I constantly tell my students that one of the hardest tasks in journalism is to write a balanced, insightful profile of a controversial person. This is especially hard to do here inside the Beltway, but that is not the topic of the day.
No, I want to praise S.C. Gwynne’s news feature in Texas Monthly about Episcopal, or we probably should say Anglican, Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth. You may know Gwynne’s byline from his years at Time and then in a wide variety of other settings.
This is another one of those stories about the local, regional, national and global conflicts in the Episcopal Church and, thus, the Anglican Communion as a whole. Iker is a conservative and, in fact, someone who is even out of step with most conservative Episcopalians in the United States in that he continues to oppose the ordination of women, a step embraced by many, if not most, evangelicals and charismatics.
Iker, thus, is a highly symbolic figure for the nation’s few remaining old-fashioned Anglo-Catholics, a man who is truly loved or hated depending on which pews a reporter visits on a given Sunday. This bishop has no problem talking with Catholic and Orthodox leaders, but struggles to make headway in talks with the principalities and powers of his own church — at least in North America.
So Gwynne has his hands full, writing for a Lone Star magazine with a long history of progressive journalism. Frankly, I think he did amazingly well.
However, I was especially interested in how he would handle — you knew this was coming — the inevitable timeline describing the history of the Anglican wars. I realize that this is a magazine piece, as opposed to a 600-word wire report, but check this out:
What happened in Fort Worth was part of a widening schism in the Episcopal Church, and in the larger Anglican Communion to which it belongs, that has been growing for decades. (The Episcopal Church is the American name of the Anglican Church, created by Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534; Anglican churches operate in about 160 countries and have some 78 million members.) The discontent has its roots in the seventies, when the church made changes to its liturgy and decided to ordain women priests. There were also issues of Scripture, as growing numbers of Episcopalians questioned the literal truth of basic tenets of the faith: the Resurrection, the Atonement, the uniqueness of Jesus as savior. The rift opened wide in 2003 when a partnered gay man named Gene Robinson was consecrated by the church’s general convention as bishop of New Hampshire. Many conservatives went into open revolt, some parishes left, and nearly two thirds of the global Anglican church declared itself in “broken” or “impaired” communion with its more liberal American branch.
Then in 2006 the church did something that many of the more conservative Episcopalians could not bear: It elected a woman, Nevada bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, as its presiding bishop, the nominal head of the church. Schori was not only a woman — which to Iker and other conservatives meant that the church, in electing her, had turned its back both on the word of the Bible and on two thousand years of Christian teaching — but one who had voted for Gene Robinson and blessed same-sex unions. She believed that God’s revelation was ongoing (meaning that core doctrines of the church were liable to change) and was prone to saying things like “I simply refuse to hold the doctrine that there is no access to God except through Jesus. I personally reject the claim that Christianity has the truth and all other religions are in error.” This indeed ran counter to age-old teachings of the church. But her election proved that her views, while anathema to the majority of the Anglican Communion, were nonetheless in keeping with the mainstream of thought and practice in the Episcopal Church.
Hosanna! I think he gets it! This summary places the Robinson consecration and the election of Jefferts Schori in a doctrinal context — in relation to Iker, the majority of the global communion and the establishment of the U.S. church.
With those facts covered, Gwynne can return to talking to the conflict on the ground in Fort Worth, carefully talking to leaders on both sides and showing how this legal war could affect thousands of believers in pews from coast to coast.
I have to ask: Does this Gwynne guy actually have some church-history courses in his past? These are not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fact paragraphs. May other journalists who are covering similar stories in their regions take note. Print this story out and file it for reference. I would be interested in hearing from Episcopalians on the left and Anglicans on the right about this. Do you see any factual errors?
Photo: Hey, I haven’t used it in at least a month.