Cheerleading in the AP for repeal of Methodist gay ban

June 21, 2011

One AP writer is obviously rooting for the UMC to overturn its ban on gay ordination and marriage

The Associated Press is responsible for a wildly misleading article about the United Methodist Church’s ban on gay marriage and ordination, which appeared yesterday on many news websites including the USA Today. Read the article for yourself and see if you can’t detect which side the reporter is on in the dispute.

As someone who mostly slept through church polity class in seminary, I can only imagine how complicated the UMC’s system of government is. I don’t expect reporters not steeped in the nuances of the Book of Discipline to get the details right. But this article fails any standard of objective journalism, including answering the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. I know these are lean times in the newspaper industry, but don’t they still employ editors?

Here are some major problems with the article, paragraph by paragraph.

Methodist pastors have been marrying same-sex couples or conducting blessing ceremonies for same-sex unions for years with little fanfare and no backlash from the denomination.

Where? Who? How many? Is the lack of backlash from the denomination because the denomination doesn’t care that clergy are breaking church law, or are the clergy performing these services secretly? The latter seems far more likely, especially since—as the article rightly points out—there have been periodic church trials over the years against clergy who perform these services.

In fact, according to the article, the minister whose trial is being highlighted, Rev. Amy DeLong, is only on trial because she told church officials what she was doing. If she hadn’t done that, she likely would not be on trial now. But it wouldn’t be because the UMC didn’t have a problem with it—or that they were silently endorsing her actions.

I officiate weddings frequently and sign wedding licenses. I don’t have to tell anyone or seek anyone’s approval. I have that authority as an ordained minister to do that. The same was true with DeLong.

Calls to overturn the rule have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks.

Hmm… I wonder why these calls have been “increasingly vocal”? Could it have anything to do with the fact that annual conferences have been meeting in recent weeks? And that this year is the year in which annual conferences elect delegates to General Conference, as they do every four years?

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that in four years, calls to overturn the gay ban will, once again, become “increasingly vocal.”

While trials of pastors who conduct same-gender ceremonies have only occurred once every several years, the threat is indeed real.

“Threat”? That’s a loaded word. Imagine this completely analogous sentence appearing in an AP article: “While the trials of bank executives who embezzle money from their clients have only occurred once every several years, the threat is indeed real.” If church law prohibits something and specifies penalties for violating the law, the threat for people who break it is not only “real,” but justified—at least according to that church’s law.

You may not agree with the church law in the first place, but no one is compelling you to get ordained in this particular church.

DeLong said she told her supervisors years ago that she was in a lesbian relationship and felt comforted by the support and caring she received in response.

O.K., well, that’s something. If she were in a lesbian relationship and told her supervisors about it years ago, then shame on her supervisors for not taking whatever appropriate action is warranted. (I don’t know what that action is.) But it’s not the journalist’s job to take DeLong’s word for it. They are required then to follow up with those supervisors (a senior pastor? a D.S.? a bishop?) and get their side of the story. What did they know, and when did they know it? What are they required to do about it? What did they do about it?

Regardless, the reporter is telling us that the minister’s actions in violation of the church law—which she agreed to uphold when she was ordained—deserve comfort, support, and care. Hard not to feel sorry for her, huh? Why didn’t the reporter ask DeLong why she agreed to be a minister in the UMC in the first place—since as a 44-year-old, DeLong is young enough for those rules to have been in place when she started in ministry? DeLong says:

“When I entered (the ministry) I did not suspend my conscience. It’s incumbent on me not to perpetuate its unjust laws.”

She didn’t “suspend her conscience,” except apparently where it concerns lying to the Board of Ordained Ministry and her bishop when she said that she agreed to abide by these same church laws. As a matter of conscience, how could she go through with ordination under these circumstances?

Did she have a change of heart after she was ordained? Did she realize she was gay after she was ordained? Did she ever consider resigning rather than risk being exposed as a hypocrite? Why didn’t the reporter ask her questions like these?

Hundreds of pastors from areas including Illinois, Minnesota, New York and New England have signed statements in recent weeks asserting their willingness to defy the rule… At a conference this month in Minnesota, the Rev. Bruce Robbins of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church invited clergy to sign a statement saying they’d be willing to conduct any wedding, not just heterosexual ones. He said more than 70 signed it.

Hundreds have signed statements, except the only evidence the writer offers is a statement in which 70 signed it. Even 70 may seem like a lot, until you consider just how many clergy there are in the United Methodist Church. There are a thousand clergy in North Georgia alone. So, best case, are we talking about a fraction of one percent?

Imagine turning that statement around: In spite of the fact that there are over ten thousand United Methodist clergy throughout the world, opponents of the gay ban could only muster hundreds of signatures as part of a recent effort to overturn it.

Theologically conservative Methodists believe that the Bible bars same-sex relationships and have been advocating for years to keep the prohibition against same-gender marriage in the Methodist’s Book of Discipline.

If only there weren’t that tiny fraction of so-called “theologically conservative” Methodists! Oh, wait… You mean the vast majority of Christians in the world belong to churches that also endorse these same bans? Why would churches do that?

You see my point: What does the Bible say about homosexuality? More accurately, how do different sides to the dispute interpret what the Bible says? Why doesn’t the reporter ask some of these dissenting Methodist clergy to explain how they reconcile the authority of scripture with their views concerning homosexuality?

This is my biggest problem with the debate over the issue so far: If we are Protestants, let’s at least be good Protestants! Scripture first.

One Response to “Cheerleading in the AP for repeal of Methodist gay ban”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Completely agree 100%. Unfortunately, a sizeable chunk of those in the media (judging from what I read) are “pro-gay” and will use any episode to advance their agenda, even if it means being “bad journalists.”

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