This week The Denver Post‘s Eric Gorski broke a story about a Colorado megachurch pastor resigning amid allegations of homosexual conduct. The congregation in question is, like Ted Haggard’s New Life Church, down the road from where I grew up.
Gorski was permitted to watch the videotaped resignation message that the Rev. Paul Barnes gave to Grace Chapel in Douglas County, just south of Denver. Gorski handled the story well, supplying the facts in a plain and straightforward manner:
[Associate pastor Dave] Palmer said the church got an anonymous call last week from a person concerned for the welfare of Barnes and the church. The caller had overheard a conversation in which someone mentioned “blowing the whistle” on evangelical preachers engaged in homosexuality, including Barnes, Palmer said.
Palmer met with Barnes, who confessed. At an emergency meeting Thursday, a board of elders accepted Barnes’ resignation after he admitted “sexual infidelity,” violating the church’s code of conduct. Church leaders also must affirm annually that they are “living the moral and ethical teachings of Scripture in my public and private life.”
Separated by a confession of sin, the Rev. Paul Barnes and leaders of his former church will reunite this week and plot the road ahead. Meanwhile, others ponder the broader implications of a second consecutive evangelical pastor toppled by a gay-sex scandal.
As soon as my Eric Gorski News Alert crossed my computer screen on Monday morning, I wondered if we’d see a raft of stories about the trend of gay evangelicals. In journalism there’s a joke that it usually takes three loose anecdotes before you can write a trend story. But it being the Year of the Gay in American newsrooms and all, and these two pastors being so geographically close, we saw a few stories already. Thankfully the reporters didn’t bite off more than they could chew.
Neela Banerjee’s gay evangelical piece for The New York Times was nicely written. She introduced various people who consider themselves both evangelical Christian and homosexual, using the Barnes and Haggard stories as a hook:
Gay evangelicals seem to have few paths carved out for them: they can leave religion behind; they can turn to theologically liberal congregations that often differ from the tradition they grew up in; or they can enter programs to try to change their behavior, even their orientation, through prayer and support.
Banerjee’s article focuses on individuals who want to embrace both homosexuality and evangelical Christianity. But I want to highlight a point from the excerpted paragraph for other reporters covering these stories. While programs that aim to change homosexual behavior are regularly criticized, do most reporters realize that changing personal behavior is a central component of most Christians’ lives? Yes, I know that our popular culture seems to believe that all sex — including homosexual sex — is good sex, but many Christians disagree. They deal with sexual behavioral modification on a regular basis. When looked at as part of the Christian ideal of sanctification, attempts to modify behavior — even for something as fundamental as sexuality — are par for the course. I think reporters could do a better job of explaining this.
Reporters would also do well to touch on the Christian notion of chastity. In discussing Banerjee’s piece, Rod Dreher linked to a provocative article written by David Morrison, a gay activist who converted to Christianity. He found a church that welcomed him with open arms and spoke quite strongly against his sexuality. Stories like Morrison’s also deserve to be told.
On the topic of how congregations that oppose homosexuality respond to homosexuals, Banerjee had a follow-up that probably needed a bit more room to breathe so that a bunch of quotes weren’t just piled on top of each other. The piece asks whether the Haggard and Barnes situations will lead to greater compassion among evangelicals for homosexuals. One line in particular, quoting preacher and sociologist Tony Campolo, caught my attention:
Dr. Campolo said that many evangelicals, influenced by Christian radio, had come to believe that homosexuality was largely a choice and that homosexuals “choose to be evil.”
Others, he said, subscribe to theories, now discredited by psychologists, that men become gay because they had a domineering mother or were victims of sexual abuse as children.
That last line is just unfair. If you put two academics in a room, you end up with three opinions. Even if magically there is some sort of unanimous groupthink in psychology, pitting evangelicals against seemingly above-the-fray academics — again — is just weaselly. If Banerjee wants to substantiate the “now discredited by psychologists” line, great. Even so, I doubt these unnamed evangelicals disparaged here would agree that they are irrational and hold indefensible views. I think we could probably do a better job characterizing opposing arguments.