The PB and her amazing technicolor dreamcoat

Jefferts Schori investitureThe 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?

RobinsonAnd 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!

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  • Stephen A.

    I, too, noticed the colors. In fact, when I saw the entire operation Sunday on the news, I laughed out loud. Not only was she decked out in that FABulous colorful display, she was wearing a purple mitre, and the installation was preceded by (or perhaps it was DURING the ceremony) dancers carrying sticks with long, multicolored streamers on them. Bizarre.

    I’ve mentioned this phenomenon before. When I attended a Presbyterian church (PCUSA) the ‘new’ woman minister did the same thing – adopted colorful, out-of-season vestments. I’ve seen other woman ministers/priests doing the same thing.

    I hesitate to say this, but perhaps there’s a proclivity among women to innovate – and not just in the traditional clothing.

    As for the Robinson/Haggard analogy, that’s utterly fascinating. I’m sure the MSM sees the Haggard issue as hypocrisy, unless he had left his wife and kids, then it was “courageous.”

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    With Haggard it’s “hypocrisy” because he is publicly against a “secular sacrament” (gay rights). Jefferts Schori embraces this “secular sacrament” and is a hero.

    Another observation about Jefferts Schori’s vestment. Most vestments with symbols have Christian symbols on them, and usually reflect the predominant symbols for that season (i.e., angels for Christmas, dove/flames for Pentecost, etc.). But Jefferts Schori’s vestment contain the symbols of the world’s major religions! This is an ecumenical “Imagine” vestment if I ever saw one. From what I see I recognize the symbols of Islam, Judaism (interesting those two are next to each other–and Islam above Judaism), Greek Orthodox? (circle with Greek cross), an Eastern faith with the “ying/yang” symbol, and Western Christianity with the Latin cross. I’m not sure what the other symbols are for. I’m sure the reporter didn’t understand what is all on the bestment to care to look further into that aspect.

  • Caelius Spinator

    Anglican bishops are known to wear some fairly outlandish vestments sometimes. Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria, is pictured on the Church of Nigeria web site with a very colorful mitre. And, while I’m not sure if that’s his stole peeking out from his shoulders, it looks rainbowish.

    The comparison between the Robinson and the Haggard stories is interesting. Not knowing certain details about the latter, I can’t really comment on how close the parallels are.

  • Brian

    Not to be too “nit=picky,” but ++Schori was invested as Presiding Bishop. She was consecrated a Bishop 5 years ago.

  • tmatt

    The illustration with this post is not the new Presiding Bishop’s stole. I believe it is taken from a Unitarian Universalist site. Or another alternative store for the religious left.

  • Raider51


    Initially, I had only seen above-the-waist photos of the vestments and had assumed that they were designed to reflect ++KJS’ oceanography background. Now, having read the above and seen this picture [very large image], I can see what Alan Cooperman /WaPo was referring to. If you look at the base of the garment, between her legs, there is something which appears to be either a sunrise or a sunset.

    I’m wondering if Robin Givhan will weigh in?

  • C. Wingate

    The “investiture” vs. “consecration” matter was a conspicuous gaff in Duin’s piece. This service was simply a formality– the technical name for it in the BCP is “Celebration of New Ministry”. In this case they crossed it with elements from other services.

    I don’t really have time to sit down and watch the service, but I did read through the bulletin. There is a lot of room here for analysis by someone who understands what has happen and what the various customs mean. Rainbow vestments are typically considered “white” and have a number of unconnected significances, some of which surely did not obtain here.

    It’s pretty clear that the powers-that-be mostly got the articles they wanted: dazzled by the pageantry, they didn’t stop to ask what it all meant, or for that matter, how it related to past services– but we can’t expect religion reporters to remember that far back, can we? However, the Post article is actually chock full of interesting news items, such as the information that one of Chane’s parishes has managed to get something of an alternative oversight deal.

    And the L.A. Times articles ends with one ofthe most egregious breaches of religious controversy writing. They called up the AAC for a reaction (which not surprisingly was pithy and negative) and then set this against that stock character in the pews, the Little Old Lady Who Is Joyous At The Change. The message is pretty obvious: forget that dour (male) naysayer and go with the Dear Old Thing. It’s blatantly biased and reporters should stop using it!

  • Darrell Grizzle

    The stole pictured here shows the symbols from the Service of Universal Worship, an interfaith service developed around 1920 by Hazrat Inayat Khan, the teacher from India who brought Sufism to the west. The heart with wings is the symbol of the Sufi Order. This appears to be a badly-designed home-made stole, since the symbols of the different religions are supposed to be in roughly chronological order, with Hinduism first and the heart-with-wings last.

    This stole is not Episcopalian, not UU, and to show it in this story about the Presiding Bishop is misleading. Purposely so, since at least one GetReligion editor (tmatt) knows it’s not the stole worn by the Presiding Bishop. GetReligion usually has higher journalistic standards. If The New York Times resorted to such deceptive tactics, GetReligion would jump all over them, and rightly so.

  • Maureen

    I went and looked at the link to the vestments.

    Dear Lord. Ugly, poorly designed, _and_ obviously expensive. Also, they manage to make a fairly tall woman look dumpy. Amazing work.

    Paging the Manolo….

  • Martha

    Wow. Having read the booklet for the service, and gotten a good laugh out of the idea of the dancers leading in the various big-wigs with ‘Jubilation Streamers’, I certainly did not expect anything like that picture.

    The only explanation I can come up with is that the Episcopalian Church is now going through what we went through back in the 1970s post-Vatican II when earthenware, felt and guitars made their appearance everywhere.

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  • Fr Joseph Huneycutt

    Darrell makes a good point. However, for the sake of discussion, if someone is quoted in a news story as believing that Christianity is not the only path to God — especially if that someone is a bishop — might it not be possible to imagine that stole a suiting pic?

    I’m not even sure “Christianity is the only path to God” is a theologically correct statement. But that’s for another blog.

    That said, my bet’s on Mollie changing the pic by mid-morning. :)

  • Frank Elliott

    I suppose facts don’t matter to religion reporters, but Robinson’s wife divorced him three years before Robinson met his partner. So the reporter’s comparison shows a popular reckless disregard for the truth.

    From the Wikipedia bio:
    [Gene Robinson] and his wife divorced in 1986, but remain friends. Around 1989, Robinson met his current partner, Mark Andrews, who currently works in the New Hampshire state government.

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  • Chaz

    I think you could have appropriately titled this post: Why I am not an Episcopalian, and just shown the picture.

  • Larry Rasczak

    “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?”

    While I think the point about the press’s rather non-traditional view of what is and is not a “moral failure” is spot on; I do have to say one thing to defend them.

    The fact that the ECUSA has given up Christianity as it’s central organizing factor is not really news, at least not to anyone that has been paying attention. Spong has been saying things that are pretty much incompatable with Christianity for many years now, and C.S. Lewis wrote about the roots of the Anglican Communion’s movement away from Christ back during the 30s. (See God in the Dock).

    So the Rick Haggard story had the factor of suprise involved in it… it was shocking and hence “News”, it is “Man bites Dog.” The fact the ECUSA is a “Post-Christian Theological Debate and Choral Society” rather than a Christian Church really does fall into the “dog bites man” category.

  • Mollie


    Thanks for the correction — I noted it in the post.

    C. Wingate,

    If this post hadn’t already been so long, I was going to note the LA Times’ ridiculous walk-off. I mean really, talk about puffy.

  • C. Wingate

    Well, it’s not just puffy. It’s a message to the reader to take the side of the change-welcoming old lady and reject the stodgy official spokesman (who is “obviously” out of touch with the average layperson). It’s a gambit that appears time and again in religious reporting.

  • Tope

    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?

    I think the respective coverage of each issue is reflective of interest on the part of the American public. We as a culture – not just as journalists – have these weird hangups about sex that we don’t have about other controversial issues. Americans care more about “Foleygate” than they do about the Jack Abramoff scandal. Similarly they care more about Ted Haggard using meth and sleeping with men than they do about the doctrine (or lack thereof) of the new Episcopal PB. Well, and there’s also the fact that the magically shrinking Episcopal Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant in any case. I’m sure the coverage would be much more substantial if a publicly dissenting priest were appointed as bishop in the Catholic or Orthodox Churches (Lord have mercy and heaven forbid).

    Anyway. We can debate whether or not journalistic coverage should be driven by public demand, but there’s no question that Americans, by and large, are far more interested in titillating sexual scandals than other issues of substance.

  • Philocrites

    Since you’ve already acknowledged how misleading the photograph is, I won’t belabor that point. But it’s irresponsible of you and the reporter you quote about V. Gene Robinson to use the inaccurate word “abandoned” to describe his divorce. That’s polemic, not journalism.

  • Dennis Colby

    I think the comparison between Ted Haggard and Gene Robinson is a little misleading. First of all, there was plenty of coverage in the press of the people who were deeply unhappy with Robinson’s election as bishop.

    Second of all, Robinson was never a nationally prominent opponent of gay marriage and critic of homosexuality, as Haggard is. In fact, Robinson had absolutely no national profile until the controversy over his election, whereas Haggard has been well-known for years.

    Third, unlike in the Robinson affair, there’s an election year angle in the Haggard case, given that Haggard has been so political active. Seeing as how this is one of the most significant midterm elections in recent history, that’s a natural for front page coverage.

    Finally, the “crucifixion” comparison is appalling. Ted Haggard, a nationally prominent pastor who has spoken out against what he regards as immoral behavior, has admitted to paying a male prostitute for an illegal narcotic and a massage. Mollie, if your correspondent can’t see why the Haggard story has played out as it has, they probably should be in another line of work.

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  • C. Wingate

    Just to be clear: the linked article is NOT to the vestments she wore at the installation. It links to pictures from a service on the following day. (Not that I like those any better, mind you.)

  • Michael

    I happen to know Bishop Robinson. He did not abondon his children or his wife and still has a relationship with them. He didn’t go around paying for sex behind his family back. There is a big difference from the hypocrite Haggard.

  • Mattk


    Thanks for the info on the stole. I recognized all the symbols on the stole except the winged heart and was a little bit botherd by my lack of knowledge. Thanks for filling in the gap.

  • Michele Hagerman

    Those vestments are bug-ugly! It’s a relief to think about the Orthodox vestments I’ll see at Vespers on Wednesday evening.

    Glad I’m out of the ECUSA circus!

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  • Simon Sarmiento

    Jim Naughton has made some interesting comments on this post at I was hoping to find a trackback here and even a response….

  • Darrell Grizzle

    Fr Joseph Huneycutt: You lost your bet. Mollie has kept the misleading photo in this story, albeit with a “Note” at the end of the story (is that like Bush’s “signing statement” when he signs a law he intends to ignore?). Of course, just a few days ago GetReligion scolded a newspaper for running a misleading photo of a Catholic priest’s collar in a story about Ted Haggard. I guess GetReligion is following Haggard’s ethic of “do as I say, not as I do.” To remove the deceptive photo would require a level of integrity that GetReligion apparently just doesn’t have any more.

  • Maureen

    How is this a misleading photo? IIRC, it’s the same stole photo used as a tag for several stories in the past, and represents various liturgical weirdnesses going on in Unitarian, Episcopalian, and other religious groups. You see the photo, you know it’s a weirdness story.

    And those vestments were weird.

  • tmatt

    Thanks Maureen. I wish Episcopal News Service had made its photos available to all.

  • Mollie

    Many good comments on the thread. I’m sorry my busy-ness has kept me from being more active in the hyper-active comment threads we’ve had this week.

    I did want to mention to all the people who were confused or upset by my using a picture of an interfaith stole to illustrate this post . . .

    I tried very hard to get a picture of Jefferts Schori that I could use for this site. But there were none I could find in the public domain.

    However, the point of the photo is not that it was the attire worn by Jefferts Schori at her investiture but, rather, that the piece deals with the failure of some reporters to look at the significance behind liturgical vestments. I apologize for any confusion.

    If someone has a better photo — that I am able to use legally — I would be happy to use one.

    Particularly since the service was interfaith, I’m not sure the outrage over the picture is warranted.

    Having said that, I appreciate Darrell’s clarifying comments about this piece of art we’ve used a few times in the past — and I encourage people to check out his site for more on Sufi spirituality.

  • Jan Nunley+

    Terry, Mollie, everyone: Episcopal News Service ALWAYS makes its photos available to all noncommercial use without charge. (Even if you are using them for unfair criticism of the Episcopal Church, its Presiding Bishop, and its news services—which, of course, GetReligion would never do.)

    The only requirement is that you credit ENS and the photographer (if s/he is named). There’s no reason you should have had to use the photo above, and you are more than welcome to change it to one of these:
    All you had to do was ask…

    The Rev. Jan Nunley
    Deputy for Communication
    The Episcopal Church Center, aka “815″

  • Darrell Grizzle

    Thank you, Mollie. As a believer who is both Episcopalian and Sufi (and there are quite a few of us hybrids out there), I just wanted to see this important event represented accurately.

    I apologize for my snippy remarks impugning the integrity of this site. GetReligion is, as always, one of my favorite blogs, one I check out daily. Thank you.

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  • Leonel

    It´s sad that still there are people willing to fabricate lies about Gene Robinson. Quite some time ago, he got a divorce from his wife. Quite some time later, he met his present partner.

    So quit lying. It may sound nice to say otherwise in your argument, but the truth is that Gene did not leave his wife and children in order to pursue his present relationship.