What ails the Wall Street Journal: Error-laden opinion on Episcopalians

This blog has been dormant because I’ve been a bit busy at General Convention. My intention was to post a few commentary pieces and a wrap-up tomorrow and the next few days. But then I noticed that Friday’s Wall Street Journal includes a blistering attack on the Episcopal Church. My friend Bishop Kirk Smith has already replied, but I think it’s worth adding a few more corrections to the WSJ’s careless and error-ridden attack.

fact or fictionTo be clear: if someone wants to attack a church, I’m fine with that. But it’s at least worth getting the facts right, especially in what used to be a respectable publication like the WSJ. Maybe they should have followed the lead of other Rupert Murdoch-owned publications and tapped a few phones of bishops or hacked email accounts of deputies. Or perhaps Googled “The Episcopal Church” or visited www.episcopalchurch.org. They might have gotten a few things right.

The author, Jay Akasie, identifies himself as an Episcopalian. The byline is from Indianapolis. Based on what’s in the article, it’s hard to believe that Mr. Akasie has attended either an Episcopal Church or its General Convention. Perhaps if he sends me his address, I can at least mail him a few pamphlets about the Episcopal Church and its polity, which might bolster the accuracy of his next hatchet job.

Just for grins and giggles, I thought it would be fun to walk through some of Jay Akasie’s assertions.

General Convention is also notable for its sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere. For seven straight nights, lavish cocktail parties spilled into pricey steakhouses, where bishops could use their diocesan funds to order bottles of the finest wines.

I wonder where these parties were. And many dioceses expressly forbid the purchase of alcohol with diocesan funds. As for me, I had lunch at such wantonly lavish places as Noodles & Company, where my entree cost as much as $7.00. Dinner was taken in places such as the opulent California Pizza Kitchen (note to Mr. Akasie, this does not mean I flew to California on a private jet).

During the day, legislators in the lower chamber, the House of Deputies, and the upper chamber, the House of Bishops, discussed such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats, and whether to ratify resolutions condemning genetically modified foods.

Neither House is above the other. This is but one of many subtleties of polity missed by the author. There was no debate on “developing” such things as “funeral rites” for pets. In fact, the Convention was asked to approval pastoral services for people who are grieving the loss of their pets. Surely Akasie is not so heartless as to think that the church should not care for grieving people? It makes a cute attack point, but the substance of Akasie’s attack is baseless.

But the party may be over for the Episcopal Church, and so, probably, its experiment with democratic governance. Among the pieces of legislation that came before their convention was a resolution calling for a task force to study transforming the event into a unicameral—that is, a one-house—body.

Mr. Akasie might like to look around the world. There are plenty of examples of unicameral democracy, both ecclesiastical and governmental. Also, I’m not sure that a body which has been meeting since the 1780s counts as an “experiment” any more.

On Wednesday, a resolution to “re-imagine” the church’s governing body passed unanimously.

Yes, which would seem to suggest that far from ending, the Episcopal Church is simply turning the page to a new chapter.

Formally changing the structure of General Convention will most likely formalize the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church’s secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

There are, I suppose, plenty of things for which one might criticize our Presiding Bishop. “Secretive” would not make any careful observer’s Top 100 list. And based on what I have heard of committee meetings, I do not think Bishop Katharine qualifies as “authoritarian” in any real sense, though she might be counted as a “strong leader>” Sadly, there are some men who do not like to see women who are strong leaders.

Bishop Schori is known for brazenly carrying a metropolitan cross during church processions.

First of all, know the person you are attacking. The correct reference is “Bishop Jefferts Schori.” Second, she carries a primatial cross. She is, after all, a Primate. (Note to WSJ editors: make sure you read this Wikipedia article, not this one. You seem to be easily confused.) Third, Bishop Katharine is widely known for “brazenly” asking people to address her by her first name. That’s hardly the behavior of a power-mad potentate.

With its double horizontal bars, the metropolitan cross is a liturgical accouterment that’s typically reserved for Old World bishops.

I don’t think anyone complained when that same, exact cross was carried by men. Sigh.

In the week before this summer’s convention, Bishop Schori sent shock waves through the church by putting forth her own national budget without consulting the convention’s budget committee—consisting partly of laymen—which until now has traditionally drafted the document.

Oddly enough, the committee (supposedly run by cowering “laymen” but co-chaired by a bishop and a lay woman) adopted a budget that looked much like the “shocking” budget from Bishop Katharine. And while I know that a few people were surprised by her move, a number of us were grateful for her careful work which helped us have a better budget.

On Monday, for example, the church announced that its headquarters at 815 2nd Avenue in midtown Manhattan—which includes a presiding bishop’s full-floor penthouse with wraparound terrace—is up for sale.

No. In point of fact, the House of Deputies passed a resolution calling for a sale. This has less to do with financial issues than with location. The House of Bishops amended the measure, and the amended resolution was later concurred by the Deputies. There is no mention of a sale. You can see the final version of resolution D016 online. It’s simply amazing what a few minutes of research can teach a person!

And yet there are important issues at stake if laymen are further squeezed out of what was once a transparent legislative process. A long-standing quest by laymen to celebrate the Eucharist—even taking on functions of ordained ministers to consecrate bread and wine for Holy Communion, which is a favorite cause of the church’s left wing—would likely be snuffed out in a unicameral convention in which senior clergy held sway.

This is nonsense. Literally. I’ve never heard a serious call for lay presidency at the Eucharist from an actual Episcopalian, but only from fringe Anglicans in Sydney. There is no reason to suppose a unicameral assembly would be less or more liberal than a bicameral assembly. Also, I’m not sure how the deputies could have a more transparent process (though this cannot be said for the twitter-hating, secret-meeting-loving bishops). OK, even the bishops do all their business in the light of day.

Also in jeopardy would be the ability of ordinary laymen to stop the rewriting, in blunt modern language and with politically correct intent, of the church’s historic Book of Common Prayer.

Again, this is completely and utterly baseless. Anyone who has talked about sitting in a unicameral body has also talked about preserving votes by orders, which would allow bishops, lay people, or deacons/presbyters to scuttle legislation. Please note that Mr. Akasie has referred to the 1979 prayer book as “historic” so that next time when he rants about our prayer book, we can ask him about his expressed views about the “historic” book.

For some, the writing on the wall is already clear. On Wednesday, the entire delegation from the diocese of South Carolina—among the very last of the traditionalist holdouts—stormed out of the convention.

Ridiculous. In fact, members of the South Carolina deputation (not delegation) remained behind, and they behaved well and were treated respectfully. There was no storming out. Here Mr. Akasie must be conflating reality with the rules of “Bonnie Ball” (points can be awarded for shaking the dust off your sandals). One the deputies from South Carolina and I began a friendship when I met him at a consultation at same-sex blessings. He made it quite clear he opposed the idea, but he was there to listen and to share. Respectful conversation ensued. Alas, since Episcopalians didn’t provide any rude behavior for the media, the media need to try to invent some retroactively. You’ll never see a WSJ headline, “Episcopalians experience grace in listening” or “Christians practice their faith by treating one another well.” Pity.

If the Wall Street Journal wants to attack the Episcopal Church, they are welcome to do so. We can handle it. But I do wish they would use actual facts. I would encourage any Wall Street Journal staffer or reader to visit an actual Episcopal Church. I’ll guarantee you two things. First, it won’t be perfect. After all, the church is filled with humans. But note the second thing, and note it well. It won’t be the rancorous caricature that Mr. Akasie loves to write about.

The Episcopal Church welcomes you! Even error-prone reporters from the Wall Street Journal.

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85 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    keep avoiding reality. Dig in your heals. The writing’s on the wall.

    Why get so angry at the truth? TEC has bled members by following a political agenda.

    It’s safe to say, literally, that St. Paul could not be ordained in “Bishop” Schori’s EC. And if he were, he’d be kicked out.

    I strongly suspect the ultimate goal of Schori and friends is drive out the members, sell of the properties and turn it into a social activist foundation like the Ford F.

    She certainly doesn’t seem to be concerned with losing parishioners and refuses to even admit its a problem.

  2. Mark says:

    “In addition, is refusing to allow a parish to buy back it’s building for worship and selling it at a much lower cost to anyone but those who have loved it and maintained the building for years anything but childish, immature revenge?”
    Exactly Rick, in one case they refused to sell it to the congregation and sold it to muslims, below value.

    Why? (and for any of you who will harp on about ‘diversity’ i suggest you visit a muslim country and see how women are treated.

  3. Small Farmer in Frisco says:

    Mark,

    One could easily say that the folks leaving TEC are also following a political agenda, so kindly give us a break. And inasmuch as Paul never was a bishop of the Church (you’re thinking Peter) you’re right, he wouldn’t be a bishop – he never took the GOEs or was a member of TEC…laughing

    You seem to confuse quantity with quality…they aren’t one and the same necessarily. And if flks find their best spiritual progress in another communion, why should I begrudge them? I celebrate that they have found a better place for themselves.

    As for buying back buildings, you might want to speak with the relevant bishops and their Standing Committees: it would be a breach of fiduciary duty to sell property beneath market value…and to impute base motives to the bishops is singularly unchristian, ya know?

  4. Mary Wilson says:

    When I read the WSJ article, I knew it was wrong- but I could not refute it as you could, because I was not present in Indianapolis. I thank you for taking the time to speak the truth in the face of a powerful publication that obviously is not concerned with facts. Even an editorial piece, that is stating opinion, should not print lies just to further the authors agenda. This is exactly the type of behavior that keeps the church from moving forward and following the call of Christ.

  5. Well folks , I’m departing from this blog. Emotion as always seems to have won. Where is a rational discussion of what is happening to our church?
    Warm and fuzzy is not the answer, nor is, we must be evangelical. Doesn’t anyone want to find a middle ground?

  6. Small Farmer in Frisco says:

    Actually most folks would be quite happy with a Via Media, William, and if you go into most parishes that is precisely what you’ll find – reasonable people who recognize each other’s views and values but put them aside to worship and serve together and one another – and that is the ultimate genius of TEC …

    As for wanting to discuss what is happening to our church: I’m perfectly happy to have that sane and reasonable discussion with you or anyone else who’d care to jump in….

    Thoughts?

  7. Mary says:

    When Bishop Jefferts-Schori was consecrated there were a couple of small articles about the primatial cross she was given by Bishop Griswold. One said that during his Visitation to the Diocese of Oregon in September, 2003, he asked an artist named DeSpain if he would craft a primatial staff for him after admiring the crozier that DeSpain had made for Bishop Gregg (who was Bishop of Oregon at the time.

    If you go back and look at pictures of previous PBs you see that there are a variety of primatial staffs in the collection. Some have been carried by more than one bishop but this one originated with Bp Griswold.

  8. mark says:

    One could easily say that the folks leaving TEC are also following a political agenda, so kindly give us a break.
    One could ‘easily say’ a lot of things, that does not make them true. We have plenty examples of ‘your sides’ political agenda- please show me some examples of people leaving for a ‘political agenda’.

    I personally feel that politics of either side does not belong in church. As with Jesus’s message, church should be a place for people to connect with God both personally and as a community. Schori has shown no interest in either.

    And inasmuch as Paul never was a bishop
    you can continue with this sort of smug silly non-argument, or you can address my point- Paul’s writings on sexual immorality would get him ousted by Schori.

    You seem to confuse quantity with quality
    No I don’t, i wouldn’t call Schori or her ilk, ‘quality’ – you guys don’t want to even begin to admit your agendas have pushed the TEC to the brink of oblivion. In fact, you seem to take a perverse (no doubt a ‘virtue’ to you) ‘pride’ in it.

  9. mark says:

    I am truly curious. Do any of you who are hostile to to this article recognize the seriousness of TEC’s situation?
    Do any of you care that the numbers are shrinking.

    Do you even acknowledge that they are? If so, what do you think are the reasons for declining numbers.

    You can claim simple demographics, but for example, the North American Anglican communion is growing rapidly, as are many non-denominational churches. Are any of you willing to even ADMIT that agenda is causing a membership crisis?

  10. Gerry Vander-Lyn says:

    Scott,

    Having read both the WSJ article and your blog I confess that I find both parties guilty of the same rhetoric. I sigh with regret over the caustic tone in both articles. If your blog is an example of “Episcoplians experiencing grace in listening” then I missed it. Also, as for rancor, I am sad to say that every Episcopal parish I have attended has had at least one rancorous event. If we don’t fight over the music, then we fight over the building. One of my rectors had to pay for a firm to run a “slippery test” on the new hard would floor in the Nave to stop the fights. The new floor in the Nave was actually LESS slippery than the floor in the parish hall that no one was complaining about. As far as General Convention 2012 goes, I am more than grieved that “transgendered” individuals will not be barred from ordination. Why the deputies at General Convention think that the laity will be comfortable receiving pastoral care from someone who cannot accept the gender God made them to be is a matter beyond my comprehension. I do understand that we all experience a lack of faith in our lives, but why we need to bless it and then ordain is truly beyond my capacity to understand.

  11. Becki says:

    Thank you, Scott. You have very succinctly articulated every feeling I had as I read this article. While I was not in attendance I knew it was inaccurate on so many levels. Thanks for your response.

  12. Referred by S VA diocese says:

    I always find liberal outrage at media “inaccuracy” amusing. It seems that liberal Christians are frequently content to watch conservatives twist at the strident misrepresentations and outright lies perpetrated against them by leftwing media, left wing politicians and left wing presidents – as long as it’s not their particular brand of Christianity in the lion’s den or the gas chamber…Perhaps this will make you think a little the next time you read an unfavorable report about your “enemies.”

  13. Small Farmer in Frisco says:

    Hmmm S Va Diocese: so you’re saying two wrongs do make the Right?

    I think you’re somewhat over the top in your comments. When folks are factually incorrect as a matter of doing a hatchet job, irrespective of their political affiliation, they ought to expect to be corrected. To have mass media perpetrate intentional misrepresentation is abhorrent no matter who is the target; and if you feel you have not received reasonable support when you’ve been the victim, I apologize to you.

    I do not see traditionalists as enemies – on the contrary, they are the guardians of custom and tradition and should be respected for these gifts. At the same time, traditionalists should recognize that much of what they hold as essential has not always been thus and there have always been exceptions – it is the nature of human institutions.

    I’d be cautious about conflating politics and theology: I know a number of Republican Episcopalians who are gay and lesbian and they resent presumptions as to the nature of their relationships and their politics – rightfully so, I’d say!

    May I offer the thought that less snark and more listening with humility is in order on all sides?

  14. Small Farmer in Frisco says:

    Btw, Gerry, it is entirely possible you come in contact with Gay, Lesbian,Bisexual and Transgendered folks every day – you may even have them among your family and friends – and simply are unaware of it.

    You could of course make inquiries on a person by person basis and keep away from those who are unacceptable, or you could simply accept that it is the person’s competence and commitment which is most important not their mode of dress and appearance – the choice is yours.

    In light of our baptismal covenant, how a person presents themselves is not my concern; how I choose to receive them is. Thoughts?

  15. A Parishioner from Texas says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we all agree that part of what makes us christians is to know to operate by faith (belief) when our reasoning (logic) can no longer take us any further? Facts have been stated here that have either been corroborated or could be double-checked (one person mentioned Matt 23, at least).  I  feel like I have learned some practical things I can use. I have heard someone remind us that the church is rightly a place (hospital) for sinners.  That is a fact: He is a holy God who came to save the lost (All of us, as sheep, have strayed and wandered away from home).  The bottom line is that the WSJ writer has certainly given us a feedback that we could perhaps benefit from. Liberal sentiments and traditional sentiments apart, it is never too early to panic (that TEC is becoming too politicized), and it is never too late to (retrace our steps to) get it right.   In fact, there is no easy answer to some of the contentious issues that tend to divide us. However, He created us as rational beings, with a will to choose and make decisions. So when, as an example, we make our decision of who to be with, that choice has its consequences (call it opportunity cost). That may include the consequence of being disqualified from ordination as some people who feel that TEC has gone too far state.  But what if they purge themselves tomorrow, some may ask.  
    Surely the way people respond and react to change is absolutely up to them (and their God).  But their faith can still be restored in the Episcopal  Church if it purges itself in the future.  
    Just my take.  A parishioner from TX

  16. Miss Jan says:

    Um, I live in one of the Texaan dioceses now, but I lived in the Diocese of Oregon in 2003 and was a member of the cathedral parish. I never knew of a “Bishop Gregg” in Dio. Oregon. We did change Bishops in 2003. The VIIIth Bishop of Oregon was The Rt. Rev. Rob’t Ladehoff and the IXth Bishop of Oregon was The Right Rev. Johncy Itty. Maybe he was in Dio. Eastern Oregon?

  17. Miss Jan says:

    . . . Texan dioceses . . .

  18. Small Farmer in Frisco says:

    We’ve had a right good time of the old Celtic pastime of “contradict a wee” – throwing points of view at one another – but sometimes clearness can be found in neighbors’ words?

    http://lambswar.blogspot.com/2012/07/discovering-our-common-purpose.html

  19. Gerry Vander-Lyn says:

    Dear Small Farmer in Frisco,

    Of course I know gay people. I also know a man who murdered several people. I also know people who have sold illegal drugs. I know people who have been convicted of theft, assault with a deadly weapon, and burglary of a motor vehicle. I know people who don’t pay their taxes or their parking fines. I know people who let their pets mess up their neighbors yards. Knowing people who sin is easy. You have to have been a hermit from birth to avoid knowing sinners. I still see no reason to bless the sin and ordain it. As far as the Baptismal Covenant goes, I am supposed to resist evil and repent of sin. I am also supposed to love my neighbor as myself. When I repent of sin I am loving myself. I certainly do not want to deny my neighbor the freedom that comes from repentence. Blessing sin and ordaining keeps someone trapped in the sin. That seems horribly lacking in compassion to me.

  20. Small Farmer in Frisco says:

    I believe we’re talking past one another, Gerry…if you wish to condemn another’s sinning, just as you condemn your own, fine. To presume that a person is sinning because they live with someone of the same gender or love someone of the same gender isn’t Christian (or perhaps it is in the minds of many folks which is why we’re in a post-Christendom world these days).

    As for resisting evil and repenting of sin: for a faith which washes us free of sin it appears some of its adherents either don’t believe it because they continue to throw sin up in others’ faces, or perhaps they have never quite thought through what that radical proposition means.

    Perhaps we are all misreading what Jesus taught?

  21. Paul Hinson says:

    Absolutely wonderful rebuttal. One wonders if the editorial Board of the WSJ fact checks editorial pieces. There is opinion, respectfully or not respectfully expressed, and then there are facts. Facts can never be in dispute.

  22. PAUL GEIGER says:

    Big errors folks! The WSJ allows OpEd pieces that have nothing to do with their (WSJ) editorials.
    They should not be castigated for a slanted OpEd piece. I have it on good faith that Murdoch doesn’t influence the truth and accuracy of the real editorial board and writers.

  23. PAUL GEIGER says:

    OpEd is not Editorial, Mr. Hinson.

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