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