More than a sex covenant?

The Los Angeles Times has joined the chorus of news organizations reporting on the Crystal Cathedral’s controversial choir covenant.

I complained Wednesday that the matter had blown into a full-scale national media brouhaha without a single current choir member being quoted by name.

I wish I could report that the Times benefited from my enlightening post and took my advice.

Nope, didn’t happen.

Instead, we have another shallow report focused on the covenant’s statement that “sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.” And we have another story with no choir members quoted.

Even the Times’ headline leaves a lot to be desired:

Crystal Covenant sex covenant stirs controversy

Sex covenant?

Read the entire document. Is it a sex covenant? Or, just perhaps, is it a more wide-ranging doctrinal statement than that?

Indeed, beyond a mere church debate over homosexuality, the covenant seems to be part of an ongoing Crystal Cathedral dispute involving doctrine, a disgruntled former choir director and the clash of past and present in the post-Robert H. Schuller era. To wit:

On Wednesday, church founder Robert H. Schuller said he strongly disapproved of the covenant because it goes against what he has built his church upon.

“I have a reputation worldwide of being tolerant of all people and their views,” he told the Orange County Register. “I’m too well-educated to criticize a certain religion or group of people for what they believe in. It’s called freedom.”

In the comments section of my original post, someone named tmatt called attention to an element of this news story that I neglected:

I think one other point must be stressed.

The Crystal Cathedral has long been known as a pioneer of a kind of vague, foggy, optimistic, post-doctrinal approach to Christianity. … Many critics of the church have — over the decades — considered this bad and an open door to trouble.

It appears that, facing decline and struggle, the congregation’s leaders have decided to veer back toward Christian doctrine, as defined by most Christians through the ages.

That’s an interesting story. Maybe it could be covered?

Maybe indeed.

Or maybe tmatt’s just preaching to the GetReligion choir. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that line.)

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    A good story might be why churches feel the need to make “new rules”, instead of using the 10 Suggestions that God sent to Moses.

  • Dave

    Steve, that would be a good question to ask the authors of the Covenant.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Were those just “suggestions,” Steve? :-)

    Seriously, the covenant seems to ask the choir members to adhere to the church’s understanding of the rules that are already in the Bible, right?

  • Martha

    Where are the cries of outrage from all the cohabiting couples living in sin (she asked sarcastically)?

    After all, the document states the principle, as enunciated by that eminent theologian Beyoncé, that if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it.

    And what about all the offended polyamorists? Only two partners allowed in marriage! How quaint!

  • http://www.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    Actually, I’m not certain that calling the document a “sex covenant” is all that far off the mark.

    At first, the document seems to be primarily a reminder that the choir members are part of a ministry and thus are expected, at the least, to agree with the church’s basic doctrine, including the infallibility of the Bible, and to model the Christian life.

    But in terms of behavior, what does the document focus on? Just two things: First, chastity, and second, taking complaints directly to the people involved rather than to third parties and treating with respect anybody involved with the church, especially the leaders.

    There’s nothing in there, for example, that says the choir members are expected to abstain from illegal drugs, thievery, drunkenness, assaults, murder, obeying the government, cheating on income taxes, whatever.

    I think any objective person reading this would think that the two things the church cares the most about in terms of what its choir members do is that they remain chaste and be subservient to church leaders. So while calling this a “sex covenant” is certainly incomplete, I can hardly fault a journalist for applying that label. Sex isn’t a secondary issue in the document.

    (Personally, I’m more curious about the submission issue; I read the document as basically telling the choir members to keep their mouths shut when it comes to any conflict with church leaders. I find the wording rather creepy, to tell the truth, almost cultish, and I wonder what led to that emphasis. There may be a story there, I don’t know.)

    I agree that the LAT article is remiss in not including comments of any choir members. The story is quite incomplete.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Oh, another question.

    Did any other chunk of the church get its own covenant on sexuality or any other doctrinal issue?

  • homogenius

    @gfe

    The backstory is that the choir is pissed off because Gretchen Schuller Penner alienated a beloved guest artist, Roger Williams, the world famous (not gay) pianist, and forced out their highly respected Minister of Music, Don Neuen.

    The size of the choir (and the musical calibre) is the lowest since they started the TV program in 1970.

    We’re talking about a church that is run on a top-down, corporate basis. The church board is self-perpetuating like a not-for-profit–it is not democratically elected by the congregation. Dr. Schuller always said (since this was instituted in the ’70s) that people vote with their money and their feet. Over the past couple of years they have been voting with both.

    Over the past two years the congregation has lost their senior pastor, Robert A. Schuller, their executive pastor (#2) who preached on Sunday nights, Jim Poit, the congregational life pastor, children’s pastor, and the minister of music. Other than Dr. Schuller, who is far removed from congregational life, they have lost everyone they are closest to. So far as I know, the only ordained ministers left according to the Reformed Church are Dr. Schuller and the Pastor to Seniors, Jim Kok.

    The Cathedral Choir used to rival the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Now they are surpassed by dozens of church choirs in Southern California. And the average age has increased by more than a decade. It used to be that you described the Cathedral Choir as “very white” because of their skin. Now it’s because of their hair.

    It’s not just the Schuller family that is heartbroken because they are watching their life’s work go down the drain–it’s dozens and maybe hundreds of families (including my own) who gave of their love, time, talent, and tithes.

  • Dave G.

    On Wednesday, church founder Robert H. Schuller said he strongly disapproved of the covenant because it goes against what he has built his church upon.

    “I have a reputation worldwide of being tolerant of all people and their views,” he told the Orange County Register. “I’m too well-educated to criticize a certain religion or group of people for what they believe in. It’s called freedom.”

    Would have been nice to see his actual, well, criticism of CC’s decision in quotes. Especially in light of his quoted statement about being too educated to criticize a certain religion or group of people for what they believe in.

  • Mike

    Seems to me the newest developments are that the senior pastor has apologized and Robert Schuller himself has disapproved of the convenant. Strange that the reporter didn’t lead with these fresh tidbits. What also struck me as odd is that the piece does not quote any current choir members who are upset. The two people who are quoted are former members — Don Neuen is the former director and Mindy Kim is a former singer. If you’re going to write a story about how some choir members are perturbed, you’d think you could find a couple of those choir members to interview.

  • Matt

    The caption of the LAT story states that “Crystal Cathedral Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman… has apologized for the sex covenant.” However, in the text of the article, I see Coleman expressing regret that people have been hurt but not pulling support for the covenant in any way. How might this contradiction be resolved?

  • Mike

    Matt,

    It’s the modern day non-apology apology. The non-apology apology never acknowledges that one has done anything wrong, only that they’re sorry that their behavior upset you. As in the case of the pastor, it’s designed to make you think they’re sorry for what happened, but in fact they really see nothing wrong with the convenant.

  • tmatt

    MATT:

    In other words, she declined to apologize for the content of Christian doctrine.

  • http://dayandnightpost.com Steve

    There is nothing good in the flesh. As the Apostle Paul reminds us that there is nothing good in us. Only by the power of the Spirit can we live victoriously by the word of God. Nevertheless, tolerance is tool of the devil.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: In other words, she declined to apologize for the content of Christian doctrine.

    Except that many Christians (and a growing number) including the ELCA, Episcopalians, and some others, don’t think that Christian doctrine forbids homosexuality.

    If you think that, then it’s quite likely you feel that there is most definitely something wrong with the covenant.

  • Passing By

    RE: #5 -

    Covenants and creeds always address the issues of the day. Fornication (sexual sin) and trashing people in authority are primary issues in modern America for something like 40+ years now. They were really always issues, but the public media have celebrated them in recent decades. Hence, the covenant in question addresses those issues.

    #14 -

    The Crystal Cathedral is not Episcopalian, ELCA, or some other liberal protestant body: they are Reformed Church in America,whose teachings on various matters are clearly and publicly stated.

  • Hector

    Re: The Crystal Cathedral is not Episcopalian, ELCA, or some other liberal protestant body: they are Reformed Church in America,whose teachings on various matters are clearly and publicly stated.

    I don’t consider myself either particularly liberal or particularly protestant, and the Reformed Church is certainly much more Protestant than either Anglicans or Lutherans. That aside, the second part of your statement seems questionable as well. From your link:

    “In 2009, the General Synod voted to “affirm the value of continued dialogue and discernment on the topic of homosexuality within the church, to state that our dialogical and discerning work is not done, and that legislative and judicial steps are not a preferred course of action at this time.”

    Seems to me that the RCA is having an internal debate about what its position on homosexuality should be. The Crystal Cathedral came out on one specific side in that debate. You might agree or disagree with their position, but it doesn’t appear as though the Reformed Church (unlike, say, the Roman Catholic Church) currently has a definitive and univocal position on the matter.

  • Passing By

    When Paul rejects homosexual acts on the grounds that they are “against nature” he expresses and reaffirms the clear sense of Scripture: Human sexuality was created for heterosexual expression…When the subject of homosexuality is raised, the majority of modern opinion still seems to be: “People weren’t made to be that way.” If such opinion is expressed with fear, loathing or recrimination, as is often the case, it must be pitied and resisted. When the same statement is made in humility and with compassion, it may be considered biblical.
    Heterosexuality is not only normal; it is normative. Homosexual acts are contrary to the will of God for human sexuality.

    What’s not clear?

    Of course, neither your religion nor mine, now what either of ourselves think about ourselves, is an issue here. The only question is the accuracy of reporting on the Crystal Cathedral and the RCA.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Passing By,

    I’m sure you noticed the date on that statement was from 1978. The 2009 statement from the RCA (at the bottom of the page you linked) is a little different (like many churches, they’ve been changing their view on homosexuality over the years). I think it’s fairer to say that the RCA today is having an internal debate, than to say that they have a single definitive viewpoint.

  • bob

    It’s a story, it seems, that each *department of* a worshiping community lays out the entire assumptions about being in that community if one is involved in that particular department. So, I have to sign a declaration of faith if I am on the kitchen crew and another identical one if I move over to teaching Sunday school, another if I start singing in the choir. In other words, I am still a layman in the organization in good standing in each task? It doesn’t sound radical. Or like much of a story. It’s sensational but not too religious. It would be a story if one could play around if in the choir but not on the Sunday school faculty or caching volleyball.


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