By Bill Lewellis
Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem
He decided to write a monthly column and offer it to local newspapers "to provide a polite but direct alternative to an extraordinarily conservative religious and political culture ... to offer good news particularly to those who cannot identify with or who have begun to question that culture, in either its protestant or Roman Catholic manifestations."
Since that time, daily and weekly newspapers in his 14-county Episcopal diocese in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania have published some 130 of his monthly columns.
His latest book, Messages in the Mall: Looking at Life in 600 Words or Less (Seabury Books, 2008), is a compilation of more than 90 of those columns, organized along thematic lines.
"Given that most of the ink in the space allotted to religious columns in area newspapers is taken up by the dominant religious culture," he writes in the preface, "I have from the first spent most of my time each month attempting to reach those who think Christianity is irrelevant or anti-intellectual, and those who have been burned by rigorist religion."
He is the only bishop in the Episcopal Church -- perhaps the only bishop of any church -- whose columns have been published for so many years in area newspapers.
The column is almost always different from another monthly column he writes for Diocesan Life, the newspaper of the Diocese of Bethlehem.
Click here for more information about this and other books by Marshall.
In his columns, Marshall addresses all aspects of life, from the intimate and complex relationships of couples and families to thorny social and religious issues. With dry wit, gentle humor, deep compassion and, sometimes, anger, he writes about topics from the tragic Columbine school shootings to the spiritual ramifications of the TV series The Sopranos.
"Because life is complex and everybody's acts are determined by multiple motives and impulses," he writes about The Sopranos, "almost all of our judgments about other people's souls must be held in abeyance, even though we can and must have boundaries about their behavior ... To have the questions put so strongly in the guise of powerful entertainment may not be a bad thing a all."
In Learning From What Jesus Did Not Do, he writes that Jesus "did not give in to his disciples' desire to have more power than others, did not force anyone to believe in him, did not condemn those who were pushed to the edges of life ... The ministry of not condemning was one of the most radical things Jesus did."
"Those of us who are somewhat conservative on moral questions need to be especially careful that our rhetoric does not become someone else's excuse for violence," he wrote in Words Are a Lens, shortly after the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. "Christians need to be even more careful about hauling out the platitude of 'hate the sin but love the sinner.' People who mouth those words often display very little love, especially when they utter them with a tone of superiority or with clenched jaws or fists."
As the U.S. Congress was about to begin debate on preemptive measures against Iraq, he wrote in September 2002: "War is sometimes unavoidable, but at this point it is hard to see how a war with Iraq can be justified ... Without sufficient evidence of the need for us to defend ourselves, it is impossible to support the administration's moral choice to go to war, and a moral choice it is."
Before coming to Bethlehem, Marshall had been a professor at Yale University Divinity School and director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
He has written extensively both for scholars and clergy and for the general reader. His scholarly works have been described as readable and his popular works as learned.
Over the past few years he has also written The Bishop is Coming (2007), the first new ceremonial guide for bishops in more than 25 years and the first book of its kind aimed at helping congregations prepare for a bishop's visit, One, Catholic and Apostolic: Samuel Seabury and he Early Episcopal Church (2004), exploring the complex personalities, motivations, loyalties and prejudices that went into the formation of the Episcopal Church and the creation of it liturgy, Same-Sex Unions: Stories and Rites, (2004), collection and analysis of representative rites in use in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada that begins with a focus on the lives of two deeply committed Christian couples.
A 90-minute video on Reading the Bible Today, produced during a live presentation in the fall of 2003 in response to General Convention decisions related to homosexuality, has been distributed by the Episcopal Media Center in Atlanta.
Among his earlier books are: Leaps and Boundaries: The Prayer Book in the 21st Century (Co-edited with Dr. Lesley Northup, Morehouse, 1997); The Voice of a Stranger: On the Lay Origins of Anglican Liturgics (1993); Anglican Liturgy in America: Prayer Book Parallels (1989, 1991, 1996), a three-volume set that compares texts of different versions of The Book of Common Prayer, and Preaching for the Church Today: The Skills, Prayer and Art of Sermon Preparation (1991).
He has also written more than 50 articles and reviews for periodicals. A Note on the Role on North America in the Evolution of Anglicanism (Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2005) is a must read for anyone attempting to navigate recent winds and waves of the Anglican Communion sea.
Born 1947 in New York City and raised in Lancaster County (PA), he was ordained a priest in 1978 and earned a doctorate in theology at Genera Theological Seminary, NYC (1982), where he was a Fellow and Lecturer in Homiletics, Latin and Liturgics.
His ministry over 12 years in the Diocese of Bethlehem has been broad and deep: a teacher, a shepherd among the clergy, an advocate and participant in ministry with people in the developing world, children and youth, the poor and the marginalized, those within the church who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves traditionalists, and an interpreter of family systems theory.