It’s about more than sex

  So the big it is mentioned within first three paragraphs of all the major stories on this week’s announcement that the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops rejected a demand from the Anglican Communion’s primates to establish a separate leadership structure for dissenting U.S. dioceses and parishes.

Can you guess what it is?

Here’s Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times:

Responding to an ultimatum from leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion, bishops of the Episcopal Church have rejected a key demand to create a parallel leadership structure to serve the conservative minority of Episcopalians who oppose their church’s liberal stand on homosexuality.

And three paragraphs into a Los Angeles Times article by Rebecca Trounson:

The U.S. bishops did not directly address potentially thornier issues, including demands from Anglican leaders that by September they stop performing official blessings for same-sex couples and consecrating openly gay bishops.

Figured out the big it yet? Yes, this story is made out to be about sex — homosexuality, to be specific. That’s at least what the headlines would lead you to think. But it’s more than just sex. It’s theology. It’s doctrine.

A couple of journalists got it right, including The Washington Post‘s Alan Cooperman:.

But U.S. bishops, though divided on underlying issues of theology and sexuality, described themselves yesterday as increasingly united against foreign interference in the internal governance of their church.

Dave Walker cartoonCathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today used the phrase “dissent from the U.S. church’s stances on homosexuality and the Bible,” which gets the message across that this is about more than sex, but “theology” seems to be a better word to describe the divide.

The money matter comes up quite frequently in the stories, which is nicely summarized in this Times piece by Goodstein and Neela Barnerjee.

For the best source for links and commentary on the schism, check out the blog run by The Times’ Ruth Gledhill:

If the wealthy US church, headed by the Communion’s first woman Primate, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is expelled from communion, as now appears increasingly likely, US papers such as the New York Times are reporting that the Anglican Communion worldwide will be plunged into financial crisis because so much of the central administration and overseas aid is bankrolled by the Americans. Although the 2.3 US Episcopalians are few among the 77 million Anglicans worldwide, they finance up to one third of the Communion’s total international budget. (Update: that should of course read 2.3 million. That was not prophetic or wishful thinking on my part, just one of those ordinary mistakes … Cartoon from Dave Walker.)

… So, in effect, TEC are subverting Dr Williams’ wider unity plans by playing their own unity card with ruthless clarity. We already know who is holding the queens in this high-stakes ecclesiastical poker game. And I know of at least two pretty major aces that have still to be shown. I just hope Dr Williams has some good cards still close to his chest. Because neither TEC nor Akinola are bluffing.

As a reporter who recently started blogging for his day job, I know what it is like to be freed from the reins of reporting a basic news story. Interjecting some analysis into a news story can only go so far. With a blog, one is free to link, think out loud and correct one’s mistakes, as Gledhill does above regarding the 2.3 million. It’s refreshing and a great way for a journalist to build her ability to cover a beat.

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  • Marc V

    Besides the “sex” angle, the other factor appearing more frequently in recent articles is the money. 3% (Americans) supplies 1/3 of the international funds, and if they’re cut off it would be a financial CRISIS[add bold and large font as desired]. So what?!

    If there is an “international” need short on funding, God will provide. I hope the Anglican Communion laughs in the face of the US Episcopalians if they try to use that threat. For that matter, the churches (bodies of people) in the US who side with the Anglican Communion should vacate their buildings rather than fight it out in court with TEC. I hope to see some stories covering that aspect in the future.

  • Dennis Colby

    I’m not sure if the first two stories are wrong by leading with the sexuality angle. Can anyone argue that if Gene Robinson hadn’t been made a bishop this would be happening? I just don’t see it.

    Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church has not exactly been a bastion of traditional Christian theology that suddenly made a giant turnaround in 2003. Arguably, there were far more shocking developments in the church long before Gene Robinson. It’s not hard to think of prominent Episcopal bishops who were challenging the very authority of the Bible itself decades before the current meltdown.

  • Paul T. McCain

    Is it just me, or has “Get Religion” been devoting a lot of space to the Episcopal Church?

  • danr

    Paul – it’s not just you or this site, it’s the MSM. I don’t have mathmatecial analysis to confirm, but the proportion of coverage in “Get Religion” should (ostensibly) mirror the proportion of coverage this issue gets in the MSM. That’s (ostensibly) one of this site’s purposes. I suppose one could argue it gets too much coverage in MSM too… but what other religion stories provide the kind of political/social/cultural controversy that fuels the modern MSM engine?

    Marc – agreed. If the primary underlying issue is adherence to traditional Biblical beliefs, then the Anglican-siding segment should be Biblically consistent and prioritize obedience to equally Biblical convictions (trusting God to supply provision, not taking others to secular court over internal church disputes, fearing God not man, forgiving/loving others whether friend or enemy, etc). “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.” (Proverbs 15:16) Meanwhile, the cynical/skeptical world watches and shakes its head while a supposedly united Body divides again (and again).

  • Pen Brynisa

    Laura Goodstein and the cartoonist Dave Walker both appear to miss a very important detail. According to a pastoral letter issued by Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, a Network-aligned “reasserter”, the idea of a primatial vicar has not been rejected by the Episcopal Church.

    What has been rejected is the Primates’ proposal for a primatial vicar who reports to a council of bishops from other Anglican churches, appointed to the council by the Archbishop of Canterbury, rather than to the presiding bishop or any other authority within the Episcopal Church.

    In other words, it is one thing to have the presiding bishop appoint a vicar to visit and oversee dioceses who are uncomfortable with her, someone who would be agreeable to the dissenting dioceses. It is quite a different thing to have a foreign bishop exercising authority with no accountability to anyone except other foreign bishops, and the House of Bishops, divided though it is on other issues, is apparently in substantial agreement that this latter scheme is unsupportable.

  • tmatt


    The mainstream PRESS devotes a lot of space to the Episcopal Church. Always has and probably always will.

    And this is the hottest story in global Christianity at the moment.

  • tmatt

    Oh, and the point that it took the homosexuality war — which began 20 years ago — to bring all of this to a boiling point should, doctrinally speaking, be a point of shame for the Anglican right. Why is a gay bishop worse than a bishop who is no longer a Christian or even a theist?

  • Dennis Colby

    Tmatt wrote: “Oh, and the point that it took the homosexuality war — which began 20 years ago — to bring all of this to a boiling point should, doctrinally speaking, be a point of shame for the Anglican right.”

    I agree completely. That’s why I think this story – while it’s obviously also about theology and tradition – is about sex (specifically, homosexuality) to a large degree. The folks who are hoping to pull out of the ECUSA today should explain why they were okay with John Shelby Spong as a bishop, but can’t accept Eugene Robinson.

  • tmatt


    The new thread here is the Third World. I dare say Third World Anglicans WOULD have been just as upset by the creedal issues as by the sex issues, but simply had no idea what the situation was in the US.

  • Chris Pickett

    But several of the posts seem to be missing the point…It is about MORE than just sex! Of course this is within the context of homosexuality but the media are constantly trying to portray it as simple “gay bashing”.
    And while I agree that the problem of “non Christian” bishops should have been tackled a long time ago. (In fact if it had, I wonder if the church would be in the pickle it finds itself today.) It doesn’t mean that it is wrong to tackle this particular issue now.

  • MattGR

    Is it just me or is this battle really about ecclesiology more than either sexuality or theology? When the relevant issues became crises, the Communion produced the Windsor Report — an ecclesiological document. Now they’re talking about an Anglican Covenant, which — right or wrong — involves substantial revisioning of Anglican polity. Last Summer, some of the delegates in Columbus were comparing the whole matter to the American Revolution, how another King George (Archbishop Rowan) was trying to exert imperial control over the colonies. And, TEC’s bishop’s response at the moment is again ecclesial: they don’t want international interference in domestic affairs.

    While I agree that the sexuality issue gets overplayed, the fact (which the comments here have mentioned) that ‘conservative’ Episcopalians seemed more than willing to coexist with theological liberals for decades suggests that theology isn’t the heart of the matter either.

    Is there an ecclesiology ghost in this story?

  • Will

    “Episcopal bishops” is still a tautology.

    And the Church of England has not exactly been a bastion of orthodoxy either. What about the OTHER Robinson? Or even Colenso (“Hell dismissed, with costs.)?

    Danr, WHO is “taking” WHOM “to secular courts?” And divisions in Christendom have never deterred “the cynical/skeptical world” from ranting and raving about that nasty monolithic TheChurch, as though the churches have done anything whatever in concert since the day of Pentecost. This suggests that their attitude is influenced less by cynicism or skepticism than that their minds are made up and they don’t want to be confused with facts.

  • Dennis Colby

    Chris Pickett wrote, “And while I agree that the problem of “non Christian” bishops should have been tackled a long time ago. (In fact if it had, I wonder if the church would be in the pickle it finds itself today.) It doesn’t mean that it is wrong to tackle this particular issue now.”

    The question for me is whether it’s a more serious matter to have a gay bishop or a bishop who denies the divinity of Christ. It would seem for churches that consider themselves in the line of apostolic succession, the latter situation presents a more significant challenge.

    Tmatt’s point about non-Western churches is well taken, but the folks in the US who are looking to separate from ECUSA don’t have that excuse. Again, I think it’s worth an enterprising reporter putting the question to them: Why is that you could find a way to put up with Spong (or Pike, etc.) but not Robinson?

  • Paul Barnes

    Dennis, perhaps it was the straw that broke the camels back?

    I also wonder if there is a generational thing going on here. Do these more evangelical, conservative churches have relatively young leadership, or even new leadership. If that is the case, maybe they were not in positions of influence/too young to deal effectively with Pike or Spong?

  • ARB

    Paul is right. There were many of us acting like the frog being slowly boiled alive–we were being taken over in small increments and didn’t pay attention. Our generation was tending to jobs and children. Now the kids are gone and the jobs less demanding (or we retired). We find our church no longer holds the beliefs we were taught as children. And we don’t like it. Gene Robinson is a rally point for both sides…as a friend says, “he’s living in sin, no matter what the sex of his pardner is.” By nature, we hate disorder and rebellion, but we know how to express ourselves with our checkbooks and, if necessary, our feet. Empty pews, or a building which cannot be supported by what’s left of a congregation, get attention, but it is possible the Episcopal Church will split. The energy and youth are found on the Right, in this case.

  • Kevin P. Edgecomb

    Isn’t it also the case that the more conservative (former-)Episcopalians are also those who contribute the lion’s share of funding in the TEC®? I recall statistics suggesting that popping up last year or so when some of the African Anglicans turned away some of the TEC® money, and also in the case of several formerly large churches, shrunken by conservative exodus, unable to remain functioning due to lack of funds. Then there’s the case of conservative congregations who haven’t (yet) split from the TEC® who are withholding funds from the national headquarters. It’d be interesting if someone did the number-crunching to determine who will be worse affected by the conservatives leaving TEC® en masse. Would it be the TEC® of Mrs. Schori, or the Anglican Communion? I’m thinking the former is looking to be in more dire straits, particularly once it is no longer “a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.”

  • danr

    Will- “WHO is taking WHOM”
    Valid point, but not the one I was trying to make. When it comes to scriptural obedience to avoid secular court over church issues, it shouldn’t matter who’s “taking” or “being taken”. “Why not rather be wronged?” (1Co 6:7). Avoid it, even at personal/material loss, seems more the point.
    Also, the world indeed rants at TheChurch, but also rants at our division (both inter- and intra-denominational). Whether they’ve already made up their minds (many have, but minds change) is of secondary importance to our obedience to Christ’s call to be One as much as possible (without compromising truth). “By this the world will know you are my disciples: love one another.” One might better argue that some in TEC (both laity and leadership) have compromised core truths to such a degree that they can’t even be regarded as fellow disciples.

    On the matter of why was “sex” the catalyst for this strife (and corresponding media attention), it seems at least partly due to the visceral nature of the issue. The lofty (and loony) liberal theology of a Spong doesn’t spark the angst of average churchgoers like this issue does in our current political climate surrounding gay rights advocacy in general. Leadership is influenced by their congregations, and congregations spoke out.

  • Dennis Colby


    But why this particular straw? In Western Christianity, there’s a tendency to think of religion as manifested in what we do rather than what we believe – unlike Eastern Christianity which, with its characteristic expression in the Orthodox Church, is intensely focused on questions of belief – I mean, it’s right there in the word “orthodox.” My guess is that many people who were annoyed by Spong & Co. precisely because their deviations were questions of belief – and that people don’t take those questions as seriously as matters of action.

  • C. Wingate

    Actually, I think this traces back to some of the points about politics that were popping up in the “rapture” comments. One of the reasons why so much attention gets focused on the Episcopal Church is the perception that it is a locus of power, and particularly of power that can be translated into political power. And the interesting thing, one finds as one pokes around a bit beyond the MSM, is that some aspects of the (sorry) “liberal” side have gotten expressed in those terms. For instance, back when women as bishops was still a controversy rather than a fait accompli, some of the players (e.g. Jane Dixon) were quoted as to the importance of women getting access to the power of the episcopacy. It’s pretty clear that part of the current crisis is being played out on those lines: that the EC is to some degree important as a source of power for advancing the acceptance of homosexuality. Orthodoxy gets a pass on this due to their (perceived) powerlessness, but it’s also interesting how scandals play out in this, because it is also very much about sex. There have been high level financial scandals in Orthodox churches (the OCA, if I remember correctly) and in the EC; yet these have passed pretty quickly. Sex is just more, well, sexy.

  • Str1977

    God loves all of us, including Idi Amin and Charles Manson.

    PS. Did Rosa Parks ever try to hijack the bus and drive without a license?

  • H. E. Baber

    One of the reasons why so much attention gets focused on the Episcopal Church is the perception that it is a locus of power, and particularly of power that can be translated into political power…that the EC is to some degree important as a source of power for advancing the acceptance of homosexuality.

    Not exactly. The Episcopal Church launched its campaign because it imagined, wrongly, that it was a locus of power and could advance the acceptance of homosexuality in the larger society. Of course no one outside of the EC and few people inside really cared what the church’s official position on homosexuality was–this was incredible hubris. For all its money and real estate, the EC has no credibility or power outside of its small world of habitues who talk to themselves.

    Once the muck hit the fan, journalists picked up the story because it was a circus in fancy dress, international in scope, featuring exotic characters and doings that no one would ever have dreamt of–African bishops on parade, American churches claiming to belong to dioceses half way around the world, legal battles over church property. This was Barchester Towers.

    It was also a man-bites-dog story. With conservative evangelical Christianity as the standard brand the very idea that a church was fighting for the acceptance of homosexuality was wild. It was like discovering the platypus: a mammal with a duck-bill that lays eggs? Christians who approve of sex and indeed same-sex sex? What strange specimens!

  • Paul Barnes

    Dennis, I think those are good questions and I think that your assesment about Western Christianity is credible. However, I don’t think that is necessarily my concern in responding to you.

    Basically, I don’t know the answers to your questions. I think that we are asking related, but different questions. See, I am not an Anglican, nor do I particularly care about the Anglican communion, so I was hoping for some quick, easy information :)

  • Str1977


    you might get on that bus, but what’s the reaction if she (assuming she could drive a bus) drives the bus to a completely different destination, somewhere you wouldn’t want to go. Or maybe not drive at all.

    In any case, this is not about “discrimination” but about sticking to an undiminished Christianity. Maybe you could comment on Bishop Mason (unreformed of course). Now of course the two are not the same but neither Mason nor Robinson fit into the role of a Christian bishop.

  • Rosa Parks

    “Str1977 says: …you might get on that bus, but what’s the reaction if she (assuming she could drive a bus) drives the bus to a completely different destination, somewhere you wouldn’t want to go. Or maybe not drive at all.”

    But I didn’t hijack the bus, I just refused to allow good Christians, such as yourself, to continue to force me to ride at the back of the bus.

    But don’t worry, you still have the gays to subjugate.

  • Str1977

    So-called Rosa Parks,

    don’t hide behind a famous name.

    Rosa Parks did not hijack a bus. That is correct.

    Gene Robinson & co. however want to do just that.

  • str1977

    “want to do just that”

    not to a bus, of course, but to Christianity or the ECUSA.

  • Str1977

    Well, Greg, your last post is just as incivil as your first one, so you are true to yourself. Respect to differing opinions is of course foreign to you, as you are riding the wave of the future. And that little group called ECUSA is actually not mine.

  • Craig Goodrich

    … interrupting the catfight…

    Why this particular straw — Robinson but not Spong?

    Of course Spong should have been defrocked, even when he was a priest. But he wasn’t.

    If you ask, really, seriously, why people go to church, of course a good deal of it is tradition, even more is social. Some of it may actually have to do with concern for personal Salvation. But an enormous amount of it is as a reassurance that their moral values are in order, that their children can be taught good and just behavior, that there remains an underlying constancy to judgments of good and evil, even though the world seems to whiz from radio to TV to computers to the Internet to cell phones in a blizzard of continual change.

    Although Spong received a lot of publicity — as did Pike before him — the typical ‘Piskie in the pew didn’t feel that Spong’s apostate maunderings had any effect on his local church or diocese. The teaching of the Church hadn’t changed, it was the same as it had been forever, Spong was just a crazy maverick running some diocese way far away.

    But Robinson’s elevation to bishop was radically different. He was not just one maverick voice selling loony ideas to the gullible; his election and consecration marked a fundamental change in the moral teaching of the church — and in the sensitive area of sexual ethics, at that. No parent wants their children to be taught that homosexual activity is just fine — indeed, few want their children to be taught that any sexual activity is just fine.

    So Episcopalians from one end of the country to the other, many of whom had been growing more and more uneasy about their church anyway, found themselves having to choose between familiar surroundings and social melieux on the one hand and “family-appropriate” moral teaching on the other.

    And as the publicity increased, it became more and more difficult to pretend that “our little parish” is a safe island. So a number of “our little parishes” simply left the EC, and the resistance grew. And if you think it’s a ruckus already, watch the exodus when the EC is finally ejected from the Communion.

  • Str1977


    that’s the annoying thing: you think yourself in the right and any opposition illegitimate. Anyone disagreeing will be covered in insults. Does this make you a fascist or just a bigot? Or a fundamentalist?

  • Str1977

    You believe what you will, but stop treating others like criminals. Which is exactly what you are doing here, Greg. That is exactly what you are complaining that these evil Christian meanies are doing only makes your stance absurd.

    Pride and Power are not very Christian “virtues”. And Christ was not walking through the Holy Land telling people how okay they were.

  • Stephen A.

    Organized religion is great at pointing fingers at individuals who have sinned or perceived to have sinned, but yet conveniently over look the atrocities committed in the name of God by them.

    Those who hate religion always come up with this whopper. No one’s perfect, even those practicing organized religion. But I guess that’s the point.

    Religion’s *mission* is to point out sin and evil and offer a solution to it. It’s not surprising that those committing sin and evil are offended by the unwelcome attention they get from religionists.