As Canterbury Turns: Dissing the lady bishop

350px WashingtonnationalcathedralGreetings from Oxford, England, where the climate is as hot as blazes — weather-wise and Anglican-wise. I am busy all week teaching at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, where a group of 16 journalists from all over the world (I am the only person from the United States) are presenting papers on “Freedom of the Press Versus Blasphemy in the Internet Age.”

However, I do have some Internet access at the old, old, but friendly St. Edmund Hall. Thus, I noticed that The Washington Post has mentioned in a local story that one of the most powerful priests in its circulation area has been elected as a bishop in Nigeria. That isn’t in the lead, but it did get into the newspaper. Did I miss an earlier reference chasing the much-debated Julia Duin report in The Washington Times?

The story by veteran Alan Cooperman focuses on fallout from the election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, an outspoken leader on the Anglican left, as the new presiding bishop (or archbishop) of The Episcopal Church. However, I think that this story may, for some readers, blur a key line in this already complicated conflict. Here’s the key information:

Although she will not take up her new role until November, six U.S. dioceses already have rejected her authority, and that number is rising. Many church leaders expect that by the time she takes office, about five more, for a total of 10 percent of the nation’s 111 Episcopal dioceses, will have joined the rejectionist camp.

Moreover, conservative Anglicans overseas have made no secret of their hope that the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, will not invite Jefferts Schori to the next gathering of the heads of the 38 constituent churches in 2008.

Gender is only part of the reason that some conservatives in the church are unhappy about her election.

That last sentence — and some background material later in the report — is very important.

There are a few U.S. dioceses that still reject the ordination of women, period. There may be a few more that accept women in the episcopate, but, as a practical matter, wish the U.S. church had not elected a woman as presiding bishop at this time — since there are many Anglican leaders in the Third World who still follow the ancient Christian practice of an all-male priesthood. England has made up its mind about the priesthood, but is stalled at the switch on the episcopate.

So different Anglicans — here in the United States and abroad — are upset with Jefferts Schori for different reasons, and it is important to help readers know who is who in this church that tries to keep evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and liberals (modern and postmodern) kneeling at the same altar.

The key in this case is not gender, but her enthusiasm about modernizing the Sacrament of Marriage for use in a world of pluriform sexuality.

And check out this quote from the Post article:

“All language is metaphorical, and if we insist that particular words have only one meaning and the way we understand those words is the only possible interpretation, we have elevated that text to an idol,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m encouraging people to look beyond their favorite understandings.”

Jefferts Schori’s “all language is metaphorical” approach is a giant red flag to traditionalists at home and abroad who believe that the Episcopal Church is heading toward schism because it has departed from the plain words of the Bible.

However, the new presiding bishop’s theology is now normative in Episcopal seminaries and in the church’s House of Bishops. She represents the elite theology of this era in her church. She is normal. In many places, she has tenure. It is the traditional Anglicans who are, well, not very traditional in the here and now.

In America, the old-fashioned Anglicans are rebels. In the Third World, the traditionalists are normal Anglicans. And that clash is what this story is all about. This is a complex story, so it’s important to keep the lines clear between the various camps.

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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.

  • Stephen A.

    Of course, as noted before, the numbers prove that the metaphorical liberal tail is wagging the metaphorical traditionalist dog when it comes to Anglicans worldwide.

    On the other hand, there’s always an exception or two to prove the rule…

    I bumped into this interesting article in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper online the other day called “Women Priests In Demand in Jamaica Anglican Diocese”

    “A decade after the initial breakthrough, women ordained to sacred ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica have grown from three to 24, and now the church says its members are demanding more female priests to lead them.

    A 25th female priest is to be added to the diocese today when Deacon Elizabeth Riley becomes ordained at the St James Cathedral in Spanish Town, says Barbara Gloudon, Anglican spokeswoman and lay-reader.

    In Jamaica, females as heads of churches is not unknown, but such women tend to be the exception in male-centric Christianity.

    Gloudon says it is the right of Anglican congregations to request a priest they deem fit to lead the church.

    “Women make the congregations feel more comfortable and the experience has been very good,” said Gloudon.”

  • Jack O’Neill

    Could it be that Barbara Gloudon is a self-appointed Anglican spokeswoman, asserting the opinion of herself and a small coterie, say 25, feminists, and that we are do not really have an accurate idea of the opinion of Jamaican Anglicans? The press should be checking the credentials of such spokespersons, of course, so I may be doing all an injustice; if so, I apologize.

  • Michael

    I think one of the other unwritten stories of the whole Anglican debate is an examination of the state of the Anglican church in the Third World. Who are the people in Africa that American traditionalists are running to hold hands with.

    The controverisal Akinola notwithstanding, it’s interesting how little time has been spent looking at the Anglican church in Africa. Who are these “traditionalists” and do they reflect and represent an Angilcan church that should be revered or severely questioned?

    How much do the ECUSA dissidents know about the state of the Anglican church in Rwanda and Kenya and Nigeria? Is the fact that they agree on gays and women enough to overlook other possible disagreements?

    And can you imagine another worldwide church allowing its direction to be molded by the Global South? Imagine if Catholics took its cues from Abidjan, Caracas or Manila instead of European Catholics.

  • Deborah

    “And can you imagine another worldwide church allowing its direction to be molded by the Global South? Imagine if Catholics took its cues from Abidjan, Caracas or Manila instead of European Catholics.”

    Ah, how soon we forget. Remember, after the death of John Paul II, there was very serious discussion about electing a Pope from the Global South, partly to help ensure continuing orthodox teaching. The center of gravity in the Christian church as a whole has been shifting to Africa and Asia for some time now. The only reason American RCs are not in the position of American Anglicans is different church polity.

    That having been said, I do agree some in-depth profiles of Akinola, et al., are called for, and I think anything short of a reporter actually visiting these Provinces and seeing the local persecution and worship practices will fall short. Simply dissecting their theology via phone interviews and online research will not tell a story worth telling.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    To be Catholic means to be faithful to Sacred Tradition whether in Rome, Paris, Caracas, or Manila. And part of that Tradition is that the pope holds the “power of the keys” and provides a single universally recognized (by genuine Catholics)center with the authority to conclusively resolve controversies. Consequently, the fissuring and fracturing in the worldwide Catholic Church is far less likely than in worldwide Protestant bodies. For a devout Catholic this service of unity which the papacy provides for the Church is a gift from the Holy Spirit to the Church.

  • Michael

    That’s a good point, Deacon. I hadn’t thought my example through.

    Still, it’s hard to fathom another denomination–created in England and later made larger by the U.S.–that would look to Lagos and Nairobi for how to lead the church. The Bishops in Nigeria and Kenya have appallingly quesionable records, yet this is where the American Anglicans look for hope.

    When the Catholics were looking to the Global South, the challenge was finding someone who was conservative especially given the liberation theology one sees in South America and even Africa.

  • Will

    And Arinze of Nigeria was a much-touted *papabile*, and still a prominent voice (with his own podcast, no less.)

  • Will

    And Arinze of Nigeria was a much-touted *papabile*, and still a prominent voice (with his own podcast, no less.)
    (If only! We could have looked to captions of “The Black Pope Meets the ‘Black Pope’”.)

  • Sean Gallagher

    The current pope–a German (perhaps, more accurately, Bavarian) by birth–has serving him at the highest levels of the curia the already mentioned Nigerian Cardinal Arinze, the Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias, and the Colombian Cardinal Trujillo, among others.

    And it should be noted that the monikerrs of “conservative” or “liberal” don’t fit very well with these men, including the pope. Why? Because they are primarily political terms, not religious ones.

    Cardinal Arinze, while strongly supporting Catholic beliefs on marriage and priestly ordination–two examples of doctrines ordinarily connected by the MSM with “conservatives”–was previously the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue–a topic ordinarily connected by the MSM with “liberals.”

    I suspect that if one dug a little under the surface of the Anglican bishops in Nigeria (which a previous commenter suggested), one would find that, in addition to defending the longstanding definition of marriage and priestly and episcopal ordination, they also place high importance on social justice in an increasingly globalized economy–something that has a significant impact in Nigeria but is also considered a “liberal” topic.

  • Micah Weedman

    Are anglicans or episcopalians actually ever officially trying to do anything to marriage? Is there something I’m missing? It seems like all official language in news reports steers clear of the “m” word (and certainly the “s” word) when talking about gays and lesbians and sticks instead to talking about “blessing ceremonies for civil unions.” This is of course theologically significant, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding what’s going on. I don’t know of anyone in the Episcopal church who is covered in the MSM who advocates a change in marriage practices, just the inclusion of something marriage-like for gays and lesbians (by way of contrast, I do know of one culture-war defying Catholic who maintains a conservative view of marriage while arguing that gays and lesbians could in fact be a part of the church’s marraige practice).

  • tmatt


    Rites that alter or substitute for a sacrament are a major theological change, there’s no way around it. You have a wide range of proposals in TEC at this moment. The dioceses on the left have simply moved on and are doing their own things.

    If you read the ++Rowan document, you know that he sees what is currently happening as schism at the SACRAMENTAL level. If you talk with an African about this (had dinner with a major Nigerian journalist last night and discussed this topic), the first thing that comes up is marriage and what is happening on that topic and the tensions here, and there, in the defense of orthodoxy on that subject.

    Oh, and the Africans also see the actions of the cultural left over here as another form of imperialism and colonialism — another way of the Americans forcing themselves and their views (think money and the war, too) on other nations.

    tmatt, at Oxford

  • Micah Weedman

    Of course it’s a theological issue, and one that is ultimately sacramental in nature. However, my original point was that in western media at least, there is a distinction made between civil unions and marriage whenever this is discussed. “Full inclusion in the life of the church” is also mentioned a lot–so, I’m curious to know how it is that civil unions are a practice of the church, for sure. But I’m also certain that no one in the western church, or not a lot of people, are really talking about developing gay marriage ceremonies, but rather same-sex-union ceremonies. Here’s a recent article that sort of deals with it:

    It would seem easy to think that most things happening in America constitute a form of imperialism. When you say “the africans,” do you mean all of them?

  • Michael

    I imagine it’s not described as marriage because same-sex marriage is only legal in a few countries and one state. OTOH, blessing same-sex relationships achieves a similar goal but it’s not called ‘marriage” because a “marriage” would be illegal in the UK and the US (except for Mass.)

    As for what “the Africans” think, the leaders of the Anglican church in Southern Africa and the Sudan have been critical of Akinola–who leads the largest church on the continent–and Nzimbi for focusing too much on gays and women when there are such larger priorities.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    In my work with Episcopalians United (now Anglicans United) during the 1990s, I reported on two national conferences of GLBT Episcopalians, and their primary debate was about whether to accept the heterosexist limitations, as they saw it, of marriage. My reports on those two conferences were Activists say inclusion is not enough and Activists agree on means, but not ends. (I wrote those rather unimaginative headlines, and I apologize for them.)

    Just last month the 75th General Convention considered three resolutions relevant to this discussion:

    A095 supports family benefits for gay and lesbian couples, and opposes any state or federal laws to prevent same-sex civil marriage or civil unions. (Approved by both houses.)

    D017 authorized using “rites for Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and The Blessing of a Civil Marriage in the Book of Common Prayer for same-sex couples in those civil jurisdictions that permit same-sex marriage,” with necessary adjustments to the existing texts. The bishops rejected it. (Deputy Louie Crew of the Diocese of Newark proposed this resolution. Among Episcopalians, Louie is the most eloquent advocate of gay marriage, but he’s a longtime friend, so I say this with a deep bias.)

    D049 defined the institution of marriage as “a civil event presided over by an Agent of the State and requiring that the Members of the Clergy be responsible solely for the blessing of the union as a Holy Act.” This resolution perished in committee, as did hundreds of others because of this convention’s laggardly pace in addressing the Windsor Report.

    I have little doubt that D017 or D049 will reappear, in some form, at subsequent conventions.

    If such initiatives are not mentioned in Western media reports, then Western media are missing crucial details in The Episcopal Church’s debates.

  • Stephen A.

    Michael has a point about Africa. There are certainly liberals in S. Africa and elsewhere who feel that issues of morality and church polity are “unimportant”, and instead – like American liberals – want to focus on a politicized social gospel instead.

    That should be brought out in news stories, just as the views of Akinola and his group, who believe they (and most of the TEC) have their priorities a bit mixed up, and that traditional 1 man/1 woman marriage really is something worth preserving.

  • http://none pickett

    “All language is metaphorical, and if we insist that particular words have only one meaning and the way we understand those words is the only possible interpretation, we have elevated that text to an idol,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m encouraging people to look beyond their favorite understandings.”

    Why would anyone take this kind of self-contradictory statement seriously? If all language is metaphorical, why even bother communicating? So I’ll look beyond my “favorite understanding” of her silly statement and take it to mean that she has educate herself into imbecility.