Bishop squirms on the hot-seat in Phoenix

Illinois bishop faces challenging audience at talk on same-sex marriage,” Michael Clancy writes for National Catholic Reporter.

And it seems that Bishop Thomas Paprocki was not up to that challenge.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., walked into a beehive when he agreed to speak about same-sex marriage before a small audience in Phoenix over the weekend. But at least the bishop was there, taking the stings.

Paprocki joined Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a longtime advocate for gay and lesbian people, on the stage Friday in front of about 150 people at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ.

The presentation … featured opening remarks from Paprocki and Gramick, then questions from the audience.

Most of those questions, it seems, were directed at the bishop. And he had no answers. Or, rather, he had a lot of answers — contradictory ones, which amounts to the same thing as not having any.

One audience member asked the bishop how he viewed King David’s relationship with two wives if marriage has not changed through history. Paprocki said that was a long time before the Catholic church and said the questioner was arguing for polygamy.

Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s anti-equality message received a warm reception from the audience.

Let’s give Paprocki the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not stupid enough to really believe that “the questioner was arguing for polygamy.” The questioner has simply pointed out a contradiction in the bishop’s argument. Paprocki said marriage has not changed through history and the questioner pointed out that it most certainly had changed over time — that marriage in the Bible was very, very different from marriage today.

The questioner actually underestimates the number of wives David had — he had at least seven, plus at least 10 concubines and one royal bed-warmer. But the point is clear: Marriage for King David did not mean anything like the same thing it means for Bishop Paprocki.

The bishop, having lost that point badly, changes the rules: “Paprocki said that was a long time before the Catholic church.”

OK, fine, let’s go with that. New rule: Marriages from “a long time before the Catholic church” don’t count and we mustn’t refer to them as meaningful models for Catholic marriage. Got it.

Next question:

Another audience member asked about marriage between elderly people who would never have children. Paprocki recommended reading the biblical story of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who got pregnant at an old age.

So much for Paprocki’s new rule. Consistency and logic do not seem to be the bishop’s strong suits.

In any case, it seems that you now have the bishop’s permission to defend the sanctity of marriage by raping your wife’s maidservant. (Or did Paprocki not want us to read that part of “the biblical story of Abraham’s wife, Sarah”?)

Bishop Paprocki’s squirming evasiveness, his shifting appeals to scripture and his logical contradictions were not the worst part of his performance at this event. The worst part was his steadfast refusal to listen. At all.

And that refusal to listen resulted in the silliest thing Paprocki said in Phoenix:

“If there is no moral truth, only alternatives, then everything should be OK,” he said.

“There is no moral truth, only alternatives,” isn’t the other side of Paprocki’s argument. It’s simply his self-serving, inaccurate, willfully ignorant caricature of the opposing side.

Whenever someone says, “I disagree with you, Thomas Paprocki, about a particular moral question,” his brain somehow twists this into “There is no moral truth.”

This is the same game Southern Baptist Bishop Al Mohler regularly plays whenever he encounters anyone with a moral view that differs from his own. Here’s what I wrote earlier this year in response to the Paprockian arrogance of Mohler’s post lamenting “The Marginalization of Moral Argument in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate“:

Al Mohler does not listen.

If he listened, he would understand that a demand for equality is a moral demand. If he listened, he would understand that moral argument hasn’t been marginalized, it has been marshaled against him. There is a moral argument being made, forcefully and repeatedly, and it is an argument that demonstrates the immorality of Al Mohler and other defenders of inequality.

Like Paprocki, Mohler refuses to imagine any possible view of “moral truth” other than his own. Anyone who makes a moral argument challenging his own moral assertions, he claims, must be attacking morality itself. Either you agree with him or else you’re a nihilist. Without Mohler, everything is permitted.


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  • arcseconds

    by ‘former colonies’ I really meant the usual suspects of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. There’s a fair few more former colonies with provinces in the Anglican communion, but they don’t necessarily permit female bishops.

  • arcseconds

    I’m talking mostly about the Anglican Catholic Church.

    Well, don’t! Here in the rest of the world, we don’t care about some meaningless splinter group from the Episcopalians.

    Seriously, though, that explains the confusion, but outside the USA ‘Anglican’ either means the local Anglican church, the Anglican Communion, or the Church of England.

    (just to make matters extra confusing, the Anglican Catholic Church doesn’t appear to be in communion with the Anglican Communion, whereas other Anglo-Catholic dioceses are, and it looks like there are some which splitered off the Anglican Catholic Church to rejoin the Anglican Communion)

    How would you define theologically conservative? I tend to think of
    Catholicism as being that way, because it emphasizes tradition and
    authority at the expense of individual choice and self-determination.

    Theologically conservative Christians believe in God, whereas theologically liberal ones don’t :)

    Slightly less facetiously, it’s a bit difficult to pin down, and of course there’s a spectrum (probably more complicated than a spectrum). Theological conservatives are probably everything you’ve ever thought a theist to be. God is seperate from the universe, is in some sense a person, and can and does intervene in the universe.

    Theological liberals tend to not accept straightforward accounts of miracles, which can even include the Resurrection. God might be treated as a person symbolically or mythically, but they don’t think this talk should be taken too literally. A not uncommon take on God is a pantheist or a panentheist one, where God is seen either as being co-extensive with the Universe, or is constituted in part by the Universe but goes beyond this.

    There are plenty of theological liberals (or progressives – I may be abusing terminology here, who knows) on Patheos. James McGrath is a good example. Spong is probably the arch-liberal theologian (in the sense that he’s the most (in)famous). I recently learnt to my surprise that Martin Luther King was a liberal theologian.

  • Yes, our horribly militant agenda of wanting to be treated with the same dignity and respect as heterosexual cisgender people. I can see how that gets in the way of the Catholic church being welcoming.

    Erm, wait.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks for the explanation. I admit I don’t understand the basis for using the labels conservative and liberal in a theological context. I wasn’t aware that pantheists or panentheists in Christianity were more than an extremely tiny minority.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    I’ve heard many people refer to it as “Philosophical Christianity.”

  • Turcano

    Okay, minor question, but why is that site on a Montenegrin domain?

  • general_apathy

    As far as I understand it, Deism was basically the 18th-century version of atheism—which wasn’t A Thing back then. There was a lot of criticism of the Christian church, but declaring that you didn’t believe in God just wasn’t done.

    So Deism was a great way to avoid trouble before freedom of religion: “Sure, I believe God created the universe, but he didn’t interact with it in any way after that, so it has no impact on my scientific research. Also I reject all religious doctrine.”

  • Carstonio

    Because people from Montenegro can’t have feminist leanings? Wow.

  • OnmykneesforJesus

    Sarah got pregnant because her and her husband had faith in the lord. God can do anything. He can make infertile women pregnant, he can make women pregnant without needing sperm (Hi, Mary!), he could even make a man pregnant.

    So why can’t lesbians and gay men marry? All they have to do is pray to the Lord and he’ll bless their union with children, surely. All the people saying ‘gay couples can’t have children’ just don’t have enough faith in the power of the Lord.

  • Launcifer

    This is wholly irrelevant but, way back in the mists of time, a prefect at my school gave this as his reason why we should have been doing a particular thing. The kicker? He was colour-blind and his shirt wasn’t purple.

  • No idea. I was just hunting for the specific image (since I wasn’t going to go back several weeks through my FB feed) and took the first one I found on Google.

  • I did have to go back and make sure I hadn’t missed that I was reading Onion-style parody because it seemed like maybe his name was a play on ‘Poppycock’

  • It’s more complicated than that; for a lot of them, it wasn’t “Secretly I don’t believe in God, but for appearances sake…”; rather, if you had an 18th century scientific mindset, it just went without saying that there must be some distant First-Cause-Prime-Mover thing; it seemed “cleaner” and more scientific than “There was nothing, and then for no reason, there started being stuff” — they hadn’t gotten far enough to have anything even vaguely resembling a natural scientific model for the absolute beginning of existence, and it would have bothered them on an intellectual level to suppose that this whole system of immutable physical laws governing the corporeal universe would just pop out of nowhere.

    (Here, I point out that it was a devout Catholic who came up with the Big Bang theory, because, atheism having by then become A Thing, the prevailing science of the time rejected that there could be a “beginning of the universe”: that was just crazy talk; the laws of physics are immutable for ever and ever, therefore the universe must, taken as a whole, be solid state, and have existed for an infinite amount of time operating under the same laws always. Only silly religious people and deists would think that the universe could “begin”)

  • ReverendRef

    Well that made me smile first thing in the morning!

  • ReverendRef

    Well I’m sorry to hear that.

    Unfortunately the church (however you define that) seems to be better at driving people away than welcoming them in. Maybe one day we’ll figure out that that wasn’t what we were called to do.

  • Mark Z.

    “Conservative” theology is close to, say, Edmund Burke’s concept of “conservative” thinking: it’s skeptical of innovation. Of course this leads to complicated questions over what exactly is an “innovation”.*

    Generally, here’s how it works: take a statement of doctrine (a creed or catechism) or practice (a liturgy, or even a specific hymn or prayer or ritual action) that’s traditionally accepted in your religious community. Adhering to the traditional understanding of that statement is “conservative”. If you keep the statement, but reinterpret it, that’s “liberal”. (If you reject the statement entirely, that’s “heterodox” for statements of doctrine, or “kids these days and their electric guitars” for liturgy.) A “conservative theologian” is one who takes traditional understandings as normative; a “liberal theologian” is one who insists on the freedom to reinterpret them.

    For example, the Nicene Creed says that Jesus “suffered death and was buried, and on the third day he rose again”. The traditional interpretation of that is that he was dead, and then God miraculously intervened, and he was alive again, in the physiological sense. His decomposition was undone, his heart started again, his brain activity resumed, he started breathing and walking and eating and was otherwise a fully functional human. This could be called a “conservative” view of the resurrection.

    Whereas John Shelby Spong claims that the resurrection of Jesus was not a change of his physical condition, but an ontological act of God that changed the “meaning” of Jesus. So Spong can say he believes in the resurrection, but what he means by that is a reinterpretation of the traditional understanding. That’s a “liberal” view (and an extreme one).

    Now for an edge case: many Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross (either he was never crucified at all, or God essentially faked his death). This would be “liberal” if a Christian said it, but with respect to Islam, it’s “conservative” because that’s been an accepted teaching for more than a thousand years. This is not a matter of degree or relative position–Islam as such is not “more liberal” than Christianity. The axes are pointing in different directions.

    * As well as word games with the labels themselves–for example, Conservative Judaism is called that because it started with the idea that Reform Judaism was going too far, but most Orthodox Jews see it as liberal.

  • Carstonio

    “Insists on the freedom to reinterpret” might be better labeled as progressive. “Liberal” suggests a broader freedom to not just reinterpret traditional understandings but to discard them. Or a reinterpretation with an agenda to loosen the behavioral codes. Even “conservative” might suggest a reinterpretation that tightens the behavioral codes.

  • ortcutt

    When Paprocki says “moral truth” that’s restricted to telling people where sexual organs are allowed to go. In his mind, morality has nothing to do with fairness, justice, and concern for the wellbeing of people who love each other and their children.

  • arcseconds

    ‘Conservative’ should be obvious: it’s sticking to (what are understood to be) traditional, long-standing notions of God. I suppose ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ may have eneded up being informed by the fact they’re often taken to be the antonyms in political contexts (although I’m never going to stop reminding people that ‘liberal’ isn’t used in the same way outside the US).

    However, ‘progressive’ is, I think, also be informed by the idea that theology shouldn’t be stuck in the past, i.e. it should progress just as any other field of intellectual endeavour does.

    As for pantheists and panenthiests, I think there’s a fair few, but they probably number less than the atheists!

    (“No, no no Prime Minister! You can’t be an atheist and draw a salary from the Church of England! The term is ‘modernist’.”)

    We’ve just been having a discussion about this over on McGrath’s blog.

    I mentioned:

    a friend of mine recounted an experience they had in church when the pastor asked the congregation ‘who believes in God? and be honest now’.

    Quite a few hands went up, but a long way short of all.

    In Ian’s reply he said the following:

    [In Ian’s former congregation] no more than 50% of the congregation believed the creed in any straightforward sense.

    I’d be very happy to be a part of a church who’s language reflected the spiritual and human value of its atheists as much as its ardent theists

  • Lorehead

    Probably because their country code is the English word me?

  • Lorehead

    Yesterday in another thread, I brought up the actual history of Catholic marriage, and along the way, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Its canon 50, I think, sheds light on this issue:

    It must not be deemed reprehensible if human statutes change sometimes with the change of time, especially when urgent necessity or common interest demands it, since God himself has changed in the New Testament some things that He had decreed in the Old. Since, therefore, the prohibition against the contracting of marriage in secundo et tertio genere affinitatis and that against the union of the offspring from second marriages to a relative of the first husband, frequently constitute a source of difficulty and sometimes are a cause of danger to souls, that by a cessation of the proibition the effect may cease also, we, with the approval of the holy council, revoking previous enactments in this matter, decree in the resent statute that such persons may in the future contract marriage without hindrance.

    This basically weakens the stricter Medieval definition of incest (which included not just relatives by marriage but godparents and as far out to third cousins) to something closer to what we still have today.

  • Mark Z.

    No. Conservative theology rejects, or at least is skeptical of, new interpretations of doctrine. That’s what makes it conservative.

    It might “tighten the behavioral codes”, in the sense that I think you mean, because it’s about reinforcing the doctrines a religious group has followed in the past, and strict behavioral codes tend to get more relaxed in practice over time. So the conservative Amish are those who take a hard line on the use of new technologies and other adaptations to modernity, and you could see that as a “tighter behavioral code”, I guess.

    But the Amish started as a liberal movement–with strict behavioral codes that mainstream Christianity at the time rejected, notably a blanket prohibition on violence and on loyalty to the secular state. What made them liberal was that they freely reinterpreted the teachings of Jesus without trying to stick to church tradition. (See also the Quakers, the Cathars, etc.)

  • Turcano

    I guess that makes sense. In fact, that makes me wonder why it isn’t seen more often.

  • reynard61

    “Thus they may say they are proud to live in a country that guarantees freedom of speech, but another file holds, ‘My country, love it or leave it.’ The ideas were copied from trusted sources, often as sayings, but the authoritarian has never ‘merged files’ to see how well they all fit together.”

    A better example of this (which I have personally experienced, by the way)
    is someone who, in practically the same breath, will boast about how we’re The Greatest, Most Democratic Nation On Earth with The Best Military, Mom, Apple Pie, etc, etc. but then rant about how Teh Gumment Is Our Oppressor So We Need Moar Gunz, Black Helicopters, Agenda 21, etc., etc.

    As someone recently said: “Wow! Whiplash!”

  • I can never get over that.

    It’s bizarre how it’s almost like they abstract out two totally opposite views of the USA and use each as they see fit, and never bother mapping either onto the real USA.

  • Oh, good heavens. D-X

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Schroedinger’s Country?