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The Guardian ridicules the saints, the Virgin and prayer: Get Religion, February 6, 2014 February 8, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Why do we fight? Why do we write? What motivates our editor tmatt and the team at GetReligion to do what we do?

For me, as I expect it is for my colleagues, it is the love of the game. To showcase the best examples of the craft of journalism — while chiding those that fall short.

I began to follow GetReligion shortly after it went online in 2004. I was a professional acquaintance of one of its co-founders, Doug LeBlanc and a long time admirer of his work and that of the editor, Terry Mattingly. Their call to improve the craft (not police it as some critics have charged) resonated with me. When I joined three years ago I was honored by their invitation and the opportunity to participate in their work by looking at the English, European and overseas press.

I was tasked with looking at stories such as this one from last week’s Guardian entitled: “Spanish government questioned over claims of divine help in economic crisis”, with an eye towards applying the standards of classical Anglo-American journalism to the story, as well as offering American readers a window into the British and European press world.

Critics often charge The New York Times and other American newspapers with spinning the news to advance the interests of a particular party or interest group. Advocacy journalism, as it is called, violates the tenets of classical liberal journalism which rejects overt politicking. The reporter’s role is to establish the facts and let them dictate how the story is written.

European advocacy style reporting draws upon a different intellectual tradition. “All history is contemporary history,” idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce said — history exists but only in the present tense.

In this school the past has reality only in the mind of the author.

At its worst, this relativist-subjective approach leads to the Dan Rather “false but true” mindset, but most practitioners understand that the reporter must be faithful to the truth. But it is further understood that truth does not have an independent existence from the reporter’s intellectual constructs.

Advocacy reporting is the norm for many Continental newspapers, and the shading of tone to advance a particular cause is expected by most European readers. The British press remains divided on this point. Most stories in the Guardian, The Times, Telegraph, Independent and regional papers follow the classical line. Yet many stories that deal with politics, religion and what in America we call the culture wars are written from an ideological perspective.

The practical problem with this relativist approach is that it leave gaps in the story and is open to abuse. This item from the Guardian is an example. It begins:

If higher powers are helping to lift Spain out of its economic crisis, one political party wants to know exactly who they are and what they’re doing.

Amaiur, a leftwing party from the Basque country, has put a series of questions to the governing People’s party after the interior minister, Jorge Fernández Diaz, said recently he was certain that Saint Teresa was “making important intercessions” for Spain “during these tough times”.

In a letter to the government on Tuesday, Jon Iñarritu García of Amaiur asked for clarification about what help the government was getting from one of Spain’s most popular holy figures.

The article then quoted the politician as asking:

“In what ways does the minister of the interior think Saint Teresa of Avila is interceding on behalf of Spain?” he asked. “Does the government believe there are other divine and supernatural interventions affecting the current state of Spain? If so, who are they?”

“What role has the Virgin of El Rocío played in helping Spain exit the crisis?” he asked.

The article transitions with an acknowledgment that this is nonsense, but then notes that this nonsense is a weapon in the fight against reactionary clericalism. This is followed by an over the top comment equating opposition to abortion with fascism.

The letter took on a more serious tone in asking about the separation of church and state in Spain. “Does the government believe they are respecting the secular nature of the state? Does the government plan to push for a religious state?”

The increasingly blurry line between church and state in Spain has been in the headlines recently as the government moves forward with its proposal to roll back women’s access to abortion.

In an article on Diaz’s comments, El País columnist Román Orozco wrote: “If I closed my eyes … I would think I was listening to some old shirt of the Falange.” Saint Teresa was a favourite of General Franco, who kept her hand by his bed until his death.

As journalism this is garbage. It leads one to ask what the Guardian has against St Theresa? There is no pretense of balance or factual reporting here. The author takes what he acknowledges to be an absurdity and uses it to slam those who do not share his ideological views. It is simply an exercise in hyperbole that ignores facts or context.

In his 1946 essay, “Why I Write”, George Orwell stated, “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism.”

The totalitarianism we face today in the West comes not from Stalinism or Fascism. It arises in the the cant, hypocrisy and moral dishonesty of our intellectual and philosophical worlds. It is in challenging the orthodoxies of left and right, that one can find the best Guardian reporting. But the Guardian at times represents the ugliest impulses of our intellectual lives.

Does this article deserve condemnation? It is riddled with errors, condescending towards it subject, and is entirely predictable. And, it is malicious.

That unfashionable poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, wrote in her “Dirge Without Music:

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

A journalist who takes his craft seriously, who is not resigned to the world around him, who writes with moral purpose (but without moralizing) prepares stories that are a joy to read. This article is not one of them.

And why do we write? To speak out against the totalitarianism of small minds and corrupt reporting.

First published in GetReligion.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 91, February 8, 2014 February 8, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican.TV, Church of England, The Episcopal Church.
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Published on Feb 8, 2014
Anglican Unscripted is the only video newscast in the Anglican Church. Every Week Kevin, George, Allan and Peter bring you news and prospective from around the globe.

Story Index
00:00 The New Oxford Movement
15:44 Elephant Politics
21:42 AS Haley on South Carolina
31:00 The perfect answer for Immigration
39:35 Closing and Bloopers

Tweeting Mohammad: Get Religion, February 3, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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The Mohammad cartoon controversy has resurfaced over the past week with a flutter over a tweet.

The British press appears to have come down on the side of Maajid Nawaz. Newspaper articles, opinion pieces and television chat shows have defended his right to share a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammad. But they have also ceded the moral high ground to his opponents — Islamist extremists — by declining to publish a copy of the cartoon that has led to death threats and calls for Nawaz to be blacklisted by the Liberal Democratic Party for Islamophobia.

What we are seeing in the British media — newspapers and television (this has not been a problem for radio) — in the Jesus and Mo controversy is a replay of past disputes over Danish and French cartoons. Freedom of speech and courage in the face of religious intolerance is championed by the press — up to a point.

The point appears to be whether being courageous could get you killed or even worse, earn the displeasure of the bien pensant chattering classes.

The Telegraph gives a good overview of the affair.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has received death threats after posting a cartoon image of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.

However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden. More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.

The Guardian summarized Nawaz’s motives in this subtitle to their story:

Lib Dem candidate says he aimed to defend his religion ‘against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest’

It explained:

The row blew up after Nawaz took part in a BBC debate where two students were wearing t-shirts depicting a stick figures of stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?”

The politician, who is founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank, tweeted what he believes is a “bland” image and stated that “as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that”.

Both stories are sympathetic and are topped by striking photos of Nawaz, who is  running to be an MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. But neither article reproduces the cartoon that has led to the threats against his life. In their defence, it could be argued that a photo of Nawaz, rather than the offending cartoon was more appropriate as the article focused on the politician’s travails over the cartoon, not on the cartoon itself. A week argument but an argument none the less.

Television was not blessed with this excuse. During the debate on The Big Questions which sparked the row, the BBC declined to show members of the audience who were wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts. This censorship, avoidance, prudence (take your pick) led Nawaz to tweet a photo of the cartoon — leading to twitter threats to cut off his head.
Newsnight discussed the controversy over censorship, but decided not to show a copy of the cartoon. Newswatch also discussed the “Jesus and Mo” controversy, noting that complaints had been raised by viewers over its failure to show the cartoon. But Newswatch also declined to show the cartoon. Zero for three for the BBC.

The best (from a cognoscenti  of hypocrisy’s point of view) was Channel 4′s handling of the subject. It broadcast the cartoon, sans Mo. This prompted the popular British blogger, Archbishop Cranmer to write:

[This] censoring images of Mohammed establishes a narrow Sunni-sharia compliance: it is, effectively, a blasphemy code adopted by the state broadcasters.

The columnist for The Times, Janice Turner, excoriated the BBC and Channel 4 in an excellent piece entitled “Show us Jesus & Mo. It’s the price of freedom”. It was:

hard to watch Wednesday’s Newsnight without concluding that Britain has become a very strange place. We saw an artist so frightened for his life that his face and even his voice were disguised. We saw his hand sketching the Christian prophet in a crown of thorns, but forbidden to draw the Muslim one. An 11-minute film debated a drawing at the heart of a national controversy but at no point could we see it.

Turner further reported:

When challenged, Newsnight’s editor, Ian Katz, said that there was “no clear journalistic case to use” the cartoon, and that “describing” it was sufficient. (TV news will get a whole lot cheaper if we needn’t send a camera crew to war-ravaged Damascus: let’s just have it described by Jeremy Bowen.) Any depiction of Muhammad, Katz argued, “causes great offence to many, not just extremists” and to run it would be “journalistic machismo”.

She aptly summarized the journalistic and moral issues at play.

Mr Nawaz’s frustration is understandable. In banning the image, the BBC cast him as the faux-Muslim, his opponents as the rational, majority voice that must be heeded.

How can moderate Muslims be expected to speak out, if they are cast as apostates by national TV? Those who have not yet made up their minds will see angry offence as the default position. They hear it proclaimed by the deceptively reasonable Mohammed Shafiq, the Lib Dem, whose Ramadhan Foundation hosts homophobic speakers, and that hot-air balloon Mo Ansar, who argues that gender-divided public meetings are just like BBQs where guys cluster around the grill while wives chat with the kids. No biggie.

The BBC and Channel 4 are guilty of cant and hypocrisy. They are daring when it is safe to be daring, but cowards when it comes to militant Islam. Are the Guardian and Telegraph guilty of cant as well? They preach freedom of speech, but by refusing to show the Jesus and Mo cartoon are they not also ceding the moral high ground to the enemies of free speech?

First printed in Get Religion.

Joy and democracy in Egypt: The Church of England Newspaper, January 24, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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Last week’s referendum on a new constitution was marked by joy and dancing in the street, the Bishop of Egypt reports, as the country showed its support for the ousting of former President Mohammad Mursi.

“I can see my beloved country standing on the doorstep of a new day,” Dr Mouneer Anis said on 15 January 2014.

Approximately 39 per cent of Egypt’s 53 million eligible voters turned out to vote on 15-16 January 2014, the country’s election committee reported, with the new constitution receiving 98.1 per cent approval.

Dr Anis reported the Muslim Brotherhood has urged its followers to boycott the referendum. “Going to the polls was risky because of those who were trying to use violence to scare people from voting, but the army and the police exerted a great effort to protect the polls and to give assurance to the people who would like to vote,” the Bishop said.

“The new Constitution affirms equality and the rights of women within Egyptian society,” the Bishop said, and was the product of a popular front government that included “representatives of all sectors of the society” including Christians.

“It was a phenomenon to see crowds of women at each poll, many of whom queued for hours to vote. Some of them were singing and rejoicing, and even dancing, before and after they cast their vote. There was a general spirit of joy among the people of Egypt who voted, in a way that never happened before,” Dr Anis said.

Under the draft constitution, Islam remains the state religion, but freedom of belief is absolute. The state guarantees “equality between men and women” and forbids political parties based on “religion, race, gender or geography”.

Final arguments presented in San Joaquin case: The Church of England Newspaper, January 24, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, San Joaquin, The Episcopal Church.
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The legality of the secession of a California diocese from the from the Episcopal Church is in the hands of California Judge Donald Black following  the closing arguments presented to the Fresno Superior Court last week.

On 13 Jan 2014 the videotaped testimony of the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield who presided over the 2007 vote by the diocesan synod to quit the Episcopal Church was presented to the court.  Bishop Schofield, who died in October 2013, testified in the 2011 recording to his actions surrounding the diocesan vote to amend its amend its constitution and canons to replace language acceding to the Episcopal Church’s constitution with language that affiliated the Diocese with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

In 2008 the national church and loyalists members of the diocese brought suit against Bishop Schofield and various parishes, seeking to acquire control of all church properties. The breakaway diocese has argued that the diocese’s actions conformed to secular and ecclesiastical law.  Attorneys for the national church have argued that while the church’s constitution does not forbid the secession of dioceses, a ban on quitting is implied in the church’s governing documents.

Judge Black ordered the parties to file their final briefs on 24 Feb 2014, and their reply briefs on 17 March 2014. A decision is expected from the court by late summer.

ACNA priest appointed Six Preacher at Canterbury: The Church of England Newspaper, January 24, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed a priest of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to serve as one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral.

The appointment of Dr. Tory Baucum, rector of Truro Parish in the ACNA’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic marks the first official recognition or honor by Canterbury of an ACNA priest. Archbishop Robert Duncan of the ACNA noted the appointment was “historically significant.”

Dr. Baucum “is known to be a gifted teacher and preacher who is committed to the present day reformation out of which the Anglican Church in North America was born,” he said.

In the statement released on 16 Jan 2014, the Lambeth Palace press office noted the political symbolism of the appointment.

“While Dr Baucum has extensive experience of preaching, evangelism and peace-making, his appointment is also recognition of his commitment to reconciliation, which is one of Archbishop Justin’s ministry priorities. Truro Church seceded from the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in 2006 and subsequently became part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). When Dr Baucum became Rector in 2007, the church and the diocese were involved in litigation over property rights. Dr Baucum, a priest in ACNA, developed a close friendship with the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, the Rt Revd Shannon Johnston, and a settlement was subsequently reached.”

Archbishop Welby stated: “The close friendship [Baucum] has forged with Bishop Shannon Johnston, despite their immensely different views, sets a pattern of reconciliation based on integrity and transparency. Such patterns of life are essential to the future of the Communion. I hope and pray that Tory’s presence as one of the Six Preachers will play a part in promoting reconciliation and unity amongst us.”

New leaders for the Church of South India: The Church of England Newspaper, January 24, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India.
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The Rt Rev Govada Dyvasirwadam

A new moderator, deputy moderator and general secretary have been elected by the 34th meeting of the Church of South India’s (CSI) General Synod.

Meeting from 11-14 January 2014 in Vijayawada, Andrah Pradesh the 22 bishops from the four South Indian states and Jaffna in Sri Lanka, 135 presbyters and 275 lay members elected new the Bishop in the Diocese of Krishna-Godavari, the Rt. Rev. Govada Dyvasirvadam, to a two year term as moderator.

The Bishop in Madhya Kerala Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Thomas K. Oommen was elected Deputy Moderator and Dr. Rathnakara Sadananda, Professor of Theology at the Karnataka Theological College, was elected general secretary.

Sources in the Church of South India tell CEN the election marks a change in the church’s political power structure, with an “insider” elected moderator and “outsiders” untainted by the church’s past corruption scandals elected as deputy moderator and general secretary.

Ordained in 1978, the new moderator Bishop Dyvasirvadam was a lecturer then warden of Andrah Pradesh Theological College. From 1998 to 2001 he served as General Secretary of the CSI before his election as Bishop of Krishna-Godavari. At the 2012 meeting of synod he was elected deputy moderator of the CSI.

Bishop Oommen was elected Bishop in Madhya Kerala Diocese in 2011, and has gained the support of lay activists and reformers within the church.

Lord Lyon King of Arms appointed: The Church of England Newspaper, January 31, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Scottish Episcopal Church.
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A priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Rev. Canon Joseph Morrow, has been appointed by the Queen as the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

An office created in the 14th century, the Lord Lyon King of Arms is the most junior of the Great Officers of State in Scotland and is the Scottish official with responsibility for regulating heraldry.  He is also responsible for Scottish state ceremonies, akin to the Earl Marshal in England, and his duties include the granting of armorial bearings and judicial rulings on who has the right to bear an existing coat of arms

The appointment was made by the Queen on the recommendation of the First Minister. Under section 3 of the Lyon King of Arms (Scotland) Act 1867, the part-time appointment is based at Edinburgh’s New Register House.

Dr. Morrow serves as Chancellor of the Diocese of Brechin, is an Honorary Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dundee and Chaplain, Glamis Castle. At present, he is the President of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, and President of the Additional Support Needs Tribunals and a First-Tier Tribunal Judge dealing with asylum and immigration issues.

Dr Morrow has a special interest in ecclesiastical history and 35 years’ experience of the practical application of ceremonial within a variety of settings including State, Civil, Military and Ecclesiastical areas of Scottish life.

Memory and revolution in Kiev: Get Religion, January 29, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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All Ukraine, All the time is not our moto at GetReligion. Though you may be excused for thinking it might be as tmatt and I have knocked out a number of stories looking at the reporting coming out of Kiev this week.

I returned to Kiev once more in this week’s Crossroads podcast. I spoke with Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilken about the religion angle to the protests in the Ukraine, arguing that the demonstrations were not intelligible without reference to the country’s political and religious history.

As tmatt has noted there have been some wonderful images coming out of the protests, especially those that showcase Orthodox clergy standing between protestors and the riot police — seeking to prevent bloodshed. There has also been some sharp political reporting as well.

The report on the funeral of protestor shot and killed, allegedly, by the security services, picked up the political symbolism of red and white banners waved by some mourners (the banned flag of Belorussia). But the religious symbolism of holding the memorial service at the cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) rather than at the neighboring Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) escaped Western reporters.

At its most basic level, this is a conflict of nationalism with religious overtones– Russophile Ukrainians (including those who belong to the Moscow led church) against Europhile Ukrainians (including those who belong to the Kiev led church).

But the analogy is not exact.

 

In the podcast I recounted how in the Stalinist era the Orthodox clergy across the Soviet Union and many lay men and women were executed or imprisoned for their faith. St Michael’s Cathedral (the location of the funeral mentioned in the story cited above) was demolished on Stalin’s orders and only rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church were forcibly incorporated into the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviet state.

Yet all religious believers were persecuted during the Soviet era. Hence the split between the Kiev and Moscow Patriarchates cannot be boiled down to one church being pro-Soviet or less tainted by collaboration than the other during the Soviet era.

Nor is this a rehash of the Nineteenth century clash between Slavophiles and Westernizers. While this intellectual battle continues to resonate within Russian/Ukrainian intellectual life — it was of consuming importance to the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn — both Orthodox churches come squarely down on the Slavophile side and reject the moral (but not economic innovations) of Western Europe.

Is it then simply a dispute over Ukraine’s economic future? Should it be tied to Russia or join the EU?

Not really. Economics is a proxy for politics which is a proxy for religion which is informed by memory. I would argue the roots of the dispute go back to the country’s experiences in the Twentieth century, especially the Holodomor, the famine engineered by Stalin in the early 1930s to break the Ukraine.

Germany has not yet finished the conversation about its Nazi past — the Ukraine is only just starting to discuss the calamities of the Twentieth century. What we are seeing today is the outworking of the traumas of the past.

First printed in Get Religion.

So what is happening with Anglican gay marriage?: Get Religion, January 28, 2013 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Wire service reporting takes a special skill that not all writers posses. In less than 300 words, for most stories, a reporter must present the relevant facts and sufficient context to allow a reader to understand the story, while also be entertaining and interesting.

A problem arises when a wire service story substitutes analysis or opinion for news. While some stories are labeled news analysis or opinion — and as such it is proper to load a story with the author’s views of what should be rather than what is — when a news story substitutes opinion for journalism we have a problem.

An item from the Religion News Service that came across my desk yesterday illustrates this peril. In a story entitled “Church of England’s bishops defer gay marriage decision” that came in at a little under 300 words, RNS devotes only half of the story to reporting on what happened at the meeting of the Church of England’s House of Bishops and what they said and the balance to what RNS thinks we should think about the story.

And RNS neglects to mention the most news worthy portions of the report — that the bishops are hopelessly divided over the issue of homosexuality.

The lede is rather anodyne, but does mention one fact from the report:

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) With little more than two months to go before Britain’s first same-sex marriage, the College of Bishops issued a statement saying that “no change” to the Church of England’s teaching on marriage is proposed or envisioned.

Next comes a sentence providing the setting:

The statement came after an all-day meeting at Church House in central London Monday (Jan. 27) attended by 90 bishops and eight women participant observers.

And then a paragraph on the purpose:

The aim of the meeting was to discuss the recommendationsof the Pilling Report on human sexuality that was published in 2013. That report was the result of a recommendation made by church leaders at the end of the Lambeth Conference in 2008 that Anglicans should embark on a discussion process to help heal the rift on the subject of full rights for Christian homosexuals.

Followed by a quote from the report on what happens next:

“The House of Bishops will be meeting again next month to consider its approach when same sex marriage becomes lawful in England and Wales,” the statement reads.

The story breaks down as news at this point as it turns to argument and opinion with selected polling data, extraneous information about what is happening in Africa and Scotland (items that might be independent stories but no tie is provided to the bishops’ meeting or evidence that it had any relevance to their debate), and closes with an opinion from a Guardian columnist notoriously hostile to the Church of England’s current position.

That is it. Compare this story to the piece that appeared in the Telegraph. Admittedly twice as long as the RNS piece, the Telegraph piece conveyed vastly more information and hardly any commentary.

The key facts of the report, the items with which the Telegraph led its story, were never mentioned by RNS.

The Church of England’s bishops have finally reached agreement on homosexuality – by saying that they might never be able to agree.

They emerged from a frank, day-long meeting behind closed doors, discussing their response to radical proposals to offer wedding-style blessing services for gay couples, and admitted they are deeply divided over the issues and are likely to remain so for years to come.

In a joint statement on behalf of the 90 bishops who attended, they said that “the best they could hope for was “good disagreement”.

The announcement effectively kicks proposals trumpeted before Christmas as a solution to the Church’s wrangles over homosexuality into the long grass.

Even if RNS wanted to keep the story focused on the “no change” angle, they neglected to provide the context that would have explained the importance of this angle. While the bishops do not expect a change to the marriage liturgy — which has not been under consideration — the Pilling Report (the document the bishops discussed) has proposed allowing clergy to perform blessings of same-sex unions.

In short, gay marriage which had been off the table remains off the table, while gay blessings remains a live issue — over which the bishops are hopelessly divided.

Rather than push its own views on the inherent goodness and inevitability of gay marriage in the second half of the story, it may have been better to have offered analysis on the meaning of the fact reported in the opening sentence. Or, they could have stuck to the facts like the Telegraph. Better yet, they could have simply reprinted the bishop’s statement and then supplied a commentary piece labeled as a commentary piece. I’m afraid that this is not a good outing for RNS as a reader will left in the dark as to what is happening with gay marriage in the Church of England.

First printed in Get Religion.

Finding a faith angle in the Ukraine: Get Religion, January 27, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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A spate of wire service photos from the demonstrations in Kiev may have awakened the Western press to the religious element in the protests. As GetReligion‘s editor tmatt has noted, photojournalism has led the way.

The pictures from Kiev are telling a fascinating story — but unless you know what you are seeing and can interpret the images or place them in their political and religious context, you will not understand what is happening.

The “Eurorevolution” as some Ukrainian newspapers have dubbed the protests is about economics, politics, national identity, and religion. It is being articulated in protests over a trade agreements. Yet the dispute has as just as much to do with the Soviet past and the present battle over gay rights in Russia.

However, the press has so far been unable to get its head round all this. The stories I have seen rarely address more than one of these topics at a time and then do so from an American/English perspective.

Even when there is a direct religion angle to the news, as in this story printed on Jan 27, 2014 on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, western reporters on the ground appear to be unaware of the symbolism (or perhaps iconography as we are talking about the Orthodox) of what they are reporting.

The ABC story entitled “Ukraine protests: Thousands mourn slain protester in Kiev as opposition rejects president’s bid to end unrest” is an example of the Western press’ lack of comprehension of the forces at work. It states in its sub-headline:

Thousands of people have packed into a church in Kiev for the funeral of a young protester shot dead during clashes in the Ukrainian capital last week.

Then the lede reports on the clashes, notes the calls by protestors for the president to step down and then moves to the funeral of one protestor killed in clashes with the security services.

There have been violent clashes in Kiev as demonstrators demand president Viktor Yanukovych stand down for pulling out of a free trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord. The fate of the government remains unclear, with demonstrators vowing to continue protests despite the president’s offer to give top jobs to opposition leaders.

The opposition called off a massive Sunday rally out of respect for the funeral of Mikhail Zhyznevsky, whose coffin was borne through the streets of Kiev before his burial. Zhyznevsky, a Belarussian living in Ukraine, was one of three people officially recognised by the prosecutor’s office as having died from gunshot wounds after clashes last week.

Mourners spilled over into a square outside Saint Michael’s Cathedral on what would have been his 26th birthday, many bringing flowers and waving Ukrainian flags with black ribbons.

The article goes into details of the funeral noting the presence of the chief opposition leaders, and then notes the political symbolism of some of the flags flown at the funeral.

Some red and white nationalist flags from before Belarus became a Soviet republic – currently banned by the country’s authoritarian regime – were also seen at the ceremony.

The article then closes out with reports on the street protests. All of this I assume is correct, but the story leaves out so many pieces of the puzzle that a anglophone reader will not truly understand what is happening.

Among the things the ABC neglects to mention is what sort of church St Michael’s may be. It belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate — not the larger Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate.

As I noted in a report last year on GetReligion, there are three principal churches in the Ukraine. One under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, or Moscow Patriarchate; an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The leaders of the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow. In late December the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Ukrainian bishops, released a statement condemning proposals for the Ukraine to move closer to the EU at the expense of its relations with Russia.

 

God was on Russia’s side and God wanted the Ukraine to be linked, forever, with Russia. Faith should determine whether the Ukraine joined the EU or a Russian customs union, the Russian bishops said.

We call upon all to remember: the emancipation of morals will with time fully destroy a people, depriving their and each one’s soul of purity and integrity. As far back as the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom warned: “When families are broken, cities and states will fall”. It is as if the voice of the teacher of the Early Church speaks to our contemporaries. And the holy martyr Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev and Galich noted in his works: “The whole human society is based on the family and in it, like a building in its foundation, it finds its solidity and stability”. That is why it is so important today that we stand for the immutable, God-given moral law concerning both family life and all the spheres of human existence including that of the development of society and state.

What are the Russian bishops talking about? Gay rights.

For the Moscow Patriarchate, the EU’s support for gay rights compared to Russia’s distaste for them should dictate how the Ukraine ordered its economic affairs. There is much much more to it that this — but that is the issue the Russian Orthodox Church has chosen to contest in the fight over an economic customs union.

The Kiev Patriarchate has been equally blunt. In a November speech in Washington Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate was reported to have said the Moscow Patriarchate’s opposition to the Ukraine’s opening to the EU was treasonous:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

It is not just the bishops who are linking the political struggle with religion. On Jan 23 Interfax reported the far-right Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, believed the battle in the Ukraine was between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Partition of the Ukraine into an eastern Russian client state and a western European state was the way forward, he argued.

Russians and Russified Ukrainians, and Westerners, who always live in Austro-Hungary, will always be enemies. The only solution is to divide Ukraine based on the civilization principle: Catholics in the West and Orthodox Christians in the East. Otherwise this bloodbath will last a long time.

Before we go too far afield let’s head back to the ABC and St. Michael’s. The article picks up the political – nationalist significance of flags, but overlooks the symbolism of the funeral setting. The original St Michael’s Cathedral was demolished on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1936, one of the many attempts to destroy religion and Ukrainian nationalism by the Soviet regime.

The cathedral where the service was held was rebuilt in 1999. Holding the funeral of an anti-Moscow protestor at the iconic structure of Ukrainian nationalism and religious identity sends a message, which the ABC missed.

Now I am not arguing that the Kiev protests should be covered as a religion news story. What I am saying is that a good reporter should be as aware of religious symbolism as political symbolism. Religion may not play a part in the iconography of western reporters, but to ignore it in their accounts of the Ukrainian demonstrations misses a major part of this story.

First printed in Get Religion.

Does adultery = prostitution for the WPost?: Get Religion, January 24, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Nothing optional—from homosexuality to adultery—is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate. As Shakespeare put it in King Lear, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he plies the lash.

Christopher Hitchens. God is not great: How religions poison everything. (2008) p 40.

A religion ghost rattled its chains in a national security story published by the Washington Post last week entitled: “Navy’s second-ranking civilian resigns amid criminal investigation.” The Post bookends a story about fraud with a sex angle — that equates adultery with prostitution.

It reports a senior Pentagon official has resigned following a probe into a questionable procurement deal. However, the Undersecretary of the Navy was not fired for fraud, but for adultery.

An intensifying criminal investigation of an alleged contracting scheme involving a top-secret Navy project has resulted in the forced resignation of the service’s second-ranking civilian leader, according to officials and court documents. Robert C. Martinage, the acting undersecretary of the Navy, stepped down after his boss, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, asked for his resignation “following a loss of confidence in [his] abilities to effectively perform his duties,” according to a statement the Navy released Wednesday.

Navy officials said Martinage was pressured to quit after investigators looking into his role in the top-secret program discovered that he was having an affair.

The article then relates details of a criminal probe into contracting abuses and we hear no more about adultery, though the Post attempts to pull sex back into the story frame in the closing paragraphs.

 

The silencer investigation is one of two unfolding Navy scandals involving alleged contracting fraud and illicit sex.

In the other case, the Justice Department has arrested two Navy commanders on charges of giving sensitive information to a major Singapore-based defense contractor in exchange for prostitutes, cash bribes and luxury travel. A senior Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent arrested in the same case pleaded guilty to similar charges last month.

Martinage’s resignation was triggered by the fraud probe, but the reason for his dismissal was his adultery. Like David Petraeus before him, Martinage was forced to resign for engaging in behavior considered immoral and unlawful by the armed services. Where he in another branch of government, though his wife would be incensed, I would be surprised if he would have been forced out.

My criticisms are not with the Post‘s reporting on the procurement scandal. Rather it is with the lack of interest in the adultery angle used to dump Martinage in light of major stories like the Petreaus scandal, “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”, as well as less well publicized incidents such as the Malmstrom missile base drug and cheating scandal. The religion ghost I see in this story is the unquestioned assumption that there are two standards of morality for government service, two different rights and wrongs. While it may be there is the right way, the wrong way and the navy way of doing things, the services nevertheless draw upon Americans to man their ranks who have been inculcated with a different moral worldview.

These dueling moralities were discussed time and again when the topic was homosexuality — “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” Should not the Post have raised an eyebrow in its story when a senior government official was dismissed on a morals charge? Was adultery the stick with which to beat Martinage, when the real reason may have been alleged corruption or political in-fighting?

And, Is adultery comparable to prostitution? The Post links the Martinage case to the bribery of serving officers though the procurement of prostitutes by a contractor by labeling both “illicit sex”. Is this fair? Is this true?

Is the Post making a moral judgement in this case that it would not make in similar non-navy circumstances, or is it restating the navy’s view or right and wrong?

Is there not a whiff in this story of Christopher Hitchen’s warning of the hypocrisy of moralism?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Schiavo Redux: Get Religion, January 21, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion.
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A French court has ordered a Reims hospital to provide nutrition and hydration to 38-year old quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, who has been in a state of minimal consciousness (en état de conscience minimale) for five years following a motorcycle accident.

Last Thursday a tribunal administratif overruled the wishes of the hospital, Lambert’s wife and some of his siblings who wanted to cut off intravenous feeding. The court sided with his parents and his other siblings, who as observant Catholics, objected to euthanizing him. Le Monde reports the Lambert case will reopen the contentious debate about euthanasia, the value of life and human dignity in France.

Have we not heard this before?

The Lambert case has a number of parallels with Terri Schiavo saga in America: a spouse ready to move on vs. Catholic parents not ready to let go; no clear statement of the patient’s wishes, conflicting medical terminology of persistent vegetative state v. minimal consciousness; political intervention by Congress and partisan debates in the French parliament; and a high profile role played by Catholic bishops. While it is early days yet, the most striking difference is the different decisions reached by the courts.

In Florida the courts came down on the side of death, even though the presumption of the law is in favor of life, while in France they have chosen life, even though euthanasia is legal.

The hospital authorities can now appeal against the decision before France’s Constitutional Council. The French press reports the Lambert case comes amidst a growing social and political debate over legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia. President Francois Hollande this week entered into the fray, saying he favored the legalization of euthanasia, but covered his bases by saying it was appropriate only under strict government scrutiny.

A 2005 law permits passive euthanasia, where a person causes death by withholding or withdrawing treatment necessary to maintain life. According to Aujourd’hui en France the court ruled against death as Lambert’s condition was not terminal.

Le tribunal a notamment «jugé que la poursuite du traitement n’était ni inutile, ni disproportionnée et n’avait pas pour objectif le seul maintien artificiel de la vie et a donc suspendu la décision d’interrompre le traitement». La juridiction a par ailleurs estimé que «c’est à tort que le CHU de Reims avait considéré que M. Lambert pouvait être regardé comme ayant manifesté sa volonté d’interrompre ce traitement».

The court’s ruling “held that continuing treatment was neither unnecessary nor disproportionate and was not intended only for the artificial preservation of life and accordingly suspended the decision to stop treatment.” The court further held that “it is wrong for [the hospital] to have decided that Mr. Lambert could have been regarded as having expressed a desire to discontinue treatment.”

Le Figaro explained the court in Chalons-en-Champagne ruled against ending Lambert’s life as he was neither “sick nor at the end of life … “, « ni malade ni en fin de vie ».

The French newspapers I have seen have done an excellent job is covering this story. The Aujourd’hui en France story quotes doctors and family members on both sides of the debate, a spokesman for the French Episcopal Conference, and the politician who introduced the 2005 euthanasia law to parliament.

Le Figaro and Le Monde are equally even handed in the sourcing of their stories and in the description of Lambert’s condition and the court ruling.

How different the French reporting on Vincent Lambert has been so far compared to the job the American press did with the Terri Schiavo case. It will be fascinating to see if the New York Times and other outlets on this side of the Atlantic pick up the story, and whether they use the phrase “brain dead” — a legal not medical term the French press have so far avoided.

First printed in Get Religion.

Interview: Issues Etc., January 27, 2014 January 29, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Press criticism, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 27 January 2014.

Media Coverage of the Ukrainian Protests – George Conger, 1/27/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org

Podcast: Download (Duration: 14:19 — 5.9MB)

Church of Norway clergy union backs gay marriage: The Church of England Newspaper, January 24, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Norway, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue.
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The executive council of the Church of Norway’s clerical union has given its support to church gay marriage. At its December meeting, the union’s central board, the Presteforeningen, unanimously voted to ask the Church of Norway to prepare a rite for the blessing of gay marriages.

Founded in 1900, the Presteforeningen, or Priestly Union counts 2500 clergy and candidates for Holy Orders among its members. It serves as a trade union for the clergy in negotiating wages, conditions of work and other professional concerns.

In 2008 the Norwegian parliament was the first among the Scandinavian countries to revise revised its marriage laws to permit same-sex or gender neutral marriage, followed by Sweden 2008, Iceland 2010, and Denmark 2012.  While the Church of Sweden in 2009 authorized its clergy to perform same-sex the Church of Norway has so far declined to follow the government’s lead.

The executive committee’s vote has sparked dissent among clergy ranks, however. NTB reports that 50 clergy have quit the union in protest since the vote, including the former Bishop of Agder and Telemark, the Rt. Rev. Olav Skjevesland.

Central Africa says no to women priests: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa, Women Priests.
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The General Synod of the Church of the Province of Central Africa has voted down a proposal by the Diocese of Harare at their 27 November to 1 December 2013 meeting in Lusaka to permit the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Bishop Fanuel Magangani of Northern Malawi told The Church of England Newspaper the motion had been put forward by Bishop Chad Gandiya of the Diocese of Harare in response to motions adopted and put forward by a number of diocesan synods.

Bishop Magangani said he voted against the motion because it was contrary to tradition. “Some of us are happy to maintain our roots without the idea of thinking that we know better than those who have gone before us over the years of the Christian faith. I believe that the Church fathers down to the Apostles taught and reserved the faith I would like to uphold. I feel satisfied with the way I received the teaching of the Church and that there is everything I need for my salvation without diluting it with my ideas.”

The motion fell short of the necessary two-thirds vote in the House of Laity with 14 yes and 10 no votes, but was defeated in the House of Clergy, seven yes to 21 no, and in the House of Bishops six yes and nine no.

Schism warning from Uganda over the Pilling Report: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Uganda.
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The Primate of Uganda has denounced the recommendations of the Pilling Report, calling upon the Church of England to pull back from the apostasy of solemnizing same-sex relations. .

In his Christmas letter to the Ugandan Church, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali warned the African Church would break relations with the Church of England should it permit its clergy to perform liturgical blessings marking same-sex unions.

“We are very concerned that our mother Church of England is moving in a very dangerous direction,” he said, adding that it seemed determined to follow “the path the Americans in the Episcopal Church took that caused us to break communion with them ten years ago.”

“The Church of England is now recommending that same-sex relationships be blessed in the church. Even though they are our mother, I want you to know that we cannot and we will not go in that direction. We will resist them and, with our other GAFCON brothers and sisters, will stand with those in the Church of England who continue to uphold the Bible as the Word of God and promote Biblical faith and morality,” he said.

Plea to hold bishop liable for secession from the Episcopal Church dismissed: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
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A South Carolina court has dismissed a motion brought by the national Episcopal Church to add in his personal capacity, Bishop Mark Lawrence, and three diocesan officials to the lawsuit over the Diocese of South Carolina’s properties.

On 30 December 2013, Judge Diane Goodstein dismissed the Episcopal Church in South Carolina’s argument that Bishop Lawrence and the other church leaders should be made personally responsible for the secession of the diocese from the national Church. The court found there was no reason to single out specific members of the clergy for a vote taken by the diocese as a whole.

The court also dismissed a request by the national Church for an order barring loyalists in the diocese from saying they were the true Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. The matter has been set down for trial in July.

Diocesan spokesman Canon Jim Lewis said: “We are grateful that Judge Goodstein dismissed this most recent effort to harass our people with time-consuming, expensive litigation,” adding the “the judge’s decision ends the legal fishing expedition and forces all to focus on the only issue that matters: whether our religious freedom is protected.”

Chester priest pleads guilty to child porn charges: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Church of England Newspaper.
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A Merseyside vicar has plead guilty in the Liverpool Crown Court to 16 counts of possessing child pornography.

On 3 Jan 2014 the Rev. Ian Hughes, (46) former priest in charge of St. Luke’s Poulton and St. Paul’s Seacombe in Wirral in the Diocese of Chester admitted to possessing over 8000 images and films  depicting child pornography and bestiality. Following his arrest on 22 May 2013 the Diocese of Chester suspended Hughes from his benefice and he was stood down as governor of the Wallasey School Park Primary.

Judge David Aubrey QC adjourned sentencing until 28 January 2014 pending the submission of a pre-sentencing report. However he told Hughes he could face imprisonment as “all sentencing options were open to the court.”

Eastbourne priest arrested on child abuse charges: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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A priest of the Diocese of Chichester was arrested by police last month on suspicion of having sexually abused a 12 year old boy in 1988. On 3 Dec 2013 the 56 year old man, identified as the Rev. Jonathan Graves by the BBC ,was arrested at his home in Eastbourne by Sussex Police and held on “suspicion of acts of indecency, indecent assault and cruelty against a boy known to him”.

Mr. Graves, who currently does not have permission to officiate in the diocese, was released on bail and ordered to appear before a magistrate in April.

The allegations of abuse were referred to detectives following the 2011 review of diocesan records conducted by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. Sussex Police stated the Diocese of Chichester were “co-operating fully” with the investigations, and further noted there were “currently no allegations of recent or current offending.”

Trinidad building appeal launched: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies.
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The Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago has launched a fundraising drive to restore one of the architectural landmarks of the Caribbean – Hayes Court, the historic episcopal residence of the island’s Anglican bishop.

On 3 Jan 2014 the Rt. Rev. Claude Berkley convened the Hayes Court Restoration Committee to lead a TT $24.1 million (£2.1 million) fundraising campaign to restore the colonial mansion. Listed on the Register of Monuments of the Greater Caribbean by the Organization of American States, Hayes Court stands along the western edge of Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Built in 1910 the great house stands in disrepair, riddled by termites, a leaking roof, crumbling stucco walls and pealing and cracked paint.

“It is our vision to restore Hayes Court to its former splendour as a centre of Anglican excellence while preserving a heritage site that we feel can serve to inspire pride and appreciation for our rich cultural legacy,” Bishop Berkley said.

Clergy discipline not subject to civil review, Australian court rules: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper.
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The South Australia Supreme Court has ruled that clergy discipline is an internal affair, not subject to civil court review. In Harrington and Ors v Coote and Anor [2013] SASCFC 154 the court held disciplinary canons were a “consensual contract” between clergy and the church, and that the Australian Church’s Professional Standards Board had the authority to investigate and discipline clergy.

The 23 December 2013 ruling ended an 8-year legal battle waged by the former Archdeacon of the Murray, the Ven. Peter Coote, who was dismissed from office in 2007 for sexual misconduct.

In his ruling Chief Justice Chris Kourakis held the constitution, canons and rules of the church were binding under civil law on the bishops, clergy and laity in matters relating to property.

The right to appoint a member of clergy to a benefice and the licence held by a member of the clergy to conduct spiritual ceremonies on church property were “matters relating to property” under the Act, he held. Having voluntarily agreed to submit to the constitution and canons of the church, Archdeacon Coote could not seek to circumvent the process through the secular courts.

SSJE executive jailed for theft: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 27, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Corruption.
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The former chief executive of the Fellowship of St John Trust has pled guilty to theft. On 9 January 2014 Geoffrey Hammond was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment by the Southwark Crown Court for stealing £99,493 between May 2012 and August 2013 while serving as the trust’s executive officer.

An internal audit found a substantial shortfall in the trust’s accounts last summer. When confronted Hammond admitted the theft. He was dismissed from his post on 5 Aug 2013 and the matter turned over to the police.

The Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) was an Anglican religious order founded in 1866 at Cowley, Oxford, England, by Father Richard Meux Benson, and was the first permanent religious community for men established in the Anglican Communion since the Reformation.

In the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries the society expanded to America, Canada, Scotland, India, South Africa and Japan. It maintained a presence on Marston Street, Oxford from 1868 to 1980 and in 1905 opened St Edward’s House in Westminster. While the SSJE remains active in the United States, in 2012 the order was dissolved and Edward’s House sold.

Proceeds from the sale were placed with the Fellowship of St John Trust fund trust fund for care of retired members of the society in England.

A former Labour Councilor for the Higham Hill Ward of Waltham Forest, Hammond stated he took the money to meet his debts.  The trust has recovered all of the money stolen.

Where’s the religion at Washington’s National Cathedral?: Get Religion, January 16, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, The Episcopal Church, Washington.
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The financial difficulties facing the Washington National Cathedral were the subject of a local news item in the Washington Post this week.

The basic story line is valid: “cathedral short of cash seeks creative ways to generate income.” But as  GetReligion editor tmatt observed in an an impromptu story conference, this piece had journalistic “holes you can drive a ’60s VW Microbus through… .”

The few errors in Anglican polity found in the story would likely distress only the perpetually aggrieved, but the real difficulty is that the Post declined to ask or explore the question: “why?”

It assumes the worldview of the liberal wing of mainline churches, making this the measure of all things religious. By not asking “why” this story could just as well be written about the troubles facing the local symphony orchestra or art museum.

I was hesitant in taking this story, however, as my theological sympathies are not with the cathedral’s leadership. The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Diocese of Washington’s cathedral, last year told the Post he was a “non-theistic Christian.” The Aug 1, 2013 story in the Style section penned by Sally Quinn quoted him as saying:

Jesus doesn’t use the word God very much,” he says. “He talks about his Father.”

Hall explains: “Where I am now, how do I understand Jesus as a son of God that’s not magical? I’m trying to figure out Jesus as a son of God and a fully human being, if he has both fully human and a fully divine set of chromosomes. .?.?. He’s not some kind of superman coming down. God is present in all human beings. Jesus was an extraordinary human being. Jesus didn’t try to convert. He just had people at his table.”

It is the glory, or the curse, of Anglicanism that the ranks of its clergy contain men and women who think this way — and others who see this as nonsense.

The divide is not merely local or new — in 2009 I interviewed the Argentine leader of the Anglican churches in southern South America and he told me that meaningful debate between left and right was not possible. He and his conservative colleagues from Africa, India and Asia believed the leader of the American Episcopal church was “not a Christian” as they understood the term.

The disdain does not go one way. Liberal American and English Anglicans have described the theological and intellectual worldview of their third world confreres as being one step above witchcraft.

The split between left and right, liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists — none of these terms adequately describes the combatants — did not arise in 2003 with the election of a “gay” bishop in the Episcopal Church. While there have always been factions within the Anglican world for centuries — high/low, Evangelical/Anglo-Catholic — the latest Anglican wars began in the 30s and hit their stride in the 60s.

Fights over women clergy, premarital sex, abortion, euthanasia, contraception/family planning, divorce and remarriage, pacifism, the revision of the Book of Common Prayer, Vietnam and the civil rights movement and its various permutations of race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation have been debated ever since.

The temptation I faced was to cloak my criticisms of the underlying issues in the story with the cover of discussing proper journalism and write about bad religion rather than bad journalism. Hence, my reluctance to jump on this story.

What then is the GetReligion angle? What holes are there in this story through which I may drive my VW microbus? The lede states:

When Congress authorized the creation of Washington National Cathedral in 1893, it envisioned a national spiritual home. Decades later, it became a setting for presidential funerals, sermons by the likes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and worship services for epic national tragedies such as Newtown and Sept. 11.

But would it have thought of tai chi and yoga mats?

The article describes a program of events and activities designed to bring people into the cathedral. The story then moves to context:

As mellow as it all sounds, the week-long public program — “Seeing Deeper” — is part of a highly orchestrated drive by the nation’s second-largest cathedral to remake itself and survive in an era when religious institutions are struggling. And what’s more institutional than a huge cathedral?

Washington National Cathedral, one of the Episcopal Church’s three major U.S. cathedrals, was already forced to halve its $27 million budget in the mid-2000s because of falling revenue before an earthquake in 2011 caused damage tallying an additional $26 million. Although it is now in the black, it must raise its roughly $13 million annual operating budget as well as the remaining $19 million for earthquake repairs.

And then moves to a discussion of the dean’s plans to raise income and attendance and to be a voice for progressive values in Washington.

What is missing from this story, though, is a nod to the reasons for the cash shortfall — apart from the occasional earthquake and economic downturn.

The article makes this assertion:

Experts say cathedrals across Europe and the United States have had to remake themselves as religious affiliation has become much looser and financial models built on membership have broken down.

But we do not hear from the experts. Is this true for all cathedrals, or just Episcopal ones? How is the Catholic cathedral in Washington doing? How are other Episcopal cathedrals handling the new faith environment Dean Hall describes in the piece? These questions should have been raised, or at least acknowledged.

Where are the facts and figures about the Washington National Cathedral’s attendance and income? They are easily found on the national Episcopal Church’s website. It reports “pledge and plate income”, the amount of money the cathedral (whose formal name is the Cathedral of SS Peter & Paul) collected from its parishioners has grown from $400,000 p.a. in 2002 to $2 million in $2012.

At the same time Sunday attendance grew over the last ten years. The figures for Dean Hall’s first year in office have not been published, but should not the story have spoken to these issues.

And, have the Anglican wars played a part in the cathedral’s financial problems? While the amount of money generated by those worshiping on site has grown, giving to support the cathedral from the wider Episcopal world has fallen off. Why?  The article states fundraising was easier for the cathedral when it sought to finish construction — an 82 year building campaign.

Could the cathedral’s whole-hearted adoption of the progressive religious and political agenda have anything to do with the little old ladies in Alabama cutting back on their gifts? The article does not ask this question.

As written, the article could have described the problems facing any graying urban institution. Swap out the names and you could recycle this as a story about an art museum, library, orchestra, ballet or other worthy cultural institution. Perhaps the real story here is that the Washington National Cathedral is not seen as a religious institution by the Post but as a temple of ethical culture?

First printed at Get Religion.

WPost whoppers about the Muslim Brotherhood: Get Religion, January 14, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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Claims of bias and inaccurate reporting have dogged the Western press’s coverage of Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. A story in this week’s Washington Post entitled “In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear” will do little to restore confidence.

The article eschews the classical news story format in favor of an impressions and perceptions style. Its lede states:

The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades.

But many Egyptians say they are all right with that.

There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup; silence dissent; and ask very few questions.

The article begins with an opinion as to the mood of the Egyptian people. Is this then a news analysis article or a news article?

If a news article facts and figures should follow to support the claims in the lede. What “evidence”? How many arrests and convictions? Who is being arrested and why? Which analysts claim the army’s rule has led to the “harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades”? Who is being censored and why? These details are mostly absent.

A thematic diagram of this story suggests this is an opinion piece — a commentary offering the author’s view of the meaning of events, rather than a report on events. Following the lede we have a quote from a government spokesman defending the violent crackdown; a man in the street supporting the crackdown and a Washington-based expert explaining popular support for the crackdown.

This all leads to the central argument of the story.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties captured the lion’s share of the vote in Egypt’s first democratic elections two years ago. The Brotherhood had renounced violence decades earlier and gained popularity by establishing a vast network of charitable organizations.

These days, those images of benign Islamist leadership have been erased from many minds by the hyper-nationalist rhetoric promoted by the government, which has portrayed Brotherhood members as bloodthirsty terrorists bent on destroying the nation.

An assortment of disconnected facts are presented to support this argument, coupled with further pro-Brotherhood arguments from the Washington Post. Assertions are piled on assertions and dubious statements presented uncritically.

The government’s crackdown has been so pervasive — and the cult of support for military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi so far-reaching — that the Brotherhood has likened Egypt’s transgression to “fascism,” as have some liberal observers.

Is labeling support for al-Sissi a “cult” fair? Fascism? Is citing a foreign diplomat as a “liberal” observer appropriate? The US embassy and the former ambassador have been denounced for its pro-Brotherhood statements and have little credibility in Egypt — are Western diplomats an appropriate source on this point?

The article closes with a pessimistic quote from an Egypt expert at Harvard. Given six decades of military rule following the overthrow of King Farouk it was foolish to expect Egypt to take to democracy, he argues.

No mention of the reasons for the popular revolt against the Brotherhood are given in this story. Not only does the Washington Post not “get politics” in Egypt, it does not “get religion”.

There is no sense of context or balance in this Washington Post piece.It is ill-informed, in-curious and overtly partisan. As a news story it is an embarrassment to the Post. Not quite Walter Duranty material — but it does come close in that it too places ideology above reality.

Comparing the tone, style and use of facts in this story to a similar item published by the avowedly pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al Jazeera network will not dispel concerns the Western press are flacks who believe the Muslim Brotherhood is a force for good in Egypt.

Thirty million Egyptians would tend to disagree with this sentiment — that is how many people took to the streets to demand the army step in and remove the Muslim Brotherhood government. Egypt’s Christians along with the other religious minorities who were persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood — e.g., murdered, churches burnt, schools ransacked — are also likely to take issue with this whitewash.

Arab commentators have also denounced the American press for offering what they see as a false narrative. Writing in the Egypt’s largest circulation daily newspaper, the pro-government al-Ahram, Abdel-Moneim Said wrote:

The one-sided version of post-30 June realities in Egypt that The New York Times presents is nothing short of a travesty.

Al-Ahram accused the Times of ignorance and deliberate bias. It viewed the unfolding political scene in Egypt through ideological lenses.

The NYT’s original sin is that it refuses to recognize the mass uprising on 30 June 2013 as a revolution whereas it does recognize as such the January 2011 uprising, which succeeded in overthrowing a tyrannical regime, even though the number of people who participated in that revolution were about half as many as those who took part in the 30 June demonstrations. In both cases, it was the military that shifted the balances on the ground and that channeled a massive grassroots movement into political processes that brought the country back from the brink of conflict and civil war. But the NYT doesn’t see it that way. In its opinion, the military’s intervention in the first case was not a coup because it eventually brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power whereas its intervention in the second case was a coup because it ushered the Muslim Brotherhood out of power and into forms of “resistance.” Not only do such double standards obscure the truth, they also give way to a number of historical misconceptions regarding the idea of “revolution” or mass uprising in general, and what has happened in Egypt in particular.

No mention of religion appears in this piece save as a descriptor for the Brotherhood. Perhaps the cult like support from the Copts for al-Sissi may have something to do with the Brotherhood’s persecution and pogroms against Egypt’s Christians? Failing to discuss religion when writing about political Islam is an oversight. Is the Washington Post guilty too of propounding a revisionist history of the Arab Spring? Is it a shill for the Muslim Brotherhood’s view of Egypt’s recent history? If this article is an example of the Post‘s reporting from Egypt, then it is guilty as charged.

First printed in Get Religion.

Bibles seized by police in Malaysia: The Church of England Newspaper, January 10, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of South East Asia.
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The president of the Bible Society of Malaysia and the organization’s office manager were arrested by police on 2 January 2014, during a raid on their offices in Selangor. Officials of the State Islamic Affairs Department confiscated Bibles and religious literature for using the world “Allah” in Malay and Iban language versions of Scripture.

The Archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Rev. Bolly Lapok, Bishop of Kuching denounced the raid as unlawful. “If an action assumes such arrogance that violates the Federal Constitution and pays total disregard to the Prime Minister’s directive is not treason, I do not know what is,” he said.

A recent court ruling in Malaysia banned a Catholic newspaper from using the word “Allah”, but the government had given permission for the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia translation of the Old and New Testament to use the world “Allah” for the name of God.

Muslim extremists had “poisoned” interfaith relations Malaysia by demanding exclusive use of the word “Allah”, the archbishop said. He urged all sides to heed the “voice of reason” and for the state to “respect, honour and abide by the guarantee of religious freedom as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.”

Indian bishop arrested/deposed: The Church of England Newspaper, January 10, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Corruption.
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The Church of North India has deposed the Bishop in Lucknow. Police also arrested Bishop Morris Edgar Dan on 15 December 2013 after the Allahabad High Court revoked the bishop’s bail on charges of forgery and fraud.

CNI general secretary Alwan Masih told The Church of England Newspaper Bishop Dan had “duly terminated by the  executive committee  of  the CNI synod  as of 25 November 2013” following an investigation into charges the bishop had sold church lands at below market prices to a syndicate which then resold the property, giving the bishop a kick back of the profits.

Shabnam Dan, the daughter of Bishop Dan, told CEN her father had been “framed”.  She accused an influential businessman with orchestrating a campaign to ruin her father after he refused to cooperate in a plan to defraud the diocese. The criminal case continues.

Akinola kidnapped: The Church of England Newspaper, January 10, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Crime.
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Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola was kidnapped on Christmas Eve by armed gunmen on Christmas Eve, but was released unharmed after he refused to pay a ransom.

At approximately 3:00 pm on 24 December 2013, the former Primate of All Nigeria was “carjacked” outside of the offices of the Peter Akinola Foundation Centre for Youth Industrial Training in Abeokuta, the capital of Western Nigeria’s Ogun State. Shortly after his driver pulled onto the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, a car carrying four gunmen cut off the archbishop’s Toyota Primera and fired pistols into the air.

Their car was forced to the roadside and the gun forced the archbishop and his driver to lie face down on the floor of the back seat.  The car was driven west towards Nigeria’s border with Benin while the bandit who held the archbishop at gunpoint demanded a ransom payment. Archbishop Akinola told the bandits he was a retired clergyman and had not the means to pay ransom.

The kidnappers stopped in a deserted area near the Benin border and after stripping the archbishop and his driver of their clothes, released them into the bush unharmed.

In a Christmas Day interview with the Premium Times, Archbishop Akinola said after he wa released, he made his way through the bush to a road where he “saw a police vehicle coming and there were gunshots, and the police team later came to rescue me from the spot.”

The archbishop had high praise for the police and for Ogun Governor Ibikunle Amosun. “I have to praise them, and I appreciate the governor who left his work to the bush looking for us. It’s unprecedented for a governor to personally lead a team into the bush. He risked his life and yet he didn’t mind that. I’ am deeply touched and impressed,” he said.

Good Anglicanism defined by CDF: The Church of England Newspaper, January 10, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ordinariate, Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has defined the essentials of  Anglicanism that may be kept by converts entering the Anglican Ordinariate of the Catholic Church.

In an interview published in the December issue of The Portal, Msg. Steven Lopes of the CDF said the Vatican’s “working definition” of “Anglican patrimony” was “that which has nourished the Catholic Faith, within the Anglican tradition during the time of ecclesiastical separation, and has given rise to this new desire for full communion.”

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer will not be the sole source. The “Anglican liturgical patrimony is not just 1549 or 1662, nor is it just 1928 or 1976. We can’t go back to a specific period and say ‘this is it’, but you have to look at the whole Anglican experience to see how that faith was nourished’,” Mgr Lopes said.

In October 2013, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – the English branch of the Ordinariate — launched a new Mass text which included passages from Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

TEC’s first gay bishop dies: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2013 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, The Episcopal Church, Utah.
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The Episcopal Church’s first “out” gay bishop has died.  The Rt. Rev. E. Otis Charles, retired Bishop of Utah and former Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., died on 26 December 2013 at a hospice in San Francisco. He was 87.

Ordained in 1951, Bishop Charles was elected Bishop of Utah in 1971 and held the post until his retirement in 1986. He served as Bishop of Navajoland for two years before accepting the post of Dean and President of EDS, retiring a second time in 1993.

A father of five, Bishop Charles told his wife he was gay in 1976. Upon his retirement from EDS he informed the House of Bishops of his sexual orientation and announced he and his wife Elvira were divorcing. In 1995 Bishop Charles wrote Breaking the Silence: Out in the Work Place, stating his support for changing church teaching on the morality of homosexual relations. In 2008 Bishop Charles took part in a civil same-sex marriage to his partner Felipe Sanchez-Paris, who predeceased him.

He remained an active member of the House of Bishops in retirement and took up residence in San Francisco, where he served as an honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of California.

New Year’s Honours for NZ Archbishop: The Church of England Newspaper, January 17, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia, Church of England Newspaper.
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The former Archbishop of New Zealand has been made a knight companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the Anglican Church in the New Year’s Honours List.

Ordained in 1978, the Rt. Rev. David Moxon was consecrated as Bishop of Waikato in 1993 and elected Archbishop of New Zealand in 2006 and named co-primate of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in 2008. He resigned his see last year and was appointed by Archbishop Rowan Williams as director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal emissary to the Vatican.

Archbishop Moxon serves as co-chair of the third International Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and is an honorary fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford.

No sex please, we’re Indian: Get Religion, January 9, 2014 January 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Hinduism, Press criticism.
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Rape and religion returned to the front pages of India’s newspapers this week after a judge in Delhi stated premarital sex was sinful.

The Hindu reported:

Pre-marital sex is “immoral” and against the “tenets of every religion”, a Delhi court has said while holding that every act of sexual intercourse between two adults on the promise of marriage does not become rape. Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat also held that a woman, especially grown up, educated and office-going, who has sexual intercourse on the assurance of marriage does so “at her own peril”.

According to The Times of India, Judge Bhat, who presides over a court set up last year in response to the nationally publicized gang rape and murder wrote:

When a grown up woman subjects herself to sexual intercourse with a friend or colleague on the latter’s promise that he would marry her, she does so at her own peril. She must be taken to understand the consequences of her act and must know that there is no guarantee that the boy would fulfil his promise. He may or may not do so. She must understand that she is engaging in an act which not only is immoral but also against the tenets of every religion. No religion in the world allows pre-marital sex.

The BBC picked up this story as well. It added this explanation for Western audiences in its story “Indian judge says pre-marital sex ‘against religion’”:

Pre-marital sex remains a cultural taboo in India. Last year, a court in Delhi said live-in relationships were immoral and an “infamous product of Western culture”.

But the BBC goes no further in offering context or an explanation (it appears to be a re-write of an AFP story, which may be a mitigating factor). Even though the lede and headline of the BBC story makes explicit reference to religion, this angle is not developed. This criticism does not fall only on the BBC, the Indian press has also shied away from developing the religious angle to this story and has been content to publish only the judge’s obiter ditca.

The press has not remained silent in discussing Judge Bhat’s remarks — but the conversation has been channeled into discussions of gender and women’s rights.

Why the reticence? In a series of GetReligion posts, TMatt has addressed whether the Indian press avoids reporting on the religion and caste angles to a story. In a 2010 post entitled “Life and death (and faith) in India,” he wrote:

… I was struck by one consistent response from the audience, which I would estimate was about 50 percent Hindu, 25 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian. When asked what was the greatest obstacle to accurate, mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion, the response of one young Muslim male was blunt. When our media cover religion news, he said, more people end up dead. Other students repeated this theme during our meetings.

In other words, when journalists cover religion stories, this only makes the conflicts worse. It is better to either ignore them or to downplay them, masking the nature of the conflicts behind phrases such as “community conflicts” or saying that the events are cased by disputes about “culture” or “Indian values.”

The Indian press as well as the BBC and the wire service reports on Judge Bhat’s decision are continuing this trend of avoiding religion in reporting. An in depth article from the Wall Street Journal last November entitled “Indian Rape Law Offers Desperate Last Resort” sticks to culture only.

While the Indian press may be restrained to report on religion, should the BBC frame the story in a faith-free atmosphere? Were India a fiercely secular society, such an omission might be justified. But it is not — nor are the rates of pre-marital sex comparable to the West. A study by the International Institute for Population Studies estimated that 3 per cent of women had engaged in pre-marital sex.

Why? Perhaps it is because sexuality for a woman in the Vedic tradition of Hindu culture is controlled by her age and marital status. It frames virginity, chastity and celibacy as being appropriate for distinct periods of life. Virginity is expected of a woman before marriage and chastity is expected within marriage. Celibacy, as signaled by an ascetic withdrawal from the obligations of marriage and family life, takes place at the end of life with abstinence being a liberation of the self from worldly attachments. While Tantric cults exalted women in worship, their sexual mores did not extend to a modern notion of female sexual autonomy. While the ideal seldom governs the real, it must be stated that pre-marital sex simply does not work within the Hindu worldview.

Discussions of sexuality in India seem to go in two directions: blame the English and the golden past.

As the BBC noted an Indian court blames the penchant for some to engage in premarital sex as an “infamous product of Western culture.” Homosexuality and the country’s sodomy laws are also laid at the door of the British too.

Or we go to the opposite extreme and hear of a mythologized past where openness and a lack of hypocrisy ruled. This is the Kama Sutra narrative, but it is not history. It is more a product of the nationalist aspirations of the rising middle classes. A macedoine of anti-colonialism with a dash of “Orientalism”, seasoned with a repressed Westerners and liberated Orientals. However the Kama Sutra narrative of Indian sexuality is largely irrelevant to an understanding of its modern manifestations and as sociologist Sanjay Srivastava of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi writes:

is best confined to expensive coffee table books of our ‘glorious’ past that was supposedly destroyed by foreign invaders.

There is no middle ground in reporting on sex in India. Silence or secularism governs the discussion. While this may be the environment in which the Indian press must work, should we not expect more of the BBC and the western wire services?

First printed in Get Religion.

Is new Calvinism new news for the New York Times?: Get Religion, January 6, 2014 January 6, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Mark Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar …

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Act 3, Scene 2.

Should we bury the New York Times today, or praise it for reporting on the resurgence of Calvinism?

Mind you, the Times does not have the story wrong, but it’s timing is bit off. This story has been making the rounds of the religious and secular press for close to a decade, while claims of a Calvinist revival have appeared every few generations in America.

Has the New York Times made the same error as the Washington Post, which last month reported as new news the interest in liturgy by non-liturgical Christians? Or, has the Times gathered the disparate elements of this story and repackaged it for a secular, theologically illiterate audience?

In the circles in which I travel, this story was greeted with ridicule. The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s  Barton Gingerich (with pith and vim) encapsulated the views of  the critics.

Johnny-Come-freaking-Lately. The Restless and Reformed Movement has been running at full steam for at least half a decade now. Remember when religion reporters for newspapers had to, you know, keep on the cutting edge of things?

Ridicule or praise? Perhaps snark? Which shall it be?

The article entitled “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival” published in the January 4, 2014 edition reports:

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.

The article defines its terms stating:

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

Also, it briefly mentions the battle over Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention, noting that “in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism.”

Support for the Times‘ thesis comes through an interview with Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a “man in the street”, Collin Hansen, the author of “Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists” and academics who in turn condemn the phenomena and opine that it might catch on even in liberal denominations. (Oh, and as an aside, why has the Times dropped the use of the honorific “the Rev.”? It does not appear in this story but several ordained ministers are quoted or cited. Get an Associated Press Stylebook, people.)

 

The article closes out with a quote from a doctoral student working on the topic of the new Calvinists.

“Ten years ago, everyone was talking about the ‘emergent church,’ ” Mr. Vermurlen said. “And five years ago, people were talking about the ‘missional church.’ And now ‘new Calvinism.’ I don’t want to say the new Calvinism is a fad, but I’m wondering if this is one of those things American evangelicals want to talk about for five years, and then they’ll go on living their lives and planting their churches. Or is this something we’ll see 10 or 20 years from now?”

All well and good — but Collin Hansen’s book was published in 2008 and in 2006 he was writing about this topic in articles published in Christianity Today.

In 2009 Time magazine listed Calvinism as one of the 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” The article stated:

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.

Time‘s 2009 story makes the same general points as its 1947 article “Religion: Calvinist Comeback?”, which posited a new interest among younger clergy in traditional Reformed doctrines. And on a personal note — when I was a student in the 80′s and 90s the Calvinist comeback was a lively topic of debate. I distinctly recall (then Fr. but later Cardinal) Avery Dulles waxing lyrical on the errors of the new Calvinism from across the tables at Mory’s. New and neo-Calvinism was then engaged in a battle with Narrative Theology or the Yale School for the minds of conservative theological students — a battle that still is being waged today between the Calvinists and the followers of Stanley Hauerwas or Alasdair MacIntyre.

How then is this new news? Did the Times err in ending its story with the fad quote? While the top of the story mentions that this has been an issue for thirty years, the close leaves the impression that this is a new issue. The criticisms that this a “late to the story” story would not be as compelling were it not for this closing paragraph.

The story as it stands, however, falls short. While there are ample quotes about this phenomena along with a brief discussion of its merits, the New York Times erred in not placing this story in a wider historical context, nor addressing what to knowledgeable readers is the obvious problem of this being an old story.

Verdict: I have come to bury Caesar the Times, not to praise him it.

First printed in Get Religion.

Francis the homophile: Get Religion, January 3, 2014 January 6, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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With but a few exceptions, the “Francis is nicer than Benedict” meme continues to entrance the Anglophone press.

It appears that many who were once hostile to the Catholic Church have been encouraged to see in the new pontiff a reflection of their own social and political desires. Some of these assertions about what the pope believes and what he will do as head of the Catholic Church have bordered on the fantastic.

In choosing the pope as its “person of the year”, Time magazine’s editor Nancy Gibb wrote Francis had:

done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music.

The new pope was a kinder, gentler man, Time believed, who had rejected “church dogma.” He was teaching a softer, more inclusive Catholicism, noting his:

focus on compassion, along with a general aura of merriment not always associated with princes of the church, has made Francis something of a rock star.

This is rather mild compared to some liberal paeans to the pontiff. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Freedland quipped “Francis could replace Obama as the pin-up on every liberal and leftist wall.”

When the gay-lifestyle magazine, The Advocate, named Francis its “person of the year”, it explained its choice by stating:

Pope Francis’s stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors — both who were at one time or another among The Advocate‘s annual Phobie Awards — makes what he’s done in 2013 all the more daring. First there’s Pope John Paul II, who gay rights activists protested during a highly publicized visit to the United States in 1987 because of what had become known as the “Rat Letter” — an unprecedented damning of homosexuality as “intrinsically evil.” It was written by one of his cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. Since 1978, one of those two men had commanded the influence of the Vatican — until this year. …

The Advocate saw in Francis the potential for change in church teaching.

Francis’s view on how the Catholic Church should approach LGBT people was best explained in his own words during an in-depth interview with America magazine in September. He recalled, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

While these stories have focused on Francis in the context of feature or “people” stories, the meme has also made its way into straight news reporting. A story in Saturday’s  Independent illustrates the Francis effect on reporters. “Pope Francis tripled crowds at Vatican during 2013″  should have been a straightforward story. It begins with:

Pope Francis attracted over 6.6 million viewers to his audiences, Masses and other events in Vatican City in 2013. Since being elected for the position in March, the first Jesuit Pope attracted almost triple the number of visitors that gathered to watch former Pope Benedict XVI speak at Vatican City in the whole of 2012.

The story shifts as it then notes Francis had been named by Time and The Advocate as their “person of the year” with a quote used as a segue to what it sees as the pope’s contradictory statements on homosexuality.

However, his track-record as a champion for gay rights in the Catholic Church was marred after he apparently expressed “shock” at gay adoption in December 2013. The Bishop of Malta alleged that Pope Francis gave him his blessing to “speak out” against the Maltese Civil Unions Bill that aims to legalise gay adoption, in his Christmas Sermon.

The first half of the story prompts me to ask, so what? What does the rise in visitors to St Peter’s Square mean? Is this a gauge for something, if so what? What happened to the number of visitors to St Peter’s when Benedict became pope? Why is this news, and not a “fun fact”?

Should we assume, as The Independent does, that the changing tone on homosexuality has prompted a rise in the number of visitors to the Vatican? The Independent may think this to be the case, but from where does the evidence or authority for this assertion arise?

The second half of the story is bizarre. The Independent assumes Francis is a “champion for gay rights”. What does that mean? Is he pushing for a change in doctrine or discipline? When did this happen?  Or has The Independent confused style with substance?

The two parts to this piece, short as it is, do not hang together as a news story. There is no context, no balance, no sourcing to this piece. Though presented as a news story, it is an editorial making the argument that the church should get with the times and ditch its old fashioned teachings on human sexuality — “See how the people flock to Francis because he is a champion of gay rights!”

Should any news story make the assumptions The Independent makes about Pope Francis? Not if they want to practice quality journalism. It has confused fantasy with reality.

First printed in Get Religion.

Haaretz and Jewish resistance to the Holocaust: Get Religion, December 31, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Do you remember Tom Lehrer, the composer/comedian/mathematician? I have long loved his music, which I discovered as a young boy when exploring my parent’s record collection.

A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz set spinning in my head one of Lehrer’s LPs this Christmas and to the embarrassment of my children I broke into song, serenading them with the refrain from Lehrer’s satiric gem National Brotherhood Week (1965).

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

My fertile mind however, added an additional line — “And Haaretz does too!”

Hates the Jews that is.

How else can one explain this article, “The Myth of the Warsaw Ghetto” published last week in the leftist Israeli daily? Writing on the website of Commentary magazine, Eugene Kontorovich summarized the article’s thesis, stating that Haaretz believed that if:

the fighters had not been so uppity, if they had not made a fuss–then the Nazis, who had already murdered 500,000 Jews of Warsaw, might have let the remaining 50,000 live. Maybe! It is not a new argument. Rather, the author amazingly resurrects and endorses the arguments of the Judernat, the Jewish collaboration government of the Ghetto. With every new deportation, they urged restrain with increasing urgency–maybe they will let the rest of us live, and if you fight, all the past deportations would be a sacrifice in vain.

Haaretz’ story discusses the controversy over the number of Jews who fought and the number of Nazis killed, and also offers its view of the political and national symbolism of the Warsaw uprising for modern-day Israel. The article concludes:

The 50,000 or so Jews who remained in the Warsaw Ghetto after the transports of 1942 had survived, as in other ghettos in occupied Poland, largely because they worked in factories for Germany. Many of these factories were owned and managed by Germans, who negotiated with the German authorities and the SS to hold on to their workers.

In light of all this, the Jews’ belief grew that somehow they could survive. They had two bad options: Flee the ghetto to the hostile Polish side or continue working in the German factories. Both options meant living day to day in the hope the war would end quickly.

At the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews survived in Poland and Germany. In Warsaw alone the number of survivors is estimated at about 25,000. Death in battle, as the ghetto fighters planned, did not keep with the intentions of the vast majority of Jews remaining. … Thus the question has never been raised: What right did a small group of young people have to decide the fate of the 50,000 Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto?

Commentary was scathing in its response. Haaretz had:

shown that it exists in a world entirely divorced from any Jewish consensus, and cannot claim the title of loyal opposition. It has crossed all prior bounds of decency and published a criticism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, calling it a “myth,” and accusing its heroes of being responsible for the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto. Despite disagreements on diplomatic, territorial, and religious issues, the memory of the Holocaust–its heroes and victims–had been the great unifying porch in post-War Jewish consciousness. Now the Holocaust is fair game too.

It concluded:

There can be no more terrible case of “blaming the victim” than laying any responsibility for the liquidation of the Ghetto at the feet of the fighters. It is true, the Jewish “communal leadership”–and the rabbis–opposed the uprising. That is what made it brave. The Judenrat had no right to decide if residents of the Ghetto died in gas chambers or fighting for their freedom.

Fascinating stuff — but where is the Get Religion hook? It comes in the absence of any mention of religion in the Haaretz story, ascribing all of the symbolism and memory evoked by the Uprising in political and ideological terms. No faith component to this story is offered. And, the Holocaust I would argue was one of the most profound events in terms of its impact of Judaism and Christianity in the modern era.

Commentary‘s statements too are incomplete on this point. Was it true that all Jewish religious leaders supported the Judenrat in opposing the Uprising? This thesis is challenged by a recent article in the Jerusalem Post.

The last rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto” states that the campaign of extermination by Nazis prompted a rethinking of traditional Jewish responses to persecution.

In a meeting of the Warsaw Jewish leadership in January 1943, Rabbi [Menachem] Ziemba declared that traditional martyrdom in the face of persecution was no longer a viable response. He argued that “sanctification of the Divine Name” must manifest itself in resistance to the enemy. “In the present,” Ziemba told the ghetto leaders, “we are faced by an arch foe, whose unparalleled ruthlessness and total annihilation purposes know no bounds.

Halachah [Jewish law] demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Sanctification of the Divine Name.”

My impression from the Haaretz article of Jewish self-hatred is given a political twist by Commentary.

Ultimately, the article’s target is not really the Holocaust. The author objects to the glorification of the glorified by the Zionist movement in the early years of the state. Perhaps the fighters should have awaited deportation and seen themselves as “sacrifices for peace,” to use the buzzword of the Second Intifada.

No doubt this is why Haaretz has, somewhat oddly for a newspaper, chosen to revisit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The newspaper has long tried to persuade Jews in Israel that they need no longer fight–they can trust someone to save them. John Kerry is coming to Jerusalem next month with just such a pitch. In order to advance their political agenda, the newspaper does not stop at besmirching one of the proudest pages of our history, nor at aligning themselves with the most shameful, the Judenrat.

The sanctified memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not based on its military significance, its size–or its conformity to the Zionist ethos. Rather, it is the considered, consensus judgment of Jewish history that the fighters were right.

While I would not go so far as Commentary in calling this article “vile”, it is deeply problematic. Here I speak not of the questions of how many Jews fought, how many Nazis died, and how the Uprising shaped the new state of Israel’s psyche — the problems laid out by the Commentary piece. Rather it is the question of historical revisionism and journalism.

Viewing one of the seminal events of the modern era in political/secular terms, ignoring facts and views that challenge a thesis renders the story incomplete.

First printed in Get Religion.

WPost discovers the bleeding obvious about liturgy: Get Religion, December 27, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Hymnody/Liturgy, Press criticism.
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Basil Fawlty: Can’t we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? Next contestant: Mrs. Sybil Fawlty from Torquay. Specialist subject – the bleeding obvious.

Fawlty Towers: Basil the Rat (#2.6)” (1979)

The Washington Post reports some progressive Christians are unsatisfied with contemporary worship and are seeking more traditional ways to do church.

The article “Americans turning to ancient music, practices to experience their faith” highlights the sense of incompleteness, of liturgical inadequacy felt by some Christians this Christmas.

It begins:

In our of-the-minute culture, Santa seems old-fashioned. But Christians are exploring far older ways of observing the holiday.

In the living room this week along with the pile of presents, there’s more likely to be a wreath or calendar marking Advent, the month leading up to Christmas that symbolizes the waiting period before Jesus’s birth. Christmas services largely dominated by contemporary music are mixing in centuries-old chants and other a cappella sounds. Holiday sermons on topics such as prayer, meditation and finding a way to observe the Sabbath are becoming more common.

These early — some use the term “ancient” — spiritual practices are an effort to bring what feels to some like greater authenticity to perhaps the most thoroughly commercialized of religious holidays, say pastors, religious music experts and other worship-watchers.

I find this article problematic. On the surface a reader unacquainted with this topic might assume this is a balanced story reporting on a new trend in American religion.

It offers vignettes that illustrate the phenomena and offers four voices to flesh out the story: Ed Stetzer, Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber and a “man in the street,” or more precisely a lay Catholic woman from suburban Washington. A knowledgeable Washington Post reader might know that one of these voices is conservative: Stetzer, while McLaren and Bolz-Weber are progressive Christians.

As an aside, why does the Post omit “the Rev” before the names of the three clergy on first mention? And, is Brian McLaren an Evangelical? Is that the label he gives to himself, or is it a descriptor given him by the Post? But that is a battle for another day.

Adding Stetzer into the mix to balance McLaren and Bolz-Weber gives the impression of balance, and the pithy quotes offered by the three would lead one to believe that a cultural-religious trend is emerging in American religious life.

My concern is that this trend is about 175 years old. The article is written from a perspective that the progressive wing of the old main line churches is the fulcrum around which American religious life pivots.

“Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail” is an article that has been written several hundred times over the past fifty years, reporting on Christians from non-liturgical traditions entering the Episcopal Church due to its liturgy.

Episcopalians and other Protestants have been entering the Catholic Church since the time of John Henry Newman in large part because of a belief in the inadequacies of their tradition measured against the doctrine, discipline and worship of Rome.

And the Orthodox Churches in America over the past twenty five years  have seen an influx of ex-Protestants who are drawn to that tradition’s “ancient” liturgies and spiritual vigor.

All of what the Post describes about the dissatisfaction some are finding in their “seeker” friendly churches has been reported for decades.

Nor is this a phenomena of movement between faith traditions. Renewing the Catholic Church through the reform of its liturgy was one of, if not the greatest achievement of the papacy of Benedict XVI (from this Episcopalian’s perspective).

When he issued his Summorum Pontificum , allowing the older form of Mass t0 be used once more, Benedict restored to the church the liturgy that had shaped that church’s life for centuries — words that shaped Catholic culture, informed its teaching, instructed its arts and nourished its saints (and even a few sinners).

In a 2006 interview with Zenit, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus spoke of the necessity of reforming modern Catholic worship:

Q: A major theme in your book is the importance of a revitalized liturgy for renewing Catholic life. How do you see that occurring?

Father Neuhaus: Don’t get me started. The banality of liturgical texts, the unsingability of music that is deservedly unsung, the hackneyed New American Bible prescribed for use in the lectionary, the stripped-down architecture devoted to absence rather than Presence, the homiletical shoddiness.

Where to begin? A “high church” Lutheran or Anglican – and I was the former – braces himself upon becoming a Catholic.

The heart of what went wrong, however, and the real need for a “reform of the reform” lies in the fatal misstep of constructing the liturgical action around our putatively amazing selves rather than around the surpassing wonder of what Christ is doing in the Eucharist.

The battle over liturgy and the aesthetics of worship recounted by Fr. Neuhaus is a live topic in many denominations.  But there is so much more to this than the latest liturgical spats.

Carved above the entrance way to a theological college I once attended was the phrase: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The phrase is often expanded to Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Lex Vivendi and interpreted to mean: “As we Worship, So we Believe, So we Live.” Worship reveals what we believe. It is who we are. It is the foundation of our Christian identity.

In an April 15, 2010 address to the Catholic bishops of Brazil gathered in Rome, Benedict said:

Worship, however, cannot come from our imagination: that would be a cry in the darkness or mere self-affirmation. True liturgy supposes that God responds and shows us how we can adore Him. … The Church lives in His presence and its reason for being and existing is to expand His presence in the world.

What the Post has picked up round the beltway — what Benedict told the Brazilian bishops — what Anglicans are seeking to find through the Book of Common Prayer, is the divine presence.

Was the Washington Post unaware of the wider context of liturgical renewal and reform? Or is its worldview so narrow that it cannot see anything? Have they only just now discovered, as Basil Fawlty would say, the “bleeding obvious” about liturgy and church life?

First printed in Get Religion.

Interview: Issues Etc.: December 19, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Press criticism.
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 19 December 2013.

 

 

GetReligion contributor George Conger discusses a “Time” magazine story on gay rights in India.

Direct download: Crossroads_12_19_13.mp3

Time’s betrayal of liberalism: Get Religion, December 23, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Press criticism.
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Pod PeopleTime magazine’s exercise in gay agitprop was the focus of  Thursday’s Get Religion’s Crossroads podcast. This extraordinarily unprofessional and illiberal article violated just about all of the standards of professional journalism — without resorting to alliteration, I enumerated its failings in my story “Time takes sides in India’s sex wars” as:

unbalanced, excessive adjectives and adverbs, open support of one side of an argument, short of key facts, lacking context, and stylistically flat.

But Lutheran Public Radio’s Todd Wilken and I are likely to disappoint our audience as we did not discuss the underlying issue: decriminalizing same-sex carnal relations in India. We kept the focus of our discussion on journalism and political theory. I grant you a discussion of the importance of Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination to modern reporting will not set the SEO world aflame as would a talk about the moral rights and wrongs of sodomy, but for those who value journalism and its importance to culture — this is hot stuff.

Julia Duin – one of the stars of the religion beat at Washington Times for many years and now a professor of journalism — commented on the original post that the Time story would not have seen the light of day at the Washington Times. “It’s so depressing to see this” sort of story in a quality publication, she wrote.

 When I wrote for the Washington Times -a much more conservative place – reporters were not allowed to put their opinion into their work. Seems like the bias only leans one way. This for reporters, mind you, not for columnists. I see liberal reporters scoffing at conservative values. I never see the opposite.

Is this merely an ideological fracas? Am I throwing around words like “agitprop” out of political pique? Why is this bad reporting?

American journalism is founded upon a methodology best articulated by the German historian Leopold von Ranke. It is a scientific objective worldview that sees the task of the journalist (like the historian) to report what actually happened (wie es eigentlich gewesen). In this school of writing, the journalist must set aside his own views and present a story on its own terms, to establish what the facts are and let the facts dictate the story. In the Time piece we see ideology dictate the story.

Trilling called upon liberalism to examine its own pieties and commonplaces — good journalism does this too.

First printed in Get Religion.

The Independent asks why report when you can reprint PR?: Get Religion, December 19, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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How do you respond to a smear? If you are the Independent you respond with a smear of your own, it seems.

The London-based daily has picked up a story from the web and without doing any investigation of its own, has concluded that what it reads on the internet is true. One would hope that they would know better than that. Or, might this be a British example of the Dan Rather school of journalism — a story that is so good that even though it is false,  it should be true.

The left leaning newspaper published an article this week entitled “UK evangelist says Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’”. (Tom Daley is a British sportsman who recently announced he was bi-sexual.) Reporters are seldom responsible for the headlines placed atop their stories, but this title does set the tone for the journalistic errors that follow.

An evangelist is different from an evangelical.  The subject of this story, Andrea Minichiello Williams, is an attorney by trade — not a cleric or lay preacher — and the founder of Christian Concern, a conservative Christian evangelical advocacy group. Confusing evangelist and evangelical is a common error, but it presages the troubles that are to come.

The lede states:

The head of a British evangelical Christian lobby group has angered gay rights campaigners by urging Jamaica to keep same-sex intercourse illegal and reportedly suggesting  that Tom Daley is in a relationship with a man because his father died. To the dismay of mainstream church leaders Andrea Minichiello Williams, the founder of Christian Concern, spoke at conference in Jamaica to lobby against the repeal of the Caribbean island’s controversial law banning gay sex.

Let us unpack this. Mrs. Williams, is the head of evangelical group (not an evangelist), who “apparently” urged Jamaicans not to change their country’s sodomy laws.  Her words have led to “dismay”, not in Jamaica, but among gay activists — no surprise there — and “mainstream church leaders”, e.g., more than one and not just activists on the margins.  We need to wait and see who these “mainstream” leaders are, but cognoscenti of Anglican affairs will see an allusion here. One of the chief conservative evangelical lobbying groups is “Anglican Mainstream.” Is the Independent being clever? Are they suggesting a rift within the conservative wing of the church?

The editorial voice of this article is that it is somehow beyond the pale to oppose the reform of sodomy laws. While this may be the received wisdom in the offices of the Independent, the world does not march to that tune. From this month’s ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that there is no constitutional right to gay sex, to Judge Antonin Scalia’s dissents in Bowers v Hardwick and Lawrence v Texas, there is an intellectually respectable body of opinion that disagrees with the innovations endorsed by the Independent.

This is not to say the Independent must raise the objections to its thinking each time it goes off on this issue, but a degree of self-awareness on the part of the newspaper would prevent it from making the silly errors found in this story.

After laying out the controversy, the article then goes on to quote Mrs. Williams. But the quotes are followed by the caveat that they have been taken from BuzzFeed. They are further hedged about with phrases such as “reportedly illustrated” and “she is said to have added …”.

The Independent provides a hyperlink to the BuzzFeed story, but cites no other sources. It does include a quote from Christian Concern saying Mrs. Williams was “unavailable due to a private matter.”

The story then moves to commentary and provides a “mainstream” critic, the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner. Perhaps bishops count as multiple sources? What the Independent implied the bishop said is at odds, however, with the statement released by the bishop. It wrote:

Yesterday Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester, where Mrs Williams was elected to the General Synod in 2011, condemned the comments.

He told the Independent that they had “no sanction in the Church of England” and that they “should be rejected as offensive and unacceptable”.

Bishop Warner did not condemn Mrs. Williams or her comments — he condemned incitement to homophobia. He said:

The comments by Andrea Minichiello Williams about the decriminalisation of same sex intercourse in Jamaica have no sanction in the Church of England or the diocese of Chichester.  Insofar as such comments incite homophobia, they should be rejected as offensive and unacceptable.

The Christian Church is widely perceived as homophobic and intolerant of those for whom same sex attraction is the foundation of their emotional lives.  It is urgent, therefore, that Christians find legitimate ways to affirm and demonstrate the conviction that the glory of God is innate in every human being, and the mercy of God embraces each of us indiscriminately.

Note the use of the word “insofar” — The Independent is shading the bishop’s words here. It has either misconstrued what was said, or cherry picked phrases  from the statement to support its editorial voice.

We see this shading of facts in the use of comments. Quotes condemning what the Independent concedes are alleged statements made by Mrs. Williams are offered, but there is no voice offered in support for retaining Jamaica’s sodomy laws. As most of the article is taken from the press release of a gay lobbying group the lack of balance is understandable — why do the hard work of reporting when someone else hands you a press release you can reprint?

Now to forestall comments from the perpetually outraged, this post is not about the rights or wrongs of Jamaican sodomy laws. It is about journalism. And as journalism this article stinks. What we have is a re-written press release passed off as original reporting. The Independent will not stand behind the quotes it says might have been said by Mrs. Williams, but is happy to reprint the comments attacking her.

And when a quote is not sufficiently rigorous for its tastes, it improves it by omitting key phrases that put the words in their context. This story is an embarrassment to the craft of journalism.

N.b., should you be of a mind to debate the issues or go deeper into this story, blogger Peter Ould has done the investigative reporting that the Independent could not be bother to do.

First printed in Get Religion.

A Year of Sex, Money and Politics (2013): The Church of England Newspaper, January 3, 2014 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church News, Church of England Newspaper.
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Sex, money and politics dominated the news of the Anglican world outside of England last year.

Disputes over doctrine and discipline surrounding questions on human sexuality animated overseas church discussions in 2013. The political battles over gay marriage in England, France, New Zealand and a number of American states had their counterparts within the Anglican world.

Pressure by Western to liberalize sodomy laws in Africa and the West Indies prompted a back lash from the bishops of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, which denounced the sexual “colonialism” being forced upon them by London and Washington. The Church of Nigeria and bishops in Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and other African nations joined their governments in denouncing the linkage of foreign aid to reform of their constitutions and cultures to accommodate the new thinking on sex.

Not all the talk was about gay marriage, however. At year’s end, a U.S. federal court struck down portions of a Utah law banning polygamy, prompting one Episcopal priest to celebrate. The Rev. Danielle Tumminio, writing for CNN argued that “as a Christian, it makes sense to support healthy polygamous practices. It’s a natural extension for those Christians who support same-sex marriage on theological grounds. But even for those opposed to same-sex marriage, polygamy is documented in the Bible, thereby giving its existence warrant.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, also challenged the church’s doctrinal boundaries in a May sermon in when she denounced the Apostle Paul as a jealous bigot for not seeing the gifts of God at work in the slave girl whom he released from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34.

Salvation comes not from being cleansed of our sins by the atoning sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Presiding Bishop argued in her sermon, but through the divinization of humanity through the work of the human will.

Bishop Jefferts Schori offered an equally impassioned sermon in South Carolina in February, likening her opponents in the schism in that diocese to terrorists and murderers. “It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage,” she said.

The Episcopal Church’s property wars saw an upswing of activity, while a local court in California ruled against a breakaway parish in favor of the Diocese of Los Angeles in one long-running case, and the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled against a breakaway parish in its dispute with a diocese, the Supreme Court of Texas and a local court in Illinois held there was no bar under civil or ecclesial law to a diocese withdrawing from the national Episcopal Church.

In South Carolina, the diocese won several early rounds in the fight with the national church in its bid to quit the Episcopal Church, while in Recife the breakaway diocese successfully appealed a lower court ruling that would have turned over its property to the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. Brazil also witnessed a schism from the left in 2013, as the largest Anglican Church in South America, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Brasilia, quit the province to resume its historical status as a Church of England chaplaincy.

Church splits in Central Africa were almost brought to a conclusion in 2013. At the Church of the Province of Central Africa’s synod in November, Archbishop Albert Chama reported the Kunonga schism had been successfully concluded with the country’s Supreme Court ruling against the bid by breakaway bishop Dr. Nolbert Kunonga to seize the property of the dioceses of Harare, Masvingo and Manicaland for his “Anglican Church of Zimbabwe”. While the cathedral in Harare and most of the province’s schools, churches, hospitals and other properties were restored to them by the courts, reports of Kunonga die-hards holding on to properties with the connivance of local police officials were reported at year’s end.

The provinces of Central Africa and Sudan voted against dividing into national churches in 2013. Delegates to the November synod meeting in Lusaka voted against spitting Central Africa into three provinces – Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, while the November synod meeting in Bor of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan voted against splitting the church into a northern and southern province. It did however vote to rename itself the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan.

Central Africa was the hold out, however, in a year that saw considerable gains for women clergy. While the Central African synod voted down a motion put forward by the Diocese of Harare to allow women clergy, women bishops were appointed and elected across the globe. The Church of Ireland appointed its first woman bishop, while the Anglican Church of Australia saw its first women diocesan bishop elected, as did the Church of South India. An English female priest was elected a bishop in New Zealand and two women took their place in the House of Bishops in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.  The Diocese of Ballarat, one of the last hold outs against allowing women clergy in Australia, ordained its first female priests at year’s end – while commentators predict a woman priest will be elected a bishop in Uganda.

Secular issues also animated the life and the work of the church in 2013. Bishops in the Church of Ceylon backed their government in a spat with the Commonwealth over human rights abuse claims – leading Archbishop Desmond Tutu to call for a boycott of the November CHOGM meeting in Colombo.  Archbishop Tutu played a prominent role in the ceremonies marking the death of Nelson Mandela in December, while the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, played a prominent role in Egypt’s second Arab Spring.

Corruption remained a problem in parts of the Communion, the Churches of North and South India saw two bishops removed from office, and retired bishops arrested for fraud and corruption. Corruption allegations paralyzed the Diocese of Sabah, and led to police questioning of bishops in South Africa and Zambia, while the election of a new primate of Tanzania was marred by charges of vote buying.

Abuse investigations animated the secular press in Australia, as a Royal Commission investigated institutional responses to child abuse. Mishandling of Australian abuse claims led the Bishop of Grafton to resign, and saw church leaders admit before the commission that they did not follow the church’s published guidelines on abuse reporting.

Census reports and statistical studies published in 2013 painted a picture of a church in decline in some parts of the Communion. The Episcopal Church reported that while its losses appeared to have stabilized, over the past ten years there were 24 per cent fewer people in church on Sundays. New Zealand census figures reported an even steeper decline in that country, with Anglicans declining by 17 per cent in seven years.

Persecution was a constant factor in the life of Anglicans in Nigeria, the Sudan, Zanzibar, Pakistan and the Middle East in 2013. Over 105,000 Christians were killed because of their faith in 2012, an Italian sociologist reported in January, with reports from Africa, India and Asia showing a surge in anti-Christian persecution over the Christmas holidays.

 

The depredations of Boko Haram, which has vowed to drive out all Christians from Northern Nigeria – either by death or expulsion – has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, while the Taliban has ramped up its campaign in Pakistan against religious minorities – Christians, Shi’ites, Ahmadiya and Hindus.

 

Concerns over the global “war on Christians” were not restricted to church circles, however. In the United States Sen. Rand Paul – a conservative Republican leader – sounded the alarm, as did a Westminster Hall debate in November.  “In virtually every country in and around the [Middle East], Christians report suffering either high, high to extreme, or extreme persecution,” MP Fiona Bruce warned, while other MPs reported on persecution facing Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

 

“We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht and on other occasions during the Second World War,” she said.

 

The Prince of Wales added his voice to the chorus of concern, telling an Advent gathering at Clarence House warning that Christianity may “disappear” in the Middle East because of a wave of “organised persecution.” Prince Charles said he was “deeply troubled” by the plight of our “brothers and sisters in Christ” and urged intensive inter-faith dialogue to stop the persecution.

 

However, the single largest gathering of overseas Anglicans, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) held in Nairobi in October, saw a new enthusiasm for mission, evangelism and renewal. The collapse of the authority and relevance of the existing instruments of unity for the Anglican Church – a point conceded by the Archbishop of Canterbury – since Lambeth 2008, and the retreat by Archbishop Justin Welby from the world scene, has seen a more aggressive overseas policy from the Episcopal Church and conservative global south Anglicans.

 

The old ways of the Anglican Communion were as “dead as the British Empire”, Dr Peter Jensen, the Gafcon general secretary said, at the start of the conference. The “future” of Anglicanism had “arrived” – and it was Gafcon, he observed.

 

Dr Jensen characterised the communion’s problem as a failure of commitment. “We have failed to make disciples through teaching the commands of Jesus found in the Bible at depth. That is why so much of the Church in the West has simply collapsed, capitulated, and compromised before a virulent, antagonistic secularism.”

Census reports 17% decline in 7 years for NZ Anglicans: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia, Church of England Newspaper.
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The number of New Zealand Anglicans has fallen by 17 per cent over the past seven years, giving the Anglican Church of Aotearoa/Polynesia the distinction of being the fastest declining member of the Anglican Communion.

Census data on Religious Affiliation released on 10 Dec 2013 by Statistics New Zealand reported Anglicans had lost their top spot as the country’s largest denomination – a position held since census figures on religion were first tabulated in New Zealand — and are now second to the Roman Catholic Church in terms of membership.

The number of Catholics fell from 508,812 in the 2006 census to 491,421 in 2013, but this total left that church with approximately 40,000 more members than the Anglican Church. During the same period Anglicans in New Zealand declined from 554,925 to 459,771, or 17 per cent. The Episcopal Church of the USA, divided by schisms and litigation, declined on 12 per cent during the same period, from 2,154,572 to 1,894,181members.

The number of those reporting “no religion” remained the largest category of respondent with the 2006 number of 1.297 million rising to 1.635 million in 2013, climbing from 32.2 per cent to 38.6 per cent of the population. In 1956 more than 90 per cent of New Zealanders identified themselves as Christian.

In his Advent letter to the church, Archbishop Phillip Richardson wrote the census figures “contains few surprises. Not even the decline in Anglican affiliation should catch us unawares. These trends liberate us from notions of self-importance and turn us back to our fundamental calling.”

He added that “they also situate our Church more on the margins of our society, where we really belong.”

“My immediate response, then, is thankfulness to God that we are being refined, called to repentance and to a refocusing of our mission,” he said adding that “following Jesus has always been fundamentally counter-cultural. And the Church has always been most authentically the Body of Christ when it is salt and leaven rather than the ‘religious’ dimension of modern society.”

“Our Church may be smaller numerically, but we may also be more authentically Christ’s Church as we recover our saltiness and become real leaven,” Archbishop Richardson said.

Christian march on Parliament in Delhi broken up by police: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India.
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Police in New Delhi used water cannons and truncheons to stop a march on parliament in support of Dalit rights by Christian leaders last week.

After breaking the marchers’ line with jets of water on 11 Dec 2013  police wielding lathis (canes) waded into the crowed marching on Sansad Marg (Parliament Street) after they refused an order to disburse.

The march began at Jantar Mantar and headed towards Parliament House in defiance of a ban on protests along Parliament Street.  Police arrested the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto, the General Secretary of the Church of North India Alwin Masih and a number of clergy, nuns and activists. Several clergy were injured in the attack.

The march had been organized by Christian leaders to call for an end to the statutory discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims. Under Indian law Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits, or Untouchables, are eligible for special government benefits and preferences. However, Christian and Muslim Dalits are not eligible for the subsidies as the government has held that once an Untouchable becomes a Christian or Muslim, he is freed from caste discrimination – a stance disputed by Christian and Muslim leaders.

After his release from jail Archbishop Couto said: “Government after government have been turning a deaf ear to the demand of Christians.  Now they are going to the extent of brutally beating up our priests and nuns and now arresting us too.”

Fr Ajay Singh, a Catholic priest from Orissa who was present at the march told Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “The Prime Minister’s apology must be followed by action to end more than 60 years of injustice done to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, which is totally against the spirit of equality and secularism.  He should not play politics with the millions of Indians deprived of their human rights.  The police response to the protest shows how the state ignores the multiple layers of discrimination against the most vulnerable and marginalised minority communities”.

The CSW reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has offered his apologies for the police action and told march leaders their concerns would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

Central Africa celebrates the end of the Kunonga era: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa, Zimbabwe.
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The Church of the Province of Central Africa has postponed action to split the church into three national provinces, voting to put the Kunonga years behind them and work towards unity and healing .

Approximately 100 hundred bishops, clergy and lay delegates from Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe met in Lusaka from 27 Nov to 1 Dec 2013 gathered under the theme “Going Forward Together in Unity and Prayer” in the province’s first synod since 2007.

Speaking to ACNS before the start of the meeting, Archbishop Albert Chama stated: “The six turbulent years that we have gone through since the last Synod require us all to move on in solidarity and in a very prayerful manner. God has seen us this far and he will lead us through.”

The Sept 2007 session held in the southern Malawi town of Mangochi was marked by debates over homosexuality, the Episcopal Church of the USA, Robert Mugabe and the aspirations of the national churches. The province was also without an archbishop and a number of dioceses were without bishops.

The then bishop of Harare, Dr. Nolbert Kunonga, attempted to capitalize on the power vacuum within the church and sought to enlist the province as an ally of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. Unable to force the subordination of the province to the government of Zimbabwe, Dr. Kunonga told the Harare Herald the province had been dissolved, initiating six years of litigation.

In his presidential address last week Archbishop Chama  reported on the successful conclusion of the Kunonga schism, with the Zimbabwe courts returning all of the assets seized by Dr. Kunonga. However, the fight had damaged the church, burdening it with $200,000 of unpaid legal fees in the Diocese of Harare and $180,000 in the Diocese of Manicaland.

However the Bishop of Masvingo, the Rt. Rev. Godfrey Tawonevzi on 9 Dec 2013 told overseas supporters Dr. Kunonga’s allies had not halted their actions in his diocese. Kunonga loyalists with the help of local police and government officials were holding on to a number of churches and schools in defiance of the Harare court orders.

Debate over dividing the CPCA into national provinces at the Lusaka meeting of synod did not have the politically charged atmosphere of 2007, participants told The Church of England Newspaper.

While many Zambian delegates pushed for division, the parlous state of the church in Zimbabwe following the Kunonga schism, and the lack of a clear guidance from diocesan synods in Malawi prevented a consensus from being reached on division.

Delegates opted to follow the counsel of the archbishop and the theme of the meeting focus the efforts of the province on rebuilding institutions and fostering unity, sources told CEN.

Pope Francis: “ecumenism of blood” the new face of inter-Christian relations: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

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The old ways of managing ecumenical relations among Christian churches is passing away, Pope Francis told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, with bureaucratic initiatives making way for a “ecumenism of blood”.

Speaking to Andrea Tornielli in an interview published on 14 Dec 2013, the pope was asked whether he saw Christian unity as a priority.

Francis responded: “Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians.

The pope said that while Christians are “united in blood”, Christians have “have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.”

Francis illustrated his convictions on the changing face of ecumenical relations with an anecdote of a “parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: ‘I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s’.”

“This is what ecumenism of blood is,” the pope said.

“It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptised in. We need to take these facts into consideration

Suit seeks to hold Bishop Lawrence personally liable for South Carolina’s secession: The Church of England Newspaper, December 13, 2013 December 18, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
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The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the faction loyal to the national Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, has filed a motion in state court seeking to add Bishop Mark Lawrence and three other diocesan officials as parties in the lawsuit over the control of church properties. The new pleading seeks to hold the breakaway leaders personally liable for the secession of South Carolina from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

On 25 November 2013 loyalists filed a motion alleging 18 causes of action against the four, the bishop, his canon to the ordinary, the current and former president of the standing committee , “including breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conversion, trademark infringement and civil conspiracy.”

Supporters of the diocese have dismissed the motion as a last minute ploy to salvage the national church’s case against the breakaway diocese.

Canon lawyer Allan Haley, who has represented breakaway dioceses of Quincy and San Joaqui in their litigation with the national church, stated the pleadings were ridiculous.

“It should be obvious to almost anyone that priests who break their ordination vows, or who violate the Constitution and Canons of the Church or of one of its Dioceses, cannot be sued in the civil courts for those actions,” he said, “that is the entire purpose of Title IV (“Ecclesiastical Discipline”) of the Canons.”

“I fail to see, therefore, how the rump group could have authorized the motion to add additional parties to state any claim for breach of the Constitution and Canons — or indeed, for breach of any fiduciary duties owed to the Church whatsoever,” he said citing a recent decision by the California Fifth District Appellate Court that “such questions are ‘quintessentially ecclesiastical’ — they are issues ‘the First Amendment forbids us from adjudicating’.”

“I fail to see how this ‘Hail Mary’ pass has any chance of success in court,” he said.

However, the national church supporters said the motion was filed “because actions [Lawrence and the others] they took to ‘withdraw’ the diocese from [the Episcopal Church] were outside the scope of their legal authority and violated state law,” a press statement said.

Their actions amounted to a “conspiracy” to spirit away “the assets of the diocese and ‘deprive Episcopalians loyal to the Episcopal Church of their property rights’ by manipulating the corporate entity of the diocese,” the pleading alleged.

Sudan synod rejects call to divide: The Church of England Newspaper, December 13, 2013 December 18, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
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The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has rejected calls to divide the church along national lines, but has agreed to rename itself the Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan to mark the 2011 independence of South Sudan from Khartoum.

Meeting from 27-30 Nov 2013 in the Jonglei state capital of Bor in South Sudan 35 bishops and delegates from the church’s 31 dioceses: 26 in South Sudan and 5 (Khartoum, Port Sudan, Wad Medani, Kadugli, and El Obeid) in Sudan, debated the structure of the 4.5 million member church at the 10th meeting of the Provincial Standing Committee (synod).

The Bishop of Lianya, the Rt. Rev. Peter Amidi, told the Sudan Tribune the tremendous growth of the church over the past generation, coupled with the 2011 independence of South Sudan had raised the question of division. A split would “not [be a] separation as such but an arrangement within the Anglican communion where you devolve power from the mother provincial authority to the area of clusters of dioceses”.

Sources in the Sudanese church told the Church of England Newspaper the delegates discussed creating an independent province and an internal province for the north led by its own archbishop. However, the lack of infrastructure and funds along with the desire to support the persecuted church in the north led the delegates to endorse the status quo.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports Christians in the north are harassed by the government, which seeks to deport them to South Sudan or convert them to Islam. In April 2013 Khartoum’s Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Al-Fatih Taj al-Sir, told the country’s Parliament the government will not permit the construction of new Christian churches in the country.  CSW reports there has also been a systematic targeting of African ethnic groups, particularly the Nuba, prompting fears of a government plan for the Islamisation and Arabisation of norther Sudan.

In their communique, the Sudanese church welcomed the “improvement in relations” between north and south Sudan, and urged the two governments to “tackle any outstanding issues in a peaceful way.”

The communique also called upon the government of South Sudan to stem the recent outbreaks of tribal violence and called upon the international community to maintain pressure on Khartoum to halt the violence in Darfur, the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains.

The synod also reaffirmed its support for the church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality, rejecting innovations in doctrine and disciple that would permit gay blessings. “We reaffirm our position rejecting same-sex relationship,” the communique said.

Arson kills Maryland rector: The Church of England Newspaper, December 13, 2013 December 18, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, The Episcopal Church.
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A bizarre church fire has left two dead including the rector of St Paul’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Ocean City, Maryland in an incident police describe as arson.

On 26 Nov 2013 a 56-year old man, subsequently identified as John Sterner, entered the church offices located in the ground floor of the parish rectory. Witnesses told police that Sterner’s clothing was on fire and he was screaming for help.

Sterner grabbed a church volunteer and set her clothing on fire. The fire spread then spread to the building. The volunteer was able to escape the building, but firefighters found parish rector the Rev. David Dingwell, apparently unconscious from smoke inhalation, inside the building. Sterner died at the scene of the fire and the two other victims were taken to hospital.

However, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton, the Rt. Rev. James Shand, reported Mr. Dingwell died later that day from his injuries.

Police report Stern was unknown to the members of the church and are investigating how he came to be covered in an accelerant fluid. Suicide is suspected as the motive for the crime.

Time takes sides in India’s sex wars: Get Religion, December 13, 2013 December 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Press criticism.
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Time magazine reports India’s Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the nation’s colonial era “sodomy laws”, ruling there is no “right” under the constitution to same-sex carnal relations. The court ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code could be repealed but only by the legislature not judicial fiat.

Time is not too happy about this. The magazine’s editorial voice can be heard through out “Homosexuality is Criminal Again as India’s Top Court Reinstates Ban”.  The lede states:

In a surprise move, India’s top court on Wednesday reversed a landmark judgment by a lower court decriminalizing homosexuality in the country. The court said that the law regarding homosexuality could only be changed by the government. “The legislature must consider deleting this provision (Section 377) from law as per the recommendations of the attorney general,” Justice GS Singhvi, the head of the two-judge Supreme Court bench said in Wednesday’s ruling.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court had overturned an archaic colonial law (section 377 of the Indian Penal Code) that made gay sex an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment. Wednesday’s decision shocked many because while anticipation was high not many expected India’s top court, which in the past upheld many progressive rights judgments often going against the government and popular discourse, to revoke such a forward looking judgment.

“Archaic” is also used in the subheading of the story to describe the law. The commentary in the second sentence of this paragraph is not quite accurate. The Attorney General of India had argued in favor of overturning the law — there is a hint of this in the quote from the court’s ruling, but nothing further.

The Hindu, one of India’s leading daily newspapers, noted the attorney general called the sodomy law a British import.

Mr. Vahanvati had said “the introduction of Section 377 in the IPC was not a reflection of existing Indian values and traditions, rather it was imposed upon Indian society by the colonisers due to their moral values. The Indian society prevalent before the enactment of the IPC had a much greater tolerance for homosexuality than its British counterpart, which at this time under the influence of Victorian morality and values in regard to family and the procreative nature of sex.”

Time makes its views clear in this paragraph.

While activists vow to challenge the ruling, the decision to decriminalize homosexuality is now in the hands of New Delhi. And while the good news is that the government has recently changed its position on the issue, arguing for it in the court pointing out that the anti-gay law in the country was archaic and that Indian society has grown more tolerant towards homosexuality, the bad news is that the country is heading for general polls in a few months and a much embattled coalition government is striving hard to retain power. It is thus highly unlikely that gay rights will take center stage in Indian Parliament any time soon.

“Good news”? That does cross the line dividing news and commentary.

There is also a lack of balance. Time quotes the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, a “veteran LGBT activist” and other “[s]tunned LGBT activists”, but offers no voices in support of the decision, or an explanation of the legal principles offered by the court in its decision.

What then is going on in this story? Was there a breakdown in Time’s back office that permitted an ill-written story barely distinguishable from a press release making it through the editorial process?

It is not as if no voices in support of maintaining the law are present. When the Delhi court struck down the law in 2009, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian leaders held a joint press conference denouncing the decision. Times‘ argument that a general election campaign will see this issue disappear from the public eye due to its unpopularity implies politicians support keeping the law — and The Hindu reports some will even campaign on this point.

Is the attorney general correct in saying laws banning consensual same-sex carnal relations are un-Indian and merely a vestige of the Raj? Or does the near unanimous voice of opprobrium from India’s religions for homosexual acts and the political classes desire to campaign on this issue speak to an Indian cultural and religious aversion to gay sex?

Or, are we seeing the “new normal” of reporting on social issues? As my colleagues at Get Religion have shown, balance is not a requirement for many mainstream media outlets when reporting on social issues. Bill Keller of the New York Times has stated his paper strives to be impartial when covering politics, but does not feel this same need when reporting on social issues. As TMatt has wrote at Get Religion, Keller believes that:

When covering debates on politics, it’s crucial for Times journalists to be balanced and fair to stakeholders on both sides. But when it comes to matters of moral and social issues, Bill Keller argues that it’s only natural for scribes in the world’s most powerful newsroom to view events through what he considers a liberal, intellectual and tolerant lens.

There is nothing really new in Keller’s worldview. Sixty three years ago Lionel Trilling wrote in the preface to The Liberal Imagination “It is one of the tendencies of liberalism to simplify.”

In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

The state of American intellectual life has changed little, and I fear it has worsened. Trilling believed there should be an interplay of ideas between left and right for “it is not conducive to the real strength of liberalism that it should occupy the intellectual field alone.”

Citing John Stuart Mill’s essay on Coleridge, Trilling wrote:

Mill, at odds with Coleridge all down the intellectual and political line [wrote Trilling], nevertheless urged all liberals to become acquainted with this powerful conservative mind. He said that the power of every true partisan of liberalism should be, “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies… ; sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.”…What Mill meant, of course, was that the intellectual pressure which an opponent like Coleridge could exert would force liberals to examine their position for its weaknesses and complacencies.

Time’s report on the court battle in India over Section 377 reflects the complacency that Trilling fought so hard, unsuccessfully, to halt in American letters. By not engaging with ideas uncongenial to its own thinking Time has become sloppy, stale and predictable — all but valueless as reporting and rather tepid, even insipid, as polemic.

Please hear what I am saying in this post — I am not discussing the merits of the court decision, but Time magazine’s reporting on the court decision. As journalism this story fails the test — unbalanced, excessive adjectives and adverbs, open support of one side of an argument, short of key facts, lacking context, and stylistically flat.

Now if the story had been presented as “liberal outrage over Indian court decision” essay or news analysis piece, my criticisms would not be as sharp. However, Time has packaged this story as a news piece. Sunk in their complacencies, Time and many other media outlets are small-minded and provincial. They serve as exemplars of the mindset ascribed to the late New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.”

First printed in Get Religion.

AP reports he did have sexual relations with that woman: Get Religion, December 10, 2013 December 11, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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“Can a bad person be a good theologian,” asked Mark Oppenheimer in the lede of an October column on the scandals surrounding John Howard Yoder. Should private failings overshadow public achievement?

This question has been asked of prominent figures ranging from T.S. Eliot to Bill Clinton to Mike Tyson. Is the aesthetic value of the Wasteland diminished by Eliot’s anti-Semitism, or the former president’s accomplishments wiped away by his claim he “did not have sexual relations with that woman”? Does biting Evander Holyfield’s ear or being convicted of rape undo sporting achievements? Will Pete Rose ever be inducted into the baseball hall of fame?

Religious leaders are held to a different standard, Oppenheimer wrote:

All of us fall short of our ideals, of course. But there is a common-sense expectation that religious professionals should try to behave as they counsel others to behave. They may not be perfect, but they should not be louts or jerks.

By that standard, few have failed as egregiously as John Howard Yoder, America’s most influential pacifist theologian. In his teaching at Notre Dame and elsewhere, and in books like “The Politics of Jesus,” published in 1972, Mr. Yoder, a Mennonite Christian, helped thousands formulate their opposition to violence. Yet, as he admitted before his death in 1997, he groped many women or pressured them to have physical contact, although never sexual intercourse.

Oppenheimer does not cast stones, but he pulls no punches in discussing Yoder’s flaws. He does not call him a hypocrite, but asks whether interpretations of his work should be colored by  personal failings. This week MennoMedia, the publishing agency for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, announced it will add a disclaimer to new editions of Yoder’s books that speak to his history of sexual harassment and abuse.

These musings on celebrity right and wrong were prompted by an Associated Press article reporting on the marriage of a former Catholic priest who left the Legion of Christ under a cloud. The article begins:

Thomas Williams, the onetime public face of the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order who left the priesthood after admitting he fathered a child, is getting married this weekend to the child’s mother, The Associated Press has learned. The bride is the daughter of former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers.

The second paragraph notes Glendon’s position as President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and names his wife to be — Elizabeth Lev. It then moves back to Williams.

Williams, a moral theologian, author, lecturer and U.S. television personality, admitted last year that he had fathered a child several years earlier. At the time, Williams apologized for “this grave transgression” against his vows of celibacy and said he had stayed on as a priest because he hoped to move beyond “this sin in my past” to do good work for the church. …

Towards the end of the article the Legion of Christ scandals are recounted and Williams’ fall from grace is placed against the order’s larger problems. The article closes on a curious note, however.

The Legion said the numbers indicate that less than 1 percent of the 1,133 priests ordained in the 72-year history of the order had been found guilty by a church trial of abuse, and less than 4 percent had been abused. A Legion spokesman said he didn’t know what the percentage was for the current number of Legion priests.

One percent of priests are abusers and four percent have been the subject of abuse? And what is the unknown percentage, abusers or victims? Should “abused” in the second clause of the first sentence be “accused”, or is the AP setting the two numbers against each other?

That technical point aside, my discomfort with this story comes in the middle of the piece when it shifts style, moving from reporting to commentary.

Asked for comment Thursday, Lev confirmed the wedding plans in an email, adding: “We have no intention of ever discussing our personal life in this forum.”

She had initially denied an intimate relationship with Williams, though they frequently appeared together in American circles in Rome, particularly with visiting U.S. student and Catholic tour groups.

Their wedding closes a circle of sorts, even as it raises some uncomfortable questions: Who beyond Williams’ superior in the church knew about the child while the couple tried to cover it up? Was Williams already in a relationship with Lev when she became a regular contributor to the magazine he published? And did the family ties to Williams influence Glendon in her defense of the Legion and its disgraced founder despite credible reports that the founder was a pedophile?

Who is asking these questions? And for that matter, why the move to the “‘enquiring‘ minds want to know style”? While asking out loud these questions may titillate some readers, to me they speak to the reporter’s frustration of not being able to get past the “no comment” email.

There is no balance to this article. By that I do not mean a “yes he did, no he didn’t” exchange, but an appreciation of Williams’ work as a moral theologian. Was he a clerical hack and hypocrite, or did he produce valuable work? The article does not ask nor answer this question — leaving it the level of a “moral theologian” who was caught engaging in immoral practices.

The degree of vehemence in this piece may lead one to suspect personal animus. Why else would the AP omit the news that their child has Downs syndrome. The Daily Mail, which takes great delight in exposing the foibles of naughty clergy, found time in its piece to applaud Williams for having done the right thing in marrying the mother of his disabled child.

Yet the story the AP has reported is true. Where then is the line between a harsh but fair report and a hatchet job?

In this instance the back story of the scandals at the Legion of Christ do have a place, as does Williams’ personal fall. Yet a complete story would tell us about human failing and redemption.

There is no context in this story, only anger. Not moral outrage at a priest failing in his vows, but a cartoonish depiction of one man’s fall. There is no humanity, no decency in the tone and presentation of this story. It is a hatchet job.

First published in Get Religion

Church of Scotland urges restraint in legalizing same-sex marriage: The Church of England Newspaper, December 6, 2013 December 9, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland, Scottish Episcopal Church.
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The Church of Scotland has reaffirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage.

In a statement released last week following the vote in the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee to begin the process towards legalizing same-sex marriage, the church’s press office stated it “stands within the mainstream Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

The Rev. Dr Alan Hamilton, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Legal Questions Committee, affirmed the church’s commitment to “care for all people, gay and straight”, but said “until any future General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decides otherwise, that remains our position.”

There was a “wide spread of public opinion” about the wisdom of legalizing gay marriage, Dr. Hamilton said, “and that spread of public opinion is reflected among members of our congregations across the country. One thing is very clear and that is there is not unanimous support for this legislation in Scotland.”

“As the bill progresses through Holyrood, The Church of Scotland will continue to be a constructive voice in the national debate about it. We would also seek robust and detailed legal assurances and protection for those who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages as a matter of conscience.”

“The Church is conducting a wide-ranging review of marriage but there are no plans on the table for the Church to stop conducting marriages,” he said.

When the Scottish government announced its intention in 2012 to begin a process that would lead to the creation of same-sex marriages the Scottish Episcopal Church said that “its General Synod expresses the mind of the Church through its Canons.  The Canon on Marriage currently states that marriage is a ‘physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and as a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God’.”

The Rt Rev. Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness said: “The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church.”

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