The C of E in the Media:
The purpose of the following analysis – an analysis of the media depiction of the current state of the Church of England as it struggles with internal dissent and conflict - is to establish a context for the qualitative/ ethnographic analysis of the Church of England that is to comprise the bulk of the research component of the project.
A number of studies and surveys indicate that despite being part of the fabric of our establishment the C of E is an institution that has become increasingly remote for English citizens. The sociologist Steve Bruce famously accounts for this by claiming that the country is becoming increasingly secularized. Grace Davie favours the explanation that British citizens like to experience their religion vicariously by “believing without belonging”. Whatever the reason, all the statistics seem to point to a general decline in Church of England attendance, which according to the Times is now at 0.9 Million per week.
It seems reasonable as such to suppose that unless someone has an unusual reason to have familiarity with the institution of the Church of England – say because of an academic interest, or an actual involvement with the Church - it is probable that one’s primary source of information will be from its depiction in the media.
However a simple consideration of the way in which the media tells the story, seems to show that it, the media, is possibly guilty of simplifying a complex story into a simple narrative of Conservatives vs. Liberals. Before asking whether this impression is something we should investigate further lets quickly recap how Church matters find their way into the media:
In recent years other than for isolated scandals, the actions of certain personalities, and fictional portrayals, this has been on account of the following issues:
1) Decline in attendance 2) The Church and Homosexuality, 3) The Church and the ordination of female bishops.
And in these stories we hear similar binary accounts – narratives of two opposing groups in the Church:
1)Liberal forms of Anglicanism are dwindling when conservative Pentecostal, Evangelical and African expressions of Anglicanism are growing
2)There’s an acrimonious feud between liberals and conservative with respect to attitudes towards homosexualty;
3) With respect to female ordination of bishops there is a row between liberals and traditionalists. (NB The fact that the traditionalists are predominately Anglo-Catholics and not conservative evangelicals is a distinction that is not always clear (and it’s worth noting that conservative evangelicals are also opposed) – the “headline” story usually appears as a battle between progressives and those that look to some form of orthodoxy.)
And, at least on the face of things (and it is exactly a deeper analysis that we will be conducting during this piece), this binary picture has a further spin – the coverage has a bias. One side, the “liberals” are reported as being progressives whose ideas are in line with the non-churchgoing “believing without belonging” public and the other, the “conservatives” are reported as reactionaries, with confrontational demeanours, who have a lot of financial clout.
This idea of bias is expressed in the article “We are biased, admit the stars of BBC News”, published in the Daily Mail 21/10/06 (albeit a conservative newspaper talking about a visual medium). And in Stephen Bates A Church at War (2004 p 21) he quotes Rt Rev Wally Benn
“The views held in the media are not representative of where people are generally. There is a progressive liberal elite (Benn)
Even at the Daily Telegraph I (Bates) ventured, mindful of its editorial stance during the Reading Affair”. It’s interesting that even Bates seems surprised at the liberal editorial stance adopted by a right wing newspaper on C of E matters.
From this it certainly looks like there’s good reason to question whether the media picture is biased. But, is there reason to think that it is oversimplified?
Certainly it does seem on the face of it to be polarised, and it is widely acknowledged that it is in the nature of the media to simplify in order to create clear stark copy. However our main reason for thinking that the actual picture is might be more complicated comes from the fact that there are at least five readily identifiable “tribes” within the C of E, identifiable from the main pressure groups/ movements:
Below we will have a brief tour of the C of E by Churchmanship as identified by key organizations (pressure groups, think-tanks, “movements”,etc).
From conversations with Vicars (those from my candidate churches), media commentators, and think tank experts and from internet searches I have identified the following styles of churchmanship existent in the C of E along with the organizations that represent them.
1. Conservative Evangelical:
Furthest to the right is “Reform” www.reform.org.uk Reform started in 1993 as a reaction to the ordination of women. Their theology is very biblical and “Reformed”, and now they are very active in their opposition to any moves within the Church that would be seen to endorse a homosexual lifestyle.
Prominent churches affiliated with Reform are St Helen’s Bishopsgate, St Ebbe’s Oxford, and Emmanuel Wimbledon.
Occupying similar territory is the Church Society. Both this and Reform have been vocally opposed to Rowan Williams since his enthronement.
The group “Anglican Mainstream”, which runs a website and has smaller regional groups, notably Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, was also set up in 2003 in opposition to the appointment of Jeffrey John as (Suffragan) Bishop of Reading. It occupies a similar position to Reform, although is slightly less overtly political in its language about the need to reform the church.
Both Reform and Anglican Mainstream may be seen as subdivisions of the Church of England Evangelical Council.
Prominent members of the CEEC are Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and Richard Turnbull, erstwhile principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Both are widely considered to be “conservative hardliners”.
Oak Hill theological college is closely associated with the most conservative and “reformed” theology in the C of E.
Conservative Evangelicalism is sometimes called Classical Evangelicalism by those who want to make a distinction between the hard perception of conservativism that exists, and the compassionate but principled position that they see themselves as taking. Some taking this position ally themselves with the brand of evangelicalism found in the writings of John Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Soul’s Langham Place. Although Stott’s brand of Evangelicalism is more gentle than some of those found in Conservative Evangelicalism, All Soul’s Langham Place did find itself at the centre of some of the conservative evangelical politicking this summer, hosting the meeting 800 clergy and lay readers to sign up to the Gafcon inspired Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, opposed amongst other things to a “false gospel” of sexual immorality. Stott was described as “The High Priest of Evangelical Anglicanism” by the former religious correspondent for the Guardian, Stephen Bates, in his “A Church at War” (2004), in which he also goes to lengths to show how hard-line he is on the topic of homosexuality, and his opposition to its tolerance amongst Bible –believing Christians.
Some Stottites I have encountered (such as Jeremy Taylor of All Souls, Lindfield) are very sceptical of open evangelicalism, but are uncomfortable with what they perceive as the coldness, and legalism of Reform and the Church Society, and feel most comfortable in terms of organization seeing themselves represented by the Evangelical Alliance (EA_- an alliance of evangelicals from free as well as established churches)
2. Open Evangelicalism
If the John Stott/ All Soul’s style of churchmanship is different from the Reform/ Anglican Mainstream then it doesn’t really have a representative group within the C of E specifically, identifying itself more with the EA – the next category in the C of E is Fulcrum, a think tank and group that represents “Open Evangelicalism”.
Open Evangelicalism although still Biblical and conforming to the David Bebbington criteria of Evangelicalism, tends to take a more interpretative approach to scripture. It is also more Ecumenical and Inclusive in its approach. It is associated with the theological college, Ridley Hall, Cambridge and the Bishop of Durham, N T Wright. It chose the National Evangelical Anglican Conference to announce itself, much to the annoyance of the organisers according to Stephen Bates (2004 p249), who claims that the hardliners, what he calls the Reformistas, called on other evangelicals not to recognise them as a group, nor to recognise open evangelicalism as a valid expression of Biblical Christianity.
3. Charismatic Evangelicalism.
In recent years it has been easy to make a close association between Charismatic Evangelicalism in the C of E and Alpha. However as Alpha, although originating from the Charismatic/ Experiential/ Wimberesque tradition found in Holy Trinity Brompton in the early 90’s has become a tool used by all traditions found in the C of E (and also Methodism and Catholicism), it isn’t the organization that is most accurately identified with Charismatic Evangelicalism in the C of E.
That honour probably falls to a movement called New Wine. According to Wikipedia: New Wine originated as a Christian festival, established in 1989 by Anglican clergy: Bishop David Pytches and the Rev. Barry Kissell. This was in response to the teaching of John Wimber and others that brought in a new wave of charismatic movement to the established church in the UK. It is now the largest network of Christians open to the charismatic movement in the UK, running a number of week long festivals in England, Scotland and Wales and currently attracting around 30,000 delegates per year.
4. Anglo Catholic Traditionalism.
On the Anglo Catholic front traditionalists are represented by Forward in Faith which was set up in 1992 to oppose women clergy and then became a support group for “resolution c churches” – those who couldn’t accept the authority of a bishop in favour in women priests - under Provincial Episcopal Visitors, colloquially known as “Flying Bishops”. The issue of women clergy is THE issue for FiF, and although Wikipedia implies that they have turned their attention to the homosexuality issue, this, it appears to me is something that they have sympathies with the Conservative Evangelicals over, rather than being a campaigning issue of theirs. Stephen Bates (2004) ststes a suspicion that there are a disproportionate number of homosexuals amongst the ranks of the Anglo – Catholics (find !!!)
5. Liberal Catholicism.
The liberal catholic tradition is represented by Affirming Catholicism and Inclusive Church. Affirming Catholicism was set up in 1990, as a liberal movement within the church in favour of female ordination and with a positive attitide towards the full inclusion of people of a homosexual orientation within the church. It is often said that Rowan Williams and Canon Jeffrey John started it, but it would be more accurate to say that they were there towards the beginning, in Rowan William’s case 1991. Inclusive Church similarly aims to promote the elements of reason in tradition, and the application of reason in biblical interpretation with more or less identical results in the issues of gender and sexuality. Inclusive church is particularly associated with St Mary’s Putney and its vicar Giles Fraser, and the Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee.
In the Church Society’s breakdown of the Churchmanship of the 44 Diocesan bishops, it is noteworthy that many who might be categorised as Liberal Catholic by others, are down as Revisionist – i.e they wish to effectively start a new religion.
A sixth group has recently been formed called “Affirming Liberalism”, by professor Keith Ward, a former tutor of mine. It’s stated aims are to affirm and explore all aspects of the liberal tradition within Christianity – whether it be liberal catholicism from within the C of E or liberal protestantism from the continent.Ward famously considers himself to be “born-again” and places high value on the concept of revelation and the uniqueness of christianity which has been at the root of high profile disagreements with liberal catholics such as Don Cupitt (for instance Ward replied to Cuppitt’s “The Sea of Faith” with “The Turning of the Tide”).
There are other important pressure groups who do not neatly cover specific churchmanship groups most notably the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and WATCH - Women And The ChurcH.
The presence of these groups gives us a good reason to question the more binary picture found in the press. Of course it may well be the case that there is a separation out into opposing camps taking place, at lease at some levels. However by looking ethnographically at churches representing the “tribes” as outlined above we hope to be able to see where there are clear allegiances and where things are a little more muddy.
There are particular reasons why getting a full and sophisticated picture of the composition and beliefs of the C of E both in terms of the leadership and also the congregations is of particular interest right now:
Because the established Church may be about to split.
Because it will inform about various religious subgroups, and their future within the future British religious landscape.
Because it will inform about the various secularization theories. For example –1) the identification of the liberal wing of the C of E with the “norm” in the press may indicate something about a link between unchurched believers and liberal churched believers as per Grace Davie’s “believing without belonging” thesis. 2) The financial power that the evangelical wing apparently wields (see references throughout the essay), coming as it does from the collection plate, tells us something about the “Shift to the right”, in post war “churched” behaviour described by both Bruce and Davie.
The Broad Narrative – the increasing tensions within the C of E
Over the summer of 2008 religious correspondents in the UK seem to have been have been working overtime. A search in the Nexis database for the 90 days preceding July 7 throws up 962 articles matching the keywords Church of England. This has been the summer when the issues of homosexuality and women bishops have repeatedly thrown both the wider Anglican Communion and the Church of England into turmoil.
2008 is a Lambeth Conference (LC) year , a year when the spotlight should have been on the church for the right reasons. However this was the year in which a significant proportion of the bishops who should have attended the LC instead felt so strongly about a situation where they perceived that that the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion was being undermined that they boycotted it altogether, instead setting up their own rival conference in Jerusalem called Gafcon
The result of this conference could have been worse for Anglican unity, but according to many commentators, not much.
With regards to the Church of England, the Gafcon announcement prompted 800 clergy and lay readers met at All Souls Langham Place on July 1st, in the first steps towards what the Times called a “church within a church”.
The Gafcon conference was the latest in a series of battles between liberal and conservative Anglicans over gay clergy.
To sum up, the three main things that have served to push the affairs of the Church of England way up the news agenda this year are:
1. The Gafcon conference as the latest development in the row over sexuality
2. The meeting at General Synod to decide whether concessions would be offered when changes were made to the churches legal instruments to allow women bishops
3. The fact that it is a Lambeth Conference year which means that greater scrutiny is given to church matters – especially coming a decade after a particularly heated conference - in1998 fireworks blazed on the subject of homosexuality.
Between the first and second issues it may have felt for liberals who were already concerned their numbers within the church were dwindling, that they had a war on two fronts.
On the one (the gay issue) with conservative evangelicals, and on the other (women bishops) primarily with Anglo-Catholics, (often called “Traditionalists” in the press). When General Synod announced how the debates on women bishops would be conducted 1300 clergy including 11 bishops signed a letter saying they would actually leave the church if women were consecrated bishops.
So, had did we get here? And how has the media told the story?
Regarding the “gay issue”, although the tensions in the C of E and Anglican communion have erupted all over the pages of the broadsheets this summer, their readers (with an ecclesiastical interest) will have seen the pressures mount for over a decade, with particular flashpoints over two gay clergy, Jeffrey John and Gene Robinson.
Alex Kirby in the BBC News online service neatly summarised the essence of the problem thus:
“Dr Williams may be the archbishop who has to accept that the circle can no longer be squared. Anglicans are so deeply and bitterly divided over homosexuality that even their famously broad church may now buckle under the strain of maintaining the pretence of unity. The conservative Anglicans say simply that the Bible requires gay and lesbian Christians to repent, and to have no sex life. The liberals say the church must interpret the Bible in the light of modern knowledge, accepting that people are born with their sexuality and should not deny it. Out of those polar opposites, even Solomon himself would find it hard to forge a united church.” (25 –2- 2005)
As hinted above the issue at stake only presented itself as one of sexuality – at a deeper level it was a fundamental disagreement about the role of scripture in faith.
On 20th September 2007 The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott wrote that the dispute had proved so "devastating" because it hinged on fundamental differences of how strictly the bible should be interpreted. The article later quotes Rowan Williams:
Speaking in April, Dr Williams said: "It's not just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians, and nasty people who want not to include them.
"The question is, really, 'What are the forms of behaviour that the Church has the freedom or the authority to bless if it wants to be faithful to scripture and tradition?'
"That's the question which is tearing us apart at the moment."
The first serious incident in the gay dispute came in 2003 when celibate homosexual Canon Jeffrey John was put up for the position of the (Suffragan) Bishop of Reading. Again the main players were the pro-gay liberals and anti-gay conservative evangelicals.
As Alex Kirby wrote at the time:
A gay bishop from Wales is facing a new attempt by conservatives and evangelicals to block his promotion to a senior church role. (20-6-2003)
The subtext was that Jeffrey John represented modern liberal trends in the church, and the conservatives the obscurantist tendency. And in our liberal press – and notably all our press is liberal compared to the cultural norms of parts of the “Global South”on the issue of homosexuality - the gay rights of Jeffrey John are the accepted norm.
Kirby’s piece goes on to explain that the “attempt” started with a letter from nine evangelical bishops and ended with protests with placards and evangelical churches threatening to use their financial muscle in the form of their substantial diocesan quotas, to force the issue to their advantage.
The significance of this is threefold. Firstly it is a declaration of intent to do battle, secondly it is a display of arms and thirdly it was a step towards the forming of strategic alliances, as the Gene Robinson crisis that would follow helped cement relations between C of E conservatives and “Global South” conservatives, that found ultimate expression in Gafcon.
The Gene Robinson controversy involved a divorced openly gay American Episcopalian being consecrated an Anglican Bishop in 2003, causing a wave of condemnation by evangelicals in Britain, and a tsunami in the Global South.
There has been controversy ever since. One response was the Windsor Report conducted by Robert Eames condemning the actions of the Episcopal Church (USA) in October 2004.
But Gene Robinson is still bishop, and the Episcopal Church of the USA have hardly apologised, so the instigation of the alternative “communion” the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA) this summer, is unlikely to be the end of the story; it is more likely the beginning of a new chapter.
The former head of religious radio programming for BBC Scotland Ian Bradley said in June 08 :
“The gay issue simply doesn’t look like going away, and it will continue to divide conservatives and liberals”
Former gay vicar, Michael Hampson in his book Last Rites (2006) suggests this is because there are so many homosexual clergy (p123). This view was portrayed to the public by the press, in its coverage of the incident on the June 15 2008 Rev’d Martin Dudley presided over a blessing of the relationship between two gay Church of England clergy.
The gay issue may run and run, but the row over women bishops looks like it is about to reach its conclusion:
The Anglo-Catholics represented by a pressure group called Forward in Faith will now have to make their minds up whether they are going to stay and lump it, or whether they are going to defect to the Roman Catholic Church.
The language in this row (as we shall see later on), has been slightly different from the quarrel over homosexuality– talk is of separations rather than schisms, and students of the church may argue that this has already largely happened with the creation of “Flying Bishops”, brought in to appease those opposed to female vicars. [cf Hampson 2006 102-103]
And although the coverage of this issue correctly typically puts “Forward in Faith” towards the top of the copy as the prime objectors, and the Conservative Evangelicals – who also are often opposed to women bishops - lower down, one imagines however, that for those who do not follow ecclesiastical matters, the distinction is lost
Their eye may well just be caught by the headline indicating division between tradition and modernity – for example the front page headline in the Times on Monday 16 June 2008 was “Church in Meltdown over gays and women”. And in stories like the one mentioned above there seems to be a deliberate effort to lump the two issues together to provide a starker picture of a church split between two warring camps.
As the story progressed this year the distinction between the groups was made clearer for a while. Then after the announcement that concessions to the creation of women bishops have been ruled out, the terms traditionalists and conservatives seemed to collapse into one another being high up the news agenda of both broadcast and print media speculation is mounting that a large number of Anglo-Catholics will defect to Rome, as was the case in 1994 when women priests were introduced.
Another speculation remains – what effect will this have on the divisions between evangelicals and liberals?
Above are the bare bones of the stories, as presented in our national media, about the disputes over gay clergy and women bishops.
A fuller account would also include reportage on the issues of increasing secularization in our country, and more on the growing Anglican power in, amongst other areas, Africa.
Below I will be looking in greater detail at both the headline and background stories concerning the C of E, looking at how religion and the church is treated in those media in a more general sense and finally what the particular agendas of particular media outlets are.
Some general observations that will be explored more fully below are:
That the bulk of the media image is created by the “quality” print media, who give an impression that the C of E is polarised between the “liberals” on the one hand and the “conservatives and traditionalists” on the other.
There is a split in the treatment of the C of E between the quality and tabloid print press.
The print press tends to associate liberal Anglicanism with being somehow more “mainstream” or in touch with the sensibilities of the nation, on matters of sexuality and sexual equality.
Television seems to be demonstrating an overall diminution of conventional religious coverage such as Sunday services or programmes like “Highway” that align them to the established church.
There is also an aversion to upsetting any specific religious sensibilities. In this regard we see little footage that looks at the Church head on – religious topics have usually to justify themselves as being part of some other ongoing debate, and discussion on the C of E tend to justify themselves in this way (e.g pre-existing debates such as the Da Vinci Code, American fundamentalism and Jerry Springer the Opera have all been used as “ways in” to religious discussion).
Within the context of general drama and comedy there seems to be still a continued portrayal of a gentle nostalgic pastoral established church. An excellent example is the Vicar of Dibley.
There is a continued interest in ecclesiastical matters in Radio 4, and an absence of American style religious radio programming.
There is an explosion of religious debate in the form of Internet blogs.
There is a small amount of dedicated religious channels on BskyB – this is not however sufficiently significant to warrant attention here.
Treatment Of The C Of E In The Print Press
The first distinction to be made in how the print press has treated the big stories concerning the Church of England during the last decade is between the broadsheets and the middlebrow and red top tabloids on the other. Undoubtedly there is a distinctive difference in approach between the reporting of Church of England matters in the quality and tabloid press.
Although there is very little in the secondary literature on this one easy way of comparing the approaches is by putting in the keywords Church and England through the online archives of the various newspapers.
With the broadsheets (the Independent, the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Times) one finds in accordance with the stories described above, hundreds of hits on the subjects of gay clergy in general, and more specifically, the ructions over the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of St Albans, the row in the Anglican Communion over the appointment of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, the Windsor Report over this, the subsequent Tanzania Conference, the relative decline of the C of E attendance (and in particular in relation to Pentecostalism and Catholicism), the issue of women bishops, and the votes in Synod over it, this years Lambeth Conference and Gafcon.
A similar search for the Daily Mail, shows much less coverage of these subjects and, in line with the papers general editorial concerns, interest in middle –England right of centre concerns such as white weddings in Churches, the Church in relation to mosques, and the Church and Church schools. The same is the case for the Daily Express.
With the Sun newspaper, the same keywords throw up a single story about the ordination of a former prostitute. A slightly wider search including the words Christian, Christianity and vicar shows the Sun displaying outrage at the marginalisation of Christianity in mid winter festivals and various stories involving “Sex Vicars”. 
Insofar as the discourses in the tabloid press don’t seem to shed much light on how churchmanship in the C of E is presented to us I shall be concentrating on the “broadsheets”. I will also be largely ignoring the internal Church press, because of its limited circulation
The Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent report on the state and event of the Church approximately equally in terms of main stories covered. However whereas the first three give roughly equal space to the stories in terms of column inches, the Independent gives notably less. This seems to be part of an editorial policy to represent the paper as a secular, non-establishment publication. 
The Guardian is a generally considered to have a leftish agenda , and unsurprisingly its bias is towards liberal Anglicanism, as evidenced by the prominence they give to outspoken liberal Vicar Giles Fraser. Another indication of its position is given by this piece by Zoe Williams:
“First, the extremists, or evangelicals, or whatever else you choose to call the homophobes in the church when, for some reason, "bigots" won't do, say that homosexuality is forbidden in the Bible. Then the "liberals" (who would, in any other gathering, be called "the normal people") say that the Bible forbids or endorses a number of things that the modern world would deem acceptable or unacceptable (respectively). They often mention slavery in Leviticus.” Guardian July 8 2003
The Independent is a liberal newspaper that prides itself on having no political allegiance as such, however with its inherent liberal bias, its sympathies tend to be with liberal Anglicans on the issues of homosexuality and female equality. This is amplified by the fact that it is also something of a secular newspaper.
The Times is described by Wikipedia as the UK’s “newspaper of record” – i.e it endeavours to be neutral. There have been criticisms of its neutrality since it was taken over by Murdoch, however that is still where it positions itself. However considering that the UK has one of the most liberal attitudes towards homosexuality anywhere in the world, and has equality for women enshrined in law, a political stance in line with the cultural norms of the country on these matters necessarily means having a bias towards the liberal point of view.
The Telegraph traditionally covers the church as part of their coverage of the establishment, and as part of the experience of their readership. Their readership is considered to be socially and politically conservative, and probably tend to be Anglo-Catholic, more than anything in their churchmanship (or at least having a preference for traditional churches and traditional forms of worship which are usually at odds with evangelicals who favour low church aesthetics – cf The Current “Save Our Churches campaign”. There is an old(ish) saying, that the C of E is the Tory party at prayer – and the image is of traditional churches with traditional church worshippers. That is not to say that some forms of evangelicalism, especially those that emphasise C/conservative morals, do attract people who are politically conservative)
However being socially and politically conservative in the UK in 2008 is not necessarily to be conservative on an international level. The Conservative party currently has a prominent openly gay frontbencher, seven front bench women and a progressive in the person of David Cameron.
And the Telegraph is open to matters of gay and women’s rights.
Ruth Gledhill of the Times is an ambitious journalist who seems to push her stories forward through the editorial process, and one frequently finds that she has managed to get a story a much more prominent place in her paper than her colleagues have in theirs. RG own churchmanship is hard to gauge, although it is detectable that she considers Rowan Williams to be too vague .
I was at school with the former religious correspondent for the Telegraph, Victoria Combe, who was at least seemed to be a middle class liberal Anglican but given that she now writes for the Tablet I suspect was a RC. The current correspondent Jonathan Petres seems to be a liberal Anglican, or at least writes as though he might be. He is assisted by Jonathan Wynn-Jones the son of an evangelical vicar, who cut his teeth writing for the Evangelical “Church of England Newspaper”. Wynn-Jones, again follows an essentially liberal catholic editorial line.
The erstwhile correspondent for the Guardian, Stephen Bates, in a piece for the “New Humanist” claims to have lost what little religion he had, and said that he found the subject best approached in political terms. Tellingly on the C of E he writes:
“When Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, he was sent excrement in the post by someone who believed he was dangerously unsound on doctrine, and hectored by conservative evangelicals who described him as heretical. He was eventually invited to lead prayers at a meeting of Anglican evangelicals, though only on condition that he did not preach. Even then they set aside a separate prayer area for those who could not bear to be in the same room as their own archbishop.
The presenting issue, of course, for what has become a struggle for power and control not only of the Church of England but throughout the worldwide Anglican communion, is homosexuality and the church’s attitude towards gays. Outsiders may have accepted civil partnerships, but the established church is tearing itself apart on the issue with quite extraordinary bitterness and rancour….
The fact that the outside world regards the division with bemusement and indifference, insofar as it takes any notice, and that the conservatives have received no secular support for their stand whatsoever, not even in the British tabloids, baffles them but only serves to confirm their belief that if the world is against them they must be right.
As you can imagine, this gets wearing after a while. What really surprised me was the mendacity and sheer nastiness with which the feuds were conducted and, of course, the certainty with which such people knew that God was speaking directly to them”
In his extremely comprehensive account of the divisions in the C of E from 1998 to 2004, A Church at War (which is comprehensive but unashamedly written from a liberal bias) he declares himself to be Roman Catholic son of a practising Anglican (father, married to an Evangelical (one hopes for the sake of their marriage she is a distinctly open evangelical), and with Evangelical children.
The current religious correspondent for the Guardian is a Muslim, Riazat Butt.
The Independent seems to not to keep a specific religious correspondent - a number of reporters cover C of E and religious matters.
Below I am going to look at the various big stories with examples of how they have been covered. Generally speaking it seems to me that the papers cover these stories thoroughly. However it is the nature of newspapers that the need always exists to make stark simple copy. This leads to a tendency to exaggerate difference, or at least to see it wherever possible, and to ignore some of the subtleties and nuances of the story.
1) How the Gay Issue has been reported in the broadsheets:
The Gay issue goes back further than the Jeffrey John row. Michael Hampson suggests in Last Rites that the Church has a disproportionately large number of gays in it (113). Given that there are scriptural passages that seem to directly forbid homosexuality, it is perhaps inevitable that this should be a particular point of tension
An early example of the gay issue in the papers is Victoria Combe’s (Telegraph) report on Bishop John Baker saying “Gays should be welcomed as Priests” (Tel 22/04/97). The article portrays him as a liberal who believes that the Evangelicals  use of the Bible as “inherently valid for all time” was unworthy.
In the run up to George Carey’s resignation as Archbishop of Canterbury, newspapers were eager to contrast his classical evangelicalism, with its emphasis on scriptural authority, with the churchmanship of potential successors. The then Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams was painted as a liberal who was favour of gay inclusion in the church. In fact he was portrayed as being frustrated at the Church’s slow progress regarding gay clergy (e.g. V Combe’s “Archbishop hits out at ban on gay clergy” Tel (21/07/2001).
However it was with the Jeffrey John incident in 2003, that the gay issue crystallized out a narrative of a church split between conservatives and liberals.
All the quality papers covered the furore surrounding the Jeffrey John, extensively. Notably the Telegraph, published an article “And suspicion begat spite, back stabbing and schism” (29/06/03). The narrative of this story was of the JJ incident snowballing into a pitch battle between liberals (and significantly Jeffrey John and Rowan Williams are identified with the liberal pressure group, Affirming Catholicism.), and Evangelicals. And it is significant that even in the conservative Telegraph the sympathies seem to be distinctly on the side of the liberals: Damian Thompson writes, for instance:
“Homosexuality is a growing obsession among fundamentalists and evangelicals around the world. Having compromised over issues such as divorce, these Bible-believing Christians have united in condemnation of the one sin that most of them do not feel tempted to commit. In evangelical circles, the only good homosexual is a "cured" one.”
Ruth Gledhill’s “The rise and fall of Dr Jeffrey John” warned of the financial ruin that Evangelicals could inflict upon the church if Jeffrey John and the liberals didn’t capitulate. Despite writing very neutrally on the issues of sexuality Gledhill, definitely seems to be portraying the Evangelicals as having the power and of spoiling for a fight: she writes:
IN A Church of England beset by crippling financial difficulties, the real threat by evangelical parishes to divert their substantial funds elsewhere meant that there was little alternative but to sacrifice Jeffrey John.
The evangelical parishes that opposed his appointment, not just in Oxford Diocese but throughout the Church, are among the wealthiest in the land.
Schismatic action by them to seek alternative oversight and to divert funds into independent trusts and away from the diocese, in response to Dr John’s ordination, would have brought the Established Church close to bankruptcy.
The ever-liberal Guardian even gave Giles Fraser space to write a postscript to the JJ event with an article provocatively entitled “Evangelicals have become this century’s witch burners”. In this piece he laments a tradition (evangelicalism) that had previously been so progressive, now becoming the “Nasty Party” and he implies that Evangelicals might have been responsible for posting excrement through single liberal clergy’s letterbox, and that there might be an Evangelical bishop who believes that homosexuality is caused by demons in the anus.
Later in the year Rachel Cooke from the Guardian’s Sunday outlet (Observer 21/12/03) wrote disparagingly of the evangelicals and their proportional ascent in the C of E in a piece entitled “The Sleek shall inherit the Earth”. This piece told a story of how through clever marketing, a cold and simplistic form of Christianity was usurping the Church.
It was at the end of 2003 that the Jeffrey John saga morphed into the Gene Robinson row. The telegraph put it bluntly “The Day the Church split” (04/11/2003), referring to the blanket condemnation from Africa and Latin America to the appointment of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. The Jeffrey John story had only involved England, but one imagines that conservatives from abroad were watching it with alarm. In his “A church at war: Anglicans and Homosexuality” former Guardian religious affairs correspondent Stephen Bates talks about Sandy Millar being onside with the Africans (he is now Bishop of Uganda despite still living in central London), and describes one particular angry sermon at HTB where he characterised the Episcopalian attitude to homosexuality as a “demonic ideology” (2004: p 28)
In it’s The Big Question: Is the Anglican Communion heading towards an inevitable split? The Independent (25/6/08) described Nigeria’s Primate Dr Peter Akinola position thus:
The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is one of the leading organisers of Gafcon. On the opening day of the conference he accused western Church leaders of apostasy and said there would be an "unavoidable realignment" of Anglicanism's power-base towards the conservative dioceses unless Canterbury did more to rein in the liberals
This is reflective of a position towards the Gene Robinson affair that he has had since 2003.
With the Gene Robinson affair sweeping in the larger Anglican Communion, phase two of the Jeffrey John controversy emerged with his new appointment as Dean of St Albans (April 2004)
Again there was financial threat coming from certain evangelicals became an issue. Jonathan Petre wrote in the Telegraph “Evangelicals threaten to ruin C of E over Gay Canon” (24/04/04).
Eventually that issue blew over and Gene Robinson was again the focus. The quarrel over Gene Robinson has continued uninterrupted to the present day, where it is threatening to overshadow 2008’s Lambeth Conference.
Between 2004 and 2007, the church reacted to this ongoing dispute with the Eames/Windsor report (October 2004) and the Tanzania primates conference (Feb 2007) – Both the Windsor report and the primates conference gave the papers opportunities to restate the battle lines and numerous articles can be found with a simple internet search.
Given Gene Robinson’s past – previously married even though he knew himself to be gay – it is notable that even given their inherent liberal bias, that he seems to get an easy ride in the papers.
For instance Times 2 published an upbeat feature on him called “Gene Robinson on being a June Bride” (29/04/08), in which he was given a platform to share his excitement at his forthcoming wedding. This comes in contrast to the tone of articles such as Bishop of Liverpool’s for opposing gay cleric (Guardian 5/2/08), and Bishop ordered to have equality training over gay discrimination (Times 9/02/08).
Even for stories that have an intrinsic non-liberal bias such as Rowan Williams warning to the Episcopalian Church of the USA, for the sake of unity “Archbishop warns American Church leaders to curb their pro-gay agenda” (Times 15/12/07), one senses that the papers are still mindful, that in the United Kingdom the majority opinion is against discrimination on grounds of sexuality, and stories such as the above are invariably balanced by opinion pieces or letters such as “Liberal Anglicans will stay and fight” (Guardian Letters 21/1/08).
In the interests of Anglican unity the Windsor report called for repentance and a moratoria on the blessing of same sex unions in the Episcopal Church (USA), but the tone of many of the coverage has turned this round. In her piece at the tine Ruth Gledhill, gave the Episcopal Church (USA) plenty of scope to rebut the report:
: “As Presiding Bishop I am obliged to affirm the positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church. I regret that there are places within our communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out the truth of who they are.” Church leader in gay bishop storm apologises for his role in schism 19/10/04
The way in which the gay issue has combined with the woman bishop issue has caused a response whereby the two stories are merged into one big “crisis” like “Church in Meltdown over Gays and Women”. (16-6-08)
And even though the gay issue brings in the wider Anglican Communion the papers are always keen to find a specifically British angle – for instance “Evangelical Christians sign up to a “church within a church” 2-7-08, in which Ruth Gledhill describes Evangelicals as planning a “putsch”.
The links between the Anglican Communion and C of E have also been made clear in explanation pieces in the Telegraph and Independent: “ Anglican Crisis Q and A (21/02/07) Telegraph”, and the Independent’s “The Big Question: Why is the Anglican Church facing a schism and can it be prevented ? (13/2/07)”, (and the more recent Big Question) which both also clarify the difference between the presenting issues and the underlying problem; the role and authority of scripture.
2 Reporting of Gafcon:
The breakaway Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) has been written about in all the broadsheets but perhaps most comprehensively in the Guardian.
In line with the liberal agenda of all the broadsheets, but particularly the Guardian, there is a palpable subtext that Gafcon represents intolerance and a resistance to post-enlightenment; ideas which should prevail.
For example, on Monday 30th June Riazat Butt responded to the Gafcon statement with an article “Conservative Anglicans form breakaway church in revolution led from the south”, and the next day, the same publication followed with three pieces, Archbishop of Canterbury hits out at breakaway Anglicans, The Evangelicals are moving in for the kill (Theo Hobson) and a piece by Bishop Tom Butler, “Anglican’s Militant Tendency must be resisted.”,
The coverage of Gafcon has also merged into the narrative of the growing power of African churches in the Anglican Communion. Ruth Gledhill’s interview with Peter Akinola (For God’s Sake July 5 2007), carried the standfirst:
Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, the world’s most powerful Anglican leader, tells Religion Correspondent Ruth Gledhill that his conservatism is the true faith and that evangelism can combat Islamic terrorism
In the Telegraph’s “Anglican Church Schism declared over homosexuality”(19/6/08), the authors write:
The formal pronouncement of the schism is contained in an 89-page document titled “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, which…is supported by the heads of key African churches including Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda, who represent almost half of Anglican worshippers.
The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, states in one section: “There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified Communion.
3) Reporting of the Women Bishop debate:
One can trace back the media narrative on women bishops to that of women priests, and the lobbying that took place prior to 1994. However within the time-frame of the last decade, the coverage about the possibility of women bishops started about seven years ago when a working party was set up.
Despite the success of female vicars it was clear that this was going to be divisive as that issue had been in 1994.
In 2001 Victoria Combe wrote “Church prepares the way for women bishops” (29/06/01), in which she reported how the Bishop of Rochester was preparing the ground for women bishops within seven years. In the same edition of the newspaper it was reported that the then archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was allowing “preparation for exclusive male Church”
Jonathan Petre wrote: “THE Archbishop of Canterbury has given the go-ahead to traditionalists to prepare a blueprint for an all-male "Church-within-a-Church" if women are made bishops.
With the "encouragement" of Dr George Carey, Forward in Faith, the umbrella group for opponents of women priests, has set up a committee to "shadow" the working party paving the way for women bishops which is chaired by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Nazir-Ali.” (Telegraph 29/06/01)
Positive noises were made in the press in the intervening years between then and now. In 2005 the Telegraph wrote “Church of England agrees to have women bishops within seven years (13/07/05)” and the following year the Independent had “Women Bishops could be here by 2012 says C of E” (9/7/2006). These optimistic articles were balanced with the occasional cautious article, such as “Church could think again over women, says Williams” (17/11/06) (Telegraph), and some alarmist ones such as “Hundreds of clergy will leave Church over women bishops” (12/07/05) (Telegraph). From editorial point of view one imagines, that there was an awareness that in the modern age, a lack of female bishops was a clear anomaly, but their absence for so long meant that the idea was still strange to many people. Maybe correspondents were urged to find copy that at the time that reflected the strong opinions that existed and attempted to find the pulse of the nation?
It has been during this year (with the crucial vote in Synod on concessions to objectors) that the heat has risen.
In April the Times reported about the mooted “Gender Havens to avert split in Church” (29/4/08). The language was of moderates versus traditionalists, but the “traditionalists” as a group not being well explained, and with the business of Gene Robinson featuring prominently in the text it is likely that for the casual reader, the distinction between “Forward if Faith” Anglo Catholics and conservative evangelicals is not clear.
The same is true of the front page headline article of Monday 16 June 2008 “Church in Meltdown over gays and women”, and the front page headline of Tuesday 1 July “Clergy plan mass exit over women bishops”, in which Ruth Gledhill writes “the Church’s moderate centre is being pressurised as never before by evangelicals opposed to gays, and traditionalists opposed to women’s ordination”, although later in the article a more explicit connection is made between Anglo-Catholicism and concern over women bishops.
Synod eventually voted on the evening of 7/7/08 to press ahead with female bishops with minor concessions. It is worth noting, and it is rarely mentioned in the papers, that within the Anglican Communion, the churches in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand already have female bishops.
It is also worth repeating that this story will either end with traditionalists adapting or breaking away, unlike the gay issue which has no obvious end point.
4) Reporting on the crisis in numbers in the Church.
In response to various polls that come out (e.g Christian Research’s Religious Trends censuses), the papers from time to time respond with pieces lamenting our loss of faith. For example in recent years the telegraph has reported Baptised Anglicans are now a minority (26/09/2001), has asked In 18 years, will there still be a Church of England ? (24/07/2003) and charted the overall change in the religious map in The changing face of British Christianity (26/12/07).
The Times has similarly told us that Anglican Church attendance has stabilized (23/12/07), but also that Over half of Britons claim no religion (21/2/08).
The effect of these stories can be to underscore the fact that the moderate “Vicar of Dibley” style church is failing, given that that is the version of Anglicanism implied in these articles. The impression that many may then get is that it is being taken over by a more hardline version of Anglicanism.
The Alpha Course which has proved itself sufficiently malleable to be adopted by churches as diverse as Methodists and Catholics is still seen by many to be proposing a biblical interpretation similar to Gafcon on the crucial is of sexuality. The success of Alpha has been written about, for instance in the Saturday Times Magazines “Middle Class Heaven”(3/7/04), where Hilary Rose makes the link between Alpha branded Christianity as gay intolerance.
Other indications of a growing intolerant religion come from reports about the hardline Richard Turnbull of Wycliffe Hall [ Independent - The Man Who Says we are all going to hell (Turnbull) (25/05/07)], and on the proposal for a disciplinary structure to reunite the church, Church to impose “rule book” of beliefs (03/06/07) [Telegraph], and reports about the outspoken remarks from the Bishop of Rochester, whose remarks on Muslims suggest a hardline element [e.g Sunday Times Jan 13 2008 Muslim Britain is becoming one big no-go area]
It was, however remarks of a very different nature about Islam, that caused the single biggest C of E story for several years – the story many commentators dubbed “Shariagate”, and which even the Sun gave front page treatment with the Headline: Arch Enemy: Bash the Bishop.
It was remarkable how much press one talk given to a smallish group of lawyers and academics, making some liberal suggestions about the possible inclusion of elements of Islamic law into part of the broad range of instruments that are legally recognised, generated. No single religious story has provoked so much reaction. The question remains, does this tell us more about our views of Rowan Williams ecumenicism, or more about our reactionary nature when the question of Sharia law is raised?
Portrayal of C of E on Television and Film
There is a tradition in straight and comic drama of portraying Church of England vicars in a nostalgic and mild manner.
In recent years perhaps the most resonant portrayal of the C of E on TV was BBC’s hit comedy, the Vicar of Dibley, now constantly rerun on satellite channels. Dawn French portraying one of the new breed of women vicars, still managed to perfectly capture a sense of nostalgia for passing rural English community cemented by a gentle liberal pastoral presence. The way in which the Vicar of Dibley was taken into the nations hearts as a symbol of the C of E is possibly reflected by the amount of column inches devoted to other Vicars of Dibley – people whom the press could compare her to.
Rebecca Fowler wrote in the Telegraph (12/11/2007), with respect to the plight of women vicars.
Perhaps the single greatest sign of acceptance was the success of The Vicar of Dibley, the comedy series in which Dawn French's Geraldine Granger ran a country parish. At its peak, it attracted 15 million viewers - an audience the Church could only dream of seeing in the pews.
Elsewhere on TV the tone has moved away from nostalgia to light parody. One thinks, for example, of the vicar on Dad’s Army, or various vicars represented in TV dramas such as Lovejoy, Inspector Morse or Midsomer Murders.
The occasions when the C of E has been openly mocked however are relatively rare, and tend to follow periods when satire in general is riding a high wave– for example the C of E came in for some particularly acerbic satirizing during the 80’s, in the satirical sketch show Not the Nine O’Clock News, which followed one sketch – Are You A Gay Christian ?, the next week with Mel Smith portraying a liberal vicar asking the question, The Devil – is he all bad ?
Actual piety, however, seems to be something broadcasters are wary of attacking. Broadcasting in this country has long had a liberal bias [c.f Mary Whitehouse’s crusades of the 70’s and 80’s or “Confessions of a BBC Liberal” Antony Jay in the Times 12/8/2007]– it seems that they don’t want to go further by actually religion directly.
Besides common experience shows us that mocking mild belief or disbelief is met with much less opposition than mocking belief. As Richard Dawkins goes to great length to argue in the God Delusion, fear of the indignation, and possible offence caused by mocking belief, is one of the great taboos of our liberal society[2006 p 43]
Even Cliff Richard, whose open evangelical Christianity is regularly lightly mocked, even sniggered at by the public, is rarely directly mocked on television – rather it has been treated very seriously in the 131shows he has been listed as appearing on in the internet move database (IMDB).
And even Mary Whitehouse recently became the subject of a warm and sympathetic documentary on BBC 4 called Filth.
And it is possibly significant that when the archbishop of Canterbury is at his most liberal and tolerant he can be most vulnerable to attack. On 7/2/2008 when he made certain comments about Sharia law, showing an openness to Islamic practice he got a roasting from all parts of the media; on 9/6/2008 when Rowan Williams was interviewed by Emily Maitlis of Newsnight it was the tolerance of the C of E as opposed to the clarity and moral leadership of Islam which she attacked. This seems somewhat bizarre as it is precisely these qualities in Islam, that when they are taken to extremes that cause so-called Islamophobia.
A question worth asking may then be, are British broadcasters most comfortable attacking the C of E for being too liberal?; and if so is this precisely because they themselves have a “liberal” bias.
In my own experience in trying to pitch religious subject matter to broadcasters in this country, the reply has always that they need a “way in” that doesn’t leave them exposed to criticism and offence. Examples of such routes in are extreme practices that are either native to another country – such as Christian Fundamentalism in America - or practices so far beyond what might be considered mainstream or acceptable that a safe distance is felt. And where this is not the case they tread carefully.
An example of where one might have expected a broadcaster to have given a religious subject a “harder time” [the Saturday Times did just that in their piece “Middle Class Heaven”] was ITV’s – Alpha: Did it change their lives, presented by Sir David Frost.
Meanwhile broadcasters also seem less keen on what might be called “establishment religion” or religious worship programming which has declined between 1988 and 2008 (commentators frequently note that the the BBC’s founding father, John Reith was a devout Presbyterian Scot who was keen to maintain the country’s moral compass by a good dose of religion – things however have changed)
There are fewer services broadcast live on Sundays and ITV has lost Highway, its rival to Songs of Worship. On Sunday mornings in the noughties, BBC’s broadcast service gave way to the Heaven and Earth show (that dealt with religious and ethical issues from either a non or multi partisan fashion) which gave way to the Big Issues – deal with social issues with representatives from different faiths asked to comment, and now to Sunday Life, and Sunday morning magazine programme with a slant towards issues related pieces.
Documentary output has remained reasonably consistent over the last 25 years and although documentaries rarely seem to interrogate the C of E head on, they do deal with large religious issues, frequently via a personality or big current issue.
Back in the 1984 the BBC commissioned Cambridge theologian, Don Cuppitt to make a multi-part documentary charting the progression of Christianity since the enlightenment amongst many academics, to a deliteralised version.
Thirteen years on there was a clamour amongst commissioners again to revisit the possibility of Christianity reconstructed, but this time inspired by a somewhat less scholarly source – the hit novel “The Da Vinci Code”. Channel 4 commissioned The Hidden Story of Jesus and The Secret Family of Jesus from theologian Robert Beckford, and most recently The Secrets of The Twelve Disciples.
Robert Beckford is a distinctive black English Pentecostal theologian whom Channel 4 enjoy using because his background enables him to come to the subject of religion in the UK with the objectivity of being one step removed from the established church.
In his film God is Black (2003) he does approach the subject of the polarisation of the Church of England head on, but through a device that makes the approach simultaneously oblique.
The trope was that evangelical Christianity once exported to the Africa, was now being exported back. In the second half he interviews members of the conservative C of E pressure group Reform, whom he characterises as perceiving the Archbishop of Canterbury as the anti-Christ. Beckford also portrays Holy Trinity Brompton as having fundamentalist leanings.
Towards the end of the programme he visit liberals Churches and asks them how they are going to respond to the challenge of the rise of evangelical Anglicanism, and finally the programme commissions an advertising agency to see whether they could come up with ideas to rejuvenate the dwindling liberal Anglican tradition.
Aside from this film, the “meat” of Beckford’s other films has been a popular reworking of literary and historical criticism presented as if they were hidden secrets, in much the same vein as the novel the Da Vinci Code. The BBC has done the same in films like “Did Jesus Die” and “The Lost Gospels”.
In recent months there have been some attempts by Channel 4 to deal with some marginal elements of orthodox piety in a fairly direct manner, but closer inspection shows that they have still been careful to distance themselves editorially.
The caption for Rod Liddle’s “The New Fundamentalists” on the Channel 4 website reads:
“ The mainstream of the Anglican Church, comfortably familiar to Radio 4 listeners and those who pray only at Christmas and Easter, is in decline. But the evangelical wing is growing. It is targeting and recruiting young people and, says and middle-of-the-road Christian Rod Liddle, could make up half the congregation of the Church of England within five years. “
Liddle is a well known polemicist and the viewer is well aware of his personality. Besides he was dealing with extreme and marginal cases and drawing conclusions that were presented as the musings of one man. More to the point his film doesn’t make anything like the same points as the caption – it simply shows what our culture currently considers deviant education such as creationism in lieu of evolution being taught in C of e schools. It certainly doesn’t equate liberal Anglicanism with mainstream Anglicanism.
In David Modell’s recent film “In God’s Name”, looking at the rise of Fundamentalism in the UK well – known ex Anglican (now Assemblies of God) extremist (Stephen Green) is portrayed to be in close working relationship with current Anglican Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship. The pattern was the same – Modell was present in his own film and the subject matter was unlikely to be supported by many.
Church affairs typically receive fairly cursory treatment on BBC and Sky news, as compared to the broadsheet newspapers. Exceptions, however have been Rowan Williams comments on Sharia law, which touched a nerve due to the hypersensitivity about Islam that we are currently experiencing; and also the recent Gafcon Statement and Women Bishops debate, which both wereprominantly featured on all the main news bulletins.
It is also notable that the issue of Women Bishops and “is the church sexist was discussed on 30/7/08 on the issues chat show “The Wright Stuff”, and one imagines there would have been similar discussions on it and gafcon on the Heaven and earth show, if it had still been running.
The portrayal of religion in film in the UK doesn’t inform us directly a great deal about the Church of England, but it does show an increasing secularization. The Life of Brian, had eight years prior In 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar caused more furore than Life of Brian (1979) than last Temptation of Christ (1989) than Jerry Springer the Opera (2001)
Taste and public sensibility have moved, and society has become palpably more liberal and secular.
Radio 4 still includes a live Sunday service and a daily service on its am frequency. Religious commentators get an outlet on Thought for the Day, and Start the Week and Midweek. In particular Roger Bolton presents an excellent programme on religious affairs on Sunday called Sunday. As might be expected Radio 4’s religious output is liberal and intellectual – in many ways the direct opposite of American religious talk radio.
In David Hendy’s piece in the New Humanist (October 2007) he notes how
Historically, much of the burden of implementing this (he is referring here to Reith’s desire for the BBC to maintain moral and religious values) religious mission has fallen most heavily on Radio Four – the direct descendant of the old Home Service. Not only does Radio Four represent the strongest through-line to the Corporation’s formative years; it also reaches its fortieth birthday shot through with threads of worship, in the form of programmes such as Daily Service and Thought for the Day. Consequently, the station has never quite dispelled – nor wished to dispel – what one of its producers described as a “vague moral Christian aura”.
But tellingly, as regards how liberal, Radio 4 religious output is, he then goes on to discuss how close Radio 4 has got to allowing Atheists to contribute to Thought for the Day, and implies that that day might not be far off.
A perception of Radio 4 religious programming is given in the Channel 4 online blurb about Liddle’s Dispatches programme, The New Fundamentalists
“The mainstream of the Anglican Church, comfortably familiar to Radio 4 listeners and those who pray only at Christmas and Easter, is in decline”
New Media / Internet
Perhaps it is appropriate to borrow from another web phenomenon, Wikipedia, to explain the importance of “blogs” in today’s media scene:
A blog is a website usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video…
Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries…
The collective community of all blogs is known as the blogosphere. Since all blogs are on the internet by definition, they may be seen as interconnected and socially networked. …
Many bloggers, particularly those engaged in participatory journalism, differentiate themselves from the mainstream media, while others are members of that media working through a different channel.),
Over the last few years blogging has allowed everyone with a view the platform to share it. In practice this tends to be those with strong view. Prominent Church of England related Blogs include Thinking Anglicans - liberal, Inclusive Church – liberal, Ruth Gledhill – the Times, Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream – conservative evangelical, The Ugley Vicar conservative evangelical, Fulcrum – open evangelical, Anglican Mainstream – conservative evangelical.
It is notable that when news such as the Gafcon Statement was released it was the blogs that were the first resource for information and opinion.
As this is an ongoing story, my intention is to revise the entire text periodically. Between revisions I am adding updates in bullet form in this section that will incorporated into the body text at the next revision.
Notably as the summer progressed the terms traditional and conservative were being increasingly used as blanket terms for “non-liberal”. One example of this is Stephen Bates piece in the Guardian on July 15th, “Church of England: Beset by liberals, hounded by conservatives, Williams needs a miracle to keep church intact”. Another is in Robert Piggott’s piece for BBC online of 29/07/08, “Oppose Gay Bishops, Anglicans Urged”, where he uses the word traditionalist to denote Conservatives opposed to Gene Robinson, whereas the term traditionalist, earlier in the year had been essentially used to denote the Anglo-Catholics opposed to female bishops.
One event that got an enormous amount of coverage was the heckling of Gene Robinson when he addressed St Mary’s Putney for evensong (July 13). It wasnoteworthy that the press had turned out in such large numbers and had a live satellite link van outside (Robinsons sermon was scheduled to be broadcast live on BBC news 24). The impression that the news coverage gave was probably that there was a greater degree of dissent than was the case. There were in actual fact only two protesters there – well-known extremist Stephen Green from Christian Voice outside and during the service, the motorcyclist who shouted “Heretic!” And “Repent!” before being ushered outside by the church wardens. However that bried incident was repeated on all the television news bulletins that night and was covered in all the major newspapers the next day – including the Daily Mail, who covered it in a very neutral fashion.
Two days later (July 15) BBC 2 ran a documentary calle Battle of the Bishops, in its “This World”, strand, in which reporter Ben Anderson, portrayed Conservative African Bishops as being not only out of step with British values but also resentful of what they consider to be an imperial attitude emanating from Canterbury.
It is also noteworthy that since Lambeth began, the right wing Daily Mail, who have been very neutral on female and gay bishops, insofar as they have reported at all have run two pieces showing a much more right of centre outlook on other aspects of British religious life. One was “Victory for Christian registrar bullied for refusing to perform 'sinful' gay weddings” 10/07/08, in which the sympathy was noticeably wuth the Christian registrar, and the other was 'Mosley ruling a dangerous threat to our morals', says former Archbishop’, 28/07/08, which was accompanied by an opinion piece congratulating George Carey for standing up to the court’s jusdgment that Max Mosley’s “sickening” acts be allowed to remain private.
On 7th August the Times published a front page “Rowan Williams: gay relationships comparable to marriage.” with a two page spread and a a leader inside, based on revelations from some letters sent in 2000/1 to a Welsh paritioner/ psychologist that demonstrated the journey he had made since the 80’s wherehe held a compassionate view based on orthodoxy to a position now, that runs at odds with the line he seemed to be towing at the Lambeth conference. This angered both liberals, who feeled that he was betraying his own conscience and them, and conservatives who felt that this showed that he was unfit to hold office.
Over the last three Sundays of August 2008 Channel 4 aired a programme called Make me a Christian: The following comments by the Telegraph’s Jonathan Wynn Jones on his blog, was reflective of much of the reaction found on the internet:
“What could have been a chance to provide a sympathetic exploration of Christianity is of course nothing of the sort - a lap-dancer, a Muslim, a lesbian and an atheist biker are among the volunteers and the lead cleric is the Reverend George Hargreaves, the leader of the right-wing Christian Party, who believes that the dragon on the Welsh flag is an evil symbol. Yeah, exactly.
Essentially this is Big Brother with a street-preacher thrown in for good measure.
The all too predictable result is another superficial examination of the distasteful nature of fundamentalist Christianity.”
He also makes the comment that Richard Dawkins got a much more intelligent treatment when he was seen debating with Christians on another programme, aired at a similar time, celebrating Charles Darwin.
The findings above concur with our original conjecture that we do have reason to believe that the newspapers do in fact paint a somewhat binary picture of the Church of England, that doesn’t match the five or six distinct groups with in the C of E, as represented by the various organizations discussed in the introduction.
Of course that may be the way things are, but it certainly gives us cause for further investigation. It is also noteworthy that the main players in the sexuality and gender debates, and the leaders of the churchmanship organisations are all leaders and activists, and the question of where congregations fit into all this doesn’t seem to enter into the media picture.
Are they represented, or even guided by the liberal media or is Wallace Benn right – is the liberal media an “elite” that fails to understand the pulse of the nation ? . Do they understand or care about the different categories of Churchmanship? Are they drawn by certain churches with certain styles or are they geographically tied to a church and are prepared to like an individual vicar more or less.
By spending time observing leaders and congregations from a range of churches that appear to represent the varieties in style in the Church of England I hope to make an attempt to understand these issues better.
 For example the graphic attached in pdf format, that appeared in a recent edition of the Times newspaper.
 And this is not restricted to the media. Robbie Low wrote in comment to the Mind of Anglicans (part of the Christian Research Cost of Conscience Survey)- Two Churches
“What has emerged from the results of this survey is the final exposure of two separate churches co-existing uncomfortably within the bosom of Anglicanism. One is essentially credally orthodox and committed to the historic and Apostolic mission of the Church. The other is wrapped in the garments of Christian language, but has only the most tenuous grasp of the central teachings of the faith. It is no surprise that liberalizers are tempted to distort or ignore the Word of God to achieve their political agenda in the Church but the degree to which this is revealed here is truly shocking”. This idea of Two Churches is also heavily implied by the Gafcon Statement:
The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel.
 It seems both conservative and open evangelicals would agree with David Bebbington’s description of what evangelicalism involves
-biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
-crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
-conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
-activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort
 Formerly LexisNexis – one of the world’s most comprehensive databases of newspaper articles
 Lambeth Conferences have been held on a (n almost) ten yearly basis since 1867
 291 Bishops and 1148 Laity from 29 countries attended Gafcon. Bishop
 The Gafcon (Global Anglican Future Conference)
 cf Times 3July Leading Article: Crossroads for Anglicans – Rowan Williams must face down opposition on all fronts - the outcome of Gafcon was, in effect, the setting up of a communion within a Communion called FOCA – the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
 cf “Evangelical Christians sign up to a “church within a church”” Times 2 July 2008
 it was preceded by the Jeffrey John and Gene Robinson rows, the Windsor Report and the Tanzania Primates meeting
 cf “Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour” Times May 08 2008
 cf “Clergy plan mass exit over women bishops” Times 1 July 2008
 It was seem that the question was never resolved to Gafcon’s satisfaction. In their statement they wrote:
The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different “gospel” (cf Galatians 1: 6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel.
 The Anglican Global South is a grouping of twenty of the thirty-eight Provinces of the Anglican Communion derived from a meeting entitled the Global South Encounter in October 2005
 cf “An unheavenly silence on homophobia -Clerics at the Global Anglican Futures Conference have been slow to condemn violence against gay people. It's incredible, and unchristian” - Riazat Butt Guardian 23 06 08 – an example of discussions of the legal status of homosexuality in many parts of the Global South
 Links between English evangelicals and African can be seen in the Channel 4 film, God is Black, Gafcon representation by Michael Nazir-Ali, and Wallace Benn, and the position of Reverend Sandy Millar as Bishop of Uganda.
 Particular outrage came from the Primate of Nigeria, Dr Peter Akinola.
 In conversation with myself
 (NB it is also the case that the conservative evangelical pressure group Reform is resolutely against women Bishops [http://www.reform.org.uk/pages/press/press.php] – it was STARTED as a pressure group as female ordination in 1993 - however the anti-woman Bishop campaign is spearheaded by traditionalist Anglo-Catholics who have a pressure group Forward in Faith [http://www.forwardinfaith.com/about/uk_kirk_days.html])
 See page 25 of this essay – the “updates” section
 curiously these keywords don’t bring up the Rowan Willams Sharia row, which received more coverage than any other single C of E related story
cf Leading Article Faith and reason 19/10/06 “As a secular and liberal newspaper, The Independent naturally believes in the separation of the church and state. The disestablishment of the Church of England is a nettle that ought to have been grasped in Britain long ago.”
 Cf wikipedia Editorial articles in The Guardian are generally to the left of the political spectrum. This is reflected in the paper's readership
 cf Leading Article Faith and reason 19/10/06 “As a secular and liberal newspaper, The Independent naturally believes in the separation of the church and state. The disestablishment of the Church of England is a nettle that ought to have been grasped in Britain long ago.”
 Cf wikipedia
 cf wikipedia British attitudes towards LGBT rights and homosexuality are regarded as some of the most liberal in the world.
 Cf www.equalities.gov.uk
 cf The Right Nation Micklethwait, and Wooldridge 8-15
 Alan Duncan
 Her Blog in the Times is frequently personally critical of Rowan Williams liberalism, however she rarely endorses any particular orthodoxy
 The fact that Bates first reaction to leaving his post as religion correspondent for the Guardian was to write for the New Humanist about his experiences in itself tells us a certain amount about his and his papers’ position.
 Such as the then Archbishop of Canterbury – George Carey
 cf The Clapham Sect in the early 19th C
 cf my notes on How Churches work for analysis of how the church is financed and notes on church pressure groups for a more precise take on who believes what – “Reform” evangelicals, for instance, would wish to withhold diocesan quotas, whereas “Fulcrum” evangelicals probably would not.
 Rebecca Fowler wrote in the Telegraph (12/11/2007)Perhaps the single greatest sign of acceptance was the success of The Vicar of Dibley, the comedy series in which Dawn French's Geraldine Granger ran a country parish. At its peak, it attracted 15 million viewers - an audience the Church could only dream of seeing in the pews.
 This is an area where Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali has differed from other conservative evangelicals
 cf Head of Kirk backs Williams over Sharia row – Scotsman 10/2/08
 cf Steve Bruce’s Nostalgic Images section in Religion in Modern Britain (1995) p. 45
 Steve Bruce makes an analysis of this in his section “religious broadcasting” in Religion and Modern Britain (1995) p.55
 Cf Bruce 1995 p.67-70 and Davie Religion in Britain since 1945 (1994) p75-76