While working on a recording together, Johnny Cash asked Bob Dylan if he knew “Ring of Fire.” Dylan said he did and began to play it on the piano, croaking it out in typical Dylanesque fashion. When he was done he turned to his friend and said, “It goes something like that, right?” “No,” said Cash shaking his head. “It doesn’t go like that at all.”
I’m often reminded of that (perhaps apocryphal) story whenever I read mainstream media reports of conversations going on within evangelicalism. While the reporter may get bits and pieces right, the overall effect is that I finish the story thinking, “It doesn’t go like that at all.”
Take, for example, a feature yesterday by the AP, “Gay, evangelical and seeking acceptance in church.”
Evangelicals are being challenged to change their views of gays and lesbians, and the pressure isn’t coming from the gay rights movement or watershed court rulings: Once silent for fear of being shunned, more gay and lesbian evangelicals are speaking out about how they’ve struggled to reconcile their beliefs and sexual orientation.
Students and alumni from Christian colleges have been forming gay and lesbian support groups – a development that even younger alumni say they couldn’t have imagined in their own school years
From the article, we can discern that four claims are being made (three from the opening lede, and one later in the feature):
1. Students and alumni from Christian colleges have been forming gay and lesbian support groups.
2. Gay and lesbian evangelicals are speaking out now, more so than in the past, about how they’ve struggled to reconcile their beliefs and sexual orientation.
3. Evangelicals are being challenged to change their views of gays and lesbians by gay and lesbian evangelicals.
4. Gay evangelicals have already prompted a backlash
The claim about students and alumni from Christian colleges forming gay and lesbian support groups is clearly supported by evidence, though the term “support group” is unhelpfully vague. This is a relatively underreported trend and could have been the focus of an entire article itself. Hopefully, the AP will provide additional coverage on that topic.
The second claim relies on a vague comparison to an undefined past. Still, it too is a relatively innocuous claim. The issue of homosexuality has become more openly discussed over the past ten years, so it would probably be fair to say that you could fill in the blank of “more gay and lesbian ______________ are speaking out” and have it be true for almost any group – including evangelicals.
The third and fourth points, which constitute the main theme of the article, raise the question of exactly how evangelicals are being challenged to change their views of gays and lesbians by gay and lesbian evangelicals and what sort of backlash is occurring: