Balance? We don't need no stinkin' balance!

Canada arms.jpgA GetReligion reader north of the border — not one of the Web Elves — dropped me an interesting note a day or two ago about the unfolding drama within the Anglican Communion.

This reader would like reporters to know that there are Anglican conservatives north of the border. In fact, some of them recently released a statement reacting to the Anglican primates conclave in Ireland and posted it at their very own website, which is quite easy to find. The organization is called Anglican Essentials Canada and here is its brief statement:

The message is as clear as it can get. In an unprecedented action, the Anglican world was changed last Thursday, February 24. The actions of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the United States have resulted in the Primates putting them on notice. Simply put, there is no more dramatic action that could have been taken than to request a Province of the Church to remove itself from the table. Clearly, there is before the Anglican Church of Canada the need to make a choice. Restoration to full communion requires repentance. The failure to do so implies the choice to walk alone outside the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In the days ahead Anglican Essentials Canada will be posting further reflections arising from these developments. May we all recall that the kindness of God leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4).

Why, you ask, is this statement important?

For one very simple reason. If you have been reading a typical Canadian newspaper — The Globe and Mail, perhaps — you would not know there are any conservative Anglicans up there. The lack of balance in the coverage has been quite amazing. Consider, in particular, the work of Globe and Mail reporter Michael Valpy, as reflected in his weekend story with the headline “Top cleric faces rift among Anglicans.” Here is the opening:

Canada’s Anglican primate faced accusations from his own clergy yesterday that he betrayed gays and lesbians by endorsing a proposal to suspend the Canadian and U.S. churches from a key body of the worldwide Anglican Communion because of their acceptance of homosexuality.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison acknowledged he will have to work to convince many Canadian Anglicans that the proposal, agreed to by all the primates, or senior archbishops and bishops of the communion, is necessary to stave off schism within the world’s third-largest Christian faith.

He voiced regret over the treatment of homosexuals by the global church’s leaders. He said in an interview: “I feel very sorry for them that there’s no recognition of their plight.” The primates’ statement reiterated the communion’s rejection of blessing same-sex unions and ordaining practising homosexuals as priests.

So far so good. And what happens next is good — Valpy quotes the views of several leaders on the Anglican left, which is the strongest choir north of the border. But what happens after that is bad. It does not appear that there is a single Anglican voice, not even a rustic priest from a tiny prairie town, who supports the actions taken by Anglicans in the Third World who do not want to modernize the sacrament of marriage. Perhaps these Anglicans are so old-fashioned that they do not have telephones.

Come to think of it, I can’t find a dissenting conservative voice in Valpy’s earlier report on the actual decision in Ireland. Maybe someone on the copy desk is cutting out this crucial part of the story. Maybe.

Anyway, if Valpy or any other reporter in Canada would like to talk to one or more conservative Anglicans while attempting to do accurate and balanced coverage of this hot-button issue, the leaders of the Anglican Essentials network can be reached at 1-866-883-7328.

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satan.jpgJonathan Rauch buries this striking fact in a parenthetical remark halfway into his latest National Journal column: “At least 22 people, including Rushdie’s Japanese translator, were killed as a consequence of the Rushdie affair.”

On Valentine’s Day, 1989, the ailing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder of apostate Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie and anyone who assisted in getting his book The Satanic Verses to press. British law enforcement picked up Rushdie and placed him in secluded, protective custody. An Iranian “charity” quickly placed a bounty of $1 million on his head, and then upped the bounty.

The furor over The Satanic Verses, writes Rauch, was frightening, in part, because it was truly global in scope:

It sparked riots in Muslim countries, but also mass protests in Britain, bookstore attacks in California, and assassinations or attempted assassinations in Belgium, Italy, Japan, and Norway. . . . This militance, it should have been plain, was no isolated Iranian whim. Khomeini spoke for a global constituency of millions, some of whom were prepared to kill for the cause.

The column is a classic Rauch number. It fingers the Salman Rushdie affair as the more appropriate beginning of the war on terrorism/militant Islam/insert euphemism here that has got the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East all hot and bothered of late.

Khomeini may have been the leader of Iran, but in the matter of Salman Rushdie, writes Rauch, “he acted in a different capacity, that of the leader of a worldwide revolutionary movement.” You see, “While the West still thought in terms of state actors,” Khomeini left them in the dust by operating “both above and below the state level.” The unfortunate novelist became an important proxy in the war to impose Khomeini’s vision of Islamic values on fellow Muslims and to challenge the dominance of the West.

Rauch judges that the mastermind of September 11 “is a very different creature from Khomeini,” but then he turns around and calls very into question as an appropriate word choice. He argues, for instance, that it is not at all “outlandish to think of the World Trade Center towers as The Satanic Verses, magnified immeasurably but not beyond all recognition.”

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WCC and Isarel, again

Strange. A decade or so ago, this story about the World Council of Churches and Israel would have been a page one headline — for sure. Now, Religion News Service seems to have it almost all to itself. Here is some of the key info: “The World Council of Churches has urged its 347 member denominations to give “serious consideration” to pulling investments out of Israel in protest of what it sees as mistreatment of Palestinians. . . . Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, interfaith director for the Anti-Defamation League, dismissed the WCC as “irrelevant” but was nonetheless concerned that the divestment campaign has taken on a life of its own.” Wow. Is it a story that this is not a major story? Can the WCC still make news?

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Prayers in the media spotlight

Rader.jpgOne of the most damning film portrayals of media hordes came years ago in Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, which repeatedly made the sound of whirring cameras sound like so many locusts. Those scenes came to mind when I saw this detail in the Los Angeles Timescoverage of the scene at Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita, which Dennis Rader, the accused BTK serial killer, has attended for more than 30 years:

As congregants walked into the two-story brick church Sunday, bundled in warm coats to ward off the chill of an overcast day, reporters and television crews blocked their path, peppering them with questions about Rader and his family.

On any other Sunday, the people might have lingered over cups of coffee and nibbled on sugar cookies, chatting about sports and work while the children played outside. But this Sunday, they stopped and stared, saying little.

As P.J. Huffstutter’s Times article demonstrates, the best reporting about the worship at Christ Lutheran on Sunday morning resulted from going inside for the service and not simply conducting walk-by interviews at the entrance:

Gerald Mansholt, bishop of the Central States Synod in Kansas City, Mo., spoke at the service and pleaded with the crowd for patience — to wait for the evidence. He said churches across the state were praying for the congregation, as well as for the survivors of BTK’s victims and for the Rader family.

“We grieve with you,” Mansholt said. “Words fail us at times like this. . . . The very foundation of our faith is shaken.”

Several women cried. One buried her face in her hands, bent over her knees and silently sobbed.

Deb Gruver of The Wichita Eagle also reported on Sunday’s service, and revealed this strange detail: “Rader, who was elected president of the church last year, will continue in that role for now, [Pastor Michael] Clark said.”

Gruver’s report also quotes pastor Clark as saying, “We are not here to judge him but to support him as a brother of Christ” (Clark more likely meant “brother in Christ,” though even that reference is a bitter pill amid accusations of serial torture killings).

Clark’s sermon, which the Eagle published this morning, provides more context:

The light of Christ continues to shine and lead us in the paths of darkness. As we continue forward to seek the truth that Christ wants us to know, we are to continue to pray for all concerned. We are to pray for peace and comfort for those victims and family members of the BTK murderer. We must lift them up and ask God for continued strength in the days ahead. We must pray for healing of heart and soul for those who have been victimized in this tragic series of murders.

We are to pray for all law enforcement people for the time and energy they have committed to the task of solving this problem.

As we continue on as a body of Christ, it is important that we show compassion and love towards Dennis. If what is claimed is true we should be about the business of asking for God’s help in healing of heart and soul. As we travel from this day forward we should pray for all of Dennis Rader’s family members. Bring them peace and comfort as they too wonder what each new day brings.

So far most reporters are handling Rader’s membership at Christ Lutheran in a responsible and sensitive manner — but The Age newspaper in Australia wins a Most Strained Irony in a Headline award for “Church leader is killer of 10, police say.”

Rader’s regular attendance at Christ Lutheran, which already has led some talking heads to refer to his “devout” and “staunch” church life, adds another painful detail to this grisly saga. The most interesting stories about Christ Lutheran Church will come not just weeks from now, but months and years later. Let’s hope a few reporters are still around then, occasionally attending services after the horde has moved on, of necessity, to another horror.

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Let them eat cake

stranger.jpg The latest issue of Seattle’s The Stranger uses this year’s NARAL Chocolate for Choice fundraiser — an “evening of utter decadence . . . supporting a woman’s right to choose” — to look at the shifting politics of abortion, from the perspective of the left and the Democratic Party.

This is the first such fundraiser since Bush’s victory in November, says author and performance editor Annie Wagner. It comes at a time when the Dems are in visible “turmoil over how and whether to woo back socially moderate voters.”

A flashpoint that Wagner focuses on is Senator Hillary Clinton’s speech late last month to Family Planning Advocates of New York. In the speech, Clinton reaffirmed her pro-choice bona fides but then went looking for “common ground” with people with vaguely pro-life views. To wit, “I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic, choice to many, many women.”

Wagner explains that while there was more to the speech than the senator’s talk of common purpose, “it was her conciliatory language on abortion that dropped like a bomb.”

Karen Cooper, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, attempted to defuse that bomb, saying she didn’t think “anybody, at least not in my organization, certainly not me personally, has denied the importance of women making that decision [to have an abortion].”

Cooper refused, for political reasons, to endorse the idea that abortions are necessarily “sad” or “tragic.” She explained, “I think the range of emotions after abortion can go from relief to sadness, but I don’t think that has anything to do with whether a woman should be able to make that decision for herself.”

Wagner rightly situates Clinton’s remarks within the wider context of the Democratic Party’s squabbles. “There is some cause, outside Clinton’s loaded speech, to believe that the Democratic Party is rethinking its dogmatic support for abortion rights,” Wagner writes. I’ll let her count the ways:

There’s the ascension of Harry Reid, a Mormon opponent of legalized abortion, to the position of Senate minority leader. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which recruits Democratic candidates to run against vulnerable Republicans, has signaled its support for two anti-choice candidates in the upcoming 2006 race against Republican Senators Rick Santorum and Lincoln Chafee. And although Howard Dean, a pro-choice doctor, eventually beat out all his opponents in the race for Democratic National Committee Chair, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Paul Berendt noted that anti-choice candidate Tim Roemer “had the support of [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi, which many of us thought was strange.”

Turning back to Hillary for a minute, Wagner says the jury is still deliberating “on whether a more reluctant embrace of the moral necessity of legal abortion will play in the political arena.” She adds, “Bill Clinton’s famous hope that abortion be ‘safe, legal, and rare’ was ingenious because even supporters of reproductive freedom could happily sign off on reducing the incidence of an expensive, invasive medical procedure while increasing access to contraception.”

Wagner says Senator Clinton’s “‘sad, even tragic’ description takes what was — in her husband’s formulation — neutral territory, and turns it into an emotional minefield.”

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Did you see this Cardinal Arinze story? No?

kerry_communion-thumb.jpgLet’s set the wayback machine to last summer, when one of the hottest stories linked to politics and religion was the state of Sen. John Kerry’s soul or, at the very least, his ability to receive Holy Communion in mainstream Roman Catholic parishes.

It was a pretty important story at the time. There were people — like me — who did not think it violated the separation of church and state for Catholic bishops to claim that they were the highest doctrinal authorities at their own altars. There were others who seemed to think that Kerry had a constitutional right to be blessed by his own church.

What really fascinated me was not what this clash revealed about Kerry or his faith. That’s between him, his confessor and God. I was just as interested, if not more so, in what the whole controversy said about current American Catholic teachings on the Eucharist and, in particular, its connection to repentance and confession.

Thus, I have been watching for updates ever since — not updates about Kerry, but updates on the larger Communion issue.

More than a week ago (tip of the hat, of course, to the omnipresent Amy Welborn), I read an important story at a conservative news site. I thought it was important because (a) it addressed both the political and doctrinal angles of the Communion story and (b) the central player was Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, a key Vatican official whose profile just keeps rising. Here is the key quote, responding to a Communion-controversy question from Raymond Arroyo of EWTN:

Cardinal Arinze responded, “The answer is clear. If a person says I am in favour of killing unborn babies, whether they be four thousand or five thousand, I have been in favour of killing them. I will be in favour of killing them tomorrow and next week and next year. So, unborn babies, too bad for you. I am in favour that you should be killed, then the person turn around and say I want to receive Holy Communion. Do you need any Cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?

The cardinal also clearly stated his opposition to serving Communion to gay-rights activists who were openly protesting against their church’s teachings on sexual ethics. This is another hot news topic, because of the Rainbow Sash movement. Once again, Arinze was blunt:

. . . “No, no. You see, let’s get it clear. These rainbow sash people, are they really saying we are homosexuals, we intend to remain so and we want to receive Holy Communion. The question arises; take the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says it is not condemning a person for having homosexual tendency. We don’t condemn anybody for that. But a person stands condemned for acting on it. . . .

“The Catholic Church has never accepted homosexuality as normal. You read the Scripture. It’s very clear. What exactly are we examining? Are we going to change Divine Law, how God made us?”

It goes without saying that one does not have to agree with the Nigerian Cardinal in order to see that his statements represent a high-level Vatican clarification on two hot news topics.

Nevertheless, I held off blogging about this story because I wanted to see how the MSM covered it. As a rule, GetReligion doesn’t pay much attention to religious websites, even the best of them. We are trying to study how major media cover religion news.

So why mention this now? Because I am still waiting for a wave, or even a large ripple, of coverage.

I guess these two stories have burned out. No, that can’t be it. What have I missed?

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Bottum Line

fatima.jpg Joseph Bottum (alternately known as J. Bottum, or just Jody to friends and acquaintances) has a theatricality about him and so I expected that, in leaving the post of books and arts editor at The Weekly Standard to become editor of First Things, he would not go quietly. That expectation turns out to have been right on the money, but I should have doubled down on the bet.

For his valedictory address, Bottum begins with what he calls a “curious thought.” It is stated thus:

Maybe the single most important person in the 20th century’s long struggle against communism wasn’t Ronald Reagan. Maybe it wasn’t Karol Wojtyla or Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa or Václav Havel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Mikhail Gorbachev. Maybe it wasn’t anyone whose name might leap to a cold warrior’s mind . . .

He fingers instead Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children whose visions of angels and the Virgin Mary at Fatima, a small village in the northern part of Portugal, turned the country upside down in 1917. Sister Lucia died Sunday before last, at 97, at her convent in central Portugal. Bottum advances her cause, not only as a saint but also as the prophet whose pronouncements helped to arm the church against the Soviet Union, and ultimately defeat it.

I do not overstate Bottum’s argument. He concludes: “[Sister Lucia] received innumerable tributes from around the world [after her death]. But she was little praised for the thing she may have done best: bringing an end to the Soviet Union.”

He builds about the best case that one could muster, telling a hell of a story in the process. In 1916 three children were visited by an angel who told them that a visitor would come to them. On six different occasions the next year, they had visions and conversations with the Virgin Mary and the news spread throughout Portugal.

This brought the attention of the government in Lisbon, which was strongly anticlerical at the time and which “apparently feared a nascent peasant revolt was brewing in the religious revival emerging from Fatima.” The predictable response was that a local civil administrator arrested the children in August and hauled them away to “the district headquarters in Vila Nova de Ourem — where, by several accounts, he locked them in cells with ‘criminals’ and threatened them with ‘boiling in oil.’” Bottum writes:

It didn’t have the effect for which the government had hoped. The children refused to recant, the crowds grew larger, and, under enormous public pressure, the frightened administrator returned the children, unceremoniously pushing them out of his car in front of the rectory in Fatima two days later, and driving away as fast as he could before the townspeople caught him.

The crowds continued to swell. On October 13 of 1917, in response to the Virgin’s promise of a “sign,” nearly 70,000 people witnessed the so-called “miracle of the sun.” There is a lot of disagreement over what exactly happened, but nearly everybody who was there admitted that it wasn’t nothing. In fact,

Amidst all the enthusiasm and mass hysteria, the ecstatic stories of the sun breaking through the clouds and dancing across the sky, there are some surprisingly sober accounts — mostly by reporters from anticlerical newspapers and skeptical academics who had come to watch the crowd. “The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl,” wrote a professor from the University of Coimbra. “Then, suddenly, one heard a clamor, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.”

Fatima was significant for the Catholic Church because the prophecies delivered from the Virgin to the three children have been granted a kind of standing that isn’t usually awarded to private revelations. At Sister Lucia’s urging Pope Pius XII consecrated the whole world, with a special emphasis on the U.S.S.R., to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and John Paul II repeated the consecration, along with all the other bishops of the world.

The Fatima prophecies that were made available to the public concerned World War II and the spread of the Soviet Union, but the so-called Third Prophecy was long a topic of fevered speculation. John Paul II made people scratch their heads when he visited Fatima in 1991. The pope “took the bullet with which he had been shot 10 years before and placed it in the crown of the statue of Mary at the site of the original apparitions.”

The explanation wasn’t given until 2000, when two of the three children, long dead, were put on the fast track for sainthood. By way of explanation, the Vatican released the communication that had been sealed away in its archives since Sister Lucia passed it on in 1957. The vision “predicted the persecution of the Church and the shooting of a pope.”

Bottum explains, “John Paul II had come to the conclusion that the prophecy was fulfilled by the murder attempt of May 13, 1981, when the Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Agca shot him in St. Peter’s Square.” He argues that the “prayers and the attitudes inspired by the visions of Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta at Fatima” influenced popular piety to such an extent that it helped to turn the tide against the Soviet Union.

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Read this text with an Oxford accent

RowanAgain.jpgAnglican-beat reporters, please repeat after me once again: The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.

And the second truth of Anglican corporate life is like unto this: The British will do their bloody best to write those resolutions in such a way that Americans get to keep writing checks.

Thus, to the surprise of no one, MSM reports about this week’s Anglican primates meetings are all over the map. No one can agree on who actually said what and if the words they said actually mean what they appear to mean. Ah, those British resolution writers are the best.

Let’s work at this backwards for a moment. Right now, the most important story on the news wires comes from up in Canada:

Canadian and U.S. Anglican officials denied media reports suggesting they have temporarily withdrawn from an international council at the request of leaders who condemn their position on homosexuality.

They have not yet made any decisions in response to the request, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, told in a phone interview from Northern Ireland where the meetings between the leaders took place this week.

“We’re members of the Anglican Communion, we will continue to be members of the Anglican Communion,” he said, noting that the talks were much like a family dispute during which family members “step back for breathing space, to sort things out.”

[The] Rev. Jan Nunley of the U.S. Episcopal Church Center also denied media reports in an email to inquiring about the church’s response.

“No, no decision has been made on the request for voluntary temporary withdrawal from the Anglican Consultative Council,” Nunley wrote.

These denials are in response to early Associated Press stories that opened like this sample from The Miami Herald:

LONDON (AP) — Anglican primates agreed late Thursday that the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada would withdraw from a key body of the global Anglican Communion after failing to overcome internal church disagreements about the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada.

A statement from leaders of Anglican national churches who met this week in Northern Ireland also called on the two churches to explain their thinking on gay issues at another Anglican meeting in June. . . . The two churches would temporarily step away from the Anglican Consultative Council, a key body for contact among the national churches and one of the four “instruments of unity.”

Some reports stated even more clearly that the Canadians and Americans had been forced out.

Whence comes this confusion? The answer is found, of course, in the work of those British resolution writers and the wiggle room found in the actual communique that is the foundation of all of these stories in the MSM and the blogosphere. Here is the crucial passage. This should be read with a strong Oxford or Upper West Side Manhattan accent for the proper effect.

14. Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.

And the key word? Righto, that would be voluntarily. Thus, this is yet another document asking the North American progressives to repent — if they choose to do so. Stronger action may or may not take place in the future. St this point, the North Americans are still smarting from a slap on the collective wrist, but nothing more than that. If there were stronger actions suggested, they remained behind the tightly closed doors of the conclave and, thus, they will have no effect until they are reported in the pages of sacred scripture.

So what did the progressive leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church say, in response to this public rebuke? As often happens with the bookish pronouncements of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, it is hard to tell precisely. Perhaps his words were written by scribes trained by the learned British. Here is the key passage that reporters are trying to parse at the moment:

Some will not be pleased with the request from the primates . . . that the Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada, “voluntarily withdraw” our members from the Anglican Consultative Council “for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.” This request, together with the opportunity for a hearing with the Anglican Consultative Council (paragraph 16), gives space for speaking and listening. During this time the Episcopal Church will be responding to the questions addressed to us in the Windsor Report, as the primates have requested. We will have the opportunity to speak out of the truth of our experience. I welcome this opportunity knowing that the Episcopal Church has sought to act with integrity in response to the Spirit, and that we have worked, and continue to work, to honor the different perspectives very much present within our church.

What does this mean? Clearly, lots of learning, sharing and Spirit-filled negotiating will go on in the months and years to come. But did he say the Episcopal Church would heed the majority of the world’s Anglicans and stand down?

Inquiring reporters want to know. They may wait a long, long, long time for a clearly written resolution on that question. That’s the point.

UPDATED: After doing some digging (I work on three different computers), I found the email with the URL for the Associated Press story by Robert Barr that caused so much buzz in the early hours of this global story. Here is how it opened:

The U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada withdrew Thursday from a key body of the global Anglican Communion under pressure from conservative church leaders distressed by the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions in the two countries.

Though the suspension of the two churches was said to be temporary, it marked the first formal split in the communion over the explosive issues of sexuality and biblical authority.

Here is another example of a clear Barr lead on this issue, only this time it has a clear attribution to its source:

The rift over homosexuality that threatens to split the 77 million-member Anglican Communion cannot be resolved without someone admitting they’re wrong, the church’s spiritual leader warned Friday — a day after leaders asked the U.S. and Canadian churches to withdraw temporarily from a key council.

The election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada have opened a potentially unbridgeable division between Anglican liberals — many of them in North America — and conservatives, who are strongest in Africa and Asia.

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