Giving both sides a voice in Methodist same-sex debate

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Maybe you’ve noticed, but your normally friendly GetReligionistas get grumpy when newspapers write one-sided stories.

We might even go so far as to use terms such as “advocacy journalism.”

Three times in the last few weeks — here, here and here — we raised a stink over The Dallas Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote concerning the United Methodists’ stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Well, a major story on that same topic broke Monday in The New York Times’ back yard:

The head bishop of the United Methodist Church in New York on Monday committed to ending church trials in his region for ministers who perform same sex-marriages, essentially freeing them to conduct a ceremony still prohibited under his denomination’s laws.

As the first sitting United Methodist bishop to publicly make such a pledge, Bishop Martin D. McLee instantly became a leading figure in a decades-old movement within the United Methodist Church, the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, to extend equal recognition and rights to gay and lesbian members. Though Bishop McLee said that he hoped his approach would heal the church’s deep divisions over homosexuality, more conservative Methodists warned that his actions would push the denomination closer to an irrevocable split.

Bishop McLee’s pledge came as part of a resolution announced Monday with the Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, a Methodist minister and retired dean of Yale Divinity School who had faced a church trial after he officiated the wedding of his gay son in 2012. The trial had been scheduled to begin on Monday.

As I kept reading, my question was this: Would the Timesnot always known for its journalistic balance on social issues — allow both sides an opportunity to speak?

To my delight and the Times’ credit, the answer was yes:

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

The two ministers whose complaint had prompted the church legal process against Dr. Ogletree, however, disagreed and sharply criticized the settlement.

“The impact of this settlement today will be that faithful United Methodists who support the church’s teachings will be ignored,” the Rev. Randall C. Paige and the Rev. Roy E. Jacobsen said in a statement. “Far from avoiding schism, today’s settlement increases the probability that schism will take place.”

And not only did the Times refer to “conservative” Methodists, but it also labeled the other side as “liberal.” In general, I’d prefer specific information on what each side believes, as opposed to labels. But if you’re going to label one end of the spectrum, it’s only fair to label the other, too.

Later in the story, the Times quotes advocates on both sides.

One side here:

Since then, about 1,500 United Methodist ministers around the country have pledged to officiate same-sex unions in defiance of the rules, including 217 clergy in the New York Annual Conference. Bishop McLee’s move, said Dorothee Benz, who leads a pro-gay rights group, Methodists in New Directions, shows that “the bishops are starting to catch the same drift.”

And the other side here:

“We are really disappointed in the decision that was made to drop the trial completely because there was no penalty or consequence for an act of disobedience,” said the Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht, the vice president ofGood News, a traditionalist Methodist group. “And it’s very troubling that the bishop has made a commitment to cease trials, because it indicates that there will be no accountability in the future in New York to the Book of Discipline.”

If there’s a middle ground — a group fed up with both the conservatives and the liberals — then it would be great to hear from them, too.

But given the recent failure of some news organizations to reflect even the key voices on both sides, it was nice to see the Times do so.

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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