Faith & football — to the max

troy with son 2Regular readers may have noticed at some of your GetReligionistas are big sports fans, which includes the National Football League in several cases. This continues to be the case even though young master Daniel Pulliam is inactive, while serving as editor of a law review.

Regular readers may also know that we are big fans of intelligent question-and-answer interviews, especially when this format allows a skilled journalist to let intelligent and colorful people stretch out and tell their own stories and describe their own beliefs in their own words.

Regular readers may also know that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity and, it goes without saying, I am interested in the views of other Orthofolks.

However, just about the last thing I would expect to see in public media is a long and highly intelligent interview with an NFL superstar, commenting on the role of his Orthodox faith in his life as a parent, husband, churchman and athlete. Can you imagine the odds against that?

So, click here and check out Gina Mazza’s conversation with — you guessed it — the mane man in Pittsburgh, which would be Troy Polamalu, the star safety for the Steelers. I don’t quite know where to start with the interesting material in this one (Can you say, “Mount Athos?”), but let’s start with this part of the introduction:

Fatherhood is new in Polamalu’s life since the birth of his son, Paisios, named after a beloved contemporary Greek Orthodox monastic, Elder Paisios, on Oct. 31, 2008. Has daddy-dom been life-changing? Will he encourage his son to play professional sports? How’s that beautiful new mom doing?

And last but not least: Faith. In order to properly meet Polamalu where he lives, this is the requisite, the grounding force that gives meaning to everything he does, every play he makes. Polamalu’s evident gratitude to the one who made him is marbled throughout our talk — from his training regime to his travels to Mount Athos, a monastic site in Greece, a place he calls “heaven on earth.”

So this interview includes some very unusual questions, in the context of sports. How about, “Would you want your son to be a priest?” But, you see, that isn’t the biggest question.

Here’s a major chunk of the interview:

What is your greatest wish for your child?

Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That’s what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that’s one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he’s able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid — to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that. …

How would you define the spiritual struggle you referred to earlier?

It’s the struggle of good and evil, and with that comes the struggle with greed, jealousy, materialism, sexual morality, pride, all these types of struggles that we face every day, in every second of the day.

Your faith continues to evolve. In the past few years, you formally
converted to Greek Orthodox. Where do you worship?

My wife and I go often to a Greek Orthodox monastery in Saxonburg [Nativity of the Theotokos], a monastery in Arizona, and several parishes in Pittsburgh. We like the monastery because it’s most serene there and we can talk to the monastics. To see their daily struggles really fascinates me.

What intrigues you about the monastic life?

For me, faith is to be simple in this way. If anybody believes in God and believes in the Holy Bible, how can you be in any grey area? I’m talking about myself here, how can “I” think one way and do another way? To me, Christianity is very black and white. Either you take it serious or you don’t take it serious at all. The monks’ example to me is that they take salvation seriously in every facet of their lives. This is a model for me as a Christian and for my family on how to live our lives.

Read on. This has to be one of the most off-the-wall (in a good way) interviews of the year. Enjoy.

Photo: From the website.

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Let’s go down to the (Jordan) river …

Baptism iconWe need some kind of special award here at GetReligion to salute really fine news stories about religion that still fall one or two facts short of being, you know, just right. It’s frustrating, you know. The story is really enjoyable and then — bzzzzzzz.

Take, for example, the USA Today story entitled “Outdoor baptisms dwindling.” It’s a great subject to write about, in the age of modern sanctuaries and declining rural churches. Thus, we read:

Outdoor baptisms are rapidly disappearing in America. Once prevalent in the rivers and deltas of the South, the ritual has been nearly extinguished by indoor pools, mega-churches and modernization, researchers and ministers say. Only a handful of churches keep it alive.

“It’s a feature of American Protestantism that is vanishing,” says David Daniels, professor of church history at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

No one keeps statistics on outdoor baptisms, which are performed predominately by Baptists and Pentecostals. But officials at the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest grouping of Baptist churches in the USA, say of the 342,000 baptisms performed last year by its member churches, the vast majority were done indoors.

Now I have to admit that I twitched when I saw that the voice of authority in this piece was from a oldline Protestant seminary in Chicago. This is not where I usually look for deep insights into Bible Belt culture.

But that was not my main problem with the background material in this piece. Pay close attention to this part:

The tradition of submerging someone in a river to wash away their sins began in Europe, came to America in the 18th century and spread across the South by Baptist ministers, Daniels says. The Christian tradition replicates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist 2,000 years ago.

African slaves on plantation churches in the South quickly adopted the tradition, says Shayne Lee, an assistant professor of Sociology and African Diaspora Studies at Tulane University. The slave who walked down to the river for his baptism was publicly embracing Christianity while shedding his African religious beliefs, Lee says.

Excellent link to the African-American tradition, of course. But you have to ask yourself this question: Did Christians ever stop baptizing new believers in the River Jordan? Is it accurate to say that this tradition — note the definitive reference — “began in Europe”?

This would come as interesting news to Christians in the Holy Land and in other settings where baptisms by immersion — which are the norm in Eastern Orthodoxy — are held near lakes, rivers or even oceans. I am not saying that outdoor baptisms are the norm. Quite the opposite. I am saying that they have, on occasion, been done for centuries and that this sacramental act continues to take place from time to time in large bodies of blessed water.

Take the River Jordan, for example. If that particular river was nearby, wouldn’t you want to baptize some people in it every now and then?

So, a fine story — with one historical reference that is a bit off. Perhaps the Protestant tradition of outdoor Baptisms began in Europe, where Protestantism itself began, after all. But did the tradition begin there, PERIOD? I think not.

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The oink and Holy Communion

LastSupperFullSo my husband fell ill with the flu last week — likely swine flu. We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, which include not attending Divine Service today at our church. While much of the hoopla surrounding swine flu is overblown — we’ve learned it’s basically the same as normal flu, just scarier sounding — the pandemic is affecting the way congregations handle communion.

This is an old story, in that every time there’s a particularly bad flu outbreak we get stories about the matter, but this piece that ran on seemed a bit brief and problematic.

The headline, to begin with, struck me as a bit irreverent:

Poisoned chalice? Swine flu hits church wine

It also makes it seem as if, well, swine flu actually hit church wine. Nothing in the story supports that idea. It’s just that the archbishops of Canterbury and York in the Church of England have recommended that parishioners stop sharing the chalice during communion because of fears over swine flu.

The article itself isn’t bad, explaining intinction and Health Department advisories against sharing common vessels. It never even comes close to discussing the theological implications of the change in practice. And there’s this error in the final graph:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Church, the second-largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholic Church.

No, that would be the Orthodox Church. Haven’t we been here before? Yes indeed, we have.

For additional information on pandemics and communion, much better work has been done. Religion News Service had this back in April. And I liked this Chicago Tribune piece during the same time period for the way it highlighted how sharing the peace or holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer might also be avoided.

One interesting thing, that I learned from an old Al Tompkins column at Poynter, is that the CDC gets asked about transmission of infectious diseases via the chalice all the time. They report that people who share the chalice have no higher incident of infection than those who don’t. Interesting.

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Cracking the Codex

codex_sinaiticusA couple of weeks ago, there was quite a bit of coverage regarding the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the most important ancient Christian manuscripts. Nobody flagged any stories as being particularly bad and it was during a pretty busy news cycle — so we didn’t look at coverage here at GetReligion. But a reader pointed me to another critique of the media coverage that is worth considering.

The Codex Sinaiticus, which originally contained the entire Bible as well as some patristic writings, was written in the mid-fourth century and was held in a Sinai monastery for 1500 years before being split up in the mid-19th century (parts were taken to London, Russia, Germany). The parts have been reunited online, which is completely awesome and you can check it out here.

Dan Wallace over at Parchment and Pen has a rundown of some of the mistakes that were made by the media when covering this momentous occasion. Some of his points are stronger than others. For instance, he criticizes the ubiquitous headline reference to “the world’s oldest Bible” because it’s only the world’s oldest complete New Testament. He’s completely right on the point but since the Codex Sinaiticus web site advertises itself as “the oldest Bible,” it’s hard to complain that the media took that ball and ran with it. But his comprehensive list shows how facts are sometimes sacrificed in the rush to make ancient news sound more interesting.

Here’s part of the New York Daily News account:

The text was written on vellum, a type of animal hide, and the pages that have survived include the entire New Testament and the earliest surviving copy of the Gospels, written after Christ’s death by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

But, Wallace notes:

No, there are several manuscripts, especially papyrus fragments, that are older: P52 (c. 100-150 CE, thus a good 200 years older than Sinaiticus) contains five verses from John’s Gospel; P66 (c. 175 CE) contains most of John; P75 (early third century) contains most of John and Luke; P45 (third century) contains large portions of all four Gospels, etc. There are well over twenty papyri that are both older than Sinaiticus and have portions of at least one of the Gospels. In addition, Codex B has the complete Gospels and is probably older than Sinaiticus.

Or take this reference to the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas from The Independent (UK):

It includes two works which have since been dropped from both Catholic and Protestant Bibles . . .

Wallace responds:

This presupposes that these books were considered canonical in the fourth century. But that is doubtful in the extreme. It is, in fact, doubtful whether such books would have been considered scripture at any time by a majority of Christian churches. That they are under the same cover as the OT and NT does not necessarily indicate that they were regarded as scripture, especially since we have no corroborating evidence to suggest this. In the least, the reason why Barnabas and Hermas are within Sinaiticus’s covers is open to more than one interpretation.

The same article also confuses how a verse from the Gospel of Mark is rendered in Sinaiticus with how it is rendered in the Codex Bezae, writes Wallace. And it says:

The Codex omits the words which Protestants add to the end of The Lord’s Prayer, and Catholics omit: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever (Matthew 6:13).

But, as Wallace notes, it’s not on the basis of most “modern” translations that Protestants use these words. It’s based on how the King James Version was translated. (And it neglects to mention that these words are part of the Orthodox Divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and that they have been part of the Roman Catholic mass at various points in its history)

Here’s another funny error:

You might suppose it would upset those who believe the Bible is the inerrant, unaltered word of God, since the Codex shows there have over the centuries been thousands of alterations to today’s Bible. But they can counter that there are earlier, individual manuscripts of almost all the books in the Bible; the Codex just pulls them together into a single volume. In any case, fundamentalists have long been adept at ignoring the evidence of historical biblical scholarship.

Well! Wallace responds:

A whole host of faulty assumptions occur in this paragraph, such as that inerrantists and fundamentalists are synonymous, that the changes made to the codex in later centuries can have any impact on one’s belief in the inerrancy of the autographs, that the whole issue of canonicity is in some way altered by this codex, or even that knowledge of this manuscript is only now coming to light. All this really shows is that the author is ignorant of both inerrantists and Sinaiticus.

Wallace also highlights some media errors from CBC (Canada), The Guardian and CNN. Sometimes it takes an expert in the issue area to critique the media coverage. I’m glad Wallace listed some of the larger errors for posterity.

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Once more, into the breach …

notebook1This is a strange one and I know that. I wasn’t sure that I was going to post a link to this story — “Who says religion is boring?” — until the link went live at Romenesko’s virtual water cooler and I started hearing from friends, colleagues and even a critic or two.

However, it is an interview that covers all kinds of topics that we discuss all the time here at, for obvious reasons. It’s an interview with a veteran Godbeat writer that digs into the whole question of why religion news gives mainstream journalists sweaty palms, to a degree that is unique among other pivotal news topics. We would certainly write about this Baltimore Sun interview if it focused on anyone other than, well, you know, me.

So once again, I am in that uncomfortable position of being on the other side of the reporter’s notebook. That raises an interesting question for the mainstream journalists who read this blog: Have you ever been put in this position? What did you learn from the experience?

It was very interesting spending time with Jonathan Pitts, the Sun feature writer who did this. He’s a generalist, but we quickly discovered we have all kinds of things in common when it comes to popular culture (the world is not full of people who know who the great Norman Blake is, let alone know all about this picker’s music) and even sports. He jammed a lot of info into this thing, getting a whole lot more right than the few minor things that he got wrong. I thank him for his efforts.

Some of you will spot some errors and, for me, I wish it had been possible to link the great journalism professor David McHam to his work at Baylor University — he was my mentor and the main reason I went into journalism — instead of to his recent teaching at the University of Houston.

Anyway, here’s the heart of the story and this is what I hope we can discuss in the comments pages. Yes, it’s the “Blind Spot” with two sides argument that means so much to me.

Speaking over burritos at a Mexican chain restaurant — a member of the Eastern Orthodox church, he vets his diet carefully, and the place lets you build your own — he says the media and religion have long been at odds, each viewing the other, at best, with a wary eye.

“Here you have these two powerful forces in American life, each protected by the First Amendment,” he says. “They don’t talk to each other. They don’t respect each other. Sometimes they don’t like each other. I live in both. And that has been my life.”

He’s one of a handful of people to have grown up in both camps, with an equal passion for both. The son of a father who was a Southern Baptist preacher and a mother who taught language arts, Mattingly grew up fascinated by writing, politics and the ways in which faith influences human behavior — including music, sports and the visual arts.

A voracious reader, he always wanted to be a newspaper reporter.

McHamOnce again, I believe it is crucial to realize that the blind spot does have two sides and Pitts got that into the report. The world is not full of traditional religious believers who love journalism and that is a big part of the problem.

Here’s the end of the feature:

… Mattingly sees more to be done. Take that huge, growing Pentecostalist movement in and around New York, largely uncovered in the media, that reflects how immigrants continue to change America. Or that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, sees himself as the “Twelfth Imam” — a fact that has apocalyptic implications, given that nation’s pursuit of the bomb. Or last week’s closing of Catholic High in Towson? “How come The Sun didn’t get into the demographics of that parish?” he asks.

Meanwhile, U2 is coming through Washington this summer, and Mattingly hopes to persuade Bono, with whom he’s still in occasional contact, to sit down and speak about faith with journalism students.

He turns to his computer, clicking on an article about Sunni Islam, a topic he says the media still hasn’t gotten right, even after covering a war it could have helped explain.

“And people say the religion beat is boring?” he says, shaking his head. “Dude, on what planet?”

Well, I am sure that I said that Ahmadinejad MAY believe that he is the Twelfth Imam and I think it would be great if Bono met at the National Press Club with student journalists — locking out the big media, this time around — to talk about a whole range of topics, not just his faith. And I am 99 percent sure that I didn’t use the word “dude” in connection with Shirley MacLaine. I actually don’t find her annoying, especially when it comes to her advocacy of improved religion-news coverage.

But, hey, that’s another story. Let’s talk about the First Amendment and that two-sided blind spot. Please.

Second image: David McHam, journalist.

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What’s going on in Antioch?

OutlookOne of the hardest things that journalists have to do, from time to time, is cover controversial stories when they can only get voices on one side of the fight to talk on the record. Normally, one camp is seeking coverage and the other is trying to avoid it.

Now, the only thing harder than that is to cover a hot story when no one will speak on the record — on either side. And that’s what has been going on for weeks with a behind-the-scenes round of ecclesiastical wrestling in the American archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. This happens to be my own church, so, as you would imagine, all kinds of people have been asking why I haven’t written about the story here at GetReligion or in my own column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

Actually, I haven’t done a column for a simple reason. Clearly something has been going on, but no one really knew what was happening. Most importantly, no one was speaking on the record about WHY the leader of the church since 1966, Metropolitan Philip Saliba, had turned his church’s diocesan bishops back into auxiliary bishops, with little or no power over their own clergy.

There were very few documents describing what was happening. There were lots of people yelling at the top of their lungs online, mostly in anonymous posts. There were fascinating pieces of analysis, and even a compelling train wreck of a legal timeline of the fights. But the leaders on both sides of the divide were being quiet. That made it almost impossible for someone like me to write a column about the affair that anyone — especially the non-Orthodox — could understand.

Also, there was no mainstream coverage of all this. Zip. Nada.

That’s why there wasn’t much I could do here at GetReligion. Remember: This is not a religion-news site. It’s a site digging into the MSM’s struggle to cover religion news.

Now we have a pretty in-depth news story about this matter, which is of vital importance to anyone who cares about the future of Eastern Orthodoxy here in North America, care of Toledo Blade religion writer David Yonke. It opens with a grab-you lede that anyone can understand. How tense are things at the moment?

When Bishop Mark Maymon of Toledo attended a recent regional conference in Cincinnati for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, local police were on guard because of threats made by a member of the denomination’s board of trustees.

The threats by e-mail from Walid Khalife of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., accused the bishop of being a “traitor,” a “liar,” and a “dictator,” and said the bishop needed to be “taught a lesson.”

Now the whole issue of the board of trustees and the role that some of its members are playing in this matter is highly complex. Trust me. But when you start talking about police and security guards being involved in church conferences — because of the actions of people INSIDE the church — you know you are in interesting territory. Which brings us to the summary paragraphs in this story:

The flurry of angry e-mails from Mr. Khalife, an archdiocese trustee, was one of the uglier manifestations of a controversy that has been causing turmoil, tension, and confusion in the venerable Christian denomination founded by Jesus’ disciples Ss. Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in 42 A.D. The bitter dispute centers on the role and authority of bishops, which in turn affects the self-rule status of the North American Archdiocese, obtained in 2003 after years of negotiation with Patriarch Ignatius IV and the Holy Synod in Damascus. Although self-governing, the archdiocese still reports to Damascus on matters of theology.

Since February, the fabric of the North American Antiochian Orthodox church has been stretched at the seams over allegations of deception, power-mongering, and even forgery. A longtime chancellor has resigned in protest, and some insiders are predicting that the upcoming national convention in Palm Desert, Calif., will turn into “Palm Desert Storm.”

PETERPAUL-ICON2-4INThere is little in this story I would challenge, so do read it all. I am not sure that an Orthodox metropolitan is “an archbishop and comparable to the rank of cardinal in the Roman Catholic hierarchy,” but I am willing to be corrected.

The whole matter is quite complex. However, there is one crucial aspect of the story that is missing.

Readers really need to know more about Metropolitan Philip’s decision, more than a decade ago, to welcome thousands of evangelical converts into his church and the tensions that have lurked behind the scenes ever since (click here for an essay of mine on this topic). Quite frankly, the church has handled the tensions quite well, up until now, and there have been few explosions. Converts have continued to stream in from evangelicalism, as well as the world of oldline Protestantism — having a major impact, especially at the level of new mission parishes and seminarians seeking the priesthood.

It would really help to know that Bishop Mark of Toledo is, well, not your ordinary bishop (by all means click here). It’s safe to say he is the church’s only bishop who once taught theology at Oral Roberts University.

It would also help to know that this bishop’s fiercest critics — other than the trustee sending those strange emails — are Palestinian or Lebanese clergy in the Detroit area who are speaking out because they believe they are being treated differently by a convert bishop than they would have been by Metropolitan Philip in the past.

These Detroit priests have produced some of the only public documents (click here for a look at some of that) hinting at the WHY element in what appears to be a collision between the new world and the old. But, please, don’t jump to conclusions. There are ethnic clergy who are in solidarity with the converts and their — OK, our — highly intense and traditional approach to the faith on issues of worship and parish life. There are Arab and Lebanese clergy — often called “reverts” — who are not anxious to modernize on issues of liturgy and practice, while continuing to stress the Arabic language and many old-world customs. There are converts whose approaches to the faith defy quick, easy labels too. However, I will say that no one is seeking some kind of zippy “evangelical lite” approach to this ancient faith.

I hope that other mainstream reporters will start jumping on this story with their eyes wide open, ready to carefully listen to the wide diversity of voices on both sides. Tell us who is who. Tell us who is saying and writing what. Be careful out there, but there is a story here worth telling and it, probably, is just getting started.

Images: Some of the American bishops, in Damascus with Patriarch Ignatius (center, with his bishop’s staff). Icon of St. Peter and St. Paul meeting in Antioch.

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Roman holiday for Turkish converts?

church-of-the-holy-sepulchre-insideThis is a strange one, I know.

As a rule, your GetReligionistas focus our attention on the mistakes that mainstream journalists make, or the holy holes that they leave in stories, when they fail to “get religion.” We also like to praise news organizations when they get it right, but whenever we do that readers don’t leave many comments. So, you know, we have to focus on the negative.

With that as a prologue, please understand that I have no idea if the following Reuters report contains an hilarious error.

It could be that the story is completely accurate and that it is the leadership of the Turkish television station Kanal T that is responsible for this laugh-out-loud moment in the news. It could happen. Anyway, here is the top of the report:

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – What happens when you put a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk in a room with 10 atheists?

Turkish television station Kanal T hopes the answer is a ratings success as it prepares to launch a gameshow where spiritual guides from the four faiths will seek to convert a group of non-believers. The prize for converts will be a pilgrimage to a holy site of their chosen religion — Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.

OK, did you get it? Do you know enough about life Turkey — in the past and in the present — to laugh? A clue: Remember that Istanbul used to be known as Constantinople or even Byzantium. We’re talking about the city that literally looks up at the dome of Hagia Sophia.

Why would the station assume that the few Christians who still reside in Istanbul automatically decide to go to Rome? Isn’t it more likely that Eastern Orthodox Christians would choose to go to, well, Jerusalem? Wouldn’t the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (photo) be a more logical pilgrimage point than St. Peter’s Basilica?

Now trust me, I know that there are many Protestants in modern Turkey and a few Roman Catholics. I also know that the Eastern Orthodox community, after decades of abuse and outright persecution, is tragically small. Here’s a snippet of a column I wrote after my first visit to Istanbul:

The capital of Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. Yet 400,000 Orthodox Christians remained in greater Istanbul early in the 20th century. That number fell to 150,000 in 1960. Today fewer than 2,000 remain, the most symbolic minority in a land that is 99 percent Turkish. They worship in 86 churches served by 32 priests and deacons, most 60 or older.

Is this television show really offering a free ticket to Rome?

Meanwhile, the Reuters report does offer this insight into the politics behind the show. This is interesting stuff:

The makers of “Penitents Compete” are unrepentant and reject claims that the show, scheduled to begin broadcasting in September, will cheapen religion.

“We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God,” Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters. “We don’t approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe,” Soylu said.

The project focuses attention on the issue of religious identity in European Union-candidate Turkey, where rights groups have raised concerns over freedom of religion for non-Muslim minorities. Detractors of the ruling AK Party government, which is rooted in political Islam but officially secular, accuse it of having a hidden Islamist agenda, a charge it denies.

Some 200 people have so far applied to take part in the show and the 10 contestants will be chosen next month. A team of theologians will ensure that the atheists are truly non-believers and are not just seeking fame or a free holiday.

Ah, the religion beat. You can’t make this stuff up.

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In the steps of St. Tikhon

One of concepts that causes my journalism students the most grief is finding the line between making statements of personal opinion and making statements that draw logical conclusions from facts that have been stated on the record or verified in a document. It’s the line between editorial writing and news, when you get right down to it.

As I tell my students, there are times when journalists are allowed to take the publicly stated equation 2+2 and make it add up to 6 — as long as the reporter can show, in the story, where the additional information is coming from. Here is a perfect example of how this works, in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lede written by the Godbeat veteran Ann Rodgers — who has enough experience to get away with this kind of thing. Brace yourselves for blunt language:

BEDFORD, Texas – The spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church in America offered to begin talks aimed at full communion with the new Anglican Church in North America, then named a series of obstacles whose removal could tear apart the hard-won unity among the 100,000 theological conservatives who broke from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

“What will it take for a true ecumenical reconciliation? Because that is what I am seeking by being here today,” Metropolitan Jonah said to a standing ovation from 900 people assembled in a tent on the grounds of St. Vincent Cathedral in Bedford, Texas.

Now there’s history behind those words and we’ll get back to them in a minute.

The key to that lede — with its claim that Metropolitan Jonah both praised the new conservative Anglican body in North America and, at the same time, attacked its foundations — is based on simply, clear statements of doctrine. There is no way to write a news story about this long and very complex speech without knowing a thing or two or three (or more) about church history and doctrine. Without that, the Orthodox leader was speaking in an unknown tongue.

Rodgers noted that, with a smile, Metropolitan Jonah openly admitted that he was coming to deliver bad news, as well as good news. This was an offensive speech, but not a hateful one.

The good news was that the Orthodox Church in America was no longer interested in ecumenical talks with the liberal hierarchy of the U.S. Episcopal Church. The bad news — sure to offend many in the room, but not others — was that Orthodoxy believes that it’s impossible to mix Protestantism and ancient forms of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Them’s fighting words to people who accept the great “Anglican Compromise.”

Thus, we read:

Metropolitan Jonah named several issues that he said the two churches needed to “face head on” and resolve before they can achieve full communion. Among the most volatile on his list were the Calvinist theology taught by many evangelical Anglicans and the ordination of women as priests, which the new church allows each of its dioceses to accept or reject.

“Calvinism is a condemned heresy,” he said, to a smattering of applause from some Anglo-Catholics in the new church.

“For … intercommunion of the Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church, the issue of ordination of women needs to be resolved,” he said, again to applause from many of the same people.

“I believe women have a critical role to play in the church, but I do not believe it is in the [priesthood or as bishops],” he said. “Forgive me if this offends you.” He called for an effort to “creatively come together to find the right context for women’s ministry in the church.”

Now, I understand that it’s hard to get a handle on who is and who is not applauding during a speech. However, playing “spot the Anglo-Catholics” is not the key element of this story.

Tikhon_1The key is that Rodgers was able to back up that bold lede.

If you reject Calvinism, then you reject almost everyone in the low-church, Morning Prayer, red-and-black vestments wing of the global Anglican Communion. You are saying that the Protestant Reformation was, in large part, a tragic mistake, at least from the perspective of the Christian East. That’s a landmine if there ever was one, in a Communion built on the claim that John Calvin and the likes of St. John Chrysostom can thrive in the same pew (actually, the issue of pews would be problematic for the Orthodox anyway).

But what about the “good news” in this speech? You see, there is history at work there, as well, history in which the roots of Orthodox in North American were — briefly — intertwined with those of Anglo-Catholics. There was a moment in time when Orthodoxy came very close to recognizing the validity of Anglican orders, in a manner similar to state that currently exists between Rome and the East. These ancient churches recognize each other’s orders, even while living in a tragic state of broken Communion. That’s a complicated matter and Metropolitan Jonah’s speech provided a short sketch of the history.

Journalism being what it is, Rodgers has to hit at all of this terrain in even fewer words. The St. Tikhon she mentions was Bishop Tikhon, who came to America to start a multi-ethnic Orthodox body on this continent. However, he was called home to Moscow to become Russia’s patriarch — leading to clashes with the rising tide of Marxism and, eventually, his martyrdom. But that’s another story.

(Metropolitan Jonah) spoke of St. Tikhon, a 19th-century Russian Orthodox missionary to the United States who initiated a close relationship with the Episcopal Church that later cooled.

“We need to pick up where they left off,” he said. “I occupy the throne St. Tikhon held as the leader of the Orthodox Church in America. Our arms are wide open.”

The Anglican Church in North America hopes to be recognized as a new province of the 80 million-member global Anglican Communion, of which the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. province. The new church believes the Episcopal Church failed to uphold biblical authority and classic doctrines about matters ranging from the divinity of Jesus to biblical morality, a criticism that the Orthodox share.

The Orthodox Church in America is a self-governing daughter of the Russian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Jonah, who was elected last year in Pittsburgh, is a convert who was raised as an Episcopalian. He spoke with humor about both traditions, warning, “I’m afraid my talk will have something to offend just about everybody.”

Like I said, it’s hard to write about complex historical issues in public newspapers. This is an example of how you go about doing that. Amen.

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