Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Church of England Newspaper Gets It Wrong

You may recall our recent discussion of the summary of responses from the Primates and members of the Anglican Consultative Counsel to the report of the Joint Standing Committee. The JSC gave the most recent House of Bishops' statement a passing mark. You can see the summary of the Primates' and ACC's responses here and here.

To refresh your memory, here's the breakdown of responses:

Responses from the Primates to the JSC Report (38 total):

12 - Agree
10 - Disagree
3 - Mixed Response
1 - Will Respond Later
12 - No Response

Responses from the Anglican Consultative Council to the JSC Report (73 total):

13 - Agree
2 - Disagree
2 - Mixed response
8 - JSC Member
48 - No Response

The lack of responses within 30 days, as requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, results in these numbers adding little to our understanding of the mind of the Primates or the members of the ACC. But, those are the numbers we have. They show agreement with the JSC report by a very small margin among the Primates, and agreement with JSC report by a much larger margin from the members of the ACC.

Note that there is no indication in the summary, or from statements from Canterbury, that an updated report will be issued when and if there are additional responses after the 30 day deadline. Since the Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to release his statement on this matter within the next few days, it is safe to assume that this is the information on which he will base his statement.

What is quite curious is this article written by George Conger, which will appear in the Church of England Newspaper on November 30. Here is how it begins:
The Primates have returned a vote of no confidence in the Episcopal Church. Lambeth Palace reports that a majority of primates have rejected the conclusions of the ACC/Primates Joint Standing Committtee (JSC), and have told the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams the Episcopal Church has failed, in whole or in part, to honor the recommendations of the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Dar es Salaam communiqué...
A majority of primates have rejected the conclusions of the JSC? Where in the world is Conger getting this?

Apparently, he begins to justify this clearly erroneous statement by getting the numbers wrong:
...Of the 38 primates, including the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, Lambeth Palace reported it had received 26 responses, and no reply from 12. Of the 26, 12 stated they could accept the JSC’s findings, 12 stated they rejected the JSC’s findings, while three offered a mixed verdict, and one said it was continuing to review the matter...
I think you need to look again, George. In the pie charts, and in the text of the summary, it is clearly stated that 12 Primates agreed with the JSC, and 10 disagreed. The numbers you offer add up to 28 responses, not 26.

Conger goes on to point out what he perceives as the errors in the summary:

...Details of who voted how were not released, nor did the summary stand close comparison to the body of the report. While the summary graph reported 10 provinces as not having responded, the paper identified 12 no responses. Twelve provinces were stated to have rejected the report in the summary, while the body of the paper stated this number was 10. Three provinces were listed as having given mixed responses in the summary, while the body of the paper said two provinces had so spoken...
No, George. I suspect you have mixed up the shades of purple used in the graph. The pie chart shows 12 Primates not responding, as is repeated in the text. The chart also identifies 10 Primates as disagreeing, which is also affirmed in the text.

We can agree that there is some discrepancy regarding the number of mixed responses: the chart shows three while the written report identifies two.

Conger's error brings him to the mistaken conclusion that there was a draw regarding Primates agreeing or disagreeing with the JSC; 12 to 12. How does he get from there to "a majority of primates have rejected the conclusions of the ACC/Primates Joint Standing Committee"? By speculating on how the non-responders might have responded:

...Of those who had not responded, three were from Africa, three from the Indian subcontinent, two from Central and South America, and four from other areas. However, based on past statements from the African and South Asian provinces, the majority reporting a mixed or negative response will be increased to roughly a two third’s margin once their views are communicated to London...
That's an interesting opinion. It is certainly not a fact, as suggested in his opening paragraph. There is also the assumption that late reports from the Primates will change anything. Since Canterbury's response will most likely have already be made by the time such reports are submitted (if they ever are), they will really have little, if any, impact on the final result.

I understand that George Conger reports not only for the Church of England Newspaper, but also for the Living Church. I would suggest that he spend a bit more time reviewing his articles before publishing them, if he wants to keep his credibility as a reporter. If a parish priest running a little backwater blog can spot spin based on errors, it is safe to assume that more prominent personages are also not blind to such things.

Maybe this was just a mistake? Possibly. I've certainly made my share. Just pull the story, or at least correct the errors, and we'll all move on.


UPDATE: Apparently, the article written by George Conger has been revised. The new version can be found here. It covers much of the same material, but the errors are corrected, and the spin is slightly subdued.

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