In Kentucky, ‘Shiite Baptists’ and the crazy old uncle

Thou shalt not write an inflammatory newspaper column.

Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a community — or a congregation — scorned in print.

One of the favorite stories I wrote for The Associated Press during the 2004 presidential campaign involved the publisher of Republican George W. Bush’s hometown newspaper endorsing Democrat John Kerry:

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — Signs at the bank, the cafe and the Bottlinger Grain bins all declare Crawford – the proud home of the president’s ranch – as “Bush Country.”

So when the Lone Star Iconoclast, a tiny weekly that bills itself as Bush’s hometown paper, endorsed Democrat John Kerry, there was hell to pay.

Local businesses pulled their ads and banned the paper from their stores.

“We felt a little betrayed,” said Larry Nelson, manager of the Crawford Country Style, a downtown shop that sells “Luvya Dubya” trinkets and other Bush memorabilia.

Most folks in Crawford (pop. 705) wholeheartedly support the re-election of the man whose “Western White House” made their speck on the map famous. Eighty-two percent voted for President Bush in 2000.

The paper’s publisher, W. Leon Smith, said he never expected such a hostile response. He knew “a person or two might pull an ad, that we might lose a subscriber or two.”

“But this has turned a little more vicious,” said Smith, 51, wearing a decade-old knit tie and ink pens in his white shirt pocket.

I thought of that story when I came across an AP report today about a Southern Baptist church seeking an assistant pastor’s ouster.

The pastor’s apparent offense? His wife wrote a less-than-flattering “humor column” about Southern Baptists.

The top of the AP story:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A newspaper column lampooning Southern Baptists, calling the group “the crazy old paranoid uncle of evangelical Christians,” is causing quite a stir in a Kentucky city and put a pastor’s job in jeopardy.

The column was written by Angela Thomas, the wife of Bill Thomas, an assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church in Madisonville. Her column was done in response to the Southern Baptist Convention’s opposition to a new Boy Scouts of America policy that welcomes gay members.

“Sexuality doesn’t come up and isn’t relative to typical scouting activities but now, thanks to Southern Baptists, the parents of little innocent scouts everywhere are having to have The Talk,” she wrote June 19 in The Madisonville Messenger. She writes a weekly humor column for the community paper, which publishes daily.

Later, the story notes:
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Same-sex marriage and a conscience clash, via CNN

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, CNN’s “Belief Blog” features an excellent story by Godbeat pro Daniel Burke exploring the issue from the perspective of conservative Christians.

The headline:

Conservatives brace for ‘marriage revolution’

The story grabs readers’ attention by focusing on a civil rights vs. conscience clash in Washington state:

With its ivy-covered entrance and Teddy Bear bouquets, Arlene’s Flowers seems an unlikely spot to trigger a culture-war skirmish.

Until recently, the Richland, Washington, shop was better known for its artistic arrangements than its stance on same-sex marriage.

But in March, Barronelle Stutzman, the shop’s 68-year-old proprietress, refused to provide wedding flowers for a longtime customer who was marrying his partner. Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in December.

An ardent evangelical, Stutzman said she agonized over the decision but couldn’t support a wedding that her faith forbids.

“I was not discriminating at all,” she said. “I never told him he couldn’t get married. I gave him recommendations for other flower shops.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson disagreed, and filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers. The ACLU also sued on behalf of the customer, Robert Ingersoll, who has said Stutzman’s refusal “really hurt, because it was someone I knew.”

After providing a closeup view of that single skirmish, the reporter backs up and paints a wide-angle portrait of the changing times and attitudes confronting social conservatives — from within and outside their own ranks. It’s all extremely interesting with credible (albeit fairly predictable) evangelical sources such as Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and Jonathan Merritt.

At the end, the story closes with the florist featured up top:

Online, Stutzman has been called a bigot, and worse.

She said she’s lost at least two weddings because of her refusal to provide services for the same-sex marriage.

Conservative activists say her case is the first of what will surely be many more, as gay marriage spreads across the country.

As she gets ready to face a judge, the silver-haired florist offered some advice for fellow evangelicals.

“Don’t give in. If you have to go down for Christ, what better person to go down for?”

As an evenhanded account of conservative Christian attitudes, the CNN story turns out fine. But here’s where it falls short: in providing any actual insight into the legal issues involved in the Washington state case.

In a separate story, The Associated Press reported:

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‘Pray the gay away’ quote still lacks a named source

Nearly a year ago, GetReligion highlighted an Associated Press story reporting that Exodus International was no longer trying to “pray the gay away.”

That story prompted our esteemed head GetReligionista — tmatt — to note, “In all of my years covering ex-gays, I’ve never met anyone who actually claimed they could pray the gay away.”

Alas, easy headlines die hard.

Alan Chambers and Exodus International are back in the news, and so is that convenient catchphrase, albeit with the preposition in a slightly different location. In a “Perspectives” piece on its breaking news blog, The Los Angeles Times suggests:

It’s really worth watching the heartfelt speech that Alan Manning Chambers gave Wednesday as he announced the demise of Exodus International, the controversial Christian ministry founded 38 years ago in Anaheim to —  as one often hears — “pray away the gay.”

Chambers, who has led the Orlando, Fla.-based group for 11 years, said he thinks the church is becoming a more welcoming place for gays, and that Exodus, founded as a refuge for Christians battling their same-sex attractions, has simply done more harm than good.

“While there has been so much good at Exodus,” said Chambers, who credited the ministry for saving his life at 19 when he was a suicidal because he could not reconcile his sexuality with church teachings, “there have been people that we’ve hurt. There are horror stories.”

Still, he opened the Irvine conference by reminding people of whom Exodus International serves: “Most of us … are here as Christians with same-sex attractions. We’re believers, like me, who believe sexual expression is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage. Or we’re here as Christians with gay and lesbian loved ones who desperately want to love without conditions.”

I realize that the piece referenced is clearly marked as an opinion item. But again, it’s worth noting that no actual source is given for the  ”pray away the gay” quote. Is that good journalism?

The Associated Press and Religion News Service provide more straightforward coverage. There’s quite a bit of interesting reaction material in the Baptist Press story, as well.

Reading Chambers’ statement posted online, I feel for reporters faced with boiling down exactly what he believes — and how his beliefs have changed or evolved — in relatively short news stories.

Beyond the meat of his apology, for example, this paragraph of his statement stood out to me:

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BBC attacks major same-sex marriage stereotype (updated)

Here inside the Beltway, a kind of nervous hush has settled over the church-state battlefield while everyone waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its ruling on the status of gay marriage in the battleground state of California (for sure) and perhaps even in the United States of America. There have been some hints from the legal left that the court will — fearing another Roe v. Wade apocalypse — issue a narrow ruling.

Most of the elite mainstream press have, of course, remained in full-voice cheerleader mode. As Arthur Brisbane described his own company, in his swan song last year as public editor at The New York Times:

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

Stepping back, I can see that as the digital transformation proceeds, as The Times disaggregates and as an empowered staff finds new ways to express itself, a kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space.

But miracles happen. Every now and then, a major media outlet breaks loose and reports some voices who do not easily and quickly fit into the familiar templates, voices that might even point journalists toward the compromise that may still be possible between the entrenched armies on the cultural left and right.

The BBC team did that the other day with an entire piece dedicated to gays and lesbians who are opposed to gay “marriage.”

Now, the scare quotes around “marriage” are there for a reason. It’s clear, in this story, that the people who are in this camp are fully on board when it comes to full legal rights being granted to other gays and lesbians. The problem, for them, is the word “marriage” with all of — yes — its religious and moral overtones.

In other words, religion is a key part of this debate. Here’s a key block of material right up top:

Jonathan Soroff lives in liberal Massachusetts with his male partner, Sam. He doesn’t fit the common stereotype of an opponent of gay marriage. But like half of his friends, he does not believe that couples of the same gender should marry.

“We’re not going to procreate as a couple and while the desire to demonstrate commitment might be laudable, the religious traditions that have accommodated same-sex couples have had to do some fairly major contortions,” says Soroff.

Until the federal government recognises and codifies the same rights for same-sex couples as straight ones, equality is the goal so why get hung up on a word, he asks.

“I’m not going to walk down the aisle to Mendelssohn wearing white in a church and throw a bouquet and do the first dance,” adds Soroff, columnist for the Improper Boston. “I’ve been to some lovely gay weddings but aping the traditional heterosexual wedding is weird and I don’t understand why anyone wants to do that.

“I’m not saying that people who want that shouldn’t have it but for me, all that matters is the legal stuff.”

And what about viewpoints on the lesbian/feminist side of the aisle, where the word “marriage” has rarely been a happy word?

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Pod people: ‘Mass exodus’ from the Boy Scouts?

One of the wonderful things about writing is the ability to type something, decide it’s not precisely exactly what you wanted to say, delete it and start over.

Alas, when you’re recording a podcast — let’s say, with Todd Wilken of “Crossroads” — you don’t have that luxury.

Instead, you’re responding to questions off the cuff and thinking out loud.

So, please enjoy a trip inside my (scatter)brain in the latest GetReligion podcast.

Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay members — the subject of my recent posts on “Seven questions about Boy Scout gay policy coverage” and “Churches dumping Boy Scouts over gay policy … or not?”

My most recent post drew some interesting comments, including this insight from GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly:

The key to the whole question is that no one knows what the word “open” means in the phrase “openly gay youths.” At this point, Catholics are the key. Keep waiting for the hierarchy to speak.

And this insight from Tennessean religion writer Bob Smietana:

So far there hasn’t been a mass exodus of Baptists from Boy Scouts in Nashville. And the local Royal Ambassador leaders don’t want to fill their ranks with disgruntled scouts. This could be a case for Baptist where the national leader want one thing and the local churches something else.

The notion that the policy change hasn’t sparked a “mass exodus” also was referenced in an Associated Press story published after my last post:

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Seven questions about Boy Scout gay policy coverage

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Headlines over the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay members are still flying fast and furious.

There’s been so much recent coverage, actually, that it’s impossible to critique all of it in a single post. So I thought I’d ask seven questions related to the decision and news coverage of it.

1. Does the new Boy Scout policy conflict with Catholic teaching?

No, according to a Religion News Service report:

(RNS) The U.S. Catholic Church’s top liaison to the Boy Scouts of America is telling Catholic Scout leaders and troop sponsors that the BSA’s new policy welcoming gay Scouts “is not in conflict with Catholic teaching” and they should continue to support scouting programs.

2. Why did religious groups that opposed allowing gay Boy Scouts suddenly change positions?

The “On Faith” section of the Washington Post tackles this question:

What gives?

Experts say the Scout vote embodies the struggle going on today in traditional religion over homosexuality. There is a strong desire and effort to be more welcoming — and even affirming — of some equal rights, but not to back off completely. But that’s proving tricky to do.

Who are the “experts” who say that? This piece offers interesting analysis but provides inadequate attribution, it seems to me.

3. Will Southern Baptist churches leave the Boy Scouts over the new policy?

A mass exodus appears likely, according to CNN:

The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, will soon urge its 45,000 congregations and 16 million members to cut ties with the Scouts, according to church leaders.

The denomination will vote on nonbinding but influential resolutions during a convention June 11-12 in Houston.

“There’s a 100% chance that there will be a resolution about disaffiliation at the convention,” said Richard Land, the longtime head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “and a 100% chance that 99% of people will vote for it.”

“Southern Baptists are going to be leaving the Boy Scouts en masse,” Land continued.

4. Exactly how new are the Royal Ambassadors, an alternative scout group highlighted by the New York Times?

The Times (just two weeks behind RNS) suggests:

Churches dumping Boy Scouts over gay policy … or not?

Godbeat pro Bob Smietana wrote a story this week exploring whether churches will keep sponsoring Boy Scout troops or drop their affiliation given the organization’s new gay-friendly membership policy.

It’s a timely, logical religion angle. (Others who have covered that angle include ABC News and the Birmingham News.)

The lede:

For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.

“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.

Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, said his church will shut down its troop at end of the year, over a recently adopted policy to allow openly gay scouts. He’s urging other Baptists to do the same.

I first saw the story (one version of it, anyway) Thursday on USA Today’s website, where it carried this headline:

Religious regretfully sever Scout sponsorships

Huh?

At this point, I should remind GetReligion readers that reporters typically do not write their own headlines. So I’m assuming that Smietana didn’t craft that one.

But it struck me as awkward on more than one level. “Religious” seems especially vague. And while I assume the headline writer means that those severing ties are doing so with regrets, the statement also could be interpreted as an editorial comment, as in, “How dare they?”

On Friday morning, a truncated version of the same story (read: stripped to its bare bones) appeared on Page 1 of the USA Today dead-tree edition that I picked up in my driveway.

The headline on that version:

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Brittany Griner: ESPN gets close to key question

Truth be told, I still think that the question I asked a few weeks ago remains one of the most interesting questions one can ask about that big story that keeps unfolding down in Waco: “So, how did Brittney Griner end up at Baylor?”

That’s an interesting question for Griner.

That’s an interesting question for Griner’s parents and her wider family.

That’s an interesting question in terms of gossip about national-level hoops recruiting.

That’s an interesting question in terms of Baylor University’s standing as a Baptist institution that prominently promotes its stance as a Christian campus.

You just knew that, after Griner announced that she is a lesbian, this story was going to have long news legs. The latest story from ESPN raises a few interesting questions and at least acknowledges a key document in the situation.

Still, the heart of the story remains something that has not yet been proven — that Griner actively opposed how Baylor, and perhaps her own family, handled her emerging stance as a gay woman. Here is the top of the story:

Former Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner says that Kim Mulkey, her college head coach, told players not to be open publicly about their sexuality because it would hurt recruiting and look bad for the program.

“It was a recruiting thing,” Griner said during an interview with ESPN The Magazine and espnW. “The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play for Baylor.”

Griner, now preparing for her first WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury, casually acknowledged she was gay during interviews with USA Today and with SI.com last month, when she referred to herself as “someone who has always been open.” Griner said she had been open about her sexuality with family and friends since she was a freshman at Nimitz High School, in Houston.

Well, the truth — of course — is that Baylor does not condone sexual activity outside of marriage and, thus, from the point of view of traditional Christian faith, does not condone gay sexual activity.

Now, Griner is quoting saying that it was an “unwritten law” not to TALK about sexual orientation. That’s a key issue from the point of view of public relations, recruiting (in all forms) for the university, etc., etc.

That is an issue of image and it’s certainly true that Baylor could come off looking badly, when it comes to demanding, or at least urging, Griner to keep silent. It would be interesting to know if her family played some role in that, too. After all, Griner told Baylor coaches she was gay during the recruiting process. It’s clear that they reached some kind of agreement.

Once again, there’s that question: How did the nation’s No. 1 recruit end up in Waco?

Anyway, Baylor’s stance on sexual ethics is in writing and, to its credit, the ESPN team goes to the source.

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