I’ve been happy to see more religion pieces in The Atlantic in recent years, as such coverage was not occurring in that publication during my 16 years in Washington, D.C. I’m not sure what led to a change in heart among editors there, but it’s nice to see articles like last week’s piece on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s last-ditch attempt to hold the Anglican Communion together.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is the piece is aggregated, in that it’s a patchwork of quotes from three British media outlets along with segments from the archbishop’s press release about a gathering of Anglican primates in January 2016 at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. And there were some gaping holes. The article starts thus:
Justin Welby was named archbishop of Canterbury with high hopes that he was the man who could save the Anglican Communion. Now it appears he may oversee its breakup -- a calculated destruction intended, paradoxically, to save it.
Welby heads the Church of England, making him also the titular head of the affiliated Anglican churches around the world, including the Episcopal Church in the U.S. The umbrella group, the worldwide Anglican Communion, has been shaken by conflicts over the ordination and consecration of gays and women and over same-sex marriage in the U.S. and U.K. According to reports in British media, Welby will propose reorganizing the Communion as a looser affiliation at a January gathering.
Apparently the reporter who did the story has not been covering the Anglican Communion as long as some of us have, as there were some major omissions. GetReligion has run plenty about the implosion facing worldwide Anglicanism. Why? Simply because after Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy and the complex world of Pentecostal/charismatics the Anglican Communion, at some 80 million members, is the next largest single Christian body. A few things that need to be noted, for those following the coverage:
First, it’s not a slam-dunk that all the conservative primates will come to this gathering. Virtueonline.org points out Welby has never been to one of these primatial meetings and has no clue as to the kind of infighting that goes on at these gatherings between liberal and conservative. Oddly, the archbishop of Canterbury’s website has no list of the Anglican primates on it. Or, if it’s there, it’s hidden well. Go to Wikipedia if you want to see their names.
Secondly, the big news of this announcement was that Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (the body created by former Episcopalians who’ve left) was invited to the primates gathering. Why didn't The Atlantic mention this? The New York Times got this fact high up in its report.
Including Welby, there are 38 primates. With Foley Beach, that makes 39. Foley's inclusion among the world’s primates, which is something conservatives have been wanting for years, is an admission by Lambeth Palace that the Episcopal Church cannot claim to represent all Anglicans within U.S. borders.
Also, the archbishop’s press release adds that Beach will be invited for “part of the time.”
What does that mean? The Atlantic could have inquired about that and about the obvious point that Welby had to have conferred in private with some of the conservative primates before issuing this call and that Foley’s inclusion in this gathering was the non-negotiable they insisted upon if they were going to show up. The Episcopal sites were commenting on this as were the Anglican ones, so The Atlantic should have picked up on these points, which were easy to find with a few mouse clicks.
The Atlantic did note that the only female primate, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, will not be at this January meeting because her successor, Bishop Michael Curry, will have been installed. What should have been added is how her absence clears the way for those of the primates who still oppose the ordination of female bishops to attend. Now they will not have to abstain from Communion with someone they regard as having singlehandedly created a scorched-earth policy toward departing conservatives plus contributed to a 12 percent drop in church membership during her tenure. One wonders if Welby timed his gathering with that in mind.
It takes awhile to understand the intricacies of Anglican politics. My hope is that, as January approaches, The Atlantic and other publications will work on getting better sources to better report on what could be the Anglican Communion's last stand.
Photos courtesy of Lambeth Palace and Shutterstock.