Broken Communion story rolls on — in England

gsch_sm.jpgHere we go again.

There have been times, during recent decades, when plot developments in the Anglican Communion drama have become so complicated that I have been tempted to open columns with a written cue for a swirl of organ music under the caption “As Canterbury Turns.”

We are at such a stage right now, as you can probably tell by this rare, multicontinent Anglican double-header here at GetReligion. I did not know that Doug was planning an Episcopal Church update and I was not able to alert him that I was planning a post about a symbolic event in England.

(A personal note: I have been unplugged for a week during business hours at my office, due to an attack of the new backdoor virus on the computer network at Palm Beach Atlantic University. You can imagine how this affects blogging and my Scripps Howard column work.)

I will try to make this brief. At the moment, the real news in the Anglican wars exists at the level of symbols and sacraments, not at the level of bishop ballots and press releases. At least that is what I think.

It is also easy to think of this merely as a story pitting armies of angry Third World traditionalists against a pack of trust fund-wielding Episcopalians who want to evolve into Unitarians with nice Christmas hymns and pretty vestments. But over in England, reporters Jonathan Petre and Jonathan Wynne-Jones of The Telegraph have spotted a sign that the broken Communion story from the recent primates meetings in Ireland may have legs. Here’s the news from London:

A group of clergy has broken sacramental ties with the diocesan bishop in an unprecedented revolt against his liberal views on homosexuality, The Telegraph has learnt.

In what could be the start of an escalating conflict, at least eight conservative clerics have told the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, that they will refuse to share Holy Communion with him. They are furious that the bishop and five of his colleagues sent a letter to a national newspaper earlier this week announcing their determined support for liberal Anglicans in North America.

The Telegraph notes that this flare-up could be more serious than it looks at first glance, because 100 or so priests in that diocese signed a statement last fall protesting trends in the Church of England.

Well, 100 priests is way less than a majority. But it is a mighty big photo opportunity at a diocesan convention. This may produce some media-friendly tensions when the bishop comes to town for confirmations and ordination rites.

The big question is whether this will spread to other altars in England, thus putting even more pressure on (cue: swirl of pipe-organ music) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

While American newspapers (hello cable networks!) continue to emphasize the formal documents, it is this emotional story of bread and wine that best symbolizes what is happening at Anglican altars around the world.

This is a battle over sacraments, beginning with the sacrament of marriage. There is no way to avoid this angle. The lawyers are important, but that’s not the real story.

By the way, to read the actual protest statement, click here.

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Everybody loves to see justice done — on somebody else

Consecration.jpgIn the next day or so, much fuss likely will be made about how the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has agreed to a one-year moratorium on approving any newly elected bishops.

The bishops made their decision in response to a recommendation in the Windsor Report and a request by the Anglican Communion’s primates that they not approve more noncelibate homosexual bishops, should any be elected, until there is a greater consensus among Anglicans. The Rev. George Conger, writing for The Living Church magazine, reports that Bishop Gene Robinson, whose election and confirmation is the source of this controversy, proposed applying the moratorium to all bishops’ elections until General Convention, which meets in June 2006.

Conger also reports that Robinson’s proposal originally came from Bishop Otis Charles. The idea of such universally applied moratoria is not new for Charles, an openly gay retired bishop living in California. While Charles served as dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., the chapel there denied its space for weddings until gay students also could be married. That practice has been renewed in the EDS chapel, in protest of a Diocese of Massachusetts policy that forbids priests to officiate at gay weddings.

Of the dioceses Conger identifies as immediately affected by the decision, five are led by a bishop who voted against Robinson’s consecration as a bishop:

Southern Ohio (scheduled election: June 11)

West Texas (October 15; PDF)

Tennessee (November)

Southwest Florida (December)

South Carolina (to be determined by the Standing Committee and Bishop Ed Salmon, who is scheduled to retire in January 2006)

The two dioceses most likely to nominate or elect an openly gay bishop are California (based in San Francisco) and El Camino Real (based in San Jose).

According to Oasis, a gay ministry supported by the Diocese of California, that diocese’s standing committee has refused to “discriminate against any qualified clergy, including gay or lesbian clergy, who might be nominated in the course of the search process.”

The Diocese of California has scheduled its election for May 2006, which means its bishop-elect could be approved by General Convention. If that bishop-elect is gay, it will repeat the high-stakes voting of General Convention in 2003, which confirmed Gene Robinson’s election.

In other words, the House of Bishops has responded to a requested moratorium on more openly gay bishops by delaying the consecration of bishops in dioceses that are less likely to elect gay bishops.

Some Episcopalians will call this justice, or perhaps even justice-love.

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I hurl quote marks in your general direction

OlbermannOnSet.jpgGetReligion tweaked Keith Olbermann when he turned an e-mail campaign by Focus on the Family into national news on his weeknight MSNBC newscast. Liz Halloran of the Hartford Courant revisits the Olbermann-Focus battle of darkness and light in an email Q&A.

Halloran uses a few sneer quotes (and the equally subtle phrase so-called) to telegraph her sympathies. A few sample softballs:

Q: “Countdown” mixes news and commentary with humor and edge. With ever more readers/viewers convinced that journalists are biased anyway, do you think your show’s format is the way of the future — a “Daily Show With Jon Stewart” attitude, but with real instead of fake news?

Q: You’ve described yourself as non-political and nonpartisan and have said you don’t vote. But often the tone, if not the content, of your show can suggest otherwise, and conservative folks like those at the “Olbermann Watch” blog refer to you as “rabidly leftist.” If not political, what are the basic standards you use to evaluate policy, for example, or candidates and politicians?

Q: Do you think criticism of the so-called mainstream media is warranted, and why? What must the mainstream media do to recapture the trust of readers/viewers?

Olbermann says he believes criticism of the mainstream media is always justified, so long as it’s real media criticism and not a political campaign.

And there’s this exchange, in which an organization’s incorporated name cannot be taken at face value, but must be qualified with those precious inverted commas:

Q: On [Bloggermann], you tweak O’Reilly, quote Felix Ungar, give Brit Hume of Fox News the business for “premeditated, historical fraud,” ponder the identity of Deep Throat, and pretty much start a war with the “Focus on the Family” religious conservatives. What can you do on your blog that you can’t on “Countdown”?

A: Mostly the blog is an opportunity to go at length on topics, to tear off the restraints of writing copy to fit time deadlines. With breaking news, of course, it’s like being your own wire service. And there is a little more space for opinion, although I believe in something rare on the Net — that you shouldn’t just spout; you need to prove.

Q: To follow up on your contretemps with “Focus on the Family”: On [Bloggermann], while writing about the “SpongeBob” controversy, you gave your credentials as a religious man and said: “I believe in God.” Why did you decide to do that?

A: A majority of the first few thousand of the spam-mails from the FOF site stated that I was obviously against religion and an atheist, and I thought these folks needed to understand that. It stunned a lot of them. So much thinking in our society has been replaced by following. I know God didn’t make us for that.

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Who wrote this?

MichaelSchiavo.jpgA curious op-ed appeared during the weekend in The Dallas Morning News. The author began by telling readers that, “Barring some kind of miracle, the forced starvation of Terri Schiavo will begin Friday.”

The op-ed writer called Michael Schiavo a faithless husband, adding, “The sordid fact that Michael has been living for years with his girlfriend, and has two children with her, has not moved the courts.”

The author reiterated the bill of particulars against Schiavo (didn’t allow medical treatment, stands to inherit money from a liability suit, etc.), then launched into the Florida courts, which have ignored “laws drafted by the state Legislature” in favor of “‘judge-made’ law.”


Under a curious interpretation of privacy rights, this case lends more weight to the will of a man who is likely to gain financially from Terri’s death rather than provide adequate due process to those who have no voice to speak for themselves.

American society is about to enter dangerous territory, in which the slow-motion killing of a woman by her faithless husband will have been sanctioned by the court. After Terri’s death, where will we draw the line between one’s right to privacy and another’s right to life? Are our legislatures to have no say in the matter?

It is inconvenient to Michael Schiavo and to the Florida courts that Terri Schiavo continues to live and that her parents won’t relent and let her die of thirst and starvation. If Mr. Schiavo prevails, then every person whose life is considered of negligible quality by a court or a legal guardian could be condemned. There is more at stake here than the fate of one solitary woman. After this Friday, it becomes possible that, in this country, if the unwanted and the weak are simply too burdensome to us as individuals, that the right to rid ourselves of inconvenient lives will be our courts’ guiding principle.

Who wrote this op-ed? Click here to find out.

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Hey, ACLU folks, check out these rites

Candles.jpgTry to imagine this scene.

You are in a laboratory on a state university campus, in facilities funded with a stream of tax dollars. The dark room is full of medical students, taking part in a sacred ritual that will end a required course in Gross Anatomy.

It is time to say goodbye to the late Anna Marie, Meredith, Chet and Sal. Here is how Larry Keller of The Palm Beach Post describes the scene in Boca Raton:

Those aren’t the real names of the four cadavers the students have been slicing, sawing and probing since November in a fourth-floor laboratory in the biomedical science building. They don’t know their true names. So these are the names they gave them.

With great solemnity, the professor begins leading the students in ancient Greek Orthodox prayers, while Byzantine chant fills the air. Beeswax candles glow throughout the lab and rose incense drifts in clouds around the worshipers, just like in the ancient Christian rites in sanctuaries on Sunday mornings.

Or maybe it is Latin-rite Catholic prayers and Gregorian chant. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter, since I made this part up.

Hang in there with me for a moment.

How do you think the university would react to this ritual? The local chapter of the ACLU? We can even ask how The Palm Beach Post would have covered this shocking attack on the wall between church and state laboratory.

We don’t have to worry about that scenario, since I will now tell you what actually happened in the event covered by Keller’s “Ritual lets med students bid farewell to cadavers.” The prayers, you see, were from Tibetan Buddhism.

The lab, with its stainless-steel gurneys and cabinets, was stark and sterile. But now, as students reentered the room, the stink of formaldehyde was replaced by the sensual scent of incense. Buddhist chants filled the room. And each student was handed a candle and formed a circle near the gurneys, now adorned with elegant flowers, not dissected corpses.

One by one each person made brief remarks, expressing appreciation for the dead from whom they learned and thanking their teachers and fellow students for their shared experiences. After speaking, each person used their lighted candle to illuminate that of the student next to them.

“They say the body is the temple of the soul,” said Fanny Bangoura, 28, of Cooper City. “I’m grateful people donated their temples for us to explore.”

This is a very interesting story and it veers out of the spiritual into some sticky issues of ethics and medical education. The use of cadavers is way down and some people are trying to turn this entire exercise into a 3-D computer exercise. Others insist that there is no substitute for the real thing.

Also, let me stress that I am not saying that Keller’s report contains latent anti-Christian bias or something. It is a moving story and told with dignity.

I just kind of wonder what would happen if you cut out the Buddhism angle and substituted, well, a pack of Assembly of God missionaries praying in unknown tongues with their hands in the air in Pentecostal praise, while medical students marched in circles carrying Christian flags.

I can’t imagine The Palm Beach Post going for that. Instead, we get:

Back at the closing ritual in the lab, students and teachers finished their remarks, and a melancholy song filled the room with the lyrics: “Gently, gently. Resting sweetly.”

Some bowed their heads in reflection, faces aglow in the candlelight. Then the bright lab lights came on again, and Blanks spoke one last time.

“Go out and make a new world.”

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Pre-glurge heroism

AshleySmith.jpgUrban Dictionary defines glurge as “syrupy sweet e-mails that are mass-mailed to unwilling participants” that usually involve “puppies, kitties, children with disabilities, puppies and kitties with disabilities, and Jesus.” Glurge also is a category at

It shouldn’t take long for glurge purveyors to place their stamp on the heroism and sangfroid of Ashley Smith, who disarmed a violent criminal with homemade pancakes, direct talk about victims’ families and reading aloud from Rick Warren’s bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life (don’t tell Hanna Rosin), and the Bible.

Smith, a widow at 26 (according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or 33, according to The Associated Press) could have become just another dead body when Brian Nichols accosted her outside her apartment at 2 a.m. Saturday. Instead, seven hours later she was calling police to tell them where to find Nichols. As she left the apartment, Smith says, Nichols asked if he could hang some artwork or curtains for her.

The account of their time together has to be a one-source story for now, as Nichols is, ah, not available for comment.

As expected, the hometown Journal-Constitution gives Smith’s story the most thorough coverage, including this amazing passage from the mainbar:

He unbinds her and they sit in her living room.

“I’ve had a really long day,” he says.

He offers her some faint explanation — maybe his first to account to anyone of how he had spent this long day.

“I feel like I’m a warrior. The people of my color have gone through a lot.”

But he says he’s had enough. “I don’t want to hurt anybody anymore,” he tells her. “I don’t want to kill anybody.

“I want to rest.”

The atmosphere becomes more normal, as normal as it could be.

Smith asks if he would mind if she reads.

Nichols says OK. She gets the book she’d been reading, “The Purpose Driven Life.” It is a book that offers daily guidance. She picks up where she had left off — the first paragraph of the 33rd chapter.

“We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others you’ve arrived. In our self serving culture with its me first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.”

He stops her and asks her to read that again.

A profile of Smith fills out the story well, telling of how her family believes that her assuming the best about other people sometimes leads her to “make bad decisions about men.” The same story mentions that Smith already has hired a law firm to handle negotiations for book or movie deals. Please, God, please, don’t let it be on Lifetime.

Most newspapers are relying on this briskly written story by the AP’s Daniel Yee. The New York Times trimmed Yee’s story back to 249 words, in which God is mentioned once and Rick Warren and the pancakes disappear entirely.

The Journal-Constitution‘s stories are worth reading in their entirety. They tell Smith’s story with the credible and subtle details that set a great news story apart from just another glob of glurge.

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Sunday fun links

popesmaller.jpg The pope has returned to the Vatican. The AP story begins,

Pope John Paul II was released from the hospital and returned to his apartment overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Sunday after reassuring the world’s Roman Catholic faithful with his own raspy voice that he is on the mend.

Regarding that raspy voice, the AP tells us that we won’t know until Monday whether “the tube in his throat was removed or replaced with a smaller version designed to help him speak.”

The crowds appeared to be overjoyed to see the pontiff out of the hospital. “Long live the pope!” is what several observers reportedly chanted. Or as the titlemeisters at the New York Press would put it, Keep Pope Alive.

In our latest entry to the “Can Islam be a religion of peace?” file (previous entry here), we add the general buzz created last week when the Islamic Commission of Spain, the body representing the country’s ever inflating number of Muslims, issued a fatwa against Osama bin Laden, declaring his actions outside the bounds of Islam.

Unlike the famous fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the Spanish ruling didn’t call for bin Laden to be hunted down like a dog, but, hey, it’s a start.

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Ghost in the story of Ms. Fonda

JaneFondaPray-1.jpgDear Caryn James,
c/o The New York Times:

First, let me say that I really enjoyed your Critic’s Notebook piece the other day titled “Where’s Jane Fonda? On Yet Another Journey.”

As you noted, Fonda was ahead of her time in filling the role of high-profile cultural Chameleon, the “mother of reinvention” who paved the way for Madonna and others. Clearly, she also blazed a trail for the likes of Susan Sarandon and others in the new Hollywood.

Thus, I agree with you that it’s interesting the public perception of Fonda has changed so much, perhaps even out in the cultural wilderness of red-zip-code Middle America. As you noted about the aftermath of the flap about Fonda being edited into the John Kerry Vietnam-era protest photo:

. . . (A) month later a poll by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center turned up some startling results. Asked to identify people mentioned during the campaign, 40 percent of the respondents thought of Ms. Fonda as an actress and only 20 percent as an antiwar activist. So much for her status as political poison.

And that softer image was no fluke. Less than two weeks ago, a poll measuring celebrities’ appeal and recognition found that 62 percent actually liked Ms. Fonda, in varying degrees, while only 38 percent disliked her in some way. . . . What happened to the politically polarizing, instantly recognizable Jane Fonda?

This is a good question.

It is possible that some people learned to feel sympathy for her during and after her high-profile marriage to Ted “Mouth of the South” Turner. This moved her to Atlanta, of course, where she continues to live (for reasons that might be interesting to pursue on behalf of New York Times readers).

Anyway, Ms. Fonda is poised to return to the spotlight, with her My Life So Far autobiography, a date on 60 Minutes and her return to the screen, after 15 years, as “a woman who doesn’t want her son to marry Jennifer Lopez’s character, in the wide-release comedy ‘Monster-in-Law.’” This last career move is the strange twist indeed.

But let me note, on behalf of GetReligion readers, that I believe your breezy Fonda update is, as we say in this space, “haunted.” There is another twist in the Fonda story that you seem to have missed or avoided and, yes, this is a twist that made headlines. It may even have affected her image in Middle America.

If you are curious about this God-shaped hole in our story about Ms. Fonda, please click here. Or here. Or even here, in Salon of all places.

If you are looking for background music as you read through some of this material, let me suggest Bob Dylan’s classic Saved.

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