New York Times gets ready to rumble!

acns3945grouplow resLet me jump in here with a quick follow-up on the Divine Ms. M’s post on those fightin’ Episcopalians.

After all, an authoritative source of doctrine almost on the level of the Book of Common Prayer has now offered its take on the upcoming election out in the Episcopal Diocese of California (the election site is here), a race that includes three candidates who are openly gay. I am referring, of course, to the New York Times.

First things first, which is that I think the editors need to run a correction, because the piece by reporter Neela Banerjee states that:

The Episcopal Church is a small but rich and powerful member of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, the second-largest church body in the world, and is presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop [V. Gene] Robinson’s consecration drew a virulent response from primates of fast-growing Anglican provinces in the developing world, where homosexuality is taboo. Many in Africa, Asia and Latin America have curtailed their interaction with the American church. A few traditionalist congregations in this country have placed themselves under the oversight of foreign bishops.

I would argue that this section of the report contains a sin of omission and a sin of comission. The newpaper should correct the latter.

It is true that there are about 77 million Anglicans in the world (although the figure 70 million is often used, as well), part of the large communion that retains loose ties to the Church of England. The strictness of those ties is part of the global current argument over the moral status of sexual unions outside the sacrament of marriage. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a symbolic leader with little real clout, so the term “presides over” is stretching things a bit. He is the first among equals, among the Anglican primates (seen in the photo by Anglican Communion News Service).

Meanwhile, there are about 1 billion Roman Catholics. The pope is not the first among equals. The pope is, well, the pope.

And No. 2? The Times copy desk should note that there are 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide and we (yes, I am Eastern Orthodox) are led, in a symbolic, first-among-equals manner, by the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is based in the ancient city that once was called Constantinople. I believe that 250 million is quite a bit larger than 77 million.

And the sin of omission is this. Banerjee is right that the Episcopal Church here in the United States is small and rich and that the Third World Anglicans are large and growing. But in this case it really helps to add one or two more sentences and some math, especially if one is going to use dynamite words such as “schism” in the story.

The Canterbury Cathedral PrThe current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used to lead the Church of Wales — with 45,000 members. There are about 2 million Episcopalians in the United States. However, there are 40 to 50 million Anglicans in Africa, with 15 million or so in Nigeria, alone.

Take that into account when reading the New York Times report, which ends with some crisp, stunning quotes from clergy representing the liberal Episcopal establishment here in North America. For example, in California:

“I think we’re tired of the hype that is being generated by a vocal minority in the church,” said the Rev. Katherine M. Lehman of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Menlo Park. She added, “If we are called to elect a qualified nominee who happens to be gay, we will do that based on our discernment of the process and the Holy Spirit.”

Note the word “minority.” It is true that, in the context of North America, the liberal stance may represent the “majority.” But in the global Anglican context it is clearly a small minority.

It would help — just in terms of simple facts — if readers knew that.

Here is another excellent, but loaded, quotation:

“My No. 1 directive as a bishop is the unity of church, because schism is a greater sin than heresy,” said Bishop Kirk S. Smith of the diocese of Arizona, who backs full inclusion of gays in the church.

Many people would want to debate the statement that “schism is a greater sin than heresy.” However, the question is this: What part of the Anglican Communion is taking actions that might cause a global schism? Is this a story about a national schism in a small national church, or a global schism in a giant global Communion? I think it is crucial for reporters to strive to use language that lets readers know this story is about both of those realities.

P.S. Click here for an interesting report in the Church of England Newspaper that suggests, in many ways, that the Episcopal Church is even smaller than it appears to be on paper (a statement that could be made about many flocks). Here’s the lead:

American Episcopalians have the lowest rate of worship attendance of any Christian denomination, a Gallup poll reports. Episcopalians come third from last on the table of weekly attendance with less than one in three attending services, beating only Jews and those who have no religion.

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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.

  • Scott Allen

    Thanks TMATT, great analysis putting this subject in context. Hopefully Religion reporters nationwide will surreptitiously begin to read this blog and occasionally contact you.
    Thanks also for the comments on the Eastern Orthodox. I figure it can be awkward for you, but it IS educational to folks like me.

  • Andy Crouch

    This idea that “schism is a greater sin than heresy” has apparently been around quite a while. A fascinating brief essay from Thomas Aquinas:

    (Those not familiar with Aquinas’s writing will want to note that his own argument is in favor of the proposition found in the middle of the question, which begins, “on the contrary.”)

  • Stephen A.

    The Religious Left are the first to condemn others for not having the proper humility, or ethnocentrically putting America above other nations.

    But on the issue of the Episcopal Church USA’s relationship with the rest of the world’s Anglicans, Episcopalian comments like these you’ve quoted have been typically arrogant.

    Leaders in my own state (NH) including Bishop Robinson, have consistently been quoted in the media saying they need not live by the rest of the world’s rules, mores or sensibilities, and that they are “leading” the world to the “right” way of thinking. That’s been repeated in other parts of the nation.

    While the Western Church and the rest of the Anglican world seem to see their relationship differently, media outlets at least need to do a better job “doing the math” as this post does, and a better job exposing the hubris behind the quotes of the liberal wing, and the anguish it’s causing in the “Global South.”

    I’m sure this will get more exposure during the upcoming conference.

  • David Adrian

    FWIW, I read the article in the Times this morning, too, and immediately e-mailed Ms. Banerjee to point out that Orthodox Christians, not Anglicans, were No. 2 in numbers behind Roman Catholics. As an aside, I noted that as a convert from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, I had some personal knowledge and interest in the issue. She has yet to respond and, I suspect, never will.

  • dk

    Great article Terry. I hope the Times pays attention to GR by now.

  • Discernment

    There are also more Pentecostals than there are Anglicans, if you want to count us as a single group. And a good case can be made for that; we probably have more in common than some parts of the Anglican Communion have with each other….

    I find that “schism is a greater sin than heresy” bit worth smiling it. Considering the origins of the Anglican Church, Anglicans should be among the last group of people saying that. Apart from the liberals being the schismatics (as you pointed out), there’s also another problem with the statement, “My No. 1 directive as a bishop is the unity of church, because schism is a greater sin than heresy.” I mean the part where he says, “My No. 1 directive as a bishop is the unity of church….” It’s either he’s lying, or he clearly doesn’t want to fulfil his “No. 1 directive”.

  • Thomas

    I’ll be voting in California tomorrow. I have been a member of this diocese for 35 years and a priest here for 16 years. I find all the conjecturing about the politics, some secret agenda to be forced on the rest of the world, or blatant disregard for the rest of the world by the Diocese of California to be uninformed at best and malicious at worst.

    Over the years my opinions have gone from rejection of gay and lesbian relationships, to confusion, through a lot of study and questioning, to believing that the holiest and most fruitful sexual expression for homosexual persons who are not called to celibacy is in a faithful monogamous lifelong relationship. Just for the record, I myself have been happily married to a wonderful woman for many years.

    I came to my conclusions because I know many gay and lesbian people who live such a life, and they are loving, self sacrificing and humble people. They bear no resemblance to the unbridled, lust filled idolaters that Paul seems most concerned about. I think most of the people in the Diocese of California, because they have witnessed such faithful relationships, share my view. I seems to me that the Holy Spirit often leads us into new understandings first through experience, and then through intellectual understanding (as in the inclusion of gentiles into the church)

    I would imagine I would be hard pressed to find very many church leaders in Nigeria who could say they have had any relationship with someone such a committed same sex relationship, so I can understand why they are having such a hard time interpreting scripture in the same way I do. Where’s all the uproar about divorced bishops, priests and laypeople anyway?

    At any rate, for all conversation wasted on this subject in the sensationalist world press, I can honestly say that there has been no politicking for a particular agenda, there has only been open and prayerful conversation. Indeed, most of my colleagues have yet to make up their minds, and we are still in deep conversation and prayer about our choice.

    And, alas, when I check in here tomorrow I am sure that many will be disappointed that we have not elected a gay or lesbian bishop, because it will give them less grist for the mill. Instead the people of the Diocese of California, gay and straight, will gather tomorrow to do what Christians everywhere do, we will seek to discern together who will lead us best in proclaiming the Gospel to our Bay Area neighbors. And, if my past experience is any indication, when the election is decided, we will give thanks, and celebrate together that we have a new beiginning, with a new bishop, and we will do what we have always done; share with one another the call to bring people to know, love and serve Christ.

    So, instead of imagining some nefarious plot, it would be nice if all those who have spent so much energy on this in the press would just talk to those who are here to get the straight (no pun intended) scoop on what is really happening. Perhaps then we could spend energy on proclaiming the good news rather than tearing one another down

  • Jackson

    “[H]omosexual persons who are not called to celibacy”? Unless they renounce their homosexuality, all homosexuals are called to celibacy.

  • BluesDaddy

    Interesting for other omissions as well, such as the startling decline in ECUSA membership over the last 40 years. In the mid-60s there were almost 4 million Episcopalians in the USA. Today, there are approximately 2.4 million. That is a huge hemoraging of people. The only thing that still gives this small denomination influence is its wealth and the social status of its members. This would be something decried by the Times in other areas of our society (e.g. political, coporate, educational influence).

    Oh, and those who espouse heresy have placed themselves in schism.

  • MJBubba

    Regarding Episcopal church attendance, I think I can help identify where an energetic minority party of Episcopalians are on Sunday mornings. We have a small but steady flow of Episcopalian visitors each week in my Lutheran church. It helps keep our own weak attendance numbers up. Our Presbyterian and Methodist brothers report the same experience. We are a fair distance from an independent Anglican congregation, and, evidently, many Episcopal families are checking us out. Just hedging their bets.
    These poor unfortunates spent their lives and energies building up a solid Christian church, but neglected to draw lines and speak judgement when they should have, and now find their church body to be controlled by universalists who deny the authority of their beloved Bible.

  • Don Neuendorf

    My eyebrows were raised by that phrase “in the developing world, where homosexuality is taboo.” Doesn’t that sound as if the author is attributing their opposition to homosexuality to their “developing world” status, rather than to their considered doctrinal opinion?

    Liberals love to picture tribal life as more pristine and authentic than our own… as long as that fits an anti-church agenda. But when Christians in the 3rd world reveal the same Biblical values as Christians in the west, suddenly they’re primitives.

  • Pen Brynisa

    It’s official: the Diocese of California has NOT chosen a “gay bishop”. The Rt. Rev. Mark Andrus, suffragan of Alabama, was elected by a landslide.

    view results here:

  • Carlos Mendez

    For those of us who believe that gay and lesbian Christians should not be discriminated against, the demands of the conservatives are wholly unacceptable because they demand we do something which goes against the very core of our conscience and beliefs,i.e, practice bigotry against our gay and lesbian brethren. Asking us to disqualify anyone for Christian service because of their sexual orientation or gender they are partnered with is gravely immoral to me, and I will not be complicit with it. It is one thing to tolerate other churches and denominations practicing such bigotry, but to ask us to be complicit with such a hateful doctrine is to ask too much. I say we should indeed sever our relationship with those who would demand we stoop to their bigotry and continue in compliance with our core convictions and beliefs.

  • Darel

    Any protestant who claims that “schism is a greater sin than heresy” is either a first rank buffoon, or believes his audience to be composed of nothing but.

  • C. Wingate

    OK– so is it just me, or is this Reuters story surpassingly clueless? They act as if everything is going to be OK now, when they have a quote from Andrus saying things that are sure to not go over well with some.

  • Paul Barnes

    Mr. Mendez

    I know of two churches in my area who have convicted sexual offenders as worship leaders. Their sexual orientation (because, you know, its genetic and all) should be questioned. Their past disqualifies them from leadership.

    I wonder how far our ‘brethren’ should extend? To someone like President Bush, who (according to some) started an unjust war. Or should it extend to people who advocate the killing of children (abortionists?)

    Let us become less extreme though. How does one act as a Christian? What does it mean to act as a Christian? Surely, acting ‘Christianly’ has a specific meaning. I mean, not being a bigot (according to your definition of the word) does not really require someone TO be a Christian. I know plenty of athiests who accept homosexuals, as I do of Buddhists, Wiccans, etc. Basically, what, if any, sexual ethics does Christianity demand of you then?

  • Kyle

    TMatt, Anglicans are much louder than the Eastern Orthodox, with quite a bit more spilled ink at the moment. I think that’s more than enough to push aside the silly numbers and bump us up to number two. :0)

    Thanks for your writing.

  • Carlos Mendez

    Mr Paul Barnes,
    I assume convicted sexual offenders are people who have sexually assaulted people and raped children or underage persons. Abortion involves the killing of innocents according to pro-life persons, and Bush recklessly led us into war which led to the killing of innocents, according to anti-Bush forces.

    I am not certain how matters involving sexual assault and war are even relevant to the discussion of Christians in consensual adult same-sex relationships.

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