It’s a mantra that I have used with my students for years now. Repeat after me: The most important words in journalism are “comma, space, said, space, name, period.”
In other words, mainstream journalism is not supposed to focus on what the writer says, but on clearly attributed information from other people — people willing to be quoted by name, if at all possible. The goal is for the reader to be able to make his or her own evaluation of the quality of the source and the information. That’s the goal, anyway, and it’s a good target at which to shoot.
This brings us to the latest Anglican warfare report from London by Ruth Gledhill in The Times. This is a big one, and the controversial nature of the report goes all the way to the headline, which states: “Archbishop to celebrate ‘secret’ communion for gay clergy.”
Note the quote marks. Now, here is the top of this short story:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is to celebrate a “secret” communion service for gay clergy and their partners in London.
Dr Williams will celebrate the eucharist at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, the Church of England parish known as a home to the country’s liberal and wealthy Anglican elite. Dr Williams will also give an address titled: “Present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the Church.”
The event has been organised under the “Chatham House Rule” which prevents any disclosure of the discussions there or even when and where it is taking place. It takes place at 10 am on 29 November. Dr Williams has asked to know who will be present. Names will be on a list which will be shown to the Archbishop only and the list will be shredded once seen by Dr Williams.
Once again, note the lack of attribution for any of these facts — including the material inside direct quotation marks.
It appears to me that Gledhill has a document about the service or, at least, a forwarded email, yet really can’t talk about it without giving some sense of the source. That’s well and good, but it would still be nice to be told that right up front. It makes it easier for readers to judge the degree to which they want to trust the quality of the info.
This all looks like lobbying and counter-lobbying in the last hours before the archbishop visits the colonies to help the Episcopal Church’s leadership find a way to stay legally in Communion with Canterbury, which could end up being important in American courtrooms sooner rather than later.
But is the Times document from the left or the right? Who is trying to pressure Canterbury the most? A tossup? Lots of people will be reading between the lines of Gledhill’s longer blog post on the topic. Here is a key chunk of speculation, which includes lots of other URLs to provide a cyber paper trail:
The Archbishop’s fundamental liberal sympathies are well-known, thanks to his essay The Body’s Grace. Recently it seemed as if he had changed sides for the sake of Church unity. This has been a cause of great distress and anger within the liberal and LGBT community, who had looked to his appointment to bring about the changes in the Church’s culture on sexuality that they had longed for. They felt hurt and betrayed. The fact that he’s agreed to celebrate the sacrament for leading members of the LGBT community, however, is a good indication of where the Archbishop’s true sympathies still lie. It has to be a possibility now that he’s given up on trying to prevent schism, and after this week will go back to pastoring the liberal catholic community that is his natural home. The welcome back of the prodigal archbishop might not be all that he hopes however. The LGBT community is furious at the secrecy conditions attached to the whole thing.
Where this leaves the unity of the Church of England remains to be seen.
And this brings up the main point, one that I have been trying to make in a number of settings lately. This story — local, regional, national and global — ultimately turns on what happens in England. It is the Church of England, after all. At least it is right now.
Here is how I put it the other day in the Orthodox magazine Again, in an interview that bothered some of my Anglican and Episcopal friends:
… (Like) Orthodoxy, Anglicanism does not have a pope. There is no one person who can settle this issue. Yet they also need to understand that it is the Church of England. This whole crisis is ultimately going to come down to the fact that England — and by that I mean the archbishop of Canterbury and the whole structure of the English church — is going to have to decide whether it will accept the liberal American establishment or the Third World traditionalists.
I don’t think the Third World traditionalists are going to compromise. And I don’t think the American left is going to compromise now on issues of the sexual revolution. They are not going to be willing to offend the New York Times editorial board and other sources of doctrinal power and authority.
So at some point, England is going to have to figure out which way it wants to go. And the Church of England is just as divided as the American church on these issues.
How long can the Archbishop of Canterbury make that old saying — The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions — work?
Will Williams betray his class? It’s hard to imagine that, and the Holy Eucharist described by Gledhill’s source — whoever that is — suggests that he may have made up his mind. Or maybe not. It is the Church of England, after all.