- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

The direction of the Episcopal Church is increasingly being determined not by its clergy or church institutions, but by a group of determined Internet jockeys whose reach encircles the globe.

They are men who spend 12 to 14 hours a day sending out posts to message boards, fielding replies or overseeing “blogs,” or journals on the Internet, about the conflict tearing the 2.3-million-member denomination apart: the Nov. 2 consecration of the first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop.

On Aug. 5, the Episcopal General Convention meeting in Minneapolis confirmed Canon V. Gene Robinson’s election to the episcopate. The vote was delayed a day because of an Internet message calling attention to the bishop-elect’s connection to a youth ministry Web site that had links to hard-core pornography.

David Virtue, founder of www.virtuosityonline.org and the originator of that message, said a conservative bishop had called him at midnight the night before he posted it.

“He said, ‘You’ll take the lid off the church if you do this,’” Mr. Virtue says. “I did do it, and the lid came off.” The article about the bishop’s ties to the youth site, posted at 4 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 4, triggered an emergency meeting of Episcopal leaders a few hours later. By early afternoon, TV camera crews were pouring into the convention’s conference center.

Although Mr. Robinson was cleared a day later of having any connection to the pornographic links, the lesson was clear: any self-appointed Web master could influence an entire denomination.

Since then, more activists have taken to their keyboards. Very few have any journalism training and most say they make no money at it. All say it’s a spiritual calling to get the news out.

When Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster near Vancouver, B.C., decided to shut down a conservative mission church four days before Christmas, one of his fellow Canadian priests sprung into action.

Within hours of the Ingham story appearing on the Web site of the National Post, a Toronto-based newspaper, the priest had sent copies around the world.

“Traditionally, the institution has controlled church news,” said the priest, a man in his 30s whose Internet nickname is Binky the Web Elf. “Now the Internet supercedes regular media. This news about New Westminster would not have appeared in a church newspaper for a month, [but via the Internet] what a bishop says in North America can be read by a bishop in Central Africa in a few hours.”

He gets 1,500 to 2,000 visits a day to his site, Classical Anglican Net News, also known as www.anglican.tk. So much news is pouring out from various Episcopal-related sources from around the world that he posts two daily briefings.

“People are hungry for this, so they come where it is,” he says. “Even [Episcopal News Service director] Jim Solheim wrote us, saying he checks us daily.

“The ordinary people may not have the theological tools to stand up to their leaders. They often don’t have that extra bit of information that allows them to say this is their church, too. Now through the Internet, their story is being told.”

Not that bishops are taking this lying down.

“I have drawers full of hate mail. The Internet has enabled the technological equivalent of drive-by shootings,” Bishop Ingham told a Canadian magazine, MacLean’s. “I’ve had to learn to deal with a level of malevolence and sheer hatred that I frankly didn’t know existed in the church.”

Washington Bishop John B. Chane, another church liberal, termed Mr. Virtue “mean-spirited” in a June 22 sermon.

“We’re not as creative or direct as David Virtue at sharing our side of the story,” he confided. “We have to break that noose.”

The church’s leading liberal Internet activist is Louie Crew, founder of the Episcopal homosexual caucus Integrity.

Mr. Crew, 67, who nicknames himself Quean Lutibelle posts items like “Queer Eye for the Heterosexual Imagination” and other offerings at https://www.andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/rel.html.

The site, which gets about 800 hits a day, has 3,000 pages of Episcopal minutiae: history, lists of diocesan contacts, links to other Episcopal sites, articles, essays, photos, statements, audios of sermons, even an invitation to a “renewal of vows” for him and his partner.

A retired English professor from Rutgers University, Mr. Crew says he spends 12 hours a day processing material.

Before the Internet, he says, “There was spin. Now there’s counterspin. We have to listen to points of view we don’t like. I have convictions and support them, but don’t want to be an ideologue.”

Atop his Web site is the queen of spades, a title bestowed upon him by Mr. Virtue. In return, Mr. Crew awarded Mr. Virtue the title of joker.

Mr. Virtue, 59, a New Zealand native who lives in West Chester, Pa., began writing investigative articles for Episcopalians United, a conservative group, in the mid-1990s. Finding church politics habit-forming, he created his Internet site in 1998. To date, it has received 500,000 hits, 300,000 since the General Convention.

He also sends out a news digest several times a week to 100,000 readers.

He estimates he works 70 hours, seven days a week. Contributors send in about $80,000 a year, he says, which, after expenses, ends up at $35,000 a year. All of his postings are first checked by an attorney.

“It’s what I feel called to do,” he says, “to bring the light of the Gospel on the revisionist nonsense of the Episcopal Church and to show it’s morally bankrupt. To do this, you have to bring the sludge to light.”

Some of Mr. Virtue’s material gets distributed by the Rev. Richard Kim, 76, a retired Episcopal priest who runs an informal news service out of Detroit from an America Online account.

He searches newspapers, secular wire services and church Web sites all over the English-speaking world for documents and articles to circulate. He also has an extensive network of church contacts who send confidential reports to him.

“Nothing’s a secret anymore,” he says. “Bishops in the church can no longer do things quietly. Anything that’s put out quickly goes around the globe. The Internet has allowed people to challenge assumptions, critique them and given ordinary people a chance to raise questions that would not ordinarily be raised.”

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