Over time, mainstream journalists around the world have gradually come to realize that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the "Anglican pope." In most news coverage these days, he is referred to as the "symbolic" leader of the global Anglican Communion or as the "first among equals" when the Anglican archbishops are doing business.
Let's focus on that second image for a moment, as I point out one or two elements of the flood of news coverage of the "special," as opposed to normal, gathering of the Anglican primates in Canterbury the last few days.
If Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is the first among equals, then it is important for journalists to realize that the other archbishops really do see themselves as, well, equal among the equals. Thus, when you are working through the tsunami of global coverage of the vote by the Anglican primates to "suspend" the U.S. Episcopal Church from many official roles in the Anglican Communion (don't forget Father George "GetReligionista emeritus" Conger at Anglican Ink), it helps to focus on the previous actions taken by the primates on issues linked to the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.
Yes, we are back to that complicated Anglican timeline thing. There is no way to avoid it.
When you look at the current events in the context of an accurate timeline, it's clear that (a) the Episcopal Church has merely been placed in "time out," (b) that the global primates really do think this dispute is about the Bible and marriage, (c) that the state of sacramental Communion among Anglican leaders remains as broken as ever and (d) that all Canterbury has really achieved, with this meeting, is send the contest into extra innings (or perhaps "stoppage time" is a better term among global Anglicans).
So where to start? There is no way to deal with all of the coverage and many publications have major holes in the timeline framing this event. Many journalists still think that this battle is primarily about the election of an openly gay, non-celibate bishop in a tiny U.S. diocese in 2003. As I have noted many times here at GetReligion, Communion among Anglican bishops and archbishops was already breaking down years before that and shepherds from the growing Anglican flocks in Africa, Asia and across the "Global South" were already taking steps to support traditionalists inside the Episcopal Church.
When reading the new coverage look for two key and landmarks on the timeline.
First, look for references to the 2007 Dar es Salaam communique by the primates in which they strongly reaffirmed centuries of Christian teachings on marriage, stressed that the U.S. Episcopal Church had stepped out of line on issues of sexual morality and urged Canterbury to guide the Anglican Communion back to some form of doctrinal unity. Note that third point.
Thus, second, It's impossible to understand the outcome of the current meeting without understanding that the primates are still waiting for Communion -- with a large "C," meaning Communion in the Holy Eucharist -- to be restored in this global body.
The primates are no closer to that ultimate goal, that sacramental goal, than they were before this special gathering. In the mainstream coverage, has anyone noted that the primates have been gathering (as far as we know what is happening behind those closed doors) for prayer services, not full Communion rites? Think about that.
So how does this affect coverage? Here is the top of The Washington Post report by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
For the first time, the global organizing body of Anglicans has punished the Episcopal Church, following years of heated debate with the American church over homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the role of women.
The Anglican Communion’s announcement Thursday that it would suspend its U.S. branch for three years from key voting positions was seen as a blow to the Episcopal Church, which allows its clergy to perform same-sex marriages and this summer voted to include the rite in its church laws.
It was also seen as a victory for conservative Anglicans, especially those in Africa,, who for years have been pressing the Anglican Communion to discipline the U.S. body.
“The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union,” the leaders of the Anglican Communion, which represents 44 national churches, said in a statement during a meeting in Canterbury. “The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”
One crucial point: If this was a "victory" for conservative Anglicans, it was only a victory in the sense that the body once again reaffirmed Christian teachings on marriage. The issue of restored Communion? Note that the "majority" of those gathered affirmed Anglican teachings on marriage.
Broken Communion is the ultimate story here. How many primates voted against that marriage statement? From what national churches?
And with that in mind, the press must turn its attention away from North America and back to England itself, as in the Church of England, proper. While Episcopal leaders may be angry, and many are (you must read the striking statements by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry), what really matters now is how the theological, cultural and political left responds in England.
Now, the Church of England is NOT the same thing as the Anglican Communion -- no matter what this deeply flawed Daily Mail story says in its lede:
Leaders of the Church of England have voted to condemn same sex marriage and barred the Anglican Church in America because of its stance on homosexuality.
However, the Church of England plays a crucial role, to say the least, in the affairs of the Anglican Communion and there will be tremendous political pressure brought on English church leaders to modernize their doctrines on marriage. Check out the first wave of incoming fire, in this news report at The Guardian.
So journalists: Eyes left. That is where the action will be in the next three years, while the Episcopal Church is in "time out." The conservatives didn't really win. They won on the marriage statement, but not on the ultimate issue of broken Communion.
Does anyone expect the Episcopal Church to compromise and move back to orthodoxy on marriage, after formally changing marriage rites? Thus, the spotlight moves to England. If you spot interesting wrinkles in the UK coverage, please let me know.