April 30, 2015 Length: 47:44
In this special edition of Ancient Faith Presents, we hear two timely interviews related to same-sex marriage. They both discuss the same topic: an Orthodox priest who will no longer sign marriage licenses issued by his state. Find out why as Kevin Allen interviews Fr. Patrick Reardon, followed by another interview with Terry Mattingly conducted by a Lutheran radio program (Issues, Etc.).
Hello. This is John Maddex. And today on Ancient Faith Radio, we’re bringing you two timely interviews on one subject. The first one features our own Kevin Allen, speaking with Orthodox priest Fr. Patrick Reardon. Fr. Patrick was in the news recently regarding a decision he made to no longer sign marriage licenses in his home state of Illinois. The reason for this is the decision by the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kevin gives us the background on this issue in his opening remarks before the interview.
Following this 20-minute interview, we want to listen to a recorded interview, which we are using by permission, from the Lutheran Public Radio Network and their talk show, Issues, Etc. They’re interviewing Terry Mattingly, a syndicated columnist and director of the Washington Journalism Center. He is also an Orthodox Christian. But first, we begin with Kevin Allen.
Mr. Kevin Allen: This is Kevin Allen for Ancient Faith Radio. Currently 37 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States now recognize same-sex marriage, and that represents about 74% of all states. However, the legal status of same-sex marriage remains in a state of flux, and has not been ultimately decided. All 50 states have court cases pending on this issue. On November 6, 2014, a federal appeals court judge in the Sixth U.S. Circuit upheld four states’ bans on same-sex marriage. The opinion upholds bans in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, and this decision to uphold these states’ bans on same-sex marriage was the first by a federal appeals court. All other circuit courts prior to and subsequent to this ruling overturned state bans against same-sex marriage, whether they were enacted legislatively or by popular vote.
Well, now the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the four cases on whether it’s constitutional for states to prohibit same-sex marriage and whether states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state. In fact, today, as we’re recording, on April 28, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments and is expected to make a decision in June of 2015. And the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States will soon determine the legality of same-sex marriage in the United States. A federalization of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court obviously presents potential problems, especially for religious institutions and their clergies, whose religious beliefs and doctrines define marriage exclusively as between one man and one woman.
Today I am speaking with a veteran priest of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago and respected Old and New Testament scholar and author: Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. His state of Illinois is one of the eleven states that has legislated same-sex marriage. Fr. Patrick recently made a bold and possibly groundbreaking decision which has garnered media attention both within and outside the Orthodox Church. In this interview, we’ll be discussing this issue and why he made the decision he did, and what its consequences might be. Fr. Patrick Reardon, thank you for joining me today on Ancient Faith Radio.
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon: My pleasure.
Mr. Allen: Fr. Patrick, you recently wrote this in your church bulletin, and this went viral:
Because the state of Illinois, through its legislature and governor’s office, has now redefined marriage, marriage licenses issued by agencies of the state of Illinois will no longer be required or signed for weddings here at All Saints in Chicago.
So my first question is: Does this decision of yours, practically and legally speaking, mean that you will no longer perform civil marriages in your parish, but only sacramental marriages recognized by the Orthodox Church?
Fr. Patrick: That’s correct.
Mr. Allen: Interesting. Now, you wrote, or you were reputed to have written, that you didn’t want to put your people in a tough spot, but doesn’t your decision practically mean that those couples who want to be married in your parish must now seek separate civil marriage at the city or county level to obtain legal marital status and marriage licenses?
Fr. Patrick: No, it doesn’t at all. Their activity will be exactly what it was if I hadn’t made the decision. They’re going to submit themselves to the authority of state with respect to a contract. I simply will no longer be the agent of that contract. They’re in the same moral situation. I, however, if I blessed a marriage, signing a contract from the state of Illinois, then I am an agent of that state—and I cannot do that.
Mr. Allen: Because of theological reasons, because of conscience reasons, because of…?
Fr. Patrick: Ultimately, theological reasons, and conscience, of course. Ultimately, theological reasons. The state of Illinois has usurped the place of God. God made marriage. God defines marriage, and the state of Illinois has stepped in and redefined marriage, and that is idolatry, and I won’t be party to it.
Mr. Allen: But doesn’t that mean that, though, a couple wanting to get married at All Saints will have to go through two processes where before they only had to go through one?
Fr. Patrick: This is the case in almost every Orthodox country. If you go to the Eastern Bloc, Eastern Europe, the priest blesses a marriage only if there’s been a civil—a civil whatever they do down at the courthouse.
Mr. Allen: Oh, is that right? I didn’t know that.
Fr. Patrick: Yes, yes.
Mr. Allen: Oh, interesting!
Fr. Patrick: There’s nothing new in what I’m doing.
Mr. Allen: Interesting. It was new in this country… or may be new. You may have broken some new ground here.
Fr. Patrick: I have that impression, yes.
Mr. Allen: We’ll talk a little bit about that in a minute. The state legislature and the governor of Illinois, Fr. Patrick Reardon, signed the Same-Sex Marriage Bill into law in 2013. You’ve explained some of your reasons for this decision, but I wonder why now, in 2015, did you make this decision as opposed to when it was first legislated?
Fr. Patrick: I had to think the thing through. I’m not that smart. It took me two years to figure this out.
Mr. Allen: So you weren’t sure how widespread perhaps this phenomenon would be?
Fr. Patrick: I really wasn’t sure what my moral obligation was, but I’ve only done one or two marriages since that decision of the legislature. But it became very clear to me. I also held off announcing this decision. I made the decision quite some months ago, but I held off announcing the decision because I did not want to preempt what might be a statement from the hierarchy. But since I don’t anticipate a statement from the hierarchy any time soon, I decided to go on ahead on my own.
Mr. Allen: Hmm. I wonder if part of your decision-making was because refusing to perform same-sex marriages, as an agent of the state of Illinois, would potentially make you vulnerable, or the parish vulnerable, to legal action of discrimination by the state or individual plaintiffs.
Fr. Patrick: That’s almost certainly the case, but I did not make my decision on that basis at all. I was not trying to protect myself.
Mr. Allen: So that really wasn’t the part…
Fr. Patrick: No, not a bit. Not a bit.
Mr. Allen: Okay. You know, some listening might say, “Oh all this is great and so on, but it sounds like a political statement or a culture wars activist position.” Is this how you regard this in some form?
Fr. Patrick: It is certainly a political statement. It’s first of all a theological question. But to divorce theology from politics is bogus. There’s no way to speak about God and the kingdom of God without making a political statement. As I told the people last Sunday, when we speak to the world, we can expect the world to cross-examine us.
Mr. Allen: Especially in today’s world.
Fr. Patrick: Yes.
Mr. Allen: You can barely tell someone you’re a Christian without them asking, “What do you feel about same-sex marriage?” It’s almost like the litmus test for secular…
Fr. Patrick: And I’m quite prepared to answer that. It makes no difference at all what I feel about same-sex marriage; it’s a contradiction in terms, and these things are decided by the creating hand of God. It has nothing to do with Pat Reardon’s opinions or certainly not Pat Reardon’s feelings.
Mr. Allen: I’m curious. I know that this is speculative, but I’d be interested in your prediction on whether you think the Supreme Court of the United States, which is, as I mentioned in the prelude, is hearing oral arguments today on [the] pro and con of same-sex marriage—I wonder if you feel if they’re going to rule in favor of same-sex marriage, and whether it will then become federal law.
Fr. Patrick: I honestly know. There’s no way to know. The activity of the Supreme Court in recent years does not make me optimistic on this point.
Mr. Allen: In fact, six days after the Sixth Circuit Court approved the state bans in the four states that I mentioned, six days later, on November 12, 2014, the Supreme Court lifted their hold on same-sex marriages in the state of Kansas. Thus, in my opinion, kind of showing their hand on where they may be going.
Fr. Patrick: That could well be the case.
Mr. Allen: But we obviously don’t know. If the Supreme Court approves same-sex marriage, and if it’s federalized, what do you see as the potential or likely consequences for churches who, again, as you have done on a personal level, refuse to perform them?
Fr. Patrick: Well, I don’t think it makes much difference how this affects churches. If the Supreme Court makes this decision, it’s the end of Western civilization.
Mr. Allen: Well, that’s one answer, but the other one is on a practical level, what are you going to do as a pastor or a member of a church that doesn’t agree? Do you think that they might lose their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status if they don’t go along with what becomes federal law?
Fr. Patrick: Kevin, we’re dealing with the ninth plague of Egypt. The darkness has fallen over the whole earth. I’m not going to worry about tax exemptions!
Mr. Allen: I’m wondering if the approach you’ve taken is the approach that many other churches are going to have to take, that is, getting out of the civil wedding business, as it has been called by some.
Fr. Patrick: It took me two years to figure this out for myself. I’ll give everybody else some chance to work it through.
Mr. Allen: Yeah. I wonder, though, if they’re going to find a loop-hole by saying something like—again, this is all speculation—by saying, “If you don’t perform marriages, you’re really not a church.”
Fr. Patrick: [Laughter]
Mr. Allen: And therefore…
Fr. Patrick: Oh, there may be people who say that, of course, but I don’t think we should let anybody else define what the Church is.
Mr. Allen: I’ve not heard that our Antiochian primate, our national leader, Metropolitan Joseph, specifically say or write that clergy should refuse, as you’ve done, signing or requiring marriage licenses in states that have legalized same-sex marriage, although he only supports traditional marriage, we know that. Did you make this decision, Fr. Patrick Reardon, on your own, or in consultation with your bishop?
Fr. Patrick: No, I made the decision on my own, but I fully expected, just as a reasonable matter, I expected the full support of the hierarchy, and in fact my local bishop, Bishop Anthony, called me immediately and expressed his support for this.
Mr. Allen: Oh, he did?
Fr. Patrick: He did.
Mr. Allen: Okay. Are you aware of any other Orthodox clergy—you don’t have to name them, of course—who have made a similar decision or are considering following your lead?
Fr. Patrick: I don’t know of another clergyman of any branch—Jewish, Christian, any—I don’t. As far as I know, I’m the only clergyman in the United States that’s done this. Now, there may be others, but I don’t know about them.
Mr. Allen: Well, according to the post by Terry Mattingly, in Get Religion, he mentioned that in First Things, there was a petition in which 433 or so clergymen of various Christian groups, and some laity, signed a petition saying that they would be out of the civil marriage business as a result of this growing phenomenon of 75%...
Fr. Patrick: I’ve read that as well, but that was a resolve that these clergymen made rather than a decision that they’ve enacted.
Mr. Allen: Okay. I just want to mention a couple things, Father, and then feel free to comment. In a LifeWay Research [poll], because you’re not alone on this, 49% of Americans agreed that religious weddings should not be connected to the state’s definition and recognition of marriage. About one half of Americans agree that church-state separation should apply to weddings. 6 in 10 Americans believe the government should not define or regulate marriages. And more than a third of Americans say that clergy should get out of the civil marriage business. So you’re not really swimming against the stream in terms of what your decision…
Fr. Patrick: Oh, on the contrary. I find myself well within the stream, which makes me suspicious. As a Christian, I would expect to be bucking the trend, but here it seems to me I’m flowing with them.
Mr. Allen: How have your parishioners and your congregation as a whole responded to this decision?
Fr. Patrick: It’s been suggested within the parish council that the parish council itself issue some sort of formal statement, saying that this will be the policy at All Saints Church. I have its complete support at our parish.
Mr. Allen: What’s ironic is that, although Orthodox Christian tradition does not support same-sex relations, and therefore, obviously marriage, in the 2008 Pew Research Poll, which was called the U.S. Landscape of Religion, only 30% of the Orthodox polled agreed with the statement that homosexuality should be discouraged by society.
Fr. Patrick: It’s rather a discouraging statistic. I’m not sure what to say about it, except we’ve not done a good job in catechizing our people.
Mr. Allen: I agree, both coming in and as continuing adult catechism. By the way, this response of 30% of Orthodox was the lowest of any group aggregated by Pew. 40% of the national average agreed with the statement; 45% of Catholics agreed, and 61% of Evangelicals agreed, only 30% of Orthodox did. So we’re kind of at the bottom of the barrel.
Fr. Patrick: Well, yes, we are. That should be very disturbing to the leadership of the Church.
Mr. Allen: Do you think, based on those polling results, Fr. Patrick Reardon, that there might be opposition by Orthodox to an official refusal by our hierarchs if they decided to ban same-sex marriages and pull out of civil marriages, if it’s legally established by the Supreme Court?
Fr. Patrick: That’s speculative, and that could very well be the case. I know enough Orthodox Christians to know that not all of them are Orthodox with respect to the structure of sexuality.
Mr. Allen: Sadly, I must say that we didn’t poll very well with regard to abortion, either. Only 30% of Orthodox polled—that’s only three out of ten—agreed with the statement “Abortion should be illegal in all or almost all cases.” So I think we have some educating and catechizing to do.
Fr. Patrick: Oh, it’s much more radical than that. The tendency among Orthodox, even Orthodox theologians, to accept, for example, the entire culture of contraception, which puts a barrier between sexuality and re-creation—that’s the initial step. As soon as sexuality is divorced from the creative act of God, as soon as God’s creative act is cut out of human sexuality, we’ve already gone down the wrong path. It just depends how far down you want to go. The use of contraceptives, which I believe is deeply immoral, has no support in holy Scripture or in the Fathers of the Church, is not quite so “icky” as homosexuality, and it’s that sociological “ick” factor that simply slows down the polling.
Mr. Allen: Did you ever, in all your years, think that we would come to a place where we would be dealing with this issue of…
Fr. Patrick: No.
Mr. Allen: ...same-sex marriage in this country?
Fr. Patrick: I didn’t believe it five years ago. No.
Mr. Allen: Yeah, things have really, really changed in the last five or six years, haven’t they?
Fr. Patrick: They deteriorated.
Mr. Allen: Father, as we come to a close, are there any final thoughts or comments on this situation and/or your decision that you’d like to communicate to our Ancient Faith Radio listeners?
Fr. Patrick: Yes. I really do see this decision of mine as directed against idolatry. Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century, said that there are three forms of idolatry. One is the cultural or poetic; it has to do with idolatry within recreation, the arts, and so forth. The other is philosophical, philosophic idolatry: the gods concocted by man’s speculation. And the third is political: the demonisms inherent in the political order, or at least demonisms to which the political order is especially prone. Tertullian says the most dangerous of these, the most serious of these, is political idolatry, because it carries the sword. And that, I believe, is the most important consideration in this matter.
Someone asked me, somebody in my parish asked me; he said, “What do you think? You think this is worse than abortion?” I said, “Yes, it is.” See, abortion is simply the murder of human beings.
Mr. Allen: Pretty bad in itself.
Fr. Patrick: Very bad, very bad. This question is the restructuring of the created order! See, one is a violation of the commandment not to commit murder; the other is a violation of the first commandment. “I am the Lord thy God. Nobody else.” Certainly not the state.
One thing about political ideology, Kevin, is it tends toward totalitarianism—, and I certainly see that in current American culture. The government has more and more say over every last aspect of human life, even our personal lives. This business of keeping the government out of the bedroom, that is so hypocritical. The government is already in the bedroom. The government has already told you about taking the label off your mattress—you can’t do that. The government is already there. The government is in your bathroom: how many gallons of water that can be used for a flush. The government is absolutely everywhere. It is one of the qualities of an idolatrous government that it becomes more and more totalitarian.
Mr. Allen: Well, on that note, Father, thank you, Fr. Patrick Reardon, for your courage on making this decision and for taking the time to discuss this with us on Ancient Faith Radio.
Fr. Patrick: I am glad to do it, but courage has nothing to do with it. It’s simple truth.
Mr. Allen: This is Kevin Allen, reporting.
Our thanks to Kevin Allen for this informative interview. Now we listen to the interview between Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilken and journalist Terry Mattingly for their take on Fr. Patrick Reardon’s decision.
Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc.: Welcome back to Issues, Etc. I’m Todd Wilken. I’ve presided at dozens of weddings in the last 25 years, and sometimes people are surprised to learn what a handshake kind of thing this is for a Christian clergyman and the state. There’s no registration; there’s no paperwork. What happens is people come with their marriage license that they have procured from the state, from the country in which they’re getting married. They bring it to the pastor, the pastor signs it. You know the pastor doesn’t really have to be qualified. You could be pastor, priest, rabbi, judge, or clerk; if you’re you’re out on the high seas, ship captain. The pastor simply has to have an R-e-v in front of his name and he could have written that R-e-v himself, and the state will take his signature on the marriage license as a witness to a lawful marriage.
There is an Orthodox priest of some repute, Patrick Henry Reardon, in the Chicago area, who has decided as a matter of conscience and his theology of marriage, that he simply cannot either require or sign Illinois marriage licenses, now that, he says, that would require him to redefine marriage. He’s not getting out of the marriage business. He’s simply not going to do the state’s paperwork when it comes to marriages. Parishioners are free to do that if they want to, or not.
Now, this is kind of an interesting solution. How would the media cover this as they begin to cover this story? Joining us to talk about this Orthodox priest’s refusal to require or sign marriage licenses in the state of Illinois: Terry Mattingly, regular guest, director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, author of the weekly On Religion column for the Universal Syndicate, and founder and editor of GetReligion.org. Terry, welcome back to Issues, Etc.
Mr. Terry Mattingly: Glad to be here.
Rev. Wilken: Why has Fr. Reardon decided to do this now?
Mr. Mattingly: I think there’s several layers to that question, so let’s go ahead with the most obvious one first. The main thing is that he’s in Illinois and that he’s actually in a state that, like so many of our states now, either by court action or by ballot or whatever, now has legal same-sex marriage, which means the actual definition of marriage represented in that state contract, in that state document, has changed. And that put him in the position, he felt, of cooperating with something that he considered evil.
So you have the fact that he’s in Illinois. In other words, if he was in Texas right now, he might have different options, in a different state of the Union, but he also knows that we’re all watching next week as the U.S. Supreme Court begins to decide whether to take this national all at once, at which point he would argue, and a lot of other clergy would argue, that every leader of a congregation in America who does weddings is now going to face that same decision.
The fact that he’s Orthodox, in this case is important in the sense that he’s a part of a church that has 2,000 years of sacramental theology attached to marriage, and that’s, quite frankly—it’s not that a lot of Protestant churches don’t believe that marriage is holy and whatever, but they’re not sacramental churches with a consistent narrative of redemption in the sacraments, an action of God in the sacraments. So he’s got a heavier and more intense theological question handed to him, both by his tradition and, frankly, by his vows as a priest.
Rev. Wilken: He has somewhat threaded the needle here. A lot of talk has been bouncing around in all kind of clergy circles of, to put it for another term, getting out of the marriage business. We’re going to have to get out of the marriage business, stop solemnizing marriages. He simply said, “I’m not going to require a license or, if someone puts one on the desk, I’m not going to sign it. I’m just not going to do that,” but he will still marry his parishioners, marry those who approach him.
Mr. Mattingly: Yes. You see, I think the important thing is he’s not getting out of the marriage business. What he would say is he’s going to stay in the only marriage business that he can do as a priest. Do you get the distinction?
Rev. Wilken: Sure!
Mr. Mattingly: He actually wants to stay in the marriage business, and he doesn’t feel he can sign a piece of paper that doesn’t represent his tradition’s sacrament of marriage. So he would say he’s getting out of the state-document-contract business, in order to stay in the marriage… game or business or rituals. Do you see the distinction?
Rev. Wilken: Not everybody necessarily agrees with this.
Mr. Mattingly: Oh, yeah.
Rev. Wilken: You actually quote… Something you’ve recently written, you actually quote from someone who says, “Not so fast.” What is it?
Mr. Mattingly: Well, I mean, I think it’s simplistic to say that this is a Protestant-versus-liturgical situation. Hear me again: that’s simplistic to say that. But I do think that congregational churches, which would be Baptists, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, megachurches, etc., I do think that congregational churches feel more comfortable saying, “My congregation is doing the right thing when it does these rituals, and we know what we mean, and what we mean is the truth.” And it’s kind of “We’re not endorsing the state,” right? I think it’s easier for a congregationalism-based polity to do that than for the liturgical churches who have, like I said, centuries and centuries and centuries of sacramental history.
I’ll go ahead and mention one other thing about the Orthodox here, and, of course, listeners, I am Eastern Orthodox. I grew up Southern Baptist, and I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, so I’m kind of bilingual on some of this. I also think it’s important to realize that the Orthodox have a long history of doing marriage in hostile environments. So you’re dealing here with a tradition that this is not Orthodoxy’s first rodeo on this sort of thing.
When you’re in a culture that is primarily defined by sharia law, in the Middle East, you’ve got marriage complications there as well. And when you’ve survived the Communist system, which formally separated the marriage contract at the level of the state versus what was happening in churches, you’ve been in, in some ways, this exact situation before. So the Orthodox, at that point, feel, I would say, like they have some track record here, that you can back up and say, “Okay, we do marriage.”
Now, if you people—and we are no way… Reardon stresses that he is not casting moral judgment on members of his congregation that then go down to a judge or whatever and get the legal contract thing done. He’s not judging them, because he said that’s a completely different moral issue; whether they seek access to a state contract on the same terms as everybody else is a completely different moral decision than a priest’s decision to validate that state contract. You get the distinction?
Rev. Wilken: Yeah.
Mr. Mattingly: So he wanted to stress, although he did raise an interesting observation, which I didn’t have room for in the column, and that is, he could envision situations now where, say, two elderly people, or two older people who are widowed or whatever, who come to him for marriage, and it may be in their economic interest not to be married in the eyes of the state, right? At which point, he said, I’m perfectly glad to seal them in the sacrament of marriage, and in the eyes of God and in the eyes of my church in the sacraments, they’re married. State of Illinois? Different game. If it’s in their economic interest not to be married before the state of Illinois, I’m not casting moral judgment on that, either.
He also told me that he could understand that there might be some people, much like you’d have conscientious objection in the military and whatever, there might be Christian couples who felt so strongly about this that they choose not to be validated in the eyes of the state, even if they’re young and it would be in their economic interests to do so or whatever. There’s a statement in my column where he says, “Marriage has just gotten more complicated, whether you want it or not.” More people face more different kinds of decisions, depending on where they are and what their legal, financial situation is.
Rev. Wilken: Terry Mattingly is our guest. We’ll take a break. When we come back, we’ll continue our continue our conversation with him about an Orthodox priest’s refusal to require or sign marriage licenses. We’ll do Christ in the Old Testament after that with Pastor Brian Kachelmeier. When we come back: How does Terry evaluate the media coverage of this story so far?
Rev. Wilken: Welcome back to Issues, Etc. I’m Todd Wilken. It’s Thursday afternoon, April 23. We’re talking about an Orthodox priest’s refusal to require or sign marriage licenses in the state of Illinois. Terry Mattingly, of GetReligion.org, is our guest. A little bit later, Christ in the Old Testament with Pastor Brian Kachelmeier. Terry, let’s talk about the media coverage of this particular story. How would you evaluate it so far?
Mr. Mattingly: Well, it’s just really getting started. There is a website called the Marriage Pledge, and as of the beginning of this past week it had about 440 signatures on it. And you also, at First Things, the interfaith or ecumenical journal First Things, you have a very lively debate going on with people from all kinds of different… Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Baptist—all kinds of different perspectives, like you said, not agreeing with one another.
At BreakPoint, there was an interesting column by, is it John Stonestreet—I know the last name is Stonestreet—where he made the comment that he thinks it’s important to realize these people who disagree on this issue, that this is not a debate about who’s being faithful to the Gospel and who isn’t; it’s more a debate about public strategy and how best to handle public witness in this day and age.
But see, I’m not even sure at that point that someone like Reardon would agree with that. I think Reardon would say he doesn’t have a theological option, and thus this is, for him, with his vows and his Church’s theology, that this is an issue of faithfulness. The simple fact of the matter is a Baptist pastor or a non-denominational pastor isn’t working with the same vows and the same theology that they have to defend.
Rev. Wilken: In your estimation, is the media capable of…
Mr. Mattingly: Ooh, yeah.
Rev. Wilken: Of even grasping, much less accurately reporting, that. It’s a subtlety, but it’s a very important subtlety.
Mr. Mattingly: In other words, at the end of my column, I was trying to think of what statement that Reardon said that I could use as a wrap-up, and, frankly, I was anticipating which direction the press coverage might go. And Reardon stressed at the end: “I’m not making a political statement; I’m making a theological statement.” You should always remember, as you and I have discussed many times, that for many people in the press, politics is the only reality; politics is the only thing that affects real life in the real world. So thus if a priest does this, he had to have done it for political reasons, right? What else is there?
So if it’s covered as, much like in the debacle we saw in the Indiana coverage, if this is covered simply as a gay-hating political statement by a radical priest, they’ve missed what the man’s arguing in the first place. Now, I’m watching the Chicago Tribune at this point. At some point, I assume that what he’s done will get written about locally. I also, just this morning, received a private note from another group of priests who are beginning to circulate a similar petition, kind of on the liturgical side. And, as always, you have to watch the Roman Catholic Church, the biggest game in town.
Let me turn this question around: How serious do think this would be for Missouri-Synod Lutherans?
Rev. Wilken: We’re still kind of—I don’t want to say “sitting on the fence”—still trying to decide, and I think the big confusion is precisely what you pointed out before, Terry, and that is: we have to distinguish public strategy, making political statements, which is certainly fine if you want to make political statements, and our understanding of the pastor and the congregation’s role in solemnizing marriage and what marriage is. We don’t hold a sacramental view of it, but I can very easily imagine a good stalwart Lutheran pastor of my ilk saying, “You know, I like Reardon’s solution. I still want to have pastoral care over the marriages of my people, but I can’t sign those documents.” I could see a lot of guys going for that, to tell you the truth.
Mr. Mattingly: Yeah, and frankly, also, couldn’t you see a Missouri-Synod pastor reaching that decision in, say, Massachusetts or New York quicker than they would reach it in Texas or Oklahoma or Arkansas or something?
Rev. Wilken: Sure.
Mr. Mattingly: I heard from somebody else who made an interesting comment that in the state of Texas, apparently the couple doesn’t even has to cooperate with the state so much. They just simply file a form that says, “A marriage has taken place. If you have any question about this, contact my church.” In other words, in some ways it’s not even acknowledging the state other than to say the state of Texas has agreed that if religious traditions have done a marriage, the state then will say, “Okay, we salute that,” which removes the couple even one stage further. So the couple doesn’t have to go down and go through a state ritual; they just have to file a piece of paper that says, “Hey. We got married. If you have any questions, go check this.”
Rev. Wilken: I was speaking recently with a Canadian pastor, and this maybe is another wrinkle here. They’re way ahead of us on this kind of stuff, but they’re also hemmed in a little bit, Terry. In the United States, all you’ve got to do is hang out a shingle that says R-e-v, and you can sign marriage [licenses]. You don’t even have to do that and you can sign a marriage license. In Canada, they have to fill out paperwork and be registered with the state to sign those documents, and that’s an entirely different kind of thing, but I’m wondering about the backlash against a Reardon strategy, where the state might say, “Now, wait a minute. Not so fast, pastor. Maybe we should start registering our clergy to do this stuff.”
Mr. Mattingly: Well, then you’ve created a different country. But at the same time, why should the state care what he does inside the doors of his church? He’s not granting tax status. He’s not changing anything legal in the eyes of the state. What’s happening at his altar is between him and God and the angels as far as he’s concerned, and he’s not making any claim to have affected the actions of the state. That’s a laity decision, from his perspective. He’s just in charge of sacraments. I don’t even know how the state would even know.
So that might affect the Texas option you’re talking about, but it doesn’t affect Fr. Pat. He doesn’t care what the state thinks about that at that point. Do really envision a day when they’re going to shut churches down? I don’t even see the HHS regulations trying to do that on some of these issues. They’re trying to leave the church alone; it’s when you start interacting with the public, the government is now getting nervous, both with gay rights and with the Health and Human Services regulations stuff.
Back to your question about the press: I think another statement you have to make is that a story isn’t real until it affects the Catholic Church, for many editors. They really don’t care. I remember years ago, back in the ‘80s, when I was working at the Charlotte Observer. The Charlotte Observer, the major street in town—one of the major streets in town was Billy Graham Boulevard. You’ve got southern religion in Charlotte. And at that time, the Roman Catholic Church, the Diocese of Charlotte was the smallest in the United States, but almost all of my editors were from other parts of the country, as a part of a newspaper chain. They were from St. Louis and Chicago and whatever.
And just about any story I wanted to pitch that had anything to do with Catholicism, they thought it was a big deal and should go on page one, especially if it was controversial. And yet I could pitch them stories about the Southern Baptist Convention that had national implications because of how prominent Southern Baptist life was in Charlotte and in that part of the world, and they weren’t interested because they didn’t care about Southern Baptists. All that mattered to them was Catholicism, because in the big cities of the Northeast and the Midwest and whatever, that was the biggest game in town. Even though they were in Charlotte, North Carolina, they didn’t give a flip about what was happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, that much.
So to some degree, we may not know what’s going to happen with the press coverage of this event until this thing gets addressed in Catholicism. Let’s put it this way; let me give you a marker on this: If this topic comes up among Catholic clergy at the March for Marriage this coming weekend, and if there are Catholic clergy or a few bishops who say, “We’re going to bring this up next year in Philadelphia when the Pope is there, when the Pope is in town”—I guess it’s not next year; it’s just a season away, because it’s going to affect the NFL football schedule—“When the Pope is in town, we intend to bring this up and ask him what we should do about this”? Do you think that’s going to be on A1?
Rev. Wilken: [Laughter] How inevitable is that, Terry, because, obviously…
Mr. Mattingly: I don’t know.
Rev. Wilken: I mean, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, they share a sacramental view of marriage. I can very easily see bishops saying, “I like the way that Fr. Reardon’s thinking here.”
Mr. Mattingly: But at the same time, in a state like Massachusetts, the liberal wing of the Catholic Church may as well almost be the established state church, even though they have split over situations like they’ve shut down their adoption agency because they refused to cooperate with same-sex marriage on adoption, same-sex couples on adoption, I don’t know how the Roman Catholic hierarchy would respond at this point. At this point in the United States, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to statement of moral courage in the public square, the Roman Catholic Church in America is currently functioning as two different churches with two different strategies, and that the tensions are just right there for everybody to see.
Rev. Wilken: If the media covered this story, if the Chicago Tribune wrote a story today, speculate: How would it probably read at this point? What would be missing?
Mr. Mattingly: I won’t know till I see it. Reardon is a very articulate and blunt man. I would say he’s a guy that’s very… It’s hard to misquote this man. He has lots of experience as a writer. He’s a very popular podcaster in alternative Orthodox media. Good grief, his name is Patrick Henry Reardon. He’s a bold guy. I’m really not going to pass judgment. If it’s covered by the religion reporter, I think he’s got a shot to get the actual content of his views into print, at which people can then argue and debate them, as they should. If this thing is covered by… on the political side of things? All bets are off.
Rev. Wilken: How is it going to read that way?
Mr. Mattingly: I told you before: “In an anti-gay move, a priest has decided, blah blah blah.” It will be stated as a political judgment and nigh unto bigotry, because obviously, on the political side of the fence at this point, hardly anybody is daring to even criticize the direct equation of DNA and race with sexual orientation. I believe it was Rod Dreher—might have been Mollie, might have been both; might have been Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, and it might have been both—who simply said, “What we saw in Indiana at the level of the press was nothing short of holy war.”
I’ve been at this a long time, and this is really saying something. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a story in the mainstream press covered as consistently and poorly as the story in Indiana. That’s just even quoting, that’s quoting the viewpoints of anybody involved in the debate. There were at least three or four distinctly different points of view in that debate, and other than the “This was an anti-gay piece of legislation,” other than that perspective, nobody got quoted accurately or fairly: not the pro-RFRA left, not the pro-RFRA right; basically, just nobody. It was holy war at the level of the headlines.
So what happens in Illinois, what happens to ministers who attempt to make this distinction? I’m not sure, but my main prediction would be: It will depend on whether it’s covered as a religion story or as a political story.
Rev. Wilken: Finally, then, Terry, personally, do you care to speculate on what the Supreme Court is going to do here?
Mr. Mattingly: Whew! Well, if it’s a five-four vote with Kennedy, I don’t know what… how far Kennedy will go. I will say this: There are at least two liberals on the Supreme Court—and I won’t name names—who seem to be honest-to-goodness First Amendment liberals. And it could be that we end up with some sort of conscientious objector status recognized, and that they don’t go all the way to the mystery of “sexual orientation equals the DNA of race” and thus we have a direct correlation to the famous Bob Jones versus U.S. case, where the Supreme Court said Bob Jones University had bad theology the state couldn’t recognize when it banned interracial dating, and thus they lose their tax exemption. I don’t know if that domino falls. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion the Chief Justice has been saving up some chips for something, but, as you and I have talked about before, we all live in Justice Kennedy’s America. He’s the king; he just lets us stay here, and it’s all up to him if it’s a five-to-four vote.
Rev. Wilken: Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He’s author of the weekly On Religion column for the Universal Syndicate, and he’s founder and editor of GetReligion.org. Terry, thank you.
Mr. Mattingly: Glad to do it!
We again thank Todd Wilken and the talk show Issues, Etc. for their permission to use this interview.