Pinning a label on ‘Killing Eve’

FL670 1lgThere seems to have been a major misunderstanding of my post about veteran religion writer Julia Duin’s “Killing Eve” series in The Washington Times about sexism in India, with its main focus centering on gender-selection abortion of unborn females.

Some people thought I was attempting to assign a political label to the series. Here is a typical letter:

Terry, your questions about the political bent of these stories concern me. Most stories discussed on this blog seem to be political stories veiled as religious stories. As I have commented elsewhere, it seems that, in the press, at least the NYC/D.C. press, politics trumps religion. Many of us in Flyover Country are tired of everything being politicized.

Do stories on religion not get published if they don’t have a political angle? Or the correct political angle?

Posted by Chris Bolinger at 10:33 am on February 27, 2007

Actually, I was worried that the series would be labeled, in part because it is being printed in the Times and it focuses on abortion. I was hoping that many people would be open to reading the series, in part because it truly is about a connection in India, and in China, between modern technology and the ultimate form of sexism — an attempt to favor males by preventing females from even being born. I was asking, “Is this a liberal issue or a conservative issue?” My point is that the story is so stunning that it shatters the labels.

Meanwhile, the third piece of “The Killing of Eve” package is now online, focusing on the medical networks that allow the illegal practices to go on and on. The falling female birthrate then plugs into the global issue of sexual trafficking and another rare, but real, tragedy in India — ritual suicide.

Kavita Srivastava, a local lawyer and general secretary for the human rights organization People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said it’s no surprise so many doctors in Jaipur are guilty.

“The status of women is already low here because of the feudal Rajput culture,” she said, referring to the former ruling caste. “There are traditions in Rajasthan of women committing johar which is mass suicide or sati where a widow throws herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre. A woman’s entire identity was subsumed by her husband. If he died, so must she.”

Women who committed sati would have temples built in their honor, she added, and palaces in Rajasthan commonly have a wall displaying the last hand prints women left before they died. … In Rajasthan’s violent desert culture, baby girls were drowned in boiling milk or abandoned in a sand dune. Whole villages went decades without female children.

I’ll do a wrap up on Friday after the series is over, to see if there has been any kind of reaction from the usual suspects on these issues. What would silence mean?

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Getting real on the Middle East

middle eastBuried at 19 paragraphs into an A1 Wall Street Journal story on the religious tensions in the Gulf is a reference that appears to imply that religious issues are not part of the “real world.” Accessing the article requires an expensive log-in (which I don’t have — I am relying on a dead-pulp version), but props to Rod Dreher of Beliefnet’s Crunchy Con and the The Dallas Morning News for catching it Monday and calling us out for missing it.

Here is the paragraph in question, followed by Rod’s analysis:

Fear of Iran, of course, is anchored in real-world issues. Tehran’s nuclear research push has caused widespread jitters and prompted Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to suggest they might start nuclear programs, too. Iran’s involvement in Iraq since the toppling of Mr. Hussein’s Sunni tyranny has stirred real fear that Iraq will be led by a Shiite regime loyal to Tehran. [Emphasis mine -- RD]

Classic. It appears that religious concerns are not, in the view of this reporter, part of the “real world.” It appears that to this reporter and his editors, religion is a sideshow to the real world. And we wonder why our elites — and we who depend on them for news, information, analysis and leadership — have so much trouble understanding how the Middle East works.

I have never been to the Middle East (unless you count Turkey), and reporter Andrew Higgins writes from Muharraq, Bahrain, so I will defer to him on most matters regarding that area of that country. But based on what I have read in the past and now (Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis, The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam, a tremendous book), it must be said that one of the crucial mistakes American culture (including the media) has made over the years is underestimating the importance that Middle Eastern peoples attach to their religious faith in the “real world.”

The Journal should be credited for putting this article on the front page, but whoever was responsible for this insinuation should take a closer look at the situation in the Middle East.

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Sexism on page one, right?

weddingfantasyWhat if you picked up your morning newspaper and discovered that one of the nation’s veteran religion-beat specialists was beginning a massive four-part series on sexism and women’s rights in India. Would this surprise you?

What if the series focused on severe human-rights violations, including the painful issue of “dowry deaths” — in which the families of husbands literally murder wives whose parents do not come through with enough gold and swag. And then there are all of the links to the global illegal sex trade and slavery.

But what if day one in this series also included this passage on a different form of sexism:

In most places in the world, a mother can find out the sex of her unborn child, but in India, it’s illegal to do so. That is because if she’s a female, there is a good chance she will never be born. Roughly 6.7 million abortions occur yearly in India, but aborted girls outnumber boys by 500,000 — or 10 million over the past two decades — creating a huge imbalance between males and females in the world’s largest democracy.

Ratios of men to women are being altered at an unprecedented rate in India and neighboring China, two countries which account for 40 percent of the world’s population. According to UNICEF, India produces 25 million babies a year. China produces 17 million. Together, these are one-third of the world’s babies, so how their women choose to regulate births affects the globe.

Female infanticide — whereby tiny girls were either poisoned, buried alive or strangled — has existed for thousands of years in India. But its boy-to-girl ratio didn’t begin to widen precipitously until the advent of the ultrasound, or sonogram, machine in the 1970s, enabling a woman to tell the sex of her child by the fourth month of her pregnancy.

That coupled with the legalization of abortion in 1971 made it possible to dispose of an unwanted girl without the neighbors even knowing the mother was pregnant. In 2001, 927 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, significantly below the natural birth rate of about 952 girls for every 1,000 boys.

In many regions, however, this imbalance has reached alarming levels and it continues to grow. In 2004, the New Delhi-based magazine Outlook reported, sex ratios in the capital had plummeted to 818 girls for every 1,000 boys, and in 2005 they had slipped to 814.

The issue is highly sensitive for the Indian government, which had given the nation’s sex imbalance scant attention until this month.

So, is this series of articles by Julia Duin of The Washington Times “liberal” or “conservative”?

We are now into day two — the dowry death feature — and I think it will be interesting to see if there are any responses to these stories from women’s groups on either side of the political aisle. And then there are the religious elements. Duin makes it clear how elements of the caste system have bled out of Hindism and into the wider culture, even affecting the lives of Muslims and Christians. Who will respond to these stories? The National Council of Churches or the National Association of Evangelicals? Neither? Both?

The story is religious, but it is also cultural (as is almost always the case). There are economic and political elements, too.

And India is not alone. Consider this other large chunk of the first installment:

Early this year, the British medical journal Lancet estimated the male-female gap at 43 million. Worldwide, Lancet said, there are 100 million “missing girls” who should have been born but were not. Fifty million of them would have been Chinese and 43 million would have been Indian. The rest would have been born in Afghanistan, South Korea, Pakistan and Nepal.

China gave an even bleaker assessment last month, with the government saying that its men will outnumber women in the year 2020 by 300 million. One Geneva-based research center, in a 2005 update on the phenomenon, termed it “the slaughter of Eve.”

“What we’re seeing now is genocide,” says Sabu George, a New Delhi-based activist. “We will soon exceed China in losing 1 million girls a year.”

The date may already be here. In a report released Dec. 12, UNICEF said India is “missing” 7,000 girls a day or 2.5 million a year.

Although India has passed laws forbidding sex-specific abortions, legions of compliant doctors and lax government officials involved in India’s $100 million sex-selection industry have made sure they are rarely enforced. Several companies, notably General Electric Corp., have profited hugely from India’s love affair with the ultrasound machine.

As a result, a new class of wifeless men are scouring eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal for available women. India, already a world leader in sex trafficking, is absorbing a new trade in girls kidnapped or sold from their homes and shipped across the country.

Kidnapping Eve. The slavery of Eve. The raping of Eve. The slaughter of Eve. The hanging, the burning, of Eve.

This is sexism, correct? This is a human-rights story, right? So, thus, this is not “conservative” journalism. Right?

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James Cameron to Christians: It’s over

James Cameron vs. jesus christThe hype machine for James Cameron‘s documentary The Lost Tomb of Christ has hit Anna Nicole Smith levels of ridiculousness.

An allegation that Jesus Christ’s body has been found is an interesting story. The fact that some big-name moviemaker is behind it adds to the spice and makes it a very legitimate story. But the silliness of the headlines, the hypothetical evidence, poor background information (likely fed by Cameron’s PR machine) and the hype factor all add up to give people who take religious issues seriously just another reason to ignore the media. And that’s too bad.

The story at this point is an embarrassment to reporters. It’s why they have a bad name in religious circles. As Amy Welborn said, “It’s nonsense, but you know what … Easter is coming!!!

When did a filmmaker turned amateur historian become a reliable source for questions related to archeology? Well, since his facts were based on “sound statistics,” as he put it. We all know what they teach journalists in training about statistics (“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts — for support rather than illumination” — Andrew Lang).

The documentary is running on The Discovery Channel on March 4. Yes, this is the same channel that airs documentaries that make you want to believe we are visited frequently by UFOs.

One of my favorite quotes comes from an Associated Press piece by Marshall Thompson that draws on interviews the filmmakers did with various television stations:

Cameron told NBC’S “Today” show that statisticians found “in the range of a couple of million to one in favor of it being them.” Simcha Jacobovici, the Toronto filmmaker who directed the documentary, said the implications “are huge.”

“But they’re not necessarily the implications people think they are. For example, some believers are going to say, well this challenges the resurrection. I don’t know why, if Jesus rose from one tomb, he couldn’t have risen from the other tomb,” Jacobovici told “Today.”

The range of a million to one? What kind of statistical basis is that for any serious discussion, and what is Jacobovici trying to tell us with that cryptic statement about the implications? It confuses me. Things like that should be explained.

Another problem with the AP piece is including this comment by Cameron:

Cameron said his critics should withhold comment until they see his film.

“I’m not a theologist [sic]. I’m not an archaeologist. I’m a documentary film maker,” he said.

coffinSo let’s all follow Cameron’s advice and not write about the film until it comes out? Um, no. He’s not a theologian or an archaeologist, but just a documentary filmmaker. Then why are news organizations reporting his words as gospel truth (pardon the pun)? This is a highly scripted media campaign that is relying on all the free publicity provided by eager reporters looking for a story to write. The final paragraph of the AP report, relating to the experts who heavily criticized the documentary, is especially ironic:

None of the experts interviewed by The Associated Press had seen the whole documentary.

Did Thompson see the film?

My favorite press release news article comes from our friends at Newsweek, who were tipped off to the news much earlier than the rest of us, giving them time to put together a 2,100-word piece documenting the controversy.

Reporters Lisa Miller and Joanna Chen cite all the usual naysayers but frame their words as equal to that of the moviemakers, whose credibility in these matters is self-admittedly lower.

Time magazine’s Middle East blog post on the matter is lame:

Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you ‘The Titanic[,]‘ is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he’s sinking is Christianity.

The New York Times is no better:

Raising the Titanic, Sinking Christianity?

The media pack will likely follow this story to its airing in March. We will have gained little from it other than the knowledge that the media can be conned by clever PR tactics into writing a set of dubious stories that do little to sort out established facts from amateurish speculation.

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Episcopalians in the dock (day two)

CourtroomJudgeWe are now in day two of the post-Dar es Salaam world and the focus is moving — as it should in U.S. newspapers — back to the local and national angles of this global Anglican crisis.

As you would imagine, the Episcopal Church establishment is not very happy at the moment.

Clearly, the Global South primates intend to keep the First World leaders on the witness stand. Click here for yesterday’s post that contains many links to commentary on both sides in the blogosphere. It is no surprise that many Episcopalians are now saying that it’s time to take their cathedral keys and walk away.

The bluntest language is in The Washington Post (no wire story today), and The New York Times has a defiant quote from the bishop of the Diocese of New York, which should raise some eyebrows. It is also refreshing that the left wing of the Episcopal Church is now being ultra-candid and, thus, so is the mainstream press. Check out the lede on Laurie Goodstein’s roundup in the Times:

There was a time when the Episcopal Church in the United States was known as “the Republican Party at prayer,” but in the last 30 years it has evolved into the Rainbow Coalition of Christianity.

There are hip-hop Masses, American Indian rituals to install a new presiding bishop and legions of gay and straight priests who don the rainbow stoles of gay liberation. Its pews are full of Roman Catholics and Christians from other traditions attracted by its aura of radical acceptance.

Now the conservatives who numerically dominate the global Anglican Communion have handed their Episcopal branch in the United States an ultimatum that requires the church to reel in the rainbow if it wants to remain a part of the Communion.

Many would raise questions about that remark that Episcopal “pews are full,” since the church is still in an era of statistical decline and its few megachurches tend to lean right, especially across the Sunbelt. Still, I think Goodstein’s point is solid. There was a time when most converts to the Episcopal Church came from the evangelical side of the aisle. Today, what flow there is — especially in blue zip codes — probably comes from the edgy left. That has to affect the climate in the all-powerful Northeast region of the church that surrounds the major media.

Anyway, the Episcopal Church has always attracted converts. The interesting question is why its membership numbers decline, even with converts coming in the doors. But I digress.

Here is one of the hot quotes that will be making the online rounds today:

In interviews yesterday, some liberal and moderate leaders who constitute a majority in the American church voiced everything from confusion to serious misgivings to defiance. Many took umbrage at what they saw as meddling by foreign primates who are imposing their culture and theological interpretations on the American church.

“Being part of the Anglican Communion is very important to me,” said Bishop Mark S. Sisk of New York. “But if the price of that is I have to turn my back on the gay and lesbian people who are part of this church and part of me, I won’t do that.”

Meanwhile, there are some Episcopalians who think they have spotted a way out of this latest trial. The key person is former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Jim Naughton, who now serves as the spokesman for the Diocese of Washington.

OtisCharlesWeddingWhat’s his take? Click here (and here) to find out. But here is his theory in the Times report, although in this case it is being voiced by other people. Interesting.

The communique calls for the House of Bishops to “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions.”

Some liberals yesterday were latching on to what they saw as a loophole because the wording specified that the bishops would not “authorize” rites. There are many bishops who have not formally authorized ceremonial rites for gay unions, but who nevertheless allow priests to perform them. If this is all the communique is requiring, they suggested, the Episcopal Church can live with that.

“Blessings happen, sure,” said Bishop Sisk of New York. “But I didn’t authorize them.”

So Sisk is willing to leave the Anglican Communion, but he doesn’t think he’s guilty as charged. Interesting.

Meanwhile, the big news in Alan Cooperman’s piece in the Post is not in the lede. You have to scroll down a bit for the good stuff.

One of the key passages in the Tanzania communique was the request — some would say “demand” — by the primates that lawyers on both sides stop fighting over the properties and assets of the conservative parishes that want to remain Anglican, but flee the Episcopal Church. This is a huge story in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington.

So Cooperman did talk with “Martyn Minns” of Truro Church in Fairfax — note that there is no “Bishop,” no “Rt. Rev.,” no “the Rev.,” no nothing in front of his name — and with the Diocese of Virginia.

U.S. conservatives hailed the communique. Martyn Minns, of Truro Church in Fairfax, one of 15 Northern Virginia congregations that have voted since 2005 to separate from the Episcopal Church, said it gives the U.S. church just “one last chance.”

… The communique also recommends against litigation to settle property disputes between Episcopal dioceses and departing congregations. Minns, now a bishop in a missionary branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, said he hoped that the Episcopal bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, would agree to mediation.

But Patrick Getlein, spokesman for the Virginia diocese, said it has no plan to drop its legal claims. The departures “set in motion a spiritual and legal conflict that at this point remains unresolved,” he said.

I think it will be interesting to see if a split begins on the Episcopal left between those who are ready to leave the Anglican Communion and those who want to fight on. The question, of course, is how a departure by the Episcopal Church would affect the standings of millions and millions of dollars in property and endowments. Is there a document somewhere that defines the “Episcopal Church” as the body that is in communion with Canterbury?

Let me stress that Naughton’s theory about the U.S. simply declining to “authorize” an “official” liturgy has merit — as spin and as a tactic in a legal argument. The wording is what it is. Still, I don’t think there is any doubt about the intent of the primates in the communique document as a whole.

In my Scripps Howard News Service column this week, I note that the Episcopal Church has been using this “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to same-sex rites for some time now. The primates know that and have addressed that issue in the communique.

One final question, if I may. Are there bishops in the Church of England who are using this same “look the other way” strategy on same-sex rites? And does the Tanzania communique apply to them as well? Just asking.

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The “official,” “authorized” word from Tanzania

CanterburyNuke1It’s hard to know where to start with all of the coverage of the Anglican primates story, now that the late-late-night negotiations are over and the official statements are out.

(Yes, the Canterbury nuke graphics are back — even though a schism was avoided — because of the explosive nature of some of the results of the conference.)

First, let me clear up a key point in the Associated Press report by Elizabeth A. Kennedy — which led to a few puzzled emails coming my way. Here is how that wire story begins:

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – Anglican leaders demanded yesterday that the U.S. Episcopal Church unequivocally bar official prayers for same-sex couples and stop consecrating any more homosexual bishops to undo the damage North Americans have caused within the Anglican faith.

In a statement ending a tense six-day meeting, the leaders said that past pledges by the U.S. denomination on homosexual unions and consecrations have been so ambiguous that they have failed to mend “broken relationships” in the 77-million-member global Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of Anglicanism, must clarify its position by Sept. 30 or its relations with other Anglicans will remain “damaged at best.”

For starters, there are two crucial documents being discussed. One is the rough draft of a global Anglican Covenant that is supposed to draw some theological borders for life in the communion (don’t hold your breath on that one). The second is the statement mentioned in Kennedy’s lede — the Communique stating the decisions reached by the archbishops during their closed-door sessions.

The AP lede makes it sound as if the Anglican Communion has somehow tried to ban all “prayers” for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. The word “prayers” is just too vague and “official” further confuses the point.

This is crucial, because the this is the section of the communique by the primates that is open to some spin and interpretation. Here is the actual statement itself:

… (We) believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.

What Kennedy meant to write was that the primates took a stand against “authorized” and, thus, official, Rites of Blessing on same-sex unions. In other words, formal, Prayer Book-style rites that resemble marriage are out. But there is the rub. The Episcopal Church has not — as the communique mentions — created an authorized rite of this kind. What has happened is that many dioceses have started using informal, unofficial rites of their own. Anglican insiders usually call this a “local option” approach.

Many people are going to read the AP lede and be further confused.

So read the materials on your own. There are all kinds of websites running all kinds of info on the fallout from Tanzania, but here are some essential places to start. On the left, head back to daily episcopalian, Father Jake Stops the World and epiScope, the official Episcopal Church website. On the right, head over to Titus One Nine, the CaNN Web Elves and Stand Firm in Faith. You will find all kinds of links at these sites to documents, press coverage, transcripts, reaction statements, etc.

For Episcopal leaders, the key question, as always, is: What did The New York Times say? Here is the lede on that story:

Facing a possible churchwide schism, the Anglican Communion yesterday gave its Episcopal branch in the United States less than eight months to ban blessings of same-sex unions or risk a reduced role in the world’s third-largest Christian denomination.

Anglican leaders also established a separate council and a vicar to help address the concerns of conservative American dioceses that have been alienated by the Episcopal Church’s support of gay clergy and blessings of same-sex unions. Although the presiding American bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, agreed to the arrangement, some conservatives described it as an extraordinary check on her authority.

The directive, issued after a five-day meeting of three dozen top leaders of the Anglican church gathering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, constituted a severe rebuke of the small but affluent American branch. Conservative Anglicans described the communique as a landmark document that affirms the primacy of Scripture and church doctrine for the world’s 77 million Anglicans, only 2.3 million of whom are Episcopalians.

CanterburyNuke2 01That’s a solid summary. However, as you can see, these lede also raises the same question: The primates tried to ban the blessing of same-sex unions. But will the Episcopal Church’s leaders insist that the document only bans “authorized” rites of this kind? Thus, since there is no such national rite, there is nothing “official” to ban. That’s the question.

Out of all of the stories that I have seen (The Washington Post ran a wire report, even though the primates seemed to focus attention on the legal wars in northern Virginia!), I think that Cathy Lynn Grossman’s report in USA TODAY was the most ambitious — trying to sum up both documents and the possible impact of these conflict on other oldline Protestant denominations. Here is the top of that story:

Leaders of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion — deeply divided over the biblical view of homosexuality and other issues — ended a contentious six-day meeting in Tanzania Monday with the first steps toward a set of core principles spelling out who is truly Anglican and who is not.

The feared schism and expulsion of the liberal U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, did not happen, but a new set of requirements was issued in yet another effort to quell seething tensions between the western church and the conservative churches of Africa and South America.

The USA’s Episcopal Church may be tiny, with just 2.2 million members, but the affluent, historic denomination has influence in American culture far beyond its numbers. The choices it makes and the consequences it faces may well be played out in other, larger Protestant denominations.

At the end of her report, Grossman spotted another key wording that will lead to debate. The rough draft of the covenent says that Anglican churches will commit to:

… (U)phold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches.

Once again, there’s the rub. Can Anglicans agree on what the Bible says about these issues? Ditto for centuries of “catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition.” If Anglicans could agree on the content and authority of scripture and church traditions, this conflict would not be dragging on and on, decade after decade.

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Rome on the rise in England?

AugustineCanterburyIf you didn’t know better, you would think that The Times of London is trying to tell us something.

While religion writer Ruth Gledhill has been slaving away trying to cover the behind-closed-door negotiations among the Anglican primates in Tanzania, she has also been serving up print and online reports about another major religion story or two, stories that hinge on a high-profile role for the Church of Rome in England.

The Anglican powers that be are buzzing about Gledhill’s article focusing on longstanding talks to promote unity between Rome and Canterbury. That’s interesting, but there is nothing all that new there. More on that subject in a moment.

No, the story that interests me is this one, which ran in The Times a few days earlier under the headline “Catholics set to pass Anglicans as leading UK church.” Here’s the key piece of information, the pesky fact in this story:

Average Sunday attendance of both churches stood even at nearly one million in 2005, according to the latest statistics available for England and Wales, but the attendance at Mass is expected to soar.

A Church of England spokesman said: “I don’t think you can talk in terms of decline in the Church of England. It is fairly clear that with small fluctuations the worshipping population of the Church of England is 1.7 million a month. That is actually a stable figure.”

Note that the article is discussing worship attendence. The state Church of England rarely mentions membership statistics — 27 million is one estimate — because so many people in Great Britain are nominal members. Church statistics claim that about 1.2 million people attend church each week. Attendance plunged in the second half of the 20th Century.

Meanwhile, the Roman church has had its own problems with numbers and statistics. Nevertheless, it would be a huge shift in British life if, once again, the Catholic Church was the dominant body Sunday after Sunday. Gledhill makes it clear that this is not because the Roman church has found a way to defeat the growing secularism in England.

Roman Catholicism is set to become the dominant religion in Britain for the first time since the Reformation because of massive migration from Catholic countries across the world. Catholic parishes will swell by hundreds of thousands over the next few years after managing years of decline, according to a new report, as both legal and illegal migrants enter the country. It says that the influx of migrants could be the Catholic community’s “greatest threat” or its “greatest opportunity.”

Here’s the question for me: If Anglicanism needs more people in its pews, is the Roman crisis that (no surprise here ) the Vatican needs more men at its British altars?

It is in this context that the much ballyhooed Gledhill story about “unity” between Canterbury and Rome makes some sense. While the Anglican primates have struggled to find unity in their own communion, it seems to me that Gledhill is convinced that some Anglicans are continuing to talk about new ties to Rome — after a split in the Church of England. This is not a new topic.

No one thinks that Rome and Canterbury are going to be able to agree on — for starters — the issue of the ordination of women. The Anglican establishment could never back down there. No way.

But what if, in the context of a new Anglican-Rite Roman Church, the Vatican was willing to compromise on mandatory celibacy for priests? Thus, Gledhill writes concerning the tense gathering in Tanzania:

Were this week’s discussions to lead to a split between liberals and conservatives, many of the former objections in Rome to a reunion with Anglican conservatives would disappear. Many of those Anglicans who object most strongly to gay ordination also oppose the ordination of women priests.

Rome has already shown itself willing to be flexible on the subject of celibacy when it received dozens of married priests from the Church of England into the Catholic priesthood after they left over the issue of women’s ordination.

This is interesting to think about, while continuing to read about the warfare behind closed doors at the highest levels of the Anglican Communion. Where will the Anglican right go for Communion — with a large C — if the establishment Anglican left is triumphant?

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In praise of “corporate” communion

FinalCareyMassSo far, I think that a new editorial in the Telegraph should win some kind of prize for capturing the atmosphere at the Anglican primates meetings in Dar es Salaam.

Here’s the heart of the piece:

What on earth is going on at the meeting of Anglican primates in Tanzania? One virtually needs a doctorate in ecclesiology to answer that question. Hard-line liberal and conservative factions are threatening to walk out of the Anglican Communion (which really no longer exists, since they decline to take Communion with each other) unless complicated theological demands are met. The word “schism” is flying around Dar Es Salaam — but it seems to mean something different every time it is used.

… Confused? If so, you are in good company. But there is one point on which nobody should be confused. If evangelicals or rainbow-coalition liberals reject the authority of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and place themselves under the jurisdiction of an overseas primate, they will have left the Church of England.

In other words, it is easier for Anglicans to compromise on issues of doctrine and sacraments (take marriage, for example) than it is for them to compromise at the level of structure and property laws. As always, the crucial question remains: When push comes to shove, will the powers that be in Canterbury — the Archbishop of Canterbury and the staff that surrounds him — back the Third World traditionalists or the First World modernists? In the end, whoever is in Communion with Canterbury gets to keep the keys to the nearest First World cathedral, seminary and endowment vault — period.

So, what is at the heart of Anglicanism? Is it doctrine or a cultural tradition (I call it “NPR at prayer”) rooted in property laws, music, architecture, ritual, structure and history? Is this a theological communion or a corporate one?

I have listened to people debate that question ever since the mid-1980s. In the end, there is no answer that provides unity because one side wants unity in doctrine and the other side insists that the only core, uniting Anglican doctrine is that there are no core doctrines that cannot be molded to fit the times. One camp wants dogmatic theology and flexible property laws. The other wants dogmatic property laws and flexible theology.

Can anyone who has written about the Anglican wars for more than a month imagine a scenario in which Canterbury chooses to offend the world of NPR and the BBC? What would people say in the faculty club at Oxford? The editorial board of The New York Times? Clearly, the only solution is for the resolutions and negotiations and amendments and dialogues to go on and on and on until the Third World cracks and is willing to compromise — or flee. When you yearn for a modernized faith, all compromises move closer to the truth — although some move faster than others. When you yearn for the ancient faith, all compromises move away from the faith of the ages.

So when covering Anglicans, reporters should always look for signs of private negotiations toward compromise led by the British. The odds — and centuries of Anglican tradition — are with you.

You can sense that this is the final soluation in a recent interview with retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey (pictured at his farewell Eucharist). This link is to The Dallas Morning News, but the interview was conducted by Kristen Campbell of the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.

There are divisions in the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality and the ordination. How would you describe the state of the Anglican Communion?

I now think that the global south and a lot of conservative churches in this country and in other parts of the world are going to pull away.

What would it take for the two sides to talk to one another?

There’s a lot of sensible people on both sides who are talking and trying to resolve the situation. I do think, though, that the American church has been irresponsible with regard to this because the appointment of [openly gay New Hampshire Bishop] Gene Robinson has created division and wrecked mission in the church. We must care for homosexuals in the life of the church — but there is an issue here of obedience to Scripture.

trinity chalice JPGCarey, of course, is an evangelical. Thus, he refers to this conflict primarily in terms of Scripture. Anglo-Catholics would care about Scripture, of course, but they would be much more likely to speak just as strongly about ancient creeds and church tradition.

This is another point of confusion. One reason — other than a shortage of veteran, trained religion reporters — that the MSM is tempted to think that this battle is only about homosexuality is that leaders in low-church and high-church Anglican circles have long been upset about trends in the global communion, but it took the consecration of a noncelibate gay bishop for these competing camps (plus the charismatics!) on the theological right to agree that a crisis was at hand.

Now everyone is waiting for a new Anglican covenant that is supposed to keep the extremes in check. The best story today on this topic is by New York Times reporters Sharon LaFraniere and the veteran Laurie Goodstein. They are clear that the First World, at this moment, is running the show in Tanzania. The wealthy Americans are doing quite alright.

By Friday, conservative Anglicans said they were starting to despair that the meeting here would produce neither of their goals: a condemnation and marginalizing of the Episcopal Church, or a new church structure for American conservatives who want to leave the Episcopal Church but remain within the Anglican Communion.

“Conservatives are very disappointed,” said Timothy Shah, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in Washington. “They have the feeling that the policy of the archbishop of Canterbury and the leadership of the Episcopal Church is one of indefinite delay in the hopes that aging conservative primates will retire and eventually be replaced by people who are more open to a negotiated settlement.”

Liberal Episcopalians, on the other hand, were encouraged that the number of primates — the term for the leaders of Anglican provinces — who refused to take Communion at this meeting was only seven, about half the number who refused two years ago.

On that same topic — unity in Holy Communion — the quote of the day belonged to the spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church headquarters in New York City, who attacked the conservative archbishops for refusing to join the First World progressives at the altar for Holy Communion. The Los Angeles Times reported:

“There is an understanding that we come to the table of Christ to share in the body of Christ,” said the Rev. Jan Nunley, the church’s deputy for communication. “It’s a symbol of our corporate unity, and for them to absent themselves from that is really sad.”

Cynics might say that the word “corporate” in that statement could have two meanings. How can the body of the church be united if its bishops — the defenders of doctrine — cannot agree on basic doctrines linked to sacraments, the nature of God, salvation and Christology? Yes, sexuality is a big issue, too.

This much is clear. The schism at the altar is rooted in one reality — clashing beliefs about the role of Scripture, creed, sacraments and tradition in the life of the Anglican Communion. Is the unity supposed to be rooted in doctrine, or property laws?

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