Nailing the Anglican timeline!

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.

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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://goodintentionsblog.com Bob Smietana

    Terry:

    That excerpt is about 360 words long, or about 12 inches of copy, and is written about 14th grade level (Sophmore in college). In other word, of no use in a newspaper setting.

    So–how would you write that summary in say 2 inches of copy –60 words–and for a general interest audience, or about 9th grade level on reading difficulty tests?

  • Passing By

    Yes, it’s better than the average time line, but I’m still confused about whether Bp. Iker’s objection to Bp. Shori relates to her sex or her doctrine.

    It would have been nice to integrate into the main discussions two key facts about Bp. Iker: he was working with the bishop of Dallas to accommodate women and parishes that wanted women as priests, and he offered (not “agreed”) to give the property to parishes loyal to the Episcopal Church. In both cases he has been met with fanatical, liberal absolutism which demanded he violate his conscience on ordaining women and turn over every (empty) building, school room, and staple to the 1400 or souls remaining. These key facts do get mentioned, but only after we read:

    He runs his diocese with an iron hand and has packed it full of traditionalists who think like he does; some of his congregations are so uniformly conservative, in fact, that his opponents refer to them as “Ikerpalians.”

    Well, there’s your basic unbiased reporting. You have to ask, though, how that liberal remnant that doesn’t exist managed to hang on to 8 parishes and about 20% of the people.

    Here’s all you want to the Episcopal Church diocese and the diocese that left the Episcopal Church.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BOB:

    I said it was a magazine piece — obviously.

    I disagree on the 14th grade level.

    The NYTs and several other newspapers have pulled off the timeline with some doctrinal content already. It can be done.

    The key, however, is not to publish INACCURATE INFORMATION which is the norm with most timeline references on this topic.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Passing By:

    It is a magazine piece, not neutral wire-service copy. The key, again, is whether information is inaccurate. That is always a good starting point for judging a piece.

  • steve

    Absolutely bravo on the nuance of the timeline, definitely.

    However, I hate to be the one to bring it up (really, I do) but if we’re talking accurate information, that featured quote about “simply refusing the doctrine” is incorrect. That was Rev. Dr. George F. Regas, not Schori. Or am I misunderstanding the use of the quote? You can Google the reference.

    Some might think I’m being off-topic and I’m not, honest. It seems like a misleading “direct” quote.

  • http://goodintentionsblog.com Bob Smietana

    Terry:

    No duh it’s a magazine piece.

    I asked you a journalism question–take that timeline from the quote and put it into a usable format. Otherwise you’re just pissing on working journalists and not doing anything helpful.

    Do me a favor, please. Cut and paste the timeline quote into a Word doc. Then run the Flesch-Kincaid reading level test. And voila– it grades out at 14.5 grade.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The doctrinal terms did that, I would imagine. The NYTs and others managed to write around that, and in the length.

    I simply said that this was a magazine piece and, thus, that means the wording would have to be different.

    Will you join me, at least, in seeking accurate writing on the timeline issue? On the issue that other doctrines are involved, not just the election of one gay bishop (which took place AFTER key steps involved in the global conflict)?

    I am praising some working journalists, a NYTs piece in particular, and criticizing others.

    Please join me. You’re a professional on the beat. Your work shows that. You know that there are standards.

  • Chip

    Do you see any factual errors?

    Let’s start with the parenthetical phrase

    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.

    There is no Anglican Church, there is an Anglican Communion

    Henry VIII didn’t create the Anglican Church [sic]

    Gene Robinson was consecrated by the church’s general convention

    General Convention has never consecrated anyone. It confirmed Gene Robinson’s election as Bishop of New Hampshire.

    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,

    Iker was singular in his response to the Presiding Bishop’s election in 2006. Others followed in his footsteps only later. The article ought to give him credit it for this.

    The balance of the paragraph is Iker’s characterization of the Presiding Bishop. Good journalism would allow the Presiding Bishop to characterize her own theology.

  • Jill C.

    Terry, I actually get a kick out of that photo that you’ve not used in a month! ;)

  • dalea

    What I find helpful in this is that he does not refer to Robinson as openly gay as so many of the articles discussed here do. He simply states that the bishop is gay and partnered. This is a big improvement since we are not left wondering if conservatives object to gay or to openly.

    I really did not know that the election of Schori had bothered conservatives so much. This puts the situation in better perspective.

    Somehow, my understanding is that for Anglicans doctrine is not particularly important. This goes back to the first Queen Elizabeth’s statement that she did not seek to open windows into other peoples’ souls. The term that comes to mind is latitudinarian: the idea that there can be vast differences in belief without unsettling the church. The apocraphal description is: we all believe in some sort of something or other. I would like to know more about this.

  • David Roseberry

    Sam interviewed me for the article…as a follow up on an article he had done 3 years ago. (He did a long feature on Christ Church and ‘the issues’ back in 2006.) He ‘gets it’. His brother is an Episcopal priest. (Jeff, I think. One time in Colorado, but now back east, I think). I don’t know if Sam has a practicing faith, but he is one of the most genuinely interested reporters I have ever spoken with.

    (One month after the interview a ‘fact checker’ from Texas Monthly called to see if my quoted statements in the article were correct. A real pro.)

  • Chris

    Well, I worked for years writing consent forms for clinical research trials at the 8th grade level, and am pretty good at “translating” to lower grade level prose. I tried to get the two paragraphs above to 60 words and 9th grade language (as challenged by Mr. Smietana) and stalled out at 12th grade, and 198 words. No passive sentences, though. The problem is the technical words–I guessed Episcopal, Communion, Anglican. I replaced Episcopal with “Egg”, Episcopalian with “Eggs”, and “Anglican Communion” with “Apple Cart”. The Flesch-Kincaid reading test comes out at 10.0 grade, and the readability soars!
    See my attempt below :-)

    A rift between the Egg Church and in the Apple Cart to which it belongs has been growing for decades. (The Egg Church is the American branch of the Apple Cart, which has 78 million members worldwide.) This dates back to the seventies, when the church changed its liturgy and decided to ordain women priests. A growing number of Eggs questioned the literal truth of basic core beliefs, including the Resurrection. Things got worse in 2003 when Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, became bishop of New Hampshire. Many conservative Eggs left, and nearly two thirds of the Apple Cart declared it was in an “impaired” relationship with the more liberal Egg Church.
    In 2006 the Egg Church elected a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori, as its presiding bishop. Schori had voted for Gene Robinson, blessed same-sex unions, and believed that God’s revelation was ongoing–that core church beliefs could change. To conservatives, this meant the Egg Church had turned its back on the word of the Bible and 2000 years of Christian teaching. But the election proved that her views, while rejected by the majority of the Apple Cart, were in line with mainstream belief in the Egg Church.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Bravo, Chris! Your edits add the benefit of interesting visuals (e.g. conservative Eggs, the majority of the Apple Cart).