And now, ironic Episcopal PR from South Florida

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I wish there was some way, legally and technically, that I could have GetReligion readers take a look at the following two stories about the advent of same-sex union rites in the Episcopal Church without readers being able to tell which one is from a mainstream newsroom and which one is from the denomination’s own information source.

Guess which one makes a more concerted effort to wrestle with and to report on the views of Episcopalians who disagree with this doctrinal revolution in their church?

Well, not this one:

Gay couples who seek spiritual affirmation of their relationships can now sanctify their unions with special blessings at South Florida’s Episcopal churches.

Priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida have been given permission to perform a distinct rite, different from the marriage between a man and a woman. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony, to be introduced this month, was approved by national convention delegates over the summer.

South Florida’s Episcopal priests had been performing a locally approved liturgy for the past two years for couples who have been married in other states, Bishop Leo Frade said. Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages. Frade said none of the priests in the 77-church diocese, which covers six South Florida counties, have told him they are morally opposed to the blessings.

This story contains the usual flaws in the Anglican timeline on these issues, with the conflicts (sigh) and schisms beginning at the usual point — the gay bishop reaching his throne in the tiny diocese in New Hampshire. The state of broken Communion inside the American body, and its fallout overseas, actually began years earlier.

Hey, church history is complex? Who expects accuracy on such matters in mainstream newspapers. Right?

The more significant flaw is linked to the fact that — despite the fact that not a single priest in South Florida objects to this evolution — there are other Episcopal dioceses in the state that oppose the rite and consider sex outside of traditional marriage to be a sin. GetReligion readers will be stunned to know that this mainstream report only talks to people on one side of this issue, a hot-button issue that continues to cause cracks in the Anglican Communion here in North America and, obviously, around the world.

Other voices? We don’t need no stinkin’ other voices!

Obviously, a report from the actual Episcopal News Service is going to represent the viewpoint of the denomination’s hierarchy. The Episcopal Church is, at the level of the hierarchy, an overwhelmingly liberal body on issues of doctrine and liturgy and this story shows that.

That is to be expected, in a denominational, advocacy, news source. However, this low-key and thorough story does note:

The blessing liturgy is authorized only with the permission of the diocesan bishop, and clergy can decline to preside at a blessing ceremony. Resolution A049 specified that bishops, particularly in dioceses located in civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, could provide a “generous pastoral response” and that bishops could adapt the liturgical materials to meet church members’ needs.

In the months since General Convention approved use of the liturgy, bishops throughout the church have issued pastoral letters outlining the policies for their dioceses.

This implies, of course, that some bishops are outlining options other than enthusiastic acceptance. Thus, those other voices are part of the national story and, to some degree, this ENS report.

The issue, in the South Florida coverage, is whether (a) there really are ZERO traditional Anglicans left in that liberal dioceses with whom to discuss this very newsworthy development or (b) whether a newspaper that portrays itself as a regional newspaper needs to take into account, in any way, the fact that what is a de facto sacrament in Miami remains a sin and even a heresy in Orlando.

The journalistic question: Why did the mainstream news report adopt a more blatant form of advocacy journalism than the denominational voice?

Now, that’s what you’d call ironic.

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.

  • northcoast

    Staying away from the obvious controversies, I’m more aware of the wording used in the Sun Sentinal article than the limited scope. I’m not used to the term “spiritual affirmation.” A quick internet search turned up sites on self help and wicca but nothing I could identify as Christian.

    Not being a journalist I don’t miss the wider view in the short Sun Sentinal article, and I think they are just reporting what they found without looking too far.


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