Social schism, journalistic angst

Posted: December 14, 2007 in Toronto, Canada, U.S., UK
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2023 The Guardian January 15, 2023

This preamble is a blog post about what happens behind the scenes to unpublished stories.

Green Party leader speaks to Anglican same-sex issues from a human rights perspective

This summer 2007 — on the heels of the Winnipeg Anglican Synod vote that, narrowly, defeated the call, for same-sex marriage acceptance — Elizabeth May spoke in an interview with me.

I dare say Elizabeth May did so candidly on this hot-button controversy still bedeviling the Anglican Church.

May is herself a declared Anglican and a gay rights advocate.

When asked about the ‘Anglican’ issue she was inspired to take a brief moment (away from answering questions about her party’s commitment to gay rights from a governmental standpoint) to describe — in fascinating detail ( as you see below ) the underlying history behind the old Anglican church’s position.

As you see from the interview excerpt (scroll down) it demonstrates that her ‘speak’ was intended not only for the ears of Anglican followers but equally all Canadian people interested in the larger more universal human rights debate.

Unfortunately no publication picked it up, albeit the piece was, as Ms. May herself described it, a tangent.

My personal thoughts, aimed for this blog post, are as follows:

As onlooking Canadians we’ve witnessed the United Church ‘come into being’ on gay rights and we’ve long seen the Unitarian Church accepting the gay community, unequivocally.

The problem I encountered with such a lengthy Anglican-focused quotation is it read as too religion-focused for alternative weeklies and gay magazines and too hot for religion-based publications — so in effect it fell between two stools.

At the time, I have to admit, I thought her informal speech was a journalistic gem. I was disappointed it didn’t fly as worthy of publication. The journey taken by the Anglican Global Communion over the last few years is part and parcel of the Canadian big-picture cultural landscape.

The Anglican Church in Canada is moving forward as a result of public insistence, though slower than many gay people say they would like.

The content is valuable and still current since the Synod vote has left everyone in limbo.

From a journalist’s perspective, where should one pitch such a piece?, I ask myself.

If one can’t find a home, how can one constructively open a discussion about the obstacles?

Where is multi-dimensional contentious journalism best suited for publication appearance, if it even is?

These are the sorts of questions J-Source readers may pose, for instance, and here are the steps I took:

A popular gay publication in Toronto was willing to take the time to read about the Anglican controversy from May’s perspective, but in the end explained that since (they) were primarily a gay men’s lifestyle magazine it just “didn’t quite suit”.

A city-weekly and a relatively new progressive magazine in Victoria BC were not moved to ask for a read, based on my pitch (that’s of course assuming my letter was read; the uncertainty of which frankly threw me because anything on Ms. May usually gets an acknowledgement at the very least, I would have thought).

Just as a side note: every other (non-Anglican related) word I recorded from my interview with Ms. May was published. Check out Outlooks Magazine, October 2007 Issue in Calgary, Xtra!West, July 19th 2007 in Vancouver.

My confidence had begun to sink. I tried to believe it was ‘the Green Party leader theme’ connection to the Anglican controversy which was making for an odd marriage. Pardon the pun.

I should point out that I initially approached the Anglican Journal .

The editor was interested. A British Columbia Primate Representative of the Diocesan wrote, in a comment in support, saying that the “depressing mood” resulting from the Synod aftermath should be explored. I was asked for the piece.

This is what I heard back from Anglican Journal: “Ms. May’s views are not particularly controversial, so that is not the reason we are declining the piece. We are doing so because it doesn’t suit us”.

Okay. I had offered the article on the assumption that there was a good chance it could be published there.

As a freelance journalist I worry about the danger of allowing a read, thereby giving up direct quotations on the mere hope for publication. It was a good fishing expedition for the other side in this case, anyway.

The obvious question: What have I learned?

Honestly, I’m mystified. I’ve learned that all I have is the motivation in me to ask more questions of myself and my society. What steps should I take on my journalism path?

Are contentious issues worth pursuing in the long run, if in the process one’s credibility is damaged, hence weakening opportunity for publication in a prestigious media outlet?

A independent journalist might believe it is critically important that the public hears about a specific issue from a particular perspective.

But that doesn’t mean editors will agree since the bigger picture might dictate a need not to publish the content for one undisclosed reason or another (e.g. simply deem it not worthy for printing). Such a decision could cynically be viewed by the journalist as a unilateral decision to block readers from hearing from a high-profile person on a contentious issue.

Perhaps the actuality is that the perspective, however it is perceived by an editor, simply isn’t worth any political currency at a particular time. Indeed, I’m willing to accept this point.

More generally I’m asking if there is a chilly climate for journalists in these strange political times. I hope you take the time to read the interview and enjoy it, folks. I have the following interview-article which I’d still like to share even though I personally was never able to find it a home. Hopefully this journalism story will promote discussion.

—starts here—

Liturgy, the Old Anglican Church and the never-ending controversy — Gay rights

Will the traditional train and gay twain ever meet? Many gay Anglicans feel a little askew at the moment — not really knowing how and what to feel since the Synod meeting results in Winnipeg.

In fact many progressive Anglican parishes in Canada empathize with the modern day cultural struggle for gay acceptance. Being the country’s model for spiritual acceptance, these distinct parishes are cohesively standing against homophobia.

The current cultural mood in Canada favours gay rights, even accepting the fact that the stand being taken by certain progressive Anglican parishes may be creating a possible permanent schism within the Global Communion as a whole. This is too high a price to pay. Some Canadian Anglicans are saying out loud they are touched by the spiritual and social struggle of gays seeking to choose to be “out” while at the same time deserving of being blessed by their preferred church, which may or may not support them.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, is one of these people. Sitting down with freelance journalist Diane Walsh, Ms. May (herself an Anglican) gives her take on the issue, not only for the “ears” of Anglican followers — all Canadians invested in this larger human rights debate. She is the only political leader who dares to speak out loudly in favour of gays while at the same self-identifying as a Christian.

Diane Walsh: Some Priests are choosing not to marry “gays” as a matter of “personal preference”.  It would be helpful if you could give an overview of the issues of today affecting gay Anglicans and other gay citizens seeking to marry within their Anglican parish of origin – be it liberal or conservative.

Elizabeth May: Speaking as a federal political leader, I have to say that it’s up to an individual church to figure out how they handle internal matters, because the Charter of Rights extends to rights in the state context and we don’t dictate to churches. But speaking as a practicing Anglican, it’s very distressing. We have at the international level the communion at the Anglican Church; but we have the potential for a serious rupture in a religion that’s already, let’s face it, dwindling in terms of the number of people that fill the pews every Sunday.

When you look at it globally, the fastest growth to the Anglican Church anywhere in the world is in Africa, where the bishops are extremely intolerant to the idea of women as priests and also to the marrying of same sex couples. Canada’s Anglican community for the most part is entirely accepting of women as priests and of same-sex marriages. So the debate as it happens is less within Canada than it is within say the US where there an openly gay bishop.

There is within Canada a retired bishop who performed a same-sex marriage ceremony within the church. He faced some ruptures locally. So within the Canadian Anglican church there are debates. I have an approach to this that I hope will work, and that is that I think even people who are opposed to same sex marriage in the church quite often aren’t actually homophobic, they’re just traditional.

Now, I know that may sound like I’m making apologies for them. But since I go to church with them, these lovely old people who can’t quite get their head around it – they’re not bad people but they’re old. And what I want to do is find a way to discuss it and bring them around. I don’t want to draw battle lines and start calling them names; I want them to understand.

This is a matter of the Anglican context again; I’m not speaking as a federal political leader. I know I have to draw these lines. Not speaking as the leader of the Green Party but speaking as a practicing Christian, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus Christ wouldn’t have done anything but embrace any loving couple that wanted to love each other, stay with each other and be faithful to each other: that is a good Christian relationship.

There is nothing in the Scriptures that says Christ would have felt otherwise. So it’s a question of education: working people through it and making them realize that this is really just a matter of treating people equally. And that’s what we should do.

Now beyond that, as a political leader in a political context I want to make sure that the Charter is observed, and that comes down to recognizing that we exist in a secular society. Whether you go to a justice of the peace or a priest, as a same-sex couple you have a right to have that wedding performed. If you go through your Rabbi or your parish priest you can’t argue that you have a Charter right [to be married by them], but you do have the hope that people will evolve and that the idea of gay marriage will be accepted.

DW: So if you’re gay and you want to get married and you’ve always been part of a conservative Anglican church is it your opinion that gay couples should simply go to city hall?

EM: Or they can find a different Anglican parish. The history of the church shows that it takes some time for it to get used to things. There’s a wonderful church in a community I love in Sydney, Nova Scotia called the African Orthodox Church, and when you go back to try to find out what on earth is the African Orthodox Church you find this very unhappy history.

The first blacks to live in Sydney NS were brought in from the Caribbean to work in the steel plant, and they were Anglican – real interesting little digression I’m going on here, but you’ll get the analogy. Most of the black population around Halifax were escaped slaves who came in the 17, 1800’s and were Baptists. But this little branch of Anglicans from the Caribbean moved to Sydney to work in the steel plant and they weren’t “allowed” by the Anglican priests in that community to sit anywhere but at the back of the church. They couldn’t get married at the church, they couldn’t sit in the front of the church. And they fluttered off and they formed their own church the African Orthodox Church.

Now, that’s a shameful period for Anglicans to imagine, that fellow Anglicans from another part of the world had been so grossly discriminated against.

I think this time in history will be seen similarly as a shameful period. You might have to do a little parish shopping to find a priest who will perform a same-sex marriage. Of course, bear in mind that most of the debate in the Anglican Church right now is about the blessing of same sex unions, not the actual marriage.

To put the blessing of same sex unions in context, bear in my mind that Anglican priests bless tractors, bless farm animals, there are blessings of inanimate fishing boats – there’s a tradition in my part of the world in Nova Scotia to have a blessing when you go out at the beginning of a fishing season, it’s a good idea bless the boats to make sure fishermen are safe.

But for the love of god, the blessing of same sex unions is already a significant level below the actual performing of the actual liturgy used in a marriage ceremony. Yet we’re talking about the blessing of same-sex unions being controversial in an Anglican church? I feel as a practicing Anglican that we’re going to look back at this and say, “Oh, that’s awful!” and try to imagine that there was ever a parish in Sydney NS where Caribbean Anglicans were told they should sit in the back of the room and not be allowed to go where weddings were performed. Ahhh, Interesting!

We will evolve, and my own view on that debate is moving along, and for the most part I think that Canadian Anglicans will be in a leadership role in fixing the problem – attitude problems and discrimination in the church.  Whether that leads to a rupture in the church globally is a worry but not so much that we shouldn’t move forward in the cause of human rights.

-30-

Article from UK

2019 – What the Anglican Church of Canada’s same-sex marriage vote means for its future https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2019/09/09/what-the-anglican-church-of-canadas-same-sex-marriage-vote-means-for-its-future/

2019 CBC

2023 The Guardian

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