How to be a professional religion news reporter

Canterbury_cathedral_1Don’t you hate it when you have a great quote and you cannot remember who said it? Long ago, someone offered the following summation of how the Anglican Communion works. I have heard it many times since then.

“The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”

In other words, the growing Third World church has the spiritual power, the declining American church still has its trust funds from previous generations and the British always get the last word, writing the documents that contain enough via media fog to hold everything together.

The odds are good that the person who told me this was Time’s Richard Ostling, while bouncing through the streets of Vancouver, B.C., in a rental car during the 1983 assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s hard to recall the specifics this far down the road.

I bring this up because the next few days will be dominated by fallout from the Report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, or the Windsor Report. This is the long-awaited document in which the powers that be in Anglicanism will try to find a way to make the progressive Episcopal Church and its allies lose enough face to please the traditional Christians in the Third World, while failing to undercut any of ECUSA’s holdings in banks, property or process. That slap on the wrist has got to really sting, or the next gathering of the vast majority of the world’s Anglican bishops will be in Lagos, not Canterbury.

The coverage will take several days to unfold. But, before we dive into all that (and Doug LeBlanc is considered one of the top scribes in that field by the liberal establishment as well as leaders on the right), I want to pause and salute an advance stories written about the event over the weekend. It is, you will not be surprised, a basic, hard-news effort by Ostling, who now writes for the Associated Press.

This is not an unusual story from Ostling, which is a compliment. It simply quotes facts and intelligent voices on both sides of this bitter conflict. It makes defendable statements of facts. It treats this as a global story, yet with careful emphasis on events in the United States. It is a bit of a primer on how to be a hard-news religion reporter. What do I mean?

You need to read it for yourself, but here is a big chunk of background material. You may want to print this out as a guide to use while reading reports from other news sources.

… (An) emergency panel called the Lambeth Commission will issue recommendations on how the Anglican Communion can remain a coherent, united segment of global Christianity despite severe disagreements over homosexuality and interpretation of the Bible. At stake may be the long-term future of the Communion, the international association of churches with roots in the Church of England.

Findings will also resonate beyond Anglicanism to Christians in all denominations who believe their faith has oppressed gays and lesbians, and equally for those who consider changes a direct attack on the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian teaching.

Two top London newspapers said the commission would propose disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism’s U.S. branch, for consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay man who lives openly with his partner.

Other explosive matters include increasing ordinations of openly gay priests in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada. Last year’s U.S. church convention recognized that Episcopalians “within the bounds of our common life” conduct same-sex blessing ceremonies and this year’s Canadian synod affirmed the “sanctity” of gay couples. Those events have divided North American parishes and dioceses, and created acrimony among the Anglican Communion’s 38 self-governing national churches.

Worldwide, Anglican conservatives are heavily in the majority. A 1998 conference of all Anglican bishops declared gay practices “incompatible with Scripture” and opposed gay ordinations and same-sex blessings in a 526-70 vote with 45 abstentions.

Like I said, read this advance story and then hang on. There be spin zones ahead — on both sides.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Ken

    Anglicanism in the west – the U.S., Canada, and England itself – is a dying religion. ECUSA is facing a membership loss of 1% – 1.5% (net) annually. Even the trust funds are starting to feel the strain.

    Yet in the west, massive media coverage follows events such as the Windsor Report. The process of electing and consecrating a bishop who lives in a same-sex relationship was a prolonged media circus, as have local battles devolving from that election. You have to wonder why: is it the gay angle, which is always good copy? The up-scale demographics of Anglicanism don’t hurt advertising revenues either, so maybe that’s a factor.

    But you have to wonder why a diminishing sect gets so much attention. Maybe it’s just habit.

  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    My head is already spinning from all the different spins that are already on the web. I belong to several Anglican/Episcopal email groups, and the diverse ways in which different people interpret the same document is staggering.

  • http://www.tatumweb.com/ Rich Tatum

    You might find this earlier (2004) quote of interest, perhaps you and David Virtue share the same source?

    Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2003 00:42:51 EDT

    Reply-To: DVirtue236@AOL.COM

    Sender: David Virtue

    From: David Virtue

    Subject: Opening Comments 8-11-2003

    “The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”

    [snip]

    From:

    http://listserv.episcopalian.org/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind0308b&L=virtuosity&D=1&H=1&O=D&P=4060

    Regards,

    Rich.

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