Professional team switcher Jim McGreevey is back in the news. He’s the former New Jersey governor who was forced to resign amid charges of sexual harrassment from a male subordinate. McGreevey was married at the time and had been married previously but somehow managed to turn the bad news into a celebration of his newly revealed homosexuality. Now that’s how you spin, kids. He and his wife are divorcing and he plans to get hitched to his live-in male lover. McGreevey claimed, by the way, that he began an affair with his aide while his wife was recuperating in the hospital from a particularly hard labor and delivery. Classy.
Anyway, McGreevey was also a former altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church he claimed frequently to be devoted to. He formally departed that church this past Sunday for, well, the Episcopal Church.
Okay, so the news in this tangled mess of decepion is that McGreevey wants to become a man of the cloth. Here’s how the Daily News put it:
He’s served as New Jersey’s governor, outed himself as a “gay American,” and now he wants to be Father James.
Raised a Catholic, Jim McGreevey has become an Episcopalian and will study at The General Theological Seminary in Chelsea, beginning this fall.
“We are pleased to confirm that he has been accepted to the seminary’s three-year Master of Divinity program,” school spokesman Bruce Parker said in a statement yesterday.
I really hoped that an enterprising reporter would follow up with Bruce Parker or an Episcopal official about this statement. “Pleased to confirm?” I mean, I understand the Episcopal Church is going through problems, but I’m assuming the seminaries have some standards about who makes a good student or not. And I’m pretty sure that by almost any measure, the red bells of alarm are flashing about this man for this vocation.
Yes, there is a huge divide between the Episcopal Church and its dissidents. They have very different approaches to Scripture and what God has to say about sexuality, marriage and what support should be given to neighbors in their spiritual walk. But that’s why I have two problems with reporters’ failure to query Episcopal leadership about this latest news.
On the one hand, despite what the seminary spokesman says and the general lack of outcry from church leaders here, I suspect that Episcopalians who support their church’s drift might not be enthused about having — at best — a known liar and unrepentant oath-breaker as one of their shepherds. A few of my Episcopal friends said this was the last thing they needed or wanted, but no story I read had quotes from average laypeople.
On the other hand, if the seminary spokesman really is pleased to confirm that this man has been accepted to his program, that simply must be looked at in more detail. Is this really where the Episcopal Church is on the eve of Archbishop Peter Akinola’s visit to the United States? And, if so, that’s proof positive that reporters have been doing a crappy job on this larger story by making it be just about how evil those Northern Virginians are.
The Star-Ledger, which I believe broke the story, had better details than most. Reporters Josh Margolin and Jeff Diamant included more of Parker’s statement, such as his claim that McGreevey had met all of the seminary’s admission requirements and that his application was evaluated by a committee of faculty members, students and the Director of Admissions. They don’t have any details on whether there was any kind of morality requirement or even a requirement that one must have been a member of the Episcopal Church in order to begin the ordination process. On that note, the reporters also explained how the discernment process for becoming an ordained priest is lengthy and has several steps, such as discussions at the parish and diocesan level as well as graduation from seminary. That might shed light on why or how McGreevey was accepted.
A few other notes. I thought the Associated Press concisely summed up some of the religious issues at play at the end of its brief report. The New York Post had one article on the issue, which used the McGreevey news as a hook for looking at the larger Anglican divide over homosexuality. In an article about McGreevey’s parish, the Post also had some notable errors and missed opportunities, such as this:
St. Bartholomew’s spokesman Bob Johnson declined to speak directly about McGreevey’s bid for the priesthood, but he said the church first ordained an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, three years ago.
“In the faith, priests can be gay, they can be women, they can be married, they can be divorced,” Johnson said. “We’re viewed as more liberal. We’re welcoming to all.”
Sigh. Gene Robinson was ordained as a priest in the 1970s. He publicly acknowledged his homosexuality in the 1980s, around the same time he divorced his wife. He was elected a bishop — the first openly gay one on election — four years ago. That gay, female and divorced individuals can be priests in the Episcopal Church is not news. But is that really what is newsworthy about McGreevey? That he’s a twice-divorced man now living with a male partner? Are there any other moral issues at play? If not, why not? And why aren’t reporters asking these questions — at scandal rags, no less? A gay Catholic blogger noted some double standards with how McGreevey’s morality problems are treated by the media. He basically says the media give a pass to all of his moral problems because of his big “My truth is that I’m a gay American” speech. The blogger wrote the post over a week before this news broke, and it’s worth reading.
This story provides the perfect opportunity to look at what morality means in the Episcopal Church. It provides an opportunity to shed light on the larger Anglican divide. It also would be great to use it to look at what contrition means in the church’s postmodern environment.