Hat tip to Duin (two of them, in fact)

questionsBIG2One of the advantages of having a veteran reporter on the Godbeat is that they have long memories and they can spot key updates in ongoing stories. Here are two fine examples, in the recent work of Julia Duin at The Washington Times. Both of these stories are linked to one of the major U.S. religion trends of the past generation or two, the statistical implosion of what was once called mainline Protestantism.

• Remember those hot United Church of Christ ads that trumpeted this denomination’s more-inclusive-than-thou status on issues of sex, race, singleness, handicaps and who knows what all? The church on the left edge of American Protestantism is preparing another wave of ads, and Duin has a very informative interview with the Rev. Ron Buford about what is ahead in this drive to find a way to do liberal evangelism. Here is a sample:

Although evangelical Christian groups have boomed since the 1960s, mainline Protestant denominations have hemorrhaged members because of differences over women’s ordination, issues surrounding homosexuality, biblical interpretations and the importance of evangelism. After the UCC unearthed, through market research, an undercurrent of alienation among unchurched Americans toward church in general, it began playing up themes of inclusivity and acceptance.

“I consider ourselves evangelical, too,” Mr. Buford said, “but for a different market segment.”

The hook for Duin’s report is that other churches on the religious left are launching similar efforts, trying to reach beyond their aging demographics. (Our thanks to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington for granting permission to reproduce one of its ads in this post.)

• Speaking of Episcopalians, Duin (who has a degree from an evangelical Anglican seminary) latched on to a hot lead out there in cyberspace. It seems that someone connected to (or close to) the Episcopal Church leaked a key set of notes from an anti-traditionalist strategy session to someone who forwarded them to someone who carbon-copied (or blind carbon-copied) a set to the famous (or infamous) Anglican news-blogger David W. Virtue. The key question, of course, is this: Is the material real?

Duin quickly confirms that, along with the detail that plans are in fact underway to toss out as many as 16 conservative Episcopal bishops:

Informally named the “Day After” for the aftermath of the June 13-21 event, the strategy outlines a way to file canonical charges against conservative bishops, unseat them from their dioceses, have interim bishops waiting to replace them and draft lawsuits ready to file before secular courts for possession of diocesan property. The strategy was revealed in a leaked copy of minutes drafted at a Sept. 29 meeting in Dallas of a 10-member steering committee for Via Media, a network of 13 liberal independent Episcopal groups.

“It was a worst-case scenario — what people in various dioceses would need to do if their bishop and much of their diocesan leadership decided to walk away from the Episcopal Church,” said Joan Gundersen, the steering committee member who drafted the minutes. Conservatives also “have made statements to that effect,” she said.

Where in the world are the major dailies on this story? There are all kinds of explosive details in here, including Duin’s note that: “In July, about 20 liberal and conservative Episcopal bishops met secretly in Los Angeles to discuss how to divide billions in church assets in the event of a split.”

UPDATE: Doug LeBlanca participant in this Anglican story, and thus silent about it — tells me that the religious-press scoop on the Via Media story belongs to the venerable journal for Episcopalians called The Living Church. I will try to confirm that, if and when I can ever get the publication’s slow website to respond and let me read the story.

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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.

  • Erik Nelson

    This story has been floating around for a week, and I was surprised no dailies picked it up right away (until the story appeared on the front page, above the fold in the Washington Times, on Monday, four days or so after it hit the Anglican news websites).

    I originally saw the story in the Living Church, though (a much more reliable source) – so I’m not sure the initial leak was to David Virtue.

    As for the LA meeting, that’s old hat. Everyone knew the meeting was going on. There were stories floating around the internet about it. The only thing that was secret about it was what people said. It seems like nothing really came of the meeting, but sometimes these things lag.

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  • http://mcj.bloghorn.com/ Christopher Johnson

    The blogs have once again been way out ahead. I had this on my site a week ago and I’m certain that Brad Drell had it before that. I also agree that the battle will finally be joined in earnest next year.

  • Dan Crawford

    The meeting is Los Angeles led to a relatively innocuous press release pledging the participants to silence about the meeting. Of course, the Bishop of New Hampshire did not regard himself bound by that agreement, so another story the media might want to pursue in how the other participants view the Bishop of NH’s behavior and their reflections on the meeting itself.

    Unfortunately, the news media pays very little attention to an Episcopal Story unless its comes from the Office of Propaganda and Good Feeling at 815 Second Avenue. (Episcopal Pravda) We have a reporter in Pittsburgh who feels compelled to make a major story of every press release from the “Progessive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh” (Ms. Gunderson and Mr. Diemel are members)- he rarely contacts others in the Diocese.

  • Michael

    While admittedly having an “inside the Beltway” bias and recognizing I live near the hotbed of the splinter movement in Northern Virginia, I feel like I’ve read very little about the liberal response to this drama and have been inundated with information about the dissidents.

  • Karen B.

    Nice to see the well-deserved Kudos for Duin!

    I was going to jump in on the Virtue vs. Drell/Living Church “scoop” and also the “secrecy” of the Los Angeles meetings in July, but other Anglican friends have beaten me to it and provided all the necessary corrections.

    Thanks Terry for continuing to follow the Anglican story in spite of Doug’s obvious need to recuse himself. We’re grateful that many people care about this story.

  • Beth

    I’m struck by the similarity of that image to the one used by Alpha, with a prominent question mark. (Of course the Alpha one doesn’t put the guy with questions in a dunce cap.) Ironic.

    But I also have to laugh/cringe at the — well, let’s be generous and just assume it’s generic mainline naivete — of assuming that *not* thinking having questions is a sin would give one’s denomination some kind of brand distinctiveness. (Uh, guys? Everybody uses that angle, and some of the groups you’re most trying to distance yourself from have been using it for well over a decade already.)

  • Erik Nelson

    Beth, it seems to me that the UCC ad campaign is based on the denomination’s prejudices against other denominations, most of which they have little knowledge or experience. It was the same with the “bouncer” television ads that the UCC ran.

    The irony is that the UCC is trying to advertise itself as being tolerant and diverse, but what the ads really reveal is a sort of holier-than-thou insularity and prejudice.

  • Beth

    That image is actually from ECUSA’s new campaign, Erik — it’s linked above under “similar efforts” — but your point still stands.

  • Michael

    I’m bemused by the criticism of the mainline denominations’ ads. Haven’t evangelical and orthodox churches distinguished themselves by offering up similar distinctions. Isn’t part of the draw to these churches and appeal to “traditional, Bible-based values” and other coded language?

    What the UCC and others have realized that for every person willing to send money to a Diocese in Africa in order to preserve their values, there are people who have been alienated from church because of the intolerance who are attracted to messages about social justice, searching, and tolerance.

  • Beth

    My point, Michael, wasn’t that churches shouldn’t try and present to the public an understanding of what they feel distinguishes them from other churches. (Tho there could be a separate conversation about issues raised by the whole marketing question.) My reaction was amusement at whoever made up the ads seemingly being so unaware of the wide cross-denominational use of concepts like “we welcome questions” or “we’re open to those who have been alienated from church” or “ask anything” that they could assume using this kind of slogan *would* distinguish the marketing efforts of mainline churches from the marketing efforts of other churches. This kind of language has, for at least a decade, been a very frequent theme in Christian self-presentation — among what you call the “evangelical and orthodox” as much as among others.

  • Erik Nelson

    “Coded language”, Michael? Gosh, I had no idea evangelicals were such magnificent mathematical code-breakers. We must all be geniuses. Why aren’t we all working for the NSA?

  • Michael

    Thanks for clarifying, Beth.

  • Bill

    Michael: “Dissidents.” “Hotbed of the splinter movement.” Fascinating word choices, but not really very informative. I presume you were referring to ACC/Network parishes in your area, but others could quite reasonably assume that you were referring to ECUSA itself and its parishes. Perhaps you could sacrifice some of your descriptive zest in the interest of clarity?

  • Michael

    If you have a large, hierarchical organization and there are a small group of people bucking the organization and challenging the hierarchy, there’s nothing wrong with calling them dissidents or a splinter group. If I were writing a news story, they may be poor choices. But for the sake of blogging, I think describing them as “dissidents” is not unreasonable.

  • tmatt

    But Anglicanism is a GLOBAL Communion and ECUSA is, stats wise, a tiny part of it.

    If the story is global, ECUSA is the dissident group.

    So just describe the NUMBERS and the beliefs of the various bodies in the global story and let the readers make up their own minds.

  • Michael

    Actually, I am not sure the ECUSA is a dissident when you add in the Europeans, but that’s not really the point. As I said, I wouldn’t use those terms as a journalist. On a blog, however, dissidents does work in the conception of the ECUSA–which is the governing body over the U.S. church.