Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

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Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

All three of those papers offered a fair measure of balance in their accounts and outlined the three main plans that would be discussed.

Sadly, I don’t believe any of those papers still has a full-time religion writer. That thought makes me a little nostalgic for the days when the Journal-Constitution and Post-Dispatch, in particular, had two of the nation’s best Godbeat pros (Gayle White in Atlanta and Tim Townsend in St. Louis).

But back to the weekend coverage: I particularly enjoyed the Post-Dispatch’s lede:

ST. LOUIS — Where you have two members of the United Methodist Church, you have three opinions and a potluck, the saying goes.

Or, put differently, if everyone in church agrees about everything, it cannot be United Methodist.

But the “big tent” of ideological diversity that the 12.6 million-member global denomination has celebrated is being challenged as never before over sexuality and may lead to fracture.

A special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church runs here from Saturday to Tuesday at America’s Center downtown. The topic is how to move forward on the issue of homosexuality.

Four thousand people, including 864 voting delegates from around the world, have registered. Thousands more are expected to watch multiple plans, none of which is likely to satisfy everyone, be debated.

The Atlanta story, meanwhile, did a tremendous job of quoting voices on various sides.

A representative section of the story:

Josh Noblitt, an associate pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta who is openly gay, said he’s talked to many United Methodist members who have left the denomination and joined the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church because these issues have already been settled there. “The issues related to sexuality are not and have never been issues of salvation, and it just breaks my heart that we are down to this decision, which is either unity or uniformity,” Noblitt said.

Not everyone wants change.

Anthony Jackson, a member of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, isn’t comfortable with the notion of same-sex marriages or the ordination of openly gay pastors.

“Well, I don’t think same-sex marriage should be granted anywhere,” he said. “The Word strictly states that God created man for woman and woman for man. It didn’t say man for man. I don’t think you can edit or tweak it or go with the times.”

What will happen before the General Conference concludes Tuesday?

Some answers, it seems, have started to emerge. But the full picture is not yet known. Stay tuned — via national outlets and maybe even your local paper.

Image via United Methodist News Service

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