gays in church

Charlotte Observer on gay rights: With this United Methodist story, there's a different result

Charlotte Observer on gay rights: With this United Methodist story, there's a different result

Honest, we're not picking on the Charlotte Observer. Just because this is the third GetReligion piece on that paper's coverage in less than a week and a half, and the other two were blunt criticisms, doesn't mean … 

No, this post is mostly praise for the Observer's  follow-up on United Methodist clergy who performed a gay wedding in violation of church rules. It's a thorough report, but I do have a few qualifications.

The long-stewing controversy began in April, when the Rev. Val Rosenquist, along with a retired United Methodist Church bishop, married two men at First United Methodist in Charlotte. That brought several formal complaints that she had gone against the Book of Discipline, the denomination's main lawbook.

That's a serious charge in the last mainline denomination that rules out homosexual acts as "incompatible with Christian teaching." As tmatt has noted, the crucial issue is whether these clergy are acting in violation of their ordination vows to accept the denomination's "order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God's Holy Word. ..."

As the story notes: "Clergy who violate it can lose their jobs, face a church trial, even lose their clergy credentials."

This week, the Observer announced the resolution. Actually, no, it didn’t -- because the Western North Carolina Conference didn’t tell anyone:

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United Methodists punt on sexuality; some journalists try to cover from their newsrooms

United Methodists punt on sexuality; some journalists try to cover from their newsrooms

The United Methodist bishops punted.

This tense flock committee-fied. Kicked the can down the road.

All those clichés were coined for news events like the United Methodist Church conference this week. The Methodists faced a choice: to allow gays to be ordained and married in the church, as other old-line Protestant denominations have done; or to keep the belief that both are "incompatible with Christian teaching," as the denomination has said for more than four decades.

Either option might have split the denomination, especially in an era in which the denomination is in decline in America and growing in the more conservative Global South. So the conference voted instead to have a committee study the matter further.

Let's see how mainstream media covered the decision, starting with the Religion News Service -- which, again, distinguishes itself with onsite coverage in Portland, Ore., rather than just phones, emails and bits of other articles.

This 1,100-word article interweaves updates, background and balanced sourcing. It points out, for one, that the delegates did more than simply delay the day of reckoning. Instead, they allowed bishops to have a commission re-examine all references to sexuality in the Book of Discipline, their basic rulebook.

The ambivalent wording reflects denominational worries:

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Divorce that could happen: Newspapers sift rumors of a brewing United Methodist Church split

Divorce that could happen: Newspapers sift rumors of a brewing United Methodist Church split

Be glad you're not Bishop Bruce Ough this week. The presiding bishop of the United Methodist Church is trying to dissension at the general conference in Portland, Ore., while denying persistent rumors that a UMC committee is already drawing up divorce papers.

Meanwhile, major media are already doing what they do best: ferreting out the possibility that after decades of debate, leaders of the second-largest Protestant denomination may finally part ways over gay marriage and gay ordination.

The Washington Post does a fine, professional job of gathering facts from secondary sources, then reporting its findings in a non-sensational yet riveting way. It even gives the good bishop a chance to spin it his way:

Amid reports that United Methodist leaders are considering dividing over LGBT equality disputes, the denomination’s top bishop on Tuesday asked members to recommit to remaining together, even though he described their community as having a "broken heart" and in the views of many being "out of time."
Bishop Bruce Ough spoke during an unscheduled appearance at the major, once-every-four-years meeting of the global denomination, which is being held in Portland, Ore. Ough, the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, said he was responding to a flood of social media leaks about secret meetings top church leaders were having in the last week about the possibility of separating. The meeting is called a General Conference.

Ough may not want to play up the private meetings; however, he not only acknowledged to the Post that they’ve been held, but that he attended them. The group "reportedly discussed breaking into conservative, moderate and progressive communities," the article says.

The lengthy WaPo article, more than 1,270 words long, notes the rising numbers and influence of Methodists in Asia and Africa -- who confirm the church's current stance against homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."  I also admire how the paper sought viewpoints of more conservative sources like Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Mark Tooley of the IRD, in fact, says that in a few years, "the whole United States will be a minority and the liberal parts of the United States will be a minority within a minority."

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At United Methodist conference, media highlight LGBT issues yet again

At United Methodist conference, media highlight LGBT issues yet again

The United Methodist Church's quadrennial conference opened this week, and once again, mainstream media are making it mainly into an LGBT debate. As the largest mainline Protestant body that doesn't ordain gays or perform weddings for them, the UMC has faced growing pressure over the last three decades.

Much of the coverage thus far has been restrained and respectful, but subtle word choices favoring the LGBT side often creep in. And as the 10-day conference in Portland, Ore., continues, we can expect more of the same.

A good example is the Religion News Service, which yesterday reported on the assembly turning back a proposal to send gay matters to small groups for discussion. RNS gives some space to a statesmanlike quote by a top UMC official:

The tension over LGBT inclusion during the meeting, which draws delegates from across the globe, was evident from the beginning. In a sermon at the conference’s opening worship, Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, reminded delegates: "As we discuss our different opinions about same-gender relationships, may we remember our dueling points of view are anchored in our desire to be faithful.
"We hold our respective positions as firmly as our conscience and experience dictates, but can we not also seek the path of unity among Christians with different views on this issue as we have on other disputed matters?"

The general tone of the article is respectful of both sides like that. But it twice uses the concept of the "inclusion" of LGBT people in the denomination.  They are not, in fact, excluded; as the group's Book of Discipline says, all persons have "sacred worth" and may "attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection." But the book also classifies homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

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That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

Wow, they didn’t rely on clichés.  Major media scrambled today after Pope Francis pulled off a Friday surprise, releasing his eagerly awaited statement on the family. And they didn’t fall back on the tried-and-untrue "Who am I to judge?" and "Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition, saying that …"

Well, most didn’t. More on that later.

The book-length, 256-page Amoris Laetitia makes for hefty weekend reading, and church officials are calling for careful consideration. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said today:

Amoris Laetitia is unusual for its size – more than 250 pages – and the Holy Father himself cautions us to read it with patience and attention.  This is sound guidance, especially in the scramble that always takes place to stamp a particular interpretation on important papal interventions.  My own more developed thoughts will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, we can be thankful for the Holy Father’s thoughts on an issue of real gravity.  Nothing is more essential to any society than the health of marriage and the family.

In the letter, Francis strikes balance between law and grace, restating both church doctrine and an understanding of what contemporary families go through. In turn, media seem to take a sympathetic view of the document -- for now, at least.

Despite a tight deadline, the Washington Post produced an almost feature treatment:

He called for divorced and remarried Catholics to participate more fully in church life. But he closed the door on gay marriage. He quotes Jorge Luis Borges and Jesus Christ. There is an entire chapter on love.
But more than anything, Pope Francis’s long-awaited document on family life, released Friday by the Vatican, amounts to an exultation of traditional marriage while recognizing that life, in his own words, isn’t always “perfect.” Yet rather than judging, he commanded, the church should be a pillar of support.

WaPo sees an ambiguity in Francis' words on divorced and remarried Catholics. It says he maintains that some are living in an “objective situation of sin,” but " he seemed to suggest that such cases should be studied and ruled on one by one."

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Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister

Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister

If you quote a gay-rights activist at a protest, what should you call him?

The Louisville Courier-Journal describes the Rev. Maurice Blanchard as "a gay-rights activist." 

Blanchard appears pretty high up (the sixth paragraph, to be precise) in this Courier-Journal report:

As a youth growing up in an evangelical household in North Carolina, Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten said he got some firsthand experience with "conversion therapy" when, as an adolescent, he came out as gay.
His parents sent him to a religious counselor to try to eliminate "my sinful desires," an experience that left him depressed, isolated and, at times, suicidal.
"It's an experience I still have scars from," he said.
Monday, Guldenschuh-Gatten, 32,  joined about 40 others in front of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to protest a three-day conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors on homosexuality and transgenderism.
Organized by the Fairness Campaign, protesters prayed and held signs opposing what they call misguided efforts at counseling based on the belief homosexuality and transgenderism are wrong or sinful. It prompted horn honks and shouts of support  from drivers passing by the bucolic seminary grounds on Lexington Road.
"This is absolutely and utterly wrong," said the Rev. Maurice Blanchard,  a gay-rights activist in Louisville. "It's spiritual abuse, that's what it is."

Like the Courier-Journal, The Associated Press turns to Blanchard as a go-to source among the protesters.

Before we consider the AP's approach to Blanchard, though, here's the AP's newsy lede:

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More slanted coverage, as that brave Nashville evangelical pastor enters the same-sex quagmire

More slanted coverage, as that brave Nashville evangelical pastor enters the same-sex quagmire

Same-sex relationships are the new Rubicon for America’s evangelical churches, and judging by much of the news coverage, the outcome has already been decided. Evangelical Protestants in particular haven’t gotten with the program, thus a lot of the news coverage out there reads like advocacy journalism, saying it’s time to wise up. In other words, more Kellerism.

One of the newest pieces out there is an RNS article on a church just south of hip red-state Nashville, certainly a buckle on the Bible Belt. The Rev. Stan Mitchell, pastor of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tenn., has been agonizing over homosexuality and the Bible for some time. Then he conducted a same-sex marriage without telling his board (yes, this is the church that drew slanted Time coverage, as noted by our own Bobby Ross Jr.).

Then, during Sunday services on Jan. 11, Mitchell announced that the congregation henceforth will be "fully affirming." That is how the reporter described it in the second half of the article, albeit without the quote marks. Here is how it begins:

Pastor Stan Mitchell’s announcement that his evangelical GracePointe Church would fully affirm gay members met with a standing ovation from some, stunned silence from others, but everybody prayed together quietly at the end of it.
A month and a half later, Mitchell routinely receives emails inviting him to kill himself, often including the assurance they were sent in love from other Christians. Half of his 12-member board has left, along with half the average offering and about a third of the weekly attendance — once at 800 to 1,000 people.
He’s met with dozens of disenchanted members and plans to see dozens more, apologizing almost compulsively for his handling of the issue. But there’s no going back, he says. He doesn’t even want to.

Much bad karma ensues.

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