AllSaintsWaccamawMaybe “siiiiigggghhhhh” is a better way to say it.

Anyway, it’s time for another lesson in the history of Anglican warfare, which means flashing back a few years in that old, familiar timeline — again.

The year is 2000. As noted in earlier posts, that is when (let’s turn to coverage in The Living Church):

Two American priests, the Rev. Charles H. Murphy III and the Very Rev. John H. Rodgers, Jr., were consecrated bishops Jan. 29 in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore, by a group of Anglican bishops, including two from the Episcopal Church.

Fr. Murphy, rector of All Saints’ Church, Pawleys Island, S.C., and Dean Rodgers, retired dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, were consecrated as bishops and “will be released to minister in the United States of America,” according to a news release. It was not immediately clear who released the bishops. …

The two new bishops are associated with organizations which have been supportive of the formation of a new Anglican province for traditionalists who have been unhappy with the leftward drift of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Murphy is a leader of First Promise, based in Pawleys Island, and Bishop Rodgers is aligned with Association of Anglican Congregations, an organization of Episcopal and “continuing” congregations which has headquarters in suburban Chicago.

Note the role of that truly historic flock on the coast in South Carolina — All Saint’s Parish Waccamaw (first chapel built in 1736). Note that its rector, in addition to being consecrated as a “missionary bishop” for traditionalists in North America, is already the leader of the early First Promise network, which had similar goals.

Again, the year is 2000. A press release for the global Anglican leaders who performed this irregular rite of consecration proclaimed:

“The archbishops and bishops agree that this is a gospel issue, not a political issue. It is an action to re-establish the unity that has been violated by the unrebuked ridicule and denial of basic Christian teaching. They are convinced it is time to give the faithful in the U.S. a place to remain Anglican.

“The sending of these bishops back to the United States is offered as an interim step in an ongoing effort to lead the Episcopal Church back to its biblical foundations.”

Now, let’s jump ahead to a very recent Religion News Service report, as published in USA Today, that also focuses on that same congregation, All Saints Parish. You can read about the current All Saints Parish (as in many Anglican real-estate disputes, there now seem to be two flocks) by clicking here.

In this new report, we are told (brace yourselves):

A South Carolina parish that split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 can keep its church property, the state’s Supreme Court has ruled, handing a rare legal victory to conservative dissidents.

A majority of members of All Saints Church at Pawley’s Island voted to secede from the Episcopal Church five years ago, after an openly gay man was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church maintains that congregations hold their property in trust for the denomination; if they decide to leave, the property stays with the diocese and the national church, Episcopal leaders argue.

Once again, I have no doubt that steps were taken in 2004 that are part of the historical timeline that marks this parish’s journey away from the U.S. Episcopal Church and into the embrace of large, traditionalist Anglican flocks in other parts of the world. And, yes, the year 2004 falls after the Nov. 2, 2003, consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, that openly gay, noncelibate bishop.

However, if the story is about All Saints Parish, isn’t the crucial date (or at the very least “a” crucial date) actually Jan. 29, 2000, when the parish’s own rector is consecrated as a bishop in a rite that is either illegal, irregular or openly confrontational? And while it’s clear that national debates about moral theology and sex played a crucial role in the consecrations of Murphy and Rodgers, other issues of biblical authority and church tradition were just as important.

In other words, All Saints Parish is in the thick of things in 2000. There is no way to say that the fight begins in 2004, following the Robinson consecration in 2003. That is way too simplistic. The Robinson event is important, but it is simply inaccurate to state or to imply that it stands alone as the defining moment for this parish. Right?

This is one case where I really wish I could find the RNS story — in unedited form — on the wire service’s own website. I have tremendous respect for RNS, so I am left wondering: Was this story harshly edited by a USA Today copy editor?

Radical sexist nuns flee to Rome

conventintro_000A long time ago, back in the year 1991 to be precise, a circle of six doctrinally conservative priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland did a very unusual thing — they published a paper reaffirming ancient Christian doctrines on a host of different subjects, including their belief that salvation was found through Jesus Christ, alone.

Well, “The Baltimore Declaration” caused quite a stir and, to say the least, did not receive applause from local Episcopal leaders. The document also made some national headlines, which is how I heard about it all the way out in Denver.

The fallout for the priests was immediate. One of them was Father R. Gary Mathewes-Green, who left the Episcopal fold to enter Eastern Orthodoxy, becoming Father Gregory Mathewes-Green. He soon became the founding priest at Holy Cross Orthodox Church and is still serving there, which, to be honest about it, means that for the better part of a decade he has been the Mattingly family’s beloved pastor.

With that out of the way, I can now mention that knowing Father Gregory and Frederica Mathewes-Green (yes, the author and commentator) also means moving in circles with close ties to supporters of the traditional Anglican order known as the All Saints Sisters of the Poor. In fact, former members of the order who left to convert to Orthodoxy played crucial roles in the birth, life and growth of Holy Cross Orthodox Church.

You see, the earthquake of the 1991 declaration, as well as a host of other developments in the Episcopal Church before and after that, sent aftershocks through the blessed peace and quiet of that lovely convent. The sisters have been trying to make decisions — as a body — about their future for many years now.

But that is not the story told in the recent Baltimore Sun news feature about the community’s decision to swim the Tiber and join the Roman Catholic Church. No, you’ll be shocked, shocked, to discover that the newspaper is convinced that this decision was caused by _____.

Can you guess? Suffice it to say that we are, again, wrestling with a radically truncated timeline for the Anglican Communion wars. Click here and here and here (for starters) if you want more info.

But first things first: Who wrote this strange headline?

Episcopal nuns’ exit widens rift

As sect ordains women and gays, Catonsville sisters become Catholic

Sect? I guess there would be very, very conservative Anglicans who would consider the Episcopal Church a “sect,” but I think most would still simply call the older, larger, official body linked to the Anglican Communion a “church.” Right?

But back to the top of the story, which really is quite dramatic (although the decision by the sisters has been known in other publications for several months now):

In a move that religious scholars say is unprecedented, 10 of the 12 nuns at an Episcopal convent in Catonsville left their church … to become Roman Catholics, the latest defectors from a denomination divided over the ordination of gay men and women.

The members of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor were welcomed into the Catholic Church by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, who confirmed the women during a Mass in their chapel. Each vowed to continue the tradition of consecrated life, now as a religious institute within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

“We know our beliefs and where we are,” said Mother Christina Christie, superior of the order that came to Baltimore in 1872. “We were drifting farther apart from the more liberal road the Episcopal Church is traveling. We are now more at home in the Roman Catholic Church.” …

The women join the movement out of the nation’s sixth-largest Protestant denomination since the 2003 consecration of its first openly gay bishop thrust long-standing divisions over homosexuality out into the open. Their departure, which the sisters said they had been considering for years, comes weeks after voters at the Episcopal General Convention declared homosexuals eligible for any ordained ministry within the church and began writing prayers to bless gay unions.

So, you see, it was the issue of the ordination of women as well as the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson — openly gay, non-celibate and partnered — that pushed these sisters out of the shrinking Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism in America.

Well, maybe there were other issues, too.

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group Integrity USA, expressed sadness on learning of the sisters’ departure.

“It grieves the heart of God whenever brother and sister Christians can’t come to agreement and someone chooses to leave a fellowship,” said Russell, an Episcopal parish priest in Pasadena, Calif. But she likened it to the past departures of members who differed with the church’s positions on segregation, the Vietnam War and the ordination of women.

AnglicanBombnighttimeThis is, of course, Russell’s opinion and it’s valid to quote these views — especially if one is convinced that homosexuality is in fact the central issue that drove the order toward Rome. Then again, perhaps it was racism or support for U.S. military policies?

The point is that no one has a chance to respond to these charges. They simply echo in the air. The sisters are quoted, a little bit, about their motives — but it’s clear that they were asked to describe their order’s doctrinal approach to those newsy sexuality issues.

It is true, however, that the Sun story notes that the work done by these sisters benefits a wide range of people.

Members of the order, who range in age from 59 to 94, wear the traditional black habit and veil and a thin gold band on the right hand. They lead a monastic lifestyle, filled with prayer and work with the terminally ill at Joseph Richey House in Baltimore, which they opened in 1987 with Mount Calvary Church, and with children and the poor.

Meanwhile, as a reader, I have all kinds of questions about the decision made by the sisters and the rite that ushered them into their new Communion.

What does it mean to say that they will be a “religious institute” in the Catholic church? As opposed to being a religious order?

Will the sisters be allowed to retain their unique and glorious tradition of Anglican rites, prayers and spirituality under the “Anglican Use” provisions? A symbolic issue: When they entered the Catholic fold, did the bishop preside at the sister’s own altar? Facing East? Or was another altar used, Vatican II style, facing the congregation? Also, what happens to the retreat house itself and the grounds? Do they now belong to the local Catholic diocese?

These questions are, of course, not related to sexuality. Sorry about that.

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.

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?

Those ties that bind and divide

GAY BISHOPIt may be time for that old, old Episcopal joke, again. This is the version that I heard in the mid-1990s.

The year is 2012, as the joke goes, and two Anglo-Catholic priests in the back of National Cathedral are watching the Episcopal presiding bishop and her incense-bearing lesbian lover process down the aisle behind a statue of the Buddha, while the faithful sing a hymn to Mother Earth.

“You know,” one traditionalist whispers, “ONE more thing and I’m out of here.”

You can tell that the joke is very old, because the Episcopalians who told in a decade or more ago did not anticipate the advent of same-sex union rites. Thus, the joke should say that presiding bishop and her lesbian spouse processed down the center aisle. Times change.

Across the Atlantic, journalists are being a bit more blunt about the decision by the Episcopal Church to allow dioceses to openly make the decision to ordain gays and lesbians who are in committed, same-sex unions. This “local option” policy has been the norm for many years, but not with the details affirmed in a public vote.

Here’s the top of the BBC report, which is mild by British standards:

Bishops of the Anglican Church in the United States have voted to overturn a three-year moratorium on the election of gay bishops.

The decision seems likely to lead to the Episcopal Church’s eventual exit from the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Communion has been fighting to avoid disintegration since the Episcopal Church consecrated the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

Yes, there is that timeline issue again, with a reference that, at the very least, fails to take into account that Southern Cone bishops began consecrating alternative missionary bishops for North America in 2000. Actually, that fails to take in account a whole lot of things. But we can’t linger there.

As you would expect, Ruth Gledhill’s story in the Times is a bit more blunt and global:

A worldwide Anglican schism now seems inevitable after Episcopal bishops in the United States today backed the consecration of gay bishops.

Episcopal bishops approved a resolution passed earlier this week by the laity and clergy that allows “partnered gays” full access to ordination. … They took the step towards schism in spite of a plea by Dr Rowan Williams, who addressed the General Convention in Anaheim, California, last week.

But as you would expect, the language was much calmer in the hallowed pages of the publication that matters the most to the Episcopal Church hierarchy, which would be the New York Times. Here’s that lede, which stresses that the liberals have not completely won the day (thus sharing quite a bit in terms of tone and quoted material with the official release from the Episcopal News Service.

In this telling, the old joke remains highly relevant:

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church’s convention on Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.

The resolution passed on Monday was written in a way that would allow dioceses to consider gay candidates to the episcopacy, but does not mandate that all dioceses do so.

In terms of the timeline issue, it is interesting that veteran Laurie Goodstein of the Times found a way to keep the focus on the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Robinson (photo), without being inaccurate. Thus, note the “broken ties” language in the next quotation.

washington-national-cathedralThis focus on an event in 2003, and its aftermath, clears out the wider world of doctrinal fights over salvation, the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth and other basic, creedal issues — making this a fight strictly over sexuality. Read carefully:

The battle over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church has been watched closely by other mainline Protestant churches that are also divided internally on the issue. Many are looking to the Episcopal Church as a bellwether that could foretell whether their denominations can survive the storm over homosexuality intact.

Conservative provinces in the Anglican Communion, especially some in Africa, have broken off their ties with the Episcopal Church in recent years after the church consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the communion, who was elected in the diocese of New Hampshire six years ago.

The entire report is set up in journalistic fashion, switching back in forth between two camps of believers who simply read the Bible differently on this one issue. The mood is properly Episcopal, with an emphasis on compromise and dialogue between people of today and people of the past.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the global clock is ticking, as traditionalists in the Global South get their act together in North America and elsewhere. This passage is especially blunt.

The debate before the House of Deputies voted on Sunday to overturn the moratorium on gay bishops sometimes grew emotional. Sally Johnson, a lay delegate from Minnesota, who had supported the moratorium three years ago, proclaimed that she had decided now to support D025, the measure to overturn the moratorium, because it is a more accurate reflection of where the Episcopal Church stands.

“I stand before you now asking us to give D025 to the church and the communion as a gift, reflecting our messiness in our church but an authentic, truthful statement about who we are as the Episcopal Church,” she said.

But speaking in opposition, the Rev. Ralph Stanwise, from the diocese of Quincy, said, “If we overturn the B033 moratorium we will in effect be urging many remaining conservatives and moderates among us and in our home dioceses, especially our most fragile ones, to search for the exit signs.”

As the Times stresses, all of the momentum is on the left in this General Convention. Many members of the church’s leadership are being very honest and candid — a stance that many conservatives will actually cheer behind closed doors.

Thus, the stress now is on the people who want to do everything they can to slow the train down, in the name of helping the Church of England keep the global institution together. They need another way to compromise, to give some traditionalists to hang on and wait for “one MORE thing” to happen.

Stay tuned.

Photos: The 2003 consecration. The center aisle of Washington National Cathedral.

Don’t do the (Episcopal) time warp, again

timewarpYou know, it really isn’t hard to get the Anglican-wars timeline right or to, at least, craft one or two short, editor-friendly sentences that do not mangle the facts. There’s no need to warp time in this story.

To see how not to handle the past three decades of Episcopal Church struggles over sexuality, simply click here.

To see a simple way of getting things right (or at least, not getting them wrong) then check out this passage from a 2009 General Convention update from the Los Angeles Times:

Episcopalians have been debating the roles of gays and lesbians in the church for years, but the issue escalated in 2003 when a gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire.

That decision disturbed Anglican leaders, who issued a report the next year calling for all churches in the communion to refrain from electing bishops living in same-sex unions, and from authorizing the development of blessing rites for such relationships.

Now, personally, I still think it would be MORE accurate if the first sentence in that passage read like this: “Episcopalians have been debating the roles of gays and lesbians in the church for decades.”

That wording would be accurate, of course, since the battle truly escalated in 1979 during the General Convention held in Denver. Doctrinal traditionalists won that round, but insiders could see the true size of the liberal revolt when some very influential bishops openly backed the gay-rights cause. One of them, the Rt. Rev. Edmond Browning, would be elected as the church’s presiding bishop a few years later.

The key is that, when you study an accurate timeline, it’s clear that this war is not over the consecration of one openly gay and noncelibate bishop in New Hampshire. And if you look at the real issues over basic doctrines — from the Virgin Birth of Jesus to the Resurrection and many points in between — the timeline stretches back much further. There’s more to the story than hangups about sex, in other words.

It’s not that hard to get the timeline right.

It’s even easier to avoid printing inaccurate information and, thus, to avoid getting the timeline wrong.

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.

Mainline wars: Do the math

gay-marriage-simpsonsOne of the ongoing temptations here at GetReligion — for the GetReligionistas as well as the reader/commentators — is to focus on interesting events and trends in religion news, instead of keeping our unique focus on how the mainstream press attempts to cover those stories in an accurate, balanced, professional manner.

The bottom line: This is not a religion-news blog; this is a blog about how the mainstream press wrestles with coverage of religion news. It helps to read that “What we do, why we do it” post every now and then.

Now, we also do our “Got news?” posts about stories that journalists seem to be missing. We also comment on op-eds and essays that are directly focused on religion news or trends that shape mainstream religion news (like the victory of European journalism at nonNewsweek battles). If something is linked to religion news, we have to consider writing about it.

For example, consider Godbeat veteran Cathy Lynn Grossman’s short USA Today report the other day: “Survey: Protestant clergy back gay rights, not marriage.”

As the text of her story makes clear, the headline urgently needed another word — an adjective such as “mainline” or “oldline” — to modify that broad, broad word “Protestant.” Note the crucial word “seven” in the second paragraph, as in “seven sisters.” Here’s the top of the report:

Most mainline Protestant clergy do not support legalizing gay marriage, even if they’re not required to officiate at same-sex ceremonies.

It was the only point on which the majority did not support gay rights, according to a survey of clergy from the seven historic mainline Protestant denominations to which 18% of Americans belong. The Clergy Voices Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research, is based on 2,658 responses from clergy from the United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Episcopal Church; United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA; American Baptist Church; and the Disciples of Christ.

These are, of course, the major churches of the religious left. Yet on another level, they are not — for the simple reason that there are giant fissures inside these churches between seminaries and local churches, between local pastors and bureaucratic leaders, between pews in red zip codes and those in blue. Consider the Anglican-Episcopal wars, for starters. It is way too simplistic to say that the “seven sisters” are totally on one side or the other, in the battles over basic doctrines in Christianity.

That’s why Grossman’s little poll story is important. In a few lines, it explains why these horrific wars roll on and on over on the Protestant left and in churches to the left of center. When it comes to changing the definition of marriage itself, which essentially means saying that ancient forms of Christianity have been wrong for 2,000 years, then pastors find it hard to shout, “Amen!”

Only 33% say gay couples should be allowed to marry, 32% would allow civil unions, and 35% call for “no legal recognition” for same-sex couples. Support for same-sex marriage grew to 46% if laws specified that clergy would not be required to perform a religious ceremony in contradiction with their denomination’s teachings.

“We find that on these issues, the clergy views are fairly in line with the laity views,” said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research.

Thus, the story never seems to go away. That’s bad news for people on the left and the right in these oldline conflicts.