When did the Anglicans “erupt”?

volc1Let’s flash back for a moment to the eruption of Anglican warfare in Northern Virginia that drew so much press coverage last weekend.

You may recall that I, well, blew up a bit over a wording in one of the crucial Associated Press stories, one written by religion-beat specialist Rachel Zoll.

That report is kind of hard to find online right now, since many websites took it down in favor of an updated report, one that does not include what I thought was an error that needed to be corrected. Still, here is the passage I questioned:

The ballots are part of a crisis over the Bible and sexuality that is battering The Episcopal Church and threatening its role as the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion.

The feud erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Supporters argued that the biblical ban on gay sex does not apply to monogamous same-gender couples. However, most overseas Anglicans disagree and have been pressuring the American church to follow traditional Christian teaching.

I thought it was wrong to say that “this feud” erupted in 2003, when the actual issues behind the global warfare in Anglicanism have been haunting the communion since the 1980s and exploded into open combat in the late 1990s. My criticism brought this comment from the Associated Press:

I read your Anglican Wars post, and just want to note that the labeling of a sentence of our story as “way, way way off base” seems to be based on a misinterpretation. According to Mirriam-Webster, “erupt” does not mean “to begin,” but rather “to force out or release suddenly and often violently something (as lava or steam) that is pent up to burst forth.” AP religion reporters and editors well know that this latest debate over Scriptural authority dates back decades. But it’s no stretch to say that 2003 was a major turning point for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Rachel Zoll, who covered the 2003 Episcopal General Convention, notes that “volcanic” is indeed a good way to describe the tumultuous meeting, which was why she was drawn to the word “erupted.”

Posted by Kristin Gazlay, Managing Editor of National News, The Associated Press at 5:04 pm on December 18, 2006

Now I realize — as a wire-service columnist — the degree to which issues of word count often affect the contents of these kinds of stories. Honest, I do. Length is always an issue.

However, if you read the AP report you will note that there is no previous mention of an ongoing crisis in Anglicanism that predates 2003. I have no doubt that Zoll knows the warfare predates the Robinson consecration. However, there is no way the reader can know that by reading this report.

erupt“Erupt” is a good word and I understand Gazlay’s point. However, there is no evidence in the story that the volcano previously existed or that it has erupted in the past.

So what did the story need to say? All we needed was one tiny insertion of fact. Perhaps the clause “The ballots are part of a crisis over the Bible and sexuality” could have said, “The ballots are part of a three-decade crisis over the Bible and sexuality,” etc. That would have done the trick. Then the next sentence says, accurately, that there has been a new eruption. Amen.

If you want to see an accurate reference in a short wire-service report, click here to see the Religion News Service story on these events by Daniel Burke. Here is the key passage:

The Virginia congregations have thrust themselves to the front line of a conservative movement, in which U.S. parishes are aligning with theological allies in the wider Anglican Communion. While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world’s 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations on issues like homosexuality.

Tensions in the U.S. church, mounting since the decision to ordain women three decades ago, exploded after an openly gay man was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Note that the tensions exploded, or perhaps it can be said that they “erupted.” But they have been building for “three decades.”

That’s the ticket.

P.S. It is also interesting that a key player in the RNS report is “the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church.” This is an accurate reference under Associated Press style. He is a bishop, not a priest who is a “bishop.”

Print Friendly

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.

  • bob

    I think if you look a little further you might agree the crisis began much longer ago. James Pike dismissed the Trinity as “excess baggage” in the 1960′s. Result: Nothing. He began his sermons “In the name of God, Amen”. This religion has taken hold nicely, and he is memorialized in the 1979 BCP. The wedding service in the Episcopal Church has since then allowed a couple to make their vows to each other in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit “(Or, In the name of God)”. The eucharist typically begins “Blessed is the one holy and living God, now and forever”. The eruption may be now, the decay has been for at least forty years.
    Pointing out now that trinitarian language is important would get a bewildered expression at best. Excess baggage doesn’t get crisis treatment, one is glad to get rid of it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    At the risk of nitpicking, I should point out that the RNS report also contains an error. Since early October, as announced in this release from the Diocese of Virginia, Martyn Minns has served as priest in charge, and no longer as rector, of Truro.

    In fairness to Daniel Burke, I should also mention that Bishop Minns’ changed title within the diocese was not reflected in the weekly bulletin of Dec. 16-22 [PDF]. Bishop Minns did write about the new arrangement in the bulletin of Sept. 30-Oct. 6 [PDF].

    This is, to be sure, a fairly obscure point, but also one that would matter to Bishop Peter James Lee of the Diocese of Virginia.

  • An Anxious Anglican

    Bob: You wrote that Pike is “memorialized in the 1979 BCP.” I looked at the kalendar in my 79 BCP and was unable to see where he is “memorialized.” Would you please clarify your meaning?

    You also wrote, “The eucharist typically begins ‘Blessed is the one holy and living God, now and forever.’” I have never heard a Eucharist begun that way, and the BCP provides the usual Trinitarian beginning as follows: “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The people respond, “And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.” There is plenty wrong with the Episcopal Church, but I am concerned that the problems you identify might be local ones rather than stemming from the BCP.

  • bob

    Anxious, What is sometimes called the Pike Memorial is p. 427 in the wedding service. The Trinity is an option, and nothing more. It makes it more palatable to couples who find it excess baggage as did Pike. The Unitarian beginning of the eucharist seems to be all that is done in the Diocese of Olympia in Western Washington State, including every Sunday morning in a televised low mass. They also have Muslim banners in the cathedral. It was a surprise the first time I heard the non-trinitarian opening done, as it wasn’t what I recalled from the last time I was at an Episcopalian service, but it isn’t any more.

  • http://kraalspace.blogspot.com/ Dr. Mabuse

    I think you’re quite right; even erupting volcanos have a history of being volcanos beforehand, so the eruption is not an entire surprise. If the writer hadn’t wanted to specify just how long tensions had been building which led to this explosive moment, (and there is some debate about ‘when it all started’) she could have written “The ballots are part of a long-simmering crisis over the Bible and sexuality,” etc.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    “overseas Anglicans disagree and have been pressuring the American church to follow traditional Christian teaching”

    This sentence lends credence to one side of this conflict with the linking of conservative and traditional. But it’s arguable if there was an official teaching on such matters before homosexuality became a public issue in the 60s. And in other areas, particularly with polity, the right has been anything but traditional.

  • MattK

    I’m not one to talk, being an Orthodox in America, but it seems to me that a Nigerian Archbishop violating the ancient canons regarding diocesan bounderies can not be described as upholding “traditional Christian teaching”. It seems to me that Archbishop Akinola is saying by his presences in America that the Episcopal Church is not part of the Church. It is tanamount to excommunications and anathemas. I wonder if anyone has the archbishop on record regarding the state of the Episcopal Church. Does he regard the sees as vacant? Does he regard the liberal bishops as apostates? Does he recognize himself as being in communion with them? Has he anathematized the Episcopal Church?

  • John Fleischer

    The final straw for me to leave the Episcopal Church was the glorification of sin in the celebration of the elevation of father Robertson to Bishop. Many have just left as evidenced by the slow decline in revenue and membership. America is a free country and we can go to any church that we like. It is a free market society. People vote with their feet and revenue.

  • bob

    John, I wonder if you consider what you are saying (but probably not meaning) when you say the “last straw” was Robinson becoming a bishop. Why was there no outrage when he was merely a *priest*? Is that OK but not a bishop? For that matter, why is it (usually understood) OK to be a layman in the Episcopal Church living in a homosexual relationship, but not a priest? These are things unacceptable to any Christian. The Episcopalians have forgotten all of that. Completely. They got no straws, so there never is a last one. It makes it fairly easy to leave the Episcopalian organization, because *being* one is so very similar to *not* being one. What difference does it make to a person?

  • Pingback: feminine-genius