All eyes are on Canterbury (again)

acns3950low resI guess this is why Anglicans pay the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the big bucks.

For several years now, the worldwide Anglican Communion has been involved in a high-wire act involving two issues linked to moral theology. The first is the open, public ordination of gays and lesbians to the priesthood and, then, to the episcopate. The second is the open, public approval of sacramental church rites to bless same-sex unions, thus redefining the sacrament of marriage. Both of these issues threaten to shatter the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Behind the scenes, Williams has been pondering another issue — how to handle the global Anglican tensions that will result, and the ecumenical bridges (think Rome and the Orthodox East) that will be burned — by the Church of England’s march toward female bishops.

It is true that many, perhaps even most, Anglicans have accepted the ordination of women to the deaconate and priesthood. But millions have not and most of them are in the rapidly growing churches of the Third World. They view the ordination of women as yet another imperial power play by the pushy Americans and, soon, the British. But the ordination of female priests only affects the status of those priests. The ordination of a woman as bishop affects the status of all of the priests that she ordains, both female and male. For millions of Anglicans, the priests ordained by female bishops are literally not priests. Who will keep track of who is who?

The current occupant of the throne in Canterbury knows that, when the mother Church of England ordains women to the episcopate, many more clergy and laity will hit the exit doors of a church that is already in sharp decline. Can the creation of an Anglican Rite Church in Great Britain by the Vatican be far behind? How many will join Eastern Orthodox churches?

Now those pushy Americans have gone and elected a woman — from a tiny Western diocese (PDF) with fewer active members than many Roman Catholic parishes and even more Protestant megachurches — as their archbishop. What will she do when it comes time for her to raise women and men to the episcopate? Will she note her own controversial status by making sure that at least three male bishops take part in the rites, making her role unnecessary?

This is a huge story. The question, once again, is whether the election of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada as the Episcopal Church’s new presiding bishop is primarily an American story or an international story.

BishopKatharineLet’s play spot the lead on this one. Here are three leads. Your job is to pick which one is from the Associated Press, with its global audience, which one is from the Daily Telegraph, in England, and which one is from The New York Times, the official newspaper of the Episcopal Church establishment.

There is (a) this one:

A woman was last night elected as the first female leader of the American branch of Anglicanism in a historic but divisive development that could hasten the break-up of the worldwide Church.

The Bishop of Nevada, the Rt Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is a leading liberal on homosexuality, is the first woman primate in the history of Anglicanism. Her role as Presiding Bishop is the equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Her surprise election was greeted with whoops of joy by pro-women campaigners at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, where she was chosen by her fellow bishops in four hours of voting. But conservatives predicted that she would lead the Episcopal Church further along its liberal path on issues such as homosexuality, and her election will dismay traditionalists opposed to women priests.

Then there is (b) this one:

The Episcopal Church elected Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada as its presiding bishop on Sunday, making her the first woman to lead a church in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Many Episcopalians … cheered the largely unexpected choice of Bishop Jefferts Schori, 52, the lone woman and one of the youngest of the seven candidates for the job. Her election was a milestone for the Episcopal Church, which began ordaining women only in 1976. She takes on her new responsibilities at a particularly fraught moment in the history of the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest church body, with 77 million members.

And finally there is option (c):

Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman elected to lead a church in the global Anglican Communion when she was picked Sunday to be the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. It was another groundbreaking and controversial move for a denomination that consecrated Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop just three years ago. …

The choice of Jefferts Schori may worsen — and could even splinter — the already difficult relations between the American denomination and its fellow Anglicans. Episcopalians have been sparring with many in the other 37 Anglican provinces over homosexuality, but a female leader adds a new layer of complexity to the already troubled relationship.

So which is which? Personally, I think the Associated Press story did the best job of covering both the global and American elements of this story. The Telegraph story, writing to the British, focuses totally on that angle. The Times story, writing (I guess) for the New York City audience, sees this story through an almost totally New York City lens.

Many commentators have noted that it is more important that Jefferts Schori was the most liberal candidate in the race on issues of liturgy and moral theology than that she is a woman. That’s true, but that doesn’t help Archbishop Williams much at the moment. Meanwhile, there are almost certainly conservatives who are, in private, cheering today because a bluntly liberal presiding bishop may bring clarity to the current sexuality debate, instead of more fog.

It is also true that — for a host of reasons — there is already broken communion at the highest levels of the Anglican Communion, even if that painful schism has not received major media attention. The election of Jefferts Schori will only put a spotlight on the divisions that affect rites when the Anglican archbishops are together.

What will the alchemist at Canterbury do? That’s the only story that matters right now. In his official reaction statement, he is already teetering on the high wire again — sounding friendly, but noting that the Americans have tossed yet another bomb into a tense global situation. The election of Jefferts Schori will, he writes,

undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican Primates; and it also brings into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues. We are continuing to pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as it confronts a series of exceptionally difficult choices.

Photos by Anglican Communion News Service.

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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.

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    It’s interesting that the Times fails to even acknowledge anything beyond Schori’s gender. Her election was clearly a sign of the strength of the liberal, pro-homosexual wing of the US Episcopal Church, and just as clearly a sign of the leadership’s rejection of any sort of retreat from the issues that have created a worldwide schism. Big story, indeed.

  • http://theaccidentalanglican.typepad.com Deborah

    Ruth Gledhill of The Times is doing a somewhat better job of parsing the issues surrounding Schori’s election:

    http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2006/06/woman_scientist.html

    But she still leads with gender question and how that will be unacceptable to the rest of the Communion. Later on in that article/blog entry, she refers to Schori’s revisionist theology. Overall, Gledhill’s done a good job with analyzing this whole convention from across the pond, IMHO.

  • John Schuh

    The main point is, as Father Neuhaus says, that the ECUSA is now just another liberal Protestant denomination. Those members who are Catholic in orientation and those who are evangelical, should be looking for the exit door.

  • Julianne Valley

    I wish we had a transcript of the PB’s interview around mid-day with CNN. She gave an unusual comment when asked about what happens after death. I’d like to read it. It seemed a non-answer to me.

  • Stephen A.

    I’d love to read what she said about life after death, but her description (on the CNN Website) implying gay sex is a “blessing” that is not a sin is sure to raise some eyebrows (if any eyebrows can possibly be raised anymore in the ECUSA) —

    Interviewed on CNN, Jefferts Schori was asked if it was a sin to be homosexual.

    “I don’t believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us,” she said.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    I find it interesting that Eddie Blue is popping up in so many of these stories. Maryland is not a conservative diocese, and by my recollection, he is not notably conservative. acto the diocesan weebpage he spoke against consent in the HoD debate.

    Covering a church convention like this seems to be almost impossible in the regular media, particularly in this case, where so much of the action is hidden in niggling changes to obliquely worded resolutions. There’s never going to be a big enough news hole to accommodate the context. The AP story does a remarkably good job of overcoming that in this case– something I never thought I’d say about AP religion coverage, but there you have it.

  • Pen Brynisa

    re: Her election was clearly a sign of the strength of the liberal, pro-homosexual wing of the US Episcopal Church, and just as clearly a sign of the leadership’s rejection of any sort of retreat from the issues that have created a worldwide schism.

    I beg to differ. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the secretary general of the AC have both noted that the leadership of the Episcopal Church are seriously participating in the Windsor process. ECUSA representatives on the ACC voluntarily refrained from exercising their votes in the aftermath of the Robinson consecration, and subsequently the ECUSA bishops enacted a moratorium on all consecrations to the episcopate until the General Convention could address the issue. The Special Committee has been hard at work formulating the General Convention’s response to the Windsor Report, and the wording of the proposed resolutions has been changing, in response from criticism by Bishop Wright (the primary author of the Lambeth Commission’s Windsor Report) and Archbishop Sentamu among others, to more accurately respond to the recommendations found in the Windsor Report.

    We’ll see in the next couple of days where those Windsor resolutions go, but so far none have been voted down. But, as an Episcopalian firmly in the mushy middle, I don’t believe that the election of Bishop Schori is a sign of a rejection of the Windsor process. Rather, I think she’s going to be instrumental in keeping the process on track. A conservative PB could never get the liberal wing of the church to accept the Windsor resolutions, but Bishop Schori may be able to keep them on board. Only Nixon could go to China and all that.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As tmatt pointed out there are many ways to write leads to this Episcopal story and many ways to cover it. However, I have not seen suggested as an angle for a story an examination of the question: “Is this a symptom of the final decay of the Protestant Reformation in the formerly mainstream Reformation churches?” Somehow I find it hard envisioning Martin Luther nailing a document to a church door attacking the Bible and promoting gay bishops and gay “marriage” while stating “Here I stand, I can do no other!!”

  • Matt

    Well, Dr. Luther went to his deathbed believeing in the Ever-virginity of Mary, too. How many Protestants believe it that?

  • saint

    “I can’t help but consider the peculiar genius our church has for roiling the waters,” said the Rev. Eddie Blue of Maryland. “I am shocked, dismayed and saddened by the choice.”

    I think that was the quote of the day. Except that I am not shocked, dismayed or saddened by the choice – one could almost expect it based on past behaviour and direction.

    While I agree covering this issue is difficult, the way I have been reading Windsor, statements by Wright, Sentamu etc is that this is not a matter of gender or gay ordination or ecumenical relationships. The fundamental problem here seems to be an issue of authority (IMHO), its source, and its proper exercise and acceptance. Something which I think all Christians Anglican or otherwise have had to wrestle with in recent years (again) as well as people of other faiths eg Muslims. I haven’t read many media reports on the ECUSA convention and related matters, but it seems this aspect gets little or no attention.

  • G. Trevise

    So, did God think Sodom and Gomorrah were a blessing?

  • Craig G.

    I don’t understand how people can give their allegiance to a church formed by men, by an Act of Parliament, in the 16th century. Hopefully more will wake up and realize that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church, founded by Jesus Christ on the rock of St. Peter.

  • saint

    Craig, Try 817-819.

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  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    Pen: You may of course beg to differ, but Bishop Schori is on the record as opposing the Windsor Report, and there is little reason to think she will now support its recommendations.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    I’d like to add that most of the conservative blogs tracking the convention have collapsed under the strain at least once over the past two days, to the point where backup blogs have been setup under other services just to be able to leep going. (And the Diocese of Maryland’s server was hit by a denial-of-service attack over the weekend.) Up-to-the-minute scrutiny of the convention’s actions and even debate is INTENSE.

  • Stephen A.

    I wish we had a transcript of the PB’s interview around mid-day with CNN. She gave an unusual comment when asked about what happens after death. I’d like to read it. It seemed a non-answer to me.

    Posted by Julianne Valley at 4:46 pm on June 19, 2006

    Here it is:
    CNN Interviewer.. PHILLIPS: So what happens after I die?

    SCHORI: What happens after you die?.. uhh– I would ask you that question.. but what’s important about your life; what is it that has made you a unique individual.. what is the passion that has kept you getting up every morning and engaging the world..uh.. there are hints within that about what it is that continues after you die.

    Yikes. Stage fright? Hopefully?

  • Micah Weedman

    [quote]but her description (on the CNN Website) implying gay sex is a “blessing” that is not a sin is sure to raise some eyebrows (if any eyebrows can possibly be raised anymore in the ECUSA) —-

    Interviewed on CNN, Jefferts Schori was asked if it was a sin to be homosexual.

    “I don’t believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us,” she said.

    Posted by Stephen A. at 5:07 pm on June 19, 2006 [/quote]

    Actually, doesn’t the Pastoral Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church about the Care of Homosexual persons pretty much say the same thing? She’s answered nothing about the act; just the orientation. If even the RCC thinks the orientation is alright, surely we can expect no other from the ECUSA.

  • Dominic Glisinski

    “the ordination of female priests only affects the status of those priests.”
    ———————————-
    I suppose this might be true if you grant that women can even receive Holy Orders. If not, then all her ministrations are invalid. Marriages, Communion, Absolution, etc, etc. No man or woman is an island…

  • Dominic Glisinski

    And what’s with the altar arrangement in the picture with this article? Is Rowan playing bartender or running a snack bar? Or dispensing drugs over the counter at the pharmacy?

  • Stephen A.

    COLUMBUS, OHIO (6/21/06) – While addressing a morning Eucharist at the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop-elect Katherine Jefferts Schori declared, “Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation. And you and I are His children.”

    “MOTHER Jesus”??? Tell me something’s not VERY wrong here. VirtueOline wonders if this means the ECUSA has a Transgendered Savior now.

    I also wonder if this will get any MSM coverage.

  • saint

    The Times has picked it up in one of their reports on the convention.

  • Carol

    Julianne check out one of the conservative blog sites and you will probably be able to find what you are looking for. http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/index
    http://babybluecafe.blogspot.com/
    http://gencon06.classicalanglican.net/
    http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/
    http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/

    If I hadn’t already left the Episcopal Church, I would surely leave after this convention. A person put forth as a great reconciler and her first sermon calls on “Mother” Jesus. That and many other things (theology mostly) I can no longer bear.

    An Anglican, but not an Episcopalian any more

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    And now it’s the morning after, and the Great Episcopal Hangover begins. I suppose it was inevitable that the comments here would be infested with various people posturing about how far the once mighty PECUSA has fallen. Message: it’s thirty years too late for that.

    What strikes me is that the “outcome” of the convention has left the press with a situation that is very hard to decode, though ripe with “however” quote opportunities. The basic AP story isn’t too bad, though it gives little sense of the dynamics that brought the church from Tuesday’s rejection to Wednesday’s resolution. BUt I’ll bet that the papers this morning are full of “were we at the same convention?” stories.

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  • str1977

    “Interviewed on CNN, Jefferts Schori was asked if it was a sin to be homosexual.

    “I don’t believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us,” she said.

    Actually, doesn’t the Pastoral Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church about the Care of Homosexual persons pretty much say the same thing? She’s answered nothing about the act; just the orientation. If even the RCC thinks the orientation is alright, surely we can expect no other from the ECUSA.

    Micah, you are mistaken on the Chuch’s view of homsexual orientation, which she regards as intrinsically bad and not “alright” – just because the mere orientation is not a sin (just as cleptomania isn’t) doesn’t mean that it is one of “different gifts” and all the rest that Mrs Schori said.

    And finally, I don’t know but is what Mrs Schori said actually the official position of the ECUSA (as opposed that of the liberal faction dominating it).


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