St. Louis

Looking at this story internationally, what’s the status of modern church doctrines on gays?

Looking at this story internationally, what’s the status of modern church doctrines on gays?

THE QUESTION: 

Looked at internationally, what’s the status of churches’ policies on the same-sex issue in the wake of the United Methodists’ important decision on this February 26?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

You may have read that in late February the 12.6-million-member United Methodist Church held a special General Conference in St. Louis, seeking to settle its painful conflict over the gay-and-lesbian issue and avert a split. The delegates decided by 53 percent to support and strengthen the denomination’s longstanding ban against same-sex marriages and clergy living in such relationships.

Though U.S. bishops, officials, and academics had advocated leeway on gays, the vote was not a shock. A 2015 poll by the denomination found 54 percent of U.S. pastors and 54 percent of lay leaders (though only 41 percent of lay members over-all)  favored keeping the traditional policy. Another poll of U.S. members, released just before the St. Louis conference, showed 44 percent identify as conservative or traditional in belief, 28 percent as moderate or centrist, and only 20 percent as progressive or liberal.

Moreover, United Methodism is a multinational denomination whose U.S. component has declined and now claims only 55 percent of the global membership. The congregations in Africa and Asia are growing, and that buttresses the traditionalist side. Unlike the Methodists, most “mainline” Protestant groups in North America and western Europe that recently liberalized on the same-sex issue had no foreigners casting ballots.

International bonds have always been central in Christianity. Currently, conservative and evangelical Protestants in North America, including a faction within liberalizing “mainline” groups, are united in sexual traditionalism with most of the Protestant and indigenous churches in Africa, Asia, the Mideast, eastern Europe and Latin America. Add in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and the vast majority of the world’s Christians belong to churches that have always opposed gay and lesbian relationships.

This broad Christian consensus results from thousands of years of scriptures, interpretations, and traditions. This is the context for the West’s serious clash of conscience — between believers in that heritage versus religious and secular gay-rights advocates — that confronts government, politicians, educators, judges, journalists, and ordinary citizens.

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Next big news story: After 40 years of war, is United Methodist establishment ready to bargain?

Next big news story: After 40 years of war, is United Methodist establishment ready to bargain?

The late Lyle E. Schaller was always popular with journalists because he had the rare ability to dig deep into statistics and demographics, while speaking in direct-quote friendly language. But it was always hard to know what to call him. He was an expert on church-growth trends. But he was also a United Methodist. Wait for it.

Schaller used to laugh whenever he was called a “United Methodist church-growth expert,” in part because of that flock’s serious decline in membership over the past quarter-century or more. If he was a church-growth pro, why didn’t his own denomination listen to him? It was something like being an expert on Baptist liturgy, Episcopal evangelism or Eastern Orthodox praise bands.

But when Schaller talked about the future, lots of people listened. Check out this material from a column I wrote about him entitled, “United Methodists: Breaking up is hard to do.

One side is convinced the United Methodist Church has cancer. The other disagrees and rejects calls for surgery. It's hard to find a safe, happy compromise when the issue is a cancer diagnosis. …

So it raised eyebrows when United Methodism's best-known expert on church growth and decay called for open discussions of strategies to split or radically restructure the national church. Research indicates that United Methodists are increasingly polarized around issues of scripture, salvation, sexuality, money, politics, multiculturalism, church government, worship and even the identity of God, said the Rev. Lyle E. Schaller of Naperville, Ill.

Many people are in denial, while their … church continues to age and decline, he said, in the Circuit Rider magazine for United Methodist clergy. Others know what's happening, yet remain passive.

Sports fans, That. Was. In. 1998.

Schaller told me that he was basing his diagnosis on the open doctrinal warfare that began two decades earlier, in the late 1970s. He was very familiar with a prophetic study that emerged from Duke Divinity School in the mid-1980s, entitled “The Seven Churches of Methodism."

Do I need to say that Schaller’s words are highly relevant in light of the acid-bath drama in yesterday’s final hours at that special United Methodist conference in St. Louis (GetReligion posts here and then here)?

But this is old news, really. Activists on both sides of this struggle have been doing the math (see my 2004 column on that topic) for four decades.

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Big United Methodist questions: Has left embraced 'exit' plans? Do 'coexist' clauses work? (updated)

Big United Methodist questions: Has left embraced 'exit' plans? Do 'coexist' clauses work? (updated)

Reporters who have followed decades of fighting inside mainline Protestant churches over marriage and sex will remember that doctrinal conservatives have always been promised that they will be able to continue to believe and practice their church’s old doctrines at their own altars.

In practice, that can be summed up as two beliefs that go back to the early church and scripture: Marriage is the union of a man and a women and sex outside of marriage is sin. Both doctrines affect who can be ordained as clergy.

These promises usually took the form of "conscience clauses,” such as those given long ago to reassure Episcopalians who opposed the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Over time, these clauses have a way of being erased — a trend that is highly relevant to debates currently taking place among United Methodists at a special national conference in St. Louis. (Click here for the Bobby Ross, Jr., post on coverage of yesterday’s actions.)

Two of the plans to shape the future of America’s second-largest Protestant flock promised, to one degree or another, to allow believers on both sides of the marriage and sex divide to be able to coexist — protected by structures to protect their doctrinal convictions. A crucial aspect of these debates is that the doctrinal conservatives (who want to retain current United Methodist doctrines) are arguing:

(a) That these “conscience clause” structures will not work over the long haul, in part because the church’s bishops have already endorsed allowing doctrinal progressives to carry on with same-sex marriages and other LGBTQ changes, such as the ordination of women and men who are sexually active in same-sex relationships or other unions short of traditional marriage.

(b) Passing “agree to disagree” doctrinal plans of this kind can be linked to the demographic disasters that are shrinking liberal Protestantism, in general. (The left, of course, argues that doctrinal innovations are required to reach out to young people in a changing America.)

Reporters who are not covering these two themes in the debates are not, well, covering the debates.

This leads me to the top of the current Associated Press report — “United Methodist Church on edge of breakup over LGBT stand” — about the St. Louis meetings. Here is the overture.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The United Methodist Church teetered on the brink of breakup Monday after more than half the delegates at an international conference voted to maintain bans on same-sex weddings and ordination of gay clergy.

Their favored plan, if formally approved, could drive supporters of LGBT inclusion to leave America’s second-largest Protestant denomination.

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

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

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.

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Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon

Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon

Rome. Nashville. St. Louis.

These are the centers of the religion news universe this week, involving America’s three largest Christian groups.

At Vatican City, Pope Francis has convened a four-day meeting on the Catholic Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis. In Nashville, Tenn., Southern Baptists heard from the convention’s president, J.D. Greear, earlier this week concerning that denomination’s own sex abuse crisis.

Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes, three-day meeting on LGBT issues opens Sunday in St. Louis. Are we talking about schism or a semi-schism?

Amid all that news, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In a busy week, the ongoing Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis dominated headlines and GetReligion commentary. Oh, and there’s another post linked to those Covington Catholic High School boys.

In case you missed them, here are some of our must-read posts:

How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

'Abuse of minors' – Rare chance to hear New York Times sing harmony with Vatican establishment

Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

What did press learn from Covington Catholic drama? Hint. This story wasn't about Donald Trump

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The numbers matter — and so does doctrine — in Methodists' high-stakes meeting on LGBT issues

The numbers matter — and so does doctrine — in Methodists' high-stakes meeting on LGBT issues

“Will the United Methodist Church be ripped apart?”

We considered that question in a recent post that critiqued a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story.

Now comes The Associated Press with a report — getting lots of play in newspapers across the nation — previewing the big meeting that starts this weekend:

The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly convenes Sunday for a high-stakes, three-day meeting likely to determine whether America’s second-largest Protestant denomination will fracture due to divisions over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.

While other mainline Protestant denominations — such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches — have embraced gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them, even though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied and talk of a possible breakup of the church has intensified.

At the church’s upcoming General Conference in St. Louis, 864 invited delegates — split evenly between lay people and clergy — are expected to consider several plans for the church’s future. Several Methodist leaders said they expect a wave of departures from the church regardless of the decision.

“I don’t think there’s any plan where there won’t be some division, and some people will leave,” said David Watson, a dean and professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who will be attending the conference.

The AP coverage is informative and filled with crucial details related to what’s at stake.

But two important facets of this scenario seem to get short shrift. Some of that, no doubt, is a matter of a wire service reporter with limited space. Trust me, I know — as a former AP newsman — that there’s never enough space to include every fact you’d like.

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Black, white and vague: trying hard to decipher Southern Baptist racial unity efforts

Black, white and vague: trying hard to decipher Southern Baptist racial unity efforts

We've said it before, but Associated Press writers face an almost impossible task: providing real depth and insight in wire-service-length news reports.

Yes, the AP goes in depth from time to time — such as religion writer Rachel Zoll's deep dive inside the changing status of evangelicals in America, which I praised last week.

But typically, AP limits stories to 300 to 500 words.

By my quick copy-and-paste count, an AP story out today on Southern Baptists talking racial unity with a black Baptist leader is 532 words.

So perhaps it's no surprise that the piece falls short when it comes to backing up its generalizations and quoting relevant sources.

Let's start at the top:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Ferguson, Missouri, exploded two years ago with racial unrest that spread across the nation, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention was moved to action.
Together with an interracial group of his fellow ministers, the Rev. Ronnie Floyd penned an article that called on Southern Baptist pastors, churches and laypeople to repent of racism and injustice. "Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing," it read.
It was one of the most strongly worded denunciations of racism ever released by leaders of a denomination founded in a split over slavery, and it set in motion events leading to a "national conversation on racial unity" to take place at the SBC's annual meeting on Tuesday.
Speaking to the membership of the nation's largest Protestant denomination will be the Rev. Jerry Young, president of the nation's largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.

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Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Back in March, I critiqued a newspaper profile of the St. Louis Cardinals' team chaplain — a pastor named Darrin Patrick.

My review focused on the lack of details concerning Patrick's actual faith and church background.

Well, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed up that earlier feature with an in-depth story on Patrick today.

The new piece made the front page, but it's not positive news.

The lede:

ST. LOUIS — Shepherding a megachurch is tied in many ways to America’s celebrity culture. There’s a push for big-stage events and around-the-clock access through social media to a pastor’s life and thoughts.
It’s a formula that amplifies the message and multiplies the flock, in congregants who show up on Sunday for worship and in tens of thousands more followers online.
High visibility can also set pastors on a correction-course with humility that evangelical Christians call getting right with Jesus.
The Rev. Darrin Patrick, 45, of Webster Groves, is one of the latest on such a path. Elders at The Journey, a popular megachurch he founded with his wife in 2002, fired him a few weeks ago for what they viewed as pastoral misconduct.
Among the allegations:
• Lack of self-control.
• Manipulation.
• Misuse of power.
• History of building an identity through ministry and media platforms.
• Not adultery, but “inappropriate meetings, conversations and phone calls with two women.”
Reached by telephone, Patrick said he didn’t have more to say other than what The Journey outlined in a three-page letter to members, heavily footnoted in Scripture.
“I have four kids, little kids,” Patrick said, voice cracking. “I am trying to protect my family and figure this out.

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What's faith got to do with it? An embattled homeless shelter takes in 'anyone and everyone,' but why?

What's faith got to do with it? An embattled homeless shelter takes in 'anyone and everyone,' but why?

Tina Turner asked: "What's love got to do with it?"

Here's my question for The New York Times: 

Holy ghosts — as we dub 'em here at GetReligion — haunt the Times' 1,300-word story on an embattled St. Louis homeless shelter. 

The top of the story:

ST. LOUIS — The thermometer is barely reaching the driving age on this late February evening, bringing the type of arctic bite to the air here that numbs fingers and toes within minutes, and a grim procession takes place downtown.

One by one, men and women, bundled in ragtag wear of varying thicknesses, shiver into an old, cocoa-brown brick building near a strip of hip bars, restaurants and boutiques. They raise their arms at the door to be patted down, show identification and sign their names on sheets of paper before grabbing flimsy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or dry pastries and having a seat on metal folding chairs. The air is a bit stale, the mood a bit weary. But it is warm. And for the dozens filing in, that seemed to be good enough.

“It’s livable,” said Anthony Lewis, 44, curled under a scarlet blanket on a cot in a spacious but chilly room with about 125 beds on the fifth floor. “It’s a blessing right now.”

This place, the New Life Evangelistic Center, has for decades been a safety net for hundreds of people without a place to lay their head at night. Around here, it is the shelter that is known to take in just about anyone and everyone. Even the police have dropped off the homeless at its front door, which leads into a century-old former YWCA building.

But now that this former garment district is transforming into a hub for urban renewal with new lofts and businesses attracting young, affluent residents, a war has broken out over the center’s future.

That's some nice description up high. It really paints a picture. And it provides the first hint of a religion angle.

 

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