For most of my life, my relationship to the media could only be described as extraordinarily thin. My first interview took place in 1953 when a radio station in my hometown interviewed me about the statewide scholarship test for high school seniors I had just taken. My second interview followed 50 years later for National Public Radio on the crisis in the Episcopal Church over gay ordination. Between 1953 and 2003 not much happened.
In my view, I had my hands full doing my day job at Duke and being a dutiful father, son, brother, husband, citizen and taxpayer (though not necessarily in that order). I was much too busy to worry about talking to the media.
I was awakened from my dogmatic slumbers in 2003 by an early morning telephone call from someone in the Duke News Service who wanted to know what issues, if any, had led to permanent splits in Christian churches.
“Let me count the ways,” I replied. “There have been arguments over race, hospitality to the poor, the role of women as leaders in churches, the dating of Easter, whether infant baptism is valid, the place of indulgences, the infallibility of the pope, and the relation of the two natures of Christ. My own personal favorite is the schism in Holland over whether the snake spoke to Eve as reported in Genesis.”
A few days later (and probably as a result of the news tip issued by Duke News Service) I was asked by Newsday, the Long Island newspaper owned by The Chicago Tribune, to write an op-ed on the fight that had broken out in the Episcopal Church between the traditionalists, who opposed gay ordination, and the liberals, who thought it was a long-overdue issue of justice. I thanked the editor who asked me to write, but declined her invitation, confessing I did not think I knew how to write an op-ed on any subject, much less on a hot-button issue like the election of an openly gay bishop.
Shortly thereafter I was called by Mark Pinsky, religion newswriter for the Orlando Sentinel and a Duke alum, who was looking for what he called “a kicker quote,” a reasonably strong statement with which he could end his story on the Anglican troubles. In the course of the interview I mentioned the invitation from Newsday and my unwillingness to accept it.
Mark thought I had made a mistake and told me so. In his view I was neglecting my civic duties in refusing to share my knowledge with my neighbors. Information about religion can be as useful to nonbelievers as to believers. Everyone needs to understand the religious currents in society in order to deal intelligently and charitably with one’s fellow citizens. If people like me were not carrying our part of the burden of educating the general public about matters religious, we were leaving the platform free for the religious crazies (whose number, alas, is legion).