Search Results for: Anglican Timeline

Wrestling with that old Anglican timeline, in South Carolina

Anyone who follows news on the religion beat knows the drill when it comes to reporters framing the global, national, regional and local conflicts between Anglicans: The battles are about homosexuality, period, and all heck broke loose in 2003 when the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire elected an openly gay and non-celibate bishop.

The problem with that news template is that it’s simplistic. Debates over sexuality have driven the headlines, but the doctrinal debates are much broader than that. Also, crucial cracks began forming in the Anglican Communion long before 2003.

Thus, it is good to celebrate even the most humble of journalistic victories in the fight against what your GetReligionistas have long called “Anglican timeline disease.” Note this lede in an Associated Press report about developments down South:

ST. GEORGE, S.C. – About 50 conservative Episcopal churches in South Carolina are in court this week, trying to keep their name, seal and $500 million in land and buildings after they broke away from the national denomination in a wide-ranging theological dispute.

The breakaway group, the Diocese of South Carolina, said it had to leave the national church not just because of the ordination of gays, but a series of decisions it says show national Episcopalians have lost their way in the teachings of Jesus and salvation.

Bravo. Later in the story, however, there is a close encounter with the “everything began in 2003″ myth.

The Episcopal Church, along with other Protestant denominations, had been losing members for decades before gay rights came dramatically to the forefront when Episcopalians elected their first openly gay bishop in 2003.

So “dramatically to the forefront” isn’t a bad way to word this, I guess, but what about the earlier theological adventures of New York Bishop Paul Moore Jr. and Newark Bishop Jack Spong? What about the 1998 global Lambeth gathering of Anglican bishops and its crucial affirmation of ancient Christian doctrines on marriage and sex?

As a public service — especially for scribes covering the battle in South Carolina — here are one or two other landmarks to consider adding to the timeline, just in case editors grant room for one or two more strategic facts.

Let’s start with this 1979 resolution at the Episcopal General Convention in Denver:

[Read more...]

That Anglican timeline thing, again (with apologies)

Here we go again.

I have been on the road for a week or more and, when I returned home, there was a huge stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers for me to triage. One of the first GetReligion-esque stories that I ran into concerned a local news event that the Sun has been ignoring for months (see previous GetReligion coverage here).

The headline? That would be, “Three Episcopal priests to be ordained Catholic: Changing religious affiliations become a norm among American faithful.” For those who follow local, regional, national and international Anglican (and Catholic) news, this is an update on the story of Mount Calvary Church in downtown Baltimore. This new story does contain quite a bit of useful information, much of which could have been written in the past two to three years.

However, I am afraid that — once again — this story takes us into that whole Anglican timeline file again. These things cannot be helped, I’m afraid. Here is the top of the story:

The Rev. Jason Catania was ordained an Episcopal priest a dozen years ago. He will be ordained again Saturday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. This time, he will be vested as a Roman Catholic priest.

Catania moved to Roman Catholicism in January, along with the Revs. John Anthony Vidal and David Reamsnyder, two colleagues in the Episcopal priesthood. All three are set to be ordained this weekend. Several dozen parishioners who had been pastored by Catania, 40, at Mount Calvary Church on North Eutaw Street for six years have also converted to Catholicism.

The three former Episcopal priests said they found themselves more aligned with Roman Catholicism and less with increasingly liberal stances taken by Episcopal leaders. The nation’s sixth-largest Protestant denomination has been divided in recent years over the ordination of gay men and women and same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church has made efforts to draw Anglicans interested in conversion; even Anglican priests who are married can be ordained.

“It really boils down to understanding of Scripture,” said Vidal, 52. “We believe that the Catholic Church is following the early church teachings more consistently.”

I know, I know. Who cares about facts these days?

But still, the Episcopal Church has been divided over sexuality issues in “recent years”?

Come on, people. Can’t someone on the copy desk use Google? When I hear “recent years” I think, oh, three to five years or something like that. After all, you go above five and you are getting close to clusters of words such as “nearly a decade.”

Now, it is true that one of the priests may have led the reporter astray. Then again, this Anglo-Catholic priest may have been responding to the context of the reporter’s questions — which can be seen in the whole framing of the story. Anyway, readers are left with this quotation:

Catania said he had hoped that the Catholic and Episcopal churches would eventually reconcile their differences and reunite. “Even when I was ordained in the Episcopal Church, I knew someday that I would end up Catholic one way or another,” he said. “It just took me 12 years to get here.

“Because of the recent controversies, reunification seems less and less likely,” Catania added. “We are not anti-women or anti-gay. We did this for the sake of Christian unity.”

OK, how recent is “recent”?

Well, it’s hard not to start the gay-rights-war Episcopal Church timeline in 1979 — during the General Convention held in Denver. The conservatives won that battle in the headlines, with the passage of a traditional statement of Christian sexual ethics. However, the liberals got organized and their ranks started growing. One of the signers of a liberal 1979 liberal manifesto on the issue — the Rt. Rev. Edmond Browning — would end up being elected as the church’s presiding bishop only a few years later.

After 1979, it only took a decade for the ordination of gay and lesbian priests to begin, during the “local option” era. Here are some dates mentioned in previous GetReligion posts.

1989 – Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1991 – Bishop Walter Righter, Diocese of Washington, D.C., ordains a non-celibate homosexual.

1994 – Bishop Spong drafted the Koinonia Statement defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). Spong publishes his 12 Theses, laying out an approach to faith without a transcendent, personal deity.

1996 – Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which decides that there is “no clear doctrine” in the Episcopal Church relevant to the ordination of those sexually active outside of marriage.

1998 – The bishops at the global Lambeth Conference uphold traditional teachings on marriage and human sexuality. Then, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement addressed to lesbian and gay Anglicans.

2000 – Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini ( Province of Rwanda) and Moses Tay ( Province of South East Asia) consecrate Father Chuck Murphy and Father John Rodgers as missionary bishops to the U.S.

In many ways, the event that kicked the entire controversy into overdrive was the dismissal of the charges against Bishop Righter in 1996. At that point, the issue was pretty much settled for anyone with eyes to see what was happening. Thus, the Global South revolt against the Episcopal Church openly began in 2000.

Is 1996 “recent”? Is 2000 “recent”?

Once again, it is easy for reporters to simply note that the conflict has been raging for a quarter of a century, or thereabouts, and that there was a major escalation in the dispute in 2003, with the consecration of the openly gay and non-celibate Bishop V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. Now that you think of it, is 2003 “recent”?

I don’t know.

I do know this, it’s impossible to consider the Episcopal/Anglican battles over sexuality a “recent” phenomenon and I am sure that the priests associated with Mount Calvary and other similar parishes would agree.

Getting the Anglican timeline right (hurrah)

Back at a high point of the Anglican wars, your GetReligionistas could have written a post a week noting how mainstream journalists were chopping multiple decades off the timeline of the conflicts in the Episcopal Church.

The basic idea was that liberal Episcopalians ordained a gay bishop in the tiny diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 and all heckfire broke loose. The essential timeline of the homosexuality conflict alone, meanwhile, would almost certainly have to begin in 1979, when 21 liberal bishops openly rejected the church’s traditional teachings on marriage, sex and ordination — including the bishop who would soon become America’s presiding bishop.

It’s a complicated story and journalists have long struggled to get some of the key facts right.

However, it’s time to celebrate a quiet victory. You see, the latest New York Times piece on an issue related to the Anglican wars gets all kind of things right — including key elements of that complicated timeline. The piece could have gained more clarity by using a few more direct references to dates for pivotal events, but the facts are here for those with the eyes to see them.

The lede, in this report on Rome’s new home for Anglo-Catholics:

Opening its doors more widely to disaffected Episcopalians, the Roman Catholic Church has established the equivalent of a nationwide diocese in the United States that former Episcopal priests and congregations can enter together as intact groups, the Vatican announced Sunday.

Converts who join the new entity will be full-fledged Catholics, expected to show allegiance to the pope and oppose contraception and abortion. But they will be allowed to preserve revered verses from the Book of Common Prayer. And, in what one Catholic leader called “an act of generosity,” priests who are married will be exempted from the Catholic requirement of celibacy, though they may not become bishops.

The new grouping, called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, will have its headquarters in Houston and be led by Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop and father of three who left the church in 2007 and became a Catholic priest in 2009, under an existing exemption for converting Anglicans.

The story could have mentioned that, in effect, the existing ordination structure of the Eastern rite churches had been extended over to the former Anglicans. Married men may be ordained. Once ordained, men may not marry. Bishops are drawn from the ranks of celibate clergy.

All of this is nothing new. Note that the Times mentions that Anglicans had already been entering the Catholic priesthood under similar rules — since 1980.

And the timeline issue? Here is a key paragraph:

The Episcopal Church is the main American branch of the Anglican Communion, a loose global body whose symbolic head is the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England. It has been shaken by discord from conservatives who object to the ordination of female priests, the acceptance of bishops with homosexual partners and changes in the liturgy.

It would have been nice to have noted that the ordination of women caused divisions in the ranks in the mid-1970s. The “changes in the liturgy” reference is from the birth and acceptance of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The dates would have helped set the framework for these discussions, but at least the facts there there.

Later on, the story establishes another important claim linked to this Vatican action:

Father Steenson said he expected more former Episcopalians to join after they saw how the new group operated. He said that he personally had always longed for closer ties with the Catholics, a feeling that only intensified as the Episcopal Church broke with tradition on female priests and acceptance of homosexuality, dividing the churches further. But he is also overjoyed to preserve elements of the Anglican liturgy, he said. The expectation is that this parallel structure will continue indefinitely.

When the Vatican authorized creation of these entities in 2009, some Anglican leaders, especially in England, expressed concern that it was trying to take advantage of their turmoil. In England, where a similar grouping was formed last year, about 60 priests and more than 1,000 members have joined so far.

But Cardinal Wuerl and Father Hurd said that the system was developed in response to a growing demand.

“There have been Anglican groups requesting this for 30 years,” Father Hurd said. “This is not an effort at poaching or sheep-stealing.”

Now, the Times did elect to base this claim for a 30-year framework on quotes from Catholic officials — the cardinal and Father Scott Hurd, a former Episcopalian who is already a Catholic priest. That makes it appear, again, that Rome, alone, is claiming this to be true. It would have been easy to have quoted specific actions and dates linked to appeals to Rome by Anglo-Catholics as individuals and groups. The dates on the timeline are well known to leaders on both sides.

However, the key facts are present in this story. The bottom line: Small numbers of Anglicans have appealed for help over several decades. Rome finally responded with a full-fledged, permanent plan for responding.

In other words, this is not a new story. It’s an updated entry in a long, long timeline.

PHOTO: Former Episcopal bishop Jeffrey N. Steenson is ordained as a Catholic priest.

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.

AP twists Anglican timeline (again)

canterbury cathedral 01Another Lambeth Conference has come and gone and, as you may have noticed, there wasn’t much happening in the way of news. That is, of course, the real news. The archbishop of Canterbury and his staff managed to hold a global meeting of most of the Anglican bishops without anything really bad happening in front of the mainstream press.

The headline for this event: Stay the course.

But there is a problem. Various parts of the Anglican Communion continue to chart separate courses, which was true before Lambeth and that’s still true now.

The bishops who came to Canterbury — as opposed to the 200-plus that did not — agreed that they hope to hang together, somehow. They agreed to produce a new covenant that will draw a few crucial doctrinal borders. Maybe. Someday.

And repeat after me, again: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.” Who do you think will write this covenant? And, with Lambeth about $2 million in the red by many estimates, do you think the small, but very rich, and thus powerful, American church will have any chips to play in this game of high-church poker? By the way, there were 135 American bishops at this conference, out of the 650 present.

The New York Times offers a few basic facts to sum things up:

The push for a covenant amounted to a stratagem for finding both short- and long-term solutions to a dispute that has bitterly divided an estimated 80 million Anglicans worldwide. The split has expressed itself most keenly in the starkly opposed views of traditionalists, primarily in Africa and Asia, who oppose any concessions on homosexuality, and of more liberal elements, especially in the United States and Canada, who favor the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy members and church blessings of same-sex unions.

Archbishop Williams told reporters that he hoped Anglican leaders could agree on a draft covenant within a year, but said that winning approval for it among the 44 national and regional churches of the Anglican Communion could take until 2013. That period might coincide with a push among the bishops here to hold another Lambeth meeting after only five years.

In the meantime, the archbishop said, agreement was widespread for continuing “moratoria” on the ordination of gay and lesbian priests and blessings of same-sex unions and for matching restraint by conservatives who threatened to walk out unless traditional views proscribing church acceptance of homosexuality prevailed.

“Continuing”? There has been a moratorium on strategic actions on the left and the right? How did I miss that?

Meanwhile, the most important words in the short Washington Post story about the Lambeth finale were right there in the byline above the lede:

By Karla Adam
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, August 4, 2008; A-8

LONDON, Aug. 3 – In the end, the 2008 Lambeth Conference will probably be remembered most for the bishop who was not in attendance but who nonetheless threatened to break apart the world’s third-largest church.

Note, in addition to the fact that this story ran on A-8, those telltale words “Special to …” That means that the Post did not send a reporter to cover this event.

Without a doubt, high travel costs and falling revenues had a major impact on Lambeth coverage this time around. This means that the basic Associated Press story by veteran Rachel Zoll is even more important than ever, since it will run in many newspapers from coast to coast and in other parts of the world.

AnglicanBomb1 01 01 01I am sad to report that it repeats one of the most important myths in recent coverage of the local, national and global Anglican wars. Here we go again:

The 77 million-member Anglican Communion has been splintering since 2003, when the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Williams barred Robinson and a few other bishops from the meeting, and designed the event without legislation or votes, instead focusing on rebuilding frayed relationships.

So what is wrong with that? Well, click here and head on over to the home page of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, one of several conservative networks that is working with Global South bishops to offer alternative parishes and leadership for Episcopalians and others. There you will find this piece of history:

In a groundbreaking response to the western crisis, some leaders of the Anglican Church in Africa and Asia acted to provide seeds of hope for the dire situation in the U.S., by establishing the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) .

In 2000, Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini (Province of Rwanda) and Moses Tay (Province of South East Asia) consecrated the Rev. Chuck Murphy and the Rev. Dr. John Rodgers as missionary bishops to the U.S. At a gathering in Amsterdam on July 28 of the same year, the Anglican Mission in America was formalized as a missionary outreach charged with fulfilling the Great Commission through church planting. Four additional bishops were consecrated in Denver in 2001 by Archbishop Kolini and Archbishop Yong Ping Chung (Archbishop Tay’s successor who served as archbishop until his retirement in February 2006).

Note the dates on those extra-legal consecration services — 2000 and 2001.

Those shots over the Episcopal bow took place well before 2003, right? In fact, if you look at a more detailed timeline of the Anglican wars, you’ll see that things have been rolling right along for a quarter of a century or longer.

So it is simply wrong to say that Anglicanism “has been splintering since 2003.” Also, there are a variety of doctrinal issues involved in the fighting, not just the raising of one noncelibate gay male to the episcopate.

A correction is needed. Alas.

LA Times mangles the Anglican timeline

9780060775377No wonder so many reporters get confused about the whole Anglican timeline issue.

Click here and take a look at a conservative website’s version of how the Episcopal Church reached its current crisis. This is the kind of info that is all over the place.

Now this is a useful timeline in many ways. It has all kinds of information about all kinds of events over a long period of time and, for reporters, saving this URL would put them one click away from basic documents in the middle and on one side of this global debate. Let me repeat that this is a conservative timeline and folks on the left would say that it omits many important facts and events.

That’s my point, too. Take a look at this section of the timeline:

1989 – Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1991 – Bishop Walter Righter, Diocese of Washington, D.C., ordaines a non-celibate homosexual.

1994 – General Convention of ECUSA approved Resolution C042 calling for preparation of a report considering rites for blessings of same-sex unions.

1994 – Bishop Spong drafted the “Koinonia Statement” defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). See also Spong’s 12 Theses.

1996 – The American Anglican Council is incorporated.

1996 –- Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which declared there was “no clear doctrine” involved regarding the ordination a non-celibate gay man.

1997 – The Kuala Lumpur Statement, is released by the Second Anglican Encounter in the South, upholding traditional theology on human sexuality. At General Convention, Resolution B032 to endorse the Kuala Lumpur Statement was defeated in the House of Bishops 94 to 42.

1998 – Lambeth Conference upholds Scriptural and traditional teaching on marriage and human sexuality in resolution 1.10. Showing their dissent for resolution 1.10, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement in support of lesbian and gay Anglicans.

Now, this shows that the fighting has been going on a long, long time — certainly before the ordination of a certain noncelibate gay bishop in a tiny diocese in true blue New England.

That’s good. That’s factual.

But read this timeline — a conservative one, remember — and you would think that this is all about sex or, at best, sex and the Bible. In a way, this bias in the timeline helps the Episcopal left make its case that this is all about sex and biblical literalism.

I bring this up because of a recent Los Angeles Times article by Louis Sahagun that has been nagging me all week. Something in it bugged me and I have had trouble pinning it down. The article focuses on the conservative Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and its controversial leader, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield. Here is how it opens:

FRESNO – For Bishop John-David Schofield, the question is central to the future of the church he loves: Does the American Episcopal Church believe the Scriptures are the revealed word of God?

In a recent vote, a majority of his flock answered with a resounding “no,” and that is why Schofield is leading his San Joaquin Diocese in an unprecedented effort to pull away from the Episcopal Church.

And later in the same article we read this summary:

Schofield’s diocese, which had been largely ignored for decades by top Episcopal leaders, is sharpening the national debate over church identity and mission. Although the Fresno-based diocese has focused on its differences with the national church, Episcopal leaders have stressed their commonalities, such as core beliefs about the salvation promised by Jesus Christ.

… Schofield’s goal is to place the diocese under the jurisdiction of a conservative prelate, possibly one in South America or Africa.

Now, this is truly strange — especially that phrase that the U.S. Episcopal Church is stressing that it remains united to conservatives because of “core beliefs about the salvation promised by Jesus Christ.” This is strange, because the national church has tabled or rejected attempts to affirm a simple statement affirming (tmatt trio question No. 2) that salvation is found through Jesus Christ, alone. There is no way that salvation theology is a source of unity in modern Anglicanism — at least not in the First World.

But as I pondered the Los Angeles Times article, something else hit me. Schofield is known as a leader among the conservative camp known as “Anglo-Catholicism.” His emphasis has been on the Catholic — large “C” — nature of the church and its doctrines. This is a man who would, with his first breath, defend the creeds and sacraments. I cannot find, anywhere in this article, a clear reference to this fact. He is not an Evangelical or Reformed Anglican. He is an Anglo-Catholic.

And there is another problem in the story. In that timeline at the start of this post, note the little phrase: “See also Spong’s 12 Theses.”

Now what is that all about?

Consider this section of the Times article:

In a message to his congregations in December, Schofield said the Episcopal Church’s departure from doctrine began in 2003 when for the first time it consented to allow an openly gay man to be elected bishop.

Later, church leaders failed to challenge a retired Episcopal bishop who published a book denying the virgin birth and questioning the divinity of Jesus. Then in November, Jefferts Schori, a supporter of same-sex unions, became the first woman to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion’s roughly 500-year history.

spong coverThe word “later” makes it seem that this “retired Episcopal bishop” published his radical views after 2003.

This has to be a reference to retired Bishop Jack Spong of Newark and his 12 theses to modernize Christianity. When did that firestorm take place? Well, I wrote about it in 1998 — well before the events of 2003. The key is that Spong — click here for the details — rejected the very heart of theism as well as Christianity. Thus, I wrote:

Anglicanism begins and ends with The Book of Common Prayer.

Obviously, this volume is full of prayers — morning prayers, evening prayers and prayers for all the times in between. There are hundreds of pages of prayers for Holy Communion, baptisms, ordinations, funerals and other events and most begin with “O God,” “Heavenly Father,” “Eternal Lord God” or similar phrases. The working assumption is that the God of the Bible hears these prayers and can answer them.

Wrong, argues America’s most famous Episcopal bishop.

The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong believes the time has come for intelligent Christians to grow up and admit there isn’t a personal God of any kind on the receiving end of these prayers and petitions. The bishop of Newark fired this shot over the bow in a recent missive containing 12 theses, starting with: “Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead.” The logical implication appears as his 10th thesis: “Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.”

There’s more. What about Jesus? What about the cross? Heaven? Hell?

After ditching theism, the bishop says it’s “nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity.” He rejects miracles in general, humanity’s fall into sin and any belief that the Bible contains revealed, transcendent moral laws. He rejects the virgin birth, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as historical events.

In some of his most sweeping language, Spong writes: “The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.” Later he adds: “The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment.”

Spong has never hidden his beliefs and he remains a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church. Here is an interesting question for reporters covering the church at this point in its history. Ask Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori which points in Spong’s revolutionary post-theistic creed she would reject and which she would affirm. Read her the list.

This 1998 Spong firestorm belongs on any timeline of the current Episcopal controversy. And it certainly did not take place after 2003 — no matter what the Los Angeles Times says.

Has Time printed the worst Anglican article ever?

How Will Anglicans React if New Hampshire Episcopalians Elect Another Gay Bishop?” Time Magazine asks in a 17 May 2012 article printed on its website.

To which this Anglican responds, “Why don’t you ask them?”

Question headlines are often a flag of trouble ahead for an article — a signal that the article will be weak. The question is usually a rhetorical one — the answer is given by the editorial voice of the article. Or it is some sort of “come on” — an exaggerated statement to attract the reader’s attention.

No, this is not the worst Anglican article ever printed. There have been silly Anglican articles, wrong Anglican articles, dumb Anglican articles, partisan/hack job Anglican articles, and egregiously cruel and ignorant Anglican news articles printed over the past few decades, so it is false and unkind of me to say this is the worst Anglican article ever. Nor can the author be blamed for the silly headline, as reporters seldom write their own headlines.

But this article on the forthcoming episcopal election in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire is a wreck. While the editorial voice of this ill-informed story supports the progressive agenda in the Episcopal Church, it does so by treating the actors in this drama as one dimensional creatures — cartoons who represent issues rather than people whose lives are not exclusively driven by issues in human sexuality.

The lede of this story begins:

In the summer of 1992, an Episcopalian priest in Baltimore officiated at the wedding of two female congregants. Though he had been “careful to obtain all the necessary permissions,” it wasn’t long before the Rev. William Rich found himself on the front page of the Baltimore Sun and at the center of a religious controversy. Rich was criticized by many in the community and church for performing a gay wedding ceremony, but he’s never regretted the move. …

First problem — the claim that Fr. Rich performed a wedding for two women is false. The 1992 Baltimore Sun article reported that a blessing ceremony took place — but also stated this ceremony was not a marriage and should not be construed as being a marriage.

Father Rich, who is a chaplain at Goucher College, says the ceremony he devised at the request of the women involved was not a wedding but “the blessing of two people committed to each other.”

The Bishop of Maryland told the Sun:

Bishop Eastman said he was assured by the priest “that the liturgy in question was not in any sense intended to be a marriage as Christians understand that sacrament.”

“It was meant to be a private event addressing personal, pastoral needs,” the bishop added. “Neither the two women involved nor Father Rich desired to advance a cause or make a public statement of any kind.”

There is a difference between marriage in a church and the blessing of two people in a same-gender relationship. It is a gross error to conflate the two.

The article then transitions into the story that Fr. Rich is one of three candidates standing for election as Bishop of New Hampshire. It reports that he is an “openly gay man” and and notes that delegates to the diocesan electoral convention:

… will cast their vote by secret ballot to choose a replacement for the current bishop, the retiring Gene Robinson, who is also gay. If a second gay man is elected to the post, the selection will likely reverberate through the staunchly conservative arms of the Anglican Communion, a global network of churches to which the Episcopalians belong. It could also widen a fissure in the network that’s been forming for quite some time.

Second problem — the analysis offered here is just plain dumb. Gay and lesbian clergy have stood for election in several dioceses of the Episcopal Church since Gene Robinson was elected in 2003, and one was elected suffragan or assistant bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles in 2009. The news that a gay clergyman is standing for election as bishop of New Hampshire is hardly shocking to anyone who has any knowledge of the Episcopal Church or the wider Anglican Communion.

The assertion that the election of Fr. Rich would widen a “fissure in the network” is an equally silly statement. The Anglican Communion is not a network of churches but a communion of churches — this is a theological term. The Lutheran World Federation is a network of churches. The Roman Catholic Church is a single church — it would say it is the church. Anglicans like the Orthodox are in between. They see themselves as part of a single catholic church whose members reside in autonomous national churches — one of the battles being waged within the Anglican world is on the nature of this autonomy. Is it absolute or conditional?

To call Anglicans a network of churches implies Time has decided that it backs one side in the dispute — or is an indication of ignorance.

I suspect it is ignorance on Times‘ part, as the impending fissure has already happened. Approximately 22 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion are in some form of impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. This rupture has taken many forms, but the break has already occurred.

(Last October the Episcopal Church’s national office released talking points disputing the figure of 22 of 38 cited by GetReligion’s Mollie Ziegler Hemingway in an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. However, a little checking showed the Episcopal Church’s claim to be false.)

The current state of play is of a broken communion. One where some bishops will not attend meetings if other bishops, whom they regard as apostate, are present. A communion where its leaders can no longer worship together as they cannot all receive the Eucharist, Holy Communion, in the same service has already split. As the former primate, (the archbishop or presiding bishop of a province) of the Province of the Southern Cone (the southern half of South America) told me in 2009, the traditionalists do not believe the leaders of the Episcopal Church are “Christians as we understand it.”

The article attempts to place what it thinks might be the impending split in historical context, stating the:

… crack in the Anglican community began to appear about nine years ago when Robinson became the first openly gay (and not celibate) man to be ordained as bishop.

Problem three — The crack has been around for almost 40 years and has been steadily widening. The consecration of Gene Robinson was a significant event, but hardly the first event in the splintering of the Anglican Communion. GetReligion‘s tmatt has written extensively on this point and I need not restate the accurate Anglican timeline here.

The language used by this article is biased and ill-informed and full of questionable assumptions and conclusions. The story of Gene Robinson wearing a bullet-proof vest to his consecration is shared. And yes, it is true he wore such a vest. Yet the article does not go further in developing this point and the claims repeated over the years of physical danger. The only clergyman whose murder so far can be laid at the feet of the Anglican wars is Canon Rodney Hunter of Malawi. Popping in the death threat business without context speaks to the lack of knowledge of the subject under review.

Ignorance continues to drive this story to its end. It notes:

It doesn’t look like the issue is dying down, either. Last month, an ultra-conservative Anglican offshoot group, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, held a conference in London to address the gay bishop question.

Problem four — The FCA conference was not held to address the gay bishop question. The FCA seeks to reform and renew the Anglican Communion from within and by doing so, win souls for Christ. It is also laughable to call the FCA an “ultra-conservative Anglican offshoot group” as it leaders represents the majority of members of the Anglican Communion. One might was well say the Diocese of New Hampshire is an “ultra-liberal Anglican offshoot group”.

The article continues with silly statements and assertions about the structure of the Anglican Communion, why Archbishop Rowan Williams announced his retirement, but returns to New Hampshire for its close.

When asked about the potential for controversy if the diocese were to elect another gay bishop, Reverend Adrian Robbins-Cole, the president of the Standing Committee, insisted that the committee only felt excitement about Rich, as well as the other two candidates, Rev. Penelope Maud Bridges, and Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld. “What we really focus on is trying to be guided by God to elect the bishop who we need in New Hampshire and whom we think is going to thrive and grow,” Robbins-Cole says. “That’s our real focus.”

An Associated Press style point here. It should be “the Rev.”, never  “Rev.”

I do feel sorry for Fr. Rich. Time is touting his candidacy in such a vulgar way that it might well trigger a backlash among New Hampshire voters. It also does a disservice to Fr. Rich’s candidacy as it turns him into a one dimensional figure whose only merit is that he is gay. Being classified as a novelty candidate, or a one issue priest, treats him as a token and implies the Diocese of New Hampshire sees only that aspect of his  life and work.

What then can one say about this wreck? It is factually incorrect, ill-informed about the issue, dismissive and disparaging of one side, and condescending towards the other. It asks a question of Anglican conservatives, but goes for answer to a white Australian conservative — when the majority of voices arrayed against the liberal wing of the church are African, Asian and Indian.

This may  not be the worst Anglican article ever written, but it comes close.

The Anglican Communion did WHAT? (updated)

vgr_circleThe breaking religion-news story of the day is in Vatican City, with aftershocks in England. As has been rumored, literally, for years, Pope Benedict XVI has reached out to Anglican traditionalists, offering them an Anglican-friendly home in the Church of Rome. His activism in this area dates back to his days as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Major newspapers on this side of the pond will be filing stories on this all day, I imagine. Meanwhile, those who want to read the Vatican document for themselves, as well as reactions from traditionalists in the Church of England, just click here. If you want to read the reactions of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (and lots of updates, I am sure, from English sources) then click here for Ruth Gledhill’s blog at the Times.

All of this, of course, represents a major new marker on that Anglican wars timeline that I keep bringing up here at GetReligion. Yet, please note, that this discussion of Anglo-Catholics fleeing to Rome — once again — is not essentially rooted in the ordination of one noncelibate gay bishop in the micro-tiny Diocese of New Hampshire here in the American colonies.

After all, Father William Oddie was writing his trailblazing book “The Roman Option” in the mid-1990s. It is also interesting to note that a major theme in that book is behind-the-scenes opposition on the Catholic left to the creation of an Anglican home within Catholicism in England. You see, liberal Catholics — those seeking the ordination of women, in particular — did not want the wrong kind of Anglicans swimming the Tiber. That’s a story worth watching, now that Benedict XVI has opened a gate for the Anglo-Catholic refugees.

However, I wanted to rush a post up in response to some troubling word choices in the first major Associated Press report on this announcement, since that is the story most people will be reading today, before the major newspapers weigh in. First, here is the top of the story:

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has created a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church, responding to the disillusionment of some Anglicans over the ordination of women and the election of openly gay bishops.

The new provision will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while maintaining their Anglican identity and many of their liturgical traditions, Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal official, told a news conference. The new church structure, called Personal Ordinariates, will be units of faithful within the local Catholic Church headed by former Anglican prelates who will provide spiritual care for Anglicans who wish to become Catholic.

OK, no problems there. There is, however, some fog in another crucial section of the story.

Levada said the new canonical structure is a response to the many requests that have come to the Vatican over the years from Anglicans who have become increasingly disillusioned with the ordination of women, the election of openly gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions in the 77-million strong Anglican Communion. He declined to give figures on the number of requests that have come to the Vatican, or on the anticipated number of Anglicans who might take advantage of the new structure.

Well now. It is true that things would have been worse if the story had said “by the 77-million strong Anglican Communion,” rather than “in” the Communion. But this wording makes it sound like these doctrinal innovations are taking place across the entire global Communion. That is true of the ordination of women, although there are major Anglican churches that have not taken that step as of yet.

However, did I miss something? Note that it refers to the ordination of openly gay bishops — plural. Has that taken place, or are we still talking about New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, singular? I realize that other noncelibate (a key word to include in the coverage), openly gay clergy have been nominated in episcopal elections. But no one else has been elected, correct?

Of course, the door is open here in the U.S. Episcopal Church, but that kind of underlines my main point. This early AP report makes it sound like these changes are taking place at the global level in a global Anglican Communion. They are not — yet. As I have been saying, the key is what takes place next in the Church of England, which is terribly divided and has leadership that, in fine Anglican fashion, continues to seek some kind of compromise that will save the day.

That’s why clarity is so important, when covering these local, regional, national and global Anglican stories.

AnglicanBombDayWhich brings me to another chunk of vague language in this initial story, which I hope is updated and improved.

The Vatican announcement immediately raised questions about how it would be received within the Anglican Communion and the prospects for continued ecumenical talks between the Vatican and Archbishop of Canterbury. Noticeably, no one from the Vatican’s office on relations with Anglicans and other Christians attended the news conference; Levada said he had invited representatives to attend but they said they were all away from Rome.

However, the Vatican’s archbishop of Westminster and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the global Anglican church, issued a joint statement, saying the decision “brings an end to a period of uncertainty” for Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic Church. The statement said the decision in fact could not have happened had there not been such fruitful dialogue between the two.

The mainstream press has always struggled to understand that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the Anglican pope, but the first among equals in the hierarchy. That “spiritual head” language is better than nothing, but the phrase “symbolic leader” would be better.

However, the bad language comes right after that. There is a Catholic CHURCH that is based in Rome. There is an Anglican COMMUNION that has its symbolic home in Canterbury. This communion is made up of Anglican churches — plural. It is inaccurate to say that there is one global Anglican church — singular — and that Williams is the leader of it. He is the leader of the Church of England, a national church.

In other words, the Anglican Communion is not structured like the Church of Rome. It really helps to know that. And the doctrinal innovations at the heart of this story are not (again, other than the wide, but not total, acceptance of the ordination of women) taking place in or across the whole Anglican Communion. They are taking place, at the moment, in one small, but very wealthy and powerful, church in the Anglican Communion — the U.S. Episcopal Church.

It’s hard to cover this local, regional, national and global story without knowing how the Anglican Communion actually works. Here’s hoping that the AP reports improve as the day goes on.

Oh, and now there is this press release:

WASHINGTON – Cardinal Francis George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the following statement, October 20, following a Vatican announcement of a new provision concerning Anglican groups coming into the Catholic Church. His statement follows:

“Today the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has received word of the new Provision in the form of an apostolic constitution issued by the Holy See for the reception into full communion with the Catholic Church of groups from the Anglican tradition. The USCCB stands ready to collaborate in the implementation of that Provision in our country.”

Key words: “In our country.” As in the United States of America.

UPDATE: Yes, a New York Times story is now out and the lede captures that this move will almost certainly have a strong impact in Catholic as well as Anglican pews. And this language on the history of the conflict is much better than that AP:

Cardinal Levada said the Vatican created the structure in response to many requests from Anglicans over the years since the Church of England first ordained women in the 1970s and more recently when it faced what he called “a very difficult question” — the ordination of openly gay clergy and the blessing of homosexual unions.

The American branch of the Anglican Communion, known as the Episcopal Church, has come close to schism over these issues. Disaffected conservatives in the United States announced in 2008 that they were organizing their own rival province of the church in North America.

Photo: The consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.