Let’s play, ‘Edit The New Yorker’!

When I think about great magazine features about religion news in the age of GetReligion, some of the first stories that leap into my mind are headlines like “The Jesus War,” which probed the roots of Mel Gibson’s “Passion” play on film, and “Jesus in the Classroom,” which offers an unusually balanced and nuanced account of the battles over religion and American history in the elite public-school classrooms of Cupertino, Calif.

Alas, the highly skilled Peter J. Boyer does not have the time to write all of the long-form news pieces about religion that appear in the hallowed pages of The New Yorker.

Which brings us to that elite magazine’s recent Reporter at Large feature that ran under the headline, “A Canterbury Tale.”

Yes, it’s about the Anglican wars.

No, it is not up to the usual standards of The New Yorker. In fact, this piece has put your GetReligionistas in a bit of a bind. We have heard from quite a few people who have spotted errors — major and minor — throughout this piece. There are, to be blunt, too many for a single GetReligion critique.

What, you ask, is an example of a minor error? Well, Richard Ostling of Time and Associated Press fame, noted, among a wide variety of problems, one simple issue of grammar in this piece. Like what? Consider this paragraph about the rise of U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Geoffrey Kirk, an unabashedly misogynist London vicar who is the national secretary of Forward in Faith, told me that, for him, the tipping point was the Episcopalian bishops’ election of Jefferts Schori as their presiding bishop. He called it “a fundamental scandal” and added, “I think Mrs. Jefferts Schori is a layperson. It’s not my doing. They decided.”

OK, ignore, please, the reference to Kirk as an “unabashedly misogynist London vicar” because his stance on the ordination of women is the same as many — “many,” but not all — Anglican evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics around the world. Oh, his stance is the same stance as the two largest Christian bodies in the world, the Catholic Church and the world of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Instead, simply note, along with Ostling, that the word “Episcopalian” is supposed to be a noun, not an adjective.

You get the idea.

What is a major error? To underline one of those, please ponder the following letter that was sent to The New Yorker by the noted author and musician Andy Crouch, known to many as the former editor of a progressive evangelical publication called re:generation quarterly. This is long, but worth the reading:

In her article, “A Canterbury Tale,” Jane Kramer states, “Nigeria and Uganda, which together account for twenty-five million of Africa’s Anglicans, have been hostage to two radically patriarchal archbishops and have been openly schismatic since the ordination of women began.” This statement was incredible to me, having personally met women priests in Uganda (among them, an assistant to the archbishop). So I did a brief Google search. The Church of Uganda’s “Position Paper on Scripture, Authority, and Human Sexuality” states:

“When the East African Revival swept through our communities, it called for the equality of women and men, and began the process of restoring women to traditional roles as spiritual leaders in their communities. The Revival movement was a strong contextualising force. In the 1950′s and 1960′s when African Christians took over leadership, we find a number of women seeking theological training and even aspiring for ordination. And, all of this was happening before women’s ordination was approved in the West.

“Women’s ordination in Uganda was a movement of the Holy Spirit independent of the West’s promotion of women into ordained ministry. Therefore, to say that homosexual unions and ordination is an extension of a so-called biblical principle of liberation is insulting to us. It belittles women and their ministry, and equates a perversion with God’s movement toward women’s ordination in Uganda.”

As for the consecration of women as bishops, the Church of Uganda’s “FAQ about Church of Uganda, GAFCON, and the Anglican Communion” addresses it directly and unequivocally: “The canons of the Church of Uganda indicate that anyone who is ordained is eligible to be elected as a Bishop.”

My Google search was not as successful in locating the translation of the New Testament in which “Christ called men and women ‘equal in my hands.’ ”

As an evangelical Anglican who supports the ordination and consecration of women, these basic errors give me little confidence that Ms. Kramer’s account can be trusted in other respects.

Once again, ignore the editorializing language such as “two radically patriarchal archbishops and have been openly schismatic” since the opening of the era in which women have been ordained in many Anglican churches.

Also, I was not aware that this particular issue has been the major source of discord in the global Anglican Communion in recent years (although major disagreements still exist), since so many charismatic and evangelical Anglicans have embraced the ordination of women. Isn’t the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians the major issue now, serving as the spear point on fierce debates about biblical authority and church tradition during the past two decades?

So what are your GetReligionistas to do? This is a big challenge, so let’s turn it into a game. Since there are too many bases to cover, please use the “comments” pages as a space in which to share with us your favorite errors in this piece. Yes, please try to focus on simple issues of fact, as opposed to the often fierce statements of opinion and bias that are woven throughout. Stick to the facts, if that is possible.

Go for it.

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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.

  • trierr

    This isn’t really about the article, which appears to have so many holes as to make it too boring to criticize. But the issue of the ordination of women may be pertinent. Although I’m not sure about Africa, I was told by one of my seminary professors that when the Episcopal Church here in the Springs (aka the Vatican of the West) split a while back, the ordained women who went to the Anglican mission church were somehow no longer ordained. Given Anglican theology, that’s pretty big. And it contradicts what is being said in the quoted letter. Unfortunately, I haven’t read anything about it. But if it’s true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, then at least here in the states, it implies that women’s ordination is part of the equation. For some conservatives I have talked to, it is all part of a slippery slope that lead to the homosexual issue that presents itself today.

  • Jon in the Nati

    OK, ignore, please, the reference to Kirk as an “unabashedly misogynist London vicar” because his stance on the ordination of women is the same as many — “many,” but not all — Anglican evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics around the world. Oh, his stance is the same stance as the two largest Christian bodies in the world, the Catholic Church and the world of Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Why are we ignoring that bit? Is he an outward misogynist, or not? If yes, are we saying that “many, but not all” Anglo-Catholics, Catholics and Orthodox are also outwardly misogynist? If no, then why should the author of this article feel okay about using so charged a term in referring to this man?

    For me, describing someone as misogynist would imply that they go way past believing in a male-only priesthood. Such a belief is not misogynistic; so why does the fact that this clergyman apparently believes in a male-only priesthood make him a misogynist?

  • Martha

    Well, I’d give the man leeway on using “Episcopalian” as an adjective in this instance, as he’s trying to differentiate between bishops who are specifically Episcopalian and other bishops who are members of the Anglican communion. I think it’s acceptable to say “The Episcopalian bishops and the Anglican bishops disagree”.

    The crack about “unabashedly misogynist” is way out of line, though.

  • Martha

    Whoops – looks like I’ve so successfully internalised the institutional misogyny of my church as self-hatred as a Catholic woman that I’ve inadvertantly referred to the author of that article as a man, not a woman! ;-)

  • Susan

    If you regularly read the “blog” section on “Stand Firm in Faith,” I believe that you will get a feeling that the “war” for the traditionalists has been lost in TEC and that people are making personal decisions either to stay or to go. It is amazing how inactive the blogs are these days compared to even last year.

    The Episcopal Church has already split; it is done … and new institutions are being created. TEC itself is declining demographically and economically. Other than its historic importance in the United States, it is almost invisible in terms of the number of people who currently attend Sunday services.

    The NEW YORKER is a little late to the story … the inaccuracies are almost beside the point.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I do not know of any charismatic or Evangelical woman who has had to give up her ordination in any of the new alignments. Can an Anglican or two enlighten us on that?


    Many, but not all, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics oppose the ordination of women.


    Sorry, but Episcopalian is a noun.

    There are other ways to draw that line without trashing grammar.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Many, but not all, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics oppose the ordination of women.

    I know that, but that is not what I asked. Since when does opposing female ordination make one an “unabashed[] misogynist”? If it does, are all Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, and Orthodox Christians also unabashed misogynists? If not, what has this guy done to make himself more of a misogynist than the everyone else out there who supports the all-male apostolic priesthood?

  • Martha

    tmatt, “Those bishops who are Episcopalians”?

    Okay, but I think you’re fighting a lost cause here. If we can say “He is a Catholic” and “He is a Catholic bishop” then I think that applies to the Episcopalians as well.

    But I won’t ask you to cross sharpened nibs with me at dawn over it :-)

  • http://www.billyockham.blogspot.com Matthew

    At the moment I’m empathizing with one of our cats. Recently she had pinned one bug when another scurried in front of her. I only have a limited number of paws and that article is a target rich environment.

  • George Conger

    Here are a few items that somehow were missed by the fact checker:

    Let’s start with the first paragraph …

    “By now, women account for nearly a third of the Church of England’s working priests,”

    Women vicars comprised 15 per cent of the parochial-incumbent status clergy of the Church of England at the close of 2007, the Second Church Estates Commissioner told Parliament last year.

    At the end of 1997, six per cent of parochial-incumbent status clergy — or 426 overall — were women, whereas in 2007, 15 per cent, or 974, were women,” Sir Stuart Bell said on Oct 15. However, he noted the percentage had also risen due to the fall in the number of full-time parochial clergy over the past 10 years, from 7,471 at the end of 1997 to 6,450 on Dec 31, 2007.

    “the investiture of the Church of England’s first female bishop—a process begun in 2008, when the laity, clergy, and bishops in the Church’s governing body, the General Synod, voted in favor of removing the last vestiges of gender discrimination from canon law.”

    The last three General Synods have debated women bishops, and the issue has not yet been settled … a point the author makes later in her article.

    In the second paragraph …

    “England’s church has always been (the common word) “inclusive.” It grew as an uneasy accommodation between the traditionalists of the Apostolic Creed and Catholic ritual and devotions now known as Anglo-Catholics and the brimstone-and-Bible Protestants born in the chapels of the Reformation, making common cause against the Church of Rome.”

    This canned history is incorrect. If the CoE began in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy, as Kramer says earlier in this paragraph, the uneasy accommodation was somewhat late in coming and rather non inclusive. The CoE ejected its presbyterian and non-conforming members in the Seventeenth century, established a confessional statement (the 39 articles of religion), Evangelicals did not appear until the last quarter of the Eighteenth century and were heartily despised by the establishment, and Anglo-Catholics not until the middle of the Nineteenth Century—with some of their number jailed for ‘ritual’ offences. Both of these church parties were minority factions … never the majority.

    I could go on, but this whole article is so silly … it is disappointing to see what sort of junk can be passed off these days

  • Eric

    The adjectival form of the noun ‘Episcopalian’ is ‘Episcopal’ — which makes sense if you think about the name of the denomination: The Episcopal [NOT Episcopalian] Church.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Once again, “episcopal” means “of or pertaining to a bishop.” So this makes it sounds like PECUSA is the only church which has bishops.

    Will Catholic prelates be forced to wear their “episcopalian gloves”?

  • Steve Waring

    The author states that one out of five, or about 20 percent of bishops recognized by the See of Canterbury stayed away from the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The only way that the official conference was able to arrive at that figure was by counting ALL of the ecumenical bishops in attendance.

    In actuality only about 70 percent of bishops presiding over dioceses of the Anglican Communion attended and of those in attendance, bishops from The Episcopal Church represented almost 25 percent of the total. Bishops from the Church of England had a similar attendance percentage. Together the Church of England and The Episcopal Church represent less than four percent of the number of communicants in good standing. http://www.livingchurch.org/news/news-updates/2008/8/3/what-the-lambeth-conference-accomplished

    I agree with George Conger, the article is almost beneath criticism as a piece of reporting. It begins and ends with the assumption that there is no valid theological justification for an all male episcopacy and therefore someone like the Rev. Geoffrey Kirk must be misogynistic.