Monday, May 16, 2005

The Role of Authority in News and Religion

There are odd parallels between the recent stories about Newsweek's non-denial denial and the response of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America in his recent letter to his congregants expressing sorrow at the consternation the decisions of the Episcopal Convention have caused for large numbers of his own parishoners and for his fellow Anglicans. In both cases the expression of regret is not at all compelling.

In the first instance, the sloppy reporting of a major news organ suggests either malevolent intent by someone who contributed to the Periscope column or simple incompetence. One would hope that editors of something so widely read would have a better sense that something so damning should probably be checked first. The more that act like this, the less it will be widely read.

In the second instance, Bishop Griswald's statement of contrition without repentence has the same stink on it. The Bishop claimed he was sorry for all of the controversey in the church, including his own area of responsibility the Episcopal Church of America. Yet, his statement makes little attempt to deal with the issues he caused to be raised or with following even minimal procedure of a group like the entire Anglican community.

In both cases authorities (in a news organization and in a denominational leadership structure) said let normal procedures be damned. In Newsweek's case, the apparent zeal to bring out salacious gossip should have been checked a bit more. It does no good to suggest that others have talked about these kinds of things or that the White House demanded a retraction. Their first responsibility was to get it right. And they seemed indifferent to that imperative.

In the church's decision process, a group (be it a majority or minority in the ECUSA) forced a vote when the historic notion of the church is to take these kinds of decisions with care and most importantly with charity to your fellow congregants. The Windsor report (which the Archbishop of Caterbury requested) describes in pretty good detail the process that the denomination went through in redefining the role of women in the priesthood. In the end, what was a major decision, was also a positive one. But it was clear that the decisions made on the ordination of Bishop Robinson were done without any concern for fellow Anglicans in other areas of the world, or even for members of the denomination in the US who might dissent from the decision. In the ordination of women, a tough decision was broadened in its' acceptance. In the Robinson decision, a tough decison caused further dissention. Process counts for a lot.

The hubris in both decisions is appalling. Both seem to assume that personal desires or concerns trump reasonable process. Arrogance does not substitute for authority. Does Emily Latella still live?