Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Head(ache)lines jump across the pond

My day began today, as it is often wont to do, with growing anger at the press for the way it is covering the Anglican Communion. This time, however, it wasn't the American press, but the British press.

First of all, the Press Association runs “Gay bishop to deliver UK sermon.” Similarly, Retuers has a story entitled “Gay bishop calls for firmer leadership.” It’s not Reuters’ implied sexual innuendo that bothers me so much as it is the media's practice of never referring to Bishop Robinson as anything but the “gay bishop.” As a legal resident of a New Hampshire and a communicant, if not member, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, I wish they would call him the “ New Hampshire bishop” rather than the “gay bishop.” It’s not just that the press is slighting him; they are slighting ME, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury when he decided my campus ministry is one of a very few undeserving of representation at the supposedly-Communion-wide Lambeth Conference. When you put the focus on a diocesan bishop, you put the focus on that diocese, and the media’s coverage of +Gene is a slap in the face to all Granite Staters. As Grandmére Mimi of Wounded Bird asks in a comment at MadPriest, why don’t we obsessively call the other bishops “practicing heterosexuals” every single time we refer to them?

When I was done with the Reuters story, I moved on to the Telegraph’s “Gay clergy split is 'most perilous crisis' in Church's history. Reporter John Bingham informs us that, “An open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and the more-than 800 bishops attending the conference is demanding an urgent overhaul of the [Lambeth Conference] to allow time to deal with the matter.” What Mr. Bingham does not tell us is just how many signees that letter has. It is this practice of only reporting half the facts that encourages the erroneous belief of an impending schism. Let’s remember that a majority of bishops have declined to boycott Lambeth; that most of the attendees at the conservative movement’s pinnacle conference in Jerusalem were local priests, not regional bishops; that only 5 or so of the over 30 primates were involved in planning said Conference, which didn’t even speak for all of Africa; and that many of the 40 million Anglicans Nigeria, and like it Uganda, claim as members actually attend many churches throughout the week and don’t consider themselves strictly Anglican or tied to their Archbishops.

Such reporting is all over the place. The BBC’s headline about a recent interview with the Most Rev. Katharine Jeffers Schori: “Sexuality stance 'embarrasses' Anglicans.” The reporter doesn’t actually say it was an interview, but I presume it was because I can’t find such comments in either of Bishop Katharine’s Sunday Salisbury sermons. A throwaway line of hers in the article was that other provinces feel embarrassed by American actions. She was merely trying to acknowledge the views and feelings of our brothers in Christ; there was no deep meaning or shocking revelation behind this sentence, and it was hardly the crux of her comments – yet the BBC put it in bold. Take a look yourself; I doubt you’ll characterize it the same way.

What is most disappointing is that all of these news organizations are British. Normally it is the American press that gets it so wrong, and the Brits come to our saving grace. Yet this week, even the normally intrepid Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London has taken to running factual inaccuracies. Rev. Mark Harris, also a Gledhill fan, tallies them up over at Preludium.

Reading these articles and fuming over all these unreported facts, a new question crossed my mind: why is it considered a collapse of the Communion if Nigeria and Uganda leave, but not if America and Canada are kicked out? Why are these new, forty-year old provinces considered more crucial to the structural integrity of the institution than its second-oldest province? Why are some bishops considered more important than others?

Some say all this is because the media is hungry for controversy, and will find it anywhere. I say that anyone who puts a headline above their readers’ spiritual wellbeing is being reckless and irresponsible.

To end on a happier note, with a breath of fresh air and reconciliation, let’s turn back to Bishop Robinson – not to the story of his sermon heckler, or even to myriad of flattering articles about him, but to his own recent words:

This church is not ours to win or lose, it is God’s church . It may be looking pretty rough now but God will take care of it. It may look a bit different in the end but God is not going to abandon his church so we don’t need to be so afraid.

We are not at liberty to think we are on the selection committee for God’s family. Our job is to be on the welcome committee and the sooner we learn that in the Anglican Communion the better off we will be.

I don’t believe God stopped revealing himself when the canon of scripture was closed. God promises to be with us and never let us go. We are promised that the spirit will lead us into all truth. I believe that God is now leading us to the full inclusion of people of all types of sexuality. Maybe where we’re headed is just to acknowledge that all of us are incredibly diverse and God loves us all…

Why am I going to Lambeth? I’m going to do my very best to let whatever light of Christ there is in me to shine. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want those guys to meet and not be reminded of my presence. I want to remind them that they are in charge of their flock and they have gay people there and that gay and lesbian souls are every bit as worth saving as straight souls. I want them to have a chance to meet me and get to know me – because it is in meeting and communicating that the world is changed. I want gay people to know that they are God affirmed.

If you want to see what the church is like after it has stopped obsessing about sexuality, come to New Hampshire.

1 comment:

Fr. Warren said...

Nathan,

Thanks for this. I relate to the banging our heads against the wall metaphor. I wonder if folks understand that it feels pretty good when one stops the banging.

I'll also chime in strongly on the media challenges to us. That being said, I remember well the qualifier (long since dropped sadly) that circulated in the Summer of 2003 in calling Bishop Robinson the first 'Openly' Gay Bishop in the Communion. Once in a while it might be good for us to remember that being real and honest is a virtue and denial is typically not.

Keep up the good work.

--Warren