Saturday, November 10, 2018

I Will Not be Gaslighted

The Living Church recently published an article "All women Episcopal slates emerge."  Crusty was not pleased with this article, and agreed with a critique by a colleague of his on the Twitmachine:

Yes, these are strong words.  Twitter by its nature requires packing things into few characters; if you have read these gassy, overwrought blog posts full of 1990s hip-hop references, you must know how hard Twitter is for Crusty.  So in this posting COD is glad to unspool exactly what he meant in these words.  I've had a funeral, a Sunday sermon to finish, and an ICU pastoral visit to make, so my apologies for the delay in posting the fuller response I began drafting yesterday.

These comments resulted in Crusty being accused of "grandstanding for likes" and being informed that this interpretation of the article was incorrect.  Or, in the exact words:  

Apart from being a personal attack by an employee of The Living Church on Twitter -- which Crusty doesn't mind, Twitter is all about offering opinions, and frankly I don't care what the individual in question thinks of me  -- this tweet needs a response. 

For one, Crusty does not grandstand for likes, the original tweet only had a handful of them. In terms of all-time likes, this tweet probably wasn't in the top 100 of my thousands of tweets. If I were trolling for likes, I would
This is how you troll for likes.
have included a clever GIF of some sort.  That's how you boost likes, people.

For another: more importantly, I profoundly disagree with the characterization of the article asserted here.  

I stand by my original critique that this article is lazy journalism and is misogynistic.  

And I have no desire to write a letter to the editor or offer a response in the pages of The Living Church, because I do not respect The Living Church as a journalistic entity, and have not done so for several years.

There is a history here.  Crusty used to write for The Living Church.  I had the occasional opinion piece/short article and some book reviews published there over the years.  I canceled my subscription and declined all further invitations to write for The Living Church after they published a feature article which compared Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.  This comparison was offensive, insulting to those who suffered under the horrors of Amin, and meant solely to denigrate the Presiding Bishop.  I did exactly what I was accused of not doing in this case -- I did approach TLC staff directly.  Editorial persons at The Living Church told me my interpretation was incorrect, that was not what the article meant, and further said I was attempting to force political correctness onto the Living Church.  

That was the end of my connection to TLC, and also why I am not engaging their staff.  I tried that years ago and was just ignored and told I was PC.  So why bother?

OK, so let's break this down.

1)  I called the article "lazy." I stand by that.  Here's why:  

The first sentence of the article:

"Before this year, the Episcopal Church never had an episcopal election in which every candidate on the slate was a woman. But the emergence of four women-only slates in 2018 has shattered that norm, leaving observers to wonder: why now?" 

First off, only 4 of the 11 slates were all female; 7 of the 11 were not all female, so not having all-female slates is still the norm.  It has not been shattered.

But more importantly:  Who are these observers?  Who is asking this question?  I could have written a very different lede.  As a matter of fact, as these slates were emerging, many colleagues of mine were wondering, "Why did it take so long?” Not "Why now?" I could have given actual names of actual people asking "Why not earlier?"

From the very outset, the article uses unnamed observers, which remained unnamed throughout the article, framing all-female slates as an aberration ("shattering norm") that must somehow have a reason behind it.

This opening sentence is thus a two-fer: sloppy journalism (unnamed sources) and then using that sloppy journalism to shape the entire article itself around a question the article
Woodward and Bernstein needed two sources.
itself is asking: "Why now?"

The article hides behind these unnamed sources and observers when it is in fact the one doing the observing and posing the questions. This is the journalistic equivalent of eisegesis in biblical study.

This trend continues in the second paragraph, noting the "trailblazing" began “when a two-woman slate was introduced to a diocese that has never elected a woman as bishop.”

Since an overwhelming majority of dioceses have never elected a woman as bishop, this detail might seem a bit irrelevant Yet this is actually foreshadowing to an argument that will be made later in the article but which is not stated here in the Kansas discussion.

Several paragraphs later we will be told that "West Tennessee has never had a woman serve as bishop, and nearly all of the 31 congregations around the diocese have a man in the top clergy role. And even though the bishop search process did not consider sex, Meade [President of the Standing Committee] said, raising up more women to serve across the diocese is a goal."  The reference to Kansas is not a stray detail, it echoes the language around West Tennessee that introducing all-female slates in dioceses that have not had women bishops must be intentional everywhere as it was, apparently, in West Tennessee.  Even though there is a difference between "raising women up" and "all female episcopal nominating slates."

And in the West Tennessee example, "nearly all" is not defined by article -- is that 95%? 90%? 80%?  What is "nearly all"? Also, what is the threshold of female leadership that makes it not an imposition to have an all-female episcopal slate on a diocese that has never
"Nearly all" members of the Stonecutters are earthlings.
had a female bishop?  Does electing a woman previously as bishop mean that diocese is completely open to women in leadership?  Does having a certain percentage of women in leadership tip the scales and make it OK to impose this "shattering norm" on a diocese? 

That's what Crusty meant when he said lazy journalism. "Unnamed observers" asking questions that really only The Living Church is asking in this article. It could barely even get a single quote opposing an all-female slate, all it got what someone quoting a retired priest who asked why there weren't more male candidates.

2) Here's why I called the article misogynistic:

Because it frames the emergence of all-female episcopal slates by peddling a conspiracy theory that female activists are manipulating the episcopal election process. This is simply repulsive, appalling, and unfounded.

Let's number the ways this article does this!

a) “Some observers believe the quest for more diversity among churchwide leaders is resulting in less diversity (i.e., women only) in episcopal slates.”

No "observer" says this, it is the same circular argument used repeatedly in this article. Unnamed observers ask questions and believe certain things that are never named, when it is the article which is stating these things. Who is this observer who said that the quest for more diversity is resulting in less diversity? Nowhere named. Not a one.

The only "observer" cited here is Bob Prichard, professor of church history at Virginia Theological Seminary. Let's look at what he says: " 'Interest groups have for centuries shaped elections in order to elect bishops from their own camps, whether they share a common race, ethnicity, or theology,' Prichard said."  

As quoted here, Prichard offers not a single historical example of slate stacking by interest groups.  Crusty says "as quoted here" because it's quite possible Bob offered historical examples; COD is an historian himself and could also offer some examples. But here is the important sentence:

"For activists to stack slates in order to expand the ranks of women in the House of Bishops would be consistent with this election-shaping tradition, in his view."  Where does this come from? Did Dr Prichard himself say this, or is he agreeing with some conspiracy theory for which not a single shred of evidence is produced or proposed?

Later, Dr Prichard says:

“I would guess that what we’re seeing is a demonstration of increased leverage of females on those nominating committees,” Prichard said. “As part of the ladder up, the percentage of women and level of activism of women on those search committees is increasing. And we’re seeing the results of that."  
There is not a shred of evidence of any kind that females on nominating committees are stacking slates.  It is simple shocking that a "guess" by a single person is put forward as evidence of women activists shaping episcopal slates.   Where is the evidence that these nominating committees have more women on them than, say, three years ago?  Has a demographic study of the composition of search committees been consulted?  What is the definition of an activism, and how is this purported difference in "levels" of activism measured?

2) "Search committees, however, are sometimes joining the all-women trend unwittingly." 

Couple problems here.

First of all, it's incorrect. In the two examples cited, it was not the search committee at all.

The article states that the diocese of Colorado “withdrew the only male nominee, the Rev. Canon Michael Pipkin, upon learning of issues in his background.”  These “issues” were, in fact, “serious personal and professional issues” brought to light, so serious the Standing Committee voted unanimously to remove the candidate.  There’s as much emphasis here on Canon Pipkin’s "maleness' as on the “issues.” This was not done unwittingly. It was done purposefully and unanimously, and by the Standing Committee, not the Search Committee.

Another all female slate was the result of two male candidates withdrawing. This was not the Search Committee, which actually presented two male candidates. It was the candidates withdrawing themselves.

So again, this is a two-fer: sloppy journalism and conspiracy peddling.

Sloppy journalism in that this sentence is factually incorrect. These two slates were not the result of actions by Search Committees. Editing and fact checking also apparently did not pick up such a straightforward and clear error of fact. They were also not "unwitting", these two slates were the result of deliberate actions, one by a Standing Committee, the other by two candidates.

And the conspiracy peddling corollary? The other examples of all-female slates are, presumably "wittingly", that is, deliberate.  

This is why I called this article misogynistic:  The charge that specifically female activists are manipulating episcopal nominating processes, without a single shred of evidence or comment by anyone.  

If not misogynistic in peddling a conspiracy theory that cabals of women are bent on taking over the House of Bishops, then it is perhaps at best reckless, careless journalism, presenting something without any substantive corroboration.

In the end, Crusty rejects the entire premise of this article.

1) Crusty rejects it as journalism. As an opinion piece, fine: people are welcome to have opinions, ask questions, and offer their views. I am under no illusion that people agree with what I say on this blog, and, frankly, I don't care if people agree. What I write here is all opinion. You don't even need to read it. Seriously, why are you here?

But this article does not do so: it is pretending to be a legitimate journalistic article when it can't even pass a lower journalistic bar of being factually correct and having actual sources for what it suggests.

2) Crusty rejects the central concept that all-female slates are norm shattering aberrations that need explaining, which the article repeatedly does: "Trailblazing"; “Those pressing ahead with all-women slates…”

Put another way: would there be any mention of a diocese somehow “pressing ahead with an all-male slate” in an article by The Living Church? Would TLC publish a feature article on it? Would "unnamed sources" talk about males manipulating nominating processes?

Of course not.

COD would have no problem with articles comparing Presiding Bishops to Idi Amin and female activists taking over episcopal elections if they were presented as opinion columns. It's a free church and TLC is not accountable to anyone, and people have a right to their opinion, and I'm free to disagree with it.

It's when this is portrayed as "journalism" and to disagree is to be imposing your beliefs which I reject.

If "they say" and "some people" are the only sources, then this is careening The Living Church into Breitbart News territory.  

TLC, you can have your opinion on unsourced charges of activist women manipulating episcopal nominating slates. Just don't do so under the guise of journalism. And don't gaslight people when they disagree.


  1. Good for you. Suffice it to say, gaslighting is all too common in TEC. Sorta like a certain Episcopal priest in Alexandria VA trying to bully me out of the church, and then claim that my response somehow threatened him. And the Diocese of Ole Virginny has stated in writing that it has no problem with this behavior, which is why I have left the Christian faith for a more ethics-oriented approach to faith.

  2. More of Jeff’s work on this beat—a fine cover story from last spring:

  3. On your main objections, Tom, give me a break. This KJS business was before my time, but/and you’ve also never mentioned to me and only been collegial over the ten years I’ve been at TLC. To your reading of Jeff’s piece, sorry: he’s a non-Episcopalian social liberal living in Boston with no axe to grind. This is just serious journalism (his degree is from Brown; he also got a MDiv at YDS and is an active Congregationalist minister). Our news team is run by Matt Townsend, who just retired from the Diocese of Rochester as their communications person. In general, our journalists probably tilt center-left, which I’m proud of, given our history since roughly 1974. We have no theological vetting of our news; I see it when it’s published like everyone else. Proud to work with consummate professionals who love the Lord and his Church.

  4. As I said to Zachary, I say to you: I have said what I have said, I stand by it. You are entitled to your opinion of this piece, and I am entitled to mine. I do not wish to discuss the history of our personal interactions in this space.

  5. Two things - shoddy journalism clinically exposed - well done!

    And, secondly: The Living Church still exists?

  6. You’re still around, Nigel!? :) Yes, TLC’s circulation is steadily growing, praise God. The dean of VTS (who serves on our Foundation) calls us the best publication in the Episcopal Church. It’s a joy to serve with loyalty and love, as we do. Blessings, friends.

  7. Meanwhile, last month the Convocation of Churches in Europe elected a man from an all-male slate: why didn't the all-male slate get a headline?

  8. #MeToo is news, praise God. The Living Church is committed to covering it. For once, it's not "the same old same old." What is God up to amid current changes? Serious Christians will want to consider carefully.

  9. From time to time I've both written for and subscribed to TLC. I don't remember the KJS article, but that may have been when I wasn't a subscriber. To your point, Christopher, what is a non-Episcopalian doing commenting on something as "inside baseball" as episcopal elections? It seems like the writer has an agenda, even if it is a left-leaning one. It seems like an article designed to fit into the "women are taking power" narrative, when (as was noted) an episcopal election is not exactly analogous to a secular political contest. While he was interviewing Bob Prichard, Jeff could have wandered over and interviewed Dean Ian Markham, Foundation board member, who might have both commented on the slates AND given a perspective on the surge of women joining the episcopal ranks in the Church of England. I might give the article the benefit of the doubt on misogyny, but I think lack of fact-checking, and thus sloppy journalism, is clear. There IS a story here, just not the one told. Perhaps the reason we are getting more women as candidates is that fewer and fewer of them have to run the gauntlet of "Why are YOU offering yourself as a candidate?!" If so, for that I give thanks.

    Any priest who has spent any time in a parish setting has instant alarm bells going off when she or he hears the words "people are saying" or "some people think." Whether a news article or a coffee hour conversation, my rule is the same: be specific, or be gone.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Rather than criticizing journalistic form and substance, would it not be more interesting to debate the actual impact ordained women are having at every level of the Episcopal Church? Women now outnumber men in every seminary class. The number of women bishops will achieve parity with male bishops in the next ten years or less. We have already had a woman Presiding Bishop. Women Deans have run TEC seminaries. Two women are running the Church Pension Fund. Cardinal parishes and cathedrals which once only hired women assistants now have women Rectors and Deans. What have these women accomplished for the church? Have women bishops & clergy been able to stop the decline of the Episcopal Church? Who has been the most successful women Bishops and Rectors to date. Despite the addition of many women clergy, there is a currently a severe clergy shortage in the US. Mission and parishes are begging for priests. In the Diocese of Ct there are over 25 vacant parishes with little hope of filling them. Why? Dioceses are claiming a lack of suitable candidates for bishop. Why? One interesting example of the witness of Episcopal women clergy was a letter to the editor signed by 350+ women priests printed by the NYTs in which they severely castigated fellow priest and former senator John Danforth for a pastoral comment he was quoted as making in support of Judge Kavanaugh and his family. I am surprised Crusty did not weight in on this one. I am also looking forward to Crusty’s take on Bishop Love and how TEC decides to move against him.

    1. I would warmly welcome that debate, while noting that I do not see the issues of criticizing what I still maintain is poor journalism and the impact of women clergy as somehow mutually exclusive topics. As someone who stills teaches seminary classes as an adjunct, I can also affirm that women do not outnumber women in every class.

      I am not sure why the decline of the church is a particular responsibility of women clergy since the overwhelming number of bishops and rectors are men, and since this decline has been ongoing for the past 15 years (which I have blogged about several times) we might also conceivably begin by asking what those male bishops and cardinal rectors and deans also have done to address these very real issues of decline.

      I would address the matter of discipline with Bishop Love when and if that occurs, COD does not deal with hypotheticals. I would like to note I have disagreed strongly on this blog with how TEC dealt with Bishop Mark Lawrence and how that disciplinary process played out. Thanks for reading CanonJohn3, please try to get CanonJohn1 and CanonJohn2 to read this blog as well.

    2. Thanks for response.
      I do concur with your observations about poor journalism.
      The trend of women gaining positions and power in the church (even if too slow for some) is an ongoing reality. I agree the church was in decline well before the ordination of women. Have any woman bishops or clergy offered visions of the church that offer hope via a viable working model? The TEC abandoned the essential Via Media before the ordination of women. Instead of standing in centerfield between left and right, the TEC now dwells deep in left field. The consequences have been telling.
      Your witness continues to be a breath of fresh air. Keep up the good work! JWW3+

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