Time for a bit of personal history, as I react to a disappointing little news article that ran recently in the San Francisco Chronicle.
I arrived at the Rocky Mountain News (RIP) in Denver in the early 1980s and, naturally, one of the biggest stories that I immediately began covering was the AIDS crisis and the complex and not always predictable responses in local religious bodies. Many groups on the left (many, but not all) stayed away from hands-on care, for example, while one or two (I stress, one or two) very theologically conservative groups jumped into the gap with funds and volunteer help to do early hospice work.
There were, therefore, surprises on both the left and the right sides of the sanctuary aisles and I learned to look for them.
Early on, I began covering the local branch of the Metropolitan Community Church, a small but lively national body that focuses most of its ministry (but not all) on ministering to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered. In my early talks with the clergy, many stressed that the denomination’s clergy came from a wide variety of backgrounds and, early on, I found that to be true.
For example, one local MCC minister’s background was solidly oldline Protestant and, on basic doctrinal issues, he was quite liberal. Then another arrived whose background was Southern Baptist. He backed his church’s liberalized doctrines on sexuality, of course, but on most other issues he was quite conservative, even evangelical. As an MCC insider once told me, and I paraphrase: There’s a reason many of our members didn’t just become Episcopalians. They think that the Episcopal Church is too liberal.
Again, it pays to remember that the founder of the MCC — the Rev. Troy Perry — was a Pentecostal pastor before he left the closet. For more information on his testimony, click here.
Now, I get the impression that in recent decades the general theological drift of the MCC has been to the mainline left. However, the denomination’s statement of faith continues to proclaim:
Our faith is based upon the principles outlined in the historic creeds: Apostles and Nicene.
Yes, note the vague word “principles.” However, the statement continues:
In one triune God, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, of one substance and of three persons: God — our Parent-Creator; Jesus Christ the only begotten son of God, God in flesh, human; and the Holy Spirit — God as our Sustainer.
That the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, showing forth God to every person through the law and the prophets, and finally, completely and ultimately on earth in the being of Jesus Christ.
That Jesus … the Christ … historically recorded as living some 2,000 years before this writing, is God incarnate, of human birth, fully God and fully human, and that by being one with God, Jesus has demonstrated once and forever that all people are likewise Children of God, being spiritually made in God’s image.
That the Holy Spirit is God making known God’s love and interest to all people. The Holy Spirit is God, available to and working through all who are willing to place their welfare in God’s keeping.
Every person is justified by grace to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
There are mainline Protestant touches in there, such as “Parent-Creator” in the Trinitarian language. However, as a whole, one would have to say that this is a safely center-left Christian statement.
This is why one key passage in the Chronicle article jumped out at one or two GetReligion readers and then me. This article is basically a shallow public-relations piece for a fundraising effort at the local MCC congregation — the selling of gold memorial bricks. Nevertheless, there are a few quotes from the faithful about what sets their congregation apart, even in the context of San Francisco.
Thus, readers are told the following about some of the church’s unique programs:
Collectively, the messages reflect the church’s unique mix of religions, genders and sexualities. In the words of one woman: “A spiritual home for this atheist ho.”
Buddhists, pagans, Jews, Christians and nonbelievers regularly crowd under the church’s roof.
Several bricks invoke the period, starting in the 1980s, when AIDS swept through the neighborhood. Religious figures then accused gays and lesbians of invoking God’s wrath. The Metropolitan Community Church responded with a slogan that will soon be memorialized underfoot: “We are the body of Christ, and we have AIDS.”
Now, if I was a reporter and I was writing about this interesting denomination, I certainly would have spent a minute or two (after one or two mouse clicks) reading its easy-to-find doctrinal statement and, maybe, even the longer essay on its history.
Suffice it to say, atheists, Buddhists, pagans, Jews and many other non-Christians would have trouble with that doctrinal statement that I quoted earlier. Right? In other words, I think that either (a) the reporter missed the true breadth of the diversity in that MCC flock or (b) that the MCC has changed quite a bit in its essential beliefs and, thus, the reporter missed a deeper and more interesting story.
Let me repeat something that I have said since early in GetReligion’s history — the press needs to devote more time and energy to covering the RELIGIOUS and DOCTRINAL stories on the religious left, as opposed to assuming that everything on that side of the sanctuary aisle is just politics with a touch of fancy theological language. There are solid religion stories on the left, too.
Just saying that. Again.