Search Results for: Anglican timeline

Episcopal timeline disease, again (repeat)

AnglicanBomb1_01_01_7_01When you are talking about the history of the Anglican wars, you really have to remember that it’s really about the bishops.

The Episcopal Church has been struggling with homosexuality — in its national meetings — since the 1970s. But the big signposts have been about the men and women in the purple shirts. Here’s a few.

1989 — Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1991 — Bishop Walter Righter, Diocese of Washington, D.C., ordains a non-celibate homosexual.

1994 — Bishop Spong drafted the Koinonia Statement defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). Spong publishes his 12 Theses, laying out an approach to faith without a transcendent, personal deity.

1996 — Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which decides that there is “no clear doctrine” in the Episcopal Church relevant to the ordination of those sexually active outside of marriage.

1998 — The bishops at the global Lambeth Conference uphold traditional teachings on marriage and human sexuality. Then, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement addressed to lesbian and gay Anglicans.

2000 — Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini ( Province of Rwanda) and Moses Tay ( Province of South East Asia) consecrate Father Chuck Murphy and Father John Rodgers as missionary bishops to the U.S.

You get the idea, if you are looking at the revolution of the theological left or the counter-revolt by the right, you have to watch the bishops — starting in the 1970, but with the open warfare picking up in the 1980s and ’90s. That’s the timeline.

Thus, is it possible for USA Today to publish the following about the current General Convention?

Since 2003, when the group approved the election of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the church has been embroiled in feuds over what the Bible says about roles of gay clergy and women.

Fractures widened in 2006 when Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop and agreed to “exercise restraint” by not consecrating more gay bishops or establishing a rite for blessing same-sex couples. Still, dissatisfied traditionalists formally split in June to form a rival national church, the Anglican Church in North America, which has more than 70,000 members.

So will this year’s 10-day meeting of 200 Episcopal bishops and 850 clergy and lay deputies be calmer?

Now, I have known Cathy Lynn Grossman for a long time. She is a skilled, veteran religion-beat reporter. She has to know that this fight didn’t start in 2003. That’s just wrong. She also knows that there are issues at stake that are much bigger than sexuality and the ordination of women, although the sacraments of marriage and ordination (viewed in ancient, large-C Catholic terms) are plenty important on their own.

I assume that she simply wasn’t given enough space for the other sentence or paragraph that she needed to state that background information in an accurate manner. Either that, or the story was cut at the copy desk.

However, later in the story we read:

Since 2003, some African and South American Anglican archbishops have refused to take communion with Episcopal Church leaders or partner with the church on projects.

Actually, broken Communion started earlier than that, too, with at least one major American bishop and theological educator boycotting Communion in the House of Bishops as early as 1992 — over the issue of Episcopalians openly worshiping other deities.

Note to the USA Today copy desk: This story does not begin with the consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. That statement is simply inaccurate and a correction is needed. I mean, the consecration of the conservative, extra-legal missionary bishops started in 2000.

I know that it is hard to cover sprawling, complex stories in such short lengths. But here’s a good rule: Don’t publish statements that are inaccurate. Add the extra sentence or even half a sentence (click here for a New York Times example).

Get the facts right.

An Episcopal timeline victory

vgr circle 02Readers who follow the Anglican wars know that one of the official GetReligion hobby horses is that this ecclesiastical drama is unfolding on several levels at the same time.

If you only focus on the American angle, you tend to lean left (Tiny conservative movement attempts to split the U.S. Episcopal Church to defend old-fashioned dogmas).

If you only focus on the global level, you tend to lean right (Tiny liberal churches in the First World causing schism by promoting doctrinal innovations that are rejected by majority of the world’s Anglicans).

It’s all about who’s causing an evil “schism,” right? Who has to wear the black mitres?

But there’s another idea that we have continued to promote, another piece of a popular Episcopal wars story template that is simply inaccurate. For a long time now, many reporters have based their stories on the assumption that all of this fighting began with the ordination of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly noncelibate gay bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Things were rolling along toward tolerant modernity and then the church consecrated a gay bishop and the nasty traditionalists went ballistic.

Forget all of those other fights that have been going on for decades. This is just about homosexuality. Forget Bishop James Pike. Forget Bishop John Shelby Spong. Forget all kinds of stuff in a long and very complicated timeline.

Even if the issue is homosexuality, one need only flash back to 1979 and those controversial guidelines that showed where the fault lines were developing in the House of Bishops. The key passage read:

There are many human conditions, some of them in the area of sexuality, which bear upon a person’s suitability for ordination; Every ordinand is expected to lead a life which is “a wholesome example to all people” (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 517, 532, 544). There should be no barrier to the ordination of qualified persons of either heterosexual or homosexual orientation whose behavior the Church considers wholesome. …

So with that in mind, let us celebrate the top of this New York Times story about the D-Day that is now facing Episcopalians in Pittsburgh:

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will vote Saturday on whether to secede from the national church, part of the continuing fallout from 30 years of theological disputes that boiled over five years ago after an openly gay bishop was elected and consecrated in New Hampshire.

If it does vote to secede, as expected, Pittsburgh would become the second diocese to vote to leave the American branch of the Anglican Communion, which has 2.4 million members. The diocese in San Joaquin, Calif., voted to secede last December. Two other dioceses, in Fort Worth and in Quincy, Ill., are contemplating similar votes.

Should a split occur, the Pittsburgh Diocese intends to align itself with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, a theologically conservative province that covers six nations in South America. The San Joaquin Diocese also joined that province.

Now the lede does put this fight in the U.S. context. But, hey, it is The New York Times, after all. New York is everything, the center of the universe (and one can make a strong case for that for Episcopalians).

However, note that a glimpse of that longer timeline does make it into the lede as well, one that hints at conflict that is wider than mere sexuality. Of course, I am referring to this language — the “continuing fallout from 30 years of theological disputes that boiled over five years ago.”

I am sure that combatants on both sides might quibble with some of that, but this language is a major improvement. I know that lots of editors and reporters tend to look to the Times for leadership, when trying to decide how to frame these kinds of complex, multi-level stories. This is one case where I hope they do so. Progress!

Photo: The consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson

Unforced Episcopal errors from the Wall Street Journal

Even the best newspapers will drop a brick now and again. And today’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Episcopal wars in South Carolina is a real stinker.

I’ve been reading the Journal since the early 1980s when I went to New York to work as a floor clerk at the Commodities Exchange for Drexel Burnham Lambert. In those far off misty days of my misspent youth (the lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, Reagan’s in the White House, God’s in His heaven, all was right with the world) I would start at the back of the paper every morning and work forward after I had finished with the futures prices.

As my life and interests took a different path (no more filthy lucre for me) I began to enjoy the paper’s forays into religion, art, literature and other highbrow genres. The Wall Street Journal has consistently done a fine job in covering these topics bringing a depth of knowledge and balance to its reporting — and is one of the best written, best edited English language newspapers in the business.

Hence my disappointment with today’s article entitled “Church Fight Heads to Court: South Carolina Episcopalian Factions Each File Suit After Split Over Social Issues”. The story gets just about everything of importance wrong. The lede misrepresents the underlying issue. It begins:

Episcopalians along the South Carolina coast are battling in court to determine which of two factions owns an estimated $500 million in church buildings, grounds and cemeteries, following an acrimonious split last year over social issues.

The leadership and about two-thirds of the members of the Diocese of South Carolina, based in Charleston, broke away from the national Episcopal Church last November over its blessing of same-sex unions, ordination of gay clergy and its liberal approach to other social and theological issues.

No, that is not what happened. In South Carolina the diocesan convention voted to withdraw from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church after the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church suspended the Bishop of South Carolina with the intent to depose him (remove him from the ministry). Yes, South Carolina has opposed the innovations of doctrine and discipline introduced over the past two generations — and I guess you could say, taking the long view, that social issues were subsidiary issues — but last year’s split was in response to specific actions taken by the leadership of the national church.

Farther down the article some of the details about the South Carolina fight are presented and the story gets the facts back on track.

In South Carolina, bad blood between the diocese and the national church has been building for about 15 years. It reached a breaking point last summer, when the bishop and other leaders of the diocese walked out of the triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, following the national church’s approval of policies on blessing same-sex unions. The walkout triggered a series of events, including the national church’s removal of the Rt. Rev. Lawrence as bishop, and subsequent lawsuits.

(A hint that the writer is not au courant with religion reporting is the “Rt. Rev. Lawrence” — proper style is to use the first name after the Rt Rev and then Bishop or Dr if you want an honorific before the last name.)

The story also collapses the time line of the Episcopal wars and is written as if the South Carolina lawsuit is new news when the latest lawsuit was filed about six weeks ago.

The schism in South Carolina is one of many that have erupted over the past decade between local Episcopal parishes and dioceses and their national church—particularly since the election of a gay bishop in 2003. Thousands of conservative members left their churches over such issues around the middle of last decade, a time some Southern churchgoers call “the Great Unpleasantness,” the same euphemism once used for the Civil War. Other mainline Protestant denominations also have struggled with issues related to homosexuality, with many congregations moving to leave the Presbyterian Church USA after its leadership voted to allow openly gay clergy.

The split between liberal and conservative Episcopalians has been around for almost 40 years and has witnessed dozens of lawsuits between congregations and diocese. Beginning in 2006 the national church headquarters entered the fray spending upwards of $24 million (this in addition to the fees paid out by the dioceses and parishes). Nor did the fight begin in 2003  — GetReligion‘s tmatt has written extensively on this point and I need not restate the accurate Anglican timeline here. [Read more...]

AP frames Benedict XVI in some warped timeframes

On one level, I am rather disappointed to note that the editors at the Associated Press have already fixed an awesome typo that a Beltway journalist sent to me early today, the one that said the Pope Benedict XVI has, as is common among elderly men, experienced “some prostrate problems” in recent years.

Yes, that’s certainly the truth. Arthritis can make it hard to do prostrations during liturgical prayers.

Perhaps that typo crept into the copy while members of the AP team frantically worked to turn the basic obituary story that they had stashed away in a digital file into a live, breaking news report about the pope’s stunning announcement that he was retiring.

The nearly 3,000-word report that quickly hit the wires today contains a sweeping overview of Benedict XVI’s life, just like an obituary. It doesn’t contain the kinds of errors that will make faithful Catholics scream and spill coffee into their computer keyboards. That’s good, since this AP story is the one that millions of newspapers will see in their local newspapers — the many, many local papers that do not have fulltime religion specialists.

What this AP story has, however, is the kind of framing language that always makes me think of those moments in sporting events — especially in soccer and basketball — when one player fouls another, forcing the angry person who was fouled to lash out in response. The referees then, inevitably, call a foul on the second player. We do live in a sinful, fallen world.

All too often in daily journalism, reporters (and especially editors) have a tendency to think that big important stories actually begin when they first realize that they exist, as opposed to when these stories actually start affecting life in the real world (as opposed to newsrooms).

Take, for example, that whole “Anglican timeline” thing, with all of the stories proclaiming that the Episcopal Church battles over doctrine, sacraments and sexuality started in 2003 with the election of an openly gay, non-celibate bishop in the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire. In reality, the battles had been going on — with international consequences — for several decades.

In this AP story about the retirement of Benedict XVI, the big story is the sex-abuse scandal. There are times, in this report, when the editors truly seem to realize that there is no singular scandal, but a series of connected scandals that have been unfolding since the early 1980s. Many of these flareups actually received attention in the mainstream press (as well as in Hollywood).

However, the headline at AP states the thesis: “Pope’s mission to revive faith clouded by scandal.” There are several places in which the AP team fits Benedict into this picture. For example:

The German theologian, whose mission was to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe, grew increasingly frail as he shouldered the monumental task of purging the Catholic world of a sex abuse scandal that festered under John Paul II and exploded during his reign into the church’s biggest crisis in decades, if not centuries.

That isn’t bad, but, actually, the scandal did much more than fester during the long, long tenure of the Blessed Pope John Paul II — it exploded into view several times. For example, didn’t The Boston Globe win its Pulitzer in 2003 for earlier coverage of the scandal, before Benedict XVI became pope? I am aware that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was already involved in the story, but it’s simply wrong to make it appear that the scandal began on his watch or that the worst abuses came to light during his papacy.

You can see the timeline struggle again a bit later in the report.

[Read more...]

And now, ironic Episcopal PR from South Florida

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I wish there was some way, legally and technically, that I could have GetReligion readers take a look at the following two stories about the advent of same-sex union rites in the Episcopal Church without readers being able to tell which one is from a mainstream newsroom and which one is from the denomination’s own information source.

Guess which one makes a more concerted effort to wrestle with and to report on the views of Episcopalians who disagree with this doctrinal revolution in their church?

Well, not this one:

Gay couples who seek spiritual affirmation of their relationships can now sanctify their unions with special blessings at South Florida’s Episcopal churches.

Priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida have been given permission to perform a distinct rite, different from the marriage between a man and a woman. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony, to be introduced this month, was approved by national convention delegates over the summer.

South Florida’s Episcopal priests had been performing a locally approved liturgy for the past two years for couples who have been married in other states, Bishop Leo Frade said. Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages. Frade said none of the priests in the 77-church diocese, which covers six South Florida counties, have told him they are morally opposed to the blessings.

This story contains the usual flaws in the Anglican timeline on these issues, with the conflicts (sigh) and schisms beginning at the usual point — the gay bishop reaching his throne in the tiny diocese in New Hampshire. The state of broken Communion inside the American body, and its fallout overseas, actually began years earlier.

Hey, church history is complex? Who expects accuracy on such matters in mainstream newspapers. Right?

The more significant flaw is linked to the fact that — despite the fact that not a single priest in South Florida objects to this evolution — there are other Episcopal dioceses in the state that oppose the rite and consider sex outside of traditional marriage to be a sin. GetReligion readers will be stunned to know that this mainstream report only talks to people on one side of this issue, a hot-button issue that continues to cause cracks in the Anglican Communion here in North America and, obviously, around the world.

Other voices? We don’t need no stinkin’ other voices!

Obviously, a report from the actual Episcopal News Service is going to represent the viewpoint of the denomination’s hierarchy. The Episcopal Church is, at the level of the hierarchy, an overwhelmingly liberal body on issues of doctrine and liturgy and this story shows that.

That is to be expected, in a denominational, advocacy, news source. However, this low-key and thorough story does note:

The blessing liturgy is authorized only with the permission of the diocesan bishop, and clergy can decline to preside at a blessing ceremony. Resolution A049 specified that bishops, particularly in dioceses located in civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, could provide a “generous pastoral response” and that bishops could adapt the liturgical materials to meet church members’ needs.

In the months since General Convention approved use of the liturgy, bishops throughout the church have issued pastoral letters outlining the policies for their dioceses.

This implies, of course, that some bishops are outlining options other than enthusiastic acceptance. Thus, those other voices are part of the national story and, to some degree, this ENS report.

The issue, in the South Florida coverage, is whether (a) there really are ZERO traditional Anglicans left in that liberal dioceses with whom to discuss this very newsworthy development or (b) whether a newspaper that portrays itself as a regional newspaper needs to take into account, in any way, the fact that what is a de facto sacrament in Miami remains a sin and even a heresy in Orlando.

The journalistic question: Why did the mainstream news report adopt a more blatant form of advocacy journalism than the denominational voice?

Now, that’s what you’d call ironic.

The ecumenical patriarch does what?

Every now and then I get email from regular GetReligion readers protesting the fact that we — well, me in particular — keep writing about the same subjects too much. In other words, we complain about some of the same errors in the mainstream press over and over and over (think Anglican Timeline Disease).

Take my word: It’s tough work, but someone’s got to do it.

In fact, there are times when I read a story in a major publication and I zip past errors or warped information in the text, for the simple reason that I am used to seeing them. The other day it happened to me when I was scanning a story about a significant event, at the global level, in my own church.

This New York Times story had a Moscow dateline and ran under the headline, “Orthodox Leaders Meet to Heal a Rift.” The news hook was the start of a 10-day visit to Russia by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Here are the key background paragraphs about this fence-mending mission:

(Bartholomew) spoke after a procession from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was blown up at Stalin’s orders in 1931 and rebuilt in the 1990s. A mass at the Cathedral on Monday morning marked the feast day of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, Greek brothers who created the Cyrillic alphabet and preached to Slavs in the 9th century. Bartholomew and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church have celebrated liturgy together, in Greek and Slavonic respectively, for two days in a row since the Ecumenical patriarch’s arrival in Moscow on Saturday.

OK, we will pause briefly to note that the Orthodox call the central rite of the faith the Divine Liturgy, not the Mass. This isn’t really an error, I guess. But would reporters cover the pope and say that he observed the Lord’s Supper with the faithful? Just asking.

Back to the Times report:

The Russian Orthodox Church is the world’s largest Orthodox church, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate, now reduced to a tiny community in Istanbul, is symbolically its most important, leading millions of Orthodox Christians around the world.

The Russian church has objected when the Patriarch of Constantinople is described as the Orthodox equivalent of a Roman Catholic pope, and the churches have tangled, often bitterly, since the collapse of the Soviet Union over jurisdictional issues in Estonia and Ukraine, as well as elsewhere in Europe, where an influx of recent Russian immigrants has led to cases of splintered parishes and property disputes. Since his enthronement as Patriarch last year, Kirill has made a thaw in relations with the two historic centers of Christianity, Constantinople and Rome, a key policy.

Did you catch it? Here’s a hint. It is rare to see a major newspaper get something right and wrong in the same sentence.

So look at the first sentence in that passage again. Yes, it is accurate to say that the ecumenical patriarch plays an important symbolic role, serving as the “first among equals” in gatherings of the patriarchs of the East. This is the same as the archbishop of Canterbury, another post that journalists keep turning into a kind of pope for the Anglican Communion role.

However, note that this same sentence claims that Bartholomew’s role consists of “leading millions of Orthodox Christians around the world.” The key word is “leading.” How can he lead the Orthodox churches of the world if he is a symbolic leader, the first among equals in a church in which leadership is provided by the patriarchs as a whole, acting in a conciliar form of church government?

You can see why the leader of the world’s largest Orthodox flock would be concerned that the patriarch of the tiny flock in Istanbul is often portrayed as a kind of Orthodox pope. The Times has, once again, said that the Orthodox have one leader and that is the ecumenical patriarch.

This is wrong. Again.

I read right past that mistake, in large part because of the calming “symbolic” reference in the same sentence.

You see, it can’t be both ways. Bartholomew cannot be a symbolic “first among equals,” while “leading millions of Orthodox Christians around the world.” Right?

Yes, this is picky stuff.

Church history is picky. Government is picky. Facts are often picky, but it’s important to get them right. That’s journalism.

I will say this, the story does end with a solid piece of analysis, care of a Russian insider.

Andrei Zubov, a historian and director of a center for the study of the church and international relations at MGIMO, the Russian foreign ministry’s university, said in an interview on Friday that Patriarch Kirill is working to overcome the legacy of the Soviet past inherited by the Russian church, as evidenced by his efforts to improve relations both with Constantinople and Rome.

“Bad relations with Constantinople and bad relations with Rome were a mandatory condition of Soviet church ideology,” Mr. Zubov said, as part of the Soviet regime’s goal of counteracting centers of Christianity that were outside of its control.

“So what is happening now is namely the overcoming of the Soviet, KGB heritage, the Soviet control of the church,” he said. “This is the restoration of normal, natural relations between the churches after the unnatural relations of the Soviet period.”

The rise of the Soviet state had another major impact on Eastern Orthodoxy at the global level — undercutting efforts by the missionary bishop St. Tikhon of Moscow (another crucial player was St. Raphael of Brooklyn) to plant the faith in Orthodoxy in a way that would transcend divisions between ethnic groups.

St. Tikhon was called home to Moscow and martyred while, in North America, his dream of a unified Orthodox body collapsed.

Frankly, one would have to think that one of the topics being discussed in Moscow at the moment is the ecumenical patriarch’s refusal to recognize the role of the Orthodox Church of America, which has Russian roots and is recognized by Moscow. In fact, they may be discussing the historic assembly of all of the canonical Orthodox bishops of America, which just got underway in New York City (Facebook page is here). Where is the mainstream coverage of that event, by the way?

Reporters who cover this event might want to note, however, that the Greek Orthodox leaders say this is the FIRST such assembly, while pro-unity Orthodox leaders in a variety of other flocks, including the Orthodox Church in America, insist that this is the SECOND gathering of the Orthodox bishops in America (following a 1994 meeting opposed by the ecumenical patriarch).

Might the Times cover this historic gathering in its own back yard? If so, its reporters and editors need to find themselves some good church historians and tread carefully. This story involves complicated facts. Lots of them.

Photos: Pope Benedict XVI meets with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow leads the Divine Liturgy for Pascha (Easter in the West) this year.

Missing voices in coverage of the National Cathedral rites

For some reason or another, quite a few folks who read this here weblog want to know what I, and the other GetReligionistas, think of the decision by leaders of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul — better known as Washington National Cathedral — to officially begin performing same-sex union rites.

Well, for starters, that’s a question about an event in the news, not a question about mainstream-media coverage of an event in the news. So that really isn’t a GetReligion question.

Personally, I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian, so I don’t have a horse in that race. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that modern Protestant bodies who hold votes to decide major doctrines are free to do whatever they want to do. However, various camps within the 600,000 or so Episcopalians who continue to worship in their local parishes on a regular basis will, and should, care deeply about this development. Press coverage should make note of that.

However, does this liturgical decision really surprise anyone? The trends in the Episcopal Church establishment have been steady for a decade or two. Episcopal clergy here in DC Beltway-land have been performing forms of same-sex union rites for three decades.

Now, a national rite has been approved and the contents are there for all to see. It would be a much bigger story if this symbolic cathedral declined to use these rites.

One longtime GetReligion reader did raise another interesting question, one that could be a hook for valid journalistic coverage. She wrote:

A friend told me yesterday that it’s irritating to keep reading about the National Cathedral in the news — as if that Episcopalian church was really the official US cathedral. So I was checking it out and see that the Washington National Cathedral is the church’s official name and it claims “it is called to serve as the spiritual home for the nation.” …

In spite of the … provision that we have no established church, why does the press continue to treat the Episcopal Cathedral in DC as if it is the official US religious center for political events? … Why is this situation not seen as a church-state difficulty by the press?

It is certainly true that, in terms of history, Episcopalians have, well, outperformed their numbers when it comes to having an impact on national news and American history. At this point, I think few would challenge a statement that National Cathedral is America’s most important liberal Protestant sanctuary. But, in terms of numbers and demographics, does that make it the “spiritual home for the nation”?

That might be a hook for an interesting story, but it really isn’t the key issue in this story about same-sex marriage.

When I started reading the coverage, I wanted to know if the teams in our major newsrooms realized that this symbolic action was a typical Episcopal-Anglican story, one with implications at the local, national and global levels. I also wondered if journalists would consider the ecumenical impact of this decision, in terms of the cathedral’s relationships with larger bodies of American believers — such as Catholics, evangelicals, charismatics, etc. Who knows, there was even a chance that journalists might interview one or two important religious leaders who opposed this action.

Hey, it could happen.

But don’t hold your breath.

[Read more...]

Baseball demons, angels and Jesus

Texas Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton acknowledges the fans after it was announced he had won the American League Batting Title for the highest batting average, in the eighth inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Arlington, Texas October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

When my beloved Texas Rangers clinched the American League West championship on Sept. 25, Josh Hamilton steered clear of the champagne-and-cigar celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse in Oakland, Calif.

The difference in how various media outlets covered the absence of Hamilton, a leading AL Most Valuable Player candidate, was interesting.

ESPN Dallas seemed to go out of its way to avoid any mention of Jesus Christ or Hamilton’s Christian faith:

Hamilton, whose baseball career was derailed for several years by drug and alcohol abuse, felt it was smarter for him to avoid the champagne and beer showers in the Rangers clubhouse. So he stayed in the trainer’s room, showered and kept his commitment to speak to a large fan gathering in the stadium as part of Faith Day in Oakland.

He was able to hug teammates and celebrate with them on the field right after the final out of a 4-3 Rangers victory. A large group of his teammates got the idea to dump water on him instead of champagne as part of the celebration, but Hamilton was already dressed and headed out to his speaking engagement when they located him.

Later, there’s this:

Hamilton’s troubled past is well documented. He was a can’t-miss prospect when Tampa Bay made him the No. 1 overall pick out of high school in the 1999 draft. But drug and alcohol abuse sidetracked his career, and he was out of baseball by 2003.

He credits his religious faith for helping him overcome his addictions, and he finally made it to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. He was traded to the Rangers in 2008 and has developed into one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.

So … Faith Day. Religious faith. At this point, I’m surprised the story went ahead and called him a Texas Ranger rather than a generic major-league baseball player.

Contrast that with the Associated Press story about Hamilton skipping the clubhouse party:

He had to convince a few teammates to not pour bottles of water on him, explaining he had other postgame activities in mind. It was church day in Oakland and Hamilton planned to join some of the Athletics in sharing stories of their faith with fans.

“So it would be kind of hypocritical of me to come in here and douse myself with alcohol and smoke cigars and then go out there and talk about Jesus,” Hamilton said.

So … Church Day. Jesus. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

My wife, children and I got to see Hamilton up close at Rangers’ spring training in Surprise, Ariz., in 2009. We were with a college group on a spring break mission trip to the Phoenix area. A friendly Hamilton posed for pictures with my children and visited with the Christian university students in our group. When one of the students asked Hamilton about his faith, he smiled and pulled a devotional guide out of his uniform sock. I was surprised and impressed.

But several months later, I was disappointed when news surfaced of Hamilton relapsing that previous winter. Photos were published involving the drunken slugger, whipped cream and women who were not his wife. Mollie posted last year on the media coverage of that incident.

This past Sunday, The Dallas Morning News recalled that incident in a remarkable Page 1 story about Hamilton and the role of his Christian faith in helping him overcome his addictions and sins:

On the chilly morning of Jan. 22, 2009, when everything else in her life seemed to be working out perfectly, Katie Hamilton received a phone call at her home outside Raleigh, N.C.

It was her husband, Josh, calling from Tempe, Ariz., where he had gone to a boot camp for athletes. Hamilton had become famous the year before for leading the American League in runs batted in and making the All-Star team in his first full season as a major leaguer.

And now he was calling his wife to tell her, through choking sobs, that after three years of sobriety, he had relapsed. He had gone out late the previous evening, alone, to a pizza restaurant, which happened to have a bar. He had a vodka and cranberry juice, then another, then went to a bar and had many more. He told her he didn’t remember everything that happened, but that there might be “pictures.” Katie told him to come home, and then she prayed.

The 1,900-word story goes into great detail to explain the role of pastors and “accountability partners” in Hamilton’s life … to describe how he sees nearly everything he does outside of baseball as a ministry … and to point out the specific steps he has taken to avoid the demons that allowed him to burn through a $4 million signing bonus in four years, including spending $100,000 in drugs in six weeks.

The writer, S.C. Gwynne, lets the story unfold naturally, mostly through the perspective of Hamilton and his wife, although others, such as Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, are quoted. Readers can determine for themselves the sincerity of Hamilton’s faith. (I must acknowledge that if I were the editor, I would have added a he says to facts such as this: he has been clean since that night in Tempe.)

But to his credit, Gwynne reports the story without condescension. Now, that should be a given in a mainstream news account. As GetReligion readers know all too well, though, that is not always the case in such reports.

If Gwynne’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a veteran Texas journalist who reported stories with Godbeat legend Richard Ostling at Time magazine and drew GetReligion praise from Tmatt for his Texas Monthly piece on Fort Worth Episcopal — er, Anglican — Bishop Jack Iker.

Gwynne’s professionalism and experience shine through in his Hamilton story.

By the way, the Rangers’ opening playoff game against the Tampa Bay Rays starts at 12:37 p.m. my time. I’ve already filled out the proper medical excuse form to take off from work.


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