Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My View on a Facebook Posting

One of my most memorable professors at the University of Missouri was Dr. Don Ranly. He was the perfect picture of "professor"with his grayish-white beard and mustache and his authoriative delivery of his lectures in my Journalism 300 course. This was one of the pre-requistite classes designed to weed out those second semester sophomores who aspired to enter the famed School of Journalism. We had to pay attention, do as he said, and pass J-300 to fulfill our dreams of J-School. To this day, I still remember one of Dr. Ranly's most famous statements. It was to answer the question: What is News?

"News is the current reasoned reflection of the day's events."

For my career as a journalist, marked by more awards than I can count or remember at this point, Dr. Ranly's succinct definition was a touchstone to guide me as I strived to do my part to serve the public radio listening audience of Florida. I also had my scroll, handed to me at graduation, of Walter Williams' Journalist's Creed to remind me that my job meant that I was in a position of public trust and to not abuse this trust as I went about presenting "the current reasoned reflection of the day's events."

There are days when I wonder what the hell has happened to my once beloved profession. I had one of those yesterday.

The medium was Facebook. The text was a posting by a friend who now serves as an editor at the Tallahassee Democrat, the only daily newspaper in the capital city. She was sharing what had run on the op-ed page of the paper. It was a column by a local minister decrying the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality.

Such an opinion piece would not be so unusual for this city. I wouldn't agree with it and it would bother me to have yet-another Christian getting a column to rail about gay people. What was unusual, and why it more than bothered me, was that this was no run-of-the-mill ranting pastor. This was Fr. Eric Dudley of St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish which had its beginning in an act of spiritual violence committed against St. John's Episcopal Church. Fr. Dudley, with all of the priests, most of the vestry, and several of the wealthier members of the congregation, announced at the 9am service on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005, that they were leaving St. John's and walking down the street to begin a new church affiliated with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). He invited people to join him as he went out the door. And those who didn't were left with no priests, no lay governance, and in shock, hurt, anger, and disbelief.

Father Dudley's decision to do this act of rebellion on a Sunday morning came from his almost pathological hatred of the Episcopal Church and its decision to consecrate Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. He had been in the newspaper and on TV speaking out against Bishop Robinson. And he started having cottage meetings, six months prior to the big walk out, to see who might be willing to follow him. Declaring those who stayed "unorthodox," he effectively shook the dust of the Episcopal Church off his feet and left. On the Christian Sabbath day.

What's more: St. Peter's is affiliated with the Church of Uganda, which has been a participant in promoting the passage of laws in that country that criminalize homosexuality.

The timing of this op-ed piece was curious. The Episcopal Church has just finished its General Convention where it voted overwhelmingly to offer trial marriage liturgies for use by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. In a move of pastoral generosity, the Convention also made room for theological disagreement, so that no bishop or priest has to marry a couple if they don't want to do so; however, the bishops must make provisions to find a way for a lesbian or gay couple to access the marriage rite with another diocese. It appears Florida will be one of those opting out.

None of this history, or corresponding current state of affairs, appeared in Dudley's piece or in the newspaper. Instead, all the average reader saw was a man in a clergy collar, talking about God's intentions for creation as "one man and one woman" and asking for lesbian and gay people to respect him and his church's position to continue denying that our marriages are valid.

But for those of us who do know this history, and particularly for those of us who are LGBTQ or allies and know this about the author, to see this in a newspaper with no additional comment or corresponding "counter-point" from a member of the Christian clergy was appalling.

My newspaper friend informed me this piece was unsolicited. As I noted to my friend, allowing this unsolicited piece to run without an opposing opinion is akin to having a fan of the New York Yankees offer a commentary on the 2004 Boston Red Sox win of the World Series. Or--to put it in purely local terms--giving a UF Gator fan free space to offer an opinion on the FSU Seminoles. The fact that it was not even a piece the newspaper requested, and they printed it any way, opens them up to other questions: will an atheist get to offer commentary on Easter? Can a neo-Nazi decide that at times when Jews are remembering the Holocaust he should submit a piece to the paper to explain why it's all a big lie?

Answer: of course not! And yet there are lots of atheists in our community. And there are people who hold anti-Semitic views in our society as well. By the logic of the Tallahassee Democrat, we should open the editorial pages to those viewpoints, too, without any counterpoint. Printing an unsolicited piece by Father Eric Dudley...especially given the timing with the actions at the Episcopal Church's General Convention...was simply wrong. There is no defense for this. The ethic of public trust and presenting "a current reasoned reflection of the day's events," especially when dealing with a current events topic on an editorial page, calls for not accepting just anybody's opinion piece, but putting some thought and planning into the presentation. That's called being responsible with this public trust.

The paper is going to run a My View piece answering Dudley's theological arguments to support denying recognition of married same-sex couples. The rabbi of Temple Israel, Jack Romberg, was good enough to respond, and he has and has done what he has done before: explain the Hebrew Scriptures to a Christian audience who keep referring to them to back up what they think God intends for humanity. Jews have spent a whole lot more time on Genesis than most Christians ever will.

Too bad the local Episcopal priests aren't the ones answering Dudley. They might tell him and us about Jesus and the most extravagant and liberating Love that rocks the world.


Phoebe Mcfarlin said...

Thank you. Looking forward to your op-ed in the local rag.

SCG said...

Thanks, Phoebe. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not going to submit this to the newspaper for their consideration. They wanted a "My View" on Eric's view, not a my view on their abdication of responsible journalism.

Wayne Helmly said...

But what's to stop you from writing a Letter to the Editor? After all, that's basically all the ACNA bigot did.

SCG said...

I was just thinking that's what I might do, Wayne. :-)