Still another one-sided same-sex marriage story

Here we go again.

A major media organization has published still another one-sided story on the religious debate over same-sex marriage.

This time, the guilty party is not The Associated Press. Rather, it’s USA Today, which as you might recall used to employ an actual religion writer. It could use one right about now.

This story, which originated with Gannett sister paper The Tennessean, is a long, winding ode to same-sex marriage disguised (not extremely well) as a news story.

Let’s start at the breathless top:

The couple buys a marriage license, a recognized officiant signs it and it’s refiled with the local government. That’s a legal marriage, and in 14 states — with Illinois just the governor’s signature away from becoming the 15th — that’s a process open to both straight and gay couples.

Getting the church on board is a little more complicated. The issue of whether clergy should officiate same-sex marriages is dividing an increasing number of denominations.

Now, a retired Nashville bishop has become the latest to draw headlines on the issue — reversing course from a path that, four decades ago, had him playing a key role in sending the church down a path of resistance to change.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began allowing individual congregations to recognize same-sex marriages in 2009. Episcopalians adopted a same-sex marriage rite in July 2012, although a number of individual dioceses — including the one in Tennessee — chose not to allow it. The Presbyterian Church (USA) came close to approving same-sex marriages in 2012 but narrowly defeated the measure.

And United Methodists, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, are nowhere close after debating the issue for decades.

That hasn’t stopped pastors nationwide from defying church doctrine and performing those ceremonies. Some call it ecclesiastical disobedience. Others call it biblical obedience. Either way, it’s exposing them to church discipline, with potential punishments ranging from verbal rebukes to loss of their ordinations — and the financial implications that go with it.

Um, OK. Did everyone learn something new? I had no idea same-sex marriage was causing debate within denominations.

Apparently, the news peg is that a retired bishop (a Methodist, we find out deep in the story) performed a same-sex marriage:

Despite warnings from his denomination that he’d be violating the faith’s Book of Discipline, Bishop Melvin Talbert traveled from Nashville to near Birmingham, Ala., to perform the Oct. 26 wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. They were legally married Sept. 3 in Washington, D.C., but wanted a church wedding. Openshaw said he specifically wanted Talbert to officiate since the bishop had spent years supporting Methodist gays and lesbians.

That wasn’t Talbert’s stance 40 years ago at the 1972 Methodist general conference, which adopted language saying homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. His views changed several years later, when he was invited to a weekend seminar of gay and straight Methodists; participants could not reveal which they were until the end.

The revelation destroyed his stereotypes. The married father and grandfather brought the issue to a head last year, when the denomination voted against removing the language he had helped put in.

“I declared those laws that prohibited clergy from marrying gay and lesbian folk and using the church for that purpose are immoral, unjust, they are evil, and they no longer deserve our loyalty and support,” he said. “It’s time for us to do the right thing.”

But what about voices within the United Methodist Church who believe Talbert is doing the wrong thing? How do they respond to him defying the denomination and winning swooning headlines?

Ah ha ha. USA Today makes not even a token attempt to quote anyone on the other side.

Just for kicks and grins, what might an opposing viewpoint have looked like in this rambling report? Here’s a chunk of a recent Religion News Service story on the United Methodist debate:

John Lomperis, United Methodist program director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said clergy cannot choose which church laws to follow, and he said bishops should hold them accountable for breaking laws.

“If there are meaningful consequences, there could be a meaningful healing,” he said. “If you end up getting suspended or losing your clergy credentials, it might not be so attractive.”

Lomperis said church law should not change simply to reflect the growing support for gays in American society.

“We’re not a weather vane,” he said. “We are actually a global church. We are not seeing these social, secular shifts in global Africa. I would see it as ethnocentric for the church to take its cues from just the American culture.”

My point: If USA Today wants to be a newspaper and not an advocacy organization, it needs to commit some actual journalism. That did not occur in this case.

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.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    I’d also like the story to explain a little more clearly how “performing those ceremonies” is considered “biblical obedience.” Who are the “others” who consider it so, and what parts of the Bible are they obeying? And, does “obeying” in this way put them at odds with other parts of the Bible? Does it boil down to merely “ecclesiatical disobedience” to peform those ceremonies, or do the church rules have some basis in something other than humans making rules? This doesn’t require voices on the other side of the issue as much as simply looking into the issue.

    • tmatt

      But voices on the other side of a debate are a basic, essential element of journalism — unless you are writing an advocacy piece, an editorial.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        Sorry, of course I didn’t mean it “instead of” voices on the other side. I agree with you. Rather, if it is a given that such voices are not going to be sought, the article could have still explored these other claims and provided more clarity. But to your point, voices from the other side would have helped that effort, too, in addition to improving the article overall.

  • Rev_Aggie_98

    I’m just happy that the article specified the ELCA instead of the usual “the Lutherans.”

  • Kodos

    ‘“I declared those laws that prohibited clergy from marrying gay and lesbian folk and using the church for that purpose are immoral, unjust, they are evil, and they no longer deserve our loyalty and support,” [Bishop Talbert] said. “It’s time for us to do the right thing.”’

    I’ve heard clergy make similar pronouncements in opposition to legalized gay marriage. Pronouncements like: “I declared those laws that [permitted gay marriage] immoral, unjust, they are evil, and they no longer deserve our loyalty and support. It’s time for us to do the right thing.”

    But I’ve never read these kinds of quotes in the newspaper, framed as a climactic declaration of one’s moral convictions after years of careful reflection and study of Biblical teaching.

    Which makes me wonder… if there are plenty of clergy who draw the line in the sand against gay marriage with similar eloquence and righteous conviction, why can’t journalists find these clergy, talk to them, and then accurately report what they’re saying? I’d like that. But if the journalist chose to frame that quote as part of a triumphalist narrative against gay marriage I’d feel like the reporter was trying to preach to me. To editorialize. To take a position on the topic. And I wouldn’t like that.

    So why did this advocacy piece get approved for publication as objective news? Did the editor in charge not see it as a puff piece for gay marriage with a bishop acting as cheerleader?

  • Michael Hampton

    What I don’t understand is how the church can be so hypocritical on this one issue when so many other rules in the bible get completely ignored. Gluttony is a sin. And the church has never spent millions and millions of dollars to stop fat people from marrying. Why not? I have never heard of a pastor telling his fat parishioners that they are going to hell. Why not? Obesity is an epidemic in our country and fat parents are raising fat children. Why hasn’t the church demonized fat people the way that they have done to gay people. I mean, gluttony is mentioned over 60 times in the Bible. Homosexuality is only mentioned 6 times.

    Personally, I find it sad that people would give up their faith just so that they could say that they hate gay people.

    • fredx2

      Because while Gluttony is a sin, being fat is not.

      Almost all fat people are NOT gluttons.

      And while being a glutton is a sin, it has nothing to do with marriage. So why would anyone try to keep gluttons from marrying?

      And, the church has never demonized gay people. Didn’t you hear what Pope Francis said? He said “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a very beautiful way, but says, wait a moment, how do you say… it says, [that] these persons must not be marginalized for this, they must be integrated into society.”
      The Catechism says “2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

      • Michael Hampton

        Um…the last 2 popes were very different.

        • wlinden

          I take it you have examples of how the last two popes “demonized gay people”?

          • Michael Hampton

            You may not remember this, but Benedict was very vocal about his not liking gay people. He put out a press release every other day about it. All the while ignoring his own hand in the child abuse scandal. And Pope John Paul also made statements that were untrue about gay people. Cardinal Dolan has released several lie filled press releases that demonize gay people. If your computer gets Google, then you can look it up. It’s very readily available.

    • Darren Blair

      As someone who is “fat”?

      Even when I was doing weight training and water aerobics on alternating days, my weight never went below a “floor” that was 20 pounds greater than what the books say I should be at for a person of my height.

      I have an abnormally hard, dense, and thick bone structure that has resulted in my being abnormally stocky; due to the way I wear my weight, few people are able to guess that I’m as heavy as I really am.

      My best bet with any future fitness routine is to hope for definition and tone in lieu of weight loss, as that’s not going to happen. As it is, though, I’ve learned how to use my bulk as leverage to provide extra power; it lets me pull off such feats as “pushing a car up a hill” and “pulling a Humvee out of a ditch with just a rope”.


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