Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Check out the byline on this Washington Post "Acts of Faith" analysis piece covering the long-expected Episcopal Church decision to approve same-sex marriage rites in its sanctuaries.

Well, actually, in some of its sanctuaries. Can you say "local option," as in a flashback to the early days of female priests? More on this angle in a moment, because this is a crucial element in this local, regional, national and global Anglican story.

The byline in question belongs to one George Conger, as in the Father George Conger who spent several years as the foreign-news analyst here at GetReligion and with the Global Media Project. The Post simply identifies him as a scribe who "reported on the Anglican/Episcopal world for almost 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in England, the United States and Australia. He also serves as an Episcopal priest in a parish in Florida."

Now, that note states that this piece is a work of "analysis," which is appropriate, I think, since George has tons of experience in publications and websites -- like GetReligion -- that openly mix news and commentary. His work is followed closely by conservative Anglicans around the world. He is part of this story.

Ah. But here where things get interesting. Let's contrast Conger's "analysis" with the omnipresent hard-news report from the Associated Press. Which story actually gives more attention to the concerns and words of leaders on the ruling Episcopal Church left? In other words, which story provided the most hard-news balance and context?

As I said, this AP story is everywhere and even seems -- Anglican timeline error and all -- to have provided the heart of the Christian Broadcast Network report at the top of this post. Here are two key chunks of that story, as featured online by The New York Times.

The vote came in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal General Convention. Many dioceses in the New York-based church of nearly 1.9 million members already had been allowing their priests to perform civil same-sex weddings, using a trial prayer service to bless the couple. Still, the church hadn't changed its own laws on marriage until Wednesday.
The new law eliminates gender-specific language on marriage so same-sex couples could have religious weddings. Instead of "husband" and "wife," for example, the new church law will refer to "the couple." Clergy can decline to perform the ceremonies. ...
The measures take effect the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29.

Note that "clergy" can decline to do the rites. However, the name of this denomination is "Episcopal."

More on that in a moment. Here is a key piece of information about the national and global angles of this story:

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. wing of the Anglican Communion, an 80 million-member global fellowship of churches. Ties among Anglicans have been strained since Episcopalians in 2003 elected Bishop Gene Robinson, who lived openly with his male partner, to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire. Many more conservative Episcopalians either split off or distanced themselves from the national U.S. church after Robinson's election.

As your GetReligionistas have stressed for years, it is simply simplistic and inaccurate to say that the bitter splits in local, regional, national and global Anglicanism have taken place "since" the Robinson consecration.

Yes, they may have worsened since then, but it is wrong -- journalists, please dig into this file -- to imply that these schisms are caused by gay-rights issues, alone. The splits have been unfolding for decades, with some bishops, in America and elsewhere, breaking Communion ranks with the doctrinal left earlier than 2003. Think 1992, in this case.

Now, back to a key news hook in this story. In a denomination with episcopal structure, the key issue here is whether BISHOPS can decline to perform these rites and, the crucial part, forbid their priests from performing them. This is the key to the "local option" scenario that caused so much debate before this vote, debates that are absent from the AP story.

So how did Conger -- in his analysis -- handle these issues? First of all, he truly listened to the Episcopal left. Read the following carefully:

In resolutions adopted here at the denomination’s General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City this week, the bishops have endorsed new liturgies or services for same-sex couples wishing to marry in church. The bishops also approved changing the church’s canons, or rules, governing marriage,  making them gender neutral by substituting the terms “man and woman” with “couple.” However, clergy were also given the right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, with the promise they would incur no penalty, while bishops were given the right to refuse to allow the services to take place in their diocese.
The compromise means that same-sex weddings may occur after Nov. 1, 2015, with the full blessing of the church in places like Washington, Los Angeles and New York, but likely won’t take place in more conservative parts of the church, like Dallas, Albany and Orlando.

What do noncelibate gay and straight liberal clergy think of that?

The church’s compromise has sparked the ire of Episcopalians who are both for and against same-sex marriage. Those who are more theologically liberal may try to block the bishops’ plan, insisting on the immediate introduction of same-sex marriage with no way for dioceses to opt out. On the other hand, those who are conservative are likely to reach out to overseas leaders in the wider Anglican Communion to pressure the church to stop. ...
The bishops agreed to allow clergy to begin offering same-sex marriages using the new rites after Nov. 1. However, no clergy could be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage, and a bishop had the authority to forbid his clergy from celebrating gay marriages.

Note that Conger twice stresses the element of this news event that could draw protests and outright opposition from doctrinally liberal Episcopalians. Does he deal with the concerns of conservative Anglicans around the world? Of course. But he nailed the crucial question on the left, as well.

So here is my question: Which piece did the best job of handling the actual news here, AP's hard news piece or Conger's analysis for the Post? Which took seriously the concerns of liberals and conservatives, alike?

Please respect our Commenting Policy