Shameless self promotion (times three)

self-promoteBelieve it or not, your GetReligionistas are busy people who do have lives and other jobs. You can tell this from time to time when typos slip into print and we are slow to fix them. You can tell when huge stories break and it takes us a day or so to get our act together and wade through oceans of digital ink in search of a ghost or two. Is that a mixed metaphor, or what?

In that spirit, let me shamelessly offer you three links to religion-news-related work by members of the team. We start with the Rev. Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans trying to explain — in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed — the true-blue American nature of that recent Episcopal Church General Convention.

The headline was, “A church divided by belief — Pledges of unity are ringing false as Episcopalians in America drift away.” Here’s EEE, getting to the heart of the matter:

The move to further liberalize the American church seemed strangely defiant, especially amid membership and budgetary troubles. It may now be more difficult for President Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori to defend her opposition to the Anglican Church in North America’s bid for full-fledged membership in the Anglican Communion.

Yet, in many ways, the decisions made at the convention were classically American, reflecting both Episcopal history and an ecclesiastical culture favoring majority rule. Since its formation on the heels of the American Revolution, the denomination has mirrored both the country’s profoundly individualistic spirit and its efforts to subsume multiple beliefs into a coherent whole.

The Episcopal Church has often been called “small but influential,” comprising the cultural elite at prayer. Now the denomination of so many senators and presidents is again attempting to set the cultural course for mainstream Protestantism under the flag of inclusiveness

But what does inclusiveness look like in a denomination of two million that has already lost most of its dissenters?

I had this question after reading her piece: Is the concept of doctrine now officially anti-American? I’m serious.

Meanwhile, a few comments on my recent GetReligion post about New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the New York Times and some strange church statistics inspired me to jump into the wayback machine and revisit a topic that I wrote about long ago for a quirky editor named Doug LeBlanc. The original is here (sorry about the green type and formatting issues) and the new column, “Why journalists (heart) the Episcopal Church” is here.

To cut to the chase, here are a few of my attempts to answer this seemingly timeless question: “Why does the Episcopal Church get some much news coverage?”

That’s a good question, since the Episcopal Church — with a mere 2 million members — often draws more attention than the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God and several other major denominations combined. What’s going on? After 30 years on the religion beat, I have decided that several factors are at work.

* Many of the Episcopal Church’s most vocal leaders — such as Robinson — work in the Northeast near elite media institutions. The church’s national offices are in New York City. Meanwhile, Episcopal cathedrals elsewhere are usually in urban centers that dominate regional media. For journalists, the Episcopalians are nearby.

* Conservatives have, for decades, been on the outside looking in when the Episcopal establishment made crucial decisions, in part because many conservative dioceses are in the Sunbelt far from the action. But in the Internet age, even conservatives are seeking, and getting, more media attention.

* Colorful photographs and video clips are crucial and it’s hard to offer compelling coverage of convention centers and churches full of clergy in dull business suits. Episcopalians, however, know how to dress up. In fact, their bishops even look like the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church — the biggest religion-news game in town.

* The true religion of journalism is politics and Episcopalians love to talk politics — from global warming to feminism, from multiculturalism to military spending, from national health care to gay rights. And in recent decades the denomination’s stands on controversial social issues have meshed nicely with the editorial stands taken by America’s most powerful media corporations.

Make sure you read to the end to catch a classic soundbite from the very media savvy Bishop William C. Frey, now of the Diocese of the Rio Grande and formerly of Colorado and the Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry. What he wants to know is why other religious leaders would want the amount of coverage that Episcopalians get year after year.

That’s a good question, too.

announce-bullhorn_76fdMeanwhile, here is my bottom line on this issue:

… Episcopalians wear religious garb, work in convenient urban sanctuaries and speak the lingo of progressive politics. Their leaders look like Catholics and think like journalists.

To get away from the Episcopalians for a minute, let me note that young master Brad A. Greenberg continues his transition into the next stage of his career, which is part of what brings him to us at GetReligion. However, he is continuing his work at the Godblog, as well. Sort of. However, he recently wrote an farewell memo of sorts to his readers at The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

You really need to click here and read the whole thing, because he has all kinds of hyperlinks in it (I will not attempt to transfer them) to interesting stories and info. I mean, it’s a blog post. It’s bloggy and, as we all know, the medium is the message.

But here’s a taste of what Brad has to say there as he goes halfway out the exit door.

The beginning of Shabbat will bring to a close my two years of wandering in the Jewish community. But this has been no desert.

Since joining The Jewish Journal in May 2007, I’ve had some amazing experiences — grilling the Israeli prime minister, interviewing my journalistic hero, going to Yom Kippur services, sitting down with Hollywood CEOs, walking the Holy Land, digging into the history of Jewish hoops.

Really, it’s been a blast. I’ve also learned a lot more about what it means to be a Christian named Greenberg and saw many of my notions of Jewish life in L.A. smashed. I’ll be reflecting on the latter in a first-person piece for The Journal next week.

When the digital version of that story goes live, we’ll ask Greenberg to shamelessly promote it here at GetReligion. Of course.

Photos: No, the top picture is not of Brad and the bottom picture is not of EEE.

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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.

  • Dwight

    “Is the concept of doctrine now officially anti-American?”

    Given a survey course in American religious history (or reading Bloom on the American religion), especially as someone who comes from the stone-campbellite tradition, the answer would be yes. I don’t think that’s what is happening with the TEC but I think ti’s not an unhelpful lens in making sense of religion in the US overall.

    Why press coverage for the TEC?

    I don’t think you can count liberal protestantism and shared values with journalism as amounting to much. The UCC did not get press coverage this year. They’ve gone beyond the gay debate a few years back.The Unitarian Universalist convention, even when dramatic changes were afoot for the church at their assembly received almost zilch for coverage.

    The SBC may not get much coverage these days but if the ELCA considers gay issues it’s likely. Back in the 90s, the SBC got a ton of coverage as it waited through controversial issues. It’s the controversy (with sex thrown in?) that invite TEC coverage. And the fact that it’s one of the only denominations (outside the RCC) that has international ramifications for its decisions.

    Especially as it relates to the Church of England, the press coverage for the TEC may sound more significant than it was. In some measure it was piggyback writing on the UK press coverage (which was more substantial than the US coverage). Since what the US does affects the UK state church, that isn’t surprising. But I don’t think US coverage was inordinate given the controversy.

  • Dwight

    Too many acronyms. I apologize. Mainly the point is: the press follows the controversy. And especially sexual ones. Arcane issues like church structure debates such as in Methodist Church, Disciples of Christ, and UCC won’t ever get the same kind of coverage. In fact the Disciples are meeting next week. I’ll be curious to see if the press notices.

  • tmatt


    On the issue of doctrine and America, I am, of course, referring to the culture not the government. However, you could make a case that the government is now backing some doctrines with tax dollars and not others. That gets sticky.

    On the liberal Prot angle: Ever tried to get a nice photo of a UCC gathering? The Unitarians do some interesting things, but they cannot match the Episcopal combination of cultural clout, colorful neo-Catholic vestments and cathedrals.

  • Dwight


    I was thinking you were referring to culture. And I do think there is something in American culture and religious history that resists doctrine. Non creedalism is one of the more defining traits of American bred religion, including in my own Disciples tradition. A recent book I came across on that subject is Leigh Eric Schmidt’s book on Restless Souls, the Making of American Spirituality

  • Davis

    Is the concept of doctrine now officially anti-American? I’m serious.

    Given the trouble among the OCA and the Antiochians, you could probably answer your own question. American entities of larger churches are often rebellious and challenge “doctrine.” The Episcopalians do it, the U.S. Catholics do it, and from all appearances, the American Orthodox do it.

    Now you are going to argue that the Orthodox converts in the U.S. are trying to enforce doctrine, but there are plenty of people within Orthodoxy who would argue the American converts are not abiding hierarchy and trying to create their own Episcopal version of the Orthodox church, with its own rules and hierarchy that is separate from the the mother church.

    There is something American about this kind of rebellion, just as there is something American about the covert rebellion in the OCA.

    So, yes, maybe doctrine is anti-American. Or at least contrary to the American spirit of rebellion.

  • Jerry

    Self-promotion is always fine when warranted and it is here.

  • Jerry

    Taking this topic up as a second post:

    Is the concept of doctrine now officially anti-American? I’m serious.

    I think you’re asking a very interesting and important question.

    I think the answer is rooted in the fundamental anti-authoritarian nature of the US. Basically people don’t want to be told what to believe. This spirit can be traced back to the puritans who came over here because they believed something other than the official doctrine. People here want to answer questions for themselves.

    Another root belief that affects people is the belief in equality which is one of the ‘self-evident’ truths that underlies our national character. Maybe things are different now, but when I was growing up, I could have created a mountain by putting a stone on a pile every time a kid said “no fair”.

    So if you have doctrine which people are told they have to accept and the doctrine appears to be unfair, a significant number of people will react negatively over time.

    Whether or not something is truly unfair and whether or not a doctrine is really divinely necessary are very interesting follow-up questions.

  • Bob Smietana

    Episcopalians also are overrepresented in seats of power. estimates that more than a quarter of US presidents have been Episcopalians, and about 8 percent of the Congress are Episcopalians, despite their small size. Money and Power always lead to attention. Plus they have an established hierarchy, unlike Southern Baptists

  • tmatt


    Yes sir, I agree. Thus my Scripps column states:

    It also helps to remember that the Episcopal Church’s roots connect to the Church of England, which gives it a unique role in American history, noted Bishop William Frey of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, who was a media professional before seeking ordination. This small, well-established denomination has helped shape the lives of 11 presidents, 35 U.S. Supreme Court justices and legions of journalists.

    Like it our not, the Episcopal Church occupies its own corner in the public square — which leads to news coverage.

  • Dave

    The Unitarian Universalists’ problem with the press is more a matter of timing than panoply. UUs took a liberal stand on homosexuality in 1970, when it was too fringy to be news. Current UU stands in favor of gay marriage are lost in a shouting match of many full-throated voices on the topic.

  • Bren

    Two of the reasons why the The Episcopal Church is always convered by the media are: a) there a many liberals in the media, and b) there are many gays and lesbian media people. These two groups, which are usually loud anyway, want to show off that this Church is on their side, and it has become a propaganda machine of their ideas. These two groups, especially the practicing homosexuals, subconsciously think that once they have a Church, God is approving their lifestyle and will shower His graces on them.