Resistance to the Guardian is futile

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The General Synod of the Church of England — the legislative organ of the Protestant state church — will take up the question of women bishops this week. Should the delegates to synod be unsure as to how they should vote, the doctrinal authorities at The Guardian appear to be instructing them what they must do.

On July 9 the newspaper of the English establishment ran a silly news report entitled “Church of England women bishops: archbishops will overrule synod” that made the extraordinary but unsubstantiated claim that unless synod did what the establishment wanted, the archbishop of Canterbury would do it for them.

Why do I say that this story is silly? Why that word? Besides being petulant, exaggerated and, in journalism terms, unbalanced — it is also untrue. Rumor and opinion are packaged as fact. What the reader gets is the views of certain unnamed persons of what ought to be done, presented as what is to be done.

What we see in this story is not an example of media bias, but basic advocacy journalism. Let me be clear: This is not a failure to get religion or simple error. The non-objective approach taken by The Guardian is deliberate. To use that new GetReligion term, this is “Kellerism.”

The lede states:

The archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is preparing to drive through legislation to allow women bishops even if it is rejected by the church’s governing body, the General Synod. The synod is poised to vote again on the vexed plan next week but senior sources have told the Guardian that should the move be blocked again, there are now options being considered to force the change on the church.

The story is that if the plan for women bishops is thwarted a third time by the synod the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, will “force the change” through synod. Yet a close reading of the two sentences shows us the strength of the first is being modified by the second. The subject shifts from the archbishop will act to the archbishop is being presented with a choice of options.

Sources are cited in support of the archbishop’s putsch — but they are not named. The standard practice in classic journalism is to give an identity to your source so that the reader may judge the source’s credibility. What is fact? What is gossip? What is wishful thinking? What motives are at play?

When the source cannot be revealed, there is most often an explanation why and some version of this clause appears in the story: “a source with direct knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak to the media told …. ”

The Guardian article offers several options but does not take their measure. What is fantasy? The ground shifts with each paragraph in this story. The title states “archbishops” implying this is about the archbishops of Canterbury and York. The lede, states the archbishop of Canterbury will act. (Have we lost York?) The details in support of the lede say these are options and scenarios suggested by unnamed pro-women bishop campaigners.

The credibility of the article is further damaged with this paragraph.

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On women bishops: Who voted ‘no’ and why?

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To the shock of legions of mainstream reporters, the Church of England fell just short of approving the long-debated step of raising women to the Anglican episcopate.

The issue that seems to have some reporters stumped, a bit, is why the laypeople who cast these votes didn’t go along with this latest evolution in Anglican orders. Take, for example, the pretty solid report from Reuters, as offered by The Huffington Post. Here are two summary passages that contain the key material:

After hours of debate, the General Synod, the Church legislature made up of separate houses for bishops, clergy and laity, fell just short of the two-thirds majority required in all three houses to pass the measure. … The vote among lay members fell short by just four votes.

“It’s crushing for morale, senior women clergy must feel despondent and most bishops and most clergy male or female feel hugely sad and worse than sad, embarrassed and angry,” said Christina Rees, a Synod member and former chairman of the advocacy group Women and the Church. “Women bishops will come, but this is an unnecessary and an unholy delay,” she told Reuters.

The second passage is the key. Yes, careful readers will, of course, note that the progressives are once again called “reformers,” which means that, by definition, they are attempting to right a wrong. Nice neutral language, there. Not.

Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, but the Church of England, mother church for the world’s 80 million Anglicans, has struggled to reconcile the dispute between reformers and traditionalists on whether to allow them in England.

The Church had already agreed to allow women bishops in theory but Tuesday’s vote, on provisions to be made for conservatives theologically opposed to senior women clergy, needed to be approved before female Anglican priests could be promoted to episcopal rank in England. …

More than 100 members spoke during six hours of discussion in a vast circular chamber in Church House, the Church’s central London headquarters, airing their views under a domed ceiling inscribed with a prayer to “them that endured in the heat of conflict.” The dispute centred on ways to designate alternative male bishops to work with traditionalist parishes that might reject the authority of a woman bishop named to head their diocese.

So what’s the problem here?

It is good that the story notes that the opponents of female bishops are “conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics,” because there are plenty of evangelicals who are willing to back the ordination of women to all orders.

It is not helpful that, at the end of the piece, the divisions inside the global Anglican Communion are described, in effect, as being between Anglicans in modern lands and many “Anglicans in developing countries.” That radically oversimplifies matters, especially in Africa. One could just as easily have described this as a conflict between the Communion’s rapidly shrinking liberal churches and its rapidly growing conservative ones.

The story also fails to note that taking this step would have created even more tensions between Anglicans and the ancient Christian churches of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, which do not ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Careful readers will note that the story does not, in fact, quote any person — ordained or laity — who opposed this crucial “reform,” which would lead to female bishops who would then ordain priests, male or female, that traditional Anglicans would argue have not been truly ordained. If the conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics won, where are their happy voices? Why leave them out of the story?

But here is the key question: Did the vote fail, in fact, because there were liberal Anglicans who voted against this measure because they believed it offered too much protection for conservatives? Did they oppose this measure because it did not go far enough to please the “reformers”? Meanwhile, did others who support the ordination of women vote against the measure because they did not believe it did enough to protect the traditionalists? Watch the video at the top of this post.

In other words, did the left split? Again, note that this Reuters report did say that the key “dispute centred on ways to designate alternative male bishops to work with traditionalist parishes that might reject the authority of a woman bishop named to head their diocese.”

If that was the dispute that led to the defeat of the measure, then the single most important thing this story needed to do was to explain that conflict, while quoting representative, authoritative voices on both sides of that dispute.

The bottom line: Why voted “no” and why? Was this measure defeated by a coalition of people who opposed it for very different reasons? If so, where are these crucial voices in this report?