The Episcopal Church invested a new leader this weekend. Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected the first female presiding bishop in June, and media reports then focused on the milestone. Jefferts Schori’s election also provoked a possible schism in the church because of her vote to confirm the election of a gay bishop, among other things.
I was curious whether the papers would feature hard-hitting pieces analyzing the threat posed by the investiture or whether they’d be cheerleading pieces. Let’s begin with Alan Cooperman’s lede for his Washington Post story:
Wearing multicolored vestments that represent a new dawn, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori formally took office yesterday as the first woman to lead the Episcopal Church and promised to seek healing and wholeness in a denomination threatened by schism.
Represent a new dawn? I know that Friday was National Cliche Day, but that seems to be laying it on a bit thick for the first paragraph, no? I believe that Jefferts Schori referred to her color choices as representing dawn, but it would help to attribute the phrase to her if it must be used.
Further, the meaning of the multicolored vestments isn’t explained. In liturgical churches, certain colors are associated with particular seasons of the church year. According to The Episcopal Church, liturgical colors include white or gold for Christmas and Easter; blue or violet for Advent; and red for Holy Week, Pentecost, and ordinations. Clergy’s stoles match the season, generally. Deviating from church traditions means something, I’m sure. Louis Sahagun’s Los Angeles Times piece also mentions the liturgical color changes with only slightly more explanation. You may also be interested in Julia Duin’s Washington Times piece from earlier in the week that anticipated the event.
Still, Cooperman devotes many straightforward and helpful paragraphs to explaining the nature of the division in the Anglican Communion:
But several primates in the Global South — developing countries where Anglicanism is fast growing and deeply traditional — have said that they will have difficulty sitting down with her, not so much because she is a woman as because of her views on homosexuality and theology.
Jefferts Schori . . .voted in 2003 to confirm the election of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican prelate. She has also supported blessings for same-sex couples, and she has said that, although she believes in salvation through Jesus, she does not think Christianity is the only path to God.
Those positions fall on one side of an increasingly bitter fault line in the U.S. church. Seven of the 111 Episcopal dioceses have rejected her authority, though they have stopped short of formally breaking away from the denomination. Some individual parishes have cut all ties to the Episcopal Church and have affiliated with more orthodox Anglican provinces overseas.
Don’t get me wrong: A pastor of a huge church cheating on his spouse with a male prostitute while using crystal methamphetamines is a really big deal. But so is leading a national Christian church body while not believing that Jesus is necessary for salvation. Isn’t it interesting how much coverage one story gets and how thoroughly pedestrian the other is considered?
And on a related note, here’s a snippet from an email that was sent to me today by a reporter:
A pastor is married for years, has children, runs a successful church, advances in his denomination/sector of Christianity, and then “finds himself” and abandons wife and children for a live-in situation with another man. His reward? Consecration as a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church of America and wide-ranging media praise. LATimes, I believe, had a nice kiss-up interview with Gene Robinson just this week.
Another pastor apparently is married for years, has children, builds and runs a a successful church, advances in his denomination/sector of Christianity, fights temptation and loses, stays with his family, and when the dam breaks, is crucified in the press as his reward.
Whatever else you may think of these stories, there’s really no question that most reporters think only involves moral failure. How does that affect the coverage?
It would also be interesting to track which story ends up having the bigger fallout. That depends, of course, on whether Robinson’s story leads the 77 million-member Anglican Communion into schism.
Note: The liturgical stole pictured above is not the one worn by the new presiding bishop. This non-traditional stole comes from an online store for liberal churches. To see the vestments work by Jefferts Schori, click here for an Episcopal News Service photo from the event.
Note: The communications office at The Episcopal Church kindly notified us that we do have permission to use their photos. So I have replaced the original picture (which you can see here) with a picture of Jefferts Schori’s actual vestments. May there be peace in the land!