Symbolic win for gay rites! News?

centerburynuke1After nearly three decades on the Godbeat, and 15 years in the classroom, I am still fascinated with basic questions about the process of reporting and writing the news. But, before you report and write a story, you have to decide if a particular event, trend or statement is or is not news.

For example, here is a hot-button story from veteran religion reporter Julia Duin at the Washington Times that strikes me as rather important for a host — yes, even scores — of reasons. Let’s find out what readers think, starting with the top of this story from this weekend:

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia inched closer to blessing same-sex unions … when delegates approved a resolution affirming “the inherent integrity and blessedness of committed Christian relationships between two adult persons.”

The resolution, which passed by an uncounted show of hands by the 700 or so Episcopalians meeting at the Reston Hyatt, first recommended the diocese respond “to the pastoral needs of our faithful gay and lesbian members.” A second paragraph defined the “relationships” as “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”

“There is a time to take that step and follow Christ,” said Matt Johnson, a delegate from Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, Va. “I think this is one of those times. Yes, these relationships have integrity and are blessed. For 20 years, we have been talking about this. Let’s go do it.”

Now, the issue of same-sex unions is, of course, rather important right now at the local, regional, national and global levels of the Anglican Communion.

Why is that? The Virginia diocese is a large and historic body. It is also in the midst of a very high-profile legal battle with a number of very powerful conservative parishes that have fled the U.S. Episcopal Church to align with traditionalist Anglicans in the Global South. Millions of dollars of property is at stake, along with some legal issues that may — not “will,” but “may” — have an impact in courts elsewhere.

So it seems to me that it would be important if that diocese took an open, unabashed step toward supporting rites to bless gay unions and, thus, acts of sex outside of the sacrament of marriage as traditionally defined. Thus, the big question in this Virginia resolution is the meaning of the word “monogamy.” That has been the flashpoint issue for gay theologians for many years.

So, for scores of reasons, this seems like a rather important story to me. Thus, I went looking for it in the Washington Post and in other mainstream media.

It seems that, with a link to an evangelical scribe, that one gay online publication thought this was an important development on the candid religious left.

But I can’t find anything in the Post or other mainstream publications. Isn’t this victory for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church news? It’s clear that Virginia Episcopalians remain on the big newspaper’s radar, because this story ran just the other day. And it includes this blunt set of facts:

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, who has been bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia for 24 years, announced yesterday that he will step down Oct. 1 to make way for a successor who was named in 2007.

The diocese, which covers northern and eastern Virginia and includes 80,000 members, is one of the largest in the Episcopal Church, the U.S.-based branch of the global Anglican Communion.

One of the largest in the United States? In the old South, too? And the new bishop will:

… (I)nherit one of the largest and costliest legal disputes in the history of the Episcopal Church, a land fight with a cluster of Virginia congregations whose members voted to leave the national church over what they see as its liberal distortions of Scripture — and sought to keep their church properties, worth tens of millions of dollars. The breakaway conservative movement recently won a decision in district court, but the diocese and the national church are appealing.

Golly. Sounds important.

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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.

  • Dave

    I get the Washington Post National Newsweekly, not the daily paper (not being a DC area resident), so I’m not aware of WaPo omissions like this one. It is indeed odd for it not to have covered the story. It’s significant and it’s local.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Is a show of hands the usual way of voting on resolutions like this in the Episcopal Church?

  • franksta


    Each TEC diocese sets its own constitution and procedures for resolutions, and they generally follow a Roberts-Rules approach. Votes can be by voice or show of hands, with division of the house called for if needed. Votes generally have to pass in both “houses,” clergy and lay deputies.

  • BabyBlue

    In the case of the Diocese of Virginia, this significant vote was taken by a show of hands (actually, red or green cards) in the room and was not divided by orders. It is rare in the Diocese of Virginia to divide the votes by orders, except during the election of a bishop.


  • St. Dallas

    This is a little off topic, but it does seem to relate to this subject.

    Dallas News recently ran an article titled,”Dallas same-sex divorce case a first for Texas”

    Problem is, if they are going to pass laws to marry LGBT persons, then they will need to figure out how to divorce them. Texas does not recognize same sex marriages so Texas cannot give them the divorce they are seeking even though they live in Dallas (they were married in Massachusetts)

  • Richard T. Purchase

    Bishop Lee has been held up as a conservative who made a U-turn on the issue of churches wanting to leave the old ECUSA. This move gives support to the arguments of the 11 churches that have left VA diocese and Bishop Lee. Further, as the next steps are taken in recognition of gay marriages, we may see words like monogamy disappear.

  • Dave

    Richard Purchase wrote:

    [...A]s the next steps are taken in recognition of gay marriages, we may see words like monogamy disappear.

    There is no reason for this assumption. I know and have known lesbian and gay couples who are monogamous though denied marriage under law. BGLTs have their monogamous and their promiscuous types, just as heterosexuals do.