Jefferts Schori plays the England card

AnglicanBomb1 01That sound you heard the other day in England was nervous coughing. It seems that the leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, is determined not to let gays, lesbians and bisexuals in England sit on the sidelines while traditionalists in the rest of the world take shots at her troubled flock.

But her move raises real questions for reporters. More on that in a minute. Here is the top of a BBC report by Christopher Landau that shows you what is going on:

The head of the Anglicans in the United States has accused other churches, including the Church of England, of double standards over sexuality. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, told the BBC her church is paying the price for its honesty over sexuality. …

The US church elected an openly gay man Gene Robinson as a bishop in 2003.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori defended her ministry.

“He is certainly not alone in being a gay bishop, he’s certainly not alone in being a gay partnered bishop,” she said. “He is alone in being the only gay partnered bishop who’s open about that status.”

She said other Anglican churches also have gay bishops in committed partnerships and should be open about it.

“There’s certainly a double standard,” she told BBC Radio 4′s PM programme.

Jefferts Schori also stressed that many Anglicans — including clergy in the Church of England — are already performing rites to bless gay unions. Here is the crucial statement, when you view this as a matter of how people do basic journalism on this kind of topic:

“Those services are happening in various places, including in the Church of England, where my understanding is that there are far more of them happening than there are in the Episcopal Church,” she said.

Now try, for a moment, to ignore the theology and politics of all of this. What we have here is a kind of soft journalistic “outing,” in an attempt to pull the British left out and into the combat with the Anglican traditionalists in other parts of the world.

How would a reporter verify the presence of gay, partnered bishops in the Church of England, short of hostile investigative reporting? How would reporters verify her claim that there are more gay union rites taking place in England than in the U.S. church?

These are the kinds of claims that gay-rights groups in the church have been making for years, kind of like the statistics — some more substantial than others — about the percentage of gay men in the Roman Catholic priesthood in North America. These are fact claims made by powerful people and groups. Journalists tend to quote these claims, saying, “I cannot prove this is true, but I can quote this authority figure saying that this is true and that person is proven to be wrong, then they are wrong (not my reporting).”

I don’t know how reporters get around this. Any suggestions?

Note, again, that any reporter attempting to verify these facts with real reporting will be accused — by the left, ironically — of hostile, invasive actions. Ironic, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, it is clear that Jefferts Schori is threatening to play the England card in this high-stakes game of global ecclesiastical poker. We are, after all, talking about the Church of England. It will, ultimately, matter who is and who is not in Communion with Canterbury. Jefferts Schori is making sure that Canterbury knows that its leaders will, at some point, be expected to speak with candor.

Stay tuned. Lambeth approaches.

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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.

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  • Ken

    First off, define “gay”. Is it a person who experiences same sex attractions, physical and/or romantic? Is it someone who routines engages in same-sex genital acts? Is it someone who lives with another man or woman as though they were married. Apparently Bishop Jefferts-Shori does maks a distinction between “gay” and partnered “gay”. Personally, I am more interested in what a person thinks about same-sex acts and same-sex attractions that what they do in their bedrooms, but I wish reporters would dig a little deeper when they hear the word “gay”.

    And do journalists have a word for this sort of softball reporting, where a single voice proclaims her own opinions with absolutely no contradiction? Or even, as you note, verification?

  • Jerry

    From a web page perspective, the associated stories help fill in the blanks a wee bit but don’t get to the nub of the issue. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3010410.stm is a story about a gay man who is now celibate being appointed as a Bishop in England. It would have been an obvious extension to have asked Bishop John to comment on the allegation or at least to have asked the representatives for the Archbishop of Canterbury to comment.

  • http://www.nolan-pingpank.com Canon Richard T. Nolan

    And then there are those of us non-bishops! Am 70, a canon/priest in the Episcopal Church ordained in 1963, partnered (non-celibate) since 1955, totally “out” together in our retirement region (West Palm Beach), my partner listed (also for many years) in the official “Episcopal Clerical Directory”, out via http://www.nolan-pingpank.com , and our 50 years together publicly blessed in 2005 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC. Am in good standing in my diocese (CT) and licensed in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. I continue to serve a parish (St. Andrew’s, Lake Worth) as “retired priest-in-residence.” Never have I had an official word of disapproval! Wonderful to serve as a non-bishop, and am bemused at only bishops being targeted in much of this international flap; aren’t they and we non-bishops equally obligated to live gracefully within the “Summary of the Law”?

  • Stephen A.

    Should the media play the presiding bishop’s game of “outing” gay bishops if she takes this further? No way.

    And to answer Ken’s question, it’s blitheringly obvious what “gay” means, and what it means in this context. This is the old “confuse the labels” game liberals like to play and reporters shouldn’t play that game, either.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    Well put. I’d not thought of this as gossip and blackmail – the essence of outing – before.

    Personally, I am more interested in what a person thinks about same-sex acts and same-sex attractions that what they do in their bedrooms, but I wish reporters would dig a little deeper when they hear the word “gay”.

    Which AFAIK is traditional Christian teaching. I’m all for openly gay clergy – people who are honest with themselves and to those whose business it is about their orientation. The left differs by insisting the practices are not sins.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3010410.stm is a story about a gay man who is now celibate being appointed as a Bishop in England. It would have been an obvious extension to have asked Bishop John to comment on the allegation or at least to have asked the representatives for the Archbishop of Canterbury to comment.

    Jerry, that’s an old story. I think Jeffrey John accepted a canonry instead at least for the sake of keeping the peace.

    There are only a few inevitables in this row IMO:

    Anglo-Catholicism has no future in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, one of two remaining Catholic diocesan bishops in that church, is right. But I don’t think it does as part of the Protestant Global South either.

    A few congregations will be split and others squashed. Witness the San Joaquin Valley in California, a conservative part of the world (lots of 1930s-on transplanted Mid-Western farmers) where indeed most churchgoers don’t want what 815 (815 Second Avenue in New York, Episcopal headquarters) is dishing out so I’m sure most of the Anglicans there are behind Bishop John-David Schofield in what’s now the Southern Cone Anglican diocese there as reflected in that diocese’s vote a month ago to change its affiliation. Those few parishes that want to remain Episcopal AFAIK are free to do so. The fight – in this tiny diocese and involving a small American denomination – right now is over at least one mission (St Nicholas, Atwater), a different canonical creature from a parish as it’s more directly under the bishop. (The vicar said he wanted to remain Episcopal so obviously he couldn’t remain Bishop Schofield’s vicar. So now the little congregation is split.) Parishes are semi-independent unlike in the Roman Catholic Church. But again, perspective – IIRC each side in that fight is a congregation of only about 15-20 people!

    Filtering out the emotions and religious questions the big issue here is what’s this brand of religion’s basic unit, the national church or the diocese? The Episcopal left understandably see this as if a Roman Catholic bishop seceded but a parish remained loyal to the Pope. ISTM as the two sides can’t agree on amicable terms of separation a secular court will end up deciding if that’s true.

    Being expelled from/walking out of the Anglican Communion wouldn’t and shouldn’t affect most Episcopalians in any way. In a free country no-one can or should be able to shut you down. Gleaning the blogs of the Episcopal left one is left with a rather different impression (that they are being persecuted), which I don’t think is accurate.

  • James

    When Jefferts-Schori was up for the job of Presiding Bishop, she had listed in her references “Dean” of a “School of Theology” – episcopal.org pdf – which later proved to be the adult education program of her church in an interview, though she didn’t mention why she called her position here “Dean.” So we can certainly credit her with creativity and boad-mindedness when it comes to discussing factual matters like this.

    So what she means here about gay bishops in partnered relationships – it could be, for example, a married bishop (thus in a partnered relationship) who, at some moment has gone on the record exhibiting behavior which tends to be typified as “gay,” for example, agreeing that a male priest looks good in his new vestments. Or simply reaching out compassionately to someone of the same gender. Putting Jefferts-Schori in too small a box when interpreting her words could also imply denying her of her own deity-ness – an act which could be construed as sexist. So shall we then not graciously release her of this potentially mendacious claim of bringing discomfort upon her brothers and sisters in England?

  • Martha

    ““Those services are happening in various places, including in the Church of England, where my understanding is that there are far more of them happening than there are in the Episcopal Church,” she said.”

    That’s interesting, as it was my understanding that there were no same-sex blessings happening in The Episcopal Church, that TEC was 100% Windsor Compliant and therefore why was the rest of the Communion being so mean to them?

    (Okay, can’t keep a straight face any longer).

    But it does look like the Presiding Bishop has torpedoed all her fellow-bishops in TEC who, for example, give press interviews in which they assure reporters that no, absolutely no same-sex unions are being blessed in *my* diocese.

    Oh, that one that happened in a parish last Sunday? Ah well, see, the vicar never asked me for permission so technically speaking it didn’t officially happen at all.

    It looks as if finally there is some honesty going on; TEC is now in the position of open defiance – “Yeah, we’re doing it, and we’re gonna keep on doing it. What are you gonna do about that? Huh?” – instead of talking out of both sides of their mouth.

    The only winners here are going to be the lawyers.

  • Michael

    I don’t know how reporters get around this. Any suggestions?

    They quote Schori and they wait for something to happen. There’s no real way to prove or disprove this fact. What gives it credibility is no one finds it hard to believe.

    When Barney Frank says there are at least 20 gay Republicans in the House and the Senate, reporters quote him and then move on. Unless he names names, there’s no outing. Maybe he’s asking reporters to do their jobs when reporting on people like–hypothetically–Mark Foley or Barbara Mikulski, for instance, or he puts it out there an lets the chips fall where they may. There’s no obligation on the reporters’ part to necessarily dig into the matter.

    Note, again, that any reporter attempting to verify these facts with real reporting will be accused — by the left, ironically — of hostile, invasive actions. Ironic, isn’t it?

    Would that be the left’s response? How do you know? If you are using the Catholic model, it is like comparing apples to meatloaf. A gay Catholic priest faces serious consequences. A gay Anglican Bishop in England . . . not so much. A gay Anglican priest in Nigeria’s life is at risk, so yes they’d be concenred about that but not a gay bishop in Toronto or London. I actually think there would be those on the left who’d be happy for such an investigation.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Maybe that is why the reputation of the MSM is so low::If you are the right person (member of the Glitterati or member of a purported elite) , or on the right side of an issue, you can make any factual claim you want with no proof whatsoever and be sure it will be widely diseminated.
    But if you are the wrong person (member of the peasantry), on the wrong side of an issue, then you can have all the proof in the world to back up a fact and it will fall into the MSM’s Orwellian Memory Hole.

  • bob

    As Bishop Pike once famously titled a book, it’s a “Time for Christian Candor”. Who better to demand it than Bishop Schori! How could anyone suggest British journalists would be interested in such a matter as closeted gay bishops? Shocked, shocked! Can’t wait…

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    I see two angles on this. The first is specific: this is clearly a tactic on KJS’s part to destroy RW’s credibility as representative of his own church. The C of E’s big problem for the Americans is that it has not gone down the same path, so the Americans need to discredit it as a pattern.

    A more general question is how journalists handle claims such as this. Molly Ivins advocated treating them skeptically, and checking them if they could be checked, and publishing the truth in the original article along with the claim if the statement be proven false. It would be hard to do in this case, but at the very least asks for response from England.

  • Ron

    I lived in England for a couple of years in the 90s and was surprised (pleasantly, I have to admit, since I was myself a practicing homosexual at the time) by the high percentage of homosexuals I enountered among Anglo-Catholic clergy in London and other urban areas. Nevertheless, the attitudes I generally encountered among these clergy were remarkably different from those common among gay clergy in the US. They seemed perfectly happy with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and even though some of them were quite flamboyant, most did not regard homosexuality as a positive good. It was in their cases a fact, and they hoped God would be merciful, but very few of them were prepared to march in a Pride Parade. Meeting these clergy was a fascinating experience for me and awakened me to the fact that there are multiple shades of gray between “Gay is Good” and “Gay is Evil.” Is it possible for the church to take a pastoral and compassionate approach to the real life sufferings of real people without compromising orthdooxy? That, for people like me, is the real question, but it does not seem to be one that the media has any interest in whatsoever. And for what I can tell, neither does Bishop Schori. Here is the irony, of which she may or may not be aware : most of the homosexual clergy I met in England were opposed to the ordination of women and would not only deny the validity of her orders, but reject her as a heretic and a cause of scandal.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    Ron: I learnt this value in England years ago as well and more recently a priest, an Englishman himself, named it for me: tolerant conservatism. Don’t ask, don’t tell (except in confession), God forgives, we respect your privacy but we don’t say it’s not a sin. It’s orthodox, charitable and respectful. A value almost uniquely English, Anglican and Anglo-Catholic. Something I, a straight man, born Anglican, committed Catholic since I was a young teen-ager and formed in part by England, dearly miss when it’s not there. (You can find it at work in some naturally traditional communities such as ethnic churches on the village/parish level.) Neither the American right nor Dr Jefferts Schori’s left understand or agree with it.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    P.S. I admit that in the scene Ron describes there is lots of misogyny, which is not what I’m about nor is it really part of the Catholic position on Controversial Issuesâ„¢.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com Nancy Reyes

    If the sins of bishops or even Popes were allowed to dictate what was moral and what was not, we’d be in deep doo doo…heck, even a good catholic like Dante put a couple in his Inferno…

    Some of the Medieval popes put Bishop Robinson to shame (except they had women not men partners).

    Catholics however didn’t change their morality, they changed their popes…eventually reforming the clergy to what the Bible and tradition said was right…and the reform came through prayer not activism…

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey
  • Bill Channon

    I guess what really upsets me are the lies that are promulgated by the leadership of any church, be it the CofE, the CofIreland, to name but a few.
    The one thing I respect about +Schori is that she is basically honest in what she believes (possible excepting her commitment at DES. I totally disagree with her theology but her candour is refreshing (if that is the right word to to use).

    I feel nothing but disgust for ++RW and members of the leaderships of the national churches down through the ranks of bishops, canons and priests who violate their oaths. That is not simply applicable to active homosexuality but all others who routinely break their vows, the creeds, etc, whether it be homosexuality, heterosexual behaviour, theft, gluttony, and all behaviours where Our Lord calls us to be witnesses to him and to live blameless lives.
    I don’t count those who engage in these behaviours and come to recognize their behaviour is sinful and truly repent of their sin(s).

    ++RW showed his true colours when he held the infamous ‘secret’ Eucharist for active homosexual priests of the Church of England. Does anyone believe that he met with them to injure them to repentance, crtiticize their behaviour and plead for forgiveness. I doubt it!
    What ought to be the consequences? Not on +Schori and many bishops ECUSA but ++RSW and many bishops in the CofE -and many bishops around the world should be disinvited from Lambeth. There’s an interesting proposition for you!!!

  • Ken

    heck, even a good catholic like Dante put a couple in his Inferno.

    Have you never heard the Catholic adage that the floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops?

    Or perhaps that all things in the Church are either essential to the Church or for her well-being. Bishops must be essential, since they are clearly not for her well-being. Ok, I first heard that in the Episcopal Church, but it carries over.


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