Foundry United Methodist Church

When covering the United Methodist split, remember that there's two sides -- not one

When covering the United Methodist split, remember that there's two sides -- not one

I’ve been only peripherally observing the United Methodist meltdown of this past week where, unlike any other U.S. denomination that’s debated doctrinal issues related to homosexuality over the past two decades, the conservatives won this round. The key: Church growth in the Global South and declining numbers of key parts of the United States.

So what’s the story? The impact on the winners after this historic St. Louis conference, the views of the losers or both? Under normal circumstances, journalists would say “both.”

Since St. Louis, a flood of articles have, voilà, been published bemoaning the crucial votes and concentrating on the angry, grieving liberals who must decide whether to stick with the denomination or leave to form their own. And it is a tough decision to make.

I know, because I covered a lot of conservative Episcopalians –- and some Lutherans -– who had to exit their denominations, starting with my column about the tornado that hit the Minneapolis Convention Center on the day in August 2009 of a crucial vote by members of Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and how some folks wondered if God was sending a message.

But where were these same articles oozing sympathy when theological conservatives were forced to leave? For instance, look at a recent piece in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Chet Jechura was 12 years old when he first felt called to preach, but for years he put off ordination. He knew himself, and he knew the official rules of the United Methodist Church: Homosexuality was “incompatible with Christian teaching.” And so he left the denomination.

Then four years ago, he discovered Foundry United Methodist, a church that has carved a different path. He could sing the hymns of his childhood, be fully supported as a gay man, and finally become a candidate for ordination.

This week, a decision at a global conference for Methodists threatened to upend a lifetime of dreams, with the church voting to strengthen its ban on same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian clergy.

At an impromptu prayer service on Wednesday, as Mr. Jechura helped serve communion, he broke out in sobs, his body convulsing, barely able to stand. The emptiness grew louder with every wail. Friends held him up, wrapping him in their arms…

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Weekend think piece: Questions to ask, when reporting on the state of a candidate's soul

Weekend think piece: Questions to ask, when reporting on the state of a candidate's soul

Around and around and around we go, with the ongoing chatter about the state of Citizen Donald Trump's soul ("Crossroads" podcast here) and the whole "is he or is he not a you know what kind of Christian" talk.

However, I have good news for all who are frustrated by all of this, including the fact that the Trump drama has offered a chance for journalists to laugh at people who are eternally serious when it comes to discussions of heaven and hell, sin and salvation.

One of the America's most respected scholars on matters of religion and the press has weighed in with some thoughts on this situation. I've known Stewart Hoover ever since our paths crossed soon after his doctoral studies. To make a long story short, he was very kind, at one point, to call some attention to my own University of Illinois graduate project (the short version in The Quill is here) digging into why journalists struggle to cover religion news. Anyone who has taught a college class on this subject knows his work.

Thus, this weekend's religion-news think piece comes from Hoover and can be found at ReligionDispatches.org. The headline: "Hillary's faith, Trump's conversion: Two questions journalists need to ask."

Here is a key part of the overture. It's almost like he's saying that many mainstream journalists, you know, kind of don't "get" religion.

Somewhere in each reporter’s notebook is a tab marked “religion.” The problem is that, unlike most of the other topics they’ll be reporting on, their understanding of religion is a mixture of broad bromides about the nature of religion in American life, mixed perhaps with entirely subjective notions of religion born of their own personal experience with it.

Among journalistic “broad truths:” religion used to be important to Americans, but isn’t anymore, except in rural areas and the Midwest and for those pesky evangelicals and mass-attending Catholics and of course the great and noble tradition of African-American Protestantism. What do you do about a candidate’s religion? She or he must have one, of course, but it doesn’t matter what it is -- except when it does.

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