C. Andrew Doyle
The new Episcopal bishop on politics, faith, and Twitter.
Evan Smith: I’m struck that everybody still refers to you as “Andy.” In their minds, you’re a regular guy who only happens to be the newest Episcopal bishop of Texas.
C. Andrew Doyle: Each and every one of us is on a journey of becoming who God is inviting us to be, and that journey isn’t different today than it was before I became bishop. You, as editor in chief of Texas Monthly, are continuoustly discovering who you are, and the people reading this interview are discovering who they are. What’s interesting is that a new vocabulary has inserted itself into the dialogue I have with God and the larger community.
ES: How is the conversation with God different?
CAD: I’m asking different questions. It’s not about discovering what a bishop does—I understand that. It’s not about what kind of sacramental life a bishop has within the church. Rather, it’s “How is Andy the bishop who God has called him to be?” It’s about opening my eyes to see the ways in which my manner, my way of being with individuals, affects the office. It’s probably encapsulated in the town hall meetings I’ve been doing, traveling around Texas, meeting with young adults and people of the church, and inviting them to have a conversation about our work together.
ES: What have you heard? I’m imagining you, like a politician, on a listening tour to meet with your constituents.
CAD: One of the things that I heard from people inside and outside our church was a yearning for holy relationships—holy as in sacred. People want to be together. Some of them want to engage in a discussion about their spiritual journey; they feel their spiritual lives are nurtured as they engage in that conversation. But there’s also a real desire for unity. Not uniformity—over the last decade, both within the church and within our culture, we’ve been dividing into camps, and yet I really have a sense of people seeking a wholeness, for themselves and their community. A wholeness that respects people who have different ideas and who seek nourishment in the marketplace of ideas. In church, as in the corporate world, people want to be asked their opinion.
ES: There has been and still is a big divide in the church.
CAD: Human beings have an amazing tendency to split up into like-minded camps with incredible efficiency. The reality is that not just the Episcopal Church but every church has been divided over the years. Here’s the thing for me that seems important: On the night Jesus was taken into custody, he prayed that his followers would be unified. So difficult is the task of a healthy, thriving community that our Lord had to actually pray for it. We can spend a lot of time talking about every issue that divides us, but what about the challenge that we’ve been given to be one people in the midst of our great diversity? I’m not sure that wholeness and unity isn’t exactly what we’re supposed to be aspiring to.
ES: Are there people who worship at Episcopal churches around Texas who would disagree with the idea that their purpose is unity and not division? I imagine everyone would say they see it that way, even if the reality is something different.
CAD: Probably. But worship is supposed to inspire us into new action. We step out and turn our eyes outward and look at our community and do what we do best.
ES: Why do you think we focus so much on our differences?
CAD: Because we live in a consumer culture that relies upon the satisfying of our personal desires. If you go into a magazine store and you’re interested in fly-fishing from a sailboat in the Caribbean, you can find a specific magazine targeted to exactly what you seek. Our culture rises up in such a way that we can find and have everything that we personally want or need. The real positive thing about that is that we can seek personal relationships with God and figure out how those relationships work for us. But it also means that we’re less likely to look at our neighbors and invite them along that same journey.
ES: What can a bishop do to bridge those differences?
CAD: Bishops have a voice out there; we have to claim it. Take immigration. Everybody is trying to figure out what to do about it. The tendency of the church has been to be relatively quiet when it comes to political issues, but I believe we have to ask questions from the Christian perspective. We should be saying to our political leaders, “These are human beings who were created by God, who deserve dignity, who deserve to be treated as human beings given breath and life by God.” There really is an opportunity for us to engage in those kinds of conversations. And there’s another voice I have, the voice to my church, that says, “We are a Christian church, we follow Jesus Christ, and we have got to be about the business of offering spiritual formation in all of its varieties, knowing who we are at our very deepest center to the people who come to us. These are people who are looking at the church and hoping to find a deep relationship with God, with Jesus Christ. How do we help them?” In the Anglican tradition, and in the Episcopal Church that we’ve inherited, we actually have something to offer.
ES: No one would dispute that you have a spiritual voice. But the political voice is more complicated, because two different people can arrive at opposite conclusions about a controversial issue like immigration. One person’s view of how to preserve the dignity of a child of God is to give him a path to citizenship. Another person can say that the faithful choice is to make certain someone who is not a citizen is kept from this country. How do you square those two contradictory but equally heartfelt views?
CAD: I would say that there’s a difference between my work and a political leader’s work. The political leader’s work—and we in the Episcopal Church pray every Sunday for political leaders, at the local, state, and national levels—is to figure out the answer to your question. There was a wonderful quote from a New York rabbi following 9/11. He said, “My work is not to give you answers to difficult questions but to help you live with the difficult questions that you’re asking.” I think that the religious leaders of this state, of this country, have a part to play in saying, in the example you’ve given me, “We understand that both of these people are faithful individuals. And it’s all right to have different ideas.” It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.
ES: There’s room in the faith for both destinations as long as the journey is of similar purpose.
CAD: Right. But I also think there’s another piece we haven’t touched on yet, and that is how wholly unequipped our churches are for this conversation.
ES: Why’s that?
CAD: Because we’re operating out of a model that does not understand that technology and communication have changed around us. The complexities of the world are just now being tippy-toed into by churches, and that keeps us out of a place where people can find us, where they’re building community. It’s not that we’re locked out; it’s that we can’t find the door. So we really have a challenge.
ES: Stay with your political voice for a second. There’s been a huge debate over the past ten years about the proper balance between politics and religion. Where do they converge and diverge?
CAD: I’m really interested in this subject. I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s book about Andrew Jackson, American Lion, and I’m currently reading Theodore Rex—two books that deal with periods in which the idea of a public faith is challenged. The country finds its wisdom as a wisdom of the whole, with no one perspective gaining control over any other. But as Americans, we’ve been given this incredible right and responsibility to engage in a public discourse. As good Episcopalians and Anglicans, I really think we have a duty to allow our voices to be part of that conversation, no matter where we are on the political spectrum or faith spectrum.
ES: That’s not in conflict, as you see it, with the tradition of a separation between church and state?
CAD: Most people think separation of church and state means that the church should have no dialogue with the state and that the state should have no dialogue with the church.
ES: It’s really about undue influence.
CAD: It isn’t about us being quiet, so I don’t see any conflict at all. But it means that, as bishop, I have to think carefully about who I am within the larger theology of the church and then ask how that affects the conversation I’m having.
ES: How do you define the mission of the Episcopal Church today?
CAD: The world around us ought to be, at the end of the day, a better place because Episcopalians are a part of it.
ES: What does the church do to make that happen?
CAD: We provide assistance to immigrants and first-generation Latinos in Austin. We provide pastoral care to most every ship that comes into the Port of Houston through chaplaincy services and ecumenical partnership. We’re digging water wells in Malawi. We’re supporting hospitals in South America. We’re feeding the homeless. We’re helping the poor to find jobs. We have a huge network of outreach within the Diocese of Texas that is transforming the lives of the people of this state and this country and this world. As bishop I get to see all this incredible work that Episcopalians and those who join with them do every day. But I also get to see people who come to me on a Sunday-by-Sunday basis and tell me that they have found this incredible church home and community and family and that their lives have never felt better spiritually. That is an amazing thing.
ES: Let’s talk about the sexual orientation of clergy and same-sex marriage, which have been quite controversial in the church and the subject of a few stories in the press over the past few years.
CAD: When it comes to us, it seems like the media does what the media does. It has to sell its product. I think if we had more free media it might be different, but we don’t.
ES: I would say, Bishop, that when you have congregations splitting off in protest, that’s worthy of reporting, and it has nothing to do with free versus paid media. So, to finish, I’d like to ask you: Do you have a position on these issues?
CAD: The Diocese of Texas is very conservative, and it has a very traditional understanding of marriage. I do not see my work as trying to change that. Even though there is a great diversity of points of view on this topic, the people of the diocese will not see changes in how we look at same-sex blessings or unions, nor on the topic of ordination of bishops. Now—and this is the important part for me—I grew up in a diverse culture and have friends who are gay and lesbian. The reality of our diocese is that we have gays and lesbians who go to our churches. They find their spiritual journeys entwined with our own in this place. So when I make the statement that things will not change, there is a great deal of pain. I am unwilling to pretend that pain is not there. Where there is love, there is always a great deal of pain, and I love the people of the Diocese of Texas. That love is not a love that is bound by issues of sexuality.
ES: Do you feel compelled by the conservatism of the diocese to preside differently than you’d like to if it were not the diocese’s stated position?
CAD: Your question misses the very deepest understanding of the vocation that I have as bishop. I am the individual called forth by the community to guard and protect the faith and to hand the faith on as I have received it.
ES: So your personal point of view doesn’t really matter.
ES: You alluded earlier to the importance of communication. Certainly you’ve embraced twenty-first-century technology more than any religious leader I know—
CAD: I sent out a Twitter that said you were about to call me.
ES: You appear to be quite comfortable with new forms of communication as a way to preach the gospel.
CAD: It’s the reality in which I grew up. I have a blog. I’m on Facebook. I have a Twitter account. It’s part of who I am. I didn’t do these things because I thought, “Oh, I need to have a blog” or “I need to Twitter.” It’s because I’m part of a larger community of friends across the country and the world.
ES: Is the target audience current worshippers, or are you out there looking for new business?
CAD: My first invitation to join Twitter came from my best friend, who I’ve known for something like 25 years. So it’s not just me trying to reach out. Now, I will say that I find it amazing that people who live in Connecticut stumble upon the blog and read a particular text or listen to one of my sermons on iTunes and think, “Oh, my gosh.”
ES: I guess this is a generational thing for you. At 43, you’re the second-youngest bishop in the country.
CAD: It’s been said that baby boomers would be satisfied with nineties technology, that Generation X, which is my generation, would always be interested in what’s coming next, and that the current generation, the Millennials, would simply be wired. I probably find myself more in line with the Millennial way of thinking than the other two.
ES: When all this is said and done—when your time as bishop comes to an end—what do you want to have accomplished? What do you want people to remember about you?
CAD: I really would hope that people would say of me that I loved God, I loved Jesus Christ, and I was a faithful follower who lived that out—both in my life, with my family, and with the church. I hope that people would be able to look back on my tenure and think to themselves that we were great together. That this was a great moment for us as Episcopalians in the state of Texas. That they, together with their bishop, did absolutely miraculous work.