On the other side of the notebook

theotokos grA very strange thing happens when journalists write books -- they find themselves (hopefully) being interviewed by other journalists, often before speeches and other (hopefully) book-promoting events. Soon thereafter, they often read articles based on these interviews and find themselves exclaiming, "Wait just a (provide colorful descriptive words here) minute, I didn't say that!" There's more to this than the fact that most writers have pretty firm ideas about how we want to express our own beliefs and what we think about our own writings. Truth is, we tend -- when being interviewed -- to use many of the same words over and over to express what we think. Journalists, in particular, are good at quoting other people, and it shouldn't surprise you to learn that we are also pretty good at quoting our own best quotes.

This is why it is rather strange to read your own words in print and know that you are being misquoted. This brings us to another episode of an every-now-and-then GetReligion feature that I call "As the Notebook Turns." This time around, the writer being interviewed was Frederica Mathewes-Green, who is a close friend and the wife of the priest at my family's parish.

Frederica is best known for her books, Beliefnet columns and NPR commentaries, but she has done more than her share of writing in a more journalistic, magazine style. Recently, she headed down to Lynchburg, Va., for a speaking engagement linked to her latest work, The Lost Gospel of Mary. (Click here for an excerpt.)

This led to an article in the local News & Advance that included all kinds of things. For starters, what does this mean?

A thoughtful, articulate Christian whose pendulum has swung from one philosophical divide to another (once a staunch feminist and spokesperson for Feminists for Life, she is now anti-abortion, albeit non-stridently), Mathewes-Green eventually came to occupy a niche as someone who would speak on religious/social issues that scared other Christians away.

Part of that is accurate, but -- last time I checked -- Feminists for Life is, as the name suggests, a pro-life group. And then there's this puzzler:

After leaving Hinduism behind, Mathewes-Green graduated from the Episcopalian-based Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. Later, she and her husband became Anglicans, and now they operate within a denomination with strong ties to Eastern Orthodoxy.

"I've never really considered myself a conservative Christian," Mathewes-Green said, "but gradually, over time, you embrace a classic."

What, pray tell, is an "Episcopalian-based" seminary? The campus in question is simply an official Episcopal seminary -- period. I am also sure that our bishop would be amazed to find out that our congregation has "strong ties to Eastern Orthodoxy," as opposed to being a real, live, normal Orthodox Christian parish.

Mathewes-Green says the article contained several phrases she has never used while describing her path to Christianity, but she was particularly tickled by that "embrace a classic" phrase. "I have no idea where that quote came from," she said, in an email about this episode. "As you can see, it was one of the odder interview experiences for me."

NotebookTurnsBut this wasn't the most serious misquote, from a doctrinal point of view. Here is the bombshell misquote, from the perspective of an Orthodox believer -- especially one who has just written a book about St. Mary, the mother of Jesus. A misquote is one thing. Heresy is another.

"People are hungry to know more about Mary," she said. "They want a prequel to the Jesus story."

Among other things, Mathewes-Green's research led her to believe that Mary did not live out her life as a virgin.

"No one expected that of her," she said. "She was a normal human being."

In another sense, however, Mathewes-Green is quite conservative.

What in the world? There is no way that Frederica said that.

So what did she say? Let's go back to her email:

My point was that the first target audience for evangelism, the Jews, didn't expect the Messiah to be born of a virgin, nor that his mother would be virgin for the rest of her life. So it isn't a doctrine the Christians would have invented. The best explanation is, they believed it was true. They stood by this belief consistently, unanimously, and the belief she and Joseph had a regular married life doesn't arise for over 1500 years.

There are all kinds of things that evangelical, liberal Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians might discuss linked to this issue. That is not the point here (so don't click the Comments link just to argue about all of that). The key is that an articulate, experienced writer was quoted as saying precisely the opposite of what she believes and what she said. I have been unable to find a correction anywhere on the newpaper's website. How about you?

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