In March, an article in The New Yorker made some pretty big waves in Episcopal circles. As we discussed at the time, the article was actually a book excerpt from The Bishop's Daughter by Honor Moore, whose father the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore was the trailblazing Episcopal Bishop of New York from 1972 to 1989. Now without reading The New Yorker article you can probably guess where this is headed -- I'm pretty sure nobody who has written a memoir about their pleasant and normal family has gotten published since Laura Ingalls Wilder. And it's probably got to be an especially interesting or unique dysfunction to snatch prime literary real estate such as The New Yorker.
Honor wrote about her father's bisexuality and numerous affairs with men and women. Newsweek's Jennie Yabroff reviewed the book and its effect on the Moore family and The Episcopal Church:
The revelation, Moore writes in her new memoir, "The Bishop's Daughter," was startling but not entirely surprising. Her father's bisexuality was an "open secret" that she and her eight younger siblings had known for years, and that had been hinted at in the press and by members of the church. Still, the publication of an excerpt from her book in The New Yorker in March, detailing her father's sexuality, created a minor scandal. In a letter to the magazine, two of her siblings wrote, "Doesn't it matter, even when someone is dead, that his most fervently held private life, and the unnecessarily explicit details of his marriage, are exposed against his wishes? We believe that it does matter, and that both of our parents' good legacies have been damaged." Others applauded Moore's candid portrayal of her father. An Episcopal priest from Maryland wrote, "This story illustrates the necessity for our church to struggle honestly with the issue of healthy sexual behavior--gay or straight."
The article has some interesting tidbits, such as the news that some of Moore's children found the essay and book to be a betrayal of their parents and that Honor Moore has also had sexual relationships with men and women. But overall Yabroff writes a typically sympathetic piece about bisexuality and, quite frankly, adultery.
Take this, for instance:
The Episcopal Church in the United States continues to wrestle with just that issue. When the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was ordained in 2003, it drove some congregations here to align with Anglican churches in Africa and South America that are opposed to homosexuality. As bishop in 1977, Moore himself had ordained the first openly lesbian priest in the United States. Since The New Yorker excerpt, the blogosphere has been debating whether Moore broke his vows--and whether his daughter has violated his trust. Outing is always controversial, but in this case, the matter is especially complicated: he was a parent, a husband, a public figure and a spiritual leader. Honor Moore is critical of those who so harshly condemn her father's secret life. "The negative reaction to The New Yorker piece was by the same people having the same reaction they had when he ordained the lesbian priest," she says, speaking at her home in New York City. Yet writing the book was not a political act. "It's a love story," she says.
How about instead of a vague reference to unnamed people debating whether Moore broke his vows, Yabroff actually talk to some of these people to find out what they're talking about?
Also, it's fine to wave off any criticism of an adulterous, bisexual bishop by noting that the same people criticized the ordination of a lesbian priest. But is anybody surprised that people who believe in the historic Christian understanding of human sexuality are, well, consistent about it? But what that historic Christian understanding is is not mentioned in Yabroff's article. Instead we are told that Bishop Moore was polarizing because he believed in social justice and fighting poverty.
Overall the article suffers from trying to cover too much ground. There is not enough religious context to explain the Episcopal brouhaha and there's not enough discussion of the family drama for the story to be about that. Perhaps a more narrow focus would have served her better.