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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A Methodist seeks nirvana?


Occasionally (well, more than occasionally) we find, or are sent, stories that fall into what I call our “say what?” category. Sometimes these articles contain grossly incorrect or poorly used words or terms. More often, the writer seems to be assuming that his or her readers understand the assumptions behind the story without having to spell them out. And sometimes, I’ve come to believe, regional assumptions also plays a role.

Take this story from the website about a candidate for a local state house race. Turns out that Erik Curren is, gasp, a “practicing Buddhist.”

A victory in the suddenly wide-open 20th District state House race could make Erik Curren a minority of one.

None of the General Assembly’s current 140 members list Buddhism as their religion. Curren, the Democratic nominee in the 20th, is a practicing Buddhist who also attends a Methodist church.

A prominent local Democrat, Augusta County Supervisor Tracy Pyles has raised Curren’s faith as a potential problem in November, even as Republicans scramble to field a candidate in the wake of Chris Saxman’s withdrawal from the race.

Hmmm….where to start? Saying that someone is a Buddhist is just slightly less generic than saying someone is a Christian. What school of Buddhist thought and practice does Curren follow? Is he a Buddhist committed to a daily devotional practice? Does he see the Buddhist tradition as a standard for ethical and moral behavior? Is he politically active on behalf of persecuted Buddhist minorities?

Buddhist generally don’t believe in a unique soul, as far as I know. Rebirth rather than resurrection is part of the Buddhist faith. While some believe in a God, that’s certainly not a central part of the tradition — and it’s not a God who looks like the Judeo-Christian God. So how does Curren reconcile the two faiths?

How come the reporter didn’t ask him? My guess would be that Stuart is treating the story more a political than a religious one. But if one the purposes is to inform readers so that they can make a choice, this type of story fans the flames of ignorance.

Clearly, Curren doesn’t see his practice as merely a lifestyle option.

The whole thing really surprises me,” Curren said. “My religious faith is really important to me … it’s been an impetus and an inspiration to support the community and show empathy for others.”

Curren began practicing Buddhism after inquiring into the religion more than a decade ago. He later authored a book, “Buddh’s Not Smiling,” exploring corruption among Tibetan Buddhist leaders.

It’s not clear how the information about Curren’s practice surfaced to begin with, giving the article kind of a “gotcha” quality. Stuart does include some interesting information about cultural and ethnic diversity in the state, and includes some good quotes from the usual suspects — politicians and academics.

Imagine a reporter writing this story in San Francisco or New York City — not. I could be wrong — a Buddhist practitioner or, say, a Mormon running for local office among the Hasidim in Brooklyn could make a fascinating tale. What draws our attention is the notion of introducing diversity, religious and/or political, into an area which may not have had much experience with it. But even THAT issue isn’t discussed by local residents — who would know.

So a few quotes from voters, and some analysis of the culture of the 20th district would have helped readers understand why a candidate who practices Buddhism might be controversial in what one person quoted describes as a “more homogenous, Christian district.”

There’s are a lot of interesting facets that really could be examined — from local culture to individual faith to separation of church and state. But what have readers learned at the article’s end? Another politician, caught with a potential hot potato that may or may not affect his electability? Let’s hope the public finds other ways to get the information that they really need to make an informed decision on Erik Curren. Or maybe Stuart will do a follow-up that addresses the religious issues.

I know we have some readers much more familiar with Buddhism than I am. What would YOU like to ask Erik Curren?

Picture of monestary in Carmel, N.Y, from Wikimedia Commons.

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In the beauty of holiness


Architecture is one of the more neglected corners of religion coverage, but occasionally a conflict about historic preservation revives the theme. National Public Radio’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported in 2008 about the battle between Third Church of Christ, Scientist, and city officials over the church’s desire to replace its Brutalist-style facility. (That battle rages on, and this website tracks the latest developments, from the perspective of church members.)

Godbeat veteran Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune has written a brief but wonderful report on preservationists within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the lovely buildings they have saved — and tried without success to save. Be sure to watch the seven-minute multimedia presentation that accompanies her article.

These preservationists must negotiate with church leaders based in Salt Lake City, and the report makes clear that the church tries to be responsive, even while guarding its higher priorities:

Landmark LDS temples, tabernacles and meetinghouses could be maintained if they have “significant history, art or architecture,” says Steve Olson, a member of the church’s historic-site committee. “But the church is not in the preservation business. We don’t just preserve things because they’re pretty. Our buildings need to continue to facilitate the work of the church, which is saving souls.”

… In February 1971, LDS leaders decided to demolish the Coalville Tabernacle, a magnificent edifice rising like a cathedral from the Summit County farmland. Every day for a week, The New York Times reported the progress of a group of residents working furiously to win a restraining order against the church. When a judge overturned the order, Mormon officials didn’t hesitate. Two days later, a testament to the devotion of early Saints was reduced to rubble.

A generation of LDS preservationists was born that day. And the church learned that many people — in and outside the church — care about preserving physical evidence of LDS faith and faithfulness.

As Stack reports, the 1970s were just as brutal on historic LDS structures as on so many other landmarks. For anyone who has visited a nondescript LDS ward built in that decade, or in many of the years since then, Stack’s article documents the beauty that once was.

Photo: The former Coalville Tabernacle.

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Bishops consider divines disobedience


When it comes to same-sex couples living together, with (or without) sex, New England has a reputation for being just a little bit more innovative than the rest of the country. Not for nothing was such an arrangement in the 19th century termed a “Boston marriage.”

Now, as Boston Globe reporter Michael Paulson writes, Episcopal bishops in New England find themselves in the fascinating situation of having the denomination’s tacit O.K. to gay blessings — but not having its permission to allow their clergy to officiate at gay marriages (yet).

Episcopal bishops in New England and Iowa, the only parts of the nation where same-sex marriage is legal, are preparing for a wave of requests to allow priests to oversee the ceremonies as the result of a decision last week by the Episcopal Church that opens the door to church weddings for gay couples.

In interviews yesterday, none of several bishops interviewed said they were immediately prepared to allow priests to officiate at same-sex weddings, which remain prohibited by the canons of the Episcopal Church.

But, citing the denomination’s decision Friday to allow bishops in states where same-sex marriage is legal to “provide generous pastoral response” to same-sex couples, the bishops indicated that they are looking for ways to allow priests to at least celebrate, if not perform, gay nuptials in church.

Note the use of the word “immediately” in the second paragraph. Don’t you get a sense of immanence?

The fact is that many diocesan bishops including Thomas Shaw of Massachusets (as Paulson notes), have already been allowing for blessing of gay unions. Paulson doesn’t have quotes indicating that some bishops are considering allowing their clergy to officiate at gay marriages — but given that the denomination has authorized members to gather materials for same-sex marriage, it’s got to be in the back of of some of their minds. Maybe that’s what Bishop Lane means by “flexibility” and “good pastoral judgements.”

Paulson, a very able writer sitting in the midst of progressive ground zero, has a rather unusual opportunity to ask the bishops some pointed questions. One question that I’d like answered — what is the effective difference between offering a blessing on a relationship and celebrating a marriage? Is the only difference a piece of paper needed by the state?

OR is there a theological difference? Isn’t this flap really about asking God’s blessing? Funny the way those quoted seldom mention the one who is supposed to be the chief actor.

In the meantime, there is some real news here — that the bishops are trying to come up with a united response to the expected hordes of requests to officiate at gay marriages. The other striking aspect of the article, at least to me, was New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson’s desire to wall off civil marriage from church ceremonies.

“My feeling is that it’s time to separate the civil action from the religious action for all couples, and my guess is that we will continue that practice, which is to say we will ask clergy to get out of the civil marriage business and continue to offer the church’s blessings of civil unions and of same-gender marriages,” said Robinson. As a practical matter, that means marriages are solemnized by justices of the peace, who sign the legal documents, and then blessed by clergy.

Who exactly is the “we” here? The local bishops? The Episcopal Church? Bishops Gene Robinson and Tom Shaw? Seriously, having ministers stop officiating at marriages is a very big step, one that hasn’t gotten a huge amount of media attention. Let’s see if it gets more.

I’ve heard the argument both ways — get churches out of the marriage biz, or get the state out of approving marriages. Frankly, I can’t see either happening any time soon — but I’m glad to see Paulson publicize the dilemmas that loom for bishops in a geographic region where the state has actually gotten out ahead of the Episcopal Church. It’s hard to tell if a coordinated response will even be possible.

I imagine that it’s almost as exciting being a New England journalist as it is being one in, say, California. You never know, until later, if you are in the vanguard, or on the fringe.

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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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NYTs lands a big story (maybe)

Robinson, Bishop V EugeneAny longtime reader of GetReligion knows that the gang here likes Q&A interviews, especially when they allow newsmakers to dig deeper into complex topics and tell their own stories in their own words. I think this journalistic tool is especially valuable on the religion beat — which is so rich in history, symbolism and doctrine.

At the same time, as we saw the other day with that interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this format can produce awkward moments. What happens when the newsmaker says something that is a real eyebrow raiser? Is the journalist obligated to recognize this and probe deeper, which might anger the person being interviewed?

What should a journalist do with a newsmaker makes a strong fact claim that just doesn’t sound right? Should the journalist (a) jump back and ask for some kind of source for the fact? Or should the reporter (b) research the answer later and actually publish a correction, offering links to evidence that may or may not undercut the viewpoint of the newsmaker?

Take, for example, the New York Times interview that veteran Godbeat reporter Laurie Goodstein’s just conducted with the openly gay bishop whose 2003 consecration — in the dominant mass-media timeline — is turning the global Anglican Communion upside down.

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson is a busy man at the moment, since he is the living symbol of the Episcopal Church establishment’s sweeping victories this week on the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians and the green light for more official work on gender-neutral marriage liturgies. The bishop obviously chose his venue carefully, speaking to the journalistic bible of a church rooted in the elite structures of the Northeast’s urban corridor.

Q: Thank you for making the time. You must have a lot of interview requests.

A: Yes, and I’m not doing any interviews, except this one. A lot of requests came in after the bishops’ first vote on Monday (to allow for the consecration of more gay bishops). Of course, the possibility of there being another gay bishop in the House is something I’ve longed for for a long time. But I didn’t feel like talking. I felt very sober. I know that what we’ve done here will be very difficult for a lot of people in that room, and in the Communion.

There is much here for Episcopalians and Anglicans to read and to mull over, as the events roll forward.

However, it was an answer near the end that caught my eye and raised some questions.

Q: What has been the fallout of all of this on your own diocese, in New Hampshire? Have you lost many church members?

A: Except for one parish in Rochester early on, no. That left about 15 people in that congregation, they met for about a year, and then asked me to close them down because there weren’t enough people to sustain a continued parish. That’s all. That’s it. There’s no one, no priests or parishes associated with the breakaway groups. Our diocese grew by 3 percent last year. …

Q: Who are you pulling in?

A: We have received so many Roman Catholics and young families, particularly families who are saying, “We don’t want to raise our daughters in a church that doesn’t value young people in our church.”

While I am sure that Robinson’s take on the Catholic Church will cause a few ripples, I don’t expect much fallout — largely because ecumenical dialogues between the Episcopal Church and most U.S. Catholic leaders were already so tense.

No, what caught my interest was his statement that membership in the New Hampshire diocese has been growing, during this national and global firestorm. Now, he says that his flock grew 3 percent “last year.” I would assume that this is the church year 2007-2008.

Anyway, a sudden burst of growth would be highly unusual in the context of a liberal mainline church. The bishop could also be making an indirect reference to attendance, rather than membership.

Still, I urge readers to click here and check out the official statistics (it’s a .pdf document) over at — which show that membership numbers in the New Hampshire diocese declined 18.1 percent between 1997 and 2007. And recently? They fell 9.4 percent between 2003 and 2007. In the most recent year on the chart — 2006-2007 — the diocese lost 1.3 percent of its active, baptized members. The bishop told the Times that his diocese currently has 15,000 members, while the chart shows 14,160 for 2006-2007.

It’s true that church statistics are often produced with smoke and mirrors — but with the numbers higher than they should be. Robinson’s flock may have taken a leap forward on the charts in 2007-2008. But that would be a very unusual and very, very newsworthy change in the recent fortunes of that diocese (and strange for an Episcopal diocese in the Northeast, as well).

In other words, this Q&A in the Times contains a big news story — one that would shock many Anglicans around the world. If it’s true.

As I said earlier, I do not know if major newspapers are supposed to verify the accuracy of the information that they publish — with clear attribution — in these kinds of verbatim interviews. However, at the very least, this shocker deserved a follow-up question.

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Baptists planting roots in Balmer?

baltimorecityI’ll admit right up front that my eyebrows arched way up when I saw that my local newspaper — that would be the Baltimore Sun — had published an A1 news feature on efforts by the Southern Baptist Convention to plant a circle of new churches in and around this unique urban environment that some call Charm City.

I mean, the Sun has often struggled to get its religion-news act together on stories about Catholic events and trends, here in the heart of a heavily Catholic state called Maryland (yes, I know the origins of the state’s name).

So I was very skeptical about this story and, thus, more than pleased when I finished reading it and had few complaints about the fairness and accuracy of the report. This is, in fact, the rare case in which I think the newspaper went too far out of its way to avoid critical language. The story could have used some constructive, fair voices from the religious left.

The heart of the story, however, is that these congregations are not — in terms of style — the Southern Baptist churches of old. The setting for the lede is a church-plant that is meeting in a coffee house, complete with free-trade French roast. It’s called the Garden Community Church and the pastor is 28-year-old Joel Kurz.

That’s interesting. I was left wondering, for example, if the word “Baptist” appears in the names of any of these congregations. In fact, was I wrong to assume that the word “church” is in the legal name? This generic-branding trend is a somewhat old, but still important, story on the religion-news beat.

Anyway, here’s the heart of the report, in the transition out of the lede:

One of more than a dozen such startups in the area, the Garden Community is at the vanguard of a push by the Southern Baptist Convention into Baltimore, targeted as a “strategic focus city” by its North American Mission Board. Eleven churches have begun to hold worship services here in the last two years, two others are set to open in September, and organizers see as many as half a dozen more forming by the end of the year.

The new congregations are as varied as the neighborhoods in which they’ve settled. New Hope Community Church, which meets in a Curtis Bay recreation center flanked by bars on all four corners, serves breakfast before Sunday services and sends worshipers home with sandwiches afterward. The Light Church in Mount Vernon boasts a coffeehouse and art gallery. The Gallery Church in Charles Village holds a Saturday discussion group in an Irish bar.

The effort comes as the nation’s largest Protestant body struggles to reverse a historic decline in membership. … For the last decade, leaders of the traditionally rural denomination have been trying to reach beyond its Bible Belt stronghold and into the urban areas of the Northeast, Midwest and West — regions where it may be better known for its socially conservative positions on abortion and homosexuality than for its spiritual beliefs, worship practices or good works.

It’s been a long time since I was a Southern Baptist (I still speak the language), but I can assure you that “home mission” efforts in the mega-denomination have been focusing on big cities for a long, long time. I doubt that anyone in the SBC thinks they are going to get big numbers is urban areas. Unless … Unless what? Unless these urban plants are part of the SBC’s growing emphasis on ethnic and multiracial churches, an area in which the denomination is having modest success — but more success than other American church bodies other than the Roman Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God.

Now, the Sun makes it sound like the SBC missions in the Baltimore area are all rather trendy and, to use an old term, Yuppie. Is that true? It would be nice to know what’s happening — or not happening — with multiracial churches and ethnic churches, African-American, Hispanic, Korean and what not. Either way, it’s an important piece of an urban-ministry story.

My other questions were more subtle, such as, “Where did these pastors go to seminary?” That often tells you quite a bit about the content of a denominational program. And how many of these church-plant converts are new Christians, as opposed to people who are former Catholics, former mainline Protestants, etc.? Just asking.

The piece does a much better job in dealing with the project’s attempts to stress traditional Baptist efforts to do social ministry and missions, as well as to openly support traditional causes in terms of morality and culture. These Baptists want to be known as people who are for things, not just against things.

In May, members of the Garden Community walked what they called the Trail of Tears, visiting the sites of the five most recent murders in the neighborhood and stopping at each to lay a rose and pray for peace in the city. The church, which bills itself as a “creative community of Jesus followers,” is gearing up to paint a local elementary school, mentor students and help their parents complete high school diplomas.

At the meeting in the brownstone, Kurz opened the New Testament to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans and spoke of the sacrifices made by the early Christians living in a hostile empire.

“We live in an empire as well,” he said. “It’s an empire of consumerism and I would say it’s an empire of individualism. And the thing is that we end up giving in to the lie of the empire without even realizing it. Money, cash, becomes our god. Climbing the corporate ladder becomes our ministry. Wal-Mart is our worship center. It’s OK to try to get all that we can for ourselves and walk over those who don’t have anything and not reach out to help.”

It’s an interesting report, with holes that suggest news hooks for future reports. Baptists in Balmer. That’s an interesting concept in and of itself. More info, please.

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How about some ecclesiastical math?

CanterburyNuke2OK, let’s take this logically.

In the summer of 2006, Father Martyn Minns of Truro Episcopal Church outside Washington, D.C., became Bishop Martyn Minns of the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, a missionary effort of the gigantic Anglican Church of Nigeria. That would be three years ago.

A year later, the Diocese of Virginia expelled a bunch of clergy from its active roster of priests, “inhibiting” them from priestly duties. Minns was not in that list, even though he was the bishop overseeing the work of many of these rebel Episcopalians turned alternative Anglicans. It is also interesting to note that Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee said he had licensed Martyn to serve as priest-in-charge at Truro through Jan. 1, 2007.

I admit that this is pretty complicated stuff.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there is any way to do the math on Minns and end up with this reference in a Los Angeles Times update story about the proceedings at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Anaheim. This chunk of the story begins with a quote from the overjoyed Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, celebrating the House of Bishop’s decision to allow dioceses to proceed with the ordination of sexually-active gays and lesbians as bishops.

“I’m simply delighted at the possibility that another diocese will recognize the gifts of a gay or lesbian clergy person,” he said. “I long for the day when someone who shares my experience as an openly gay bishop joins me in the House of Bishops. It has been lonely.”

But a bishop who left the church last year predicted that the decisions made in Anaheim would increase strains with disaffected conservatives.

“Clearly the activists have done a good job promoting their agenda,” said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, a founding bishop of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America, which hopes to gain recognition from the Anglican Communion as a rival province to the Episcopal Church.

“The generosity shown by the rest of the communion has been astonishing and has been thrown back in their face,” Minns said. “There will have to be a renegotiation of how the Episcopal Church fits into the family.”

Now, if Minns was consecrated as an Anglican bishop outside of the Episcopal Church in 2006 and then his license to lead his church ran out on Jan. 1, 2007, I don’t know how it is possible to say that Minns “left the church last year.” It’s possible that Bishop Lee & Co. sent him some final letter last summer and that I cannot find that reference using Google. Hey, it could happen (and please correct me if I missed something).

Now, I know that this is picky. However, the timeline issue is not going to go away. Sure enough, this same story falls right into the same time-warp trap that has ensnared so many other journalistic offerings, as of late. (I wrote my Scripps Howard News Service column for this week about this topic and here’s a link to that.)

Once again, we hear that:

Tensions have been mounting since 2003, when a partnered gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire. Several conservative Anglican leaders, especially in Africa, cut ties to the U.S. church after his election.

The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, had expressed apprehension during a brief visit to the conference last week about decisions “that could push us further apart.”

TIMEBishopPikeSo forget Bishop James Pike and the heresy debates of 1967.

Forget Bishop Paul Moore’s bold 1979 ordination of a lesbian priest in the hot media spotlight that is always aimed at the Diocese of New York. In fact, forget all kinds of things about that particular bishop.

Forget Bishop John Spong’s 1989 ordination of a gay priest who was living in a same-sex relationship. Forget Utah Bishop Otis Charles outing himself. Forget Spong’s Koinonia Statement in 1994 and his 12 theses offering a liberal faith without the God of the Bible. Forget the heresy trial of Bishop Walter Righter in 1996.

Forget the Kuala Lumpur statement from conservative archbishops in the Global South in 1997 or the stunning, historic Lambeth Conference statement on sexuality in 1998.

Forget the consecration of two missionary bishops to North America in 2000 by archbishops from Rwanda and Southeast Asia, a tipping point that hinted at what was to come.

Forget all kinds of things.

Remember, it’s important to keep repeating this mantra: The tensions began in 2003 and it’s all about a gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire.

The story is so much easier to cover if you simply chop off all of that other information and all those picky details about the Bible, the Creeds, sacraments, liturgies and all that other messy stuff. That strategy seems to be the norm in the mainstream news coverage right now.

I know that writing about history and doctrine is hard sledding. But how about some basic math? Is that too much to ask?

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