Thursday, July 22, 2010

Attacks on Gene Robinson Are Off the Mark

At some point during the past few days, I heard someone make the comment that unlike 40 years ago, when we had just three main television networks which each tried to provide a balanced presentation of the daily news, we now have a wide variety of networks that take a much more partisan approach in the presentation of the news. Viewers can now turn to Fox, MSNBC, CNN, or any of a number of other channels which present the news in a way they feel most closely reflects their personal political beliefs.

I'm no longer surprised at the political approach these networks take in doing their jobs - but what I do find disappointing even now is that this style of reporting, both broadcast and internet-based, extends to the coverage of major events in the area of religion. Not only can this coverage also be very slanted to one side of the political spectrum or the other, it is often incomplete, lacking the complete details for readers to make up their own minds, or taking things out of context to achieve the desired effect. Consider how Noah and the flood would be reported today - a story with which nearly everyone is familiar: Noah is told to build an ark, take his entire family and two of every living thing inside, and ride out the 40 days of rain that killed every living thing on earth. In today's news, you would find the headlines for this story in completely new versions: "Noah and family flee flood, ignore cries of neighbors", or "Noah lacks focus on environment, fails to stop melting of ice caps and global flooding", or even "Animal cruelty - Noah locks animals in overcrowded ark; poor living conditions mark 40-day journey".

I suppose this has all come to mind over the past four days as I've read some of the media reports and blog posts based on Gene Robinson's visit to Foundry United Methodist Church on July 18 (see blog post of that same day). To a large extent, much of what I've seen to this point has taken incomplete quotes or material from his sermon and question-and-answer session out of context - obviously in a blatant attempt to curry favor with one demographic of reader or another. Some of the pieces have been composed based on other stories with no research, perpetuating the bias from one post or article to another.

The one that really triggered my negative response was a post by David Fischler on the blog of The Reformed Pastor with the headline "Robinson Tells Methodists: 'Follow Me!'" The opening line reads, "Not content with having brought his own denomination to the brink of schism and collapse, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson toddled into Washington to spread the joy to the United Methodists." The writer then goes on to say that "Robinson and his fellow gay activists have turned the Episcopal Church's canon law into a hunk of Swiss cheese" and have led the church into a position where "congregations, priests and members are fleeing in droves."

By this point, I was already deliberating whether to respond directly on the blog and engage or not - and I was a bit hot under the collar. What folks like Mr. Fischler (or is it Reverend Fischler? His blog purports to present "daily thoughts on Christian faith and life in the world from an Evangelical Presbyterian church planter", and yet I saw very little evidence of faith or even of a Christian mindset in the post) don't take into account is that there were many people in the congregation that Sunday, including me. I heard for myself what Bishop Robinson said and how he responded to the questions posed by the parishioners, and I even downloaded the podcast of the sermon so that I can listen to it whenever I feel the urge. I have the facts, and the facts are these:

(1) Never once did he tell the congregation to "Follow me!"; he commented on his understanding of the situation and period of discernment in which Foundry currently finds itself, and stated his hope that they approach their decision prayerfully.

(2) The phrase "brink of schism" has been applied so many times to the Episcopal Church in the last 40 years that it is becoming tiring; does anyone recall the changes to the Book of Common Prayer in 1982, or the Philadelphia 11, or the ordination of women, or the consecration of Barbara Harris? Every time, there was talk of schism - and yet we're still here. Additionally, Bishop Robinson cannot be blamed for anything - he was elected overwhelmingly on the second ballot of his diocese, and his election was consented to by majorities of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops at the 2003 General Convention; if you're going to accurately point the finger of blame, shouldn't you be pointing it at a majority of the Episcopal Church?

(3) Fleeing in droves? Out of 2.8 million members and 7,100 parishes throughout the United States, a total of 83 parishes - that's about 1.1 percent, Mr. Fischler - have left. 1.1 percent. Doesn't a "drove" constitue a higher percentage than that?

I cannot help if the folks over at The Reformed Pastor have taken the time to listen to the sermon or do any independent reading, rather than continuing to spout the same tired lines of fear and hatred that we've been hearing for the last seven years. Based on what I've seen, I think the answer is no - and I certainly didn't see much of the Christian attitude that I've come to know from people over the years anywhere in his post.

I don't begrudge Mr. Fischler the opportunity to say whatever he wants - that's the great joy of having a blog; I enjoy it because it allows me to talk about what I would like and hopefully engage some dialogue. However, I would hope that he - and all media, for that matter - would at least try to be accurate and original in what they say.

Most importantly, shouldn't Christians of all denominations be focused on the larger picture of our world today, rather than on an election of a bishop - most obviously one that the Diocese of New Hampshire wanted - seven years ago? Aren't there more pressing problems in the world? On this note, I would end with the words of the Bishop himself in this regard:

"...the thing that concerns me, from those who want to leave this church in America, or leave it worldwide, is that they're saying that this one thing that divides us is more important than all the other things that hold us together. This one thing. It's more important than the creeds that we've held up for, what, 1,700 or 1,800 years; it is more important than our baptismal covenant; it's more important than the doctrine of the Trinity - the list goes on forever, of the things that hold us together. And these people are saying this one thing trumps all of that. And I just don't believe that for a minute."

Neither do I, Bishop. Neither do I.

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