Faithful readers of this blog may have noted that your GetReligionistas rarely mention the names of reporters in our posts when we are critiquing news reports, unless a particular issue turns into a pattern that must be discussed.
There is a simple reason for this names-free policy and we have stated it many times: We have all been there in the press doing this difficult work.
We know that, far too often, reporters are assigned impossible stories and then given too little time and too little space. We also know that many errors and biases are actually edited into stories or reflect what is happening at the level of editors, more than the reporters. So we strive — as much as possible — to criticize news organizations, rather than individuals.
Praise, however, is another matter. We often end up mentioning Godbeat veterans who consistently get the job done right.
So readers will know that, when we see the “Peter Smith” byline, we know we are going to get a story that includes lots of basic reporting and, whenever possible, the people on both sides of hot debates are going to get to speak for themselves (as opposed to lots of vague “some” references and second-hand commentary). This is the case, once again, in his Pittsburgh Post-Gazette news feature on a key element in the annual oldline Protestant Summer of Sex rites.
The goal here is a high-altitude overview of the doctrinal angles in same-sex marriage debates, with special attention given to events in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church. Thus, the opening:
“Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.”
Well, some chapels anyway.
With this week’s landmark federal court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, some houses of worship, including those affiliated with more liberal Protestant and Jewish denominations, will be opening their doors to gay couples — and in fact have been doing so for years before they had benefit of a marriage license.
Many other religious groups — including Roman Catholics, Orthodox and conservative evangelical Protestants — are holding fast to traditional doctrine as a matter of course. And for still other religious groups, the ruling only further complicates their long-running debates over homosexuality.
The leader of the region’s United Methodists is immediately given a chance to explain why the judge’s ruling has, primarily, turned up the heat on debates for religious leaders, as opposed to settling the debate.
“The ruling may change the understanding of marriage in the commonwealth, but it doesn’t alter the stand of the United Methodist Church at all,” said Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of that denomination. “What it really does is heighten the debate that already exists within the church.”
The denomination forbids involvement of its pastors and churches in blessing same-sex unions. Bishop Bickerton said Thursday he would be issuing a letter urging pastors to find ways within the bounds of church rules to minister to gay couples and members. “I really believe our pastors, all of them, want to be in ministry to the people they’re serving,” he said.
Cautious, but clear words there. And the state of the liberal Presbyterians and other members of the old Mainline Protestant world?