Anglican World Wide Web wars, Part One by Terry Mattingly

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Thu May 24 01:31:17 EDT 2001


Anglican World Wide Web wars, Part One

By Terry Mattingly

EDITOR'S NOTE: First of two columns on web wars in Anglicanism.

Soon after the Episcopal Church voted to offer "pastoral care" for
those in "life-long committed relationships" outside of Holy Matrimony,
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey met with some American bishops
who were worried about the future.

Once upon a time, views aired in a private Lambeth Palace gathering
such as this may have been discreetly shared with other bishops or
edited into a safe, uplifting press release.

Today? Forget about it.

"My motto is 'Take no prisoners,' "said evangelical David Virtue, a
raging cyber-scribe who never uses a flyswatter when a baseball bat is
available. "If I hear something, I'm going to put it out there and I
don't care who gets mad."

Relying on a source inside the Lambeth meeting and others caught in the
fallout, his "Virtuosity" (www.orthodoxanglican.org/virtuosity) email
list reported that Carey was worried that the Episcopal Church's sexual
agenda could cause a schism. Carey and these bishops were said to have
shared their concerns with U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

Anglican Communion News Service editor James Rosenthal struck back,
issuing a bulletin on Nov. 2 that quoted Carey saying that Virtue's
report was "a bare faced lie."

But then the Church of England Newspaper confirmed key elements of
Virtue's report. Then Carey's own staff asked that the Rosenthal
bulletin be withdrawn. Lambeth Palace said the story containing the
"bare faced lie" quotation "didn't emanate from here."

Journalists do not enjoy being called liars. Virtue wrote Rosenthal: "I
expect a ... retraction or I will sue you. You have defamed me."

That is where this tempest in a British teapot stood until May 9, when
Rosenthal released a public apology, conceding that his press release
"lacked clarity and the content was inaccurate." He asked all news
services, web pages and email lists to kill the story.

There is one big unanswered question: Where did the "bare faced lie"
quote come from? At midweek, Lambeth press aides and Rosenthal's office
had not responded to numerous inquiries about this issue.

What is happening? All over the ecclesiastical map, bishops and
bureaucrats are learning that the wise crack is true -- freedom of the
press really does belong to people who own one. The web has given
legions of people the ability to ship documents, speeches, transcripts,
letters, statistics, fact sheets, opinions and embarrassing press
reports into scores of pews and pulpits.

A Canterbury press release goes all over the world. But so does a
Virtue email carving up a bishop's revealing remarks in a local parish
forum that was captured on tape.

While only 3,000 users have signed up to receive his press reports,
that number includes 30 or more traditional Anglican writers and
editors -- in Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia and, especially,
Africa -- who forward his work to thousands of their own cyber-
subscribers. Many of them click "forward" once again.

Virtue claims to have 80,000 readers. His critics on the Episcopal left
dispute this and have conducted their own investigations, trying to
undercut that statistic. Of course, those critics have their own web
sites and email lists.

The official church press is no longer the only game in town. Ask the
Presbyterians or the Baptists. Ask the United Methodists or the Greek
Orthodox bishops. Ask just about anybody. The World Wide Web wars are
turning up the heat in a growing number of religious sanctuaries. This,
in turn, effects how the shepherds relate to their flocks.

After all, noted journalist Andrew Carey of the Church of England
Newspaper, when Episcopalians read denominational press releases, it
seems that their church is "in perfect health, and merely trailblazing
for a more enlightened Christianity. The rest of the Anglican Communion
will follow -- you mark their words!" Yet when they open an email from
Virtuosity or the Third World bishops, it seems the Episcopal Church
and "other liberal provinces ...are on a downward spiral into hell, if
they have not already arrived."

It does little good, he said, for clergy to moan about this. The web
has changed the rules of the game.

Carey the journalist should know. His father is the archbishop of
Canterbury.

NEXT: St. Luke and the Internet.

Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) is senior fellow for journalism at the
Council For Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. He
writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.




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