A religion story in full

peacockSometimes reporters get religion completely. Their stories are not only interesting, important, and well executed, but also explain religion in full. Take this Washington Times story by reporter Julia Duin.

The article is about a federal scandal involving Catholic officials in Richmond. Duin began her story this way:

Federal authorities are investigating the actions of a Catholic charity in Richmond which helped a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl to receive an abortion in January, in possible violation of Virginia law.

Officials have called the matter to the attention of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters in Washington, urging it to prevent any repetition of the incident.

Four employees of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Richmond, (CCR) have been fired and one supervisor with the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services agency has been suspended, according to federal sources and a secret April 29 letter written by three bishops to 350 bishops nationwide.

Did you get that? Representatives of a Catholic charity helped a 16-year-old kill her unborn child. Talk about an attention grabber. (Months before, the same officials had given the girl an unspecified contraceptive device.)

Then, Duin backed up her claims. She reported first, that three Catholic bishops on April 29 had written a letter to all 350 Catholic U.S. prelates confirming the incident. She reported second, the contents of an earlier letter from a federal official:

In a three-page letter dated April 23, David Siegel, acting director of the HHS Refugee Resettlement Office, criticized the Catholic bishops group.

“USCCB’s inability to direct the actions of its sub-grantee was a failure of management, oversight and monitoring,” he said in the letter to Johnny Young, executive director of the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) agency.

In addition, Mr. Siegel noted in the letter, CCR staff used the wrong medical authorization form to justify the abortion, adding that if his agency had received the correct form, “it would not have been approved.”

It might have been tempting for Duin to stick to the legal aspects of the case. Instead, she wrote about the religious ramifications of what Catholic officials allegedly did:

Roman Catholic doctrine condemns deliberate abortion as a mortal sin in all cases and imposes automatic excommunication upon anyone who obtains one or knowingly helps someone else do so. The excommunication usually can be lifted by ordinary confession and appropriate penance.

The church also teaches that knowingly using contraception is a mortal sin, although it does not incur automatic excommunication. Moreover, the church objects to some methods of contraception – those that prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus – as forms of abortion.

A reader can’t ask a reporter to do much more. Duin summarized and explained Catholic teaching. Her description gave readers more than sufficient context.

My only question about the story is why federal authorities warned Catholic officials rather than punish them. Didn’t church officials break the law and don’t they deserve a day in court?

That said, Duin did more than report and explain her story well. She also hinted at problems afflicting the U.S. Catholic Church:

“Some members of the MRS staff were not sufficiently aware of church teaching and [USCCB] policy regarding these matters to take stronger and more appropriate actions,” Bishops DiLorenzo, Wester and Driscoll said in a letter to their peers. …

Officials for the diocese, the Catholic bishops and their agencies declined multiple requests for comment.

In other words, some bishops failed to explain church teaching and kept their actions hidden. Which is the opposite of what Julia Duin did.

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Narrow view of gay-marriage foes

gaymarriagefoeLast month, Mollie criticized reporters for marginalizing opponents of same-sex marriage. Rather than presenting marriage traditionalists in full, journalists portrayed them as fringe types.

That was more than two weeks ago. How are journalists doing now? Based on three recent stories, I am afraid to say that coverage has improved only slightly.

The Los Angeles Times‘ story today gives a flavor of the coverage:

Opponents of gay marriage made a pointed effort today to keep a low profile on the first full day of same-sex ceremonies in California.

Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, wrote in an e-mail to supporters that they will battle in November with a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Prentice had a cautionary message for those protesting Tuesday’s ceremonies. Media outlets, he warned, “would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. . . . We must not fall into this trap.”

There were only a scattering of isolated protests around the state.

A few people carried placards at the county facilities in Norwalk and Santa Ana. In San Diego, a lone protester stood on the sidewalk and cried out a message against same-sex marriage.

“It’s just not right for a man to marry a man; it’s just not normal,” said the protester, Dennis Agajanian, a member of Bikers for Christ.

It’s fair for reporters Cara Mia DeMass and Jessica Garrison to focus on the tactics of traditional-marriage supporters. But their definition of these leaders and activists is awfully constricted: It’s limited to political and civic types.

While the reporters mention that churches belong to the ProtectMarriage.com coalition, they don’t quote any church leaders. That’s an oversight. Church leaders played a key role in approving the state’s gay marriage ban in 2000. And they are likely to play a similarly influential role this fall. Check out the number of churches mentioned in the coalition’s website.

George Orwell once wrote that in times of revolution or crisis, it’s necessary to restate the obvious. In that spirit, I give one cheer to the San Francisco Chronicle. In a profile of same-sex marriage opponents in rural California, reporter Cecilia M. Vega quoted from one woman whose objections to gay marriage are religious:

Like many of her neighbors in Orland, religious beliefs are at the heart of 76-year-old Rae Whitaker’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

She lives with her husband, who was a bomber pilot in World War II, behind their son’s dentist office. The entryway wall is covered in photos of her seven children, 24 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren plus one large photo of former President Ronald Reagan, who Whitaker says is “just about my favorite person after Jesus Christ and my husband.” On her coffee table, she has framed photos of Nancy and Ronald Reagan and President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

In 2000, she rallied local support for Prop. 22, and she says that if her health is good, she has every intention this fall of working for a measure to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

“Can they produce children?” Whitaker asked about gay and lesbian couples. “The husband and wife are basic to the family … God ordained the family. He set up the family as woman and man.”

Reporter Vega did not ignore or marginalize religious Californians. Yet her portrait of them is reminiscent of that famous photo of Goldwater’s supporters — the unsmiling, elderly couple sitting down and waving a wan banner. Every single one the gay-marriage opponents quoted in the story is not only old, but also an octogenarian or nonagenarian. Younger opponents, the reader presumes, are either Republicans or fuddy duddies.

This narrow portrait serves the ideological purposes of the gay-rights cause. Only old folks and religious fundamentalists oppose us. But it does not serve the interests of journalism. When the state voted in 2000 on a gay-marriage initiative, 61 percent of voters approved the ban. One-third of registered Democrats voted for the measure, while three-fifths of Catholics did. Where are the voices of these people in the Chronicle’s story?

Not all stories about gay marriage opponents have been so constricted. Via Metapundit, The Modesto Bee wrote a more balanced story, one with the voices of religious leaders:

Father Jon Magoulias of Modesto’s Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation said:

“Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. …

“As the coming kingdom is concerned, there is ‘neither male nor female.’ But the kingdom has not yet come, and the male and female roles must remain distinct, especially in regard to what we understand family to be. Each has a specific role to fulfill. Obviously, there is overlapping in many areas. But for the male to replace the female or vice versa has never been in God’s plan.

“A good example is marriage between two males or two females. This can never be acceptable because it makes marriage as instituted by God an abomination.”

Magoulias also pointed out that Paul, writer of many of the New Testament letters, uses marriage to describe the relationship between Christ the bridegroom and humanity, his bride.

“In this regard, Saint Paul tells a man and a woman entering marriage that the icon of Christ and his church should be their role model.”

I liked the fact that Bee reporter Sue Nowicki let the priest speak at length. She also quoted the local Catholic bishop and a former homosexual man. Compared to her big-city counterparts, Nowicki is practically an apostle of religious diversity.

Yet Nowicki isn’t of course. She is a reporter, not an advocate.

(Photo by user Philocrites used under a Creative Commons license.)

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Kiss pic or no kiss pic?

licenced kiss 1Our friends over at the diversity and ethics offices at Poynter.org have run a really interesting commentary on a media issue at the heart of debates about fair and accurate coverage of same-sex marriage.

On one level Kelly McBride‘s piece is about whether or not news organizations should run the “dreaded kissing photo.” On another level, the debate is about whether pushing same-sex marriage into the faces of readers is (a) good for the subscriber-challenged mainstream press and-or (b) good for the actual cause of lesbigay rights.

This is similar to the debate in England about whether calling The Wedding a “wedding,” as opposed to the “blessing of a civil union” is a good strategic move within the Anglican wars.

Here is a key chunk of McBride’s post:

Some newsrooms have policies that discourage running photos or video of same-sex couples kissing. Some photo editors and news directors are inclined to run the kissing images, because they capture the climactic moment of a wedding.

Interestingly enough, some advocates of gay marriage bristle at the kissing photos, arguing that they have become a cliche that turns people away from the story. Of course, other gay marriage proponents argue that when editors refuse to show a photo of a simple kiss, they give in to dehumanizing forces.

Four years ago, when public officials around the country began to test the laws that banned gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying, journalists learned a lot. The audience, in some cases, protested mightily over the photos. They accused their local television stations and newspapers of supporting the liberal cause of gay marriage by displaying the images. Others celebrated the diversity of same-sex couples that is rarely represented in visual journalism.

There is, of course, a thin line in California right now between saying that these photos will turn off newspaper subscribers and saying that they will turn off voters.

I can’t come up with a reason not to run the best photos that you have. I would, for example, have trouble saying that photos in secular settings are somehow better or safer than photos taken in sanctuaries on the religious left. This is a journalistic decision, although it is clear that there is no “safe” choice. Are “kissing photos” good for the religious right or the religious left? You can argue both sides of that.

Similar issues bubble to the surface in a Los Angeles Times piece by Jessica Garrison that ran with the candid headline “Gay couples are emphasizing low-key weddings — Flamboyant images from same-sex ceremonies, activists say, could be used by opponents to convince California votes that gays and lesbians shouldn’t have the right to marry.”

This theme that runs through this story is clear: It’s time to focus on public relations. Do what is best for the movement. Here’s the lede:

The gay and lesbian couples who packed a Hollywood auditorium last week had come seeking information about California’s new marriage policies. But they also got some unsolicited advice.

Be aware.

Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L.Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to convince California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying the other side.

Sitting close to his husband-to-be in the audience, hairstylist Kendall Hamilton nodded and said he knew just what she meant. No “guys showing up in gowns,” he said.

“It’s a weird subject,” added Hamilton, 39, who plans to wed his partner of five years, Ray Paolantonio. “We want everybody to be free, but the image does matter. … They are going to try to make us look like freaks.”

In other words, do not celebrate too much. That’s important advice to activists. The question is whether this advice should have anything to do with policies in newsrooms.

Photo: From http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/

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An old anti-Catholic device

anticath 01It’s an old anti-Catholic journalistic device.

A reporter writes about a controversial cultural issue such as contraception or abortion. Opponents are identified by their religious denomination. Supporters are not. The lesson for readers is plain: opponents are motivated by religious zeal, while supporters are motivated by humanitarianism and sweet reason.

Plenty of otherwise great journalists have committed this journalistic sin. In the late 1960s, Sydney Schanberg of The New York Times wrote about legislation to liberalize the state of New York’s abortion laws. Schanberg’s stories invariably referred to abortion opponents as Catholics, while abortion supporters were never identified by their religious background or lack thereof.

Now reporter Rob Stein of The Washington Post adds his name to this illustrious list.

Stein wrote about pharmacy stores that refuse to stock contraceptives. The first third of his story was largely unexceptional. He told readers about the controversy over conscience clauses: individual pharmacists assert a right to refuse to sell contraceptives for moral or religious reasons, while some ethicists and professional groups assert that the health concerns of patients trump an individual’s conscience. He also let both sides make their case.

But in the middle third of the story, Stein identified opponents by their religious affiliation while not identifying supporters by the same. Here is one example:

“We try to practice pharmacy in a way that we feel is best to help our community and promote healthy lifestyles,” said Lloyd Duplantis, who owns Lloyd’s Remedies in Gray, La., and is a deacon in his Catholic church. “After researching the science behind steroidal contraceptives, I decided they could hurt the woman and possibly hurt her unborn child. I decided to opt out.”

Some critics question how such pharmacies justify carrying drugs, such as Viagra, for male reproductive issues, but not those for women.

“Why do you care about the sexual health of men but not women?” asked Anita L. Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “If he gets his Viagra, why can’t she get her contraception?”

Lest you think I complain too much, here is another example:

The DMC Pharmacy opening in August marks an expansion by Divine Mercy Care in Fairfax, a nonprofit health-care organization that adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The group runs the Tepeyac Family Center, an obstetrics-gynecology practice in Fairfax that offers “natural family planning” instead of contraceptives, sterilization or abortion.

“We’re trying not to leave our faith at the door,” said John Bruchalski, who chairs the group’s board of directors, noting that one of the organization’s major goals is helping needy, uninsured patients obtain health care. “We’re trying to create an environment where belief and professionalism come together.”

Like the doctors, nurses and other staff members at Tepeyac, Robert Semler, the pharmacist who will run DMC Pharmacy, plans to start each workday with a prayer with his staff, which at first will just be his wife, Pam, a nurse.

And then there is this:

“If you are a health-care professional, you are bound by professional obligations,” said Nancy Berlinger, deputy director of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y. “You can’t say you won’t do part of that profession.”

This is not fair or balanced. It’s political. Stein is leaving readers with a subtle but unmistakable message: Duplantis and Semler seek to impose their Catholic morality on others, while Nelson and Berlinger are operating from altruism.

Now maybe Duplantis and Semler volunteered their religious affiliation. In that case, I think that Stein needed to relay this information to readers. He would have shown that he was seeking to be objective and fair.

Suppose Duplantis and Semler did not volunteer the information. In that case, Stein was obligated to record whether Nelson and Berlinger said their views were influenced by their religious views or lack of same. That’s just an issue of fairness.

Some GR readers may believe that my assessment of Stein’s story is uncharitable. But does he deserve the benefit of the doubt? I don’t know. Whatever the case, reporters have used this anti-Catholic and anti-religious canard for decades. It’s time to retire it.

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Obama on fatherhood and family

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s speech on Father’s Day about the importance of fatherhood is drawing praise from some surprising quarters that the day-after stories struggled to pick-up on. The New York Times rightly focused on the impact the speech had on the African-American community, but this speech is having effects in other communities as well.

Here is the NYT:

Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who sat in the front pew, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make, telling the mostly black audience not to “just sit in the house watching ‘SportsCenter,’” and to stop praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments.

“Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation,” he said, bringing many members of the congregation to their feet, applauding. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”

His themes have also been sounded by the comedian Bill Cosby, who has stirred debate among black Americans by bluntly speaking about an epidemic of fatherlessness in African-American families while suggesting that some blacks use racism as a crutch to explain the lack of economic progress.

Mr. Obama did not take his Father’s Day message to Trinity United Church of Christ, where he resigned as a member in May after a series of disputes over controversial remarks by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Instead, he chose the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God, a vast brick structure on the South Side near Lake Michigan. The church’s pastor, Byron Brazier, is an Obama supporter.

Many religious conservatives, not necessarily tied to the African American community, have latched on to the speech’s broader theme regarding the importance of fatherhood and the family. The NYT article correctly notes that this is not the first time Obama has spoken on this issue, which is part of the reason traditional conservatives were initially curious about Obama’s candidacy.

The setting of the speech, a powerful church on Sunday morning, was appropriately noted, but there has been little coverage of the scripture Obama used to open his sermon speech. Here it is from the text:

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus closes by saying, “Whoever hears these words of mine, and does them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.” [Matthew 7: 24-25] …

Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.

One news organization, The Politico, picked up on how Obama ended the speech, which tied directly into the opener:

“We try. We hope,” he concluded. “We do what we can to build our house upon the sturdiest rock. And when the winds come, and the rains fall, and they beat upon that house, we keep faith that our Father will be there to guide us, and watch over us, and protect us, and lead His children through the darkest of storms into light of a better day. That is my prayer for all of us on this Father’s Day, and that is my hope for this country in the years ahead. May God bless you and your children. Thank you.”

Along with the setting of the speech (a church), the use of “the rock” as a religious symbolism to explain a policy position of the potential next president of the United States is significant. Obama is known for choosing the words of his speeches carefully and frequently changing phrases to fit what he believes represents himself. Was this one of them?

How much should reporters, if they covered this aspect, read into the use of “the rock” as a religious symbolism? Saint Peter is frequently referred to as “The Rock” upon which the Church of Jesus Christ would be built. Jesus is also frequently referred to as the “Rock of Salvation,” or the “Rock of Ages.”

In other words, has Obama picked up President Bush’s style of using religious rhetoric to explain his policy positions? If this is the case, will it be as effective in drawing in voters who wouldn’t otherwise identify with Obama?

Lastly, reporters should follow-up on the policy goals behind this speech. The NYT noted that Obama announced he would co-sponsor legislation with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (huge Hillary Clinton support) intended to increase child support payment enforcement and domestic violence prevention. But is that all? What other positions held by Obama are influenced by this lofty goal of increasing the role of father’s in the lives of this country’s youth?

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All the trimmings in Anglican land

london st bartholomew churcYou gotta hand it to the Brits. The journalists over there sure know how to cover a wedding.

The Telegraph rolled out the heavy artillery to cover what may have been the most celebrated wedding in the United Kingdom since that of Prince Charles and Lady Di. I am referring, of course, to the same-sex union rites for the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord.

Here’s the hard news lede, served up by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the newspaper’s religious affairs correspondent.

An Anglican church has held a homosexual “wedding” for the first time in a move that will deepen the rift between liberals and traditionalists, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Two male priests exchanged vows and rings in a ceremony that was conducted using one of the church’s most traditional wedding rites — a decision seen as blasphemous by conservatives. The ceremony broke Church of England guidelines and was carried out last month in defiance of the Bishop of London, in whose diocese it took place. News of the “wedding” emerged days before a crucial summit of the Anglican Church’s conservative bishops and archbishops, who are threatening to split the worldwide Church over the issue of homosexual clergy.

Notice how, in just a few sentences, the reporter hit all the different levels of this Anglican blockbuster — both local, diocesan, national and global. Good show.

But this is one case where it really helps to remember that this story focuses on the radical redefinition of an ancient sacramental rite in a church that claims apostolic ties to Catholic orders and creeds. This has to be a story about worship and doctrine.

That’s where another Telegraph story really shines. To truly grasp the importance of what is going on, and all the fine details, I suggest that GetReligion readers click here and print out a blogger’s close analysis of the actual text for this same-sex rite, compared and contrasted with the Book of Common Prayer rite that it is modernizing or postmodernizing, depending on one’s point of view.

This story focuses
on the worship service itself, making clear the degree to which this was a wedding, no matter what the high Anglican spinners try to say after the fact. And the setting? Location, location, location. Read it all. But here is a sample:

St. Bartholomew the Great at West Smithfield, in the City of London, dates from the 12th century but it can have seen few more historic events than this.

Greeted with a fanfare of trumpets, the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord celebrated their civil union with the kind of pomp and pageantry reserved for royal weddings. The couple walked up the aisle to Mendelssohn’s march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream dressed in morning suits, with their bridesmaids and best men following behind.

A robed choir sang in Latin as incense was burned on the high altar. The service was rooted in the most traditional style, from the music to the liturgy, which was based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Rev. Martin Dudley addressed the congregation: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity.”

To conservative Anglicans the use of those words in such circumstances might be blasphemous, but the packed pews indicated the level of support for the couple.

One more detail, in a nation that truly sweats the details of class and politics.

Cowell is who is a hospital chaplain at Barts and priest at Westminster Abbey, which means he works at the heart of the system that serves the queen. Thus, he are told:

Among those celebrating with the couple were some of the Church’s most senior clergy, including Canon Robert Wright from Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

“It was incredibly grand — the most spectacular wedding I’ve ever been to,” said one guest. “They had a 10-tier wedding cake. I’ve never seen a cake that big.”

So, do you think that this might come up for discussions in Jerusalem and then in Canterbury?

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Holy matrimony from Cana to California

marriage cana xlOf the many stories dealing with same-sex marriage in California, one San Francisco Chronicle story in particular deserves a look. Headlined “Bay Area churches opened door to same-sex vows,” the reporter skims the surface of the history of same-sex rites in Christian churches and managed to get the attention of more than a few GetReligion readers in the process:

The Bay Area has had a number of seminal moments in the history of gays and lesbians in organized religion. The first ordination of an openly gay minister, William Johnson, took place in San Carlos. One of two openly gay bishops in the Anglican Communion, Otis Charles, is a Bay Area resident.

But even so, the vast majority of churches in the region limit the role of gays and lesbians. Only one mainline Protestant denomination – the United Church of Christ, which ordained Johnson – marries homosexual couples with the same rite used for heterosexual couples. And the number of churches friendly to gays and lesbians is much lower than the number of Catholic, evangelical or other conservative Christian churches in the region.

So while liberal churches helped change the state, the state now has a far more liberal view of same-sex marriage. Flat-out opposition has come from evangelicals and the state’s Catholic leaders – including San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer and Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron. Joint support for a November ballot initiative seeking a constitutional amendment that will codify marriage as between one man and one woman will probably come from them.

In case the language wasn’t clear enough, the bad people “limit,” “flat-out oppose” and aren’t “friendly” to gays. The good churches “help change” the state’s views on same-sex marriage, ordain and marry homosexuals and condone homosexuality. And that bizarre last sentence is conditional and passive why?

Reporter Matthai Kuravila goes on to say that “churches supportive of gay and lesbian rights” are in the difficult position of being in denominations with stricter rules on same-sex marriage than they might prefer:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church, for example, now prohibit using the marriage rite reserved for straight couples for same-sex marriages. Separate – and, some say, unequal – rites are set aside for gays and lesbians. (That’s not true for all churches in those denominations, including some in the Bay Area, where evangelical members insist that marriage should only be between a man and woman.)

I sort of have no idea what he means by this paragraph but love that it’s “evangelicals” in these mainline churches who oppose same-sex marriage. What does that word mean in this context? That middle sentence is also fascinating. It should really form the basis for its own article. In fact, I think an article on Christian marriage rites for same-sex partners is desperately needed.

The Christian model of marriage is based on the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband is to sacrifice for his wife as Christ gave himself to the church. The wife is to respect the husband as the church obeys Christ. You can read all about it Ephesians 5. When my husband and I got married, this was the understanding of marriage that we were instructed in. This was included in our marriage rite. Such clear roles for husband and wife wouldn’t make sense for same-sex partners. Or, if the same rite is used, who represents Christ and who represents the church? Is the same model of Christ and church used for same-sex partners? How is this understood? I would love to learn more about liturgies for same-sex marriage — or just other marriage liturgies in general — rather than some throwaway line about how some people say the rites are “unequal.” I mean, really.

Anyway, the article ends with a discussion of how Bay area Episcopalians have been at the forefront of gay rights issues. Bishop Marc Andrus says that gay couples should have a purely civil ceremony at county clerks’ offices and then return to the church for a blessing. And all couples — straight and gay — should use one of the three rites approved for same-sex blessings. The article fails to mention that these “approved” rites have not been approved by the Episcopal Church itself but, rather, the local California Diocese.

This Religion News Service report appearing in the Washington Post on Saturday notes that even in California, Episcopal bishops hold different views on same-sex marriage rites.

Here’s how the article ends:

Andrus said it is part of a natural order that churches might lead the state, and that the state might lead the church.

“We seek to intently follow Christ, but we don’t contain Christ,” Andrus said. “Christ transcends the boundaries of the church. . . . It’s not a surprise to me that the culture is going to manifest Christ in a way that summons the church to new realities. I really welcome that. I think that’s the way it’s meant to be.”

I feel like this quote needs more explanation, context or a response — but maybe it’s that I moved from California so long ago that I have forgotten the language. Anyway, all that to say that the graphic that accompanies the article is in error.

The chart looks at the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to see whether celibacy is required for gays and lesbians and whether they bless same-sex unions, perform same-sex marriages or ordain partnered gay clergy.

According to the chart, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do not require celibacy, do bless same-sex unions and do ordain partnered gay clery. Except that that’s not true. Practices may and do vary in both church bodies but the PCUSA does say that unmarried clergy must remain chaste and that people are not free to disobey that rule. And I think they also forbid same-sex marriage blessings. As for The Episcopal Church, 10 dioceses bless same-sex unions but the national church body has not condoned that. And the international Anglican Communion has been pressuring the Episcopal Church to crack down on those dioceses that conduct same-sex union liturgies.

It just seems that if you’re going to write a light and airy piece like this, the least you can do is get the facts right.

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Gavin Newsom’s triumph

NewsomSame sex marriages will be performed in California beginning on Tuesday. In fact, some will take place tonight. And the media are pretty giddy about it. What’s happening is very important and very historic, so the amount of coverage is proper. Less proper is the complete lack of balance in stories this past week.

Take this piece — please — from the New York Times‘ Tara Parker-Pope:

For insights into healthy marriages, social scientists are looking in an unexpected place.

A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships.

The whole article is about how homosexual couples are better in seemingly every way than heterosexual couples. They divide work more fairly, they fight more fairly, they get less angry. The article is a one-sided bludgeon and it would be laughable if it weren’t, you know, the New York Times. That whole notion of one man and one woman united in marriage for the purpose of procreation really seems quaint now, doesn’t it?

Another New York Times story looks at several same-sex couples who got married in Massachusetts four years ago. Some have divorced, some stayed married, but the story is very positive no matter what. The Associated Press’ Amanda Fehd had nothing but positive words about same-sex marriage in California. The Los Angeles Times had an interesting article about how gay people themselves feel everything from exuberance to hostility about marriage. There was a bit of that latter perspective in the Times story about Massachusetts couples. But while gay people can be opposed to same-sex marriage, other critical voices seem harder to find in mainstream media.

Instead, we have “Lawsuits in defense of gay marriage can backfire, activist groups warn.” Or a really bizarre story on gaydar that cites a report from mid-century by Alfred Kinsey (of all people) that says gay men have larger penises than straight men. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s weekend coverage included, but was not limited to, “California weddings one more step on long road,” “Lesbian pioneer activists see wish fulfilled,” “Same-sex marriage plans around the Bay Area,” “Saying ‘I Do’ all over again,” “‘Is this a good person to marry?’,” “Gay marriage hits home with legal crusaders,” and “Judge sees equal rights for gays, lesbians,” etc. None of these — except the ‘gays make better married couples’ and ‘gay men have larger penises’ stories — are that bad. It’s just that they all reinforce the same rah-rah message.

Particularly for a state that recently had over 60 percent of voters define marriage as an institution for one man and one woman, and had that vote overturned by judges, this coverage is horrific. With this unbelievably uncritical look at same-sex marriage, a column by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross about media manipulation of the event by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is particularly interesting:

When then-rookie Mayor Newsom defied state law and set off a national storm by sanctioning same-sex weddings at City Hall four years ago, his chief PR master at the time, Peter Ragone, laid down some do’s and don’ts for how the story was to be staged for the media.

Make it about the people, not politics, Ragone emphasized. Make the weddings as normal-looking as possible. And whenever Newsom went in front of the cameras, Ragone made sure there was a U.S. flag in the background.

Just like four years ago, the story line Newsom and gay activists are pitching this time is about fairness and “couples next door.”

Wow. And that’s exactly how I’d describe every mainstream media outlet’s treatment of the subject. Way to go, mainstream media! If anyone finds any coverage that does anything with this story other than what Gavin Newsom and other activists aim for, please let me know.

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