Is “glossolalia” in the AP Stylebook?

200303 018 EssenceMy fellow Godbeat scribes, I come to you today to ask a question that has been bothering me for several weeks.

Here goes: Do you think that the average newspaper reader understands the meaning of the phrase “speaking in tongues” or the big word “glossolalia”?

This leads to a second question that is like unto the first: If we decide that we need to define these terms in a hard-news story, how in the world do we do so in the brass-tacks, demystified language of The Associated Press Stylebook? How do handle this issue as journalists without sounding like we are National Geographic correspondents describing an exotic alien culture when, in fact, charistmatic and Pentecostal believers are now a large chunk of the American mainstream and an even larger force around the world?

Let me give you an example, drawn from a recent Associated Press report about Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s decision to, well, crack down on people who are doing something that isn’t very Southern-Baptist-like. Here’s the opening of the report from Fort Worth:

Trustees at a Baptist seminary have put it in writing: They will not tolerate any promotion of speaking in tongues on their campus.

The 36-1 vote Tuesday came nearly two months after the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Arlington said during a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that he sometimes speaks in tongues while praying.

As opposed to speaking in tongues while ordering a pizza? Speaking in tongues after hitting his thumb with a hammer? This is one way to handle the situation. You simply assume that the man on the street knows what’s going on.

Later in the story there is another passage that doesn’t do much to help the charismatically challenged reader:

The controversy has erupted as some Baptist churches become more accepting of charismatic forms of worship. Speaking in tongues is common among Pentecostals, whose more exuberant brand of Christianity is spreading in the United States and in foreign countries where Southern Baptist missionaries work.

Exuberant? OK, but Pentecostal people can speak in tongues in a quiet and reverent manner, and there are rare cases of hardshell Calvinists behaving in an exuberant manner while reading from committee reports that are written in technical Presbyterian lingo. So that extra word doesn’t help us very much.

Meanwhile, the Associated Baptist Press, in its coverage of the same story, provided a very helpful slice of church history that hinted at the roots of this controversy:

With the latest decision, Southwestern becomes at least the third SBC agency to have a policy officially opposing extraordinary expressions of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. …

Such gifts as speaking in tongues and healing are spoken of in several New Testament passages. However, many modern-day Protestants believe those gifts ceased with the passing of the first generation of Christian apostles. That belief, known as “cessationism,” has historically been held by many Southern Baptists. However, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, including some Southern Baptists, believe in the continued validity of such gifts — a belief known as “continualism.”

google pentecost logoBut we are still left where we started, facing the same question: Can we assume that readers know what the phrase “speaking in tongues” means in the first place?

I think this is a serious question and, if you doubt me, I suggest that you click here and look through some of the data in the recently released Pew Forum study of the global rise of Pentecostalism as what some call a fourth major tradition within Christianity. For a solid look at this, you can read the Religion News Service coverage by veteran religion reporter Adelle Banks.

I also took a stab at summing up this massive study, in my weekly “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service. It included material from the noted Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan and, once again, I had to try to say, well, you know what:

Another interesting part of this study, said Synan, indicated that “glossolalia,” or “speaking in tongues,” may no longer be the spiritual gift that defines charismatics and even many Pentecostals. Within the Assemblies of God, for example, there has long been a gap between an “old guard” that believes this experience of ecstatic speech is always the initial sign that someone has been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and a “third wave” of younger believers who see it as a gift that some experience and some do not.

I’m not sure that my attempt at a brief, AP-friendly description was any better than the others. It also doesn’t help to call this phenomenon a “heavenly language” or an “angelic tongue.” What do phrases like that mean to an outsider?

Any suggestions? Any charistmatic journalists out there want to take a short, newsroom-friendly shot at this? Oh, and don’t assume that we have the spiritual gift of interpretation.

Note: The second image is not an official Google logo, since Pentecost is obviously not an official Google holiday. This is an illustration floating around out there in the blogosphere.

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The Post’s proven power to shake faith

bibleonsinglepageRemember that pre-Easter slate of stories attempting to debunk Christianity? There was the shocking lost “Gospel of Judas” story. The Jesus walked on an ice floe (not water) that forms once every few millennia story. The Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera story and the Jesus didn’t die on the cross so much as pass out after being doped up story.

Somehow the foundations of Christianity remained unharmed.

But I think Alan Cooperman, religion reporter for The Washington Post, has gone and done it. I mean, from reading the first few graphs of his shocking story in Saturday’s paper, it looks like he may have broken a story that will cause all Christians to question their faith:

If 40 percent of Americans refuse to believe that humans evolved from earlier hominids, how many will accept that the book we know as the Bible evolved from earlier texts and was not handed down, in toto, by God in its present form?

The fossil evidence for human evolution is permanently on display at the American Museum of Natural History. Hard evidence that the Bible took its present shape over centuries will be on display for the next 11 weeks, from today through Jan. 7, across the Mall at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

They are rarer than dinosaur bones, these fragments of papyrus and animal skin that tell the Bible’s story. With names such as Codex Sinaiticus, the Macregol Gospels and the Valenciennes Apocalypse, they evoke lost empires and ancient monasteries as surely as archaeopteryx and ceratosaurus conjure up primeval swamps and forests.

See, if there is one thing I learned as a lifelong Christian, it is that the Bible was handed down in the New King James Version directly from God. And as a Christian, the foundations of my faith would be shaken if I were to be told that God did not hand down the books of the New Testament in English along with a printing press in the year A.D. 33 Every Christian knows that the canon was dictated by God Himself speaking directly to Jesus, right?

That’s why I love Cooperman’s opening graph so much. It resonates with me. I like how it ties together skepticism of human evolution with skepticism about canon development. I have never felt better understood by mainstream media than I do in Cooperman’s hands.


The exhibit at the Sackler Gallery sounds fantastic. My husband and I plan to go see it, in fact. But it looks like we better watch out:

These are documents with the proven power to shake faith. That’s what happened to Bart D. Ehrman, author of the 2005 bestseller “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.”

Ah, yes, Bart Ehrman. Reporters love to get Ehrman talking about how he lost his faith once he realized that the Bible was not handed down in its present form. Whether his story is cause for skepticism about the Bible or Bart Ehrman is for the reader to decide. But can’t we expand the Rolodex a bit more than this? Ehrman was quoted in all of those Christianity-in-Danger stories from Easter 2006. But if these documents have such a dramatic “proven power to shake faith” (Hide the women! Protect the children!), it’s interesting that he’s one of such a small number of people reporters talk to when this type of story rolls out on cue.

Cooperman has promised a story about documents that have the power to shake faith. What are these documents? What could they be? I can’t wait to get to the part of the story where he sheds light on what doctrinal tenets are undercut by historical research! Let’s take a look:

“If people come looking to find something new about Jesus, they won’t find it in this exhibit. That’s not what it’s saying. But it is saying that we didn’t start out with this,” [Michelle P. Brown, guest curator] said, producing a red [Gideons] Bible from her Washington hotel room and giving it a resounding thwack with the palm of her hand.

Okay, so who are these people who believe that God delivered red Gideons Bibles straight from heaven? And what happened to writing about faith-shaking documents? Oh wait, I found that part of his story. It’s in the 23rd paragraph of the 27-paragraph story. Here we go:

Ehrman noted that [the Codex Sinaiticus'] version of the Gospel of John is missing the story of the woman taken in adultery, the famous parable in which Jesus says to those who would kill the woman, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” He and many other textual scholars believe the adultery story was not introduced into John until the Middle Ages.

And . . . scene! That’s it. Other than a casual mention of a few passages that weren’t included in the final canon, this is the faith-shattering proof from the article. The millennia of critical thought, the many deliberations over what to include in the canon, heck, all the work that’s gone into just this issue since the Codex Sinaiticus was discovered 150 years ago — all brushed away.

The sad thing is that Cooperman actually wrote a rather nice review of the Sackler exhibit complete with interesting historical facts and discussions with its curator. But when he went to frame the story or give it broader context, he went for the dramatic faith-shaking angle.

In so doing, he managed to cast Christians as unwitting fools who believe the Bible was delivered in Gideons form in some ahistorical manner. Was that really necessary?

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American Anglicanism in a Nutshell 1.0

national cathedral pictureAttention all religion reporters, copy-desk chiefs or interested laypeople who are having trouble keeping up with all of the moves on the chessboard of Anglicanism in America.

Can’t tell The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Mission in America? Can’t tell the Anglican Mission in America from the Anglican Communion Network?

Do the words Reformed Episcopal Church — as opposed to the Unreformed Episcopal Church — confuse you?

That parish down the block where the people with Anglican collars and vestments are doing healing rites and speaking in angelic tongues, is that a Charismatic Episcopal Church or is it a charismatic parish in The Episcopal Church?

Why do some people think that the organization Forward In Faith wants to take The Episcopal Church backward?

Well, you are in luck. It seems that one Dr. William J. Tighe of the history faculty at Muhlenberg College at Allentown, Pa., has written a kind of game program for the North American Anglican world series. Who is this man, so that you can judge his loyalties? He is clearly on the orthodox side of the wars, but not a member of an official Episcopal team.

In a way, he is worse (from the viewpoint of progressives). Tighe is a contributing editor of the ecumenical, but traditionalist, journal Touchstone. His bio blurb there notes that he is “faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry” and a member of “St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church” in Bethlehem, Pa. In other words, he is an Eastern Rite Christian loyal to Rome. The Episcopal Church is not getting along with traditional forms of Roman Catholicism, at the moment.

Still, there are oodles of interesting details in his short, punchy descriptions of the origins and structures of the various groups in North America that can, to one degree or another, be called “Episcopal” or “Anglican.” You will find it posted here at the Pontifications blog run by Al Kimel, a former Episcopal priest who is about to be ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

“American Anglicanism in a Nutshell” is worth checking out.

Still, events keep moving in the chess game to control the keys to the doors of National Cathedral (pictured) — so the list needs to be updated. There is, for example, the new Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America (CANA), which is already making major headlines here.

And what about the left? Since the left controls the actual mechanisms of The Episcopal Church here in the United States, it really does not have formal splinter churches or alternative movements. However, there are rumors that if Canterbury were to push the left out of power, a new rebel alliance could form on the left. And what if Rome really attempts to roll out an Anglican Rite Church in England?

In other words, print out Tighe’s work or stash it in a digital file somewhere. Consider this “American Anglicanism in a Nutshell 1.0.”

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Hey Sun: Why did she become a nun?

Sp019photoFirst, let me praise the Baltimore Sun for realizing that there was a news story linked to the rites in which the veteran nurse and health-care administrator Irene Forbes Perkins became Sister Teresa Irene of the Heart of God.

We live in an age in which the number of women choosing the religious life is in sharp decline and the average age of nuns is getting higher and higher. But that isn’t what this particular story is about. That isn’t the news hook, in this case.

The news hook for this story by reporter Liz F. Kay is that Sister Teresa Irene is an Anglican nun, as opposed to being a Roman Catholic nun. The number of monks and nuns in the Anglican Communion is quite small, for a wide variety of reasons — both modern and historical. Here’s the basic background you need to know:

The Anglican Church began in the 16th century when England’s King Henry VIII dissolved monastic communities because he wanted to tax church lands, said Bishop Robert W. Ihloff, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. But the orders re-emerged in Anglicanism in the mid-1800s, the Rev. Gregory Fruehwirth, the vice president of the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas, said in a telephone interview from Wisconsin.

Some Roman Catholic religious orders have counterparts in the Anglican communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States. Like their Catholic equivalents, the approximately 2,400 members of Anglican religious orders worldwide vow to live celibate, obedient lives and don’t have private possessions, Fruehwirth said. There are about 300 members in 23 different Episcopal orders in North America today. In Maryland, 16 members of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor live in Catonsville.

So this is an interesting story. However, I am sad to say, the Sun missed an even more interesting news hook that is merely hinted at in one section of the story.

The other day, I posted a quick note about a Roman Catholic woman who made the decision to take vows as a “consecrated virgin,” rather than becoming a nun. This led to some interesting discussions in the comments pages about the difference between the calling to one way of life, rather than the other. The word “calling” is crucial, here.

The same is true in the story of the 55-year-old Sister Teresa Irene. Here is the section of the story that caught my attention:

She didn’t want to be ordained an Episcopal priest — Perkins said her calling was different. She wanted to join a contemplative Episcopal community — one that maintains a deep life of prayer, rather than emphasizing direct social service — but there weren’t any in the United States. So, Perkins spent four years with the Sisters of the Love of God in Oxford, England, who draw on the Carmelite tradition, she said.

Perkins came back to the United States after the attacks on the World Trade Center. “I just had a sense that I needed to be here,” she said. “I needed to be in this country, with, so to speak, my own people.” But returning to America meant she would have to form her own contemplative community.

I have, through the years, gotten to know a few Anglican nuns and former Anglican nuns. As a rule, they tend to fall on the conservative or traditionalist side of the Anglican fence (the same is not true among the rare Anglican monks in the North American context).

It would have been interesting to know more about why Sister Teresa Irene felt called to this ministry, rather than seeking to become a female priest or priestess, as some prefer to call ordained women. A few years ago there were 3,000 female Episcopal priests in the United States alone and I am sure, given recent trends in seminaries, that the number is now much higher.

How does a tiny Carmelite order fit into that picture? How would this women describe her unique calling, in contrast to the priesthood, especially since she resides in the very liberal Episcopal Diocese of Maryland? Has this bishop every led a rite in which a women took vows of this kind?

This story left me feeling like the reporter peaked inside a door and then walked away.

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All we need is love

progressiaThis, from Tim Townsend at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Go Cardinals!), would have to be my favorite lead in a religion story this weekend:

In the end, the Edwardsville church and its bishop just couldn’t get along.

So after three years of increasingly ugly bickering, members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church have asked a bishop across the river to take them under his wing. At least for a while, until things cool down — say, three to five years.

The church in Edwardsville says its bishop, Peter H. Beckwith of the Episcopal diocese of Springfield, Ill., a theological conservative, has refused to provide pastoral care. Things came to a head last year when Beckwith refused to confirm a lesbian, and, later, anyone at all at St. Andrew’s. In retaliation, two of the church’s eucharistic ministers — lay people who help the priest during communion — refused to accept the Eucharist from Beckwith.

In response, he stripped all 15 of St. Andrew’s eucharistic ministers of their licenses.

The story is really well-written and chock full of details. He puts the local story in perspective. It turns out that Bishop Beckwith was one of the American bishops who asked the Archbishop of Canterbury for different oversight after the recent election of a female to the post.

I do want to raise one point with the piece. Note how Townsend describes why the bishops asked for new oversight:

They were angry that the American church had elected a progressive leader, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada.

Note how he describes why a plan for alternative oversight was developed:

To appease angry conservative congregations, the church’s House of Bishops developed a plan in 2004 that allowed disgruntled parishes to separate from their bishops and seek leadership elsewhere.

I am not sure if “angry” is the best word to describe the response of traditional Episcopalians to the doctrinal changes their church is undergoing. Not that they’re not angry — but some bishops have a doctrinal problem and are seeking a way to address it. It emphasizes an emotional response at the expense of a global theological rift.

Also note the unanswered quote from St. Andrew’s Rector Virginia Bennett about Ed Salmon of South Carolina, one of the potential alternative bishops they’ve asked for:

“We might not see eye to eye every day, but we need a bishop who would love us, and Ed would.”

Townsend is a great reporter. If a story is significant, he’ll look at it from different angles over days or weeks. I hope that in future coverage, he will let traditionalists respond to the idea that church discipline is not pastoral or loving.

Church discipline is a difficult issue to cover. If he covers it, I think Townsend will find many pastors say that discipline should be motivated by love and concern for an unrepentant sinner or congregation. In other words, pastors are so worried about their parishioners’ salvation that sometimes they take drastic action to bring the unrepentant sinners back to a right understanding.

It would be a shame if that action — apart from the theological difference at play here — were characterized solely as unloving, unpastoral or angry.

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Did Graham channel Meacham?

billygrahamnycYou know how, when you have typed a word thousands and thousands of times, your fingers tend to fall into that same pattern when you are trying to type a word that is very similar to it?

The same thing can happen to a reporter who is taking notes during an interview. Sometimes you hear what you are used to hearing when, in reality, the person said something else. This can cause major mistakes.

Godbeat writer Frank Lockwood of the Lexington Herald-Leader — also known as the Bible Belt Blogger — discovered a really interesting case of this familiarity-breeds-mistakes syndrome in a major Newsweek article that the GetReligion gang already thought it had picked at pretty good. That would be that Billy Graham cover by soon-to-be-editor Jon Meacham.

When Lockwood got around to reading this piece, he noticed something interesting in one of the haunting images near the beginning, as the elderly evangelist wakes up in the middle of the night confused:

On this particular night, Graham lay in the darkness, trying to recite the 23rd Psalm from memory. He begins: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …” Then, for a moment, he loses the thread. “I missed a sequence, and that disturbed me,” Graham recalls. It was frustrating — the man who has preached the Gospel to more human beings than anyone in history does not like to forget critical verses of the Bible — but in the end the last line comes back to him: “Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Relieved, he drifts back to sleep.

Wait a minute, thought Lockwood.

Surely thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me? Any self-respecting Southern Baptist knows that the final sentence, in the King James Version, begins “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me …

Intrigued, I decided to investigate. I Googled “Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me” and could find no Bible translation that uses that language. However, the same wording is included in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer.

Is Billy Graham, in his twilight years, reciting the Book of Common Prayer as he enjoys life in rural North Carolina?

Now this is a very interesting question, because Meacham is an Episcopalian and, to say the least, Billy Graham is not an Episcopalian (no matter what his many fundamentalist critics think).

So Lockwood dropped Meacham an email and, to his credit, Meacham wrote back to say:

“I suspect the discrepancy you detected is mine, not Mr. Graham’s; after he told me the story, I read the lines back to him on the telephone from the translation I had at hand, and he said yes, those were the lines, but I suspect he actually spoke the KJV. So I would not say that Mr. Graham misquoted the psalm, but that I misunderstood which translation he had recited.”

That’s easy to understand.

The question that many people have raised about this article, including Graham himself in that gentle way of his, is whether some of the nuanced, moderated, “mature” theological positions attributed to the evangelist in this article have more to do with Meacham’s beliefs as an Episcopalian than with those of Graham as an evangelical.

Was Meacham hearing what he wanted to hear, what he was used to hearing? All journalists struggle with this, I think, when we are interviewing people whose beliefs are radically different than our own.

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Making all kinds of churches nervous

TrueLoveWaitsI’ve been wondering, tmatt — in question (3), are you trying to get at the homosexuality question, or something else? If something else, can you say more about why that question in particular? If homosexuality, why phrase it in such an indirect manner? (Since it is often the definition of the marriage sacrament that is contested.) Just curious.

Posted by Liz B. at 10:28 pm on September 27, 2006

This is an excellent question, since battles over sexuality have dominated the religion beat for a decade or two.

Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, religion-beat profesionals began to see signs that the progressive wing of the mainline Protestant world — led, in this case, by the Presbyterian Church (USA) — was seeking theological language to declare sexual intercourse, in or out of marriage, a sacrament in and of itself.

Of course this was linked to the gay issue, but the issue is much bigger than that. Some liberal theologians — in a burst of candor — began to say that adultery was not always a sin and that the Holy Spirit might, in some cases, lead a person into adultery. “The wind blows where it will” and all of that. I have searched the World Wide Web and I cannot find a good summary of the crucial document, which was the 1991 report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality in the PCUSA. The chair was a United Church of Christ intellectual named John Carey.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church was arguing about some similar topics, led, as always, by the candor of Bishop Jack Spong of Newark. A key moment came in 1991 with the defeat of the “(Bishop William C.) Frey Amendment,” which simply stated that Episcopal clergy should not have sex outside of marriage. This was too controversial to pass.

But the events on the left were only part of the story, in my opinion.

In the typical “conservative” church, pastors were falling strangely silent on the sins that beset their own flocks, mostly sex outside of marriage and before marriage, while they were often trumpeting their churches’ beliefs on the sexual activities of gays and lesbians. It was the old plank-in-the-eye issue.

I thought it was interesting that I was told, while working on one of my earliest columns about the “True Love Waits” movement, that some of the strongest opposition to the concept came from adults, not teens. The problem was that pastors could not offend divorced deacons or other adults in the church who were having sex before marriage or outside of their marriages.

When it comes to sex, the typical conservative pastor is much more afraid to talk about premarital or extramarital sex than about homosexuality. There is a story there, I think, and it’s an important story.

The emphasis in Christian tradition is on sex and marriage. A journalist who asks religious leaders this question — “Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?” — will disturb many on the left and the right and, I have found, will almost always gain new information.

Again, my goal in creating the tmatt trio questions was journalistic, not theological. I was trying to find out what questions would get me past that old political left vs. right divide.

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Can’t get enough ink on the pope?

newspaper stockFriends and neighbors, there isn’t a whole lot new going on with the pope story. But there sure is a whole lot of the same old same old going on. How in the world can a sane person follow it all?

That, apparently, is why God made insane cyberpeople.

So if you do not have enough reading material about Pope Benedict XVI, faith, reason, jihad, British journalism and The New York Times to last you through Easter or thereabouts, here are the links that you need.

• As you would expect, the Christianity Today folks have updated their previous weblogs covering media reports on the controversy. How thorough was the updating? Make yourself comfortable and click here. The headline says it all: “Super-Mega Weblog: Thousands of Articles, One Story.”

• For those who want to see the story through the bizarre lens of the conservative Anglican web elves up in Canada, you need to know that they have rolled out “Hate That Pope! 3.0” and “Hate That Pope! 4.0.”

Also, Binky notes that the pope’s email address, should you want to write him a note about all of this, is benedictxvi (at) — so there.

• Someone needed to read the second epistle to Rome from the New York Times clergy — that would be the editorial page folks — and Rod “Friend of this blog” Dreher threw himself on that editorial grenade. As usual, Rod is rather blunt. How blunt is he? Here is one clip from the Times, followed by Rod’s boldface interjection:

The pope and the Vatican can also do more. For the past two years, Benedict has been a no-show at interfaith gatherings in Assisi, begun 20 years ago by his predecessor, John Paul II. Last year, he issued an edict revoking the autonomy of Assisi’s Franciscan monks, a move that was seen as a reaction against the monks’ interfaith activism. On the occasion of this year’s gathering, he issued a statement about religion and peace that was read by an envoy, but his absence spoke louder than his words.

I know the Times‘s idea of religious dialogue is a priest, a rabbi, an imam and a Buddhist monk singing “Kum-Ba-Yah” in four-part harmony, but grown-ups should ask themselves why Benedict chose to stay away from the event. Benedict was sick and tired of the local Franciscans letting it turn into a polytheistic carnival. When African voodoo priests sacrifice chickens to their pagan gods near the tomb of St. Clare, it was time to put a stop to this nonsense. Benedict is not against dialogue with other religions, but he demands that reasonable limits be set. If a Pope has to accept chicken-slaughter by voodoo priests at a Christian holy site to appease the gods of East 43rd Street, then to hell with the gods of East 43rd Street.

Come to think of it, Benedict XVI doesn’t seem like a praying-with-pagans kind of guy, as I am sure our pagan readers would agree. The Times must be thinking of Oprah.

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