The missing majority (again)

marriagebanYesterday I pointed out the Los Angeles Times‘ rather incomplete survey of “liberal and conservative congregations” on the issue of same-sex marriage. Seventy-five percent of the religious figures who took a position in the article were exuberant about the recent California Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.

This week the Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith” religion opinion site posed the following questions:

The California Supreme Court has overturned that state’s ban on gay marriage. Is marriage a legal right or a sacred rite? Should the state be involved in marriage? Should religious institutions?

Some of the 16 responses from panelists are interesting, informative and engage the question. But what struck me was that only four of the responses were critical of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. Is this further confirmation that in the world of mainstream media, 75 percent of religious adherents have no regard for the traditional Christian, Jewish and Muslim view of marriage? I know that the Washington Post/Newsweek site is an opinion site but that’s just bad journalism.

It’s fine to read the views of Starhawk, Deepak Chopra, and Bishop John Bryson Chane, among others, but when moderator Sally Quinn asks questions that seem to be on the level of 8th-grade home room discussions, the debate isn’t exactly riveting:

Homosexual couples are simply two people who love each other. Please explain to me how that can be wrong in the eyes of God.

Tmatt reminded me of former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent’s words on the matter in 2004:

(For) those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. So far this year, front-page headlines have told me that “For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy,” (March 19, 2004); that the family of “Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home,” (Jan. 12, 2004) is a new archetype; and that “Gay Couples Seek Unions in God’s Eyes,” (Jan. 30, 2004). I’ve learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I’ve met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I’ve been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn’t appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles (“Split Gay Couples Face Custody Hurdles,” by Adam Liptak and Pam Belluck, March 24), potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.

But back to the Washington Post/Newsweek forum: In addition to the interesting and valid discussions being conducted by pagans, moderate Baptists, progressive Catholics and United Church of Christ clergy, that site would be an excellent place for a thorough discussion of Christianity’s (and Judaism’s and Islam’s) historic teaching on marriage. There is so much there to discuss that is interesting.

I’m sure Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham know a couple of Roman Catholics who can defend the church’s teaching on marriage. Why is it that when a big same-sex marriage story happens, the media in general can’t seem to find articulate defenders of traditional marriage to talk to even though the majority of the country is with them?

Photo by Flickr user arimoore used under a Creative Commons license.

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  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Mollie,

    On Faith has several conservative/traditional religionists in its panel-bank (including some Catholics). But not every panelist responds to every question, nor do they all post on the same day. I think in this case your being unfair. Should they have held back responses until there was an even balance?

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    For instance, here are some panelists who haven’t used their ability to weigh in on the question:

    Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals, Thomas G. Bohlin, U.S. vicar of the Prelature of Opus Dei, William J. Byron, Catholic Priest, ex-President of Catholic University, Chester L. Gillis, Chair of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University, Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention Leader etc etc

    So it isn’t as if religious leaders who hold “traditional” views on marriage haven’t been invited to the party…

  • Brian Walden

    I’m sure Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham know a couple of Roman Catholics who can defend the church’s teaching on marriage.

    I was going to jokingly comment that at least they didn’t interview Fr. Reese – but then I looked and they did. Seriously, why does everyone contact a guy who never gives a Catholic answer when they need a Catholic quote? All they need to do is ask an orthodox Catholic on the street – it doesn’t take credentials to summarize the ordinary magisterium’s teachings on marriage. If journalists don’t know enough about Catholicism to judge whether someone is giving a truly Catholic opinion or not, I’d rather they just pull a few lines from the Catechism than call Fr. Reese.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JASON:

    I am going to be agnostic at this time and say that we don’t know how the mechanism worked or did not work at On Faith, this time.

    However, I can’t imagine Land being silent, if asked. And I am sure that the Chuck Colson team would have responded. And Al Mohler at Southern Baptist Seminary? I cannot imagine silence there.

    So I lean toward MZ’s take and want to know more.

  • Michael

    Chuck Colson did respond. So did Cal Thomas.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    And I am sure that the Chuck Colson team would have responded.

    They did.

  • Martha

    Oh, man.

    “Homosexual couples are simply two people who love each other. Please explain to me how that can be wrong in the eyes of God.”

    “Incestuous couples are simply two people who love each other. Please explain to me how that can be wrong in the eyes of God.”

    “Adulterous couples are simply two people who love each other. Please explain to me how that can be wrong in the eyes of God.”

    “Polyamorous groupings are simply three or more people who love each other. Please explain to me how that can be wrong in the eyes of God.”

    Seriously? That’s the level?

    Ai….

  • Martha

    Did they mention the statement by the California Catholic Conference of Bishops?

    There’s a conservative Anglican blog called TitusOneNine that did a nice little posting on the topic – what Kendall Harmon did was put up, one after the other, the statement of the Episcopal Bishop of California (Marc Handley Andrus)on the Court Ruling (very happy about the ruling), the statement by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco George H. Niederauer (restating Catholic teaching, which is anti) and the statement by the California Catholic Conference Of Bishops (again, restating Catholic teaching).

    Link here – scroll down the page a bit for the three posts:

    http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/P80/

    A couple of days later, he put up the statement by the Episcopal Bishop of San Diego, James R. Mathes – again, in favour of the ruling. (Again, scroll down the page a bit):

    http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/P40/

    Nice juxtaposition of the views of two mainline Christian churches in the United States. Didn’t have to go digging with a fine-tooth comb to find these statements either, near as I can make out.

    If a blogger can do this, can’t a professional journalist? I’m sure these guys (or their press office) released these statements to the papers. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to quote at least a bit from both, as a compare and contrast?

  • Jerry

    we don’t know how the mechanism worked or did not work at On Faith

    I would like to know more about how that blog works. I’ve been assuming that every topic is emailed to all the participants. I’ve seen that on some topics, participants posts are not all at one time but trickle in over time. There are, for example, four new panelist posts today so far. So to judge the balance of who posts at this point is very premature.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry, I only see two new responses today. They further compound the balance problem:

    We’re in for the long debate. Even if laws change soon—as I hope they will—the meaning of marriage should be plumbed at deep levels in both sacred and secular spheres.
    William Tully, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City |

    Wrong about Rites and Rights

    Gay marriage is not about ‘rites’ or ‘rights.’ People on both sides are more interesting in imposing their beliefs than in doing what’s best for all.
    Irwin Kula, Rabbi, author, commentator

    As to the other comments, I think it is true that the panelists choose what to respond to. But I don’t think that gets WashPost/Newsweek off the hook.

    My main problem with the format they’ve chosen is that it doesn’t really promote substantive discussions. I also think the panelists they’ve chosen overwhelmingly tilt liberal, theologically speaking.

    I only check that site out when readers point me over there, as they did yesterday. But I don’t quite get what they’re doing. I asked a few months ago for someone here to explain the site to me but no one did.

    I think my beef with it may be that it has very little to no actual reporting. If the commentary were mixed with some actual religion reporting, I think the site would be much better.

  • Jerry

    I think my beef with it may be that it has very little to no actual reporting. If the commentary were mixed with some actual religion reporting, I think the site would be much better.

    I think my beef with getreligion.org is that it has very little to no actual reporting… You want a cat to be a dog.

    I also think the panelists they’ve chosen overwhelmingly tilt liberal, theologically speaking.

    You might be right or maybe not – I don’t know many of the people on their list of panelists so if someone wants to take that list of rank the panelists from liberal to conservative, say scale of 1-10?, I’d be interested in looking at the result.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry,

    Funny and true — but don’t you think a news site should have news? This is the Washington Post and Newsweek we’re talking about! Even the best editorial pages break news once in a while . . .