Episcopal timeline disease, again (repeat)

AnglicanBomb1_01_01_7_01When you are talking about the history of the Anglican wars, you really have to remember that it’s really about the bishops.

The Episcopal Church has been struggling with homosexuality — in its national meetings — since the 1970s. But the big signposts have been about the men and women in the purple shirts. Here’s a few.

1989 — Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1991 — Bishop Walter Righter, Diocese of Washington, D.C., ordains a non-celibate homosexual.

1994 — Bishop Spong drafted the Koinonia Statement defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). Spong publishes his 12 Theses, laying out an approach to faith without a transcendent, personal deity.

1996 — Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which decides that there is “no clear doctrine” in the Episcopal Church relevant to the ordination of those sexually active outside of marriage.

1998 — The bishops at the global Lambeth Conference uphold traditional teachings on marriage and human sexuality. Then, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement addressed to lesbian and gay Anglicans.

2000 — Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini ( Province of Rwanda) and Moses Tay ( Province of South East Asia) consecrate Father Chuck Murphy and Father John Rodgers as missionary bishops to the U.S.

You get the idea, if you are looking at the revolution of the theological left or the counter-revolt by the right, you have to watch the bishops — starting in the 1970, but with the open warfare picking up in the 1980s and ’90s. That’s the timeline.

Thus, is it possible for USA Today to publish the following about the current General Convention?

Since 2003, when the group approved the election of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the church has been embroiled in feuds over what the Bible says about roles of gay clergy and women.

Fractures widened in 2006 when Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop and agreed to “exercise restraint” by not consecrating more gay bishops or establishing a rite for blessing same-sex couples. Still, dissatisfied traditionalists formally split in June to form a rival national church, the Anglican Church in North America, which has more than 70,000 members.

So will this year’s 10-day meeting of 200 Episcopal bishops and 850 clergy and lay deputies be calmer?

Now, I have known Cathy Lynn Grossman for a long time. She is a skilled, veteran religion-beat reporter. She has to know that this fight didn’t start in 2003. That’s just wrong. She also knows that there are issues at stake that are much bigger than sexuality and the ordination of women, although the sacraments of marriage and ordination (viewed in ancient, large-C Catholic terms) are plenty important on their own.

I assume that she simply wasn’t given enough space for the other sentence or paragraph that she needed to state that background information in an accurate manner. Either that, or the story was cut at the copy desk.

However, later in the story we read:

Since 2003, some African and South American Anglican archbishops have refused to take communion with Episcopal Church leaders or partner with the church on projects.

Actually, broken Communion started earlier than that, too, with at least one major American bishop and theological educator boycotting Communion in the House of Bishops as early as 1992 — over the issue of Episcopalians openly worshiping other deities.

Note to the USA Today copy desk: This story does not begin with the consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. That statement is simply inaccurate and a correction is needed. I mean, the consecration of the conservative, extra-legal missionary bishops started in 2000.

I know that it is hard to cover sprawling, complex stories in such short lengths. But here’s a good rule: Don’t publish statements that are inaccurate. Add the extra sentence or even half a sentence (click here for a New York Times example).

Get the facts right.

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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.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    1989 — Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

    That seems to have been dropped down the memory hole by gay activists as the Revd J. Robert Williams was an utter public-relations disaster, a rude embarrassment even to Spong: ‘Mother Teresa should get laid’. Spong quietly sacked him soon after ordaining him. Williams died of Aids a few years later.

  • bob

    This time line starts actually rather far into the process; maybe start around 1967 (actually even earlier) with James Pike? His fellow bishops watched in utter stupid silence as he denied every shred of christian belief. And did precisely *nothing*. When the General Convention in Seattle in 1967 censured Pike, it wasn’t even for his abandoning the faith, it was for being rude about it. Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury described Pike’s biographer and apologist William Stringfellow as a “Prophet” and the greatest theologian to come out of America. What an insult to every christian American and what a devastating admission to being a flake. It’s about the bishops, but to get one of those you start with a flaky layman and work up.

  • Brian Walden

    Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court

    This is tangential to the main point, but I didn’t realize Anglicans had a concept of heresy. I thought their unity doesn’t come from all believing the same doctrine but all sharing the same national church.

  • David

    They may not have all the same doctrines, but there are or were certain lines you weren’t to cross, I suppose.

    I’m inclined to blame the copy editor on that story, myself.

  • Jay

    James Pike was a heretic long before 1967.
    Back in 1961, Time reported

    The notion that much of the Bible is myth has long been held by some Protestant theologians, including the U.S.’s Paul Tillich and Germany’s Rudolf Bultmann.

    But this has rarely been stated flatly by a bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church. For so saying, San Francisco’s Bishop James A. Pike has been accused of heresy by some of his fellow Episcopalians. While Pike, an ex-lawyer and a convert from Roman Catholicism, has a well-demonstrated talent for starting controversy and making news, the issues at stake are real and deep.

    Pike was the cover heretic for Time in November 1966.

    There was also the controversy around women’s ordination and the new BCP in the late 1970s, that lead to the first major round of Anglican defections.

    So the water had gotten mighty warm by 2000, even if some of the traditionalist frogs didn’t jump out until 2007-2009.

  • anon


    Ellen Barrett was ordained by the Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore a priest for the diocese of New York in 1977, 12 years before Spong ordained Williams. If memory serves, she introduced her partner at the ordination as an “integral” part of her ministry. Of course, several of the women ordained before the Episcopal Church changed the canons were openly lesbian as well.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Of course folks here in New Hampshire believe that ALL things began when Bishop V. Gene Robinson was elected in 2003. It doesn’t dissuade people of that notion when the summary cited here with the 2003 starting date for the “Troubles” in TEC is the template for all news articles on the subject.

    To be fair, one could argue it was, in fact, a “tipping point” for some. (I forgot the phrase from the cartoon, something about one character telling another in the pew that they’ll stay for JUST ONE MORE outrage.”)

    BTW, amused that the concept that Anglicans might have a concept of heresy is utterly strange to someone – and probably totally foreign to most people under 40 in that denomination. This is the group with the gay, Muslim, Pagan and Zen priests, right?

  • http://www.lifesite.ca Jim Smith

    It’s time for classic Anglicans to move on from the Episcopal Church. Enough Anglicans in the world will recognize us as brothers and sisters,even if Canterbury doesn’t.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    Re: 6, I thought so but wasn’t sure. Thanks.