extramarital sex

A Bible Belt mayor, an extramarital affair and a newspaper savvy enough to cover the religion angle

A Bible Belt mayor, an extramarital affair and a newspaper savvy enough to cover the religion angle

When the dateline on a news story is Nashville, Tenn., there isn't always a religion angle.

But almost always?

Yes, that's a pretty safe statement. At least was the case during the year I spent in that Bible Belt state capital, covering faith and politics for The Associated Press.

In late 2015, I praised The Tennessean's decision to hire a full-time religion writer — Holly Meyer — after eliminating the position when veteran journalist Bob Smietana left the paper in 2013. In my post two years ago, I proclaimed:

The prodigal Godbeat has come home to Music City!

The USA Today Network publication's investment in Meyer and religion journalism expertise keeps paying dividends. The most recent example came last week after Nashville Mayor Megan Barry confessed to an extramarital affair.

Way up high in the initial main news story on Barry's affair, quotes attributed to the mayor hinted strongly at holy ghosts:

Mayor Megan Barry said Wednesday she had an extramarital affair with the police officer in charge of her security detail, an extraordinary admission that rocks the popular Nashville mayor's first term.
Barry, in an interview with The Tennessean on Wednesday afternoon, apologized "for the harm I've done to the people I love and the people who counted on me" but said she won't be resigning. 
She confirmed the affair with Metro police Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr., which began in the spring or summer of 2016, just months after she entered office the previous fall. Forrest submitted his retirement papers Jan. 17. His final day was Wednesday. 
"We had an affair, and it was wrong, and we shouldn't have done it," Barry, a Democrat, said, looking down as she spoke softly and slowly. "He was part of my security detail, and as part of that responsibility, I should have gone to the (police) chief, and I should have said what was going on, and that was a mistake.
"People that we admire can also be flawed humans, and I'm flawed, and I'm incredibly sad and sorry for the disappointment that I will see in those little girls' faces. But, what I hope they can also see is that people make mistakes, and you move on from those."

But just a bit later in the story — directly from the mayor's mouth — came this direct reference to the Almighty:

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Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

When it comes to lesbians and gays in the ministry, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America speaks with a clear voice. So that doctrinal stance really isn't news anymore.

When it comes to ecclesiastical approval for same-sex marriage liturgies, the ELCA -- at this point -- leaves that decision up to local leaders. So it really isn't news when an ELCA congregation backs same-sex marriage.

When it comes to ordaining a trans candidate for the ministry, some folks in the ELCA have crossed that bridge, as well. So an ELCA church embracing trans rights isn't really news.

So what would members of this liberal mainline denomination need to do to make news, when releasing a manifesto on issues of sex, gender and marriage? That was the question raised by the recent "Denver Statement" that was released by (and I quote the document):

... some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married image-bearering Christians at House for All Sinners & Saints (Denver, Co).

That was also the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I addressed in this week's podcast. So click here to tune that in.

Now, in terms of news appeal, it helps to know that this relatively small, but media-friendly, Denver congregation was founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a 6-foot-1, tattooed, witty, weight-lifting, frequently profane ELCA pastor who has graced the bestseller lists at The New York Times. She's like a superhero who walked out of liberal Christian graphic novel.

So the Denver Statement made some news because it was released -- at Bolz-Weber's "Sarcastic Lutheran" blog -- in reaction to the Nashville Statement that created a mini-media storm with its rather ordinary restatement of some ancient Christian doctrines on sexuality.

So if the Nashville Statement was news, then it made sense that -- for a few reporters and columnists (including me) -- that the Denver Statement was also news. (Oddly enough, a previous statement on sexuality by the Orthodox Church in America -- strikingly similar to the Nashville Statement -- made zero news.)

But here's another journalism issue: Was the Denver document news merely because it openly rejected what the Nashville Statement had to say?

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