Blaming Akinola

Akinola_and_williamsLarry Stammer’s report in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times could leave readers with the impression that if reconciliation fails in the Anglican Communion, it is largely the fault of Archbishop Peter J. Akinola of the Church of Nigeria.

Here are three paragraphs at the heart of Stammer’s article:

Despite a plea from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of Anglicanism, to avoid a “rush to judgment,” Akinola in a statement released here criticized the report’s call for both sides in the debate to express regrets.

Akinola was particularly upset by the recommendation that conservative bishops, including him and other Africans, stop claiming jurisdiction over conservative American parishes seeking help. In the Diocese of Los Angeles, for example, the Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda agreed to supervise three dissident Southern California parishes.

“Where is the language of rebuke for those who are promoting sexual sins as holy and acceptable behavior?” Akinola asked. “The imbalance is bewildering. It is wrong to use equal language for unequal actions.”

Stammer’s reference to the plea by the Archbishop of Canterbury raises a few related questions:

° Does it apply to the Diocese of Vermont, which has announced that it will continue blessing gay couples unless the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops agrees to honor the Windsor Report’s request for a moratorium on such blessings?

° Does it apply to Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem, Pa., who has raised a valid question about whether the report turns institutional unity into an idol?

° Does it apply to Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of the Diocese of Utah, who flatly rejects the report’s conclusion that the Episcopal Church acted without adequate consultation with the broader Anglican Communion?

The report was quick to stress that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope of Anglicans. Yes, he has asked Anglicans not to rush to judgment about the Windsor Report. Does that mean all Anglicans — or just angry ones from Africa? — need to receive the report in reverent silence? And when should this moratorium on spirited discussion expire?

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Ghost appears (again) in the New York Times bias debate

Daniel_okrentOK, my column is out for this week and I am getting tired of reading Anglican stories. Speaking of which, have any of you out in GetReligion reader-land seen any Anglican stories that you want to nominate for special awards? Best? Worst? I realize that these designations may flip-flop, depending on one’s creedal affiliation. But give it a try.

Meanwhile, I have been mulling over the latest installment of Daniel Okrent’s attempt to hash out the political biases of the New York Times. He has been at this for some time now and he is stirring up some interesting debate. Next week: Thoughts from his readers.

But in this week’s episode, Okrent (pictured) decided to let Columbia University j-prof Todd Gitlin make a case that the newspaper of record has actually leaned to the political right, allowing President Bush to get away with murder in terms of playing loose with the facts. It is no surprise that Gitlin stresses issues of economics and the war in Iraq. He seems to be asking the Times to stop quoting people on both sides of these issues and to simply haul off and say: “The president is a liar.”

Then Okrent lets the right speak, in the person of Bob Kohn, a California lawyer who is the author of “Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted.” Did they really get that title on the spine of a book? Kohn argues that the Times has consistently leaned to the cultural left and, thus, has attempted to nail President Bush on issues that are important with his base voters on the cultural/moral right.

Before you know it, Kohn has gone and done a very nasty thing. He quotes Okrent to make his point, flashing back to a column earlier this summer. In effect, Kohn spots the “ghost” in this debate.

Clearly, we live in an age in which issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, public education materials on life origins and faith-based initiatives are central to our political debates. On these issues, the Times is a choirleader for the lifestyle left. This, in turn, affects its political coverage.

Several weeks ago, Daniel Okrent, this paper’s public editor, courageously stated the obvious: of course The New York Times is a liberal newspaper (“Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” July 25). And he wasn’t just talking about an editorial page he finds “thoroughly saturated in liberal theology” or the Sunday carvings of Frank Rich, who “slices up” President Bush and friends in the Arts & Leisure section.

More incisively, the public editor demonstrated how The Times — in its purportedly objective news pages — leans left on the social issues, showing by example how The Times presents same-sex marriages in a tone that approaches “cheerleading.” Now, turning to politics, the public editor would have us believe there is no systematic bias against either presidential candidate.

Now, I am convinced that both of these gentlemen may be right.

The Times may lean right on some issues of government, economics and foreign policy. It is certainly possible to fire away at the newspaper from the political left on those issues, just as Howard Dean could fire away at John Kerry during the primaries.

Meanwhile, the Times certainly leans left on cultural and “theological” issues. I have yet to hear anyone dispute that. Correct?

So what unites these two points of view? Is the Times a “liberal” newspaper or, in its heart of hearts, is it a newspaper that leans toward radical individualism and, perhaps, a more cultural form of libertarianism? It is culturally liberal, much more than it is politically liberal. Correct?

Meanwhile, Kohn asks his liberal readers to try to imagine the world of the New York Times turned upside down. Can they dare to imagine how they would feel if their beloved newspaper was just as partisan, only from the right:

… (Put) put yourself in my slippers: imagine how your Sunday morning coffee encounters with The Times would sour if the front page of the Arts & Leisure section were turned over to, say, Ann Coulter. Is that the kind of paper you want? That’s the paper you have.

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Bishop Spong is ticked off, and all is right with the world

SpongFor most of Monday it appeared that only conservative Episcopalians felt angry or disappointed in the Windsor Report. Their expectations were fed by inaccurate Times (London) reports of the Episcopal Church being expelled or, as recently as this weekend, of a “star chamber” judging whether entire provinces should be expelled.

It’s appropriate, then, that the Times now brings this scorching commentary by John Shelby Spong, the retired bishop of Newark and a pioneer of ordaining openly gay clergy.

Spong blasts the report as “both an effort at damage control and an inadequate understanding of its subject matter.” Conservative Anglicans would agree, but for entirely different reasons. Spong sees the report as a concession to “those with a limited understanding of modern life” who “imagine that a debate about homosexuality could be settled by quoting the Bible.” Conservatives consider the report a concession to any province that moves ahead of the broader Anglican Communion, so long as it later apologizes for doing so.

Spong reaches his crescendo in this paragraph:

Would Anglicans in the Western world be asked to subscribe to a pre-modern mentality that opposes evolution or demands that the Virgin Birth be interpreted as literal biology? Would we destroy the tradition of the great Anglican scholars of the past and try to place modern minds once again into the pre-modern straitjacket of the 39 Articles? Will we reinstitute a version of the Anglican Inquisition so that we will no longer produce a William Temple or a John Robinson? These ideas are too ludicrous to contemplate.

Well, sort of. Considering the tepid recommendations of the Windsor Report, any talk of “reinstituting” an Anglican Inquisition that never existed truly is too ludicrous to contemplate.

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The exit door?

A few months ago there was this. As an Orthodoxer myself, I am still not quite sure how I feel about seeing the words “Prince Charles” and “Mount Athos” in the same sentence every now and then. Might he convert? What does his non-wife say?

Now (tip of the hat to CT’s weblog) there is this spin on an old report, in part based on the status of the prime minister’s family. Here is the money paragraph:

“Fr Timothy Russ, whose parish includes Chequers, disclosed that Mr Blair, an Anglican, had raised the question of conversion with him and said: ‘If you ask me do you think he wants to become a Catholic, I would say yes.’ Fr. Russ indicated, however, that he did not believe that Mr Blair would take such a step while Prime Minister and suggested that he had ‘some way to go’ on important moral issues.”

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How to be a professional religion news reporter

Canterbury_cathedral_1Don’t you hate it when you have a great quote and you cannot remember who said it? Long ago, someone offered the following summation of how the Anglican Communion works. I have heard it many times since then.

“The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”

In other words, the growing Third World church has the spiritual power, the declining American church still has its trust funds from previous generations and the British always get the last word, writing the documents that contain enough via media fog to hold everything together.

The odds are good that the person who told me this was Time’s Richard Ostling, while bouncing through the streets of Vancouver, B.C., in a rental car during the 1983 assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s hard to recall the specifics this far down the road.

I bring this up because the next few days will be dominated by fallout from the Report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, or the Windsor Report. This is the long-awaited document in which the powers that be in Anglicanism will try to find a way to make the progressive Episcopal Church and its allies lose enough face to please the traditional Christians in the Third World, while failing to undercut any of ECUSA’s holdings in banks, property or process. That slap on the wrist has got to really sting, or the next gathering of the vast majority of the world’s Anglican bishops will be in Lagos, not Canterbury.

The coverage will take several days to unfold. But, before we dive into all that (and Doug LeBlanc is considered one of the top scribes in that field by the liberal establishment as well as leaders on the right), I want to pause and salute an advance stories written about the event over the weekend. It is, you will not be surprised, a basic, hard-news effort by Ostling, who now writes for the Associated Press.

This is not an unusual story from Ostling, which is a compliment. It simply quotes facts and intelligent voices on both sides of this bitter conflict. It makes defendable statements of facts. It treats this as a global story, yet with careful emphasis on events in the United States. It is a bit of a primer on how to be a hard-news religion reporter. What do I mean?

You need to read it for yourself, but here is a big chunk of background material. You may want to print this out as a guide to use while reading reports from other news sources.

… (An) emergency panel called the Lambeth Commission will issue recommendations on how the Anglican Communion can remain a coherent, united segment of global Christianity despite severe disagreements over homosexuality and interpretation of the Bible. At stake may be the long-term future of the Communion, the international association of churches with roots in the Church of England.

Findings will also resonate beyond Anglicanism to Christians in all denominations who believe their faith has oppressed gays and lesbians, and equally for those who consider changes a direct attack on the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian teaching.

Two top London newspapers said the commission would propose disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism’s U.S. branch, for consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay man who lives openly with his partner.

Other explosive matters include increasing ordinations of openly gay priests in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada. Last year’s U.S. church convention recognized that Episcopalians “within the bounds of our common life” conduct same-sex blessing ceremonies and this year’s Canadian synod affirmed the “sanctity” of gay couples. Those events have divided North American parishes and dioceses, and created acrimony among the Anglican Communion’s 38 self-governing national churches.

Worldwide, Anglican conservatives are heavily in the majority. A 1998 conference of all Anglican bishops declared gay practices “incompatible with Scripture” and opposed gay ordinations and same-sex blessings in a 526-70 vote with 45 abstentions.

Like I said, read this advance story and then hang on. There be spin zones ahead — on both sides.

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Rashomon at Lambeth Palace

Griswold_akinola_tutuPresiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church has responded to Archbishop Peter Akinola’s description of a private conversation with Griswold. (Today’s picture shows Griswold, Akinola and Desmond Tutu together at a U.S. House of Bishops meeting in 2002.)

Robert England of The Christian Challenge provided the most detailed version of Akinola’s account of what occurred while the primates of the Anglican Communion gathered at Lambeth Palace one year ago:

When the primates took a tea break shortly thereafter, Akinola recalled, “I called Frank Griswold . . . out, and we embraced each other. And I said ‘You and I have come a long way in the past three or four years; we have established a new relationship, new friendship, new rapport, new understanding.’

But he told Griswold: “‘Look at the situation your church has led us into. Look at [your brother from] Pakistan, in tears, [from] India, in tears over what you have done. Our hearts are bleeding. You can save the Communion this costly problem by putting a stop to this agenda. You can stop the consecration of a practicing gay priest.’”

Today church spokesman Robert Williams sent this response to an email inquiry I sent late Tuesday afternoon:

The Presiding Bishop has stated that he does not recall the incident that Archbishop Akinola describes. Bishop Griswold has said that he does remember Archbishop Akinola asking him privately if the Presiding Bishop thought Bishop Robinson’s consecration in fact would take place and the Presiding Bishop said that he thought it would proceed. Bishop Griswold was asked in one of the sessions of the primates’ meeting to stop the consecration. The Presiding Bishop replied that the church had made a decision that he could not countermand and if he could not abide by it he himself would be obliged to resign. Bishop Griswold explained that as Presiding Bishop he has no authority that allows him to override decisions made formally and canonically by the church. His role is to uphold these decisions. The Presiding Bishop has said further that he recalls parting from the meeting with an amicable and subdued spirit. The meeting followed the Presiding Bishop’s earlier experience of visiting Nigeria to lead a retreat for bishops there.

Yesterday Griswold issued a separate statement quoted by Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press:

Griswold responded in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” that Akinola feels betrayed. “My love for Archbishop Akinola is undiminished, and I pray that one day our friendship in Christ may be restored,” Griswold said.

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Akinola & Griswold: A torn friendship

textI returned late Tuesday from a last-minute trip to Washington to hear Peter Akinola, the primate of the Church of Nigeria, discuss his plans to launch a U.S. alternative to the Episcopal Church. (The picture shows Akinola greeting Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold at a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in 2002.)

Akinola’s visit consisted of a forum at All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Md., on Monday evening; a news conference at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday morning; another forum at Truro on Tuesday evening; and several other private meetings. Akinola stressed repeatedly that his concern is for Nigerians living in the United States who feel alienated by the Episcopal Church’s consecration of a gay bishop and by its attendant teachings about the authority of the Bible.

Caryle Murphy’s report for The Washington Post concentrated on how Akinola’s plans relate to protests by conservative Episcopalians. (Murphy said that Akinola “did not know how many Nigerian Anglicans were in this country,” then added that he estimated there were 250,000. No other report from Tuesday suggested that Akinola’s estimate meant he was clueless about the number of Nigerian Anglicans in America, which is beside the point anyway. Does he have to be a demographer to know that many of his expatriates are concerned?)

Julia Duin’s report for The Washington Times mentions details that Akinola has not disclosed previously, especially his description of pleading with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold not to consecrate Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Akinola plans to meet with Nigerians in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Oklahoma City and Chicago.

I’ve written a 500-word report on Akinola’s visit for The Living Church, and I’ll prepare a longer piece about Akinola for a future issue of Christianity Today.

None of the reports emerging from Tuesday’s news conference captured the history between Akinola and Griswold. Here’s what I wrote on that matter for The Living Church (with links added for readers’ convenience):

Archbishop Akinola and Bishop Griswold began a friendship in 2000, and Archbishop Akinola subsequently criticized the Anglican Mission in America for crossing diocesan boundaries when the Provinces of Southeast Asia and Rwanda consecrated missionary bishops for the United States. In 2002, their friendship led to three highly publicized events: Bishop Griswold’s 11-day visit to Nigeria, Archbishop Akinola’s enthronement on the international cathedra at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Akinola’s attending a meeting of the U.S. House of Bishops (see photo at end of second row).

In a letter to the clergy and wardens of the Diocese of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John Chane recalled Archbishop Akinola’s criticisms of AMiA. He quoted from remarks Archbishop Akinola made to the Church of Nigeria News in 2001 (and repeated by Philip Jenkins in The Atlantic): “You don’t just jump from your diocese to begin to do whatever you like in another man’s diocese. That is not done in our Anglican tradition.”

“Hitherto my position has been that there was no need” for alternative pastoral oversight, Akinola said. “But that was when we were together, sharing the same faith, sharing the same order.” When the Episcopal Church “chose to separate itself from us,” he said, “we had no choice but to come rescue our people.”</blockquote

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Star Wars, Wolves, Gaia and that GetReligion bias

Wolves5_1” … in Communion with the U.S. rebel alliance and not the empire based in the denominational headquarters in New York City?”

Well, we now know where Terry Mattingly stands on the issue. The conservatives who don’t want gays to be accepted as clergy are the “rebel alliance” fighting against the evil progressive “empire”. Don’t try to wiggle out of this one, you know as well as any kid growing up with “Star Wars” that those are value-laden statements. …

In the end it makes this non-Christian think that Christians are far more concerned with who wants to have sex with who than the far more pressing issues going on in the world today. Isn’t there a verse in the Bible about taking the plank out of your own eye? Hey in fact that could be a great title for a series of talks… “Taking the plank out of your own eye for the straight guy”

Posted by: Jason Pitzl-Waters | September 30, 2004 09:38 AM

Ah, you know where Terry Mattingly stands on what issue?

I don’t think many readers of this blog (or The Revealer or several other online forums) would be shocked to know that I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and a highly Orthodox guy, in the traditional, creedal sense of the word. That question was answered a long time ago. And if anyone is interested in knowing some of my personal views on trends in the Episcopal Church, they are welcome to read a lengthy essay I wrote more than a decade ago (for an editor named Doug LeBlanc) entitled “Liturgical Dances With Wolves.”

That essay opens with a “Missa Gaia (Earth Mass)” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, complete with chants by timber wolves, a humpback whale (taped, not live) singing the Sanctus, a sermon by Carl Sagan and a liturgical procession featuring an elephant, a camel, a vulture, a swarm of bees in a glass frame, a bowl of blue-green algae and an elegantly decorated banana. Before the bread and wine were brought to the altar, the musicians chanted:

OBA ye Oba yo Yemanja
Oba ye Oba yo O Yemanja
Oby ye Oba yo O O Ausar
Oba ye Oba yo O Ra Ausar

Right, those are prayers to Ra and the pagan gods of Egypt and several other ancient zip codes.

Many of my views on Episcopal Church issues are right there in that piece. Feel free to read and cheer or jeer. However, none of this directly relates to the subject of the post being criticized. My point was to say that journalists covering the ongoing sex wars in the Anglican Communion must strive to cover this as both an American story about a split in the liberal Episcopal Church and as a global story about a split in the much, much larger (and statistically rather conservative) Anglican Communion.

I know a few J.I. Packer-hugging journalists in the mainstream press (I will decline to out any of them) who have sustained long careers covering both sides of this dispute with great accuracy and fairness. I can say precisely the same thing of some mainstream religion-beat professionals who embrace the Gaia School of Liturgy. There are skilled, committed journalists with a wide range of beliefs who do admirable work on this complex and difficult beat. May their tribe increase.

The goal is more voices in newsrooms, more diversity and more intellectual resources.

And, yes, reporters who dare to hang out with traditional Episcopalians will find that they tend to see their lives in terms of a “Star Wars” dynamic. Not that they are pantheists, or anything. Of course, at the global level its the traditionalists who are the new empire and the progressive clergy are the rebels. That’s the whole point.

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