Read this text with an Oxford accent

RowanAgain.jpgAnglican-beat reporters, please repeat after me once again: The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.

And the second truth of Anglican corporate life is like unto this: The British will do their bloody best to write those resolutions in such a way that Americans get to keep writing checks.

Thus, to the surprise of no one, MSM reports about this week’s Anglican primates meetings are all over the map. No one can agree on who actually said what and if the words they said actually mean what they appear to mean. Ah, those British resolution writers are the best.

Let’s work at this backwards for a moment. Right now, the most important story on the news wires comes from up in Canada:

Canadian and U.S. Anglican officials denied media reports suggesting they have temporarily withdrawn from an international council at the request of leaders who condemn their position on homosexuality.

They have not yet made any decisions in response to the request, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, told in a phone interview from Northern Ireland where the meetings between the leaders took place this week.

“We’re members of the Anglican Communion, we will continue to be members of the Anglican Communion,” he said, noting that the talks were much like a family dispute during which family members “step back for breathing space, to sort things out.”

[The] Rev. Jan Nunley of the U.S. Episcopal Church Center also denied media reports in an email to inquiring about the church’s response.

“No, no decision has been made on the request for voluntary temporary withdrawal from the Anglican Consultative Council,” Nunley wrote.

These denials are in response to early Associated Press stories that opened like this sample from The Miami Herald:

LONDON (AP) — Anglican primates agreed late Thursday that the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada would withdraw from a key body of the global Anglican Communion after failing to overcome internal church disagreements about the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada.

A statement from leaders of Anglican national churches who met this week in Northern Ireland also called on the two churches to explain their thinking on gay issues at another Anglican meeting in June. . . . The two churches would temporarily step away from the Anglican Consultative Council, a key body for contact among the national churches and one of the four “instruments of unity.”

Some reports stated even more clearly that the Canadians and Americans had been forced out.

Whence comes this confusion? The answer is found, of course, in the work of those British resolution writers and the wiggle room found in the actual communique that is the foundation of all of these stories in the MSM and the blogosphere. Here is the crucial passage. This should be read with a strong Oxford or Upper West Side Manhattan accent for the proper effect.

14. Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.

And the key word? Righto, that would be voluntarily. Thus, this is yet another document asking the North American progressives to repent — if they choose to do so. Stronger action may or may not take place in the future. St this point, the North Americans are still smarting from a slap on the collective wrist, but nothing more than that. If there were stronger actions suggested, they remained behind the tightly closed doors of the conclave and, thus, they will have no effect until they are reported in the pages of sacred scripture.

So what did the progressive leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church say, in response to this public rebuke? As often happens with the bookish pronouncements of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, it is hard to tell precisely. Perhaps his words were written by scribes trained by the learned British. Here is the key passage that reporters are trying to parse at the moment:

Some will not be pleased with the request from the primates . . . that the Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada, “voluntarily withdraw” our members from the Anglican Consultative Council “for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.” This request, together with the opportunity for a hearing with the Anglican Consultative Council (paragraph 16), gives space for speaking and listening. During this time the Episcopal Church will be responding to the questions addressed to us in the Windsor Report, as the primates have requested. We will have the opportunity to speak out of the truth of our experience. I welcome this opportunity knowing that the Episcopal Church has sought to act with integrity in response to the Spirit, and that we have worked, and continue to work, to honor the different perspectives very much present within our church.

What does this mean? Clearly, lots of learning, sharing and Spirit-filled negotiating will go on in the months and years to come. But did he say the Episcopal Church would heed the majority of the world’s Anglicans and stand down?

Inquiring reporters want to know. They may wait a long, long, long time for a clearly written resolution on that question. That’s the point.

UPDATED: After doing some digging (I work on three different computers), I found the email with the URL for the Associated Press story by Robert Barr that caused so much buzz in the early hours of this global story. Here is how it opened:

The U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada withdrew Thursday from a key body of the global Anglican Communion under pressure from conservative church leaders distressed by the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions in the two countries.

Though the suspension of the two churches was said to be temporary, it marked the first formal split in the communion over the explosive issues of sexuality and biblical authority.

Here is another example of a clear Barr lead on this issue, only this time it has a clear attribution to its source:

The rift over homosexuality that threatens to split the 77 million-member Anglican Communion cannot be resolved without someone admitting they’re wrong, the church’s spiritual leader warned Friday — a day after leaders asked the U.S. and Canadian churches to withdraw temporarily from a key council.

The election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada have opened a potentially unbridgeable division between Anglican liberals — many of them in North America — and conservatives, who are strongest in Africa and Asia.

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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.

  • Eric Swensson

    So, the function of reporters is to … explain to me again. The BBC and AP immediate stories were “North America invited out.” Now that the communication officers got together to get their stores straight (OK. How’s this? We tell them we have to call a committee which will name a task force to study the issue, ‘If we are asked to leave, but we don’t answer, then we really haven’t been asked to leave.”)

    So, the media is now reporting that as though it is a fact? And that’s how the spin game goes?

    Also, should not someone send these three speakers to the ‘no spin zone’? From the Christianity Today story:

    “Despite the rift, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the meeting was conducted on good terms.

    “I think the views of the Canadian church were thoroughly heard and understood, and it will be a matter of time that will determine to what extent they’re received,” Hutchison said.

    “Now, hearing and receiving I think are two different things. But I have to say that the tone of the meeting was extremely warm and hospitable and understanding. We had some difficult moments as the discussion progressed, but we ended really on very good and mutually supportive terms, and I think the net result of our actions is a reaffirmation of the desire of the whole communion to find a way to stay together in spite of our differences.”

    James Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., and a supporter of Robinson, called the bishops’ statement an “elegant compromise.” He said Episcopalians could easily accept temporary withdrawal from the council if it would create more time for Anglicans to find ways to remain unified.

    Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, head of the Episcopal Church, stressed after the meeting that discussions were continuing.”

  • Stephen A.

    The only wiggle room here seems to be the likely negotiated wording allowing the two churches to “voluntarily” pull out of the body. The word seems like a face-saving measure. It will likely be hijacked as another opportunity for North Americans to say, “Sorry you took offense, and we’re sorry you’re so backward you took offense.”

    What some outlets got wrong was the fact that the US and Canada had “agreed” to withdraw. That seemed premature and when I saw no statements last night to that effect I wondered where they got that idea.

    But voluntary withdrawal or no, the media portrayed this correctly as an ultimatum as much as a request. The US and Canada are being asked -again – to step back from the brink.

    Other news reports stated that Anglicans would make this less voluntary by simply not allowing Americans or Canadians to attend meetings other than the June meeting at which (between the lines) they are being ordered to appear and come up with some SCRIPTURAL reasons to accept gay clergy and gay marriage.

    To spin this as an ambiguous statement would be wishful thinking on the part of liberal Episcopalians, but they have done this before on the apology issue, so at least they’d be consistent.

    As for “speaking and listening,” I’m not sure where that will get Episcopalians with much of the rest of the world, unless it’s another stalling tactic. The lines seem drawn.

  • Stephen A.

    Eric, it sounds as if the U.S. church is in serious denial on the intent of this communique.

    That’s what reporters should be reporting at this point, since the statement of the Communion speaks for itself.

  • Eric Swensson

    OOOPPS-the above quote is from a UK outfit Christian Today, NOT Christianity Today. Sorry, but someone should look into this, Christianity Today’s lawyers need to look into this ;-)

    Stephen, you are right. The NY ECUSA bishop sent a communique to the Church Wardens. They will frame this as one thing, but when time tells, if any are reelected, well, that will be news.

  • ECJ

    What irritates me about the coverage of this story is the presumption of symmetry between the contending forces. On the one side we have a couple of liberal churches with maybe 2,000,000 attendees between them, and whose membership trends remind one of the last plunge of the Titantic. On the other side we have some 70,000,000 orthodox Anglicans. This is symmetry?

    What is totally missing from the coverage is the correlation between the liberal doctrines advanced by the ECUSA, and its concommitant membership problems. To put it bluntly, liberal churches die. Post-modern man has no need of a post-modern church to tell him of a post-modern god who requires nothing except allegience to the post-modern zeitgeist, and who in any case may or may not even exist. But where is that context in any story written so far?

    The story here is not the fate of a homosexual bishop in New Hampshire. The story is rather the collision of Christian orthodoxy with the reigning worldview in the West. And the ECUSA – being fully commited to (or pehaps I should say castrated by) that reigning worldview – is simply a stalking horse for the Press to advance its perspective on that conflict.

    Now if you doubt this, then tell me. In the absence of such a controversy as this, does anyone in the press care spit what the ECUSA says or does? Are all these reporters suddenly going to start attended worship services? I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Ken

    This is gossip, but the primate’s communique is rumored to have been written by Abp. Carnley of Australia. Maybe he was educated at Oxford, eh?

    Seriously, reading the Anglican blogs, with their comments, has led me to the conclusion that the usual suspects will say the usual things, but at the end of the day, it’s the muddy middle that will tell the tale.

    The primately statement itself is making the orthodox generally happy, but they have had no encouragement in so long, it doesn’t take much. The gay-rights groups are victim-stancing like crazy, but of course, that’s what they do. The hard-core homosexualist (“liberal”) clergy – Griswold, Michael Ingham of New Westminster, Canada, Bennison of Pennsylvania come to mind – have already made clear they won’t repent, since there is nothing to repent of.

    If I were a reporter, I would identify and track the fence sitters – moderates, corporatists, or maybe liberals in a conservative diocese. Pursley of Alabama, Wimberly of Texas, Lee of Virgina (there’s a song in that!), Howard of Florida – people like could well tip the scales one way or another.

  • Gillimer

    Ah, yes, Australia has some resolution-writers too.

    When I located the Sydney Convocation’s legislation on “lay presidency in the Eucharist”, I looked at the length, and then searched for “consecrat*” and “celebrat*”. Nothing there.
    Either the stuff means that they think one diocese can go completely Protestant unilaterally, or else… or else I have no idea what it means. Which I suspect is what the drafters intended.

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