Pacquiao, homosexuality, tolerance and reading comprehension

One of the media templates we see frequently in discussion about whether to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions or other groupings is a supposedly rhetorical question about how such a change in law would ever affect anyone other than gay couples. I’ve always thought it showed a surprising lack of imagination for reporters to not be able to realize that changing marriage law, whether you support it or oppose it, is radical. It was radical when marriage law was changed to allow married couples to dissolve their unions with ease, for instance. It had massive changes for American society and men and women and children. And it would be radical, of course, to change the law to say that gender or number are unimportant characteristics or limitations on marriage.

I sometimes re-read Vaughn Walker’s ruling on Proposition 8 and his comments on gender, for instance, are quite fascinating (e.g. “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage.”). And his decision was based in part on his belief that certain religious beliefs, including those I subscribe to as a traditional Christian, harm homosexuals. He calls out dozens of religious leaders and says their statements regarding Scripture are wrong. I can’t help but think a reporter might pick up on how a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Walker’s decision might have some ramifications for those who confess traditional Christian teachings on sex, particularly as it relates to homosexuality.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex unions would not just be an issue of the law but also of social norms. When the law changes or when the cultural and political elites promulgate a cause, it has an effect on these norms. (“Duh,” you say.) And a big issue that is being advanced by the mainstream media is the normalization of homosexual behavior and relationships. This is not just done by, for instance, downplaying stories about how the monogamy norm isn’t as much of a norm in homosexual relationships or explaining why that norm is different for people who may procreate. It’s not about showing a lack of interest in how changing marriage law might change the educational environment in schools, particularly as it relates to those who uphold traditional Christian teachings. It’s also about presenting those opposed to redefining marriage to include same-sex couples in a negative light or failing to simply tell their story with the same care we see with those who propose changing laws and norms.

About the only good thing I can say about the media coverage in this light is that more and more journalists are being honest about their inability or unwillingness to cover this issue fairly. (More on that in days to come, I hope.)

A small example that seems related to this is a story about boxer Manny Pacquiao. Basically what happened is that a blogger interviewed the boxer and Philippine legislator. They talked about same-sex marriage, which Pacquiao opposes.

The blogger — note, the blogger — added some passages from Leviticus. Then the USA Today aggregator reporter Tom Weir took the blog post and redrafted it for his own use. In the process, he got confused about the portions that Pacquiao had said and the portions that the blogger had written. And he made a bit of a mess of it. But here’s what he wrote up — and keep in mind this is not actually an accurate portrayal of the source material:

The boxing champion, who has been outspoken about his religious convictions in recent months, has challenged the president on the issue of same-sex marriage.

In an interview with the National Conservative Examiner, Pacquiao stated his position on the issue:

“God only expects man and woman to be together and to be legally married, only if they are in love with each other.

“It should not be of the same sex so as to adulterate the altar of matrimony, like in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah of Old.”

Pacquiao also invoked Old Testament, and recited Leviticus 20:13, saying: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

OK, then.

I think there were actually better Pacquiao quotes to have highlighted but it’s kind of obvious what’s going on here — an attempt to make things as salacious as possible.

It turns out that Pacquiao didn’t recite Leviticus or invoke it — he hasn’t even read it (and if not for my Bible as Literature course in college or the interminable Bible Study we did on it last year at church — Hi, Pastor! — I may not have either). So the USA Today blogger — who still hasn’t corrected his piece despite Pacquiao himself calling him out on it — was wrong. There’s not much more to say about it except that it fits the template that the media seem to follow of having no interest in learning anything substantive about why people oppose same-sex marriage, whether on religious grounds or otherwise.

As bad as the lazy USA Today piece was, it was much better than the LA Weekly story which misinformed under the headline “Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be ‘Put to Death’”:

Manny Pacquiao, who lives and trains in Los Angeles, is probably in deep shit in this liberal city of brotherly love.

That’s because the boxing champion said that gay men “must be put to death.”

Really.

Or not really. Whatever. The man quoted as saying that, in fact, didn’t say that.

What’s really important is that these issues be handled as clumsily as possible. Their attempts to CYA while correcting can be seen here.

Cut to the fall-out over the story, though, and I thought that this Los Angeles Times story did a great job of handling it. It clarified the issue — although it was somewhat confusing if you didn’t know the actual story. (A KTLA news clip here is actually just inaccurate on what actually went down.) The story itself is about the rather shocking news that Pacquiao has been banned from a shopping mall in Los Angeles because the owner of the mall opposes Pacquiao’s religious beliefs. The Los Angeles Times story included this passage which would be hilarious if not so sad:

On Monday night, the Grove, owned by shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso, posted a statement on Twitter saying Pacquiao is not allowed on the premises.

The tweet reads: “Boxer Manny Pacquiao is not welcome at @TheGroveLA. @TheGroveLA is a gathering place for all Angelenos, not a place for intolerance.”

Pacquiao was scheduled to be interviewed Wednesday at the Grove for the TV show “Extra.”

Pacquiao, a devout Catholic, is a congressman in his homeland of the Philippines, where he has a record of voting along conservative lines.

Sounds like intolerance is doing just fine at the Grove LA, eh? Anyway, the Los Angeles Times just played it straight and kept to the facts and ended up having a much more worthwhile and accurate blog post than anyone else in this story.

I know it’s all politics all the time these days in American media, but surely we can shoehorn in a few stories exploring whether tolerance in our society will extend to those who agree with what Jesus said about marriage being a one-flesh union between male and female, right? And I don’t mean to shortchange all the other religious groups who believe the same. Or the people who oppose changing marriage law on non-religious grounds. But I’d like to see some stories about what it means for people outside American newsrooms if tolerance doesn’t extend that far.

Maybe it doesn’t deserve the non-stop coverage we’re seeing over President Obama announcing he supports redefining marriage to include same-sex unions. Maybe it deserves much more. But certainly things seem a tad out of whack right now. And that’s not good for society at large or for the future of American media.

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  • Marie

    Why hasn’t the word “libel” been thrown around yet?

  • John Penta

    Because that would require proof of malice, not just heavy suspicion of malice.

  • sari

    Mollie,
    I have yet to see any MSM coverage that details why some Christian churches/denominations oppose same sex marriage and why others don’t. I had always assumed the prohibition stemmed from Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13), but your comments suggest otherwise. Perhaps this situation needs correcting.

  • Jofro

    Sari, Catholics are not Bible-only Christians and do not invoke the Old Testament on why they oppose gay marriage. I would suggest checking out the National Catholic Register website and look under “gay marriage” topics to understand how Catholics see marriage and gay marriage. Hope that helps.

  • sari

    Thank you, Jofro. My point was that many Christian institutions (churches, denominations, etc.) prohibit same-sex marriage, but little is written about why. That Mollie, who grew up in a religious setting, was unfamiliar with the Scriptural basis of the prohibition surprised me, for it suggests that many Christians invoke the Bible, which I assume means both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, with no real knowledge of the the former.

    Again, an article which addressed the basis for the prohibition would be both timely and interesting.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    sari,
    I never said I was unfamiliar with the Scriptural basis of the prohibition. Far from it. I just said I hadn’t read Leviticus (meaning, studied it in its entirety, as a book) before college and never had a Bible class on the book until last year.

    But sexual morality for Christians is about much more than a passage from Leviticus or a proof text here or there. It’s a very comprehensive look at the order of creation, the role of the sexes, the way God provides for man, woman and children, etc. etc. etc. And it involves OT and NT and a few other things as well.

  • sari

    I just said I hadn’t read Leviticus (meaning, studied it in its entirety, as a book) before college…

    My point, Mollie.

    Anyway, when people are for or against something, whatever that something is, they should be able to state the rationale. And, when you say Christian, do you mean ALL Christians or some Christians, since specific beliefs seem to vary with denomination or church.

    Would be a good article and good reference for both readers and journalists.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Sari,

    I think we’re speaking past each other. I’d read the passage in Leviticus in question (as well as all the other rather well-known passages in that book), I just hadn’t studied the book in its entirety.

    However, the traditional Christian prohibition is not based on Levitican code, so when you said that I was unfamiliar with the Scriptural basis for the prohibition, that wasn’t true.

    You are correct, however, that this would be an excellent area to explore.

    Sometimes I think too much weight in this conversation — pro or con — is given to religious reasoning, but it occurs to me that while I understand the traditional Lutheran understanding of marriage, I’m not sure if it’s the same or in any part different from other religious bodies that hold to the same Scripture. And I’m curious about Jewish and Muslim views and other views as well.

    It’s also important though, again, to understand that religious people may civilly oppose or support something on non-sectarian grounds. That story hasn’t been terribly well told, I don’t think.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Thank you for covering this.

    Paquiao is getting a bad rap from the US: Here in the Philippines, gays are much more open and accepted than in the US, but few would agree that gay marriage is a good idea, and they would cite Jesus definition of marriage (Mark 10:7) rather than the more negative leviticus, which is not read much here in Catholic churches.

    As for “the Pac man”: his official explanation and apology for being misunderstood is HERE.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Sari: Some of the Philippine attitudes toward gays have more to do with the culture (think Confucius) than with the Bible.

    The East Asian emphasis on marriage is because marriage results in children and family (extended family) and the idea of duty toward the family has more to do with Pacquiao’s opinions than Leviticus.

  • sari

    Sometimes I think too much weight in this conversation — pro or con — is given to religious reasoning, but it occurs to me that while I understand the traditional Lutheran understanding of marriage, I’m not sure if it’s the same or in any part different from other religious bodies that hold to the same Scripture. And I’m curious about Jewish and Muslim views and other views as well.

    I agree, though it would be helpful to understand why people believe (or are supposed to believe) what they do. When clergy take a stand, though, and seek to mobilize their followers on religious grounds, it becomes imperative to provide the rationale. That’s the educational aspect that most papers seem to miss (or avoid, assuming lack of reader interest).

    I can’t speak for Islam, but the traditional Jewish understanding of marriage, both in Torah and in the body of halakhah, seems to be radically different from that of most Christians. Jews who grow up more assimilated tend towards the mores of the prevalent culture, whatever that is.

    It’s also important though, again, to understand that religious people may civilly oppose or support something on non-sectarian grounds. That story hasn’t been terribly well told, I don’t think.

    Absolutely agreed. In fact, it’s rarely told at all.

  • Chris Atwood

    Since Sari seems to be unfamiliar with this, let me just briefly say that the issue of how much of the law of Moses (as found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) applies to Christians is one of the major issues addressed in the New Testament. The law of Moses contains, for example, laws about food, laws about dress, and laws about sex. The New Testament writers expressly relativize or reject the laws about food, expressly affirm the Mosaic laws about sex, and do not mention the laws about clothing. (The general consensus has been however that most clothing laws are analogous to food laws, however.) Thus, since the laws about sex are expressly affirmed in the New Testament, their precise statement in Leviticus is not necessary for any Christian to know, because what makes them of relevance to Christian morals is that they are reaffirmed by the apostolic writers in the New Testament.

    Not really about the new coverage I know, but I thought it might be helpful.

  • sari

    Thank you, Chris.

    I could be wrong, but the traditional Christian laws about sex, excepting that it must occur within marriage, differ markedly from both the laws set forth in Hebrew Scripture and the larger body of Jewish law. Do mainstream Christians separate during menstruation and for seven days after its cessation? If they did, couples who use NFP methods would be available to each other for less than a week each month. Does the NT define forbidden sexual relationships (as set forth in Leviticus just prior to the prohibition against homosexual sex) or just sex outside marriage? How about within the marital relationship? Can one spouse deny the other for any reason or must s/he always be available? And how do different Christian groups view sex: procreative only, for pleasure, sinful but necessary, etc.? Why?

    Mollie, is coverage really that outsize or does it reflect the behavior of the majority of self-labeled Christians, many of whom live in non-traditional arrangements, engage in pre- and extra-marital sex, bear illegitimate children and exhibit high divorce rates? Seems like those of us who are traditional, regardless of faith or denomination, are in the minority, not the the majority.

  • Mollie

    Sari,
    I was talking about activists or leaders who seem to get outsize coverage, as opposed to personal behavior at the individual level.

    But in my view, the personal piety issue that receives almost no coverage is related to divorce. I’m not sure how much of that is a media issue and how much of it is a church or religious adherent issue, but it seems to me that we get far, far, far too little coverage of that issue as it relates to religion.

    And it’s an issue that affects so much of the global population (particularly as compared to, say, homosexuality). It’s kind of weird that we don’t cover it more, isn’t it?

  • sari

    The omission of the divorce rate in any discussion of marriage is huge. Same with the never married with children rate. And the increased rate of divorce among those who label themselves traditional, regardless of religious affiliation.

    I wonder if its a sort of shanda fur de Goyim thing, religious groups opting not to air their dirty laundry to the world.

    And it’s an issue that affects so much of the global population (particularly as compared to, say, homosexuality). It’s kind of weird that we don’t cover it more, isn’t it?

    It’s a different kind of issue. Homosexuality receives coverage because a) it’s different to most people and somehow titillating, b) it’s more common than once presumed, and c) by coming out of the closet, homosexuals have demonstrated that they are regular people. Exposure leads to acceptance. My high schooler (until next week, anyway) has a very different view towards GLBTQ people than was prevalent when I was her age.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Argh — I’m going to have to delete the comments from “Jerry” on this thread.

    They were not from Jerry.

    They were from someone who previously went by the name Stan.

    To do sock puppetry or otherwise engage in trolling behavior is a violation of our commenting policy. Please revisit our commenting policy for any other needed guidance.

    And if anyone thought that it was longtime commenter Jerry who was behaving uncivilly, that’s not the case.

    I apologize to Jerry for not being more on top of this.

  • Chris Atwood

    Sari,

    The kinds of questions you’re asking are precisely the kinds of things dealt with in the New Testament in the context of adjusting to populations unfamiliar with Jewish law.

    You could summarize them as: Jewish definitions of and prohibition of incest affirmed, prohibition of homosexual intercourse affirmed, Jewish law on divorce explicitly narrowed to a very stringent adultery or abandonment only exception, sexual availability between married couples is expected and can only interrupted temporarily for prayer, and virginity extolled alongside marriage. Menstruation taboos are an interesting issue because they are not explicitly discussed, probably I think because they were also shared with the surrounding population to a large extent. Many medieval Christians explicitly affirmed them in pastoral practice. Over time, however, particularly since the Reformation, there’s been a strong tendency to redefine them as “ceremonial” legislation and hence non-binding.

    So you are right, it’s not just a “rolling over” of Mosaic laws on sex, but it is a new international ethic created in the process of the apostles building a new church including gentiles.

    The point is, there is this big long tradition of Christian thought and pastoral practice on this. You’re right it’s not going to show up in journalism, partly because it’s not really the appropriate place for it (we don’t go to journalism to learn about how to build jet engines so much as about plane crashes).

    But partly because I think there is a tremendous sense on the part of the public, that daily life is NOT an appropriate topic for sustained intellectual thought. Instead, daily life is supposed to “common-sense,” “obvious,” “just plain natural”, and certainly have nothing to do with authorities and old books. The first hurdle religion journalism has to overcome is the divide between those who think that what an old book or a clergyman has to say could actually be relevant to how a married couple has sex (or how they spend their money, or how/whether they drink, or how they dress), and the much larger number who categorically reject the relevance of old books and authority figures to such issues in the first place.

    That’s a real journalistic issue.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Whether I agree with Jerry or not, he is always thoughtful, interesting, and civil. I didn’t think those comments sounded like him.

    My journalism comment is that when journalists report on those passages in Leviticus, they always lift out the prohibition on same-sex acts as a heinous act of oppression. It’s useful to consider the context.

    The verse before Lev. 18.21 forbids child sacrifice, the verse after forbids bestiality. The rest of the chapter prohibits various kinds of incest. Reporters never seem interested in why we discount verse 21, but remain appalled at the other abominations. Chapter 20 is pretty much the same, with the added punishments, mostly involving death. Christians, of course, are more interested in the total witness of Scripture and Tradition, which is consistent across time and cultures.

    The real problem, of course, is saying this guy said something he didn’t say. But I would attribute that more to stupidity or ignorance than malice.


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