Ready! Set! Be bored by Illinois’ same-sex marriage debate!

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s “Religion News on the Web” page is one of the places I go to peruse religion news.

A headline from Illinois caught my attention today:

AP: Politics and the pulpit: Black churches at heart of gay marriage debate in Illinois

That topic interests me, so I clicked on the link.

Let’s start at the top of The Associated Press report:

SUMMIT, Illinois — When a proposal to legalize gay marriage started gaining momentum in the home state of President Barack Obama, it seemed a quick and easy deal: The pastor of his former megachurch endorsed it with powerful testimony at the Capitol and Democrats control Illinois’ government.

But fervor over the idea has stalled for months in that exact spot where faith and politics are inseparable.

Black churches — where the pulpit has always been political — are deeply divided over their support for same-sex marriage and are central to the Illinois measure’s passage, which awaits a House vote as early as this week. On either side of the issue, pastors and politically active congregations have waged intense campaigns with robocalls, columns and sermons.

What do you think of that lede?

When I worked for AP, I always enjoyed writing creative ledes much more than inverted-pyramid-style ledes (meaning straight-news, just-the-facts intros). So I understand the desire to grab the readers’ attention with something more stimulating than “Black churches in Illinois are deeply divided over same-sex marriage, stalling proposed legislation on the matter.”

But honestly, the lede AP used contains way too much editorialization for my taste. And way too little attribution. Who thought the proposal seemed like a “quick and easy deal,” for example? Doesn’t that subjective fact demand a named source?

Still, I kept reading, holding out hope that the story would reflect passionate voices on all sides of the debate.

The first source introduced — an openly gay pastor — certainly seems fired up:

“The soup always boils just before it’s done and the soup is boiling now,” said the Rev. Phyllis Pennese, an openly gay pastor who runs a tiny congregation for black gay, lesbian and transgendered people in the Chicago suburb of Summit. “That’s why there’s all this fury around this issue because it’s almost about to be done.”

Pennese, 56, is the daughter of an Italian immigrant father and black mother, and says the bill is a matter of equality and civil rights. At the time her parents married, interracial unions weren’t encouraged and she doesn’t see a difference when it comes to gay marriage.

For a decade, she’s preached that love supersedes all at her church, Pillar of Love,” where gender signs on the bathroom doors have been purposely removed.

“Love is very powerful,” she said. “Check your Scriptures. Love, grace, mercy and compassion and justice always trump law in the eyes of Jesus.”

Unfortunately, the story quickly loses steam when it turns to the other side.

Forgive me for yawning, but this is, apparently, the best quote available from those opposed to same-sex marriage:

“In my view, same-sex marriage should not be the law of the state of Illinois,” Meeks says in the call, before instructing the recipient to call his or her representative.

The best journalism conveys the real human drama and emotion of a given situation — and even presents the diverse religious voices as more than cardboard cutouts.

This AP story, on the other hand, sputters to the end after a somewhat promising start.

Image via Shutterstock

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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.


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