Shocker! Liberal clergy back gay rites! (updated)

What we have here is a totally predictable story, to an almost stunning degree. It’s almost a non-story, from the get go.

What has me confused, however, is whether or not The New York Times crew realizes that it is publishing a totally predictable story, a story in which there is not a single new or unpredictable element.

You see, there are quite a few signs in the story that the Times folks know that there is little or nothing new in this piece. Then, at other times, the world’s openly liberal newspaper of record — especially on religious and moral issues, saith former editor Bill Keller — seems to think that this story is important.

The key is the story’s Something Really Big Has Happened Lede, which only sounds big because the newspaper’s editors chose to omit a crucial fact.

More than 250 religious leaders in Illinois have signed an open letter in support of same-sex marriage, which the legislature is likely to take up in January.

“We dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and we work daily to promote justice and fairness for all,” the leaders wrote in the letter, which was released Sunday. “Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples.

“There can be no justification,” they continued, “for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

This is not the first time members of the clergy have endorsed same-sex marriage, but the public nature of the letter and the number of signatures made it an especially strong statement.

Now let me be clear: This is a story. Years ago, it would have been an important one.

What I am arguing is that at this point it is a totally predictable story, for reasons that — to their credit — the Times persons make little effort to hide. The story notes, for example that “many” of the Christian and Jewish leaders who signed this liberal statement noted that “they had long supported same-sex marriage.”

So what does the lede fail to mention? This story does not cite a single clergyperson who, by signing this statement, was changing her or his position on this issue. In fact, the story does not list a single clergyperson whose stance represents a violation of her or his denomination’s stance on the moral status of sex outside of marriage.

In other words: Where is the news?

By the way, I would feel precisely the same about a Times story reporting that a large flock of Catholic, Orthodox, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and evangelical Protestant clergy had produced a statement documenting their opposition to same-sex marriage. The difference, of course, is that the Times would not print that story and certainly would not open that alleged news report with a Something Really Big Has Happened Lede.

Note the denominations that are backing this liberal proclamation:

“It’s not a religious right — it’s a civil right,” said the Rev. Kevin E. Tindell, a United Church of Christ minister at New Dimensions Chicago. “It’s a matter of justice, and so as a Christian, as a citizen, I feel that it’s my duty.” Mr. Tindell, who is gay, is raising three children with his partner of 17 years.

The Rev. Kim L. Beckmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who lives in the Chicago area, said she was drawn into the movement “as my gay and lesbian parishioners were welcomed into our congregation.”

“I have participated in blessings of these unions for longer than we’ve even been talking about marriage,” she said. “I’m thrilled to take this step.” …

The Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chicago said it was a way for religious leaders to say, “I’m a faithful Christian or a Jew or Muslim, and I think that marriage equality is important.”

“It doesn’t have to be a faith issue,” she said. “We understand our Scripture in a different way.”

Now, that quote from the female Episcopal priest raises an interesting question: Did any mainstream Muslim leaders actually sign this letter? Did any Muslims sign the letter, period?

The logical thing to do is to look online and fine the list. However, at the moment, all I can find is news reports about the letter, many of which — unlike the Times story — note another predictable element of this development, which is that most of the women and men who signed this statement are from the Chicago area.

I am several pages into a logical online search and I can’t find the actual list. Surely it is online? Or, perhaps, was the story in the Times meant to serve as the official announcement?

Help me find the list, please. Once we have found it, we can search the list for (a) Muslims, (b) Catholics who are not liberal nuns, (c) Orthodox Jews, (d) evangelical Protestants who are employed by major evangelical denominations, (e) Mormons linked to major Mormon organizations, (f) Anglicans who are not part of The Episcopal Church, etc., etc. In other words, let’s search the list for surprising names, the kinds of signatures that would represent a truly newsworthy development.

Again let me stress: We are talking about a journalism issue here, exactly the same journalism issue that would be raised, let’s say, by a Fox News report trumpeting an anti-gay-marriage statement released by a long list of religious leaders who are part of religious groups that support their various traditions’ ancient doctrines on sex and marriage. That statement wouldn’t be big news either.

UPDATE: Thank you to reader Joyce Garcia. Here’s the link to a .pdf of the list. The list is pretty much what I expected, including its reference to an “Orthodox” parish — a St. Thomas Mission that is actually part of a liberal splinter group. Check the list. Check it twice.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Joyce Garcia
  • str

    “More than 250 religious leaders in Illinois have signed an open letter in support of same-sex marriage, which the legislature is likely to take up in January.”

    And where is the outcry over “separation of church and state” and the “rising theocracy in the US”.

    • Kodos


      (crickets chirping)

    • Jon in the Nati

      Clergy supporting (or opposing) a thing does not give rise to constitutional church/state implications. You can rest easy.

  • Judy Harrow

    The assumption that disapproval of gay marriage is just a specific application of a general disapproval of any sex outside of marriage is a flaw in logic, a conflation of civil with religious marriage. At least one of the clergy members quoted (Kim Beckmann) says she has blessed gay partnerships for years, while civil marriage was and still is only available to heterosexual couples in Illinois. It’s entirely possible to affirm gay marriage while still believing that sex before or outside of marriage is wrong.

    Merry Christmas to all Christian readers of this blog!

  • Chris

    Its a story written for THEIR readership. TMatt you write about advocacy journalism; this is constituency journalism.

    “Give ‘em what they want to hear”

  • http://outofthedepths.blogspot.com/ Steve Allison

    250 leaders from a single state signing something seems noteworthy to me. It is a topic of current interest to many, both pro and con. A judgement call of course. I think you are being awfully picky.

    • Mike

      The religious left is often left out of stories about SSM while religious voices opposing SSM are a common feature in these kinds of stories. There is a lack of balance when it comes to this kind of coverage. While these “we sent a letter” stories may be a little cliched, we shouldn’t pretend that thermos gives equal coverage. Religion coverage on SSM is heavily focused on opposition voices

  • FW Ken

    I wonder how coverage of this letter compares with that of the Manhattan Declaration.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    You would think for balance they would have looked for clergy who had the opportunity to sign the statement but refused or who want nothing to do with Gay “Marriage” so were never asked to sign– and then report on their reasoning. Short of that all the article is is a propaganda piece in favor of Gay Marriage.
    If the shoe were on the other foot and the story was about some organized religious opposition to Gay “Marriage” you can bet your whole bank account they would include interviews with pro-Gay “Marriage” activists and given them a platform for their reasoning.

    • Margaret

      That’s a really good point, Deacon John. A piece on organized religious opposition would necessarily give 50% quote space to religious leaders who support SSM, in order to be “balanced.” And would probably run under a headline like “Local Religious Communities Sharply Divided on Gay Marriage.”

  • Sundown

    Actually, this is a valid news story. Yes, you and I and others who follow religious matters in the news are aware of certain denominations that have backed gay rights for a long time and who are continuing to do so, the perception remains among many in general public that being religious automatically means that one does not support same sex marriage (especially among the “unchurched” , if you’ll pardon the often used label). So for many readers, this is a news story that is not predictable in the slightest.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X