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This piece on Episcopal Bishop William Love of Albany contains a big, big, big hole

Terry Mattingly takes the Albany Times-Union to task over its “irresponsible” coverage of the Episcopal Church

Want to see some completely unbalanced reporting in what was, I assume, supposed to be a hard-news story in a mainstream newspaper? Friends and neighbors, this Times Union story – “Episcopal bishop’s opposition to same-sex marriage creates rift” – about Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany may take the cake.

Right up front, let me note that (a) this was an important story that should have been covered and (b) liberal Episcopalians in this diocese had every right to be outraged by their bishop’s rejection of his denomination’s somewhat limited embrace of same-sex marriage rites. Their voices deserved to be heard.

Wait, “somewhat limited” embrace?

Ah, there is the rub. This story completely misses a key element of what the Episcopal General Convention did and did not do on this hot-button issue, a fact that made the final action taken quite unpopular with some – repeat SOME – liberal Episcopalians.

The bottom line: There is no way to understand the story in Albany without crucial facts that were omitted from this Times Union report.

So what’s the story? Here is the overture:

Episcopal Bishop William Love’s opposition to same-sex marriage in defiance of the recent 78th general convention of the Episcopal Church that affirmed marriage equality has roiled the Albany diocese and caused parishioners to quit the Cathedral of All Saints in protest.

In a July 18 pastoral letter in response to last month’s convention and June’s historic Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing nationwide rights for same-sex marriage, Love cited a Book of Common Prayer definition of marriage as a “solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman.”

Love was among just seven out of more than 100 bishops across the United States who flouted the convention’s stance and publicly opposed same-sex marriage.

At a July 26 meeting that drew 60 parishioners after Sunday services at All Saints to discuss Love’s pastoral letter – the bishop did not attend because he was on sabbatical in Scotland – emotions ran high and the contentious issue spurred angry words.

How fired up were some people about the bishop’s rejection of the General Convention’s action? Here is a strong, but excellent, quote.

Some parishioners did not mince words and quit the parish.

“This was a difficult personal decision, but I can’t teach the U.S. Constitution to my students and go to a church that discriminates against a group of people,” said Alice Malavasic, an assistant professor of history at Hudson Valley Community College who attended All Saints for more than 20 years and taught Sunday school. She was the first to send Collum a letter informing him that she left the parish. Her letter referred to Love’s position on marriage equality as “hostile and bigoted.”

“Bishop Love literally segregated the cathedral from the Episcopal church and out of principle I won’t attend a segregated cathedral,” Malavasic said.

OK, so what is the problem?

Nowhere in this alleged news report does it mention that the General Convention action gave the denomination’s few doctrinally conservative bishops – it is called the “Episcopal” church for a reason – the right to reject same-sex marriage rites in the parishes of their dioceses.

In other words, Bishop Love was taking a very unpopular act, but his his actions were consistent with rights that he was given in the legislation passed by the General Convention. He rejected same-sex rites, but he did not, to be precise, flout or refuse to obey the law of his denomination. He elected to use a power that the General Convention gave to him.

How are the readers of this newspaper supposed to understand his action without being told the facts about the General Convention’s action?

At the time of this historic move by Episcopal leaders, former GetReligionista Father George Conger – in a newsy essay for The Washington Post – was the rare reporter who caught the fact that many liberals in this denomination were not happy with this element of the final version of the law. As I wrote at the time:

… Back to a key news hook in this story. In a denomination with episcopal structure, the key issue here is whether BISHOPS can decline to perform these rites and, the crucial part, forbid their priests from performing them. This is the key to the “local option” scenario that caused so much debate before this vote, debates that are absent from the AP story.

So how did Conger – in his analysis – handle these issues? First of all, he truly listened to the Episcopal left.

George wrote: 

In resolutions adopted here at the denomination’s General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City … the bishops have endorsed new liturgies or services for same-sex couples wishing to marry in church. The bishops also approved changing the church’s canons, or rules, governing marriage, making them gender neutral by substituting the terms “man and woman” with “couple.” However, clergy were also given the right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, with the promise they would incur no penalty, while bishops were given the right to refuse to allow the services to take place in their diocese.

The compromise means that same-sex weddings may occur after Nov. [29], 2015, with the full blessing of the church in places like Washington, Los Angeles and New York, but likely won’t take place in more conservative parts of the church, like Dallas, Albany and Orlando.

What do noncelibate gay and straight liberal clergy think of that?

Those who are more theologically liberal may try to block the bishops’ plan, insisting on the immediate introduction of same-sex marriage with no way for dioceses to opt out. On the other hand, those who are conservative are likely to reach out to overseas leaders in the wider Anglican Communion to pressure the church to stop. …

The bishops agreed to allow clergy to begin offering same-sex marriages using the new rites after Nov. [29]. However, no clergy could be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage, and a bishop had the authority to forbid his clergy from celebrating gay marriages.

So, once again, do gay Episcopalians and their supporters in Bishop Love’s diocese have every right to be outraged? Of course.

Is this local outrage a valid story that journalists from the Times Union should have covered? Of course.

However, it was irresponsible of this newspaper – if the goal was to present the relevant facts about the Episcopal General Convention’s action – to ignore that Bishop Love was following the letter of the law in this case. He was using an option that he had, legally, been given by the same vote that made it legal for other bishops to proceed with same-sex marriage rites at their altars.

Oh, since this man is the bishop of the whole diocese we can only assume that some people voted for him in the election that gave him that mitre. If 60 attended a meeting to oppose his action, might others support him? Is he acting alone on this matter?* Might professionals from this newspaper have talked to some other local Episcopalians who actually back their bishop to one degree or another? Maybe? You know, as if this story has another side and might be good to show those other Episcopalians just a hint of respect?* Just saying. That is, if the goal is journalism.

First printed at GetReligion.

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