‘Dozens of pastors’ not quoted in front-page story

Readers of The Oklahoman, my hometown newspaper and one-time employer, awoke today to a banner, front-page story on controversy over a play opening in Oklahoma City this week.

Yes, there’s a potentially strong religion angle (once you get past the junior-highish lede):

Jane, a scarf around her shoulders, works out a dance scene.

Mabel enters the room from backstage, a plastic container filled with snickerdoodles in hand. The cookies are a hit with cast and crew.

So begins a rehearsal for the play dozens of pastors have labeled
“gross pornography” and a Christmas-season affront to Christian values.

“The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” opens Thursday at CitySpace, a small, spare theater in the basement of the Civic Center Music Hall.

Dozens of pastors, huh?

As a reader, I’m immediately curious: Who are these pastors? I’d love to see some names. And, of course, I’d love to see some quotes.

But as I kept reading (the main story as well as the “Fact-checking pastors’ claims” sidebar that appeared with the jump), guess how many pastors The Oklahoman actually named?

Exactly one pastor, if you count this reference:

State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Republican who is a pastor in Yukon, first said Christian leaders would pressure city leaders to block the production.

For those unfamiliar with the play, here’s how the writer summarizes it:

Paul Rudnick’s play opened in New York in 1998. It has homosexual characters, includes simulated homosexual sex, and satirizes biblical stories, including the creation story.

The original included full-frontal nudity, though that’s not part of director Rachel Irick’s production.

Playing off the story of Adam and Eve, Adam encounters Steve in the Garden of Eden.

Later, a lesbian couple, Jane and Mabel, insist they were Earth’s original inhabitants.

All in all, this story (and the sidebar) impressed me as blatantly one-sided.

Take this section, for example:

Fifteen years after Oklahoma City endured a costly legal battle over efforts to suppress the Oscar-winning film “The Tin Drum” on grounds

it was obscene, elected officials presiding over the city’s economic renaissance are keeping their distance from this controversy.

In the long run, that may be to the city’s benefit.

Threats to the arts are a “powerful game-changer” as cities work to attract investments that produce good jobs and sustain growth, said Scott Hamilton, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance.

“Companies don’t want to come to a state or a city that doesn’t support the arts,” he said.

In the long run, that may be to the city’s benefit. Huh? Is this a news story or an editorial? The fact that The Oklahoman lets Hamilton’s quote go unchallenged by anyone on the other side may provide the best answer to that question. (Another quibble: It might be helpful to readers if the paper would explain what the Cimarron Alliance is.)

The story ends this way:

Pastors who oppose the play are organizing a prayer vigil outside the Civic Center on Friday, the play’s official opening night.

A counter demonstration is being organized by JD Bergner, a community theater enthusiast who had several minor roles in Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s first production this season, “In the Heat of the Night.”

The competing demonstrations caused worries for Hamilton, who was concerned how a flamboyant, raucous scene might reflect on the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

Hamilton said the Cimarron Alliance was encouraging demonstrators who support the play to “go as themselves, no signs, be quiet and peaceful.”

“We need to not meet rhetoric with rhetoric,” he said.

How did the “dozens of pastors” respond to the “rhetoric” claim? I have no idea. Again, this story doesn’t bother to quote anyone on the other side.

This story was the first I’d heard about the controversy over the play, but in looking in The Oklahoman’s archives, I found that the paper has reported on the pastors’ concerns previously.

However, that archived story (which many readers, including myself, did not see) does not absolve the newspaper of its responsibility to treat all sides fairly — and give them an opportunity to speak — in a new, front-page report. Right?

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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.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    “Companies don’t want to come to a state or a city that doesn’t support the arts,” he said.”
    Excuse me? Where’s the evidence to support this statement? “BigInk Co, the world’s largest manufacturers of ballpoint pens, were going to set up in our city – until they discovered we had no civic orchestra”?
    As to the rest of it, (a) sounds like the same old, same old ‘shocking’ art work (b) they’re probably delighted with the publicity generated by the threat of a boycott – now people will turn up to see what this porny play is all about!

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Anybody else having trouble opening Cimarron Alliance web page? Could it be because I’m behind a company firewall? Clearly, search engine results can clue one in to the the nature of the organization, no surprises there. But I work for an “inclusive” organization so I don’t know why they’d be blocked by a firewall.

  • Julia B

    I could not access Cimmaron Alliance either.


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