What’s in a name? PCA vs. PCUSA

What’s in a name? PCA vs. PCUSA June 20, 2014

Oh my. My heart goes out to the writer at NBC News’ breaking news desk for having bungled a story from the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA)’s General Assembly in Detroit.

From the conservative religion news and advocacy website Juicy Ecumenism, here is a report from reporter Alexander Griswold from the meeting:

At its 2014 General Assembly held in Detroit, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to approve two measures to allow ministers to perform same-sex marriages. The first, Item 10-03, issued an authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order stating that pastors have a right to preside over gay marriages in states where they are legal. The second, Item 10-02, amended the Book of Order to redefine marriage as between “two people” rather than between a man and a woman and allows ministers to perform any legal marriage between two people. That amendment will require the approval of a majority of the presbyteries before it will take effect.

For religion news watchers this vote was not unexpected. The delegates to the 201o General Assembly voted to permit the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy, while the 2012 General Assembly narrowly turned down a similar gay marriage bill. The surprise was in the strong margin of support the measure received this time round.

Religion News Service observed:

The church has long grappled with the issue, which came to a head at the last General Assembly, in 2012, when a similar resolution allowing for gay marriage lost 338-308. Since then, the church’s decades-long decline in membership — it has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992 — has continued. These losses have been led by conservative-leaning congregations that defected over what they lamented as the church’s embrace of more liberal values.

Those defections — many to smaller and more conservative Presbyterian denominations — made it more likely that the General Assembly would approve a gay marriage resolution this year.

One of these more conservative denominations is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) — the second largest Presbyterian denomination and one that withdrew from what is now the PCUSA in the early 1970s.

“Why the sympathy for NBC News?” you might ask. Last night friends and colleagues began circulating a copy of NBC’s flash report from the Detroit General Assembly which reported the conservative PCA, not the PCUSA, had endorsed gay marriage.

DETROIT — The top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church in America voted by large margins Thursday to recognize same-sex marriage as Christian in the church constitution, adding language that marriage can be the union of “two people,” not just “a man and a woman.”

A silly mistake, and one quickly corrected by NBC News on its website.

Is this an example of the media not “getting religion?” Not really. Perhaps the author of the flash report is not versed in the intricacies of Presbyterian history in America and was confused by the names. But the substance of the story is correct and the slip was corrected quickly. As I write this story I am in the middle of preparing different versions of a story announcing the election of the next archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America — the second largest Anglican denomination in the USA. Story 1 reports Bishop A has been elected, giving a potted biography of the new archbishop, story 2 reports Bishop B has been elected with his biography, and so forth. Making a silly mistake — confusing names, switching dates, muddling positions — is not uncommon in the rush to report a breaking story. These soon right themselves.

Not getting religion I believe is different. It implies a lack of appreciation or understanding of the role faith plays in a news story. It is more than Gotcha reporting by GetReligion of the foibles of other writers, but speaks to the ideological and intellectual assumptions that drive reporting — and if these assumptions do justice to the religious element in a story.

I have made mistakes a plenty of the sort we see in this NBC item. And my heart goes out to them. Oh my.

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