I’m Henry VIII, I am, I am . . . not

LutherSo I was talking to my wonderful mom last night and she mentioned an article about the Episcopal Church she read in “the newspaper” that had a notable error. I asked her which paper (Denver has two papers and they also subscribe to or receive other local papers) and she didn’t remember. Neither did she remember what day it ran or who wrote it. I asked her if she remembered that I write about the problems mainstream media reporters have with writing about religion. She did and said she meant to mention it to me earlier. So this is just a reminder to my mom and all other readers that we love it when you point out good and bad articles you read or segments you watch or listen to. Within a few hours or days at most.

The article, which my mother eventually found, ran February 16. That’s almost beyond our statute of limitations. Written by the Rocky Mountain News‘ Jean Torkelson, it was actually a good piece of analysis about the larger Anglican controversy and how it is affecting Colorado parishes. Here was the fun part, though:

A majority of the provinces, many of them centered in conservative Africa, are disturbed by the Episcopal Church’s vote at its 2003 general convention to ordain openly gay bishops and allow for same-sex blessings. But critics say that’s just the most visible symptom of an array of departures the American church has taken from classic Christianity, like the tolerance for alternative views of Scripture and core beliefs, including divinity of Christ.

In short, the denomination that launched the Reformation 500 years ago has become a microcosm of modern cultural change and spiritual angst.

Now, the Reformation was launched 500 years ago, but I’m not sure it’s accurate to say any denomination launched it. Particularly when you consider that the major players were trying to reform the Catholic Church while they were still in it — before they were excommunicated. But if you’re going to give credit, I’m pretty sure no scholars or historians would give it to the Anglicans. I don’t think that my Lutheran beliefs are biasing me when I say Martin Luther is commonly considered the most prominent of the Reformers.

Am I missing something? I searched for a correction, but the Rocky Mountain News only archives them for two weeks. But maybe its readers are like my mother and haven’t gotten around to notifying the paper of the error.

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  • Stephen A.

    Well… they (or TEC’s forebears, anyway) certainly launched a reformation in England. We’ll give them that, won’t we? Otherwise, I do think the Lutherans win the prize, overall.

  • George Conger

    While the Reformation comment is wrong on its face, there is a second ill chosen word in the quote from the Rocky Mountain News that caught my eye as it encapsulated much of the disputes taking place within the Episcopal Churcha nd Anglican Communion—calling the Episcopal Church a denomination.

    In common parlance describing the Episcopal Church as a denomination isn’t wrong — however in church language and within the debates now taking place “denomination” is a contested term. Anglicans of a traditional frame of mind reject the appellation, seeing themselves as a branch of the catholic church (small c) akin to the Orthodox churches or the Roman Catholic Church. One of the advances of Anglican Roman Catholic dialogue in the past 40 years was the change in terminology of the Anglican Communion by the Vatican … from sect to denomination to ecclesial community … almost there to church (which is a how the Orthodox are so described).

    The rejection of the denomination label was made several times at the US General Convention’s debates by traditionalists, and was brought up in side conversations at the Primates Meeting last month.

    Against this comes the view that the Episcopal Church and each of the other provinces of the Anglican Communion is an independent church–or denomination–that has a loose affiliation through affinity with the others. As a denomination it has no duty to be catholic, but can pursue niche markets within America’s religious culture without doing damage to its foundations.

    Explaining this is a tough job, as some would even contest that this is an issue at all.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    Hmmm. I thought Wycliffe launched it in England.
    And didn’t Huss predate Dr. Luther?

  • Irenaeus

    Luther was indeed known as the “Saxon Hus.” Luther gets credit for the Reformation because it’s under his influence that the Reformation gets going and stays going.

  • Ed

    Big three of the Reformation (in generally accepted order of importance): Luther, Calvin, Zwingli.

    Menno gets an “also ran” for his part in the Radical Reformation.

    And the Anglican Church does deserve no small ammount of credit for its part in the Reformation, but mostly for the Elizabethan reforms that enabled the Reformation to take root and flourish more or less bloodlessly (unlike the Contient with its Thirty Years War.)

    And as a finaly historical note – Yes, Hus and Wycliffe both predate the Reformation by a bit but their attempts at reformation ultimately failed. They can be considered part of of the “pre-reformation.”

  • http://blidiot.blogspot.com/ Raider51

    I concur with Irenaeus, if you are going to give credit to one person it goes to Luther.

    However, the importance of John Wycliffe (“The Morning Star of the Reformation”) and Jan Hus (greatly influenced himself by Wycliffe) should not be underestimated.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Mollie, you’re being generous characterizing the article as a “good piece of analysis”. The thing is full of outright mistakes and questionable wording. Here are some just from the two paragraphs that you cite:
    * Implication that the primary reason that most provinces are upset is the 2003 decision on gay bishops and same-sex blessings
    * Use of the term “critics” to counterbalance the previous implication (critics of what?)
    * Choice of the term “classic Christianity”, which implies that orthodox = outdated
    * Phrase “alternative views of…core beliefs”, which is a real head-scratcher
    * Laughable statement on the “denomination that launched the Reformation”
    * Implication that this is much ado about “cultural change”, again implying that those who hold orthodox views are out of step culturally and need to get with the program
    * “Spiritual angst”?

    You’re not missing something. It’s one of my three:
    1. The author doesn’t get religion
    2. The author gets some religion but doesn’t get this denomination
    3. Politics trumps religion

    Frankly, I’m sick of analyses by people who can’t analyze. Just report and let us idiots do our own analyses. Please?

  • Michael


    Well, she is an opinion writer. In that way, she’s like Terry who is able to weave in a viewpoint into her analysis. Your criticisms are based more on the fact that you don’t agree with her, not that she’s wrong (except, maybe, on the Reformation, altho as the commenters point out, she may not be completely in left field there, either).

    Not agreeing with the reader’s bias isn’t evidence of bad analysis or reporting. Arguably, she does get religion, she just doesn’t get religion the same way you get get religion. Your criticisms aren’t facts as much as they are points of views or interpretations.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mollie–England was so far behind the curve as the Reformation spread across parts of Europe that the pope gave Henry VIII the title “Defender of the Faith.” I believe this title is still used by England’s monarchs. Of course, things changed quickly when the “Gay issue ” of the day (divorce and remarriage) reared its head when Henry decided to become the serial Mormon of his day.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Actually, Jean Torkelson is the religion-BEAT reporter — not an editorial writer. So, at the very best, we have a confusing situation in which the reporter is doing straight reporting right next to analysis/opinion. I had the same combination of duties when I was at the Rocky and, frankly, I thought it was strange back then. This is, however, a common situation on some senior beats.

    BTW, I do not see an “analysis” label on this piece. Am I missing something?

  • Dale

    The writer’s bias in this piece of analysis is disguised by the selective reporting of facts, and by adopting the terminology chosen by one side of a controversy.

    A majority of the provinces, many of them centered in conservative Africa, are disturbed by the Episcopal Church’s vote at its 2003 general convention to ordain openly gay bishops and allow for same-sex blessings.

    First, there is the unqualified use of the term “conservative” to describe the African primates. While the primates may be theologically conservative, it is misleading to describe them as generally “conservative” in an American newspaper, as the that term has meanings in an American context that are, at best, inapplicable to African Anglican bishops.

    Second, by excluding any references to the prior declaration of the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Bishops regarding homosexuality, the writer makes it appear that the dispute began in 2003; in fact, the TEC’s House of Bishops voted to authorize same-sex blessings and ordination of non-celibate homosexuals in direct contradiction to the prior declarations of Lambeth.

    But critics say that’s just the most visible symptom of an array of departures the American church has taken from classic Christianity, like the tolerance for alternative views of Scripture and core beliefs, including divinity of Christ.

    The writer defines the issue in terms of “tolerance”, which is not the way the “critics” describe the problem; rather, that is the way TEC leadership chooses to define the problem. The critics are saying that it is inappropriate for ordained individuals and the church hierarchy to actively teach doctrine that contradicts the historic confessions of the church. To describe that as an issue of “tolerance” minimizes the importance of the core doctrinal disputes and implicitly adopts TEC’s stance of impugning the character of the theological conservatives as as “intolerant”.

    Consider Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Centennial, which is undergoing a $1.7 million expansion. Good times are back since this parish underwent its own crisis related to the churchwide angst: In 2004, the lesbian rector, the Rev. Bonnie Spencer, and her partner celebrated a private, unauthorized same-sex “commitment ceremony.”

    “That was our defining moment,” said the Rev. Craig Mac-Coll,who succeeded Spencer after she took a job with another parish out of state.

    “Some people could not accept it, and left . . . though we lost a number of people, we bounced back stronger than ever.” Today, he added, “we’re a moderate, inclusive parish that includes gay and lesbian couples.

    The writer doesn’t follow up on this statement. What does it mean when the “defining moment” of a congregation is a same-sex blessing? What about, say, the eucharist? And how is a congregation “moderate” when it defines itself by taking one side in a controversy?

    Holding together this bouquet of Colorado diversity is Bishop Rob O’Neill. While a supporter of gay rights, he took office in 2004 pledging to go slow out of respect for conservative sensibilities. . . .

    “Rob is a very gifted teacher, a great listener, and you don’t get the sense he comes in with an agenda,” MacColl said.

    The writer describes the issues of same-sex blessings and non-celibate homosexual ordination as “gay rights” without considering whether discussion of those issues in terms of “rights” is appropriate in the context of a Christian doctrinal dispute. This isn’t a matter of liberal political debate, but Christian ecclesiology. To adopt “rights” talk avoids addressing the difference between liberal political society and the church.

    MacColl’s statement that Bishop O’Neill doesn’t come in with an agenda directly contradicts the previous statement that O’Neill is a supporter of gay rights. The writer doesn’t address the inconsistency in the way the bishop is described and how that might reflect the nature of the TEC controversy–that is, one side thinks that its position isn’t an agenda.

    The writer descibes the conflict Bishop O’Neill faces as one of “conservative sensibilities”, without any discussion of whether the theological conservatives see it that way. I’d imagine that they would find that description patronizing, and a reflection of TEC’s refusal to take the doctrinal disputes seriously.

    Overall, I don’t find this piece particularly thoughtful; instead, the writer seems to have adopted uncritically one side’s view of the dispute, while maintaining a superficial appearance of balance.

  • Michael
  • Michael


    She also appears to write news, so the line is kind of blurred (and problematic). The piece Mollie linked to is labeled news and doesn’t appear among her columns, so I am guessing she had her reporting hat on when she wrote it. I actually think it’s a newsy story with a little analysis tossed in and doesn’t appear to have much of a bias. Of course, Chris disgrees.

  • Michael

    Oops, I see we agree. Seems a little confusing to the reader to have someone spouting opinions and then writing straight news and could lead–as it has here–to charges of bias in the news coverage.

    Still, I think the news story–which has an analysis feel to it, probably because of the lede–is pretty balanced as these stories go.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Dale, well said.

    Michael, I wasn’t criticizing her opinions. I was using a mere two paragraphs of a poorly written article to illustrate that she did a lousy job of analysis and of supporting her arguments. Feel free to explain and defend mediocre reporting all you want. If you folks actually want to attract readers who can think, then you need to raise the bar, not tell me that it’s high already and that I can’t see that because of my skewed (i.e. incorrect) perspective.

  • Pen Brynisa

    A majority of the provinces, many of them centered in conservative Africa, are disturbed by the Episcopal Church’s vote at its 2003 general convention to ordain openly gay bishops and allow for same-sex blessings.

    This entire sentence is full of errors. The 2003 General Convention did NOT authorize same-sex blessings. It actually rejected a resolution calling for the creation of provisional liturgies for same-sex blessings.

    Nor did it vote to “ordain openly gay bishops”. What it did was to confirm the election of a man in a same-sex relationship to the episcopate. There was no legislation concerning the sexual preferences of bishops in general, nor was the disturbance in the Anglican Communion a reaction to Bishop Robinson’s orientation or openness about his orientation, but rather to his sexual activity outside of marriage as defined by the Communion including the Episcopal Church.

  • Colm

    2 Things:

    1) The journalist is wrong; the commonly accepted origin of the Reformation is the posting of the 91 Theses by Martin Luther (sure, there are other ‘sources’, but that’s simply an academic discussion). At that point, Henry VIII had yet to secede from the Catholic Church – in fact, he even wrote his own treatise against Luther, earning the title of Defender of the Faith, which ironically is still used by British Monarchs to this day.

    2) Lumping the secession of the Church of England from the Catholic Church together with the Continental Reformation is misleading. Henry VIII only politically separated England from the Catholic Church – he became the Pope on his island. He kept the bishops, customs, churches and monasteries functioing, because he knew that the public would reject an outright English reformation. It wasn’t until Cromwell that true ‘Reformation’ events occured in England.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Colm– Just a minor point–Didn’t the dissolution of the monasteries at least begin under Henry VIII?????

  • http://www.projectbrasil.com Steve May

    The reporter got it backwards. I think it was the Reformation that launched the Anglican church (among others).