Devout goose, meet devout gander

ChildPornStingThe Associated Press report is very, very, very short and raises many more questions than it answers. Here is a typical version (or click here for a longer version in the Los Angeles Times):

WASHINGTON -- Authorities have arrested and charged a Duke University official who they say offered his adopted 5-year-old son for sex.

The FBI's Washington field office said the school's associate director of the Center for Health Policy, Frank Lombard, was caught in an Internet sting. Authorities said that Lombard tried to persuade a person -- whom he did not know was a police officer -- to travel to North Carolina to have sex with Lombard's child.

Court documents charge that Lombard identified himself online as "perv dad for fun."

The papers also say an unnamed informant, facing charges in his own child sex case, tipped off authorities to Lombard's activities.

Sadly, in this Culture Wars age, whenever the mainstream coverage is shallow -- try to find coverage of any substance (here's one short report) in North Carolina newspapers -- a story as dark and disgusting as this one is going to leap right over the world of journalism and into advocacy media. In some cases, these op-ed style pieces have raised some valid questions. In many more cases they have added fire and heat, rather than light.

Yes, Lombard is openly gay, living with his partner and their two adopted sons. Yes, his job at Duke focuses on medical issues linked to HIV/AIDS in the rural South. Yes, the details in the affadavit in support of the arrest warrant are absolutely hellish. Yes, there are people in mainstream newsrooms who are asking questions about this case and, sooner or later, the answers to those questions may actually make it into balanced, responsible news coverage.

But let me be clear on one thing, concerning the screams about this story out on the online right. The sins and alleged crimes of one gay parent say as much about the motivations and beliefs of those who advocate legal adoptions by gays and lesbians as, well, the sins and crimes of one anti-abortion activist who shoots an abortionist say something valid about the motivations and beliefs of people in the mainstream pro-life movement. In other words -- next to nothing. We are not going to be discussing that issue here. Trust me.

So why, pray tell, do I mention this story at GetReligion?

As it turns out, Lombard was -- until just a few days ago -- a veteran member of the vestry at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill, N.C., a progressive, activist congregation on gay issues that has been actively scrubbing most signs of his existence from its website. For those not familiar with Episcopal polity, the vestry is the church's controlling board. Being on the vestry is similar to being on the parish council, in a Catholic or Orthodox context, or on the board of deacons, in a Baptist context.

Now, here's the journalistic question that we will discuss: Do you think that journalists would be interested if you had a similar criminal case and the accused was a deacon or board member in an evangelical or Catholic congregation that takes strong stands on these kinds of hot-button social issues?

If this kind of sexy story broke in the mainstream press, would this deacon be called a "devout" Southern Baptist or a "devout," "practicing" Roman Catholic? I would imagine so.

If so, should Lombard be called a "devout" Episcopalian?

If the religion would be relevant in the case of a Christian conservative, should the religion be relevant in the case of the Christian liberal?

Just asking.

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