LGBTQ rights

Play the religion-beat game: Trying to parse United Methodist Church's options for future

Play the religion-beat game: Trying to parse United Methodist Church's options for future

During my decades on the religion beat, it's safe to say that I have met very few preachers -- people whose work requires solid pulpit skills -- who were lousy when it came time to crafting one-liners and soundbites.

If you want good quotes, preachers are safe bets.

However, the leaders of major religious organizations -- like denominations -- are another matter. They tend to be hyper-cautious leaders of complex coalitions and they often hide their views in clouds of theological fog.

I remember a U.S. Catholic Bishops meeting long ago in which the men in black were debating the moral status of nuclear weapons and the strategic concept of deterrence. At one point, they released a draft document that was so unquotable that it could have been written in Latin. In a press conference, I asked a panel of bishops if their goal was to "launch a preemptive strike on American headline writers" -- preventing coverage.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin offered this oh-so-quotable response: "Yes."

This brings me (a) to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), (b) my column this week for the Universal syndicate and (c) the latest strategic moves in the long, long, long war inside the United Methodist Church about biblical authority, marriage and sex.

The global UMC is less than a year away from a special General Conference that is supposed to make history. The goal is to approve a plan for church life in the post-Sexual Revolution world. Think of it this way: In terms of property laws, church agencies and pensions, they are trying to keep the "united" in United Methodism. Doctrine? Keep reading.

The bishops recently produced a press release that described two models that are under consideration. Pretend that you are a religion-beat professional who needs to parse this, as part of a religion-news game:

ONE CHURCH MODEL
The One Church Model gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible.

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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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