Fog, candor and the story that goes on forever

gandalf frodo moria aicnWell, this is blunt.

This is one of the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon’s early posts at his TitusOneNine blog, reacting to the statement released yesterday by the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops.

Cue the finale of the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack and sing along with “Into the West.”

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

And then, in a real look over the edge, he offers:

“Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went abroad; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last one night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

So why is this Anglican traditionalist so upset, if so many of the mainstream press reports about the meeting — especially the early Associated Press coverage — have things right? I mean, the headline in the conservative Washington Times bluntly states: “Episcopal bishops back off support for gays.”

But this is the rare case where conservative Episcopalians are all waking up this morning, hitting the Internet and then most of them are (please sit down) having to speak words that they never expected to say under these circumstances: “The New York Times gets it.”

Yes indeed, the Times has the best report that I have seen today on the business-as-usual statement that the U.S. bishops served up at the end of their tense gathering in New Orleans. The headline on the Neela Banerjee story was blunter than blunt: “Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church’s Orders.” And here is the top of the story:

Bishops of the Episcopal Church on Tuesday rejected demands by leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion to roll back the church’s liberal stance on homosexuality, increasing the possibility of fracture within the communion and the Episcopal Church itself.

After nearly a week of talks at their semiannual meeting in New Orleans, the House of Bishops adopted a resolution that defied a directive by the Anglican Communion’s regional leaders, or primates, to change several church policies regarding the place of gay men and lesbians in their church. But the bishops also expressed a desire to remain part of the communion, and they appeared to be trying to stake out a middle ground that would allow them to do so. …

In a voice vote, all but one bishop supported a resolution, called “A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by Our Anglican Communion Partners.” Several conservative bishops who are considering leaving the Episcopal Church were not in attendance. The resolution affirmed the status quo of the Episcopal Church, both theological conservatives and liberals said.

There is all kind of commentary out there in the usual places, too many to list on this busy morning. But you can always start with Stand Firm on the right and Episcopal Cafe or Episcopal Life on the left.


800px MithlondwideAt the moment, there is some interesting silence or near silence on the left.

What we may be watching is a moment of confusion among the progressives, between those who are in favor of being candid and those who are in favor of strategic silence and yet another via media Anglican compromise. After all, the compromises always push — slowly — in the direction of change and away from tradition.

With that in mind, I would suggest that those seeking reaction on the left turn to the Inclusive Church weblog, where the Rev. Scott Gunn’s reaction to the bishops’ statement was, amazingly enough, not all that different from that of Harmon. In fact, there are links in this blunt Gunn post that hint at a candid, honest dialogue about what might happen next.

This is one of those moments where there is candor on the honest left, candor on the right and a large fog bank in the middle, where the lawyers and Episcopal Church establishment are taking their time and, perhaps, trying to run out the clock. Perhaps they are hoping that the Global South bishops will make the first big move, which might allow the ecclesiastical strategists in England to make the final ruling.

This story is, sadly, going to run on and on and on. Once again, repeat after me: The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.

Gunn had this to say, in a weblog posting that I quoted in my Scripps Howard News Service column today. Click here if you want to see that piece.

By the way, it helps to know that “SSB’s” stands for “same-sex blessings” in the following material:

SSB’s are happening all over the place, with official sanction of diocesan authorities in a few places. Now I happen to believe that SSB’s are completely in line with Christian practice and belief. And I long for the day when we can celebrate these blessed moments publicly as a church. But we’re trying to have it both ways here. We’re doing them, but we’re saying that they’re not sanctioned.

As a province, I think we [the Episcopal Church] should do one of two things. We should either come out and say what we’re doing and why (with strong biblical and theological support), or we should stop doing it. If we take the first option, let’s face the consequences, if any. It is neither honest nor helpful to do something and then say we’re not doing it. It smacks of the worst kind of American imperialism to tell the primates that we’ve honored their requests, when we really haven’t.

Please use the comments pages to post the URLs of the best news reports and commentary pieces that you have seen today. And, as a personal note, let me know if you find anyone who is starting to sing “Into the East.”

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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.

  • Mark

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune did a good job covering the diverse accounts of what went on:

    Most interesting, IMHO, is the way the article gives the last word to departing Bishop Steenson.

    On a personal note, we began singing “Into the East” (let the reader understand) over two years ago, but continue to grieve the crumbling of our former ecclesial home.

  • TWilson

    Many media outlets missed the careful wording used by the bishops: agreeing not to authorize “public rites” for SSB but stopping short of prohibiting private rites or defining what might be acceptable under private pastoral care; ignoring the request to cease litigation (to both TEC and the departing parishes); refering to a report rejected by the Primates as if it were operative; and altering the alternative/delegating oversight offered to orthodox parishes. If you read the Anglican Primates’ request quickly, then read the bishops’ response, it might seem to address the Primates’ concerns. Careful reading and an understanding of the context show it does not. The most orthodox conservatives see this for what it is, and are angry. The principled leftists (for example, Louie Crew) are upset by the continued smokescreen and unwillingness to say “This is where we stand: deal.” The politically adroit leftists (Susan Russell of Integrity) see this as business as usual, no real impediment to SSB on the ground, slight delay on official recognition, and enough of a bone thrown to the Anglican bureaucrats in England that the Primates are likely to swallow it.

    A major story missed by most media altogether: Bishop Bruno, the real power behind the throne in TEC, outright lying to the press, not least the New York Times. Bruno maintained SSB’s do not happen in his diocese with his knowledge. StandFirm produced “blessing announcements” from these ceremonies, including one with a picture of Bruno in attendance and at least one at which he presided.

  • Jerry

    The title of this posting seems very accurate. Reading various stories, I went into a fog bank trying to understand what really was decided, but it sounded like the Episcopal bishops were maintaining the status quo.

  • saint

    Neela Banerjee was the NYT journo in NO who was cited a few times by bloggers on the ground and elsewhere for asking good questions e.g.
    here, plus here.
    Good for her.

  • meverest

    Last night google served up Banerjee’s story to me as one of the top three NYT pieces at that particular moment. (Anyone know how they pick them?) I was not too surprised by the content.

    Then I heard NPR’s piece this morning on their five-minute summary of the news. Korva Coleman was the tallent—who knows who actually wote the report. I couldn’t believe that the NYT and NPR reports were covering the same meeting!

    A disproportionate amount of legwork on the part of one of the reporters would explain the difference.

  • Jerry

    I don’t see their statement as ‘business as usual’ at all from the Christian Science Monitor report that said:

    they backed a plan presented by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori to provide alternative oversight by conservative bishops to parishes that are unhappy with the current church leadership.

    That strikes me as offering an alternative to those unhappy with their current bishop. It will be interesting to see how many are willing to accept that middle ground.

  • Caelius Spinator

    My bishop doesn’t know that SSBs take place in his Diocese! What audacious mendacity. Someone should interview Bruno and Russell together and ask the one about the other’s SSB.

  • Discernment

    From the NY Times article:

    The dispute over homosexuality has simmered for at least 30 years, as part of a larger clash about biblical interpretations and primacy.

    This needs to be said more often in news reports about these issues in the Anglican Church.

  • Joe Rawls

    At my own Episcopal parish–Trinity, Santa Barbara–we had a SSB (actually, we call it a wedding here) just over this summer. +Bruno enjoys visiting Trinity and our rector is (or perhaps was) on the diocesan standing committee. I think Big Jon keeps pretty good tabs on what goes on in his diocese. If his statement in New Orleans sounds a tad disingenuous, well, heck, he’s a bishop.

  • saint

    Neela Banerjee, do a follow up on the bishop’s mendacity…

  • s

    There are various rumors in the Pittsburgh area that the Episcopal bishop, Bishop Duncan, is about to jump ship and swim the Tiber — taking several parishes with him. (Pittsburgh also decreed a few years ago that each individual parish owns its own property, paving the way for parishes to leave the diocese or the diocese to leave the parishes. That was a big mess.)

    Has there been any actual media coverage of this lately? I’ve been trying to figure out whether there is any credence to this rumor.

    That’s not exactly singing “Into the East,” tmatt, but it is singing a different song…

  • s

    Also, I wanted to add that I think these rumors started because when all these issues in the Anglican Communion first blew up a few years ago, Bishop Wuerl was the Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh. He and Bishop Duncan were reportedly good friends.

    Not sure if there’s anything more to the rumors than that, but I’d love to know whether there is.

  • Brian V

    Then I heard NPR’s piece this morning on their five-minute summary of the news. Korva Coleman was the tallent—-who knows who actually wote the report. I couldn’t believe that the NYT and NPR reports were covering the same meeting!

    Monday morning, I listened to the start of NPR’s longer report on the meetings in New Orleans. Having friends on many sides of the ongoing messiness, I found the radio story simplistic to the point of caricature, so I turned the thing off. The local NPR stations’ pledge week had just ended, and all those listener testimonials about NPR “taking the time to really tell a story with voice from both sides of the issue” still lingered in my memory. It seems things go wrong when one simplifies so complex an argument to two well-delineated sides. This demands the narrator choose what those two are and which voices will speak for them. The use of composite characters in creative nonfiction is contentious, as is much else in CNF, but surely a news report can rarely — perhaps never — employ composites or synecdoche without sacrificing complexity.

    The result on Monday was a compelling story, albeit simplistic and misleading. Biased? Only if one considers it bias to silence voices of complexity and leave North American bourgeois assumptions unquestioned.

  • Undergroundpewster

    I have to agree that if you try to read the mainstream news, then the blogs, you will be left in a fog. Perhaps the House of Bishops wants people to stay in the fog. The opposing poles of the SSB issue and gay clergy issue want clarity and neither side will be happy with a foggy compromise.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    I don’t doubt that Bishop Duncan and Bishop Wuerl were good friends during their years together in Pittsburgh, but rumors that Bishop Duncan is about to swim the Tiber are, I think, inaccurate.

    It’s entirely clear from Bishop Duncan’s public remarks in the past few months — and even this week as the Common Cause bishops meet in Pittsburgh — that he intends to leave The Episcopal Church but maintain ties with various Global South Anglican provinces.

  • tmatt

    Isn’t +Duncan’s basic perspective Reformed anyway? I thought he was more from the JI Packer Anglican school.

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