The brothers Murdoch

NetworkDeansMichael Paulson of The Boston Globe has written one of the most poignant feature stories about the Episcopal Church’s sexuality debate that I have seen in more than 15 years of writing about the topic. In writing about two brothers who are priests, Paulson reveals their deep division on sexuality (“Bill Murdoch calls homosexual activity a sin, while Brian Murdoch calls it a gift”) and persuades the brothers to talk about how they have remained close.

One section near the top of the article is awkward:

The Rev. Bill Murdoch, 58, an Episcopal priest in West Newbury, is so frustrated by the Episcopal Church’s selection of an openly gay bishop that he is bolting and taking his parish with him. At the end of this month, he is to be consecrated a bishop by the Anglican Church of Kenya, and he will return to the North Shore to start a new Kenya-affiliated parish there.

But the Rev. Brian Murdoch, 53, an Episcopal priest in West Roxbury, is not planning to join his brother for the ceremony in Nairobi and is not celebrating his elevation to bishop.

That’s because Brian, as Bill has long known, is gay.

I say the passage is awkward because Brian Murdoch’s sexual orientation is not the reason for Bill Murdoch’s leaving the Episcopal Church or becoming a bishop affiliated with the Anglican Church of Kenya. The brothers do, of course, disagree about whether the Episcopal Church should have consecrated a sexually active gay man as a bishop.

Bill Murdoch casts no aspersions on his brother’s ministry as a priest, telling Paulson via email: “My family and I love Brian and have always been proud of his service to others for the sake of the Gospel and the many, many people Brian has loved in the name of Christ. The pain of our disagreement over this issue will not change my love for him.”

Brian Murdoch raises the question of what his brother would do if Brian and his partner were to attend the consecration and then be imprisoned because homosexuality is illegal in Kenya. An interesting question, that: Does it assume that Kenya would jail two gay men merely for stepping inside its borders?

Despite these arguments with the piece, I commend it as an example of extraordinary reporting on a volatile issue.

Photo: Bill Murdoch speaks while surrounded by his fellow Anglican Communion Network deans. Bishop Robert Duncan, the Network’s moderator, is in the background.

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  • franksta

    Meh. I did have the same question about the reference to Kenya’s anti-sodomy law, but I don’t see the awkardness in the passage you cited. I don’t see any statement or implication that Brian is responsible for Bill leaving TEC or being consecrated in ACK. In fact, the reference to Gene Robinson’s consecration, while necessarily overly simplified, sets the tone for the piece, which makes the clear point that for Bill, it’s not about his brother. I agree it’s good writing overall.

  • Undergroundpewster

    I too enjoyed this piece, although it would have benefited from more quotes from Bill.

  • Douglas LeBlanc


    The awkwardness I’m suggesting is the implication that, because Brian is gay, he necessarily cannot feel happiness about this development in his brother’s life.

    Imagine how strange the assumption would sound from Bill’s side of the fence:

    But the Rev. Bill Murdoch did not attend his brother’s ordination and is not celebrating his ministry as a priest.

    That’s because Bill, as Brian has long known, is not gay.

  • franksta

    I see your point, Douglas. Perhaps Michael Paulson’s writing assumed too much insider-knowledge about “the present situation” in Anglicanism, and used too much shorthand. But I think his piece supported the thesis that Bill doesn’t consider this a personal assault on his brother, but Brian does. Maybe it ain’t “necessarily” so, but in Brian’s case it is. Bill wouldn’t be getting consecrated bishop without leaving TEC, and he wouldn’t have left TEC if there wasn’t a debate about homosexuality currently, and there wouldn’t be a debate about homosexuality without (among other factors) openly gay clergy like Brian. So, it’s understandable that Brian would not celebrate Bill’s consecration, and Paulson does a good job fleshing out why in the subsequent paragraphs. The link is indirect (because the situation is immensely complex), but it is there.