The Sioux Falls Argus Leader published an interview with Bishop John Tarrant just before his consecration last month. There was much that was commendable: reporter Sheri Levisay asked about the real challenges of a widespread diocese, it's small congregations, and of the church's response to high suicide rates and other afflictions on the Tribal Reservations.
But toward its end, the published version of the interview takes a predictable turn:
Question: How does the church deal with internal dissent on this issue, particularly with the African churches?
Tarrant: At the General Convention every three years, sexuality becomes the only issue people are paying attention to, unfortunately. The great question, not only for the Episcopal Church, is: How are we a global presence? We're part of an Anglican Communion. How do we live that part in a very diverse world? How do we honor the diversity, and when we talk about issues like marriage ... there has been image paradigm for marriage for centuries and centuries and centuries in many different cultures. And so when you talk about changing that, that's not a little thing.
Question: What do you think the church needs to do as the culture changes?
Tarrant: The difficulty is, when you look at marriage, for much of history, it had a lot to do with property, and then it came around the protection of children, too. It's not so much about property, and it's not so much, even, about the protection of children anymore. So I think culturally, we need to really look at what is marriage is about. That's what the culture needs to do.]
(Note: Before you start screaming and typing, remember that the media doesn't do a very good job reporting on religion. Visit Get Religion for some great analysis of media misreporting and cluelessness. Understand that reporters - and their editors - decide which snippets of interviews will be published and which will be, um, left out.)
Bishop Tarrant is very conflicted about how the church should respond to homosexuality. During the question and answer gatherings prior to his election, he was unable to state a position when asked about same-sex unions and gay clergy, saying "I don't know where my mind is on this" and "I don't have a sharp answer for this."
But notice how the interviewer (or editors, to be fair) left out whatever Bp. Tarrant had to say about "internal dissent" in the church (which is in the reporter's question). Yes, we get his understanding of the global implications, which is good, but having spoken with the Bishop and heard him speak in other settings, I can tell you that he is very cognizant of the abominable treatment of Episcopalians who hold the traditional Biblical teaching on human sexuality.
The newspaper chooses instead to repeat various phrases asserting that marriage is a "cultural" phenomenon that is always changing, mainly over property entitlements. (The argument confuses the cultural habits of spouse selection and property rights, which do in fact evolve within and across cultures, with the constant Christian teaching that the male-female bond reflects the image of God and is to be honored among all people. At a more common sense level, it is absurd to think that a struggling husband and wife have discussions like, "Whatever shall we do to uphold the social order against those not like us?" Please.)
In other words, the journalists play down John Tarrant's empathy for traditional Christians and play up his familiarity with revisionist arguments - to the point of aligning him as a chaplain to one side.
On November 12, a letter of response appeared in the Argus Leader, taking the published interview at face value:
['Water down the Gospel'
Rev. (sic) John Tarrant, in keeping with the new effort to change the New Testament proclamations regarding marriage, asserts that through much of history it had to do with property and the protection of children.
The implication of his statement implies that we need to redefine marriage, since those functions are not as important anymore. In that marriage was instituted while mankind was tribal and property and the care of children was a mutual affair (sic). It would suggest that marriage between a man and a woman had a broader purpose than property and the care of children (Read Matthew 19:4), and nothing which has transpired since has changed that broader purpose.
Mainline churches will continue to lose membership as they continue to water down the Gospel to gain the approval of popular culture.
The founders of the faith and those that followed went against popular culture and even changed the mindset of the most powerful entity of the ancient world, the Roman Empire, and what had been the enemy of Christianity became its champion.
Daniel Johnson, Watertown]
By seeking the strokes of culture elites, the Church undercuts its own leaders, even moderates like Bp. Tarrant. They must expend excruciating amounts of time and energy answering for a small faction's interests and perceived entitlements. They must ignore or at least render secondary pressing issues among the people they are called to shepherd. They lose relationships - with clergy, lay people and ecumenical neighbors - and gain for the church nothing more than a passing wave from those who despise it.
The main thing to notice in the interview with Bishop Tarrant is that the published version makes the church a chaplaincy to the culture elite. That's what the culture elite wants at best; at worst, it sees the church as a doddering old relative that will soon be gone.
When we bow to the elitists' agenda, we silence our true voice. We completely miss the point of this week's Gospel. Standing on trial before the cultural power brokers, Jesus says, "...my kingdom is not from here... For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."