Qualifying a bishop's words

JonBrunoI’ve sometimes covered the same events as Larry Stammer of the Los Angeles Times, and I’ve found him unfailingly soft-spoken and courteous — especially at press conferences, which so often bring out some reporters’ tendencies toward preening arguments posing as questions.

It’s distracting, then, to see Stammer using the “what he sees as” qualifier in his profiles of Bishop Jon J. Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles (left) and Archbishop Henry Orombi of the Church of Uganda (below, with his wife, Phoebe). Three congregations in Bruno’s diocese have renounced Bruno as their bishop and accepted Orombi’s offer of refuge. Both Bruno and Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold have decried Orombi’s action as intrusive and illegal.

You’re probably familiar with the “what he sees as” construction, in which a reporter notes that a subject sees something in a way that someone else would see differently. It can imply that a person is eccentric, if not detached from reality. A reporter could qualify virtually any belief this way, but I’ll admit to seeing it as a label applied more often to conservatives than to others. Throughout the 1990s, the church-owned Episcopal News Service so often favored the phrase “what conservatives see as the church’s drift toward liberalism” that I figured ENS must have stored those words as a word-processing macro.

I’ve almost certainly used the device at some point in my career, and let me repent now in case anyone turns up some damning proof. I Googled for it myself, but my admittedly cursory search turned up nothing.

Here are examples of the form in Stammer’s profiles:

In the last two weeks, three conservative parishes in his six-county Los Angeles diocese had left the Episcopal Church, alienated by what they said was their church’s drift toward heresy and wrongful affirmation of homosexuality.

. . . Orombi, 55, has a reputation for two things: welcoming refugees from the civil war and ethnic strife in neighboring Congo and preaching fiery sermons against what he sees as the Episcopal Church’s fall from historic Christian teachings.

Compare this with Stammer’s characterization of a cornerstone in Bruno’s teaching:

For conservatives, those issues have become a test of fidelity to biblical tradition. To Bruno, they test something equally important: Christ’s message of inclusion.

(Christ’s message of absolute inclusion would have been news to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who could not have felt very included when Jesus called them a brood of vipers; see Matt. 12:34.)

OrombisStammer’s profiles of both bishops include good details — such as Bruno’s saying of himself, “I am one of the most Christo-centric men in this world,” and Orombi’s perspective on keeping faith with the apostles: “There is a tradition on human sexuality that was passed to us by the apostles, and if we’re an apostolic church, how come the Episcopal Church claims they are better than St. Paul?”

Another difference in how Stammer describes the two bishops: the gentle Bruno is disturbed “in the predawn stillness” and must force himself back to sleep, but Orombi has brought “evangelical intensity to his denunciations of the American church.” The deck headline says Orombi “berates the American church.” One could come away with the impression that Orombi is personally responsible for disrupting Bruno’s circadian rhythm.

Nevertheless, Stammer closes his profile of Orombi with a deft contrast in how the two bishops describe reconciliation:

Speaking of the three breakaway parishes, Bruno said, “I will have my hands open to welcome them back anytime they choose to come. I hope they’ll make that decision. I hope they’ll move back toward this reconciliation.”

Orombi spoke of the entire American church. “There is an opportunity to repent and come back,” he said. “There’s always an opportunity if you injure your brothers to say, ‘I am really, really sorry.’ If this is not going to happen in the Anglican Communion, this fragmentation is inevitable.”

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  • http://www.getreligion.org tmatt

    A crucial point we keep stressing here. The key is whether this is a national/ECUSA story or an international/ANGLICAN story. If it is the latter, it is not a he said-he said story. It is a they said-they said and the readers need to know how many Anglicans are on each side of that equation.

    In other words, the ECUSA bishop is not alone. Other stand with him. How many?

    The Anglican bishop is not alone. Others stand with him. How many?

    And how many centuries have each of these theologies existed?

  • sototallyanglican

    Nice little church youse gots there…be a shame if anything was to happen to it.

  • http://www.christianitytoday.com/ctmag/ Ted Olsen

    Doug, you might want to check that Scripture reference there. That’s John the Baptist calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers, not Jesus. You probably meant Matthew 12:34 or Matthew 23:33.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    In re the Orombi story: in the subhead . . .”berates”? I could understand “chide” or “correct,” but “berate” is a pretty loaded term to use IMO; it says the berater is unreasonable and the beratee, while possibly in the wrong, is likely being unfairly put upon.

    Or am i just looking for bias?

    pax, Jeff

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Thanks for the catch on my incorrect Scripture reference, Ted. I have fixed it.


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