What would Markos do?

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Andy Doyle, who became bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas in June, recently granted a substantial interview to Evan Smith of Texas Monthly (free registration required). The conversation rolled along fairly well until Smith raised the delicate question of the Episcopal Church’s decades-long discussion of human sexuality:

Let’s talk about the sexual orientation of clergy and same-sex marriage, which have been quite controversial in the church and the subject of a few stories in the press over the past few years.

When it comes to us, it seems like the media does what the media does. It has to sell its product. I think if we had more free media it might be different, but we don’t.

I would say, Bishop, that when you have congregations splitting off in protest, that’s worthy of reporting, and it has nothing to do with free versus paid media. So, to finish, I’d like to ask you: Do you have a position on these issues?

The Diocese of Texas is very conservative, and it has a very traditional understanding of marriage. I do not see my work as trying to change that. Even though there is a great diversity of points of view on this topic, the people of the diocese will not see changes in how we look at same-sex blessings or unions, nor on the topic of ordination of bishops. …

The thread is so common among bishops of the Episcopal Church that it’s almost a meme: Reporters focus too much on the church’s disputes about sexuality. Some bishops (not Doyle, in this case) even accuse reporters of willful distortion.

Doyle is the first bishop I’ve seen, however, to look toward unpaid media as possibly resolving conflicts between news-minded reporters and PR-minded church leaders.

I’m thankful for Smith’s gracious but firm response, and I would take it further. Quite apart from whether people are leaving, a church ought to expect journalistic interest when it takes steps — incremental or large — toward redefining marriage.

That said, Doyle shows signs of being a great bishop to interview for many years to come. He’s especially good, and speaking from the heart, as he continues answering Smith’s question:

… Now — and this is the important part for me — I grew up in a diverse culture and have friends who are gay and lesbian. The reality of our diocese is that we have gays and lesbians who go to our churches. They find their spiritual journeys entwined with our own in this place. So when I make the statement that things will not change, there is a great deal of pain. I am unwilling to pretend that pain is not there. Where there is love, there is always a great deal of pain, and I love the people of the Diocese of Texas. That love is not a love that is bound by issues of sexuality.

Do you feel compelled by the conservatism of the diocese to preside differently than you’d like to if it were not the diocese’s stated position?

Your question misses the very deepest understanding of the vocation that I have as bishop. I am the individual called forth by the community to guard and protect the faith and to hand the faith on as I have received it.

So your personal point of view doesn’t really matter.

Exactly.

This is a solid and perceptive Q&A, and it’s refreshing to see a bishop thinking theologically in Texas Monthly.

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  • http://mithras.blogs.com Mithras

    I don’t get the title to the post. Markos who?

    • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

      Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, founder of DailyKos.

  • Dave

    a church ought to expect journalistic interest when it takes steps — incremental or large — toward redefining marriage.

    This is a way of framing marriage equity that makes it more radical, therefore more newsworthy. Another, and imho more accurate, frame is that it extends marriage without tinkering with its definition. Legalized polyamory, incest, bestiality and the other conservative parade of horribles would be redefining marriage.

    Getting back to the journalism, Smith is quite right that when congregations are seceding it’s newsworthy, and I tend to agree with him that that’s true for free or paid media. What you can count on the free media to do is for some of it to accurately reflect what the institutions are doing, but you can also count on some of it to distort to the point that the MSM look like a bastion of objectivity.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Dave,

    You brought up the parade of horribles and I did not. I do not believe that parade brings clarity to the discussion.

    I believe my reference to redefining marriage is justified, unless one believes marriage has always been understood as including the union of two men or two women.

  • hoosier

    Rev. LeBlanc,

    Marriage has not “always” been understood as any one thing. Sometimes marriage has been defined as one man and many women, sometimes it’s been defined as one woman and many men, sometimes it’s been defined as the obliteration of the woman as a legal entity.

    I am very uncomfortable with conservatives talking about the “redefinition” of marriage, because usually they, like you in the above comment, imply that marriage has “always” been understood in one way. That is simply not true. While marriage has not “always” been understood as the union of two men or women, neither has it “always” been understood in the way we understand it today.

    Indeed, were we to really probe Americans on what they believe marriage “is” today, I believe we would come up with a bewildering array of definitions, many of them unreconcilable.

    We’ve been redefining marriage for as long as we’ve been marrying. To say that that alone is a reason for press coverage strikes me as rather weak tea.

    • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

      hoosier, my only use of the word always was in response to what Dave wrote. The bulk of your argument rests on your assumptions about what I meant by that. Please consider responding to what I wrote rather than to a strawman.

      On a lighter note: Despite tmatt’s occasional addition of the courtesy title The Rt. Rev., I am not ordained.

  • Larry the Grump Rasczak

    I think it is important to point out here that “free media” exists only in the land of faries, unicorns, free high-quality universal health care, and big rock candy mountains, (which probably explains why the Left is so enamored of it).

    You can’t have media without people (who need to be paid) and bills (electric bills, rent, paper, bandwith, whatever). People who work without pay are called either “volunteers” (which are few) or “slaves” (which are illegal), and taking things from people without their consent is called either “theft”, “taxation”, or “nationalization” depending on who is doing the taking. Therefore every media operation needs money if it is going to work.

    This means either your operation is totally volunteer and subsists totally off of donations, or it is self supporting through the sale of adversising and/or subscriptions, or it eats from the government feed trough (like the BBC and NPR).

    If your operation is totally volunteer, and you operation is larger than the 8th grade school newspaper, then the donors call the tune. (Though the internet may be changing that paridigm). If you are government subsidized, then the bureaucrats who dole out the tax dollars call the tune, and if you are self supporting the adverstisers call the tune.

    And don’t pretend that it is othewise; I’ve heard NPR give glowing reviews to a movie, interview its director on an “unrelated topic” usually having to deal with film history, and then announce that their coverage has been made possible by a grant from that very same movie ( always conincidentally “opening in theaters this Friday”) at the next commercial break.

    The degree of editorial freedom ANY media outlet has is directly related to how easily it can replace it’s current revenue stream, should it need to do so.

    If the “commercial” media runs a story and they loose a sponsor…well as long as they retain the audience they can find another sponsor and survive. This is why Howard Stern could be a morally reprehensible reprobate and still survive; even after he lost Sam Adams Beer as a sponsor. People (though I have no idea why) listened to him. Even Opie and Anthony are still working (though under different names IIRC). Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Dr. Laura don’t want to loose their sponsors, but they can afford to loose sponsors should they have to; PROVIDED they retain their audience. As long as they have an audience, they can find more sponsors. In short, commercial media can survive if they bite the hand that feeds them, as long as they retain their audience…(or perhaps the audience IS the hand that feeds them if you want to look at it a little differently).

    Free Media, by contrast, can afford to bite every hand EXCEPT the ones that feed it. They can afford to offend, upset, decieve, even obvioulsy lie to their audience, PROVIDED they keep the funding donors/bureaucrats happy. It is a lot harder for them to replace donors than it is for “commercial media” to find new sponsors; and it is de facto impossible to replace government funding. (Even Pacifica would have trouble if they started openly taking grants from the Governments of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.)

    The problem is the hands that feed them are either donors (i.e. either big foundations or big corporations) that have political interests (if they didn’t they wouldn’t be donors now would they?)… or the government which IS the political interest incarnate.
    (No, despite what they tell you at pledge time, your individual $25 a month is not what keeps NPR alive. Allstate, Joan Krock, Merck, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, all have a lot more to do with it than you and your tote bag).

    So the point is, the “free” media is a lot less free to report what they want and say what they want, push come to shove, than those horrible people that “sold out” to their advertisers.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Marriage has always been defined as a heterosexual union. Even with many different variations on that theme — polygamy, arranged marriage, etc. — it’s always been a heterosexual union.

    Pretending otherwise is silly.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Also, “defined” isn’t a dirty word and neither is “redefinition.”

    Changing the institution of marriage to include same-sex unions is a redefinition. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing.

  • Dave

    Doug and Mollie, what you are calling the definition of marriage, I am calling its scope. YMMV.

    • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

      That’s a helpful clarification, Dave. Thanks for offering it.

  • dalea

    From my perspective, the Rev Andy should be called out; he favors aparthied in the provision of governmental services. His call for

    Segregation today
    Segregation tomorrw
    Segregation forever

    should be oppossed. Even more galling, his call comes from someone who commands enormous tax payer subsidized resources. Why should gay people be forced to subsidize their own oppression?

  • hoosier

    My point, Mr. LeBlanc, is that claiming that advocating for the redifinition of marriage is not, in and of itself, anything new, and therefore isn’t necessarily newsworthy. We’ve been redefining marriage for as long as we’ve been marrying. If you want to argue that this particular redifinition of marriage warrants press coverage, I’d have to agree with you, but simply redefining marriage does not. I was responding to your original statement that

    “a church ought to expect journalistic interest when it takes steps — incremental or large — toward redefining marriage.”

    I simply don’t think that’s true. First of all, any attempt to define a marriage would, of necessity, be an attempt to redefine marriage for some people, because we don’t all agree on what the definition of marriage is. Now even if Mollie is right that marriage has always been between opposite sex people (how she knows about the definition of marriage in human prehistory I don’t know, but let’s assume she does), that doesn’t mean that any and all redifinitions of marriage, in some other context, necessitate journalistic interest. Your statement to the contrary is overbroad, and it seems intended to cast the debate over same sex marriage in the most radical light.

    • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

      Thanks for this new comment, hoosier. I’ll say you’re wrong about my intentions and leave it at that.

  • danr

    hoosier, the greatest irony in your comments is your “redifinition” of the spelling of redefinition. :)

    “Indeed, were we to really probe Americans on what they believe marriage “is” today, I believe we would come up with a bewildering array of definitions, many of them unreconcilable.”

    Have you conducted such a probe? Your supposition is equally (if not much more) speculative than Doug’s far more reasonable supposition that, with exceptions, there is a worldwide historical common understanding of marriage as comprising opposite-sexed partners. The context of his comment made clear to me that was what he was referring to.

    Furthermore, Doug’s comment was that a church (as opposed to random Joe/Jane off the street) ought to expect journalistic interest when redefining marriage. As most people are aware of the Christian church’s historic position on marriage as one man/one woman, most would consider any redefinition of such to indeed be newsworthy.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    The more fundamental problem with even talking about “defining” marriage is that the conflict between defining it prescriptively and defining it descriptively isn’t being really confronted. From a descriptive perspective, saying that “marriage has not “always” been understood as any one thing” is inadequate, because it has also not been understood as an arbitrary thing either. Perhaps the biggest religion hole in talking about homosexual marriage is how conspicuously it is grounded in a Christian ontology; the whole family-forming aspect that figures centrally in every other culture hardly appears in the discussion.

  • Steve

    Not so Mollie. In the 342 AD, the Roman Empire decreed in the “Lex Scantinia” that gay marriage was illegal (as part of it merging with the Catholic Church). Before then, marriages were not defined as being specific to opposite-sex relationships, and in fact, the church had no say on marriages to begin with. That’s not to say that opposite-sex marriages weren’t overwhelmingly more common – for sure, after they are legal here for 50 years they will still be some 95% of all marriages at least. However, in the time of the Roman Republic, Cicero, Juvenal, and Martial all refer to marriages between people of the same gender having taken place. It is on the record and it did happen. Gay marriage was also spoken of historically in the Greek empire (but I think the Roman example suffices to prove the point). Christians are the ones who redefined marriage, we are simply setting the record straight (no pun intended). Just because it happened 1300 years ago doesn’t make it any less true. And it is to be noted that the fall of the Roman Empire occurred only *after* gay marriage was banned.

  • Steve

    Sorry, 1700 years ago. :-)

  • danr

    “And it is to be noted that the fall of the Roman Empire occurred only *after* gay marriage was banned.”

    The fall of the Roman Empire also occurred only after crucifixion was banned. Not sure what your point is there.

  • dalea

    What Markos has done at DailyKos

    http://www.dailykos.com/

    is set up a companion board to discuss religion called Street Prophets

    http://www.streetprophets.com/

    Both have the same format and to a large extent function as Free Media. There is content from the FrontPagers on the left column and reader generated material on the right. Works pretty well, the FP’s are DKos are paid now. Funds are generated from memberships, advertizing and contributions. DKos has over 200,000 registered commentators. Here is one of the recent religious postings:

    http://www.streetprophets.com/storyonly/2009/8/4/16531/90787

  • dalea

    Here is a DKos diary of a breaking story, the shootings today in Pittsburgh. Note how the comments expand on the story.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/4/752536/-6-dead-in-Mass-Shooting-at-Gym-outside-Pittsburgh

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Steve,

    This is major news. Same sex marriage existed until outlawed 1700 years ago? By all means, do pass along some links of impartial sources.

    Also, are you sure you’re not using the term “marriage” where you might mean another term?

  • dalea

    Here is the Wikipedia posting on this subject, it includes a useful list of references:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage

    Article: http://jfh.sagepub.com/cgi/content/short/32/4/343

    This has been a subject for scholars who have been publishing the evidence for about 20 years. Several Native American tribes had same sex marriages which were recognized by the US Government in the 19th century.

  • bob

    The usual references to the late, sadly HIV-addled mind of John Boswell. Sigh. Any “scholarly” research that *hasn’t* been on the remainder table at Barnes & Noble for the last decade? Wikipedia is also good for extensive articles on crop circles, UFO’s and debunking moon landings. While you’re at it, the Da Vinci Code gives important information on Christian history we might have missed. Dalea is a busy researcher!

  • Steve

    Markos of Daily Kos is an open and avowed atheist. He wouldn’t do anything godly or even remotely close to it.

  • str

    Steve,

    “In the 342 AD, the Roman Empire decreed in the “Lex Scantinia” that gay marriage was illegal (as part of it merging with the Catholic Church).”

    Nonsense. That law was passed in either the 3rd or the 2nd century BC. There might be a different law passed in 432 AD but even that was not concerned with any supposed homosexual marriage.

    (The date of the actual makes your snippy remark about the fall of the Empire extremely ridiculous.)

    It did concern sexual behaviour among free men (as opposed to slaves).

    There never was any homosexual marriage in the Roman Empire. Sure there was homosexual behaviour (which however was seen as improper among Romans) but never any marriage or even any marriage-like ceremony or union.

    And of course Empire and Church never “merged”.

    “However, in the time of the Roman Republic, Cicero, Juvenal, and Martial all refer to marriages between people of the same gender having taken place.”

    Any evidence for that? Any examples? I dare you!

    “Gay marriage was also spoken of historically in the Greek empire”

    There never existed a Greek Empire. And homosexuality is overstated among the Greeks, who condoned certains forms of it – forms that can also be defined as pederasty. And of course, even the Greeks did not have any homosexual marriages.

    So much for your setting the record “straight” (no pun intended)!

  • Julia

    Here’s a collection of relevant laws from the late Republic and the Empire with some comments and footnotes.

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/just-novels.html

  • bob

    To quote Halsall is to quote Boswell. Every bit as reliable, same axe to grind.

  • str

    Julia,

    there is absolutely zero in these sources (of which none are from the Republic or even the Principate – all are very late, Christian Emperors) even touching a supposed homosexual “marriage”.

    I don’t know whether Halsall has an axe to grind or not – but if he has it would go do demonstrate that Steve’s proclamations above were as bogus as can be!

    The bottom line is: the was no homosexual marriage in the Roman Empire at any time, nor was there any elsewhere until (supposedly) recently.