of St. Andrew's. He was not part of the decision to place the ad, but said it speaks to Episcopalians who have reservations about the direction of the national church.

"We're not looking down our nose at anybody,” Sell said. “We simply want to adhere to classical, historic, Christian doctrine."

The report then presents the voice of a supporter of the changes.

Across town, one of the churches that remained with the national group cheered the decision to bless same-sex unions.

Katie Sherrod was at the Episcopal General Convention last week. She and her bishop at St. Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church voted to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions.

"We are as Christian as they are," Sherrod said. "We simply have interpreted scripture differently than they have."

There were eight days of discussions before the vote was taken, and there were emotional arguments made by gay and lesbian church members who sought the church’s blessing. The Fort Worth Diocese deputies unanimously voted to authorize the blessing.

"We're moving forward toward a church that buys into the fact that God loves you — all of you. No exceptions,” Sherrod said, adding the bishop would consider the blessings on a case-by-case basis.

The story closes with further background information on the convention and ties the story together at the close by noting:

St. Andrew's and several other local Episcopal churches left the general convention four years ago when they sensed a change in theology. There is an ongoing legal battle over church property that has yet to be decided. There are two, independent Fort Worth Dioceses operating with separate bishops.

This story works on several levels. The reporter demonstrates his skills and a command of his craft by placing what could be an arcane dispute into a recognizable local context -- how a conservative Episcopal congregation has responded to this news. After tethering the story to a local landmark, he then allows the actors in the drama to speak for themselves. But in selecting which quotes to use in his story, he eschewed quick and easy soundbites about homosexuality for thoughtful quotes that express theology. Now this is my assumption, of course, and it may be that he happened on just the right people to speak to these issues -- but I remain impressed nonetheless that the subtly and nuance of the theological arguments were preserved in the story.

Again let me say that this report is far from an exhaustive of definitive treatment of the issue -- but judged by the standards and limitations of the medium in which it was presented, this is a gem of a story.

Well done, indeed!


Please respect our Commenting Policy