David Gushee

ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

Way back in the late 1980s, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado needed to elect a new bishop.

This led to an interesting series of events, with the various candidates -- there were a bunch -- traveling across that large and diverse state to meet with the faithful and to take questions. As the religion-beat writer at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP), I went along.

It was during that tour that I came up with a set of three questions that I have used, ever since, when probing doctrinal fault lines inside Christian organizations, both large and small. Here at GetReligion, we call these questions the "tmatt trio." One of them is rather relevant to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) and my recent update post on the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org.

But first, here are the three questions, as stated in an "On Religion" column I wrote about the polling work of the late George Gallup, Jr. It opened with a reference to a speech he gave in 1990.

About that time, I shared a set of three questions with Gallup that I had begun asking, after our previous discussions. The key, he affirmed, was that these were doctrinal, not political, questions. ... The questions:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

It is interesting, sometimes, to observe the lengths to which Christian leaders, academics and others will go to avoid giving clear answers to these questions, even the one focusing on the resurrection. The key is to pay close attention to their answers, seeking insights into where they stand in the vast spectrum -- liberal to orthodox -- of Christian life.

Now, look again at the third question: "Is sex outside of marriage a sin?"

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ChurchClarity.org is back, but Newsweek offers only one side of this crucial LGBTQ story

ChurchClarity.org is back, but Newsweek offers only one side of this crucial LGBTQ story

The activists at ChurchClarity.org are back, with another narrow, but important, set of numbers detailing what some strategic American churches are, and are not, saying about LGBTQ issues and other causes that are crucial to the Christian left.

Anyone who cares about the development of an open, candid, evangelical left has to be paying close attention to this project. That means bookmarking two essential websites -- ChurchClarity.org itself and the Religion News Service columns of Jonathan Merritt, the scribe who has done the most to provoke and define debates on the evangelical left on these topics.

The goal of the project, simply stated, is to examine the public statements of various churches -- symbolized by doctrinal documents on websites -- in order to determine where the leaders of these congregations stand on LGBTQ issues.

While some may see the project as hostile to Christian orthodoxy, the bottom line is that it's offering newsworthy material that reporters need to know about. It is also providing links to its source materials. Journalists can respect that (as demonstrated by this Rod Dreher post reacting to these surveys). 

The bottom line: Reporters can use ChurchClarity.org as a key voice in an important debate.

That is, journalists can choose to do that. It appears that some will settle for a public-relations approach. For example, see the Newsweek piece with this headline: "AMERICA’S LARGEST CHURCHES ARE ALL ANTI-LGBT AND LED BY MOSTLY WHITE MEN." Yes, the all-caps thing appears to be Newsweek style. Here is the overture:

None of America’s 100 largest churches are LGBT-affirming and almost all of them are led by white men, according to ChurchClarity.org, an organization that reports churches’ LGBT policies and rates congregations based on their level of clarity.

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Surprise! Hillary Clinton talks faith on the campaign trail, and CNN joins Trump in botching Corinthians (updated)

Surprise! Hillary Clinton talks faith on the campaign trail, and CNN joins Trump in botching Corinthians (updated)

Wednesday afternoon update: Looks like CNN has corrected the mistakes we pointed out. Who says GetReligion doesn't get action?

• • •

Evangelicals' role in Iowa's Republican presidential contest seems to make nonstop headlines. That's not the case on the Democratic side.

Hillary Clinton has said advertising her faith "doesn't come naturally to me."

In a story this week on how the two major parties can't agree on the issues, let alone the solutions, the Washington Post noted:

At the Democratic debate, no candidate said the words “God,” “Christian,” “Bible” or “scripture,” and the three — Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley — do not commonly use such words in their speeches.
By contrast, the Republican candidates tend to wear their faith on their sleeves, in part to win over conservative Christian voters in Iowa and other states.
Donald Trump brings his childhood Bible with him to some campaign rallies and holds it as a prop, although the billionaire mogul drew mockery when he botched a reference to Second Corinthians during a recent speech to students at Liberty University, the Christian college in Virginia founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush often talks about his Catholic faith and carries a rosary on the campaign trail.
And Cruz, whose father is a born-again Christian and travels the country preaching, has taken to quoting scripture in his stump speeches. He cites Second Chronicles 7:14 and urges his supporters to find time every day to pray for the country’s future.
“Just one minute when you wake up in the morning,” Cruz says. “When you’re shaving. When you’re having lunch. When you’re tucking your kids into bed.”

So when a voter asked Clinton about her faith Monday and the candidate responded with a rather detailed answer, I'm surprised no one yelled, "STOP THE PRESSES!" (I kid. I kid.)

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An Easter gift: The perfect, easy solution to America’s gay marriage conflict

An Easter gift: The perfect, easy solution to America’s gay marriage conflict

While TV offered reverential bathrobe-and-sandals programs on Easter Sunday, the principalities and powers at The New York Times were helpfully offering America the perfect solution to its troublesome gay marriage conflict. Since religious conservatism underlies much of the resistance, the conservatives should simply become religious liberals. It's that easy.

That proposal from columnist Frank Bruni was reminiscent of the infamous 2009 Newsweek magazine cover article on “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage,” which never explained whether there were any reasons why some believers might dissent. With only one side to the question taking part in the debate, however, the problem magically vanishes.

In the Religion Guy’s dim past at Northwestern University, legendary journalism Prof. Curtis MacDougall  taught us that editorial,  op-ed and column writing is like formal debate. You need to study and acknowledge the strengths of the opposite side in order to effectively answer them and offer your competing viewpoint. That strategy is in decline in venues like cable news and the Times editorial pages. The business of journalism becomes not information and persuasion but group reinforcement of prior opinions.

Bruni’s reaction to religious freedom claims is important to consider because he was the newspaper’s first openly partnered gay columnist. Moreover, he’s a figure with some Godbeat credentials as the former Times Rome bureau chief and author of a 1993 book on the Catholic molestation scandals.

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