Church Times goes all Pravda

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the official organ of the Communist Party was the newspaper Pravda, famed for its parroting of the party line and its interesting take on veracity and accurate reporting.

Now two decades later we have the wonderful output of the Church Times which reports on the meeting of the Anglican Liturgical Consultation last week with the following glowing comments about the reception received by a delegation from TEC that laid out their thinking behind liturgies for same-sex blessings.

In addition to the regular sessions, there was a separate presentation by members of the Standing Commis­sion on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) of the Episcopal Church in the United States on their development of a theological rationale and litur­gical principles for same-sex bless­ings. Those who attended were asked to give feed­back by consider­ing specific ques­tions in small work­ing groups.

The chair of the IALC, Dr Eileen Scully, from Canada, said on Thurs­day of last week that the purpose of the IALC meeting was to work on rites related to heterosexual couples only. In countries where civil-marriage laws were changing, how­ever, to allow either civil unions or same-sex marriage, Churches faced challenges. They needed to reflect on the parallels with traditional marriage.

The Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Revd Dr Ruth Meyers, said on Saturday that the 2009 General Convention had directed the SCLM both to inform, and to invite reflections from, the rest of the Communion. The IALC meeting was an ideal opportunity to discuss the matter.

The Episcopal Church’s request for such a session was made accord­ing to existing IALC norms, she said, and had been unanimously approved in advance by the IALC steering committee. It was a co­incidence that marriage was the main topic this year; the request would have been made in any event.

Dr Meyers also noted that the Episcopal Church’s request con­formed to the Windsor report’s recommendation that “provinces engaged in discernment regarding the blessing of same-sex unions [should] engage the Communion in continuing study.”

The feedback was enormously helpful, and the delegates from the Episcopal Church felt honoured by the respectful hearing that they had received, she said.

Well, it seems as the ALC loved hearing from their American brothers and sisters and were warmly commended for their interesting pioneering work.

Except it was nothing like that! A report last week in the Church of England newspaper disclosed an utterly different response from the Commission’s members.

A push by the Episcopal Church to bring same-sex marriage into the theological mainstream was repulsed last week by delegates attending the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC) in Canterbury.

The IALC was not persuaded by the theological or liturgical arguments—including a mock same-sex blessing ceremony–offered by the Episcopal Church delegation on the merits of same-sex blessings and declined to include the US’s views in its final report on marriage.

Members of the IALC present at the meeting told The Church of England Newspaper the US delegation led by Prof. Ruth Meyers of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont offered a theological rationale for same-sex blessings and offered a sample of one rite, with two female members of the US delegation serving as the spouses.  After the ceremony the American team solicited comments from the gathered IALC, but asked for the return of the service leaflet as the rite remained a work in process and was not ready for publication.

While some members of the IALC, including its new chairman, Canadian-member the Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, were generally supportive of the US view, the majority were not.  One participant told CEN the objections fell in two general groups: those who believed the concept of same-sex blessings was un-Biblical, and those who were perturbed by the “aggressive” push by the US team to seize control of a study process on rites for traditional marriage to include their own agenda.

The Bishop of Bolivia, the Rt. Rev. Frank Lyons explained the “theme of blessings for same sex partners was not in the purview of the IALC which is preparing a forthcoming study based upon marriage between a man and a woman.”

He added the current marriage rite project was an “an excellent work that raises important questions for local development of rites for marriage and also a range of other moments important to the sustaining of this estate.  It would be a shame to dismiss it out of hand based on misinformation,” he said in a statement given to CEN.

He noted that it was “impossible to deal with TEC’s theological rationale because they have already reached their conclusions on this and removed it from discussion a priori.  As there is no biblical warrant for it, only controversial discussion could take place in an Anglican setting anyway.  When the issue came up in plenary it was dealt with as cultural innovation, not a theological issue.”

“With the theological rationale dismissed, the task presented to the working group by TEC was to evaluate the rite as liturgy.  This elicited a mountain of criticism and important suggestions in various small groups, such as comments concerning the rite’s basic purpose and its structural presentation,” Bishop Lyons said.

There’s more in last week’s Anglican Unscripted (below). Fast forward to 5 minutes and 30 seconds.

Wow! So basically instead of, as the Church Times reported, it all being lovey dovey and amiable, a number of the ALC delegates (including those who would normally be expected to be “on-side”) told TEC where to go.

Where was that in the Church Times report? Was its omission due to the fact that it didn’t fit the “all is well and all manner of things shall be well” line that keeps coming out of 815 and revisionists on both sides of the pond? And what does it say about journalistic standards when a major portion of the news from an event is excised because it might indicate opposition to the editorial stance?

11 Comments on “Church Times goes all Pravda

  1. Guess there's your truth and my truth. CEN truth and CT truth. Every journo spins it for their own agenda. Isn't that why the Gospel writers also often differ about what actually happened?

    • There's a clear difference between "spin" and completely excising some events because you don't like them. When you read and listen to George Conger, yes he gives a conservative spin but he also tells you that some of the ALC didn't mind at all what TEC did. Read the Church Times article and you come away with the impression that there were no objections raised whatsoever.

      It's all the more egregious given that Conger's article came out last week, so CT have had a few days to research the piece. Simply no excuse for not reporting the *actual* response of the delegates.

  2. Lol, I long for the day when you similarly skewer e.g. The 'Christian' Institute for their assorted Pravda-esque lies, Peter!

    And the contentious statement you bold is this:

    "The feedback was enormously helpful, and the delegates from the Episcopal Church felt honoured by the respectful hearing that they had received, she said."

    Now this might be spin of course, but the articles you also quote cite ALC's response to TEC which is not remotely the same thing as the stated feelings of TEC are necessarily "inaccurate" (negative feedback is still feedback and so at least potentially "helpful" – perhaps ALC's response gives TEC a better idea of the lie of the land and so probably time scale for liturgical innovations, which sounds pretty "helpful" to me)

    And of course if the Church Times *accurately* reports something someone said that turns out to be a lie, then the fault obviously lies (so to speak) with whoever said it, not the doing-their-job journalist.

    • You're missing the point. All the negative responses from members of the ALC were in the public domain well before the Church Times put together their piece. This is not about being misled by anybody, it's about poor journalism where a major part of the story is simply ignored because it doesn't portray TEC in the right light.

      I'll quite willing hold the CI to account when necessary.

  3. Well errrm, Yes and No.

    The late piece from the Church Times does lack a comment from someone in Bp Lyon's camp but it avoids the editorialisation that overwhelms the CEN piece.

    from the second word "push" the CEN piece is riddled with unsubstantiated comment and opinion masquerading as fact.

    "The IALC was not persuaded by the theological or liturgical arguments.." says who?

    "declined to include the US’s views in its final report on marriage." sorry, wasn't it just happenstance that the major work of this group is currently on marriage, and what views did the US group ask to be represented in the "final report"?

    The underlying theme of the CEN piece is that the TEC group tried to hijack an ongoing process, and there is no evidence for this. It's a construct. It's spin.

    "While some members of the IALC, including its new chairman, Canadian-member the Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, were generally supportive of the US view, the majority were not." says who? This surely requires an authority. Were there votes?

    "One participant told CEN" just who? … or is this the bishop of Bolivia again?

    "those who were perturbed by the “aggressive” push by the US team to seize control of a study process " again, no evidence to support this rather strange view of a consultation that was included with the full agreement of the organisations standing committee. Bishop Lyons again?

    Who claims in the next paragraph that "blessings for same sex partners was not in the purview of the IALC ", but as it seems this interest group can do just as it pleases and the standing committee invited this consultation – one wonders why the bishop might say this?

    Rather sad really. We have enough confusion and problems without this attempt at deceit.

    Still, I think the CEN piece has one important advantage and that is the succinct explanation of the IALC and that, I would say, is news to most readers.

    You have to give it to TEC (and New Westminster who consulted the Hong Kong ACC) they do use the processes – even the informal ones – even if they don't get what they want!

    • The issue for me is that there was definitely a real and obvious split in the reactions to the TEC presentation and the Church Times piece completely ignored this important part of the story, instead giving the impression that the presentation had been warmly accepted.

      Indeed, if the Church Times had done its job properly it wouldn't have just accepted the words of the ALC chair which were obviously trying to be as positive about the TEC presentation as possible, given where she was coming from. Instead the CT would have picked up the obvious hostility to the presentation by some of the ALC members and would have reported it.

      Beyond the spin (of both sides) it really is shoddy journalism, not so much trying to push one agenda but trying to make out that the other agenda doesn't even exist.

  4. Yes Peter I did say that the Church Times piece might have quoted a known opponent, though your claim that the CEN report "disclosed an utterly different response from the Commission’s members" is untrue.

    Only ONE person is quoted by name in the CEN report and so the plural "members" is not accurate.

    However perhaps bishop Lyons was not available to speak to the CT?

    Others contacted may have followed established protocols (ignored by bishop Lyons?) to allow the elected chair (or the ACO briefed by the chair) to speak on their behalf. So possibly without bishop Lyons the "hostility" could not be reported?

    But nowhere in the Church Times report do I get the impression "the presentation had been warmly accepted" as you claim, rather "respectful hearing" suggests to me they did not have it their way!

  5. I note this from Simon Sarmiento's blog Thinking Anglicans:


    You may be interested to know that I quizzed three separate people who attended the meeting about the reported remarks to which you refer. Each of them said to me that they had heard no such remarks.

    Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 29 August 2011 at 3:20pm BST

      • Well, now we come to the nub of the issue and your accusation that the Church Times operates like Pravda and that they failed to tell the true story in favour of toeing a "party line".

        There is certainly as big a difference in the news values of the CT and CEN as there is in the readership their aimed at.

        I think I can best express this in the context of your rant by telling you that in the seven years I acted as press liaison for LGCM the Church Times did not ring me once (unless it was to call back), while the CEN journalist rang me more than twice a month and bear in mind that this was during the hottest news period when we might have had as many as 100 calls a day from the media.

        Comments from me suited the controversialist "House Style" of the CEN whereas referring to LGCM seemed to disturb the peaceful slumbers of the Church Times staff. I remember on one occasion sending the CT a piece of breaking news they had missed with a comment on the events from LGCM – ungraciously, they reported the news almost verbatim WITHOUT the comment, and to add insult to injury then refused me a fee!

        So the question remains is it fair or good journalism to go to press without contacting Bp Lyons or referring to the controversy reported in the CEN?

        Yes it is. It seems that the reporter could not find any corroboration, which is highly significant.

        But, there are other news lines that might have been pursued such as the fact that the Southern Cone is STILL INVITED AND ATTENDS Communion wide consultations (as Nigeria does – see attendance at Provincial Secretaries meeting) – they did not walk out but stayed and gave their view! In these days of boycotts that's news!

        If you were looking for a fight you might even write a story that dissed the CEN account which as we have already discussed was based on a piece of false spin and called Bp Lyons to account for his claims that seemed to support that.

        I can think of a few others.

        No, in my book the story carried by the CEN was FAR more in the Pravda school than the CT piece …..

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