Crystal Cathedral's controversial covenant

Question: How many named sources does it take to ignite a full-blown national controversy over a church choir?

Answer: Zero.

At least that appears to be the case if the choir involved is tied to the "financially troubled Crystal Cathedral."

The Orange County Register reports in a 1,000-word news story:

GARDEN GROVE -- Choir members at the financially troubled Crystal Cathedral say they are upset by a covenant they have been asked to sign that places a strong emphasis on them being heterosexual and Christian.

The "Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant," recently handed out to members, states that members should commit to being Christians by following the Bible in every way.

Former and current choir members say they are particularly offended by a statement in the document that refers to homosexuality. Long-time church members say this is the first time they have seen the cathedral take a firm stand against homosexuality and are disturbed by it.

The covenant states: "I understand that in an era where images of family relationship and personal sexuality are often confused, Crystal Cathedral Ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view. I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman."

The lede gives the impression that the entire choir is upset by the covenant, although the story leaves unclear exactly how many members comprise the group.

But guess how many current choir members are quoted -- by name -- in the story? I think we already answered that question.

About 700 words into the story, an anonymous choir member is quoted:

A church member who has been with the Crystal Cathedral choir for the last 19 years said she will quit if she is required to sign the covenant.

"I have already told them I won't sign it," said the choir member, who asked not to be identified. "We have had gays in the choir before. I'm not gay. But I don't believe in what they're saying."

The choir member says she doesn't agree with the statement that choir members should be "Christian" either.

The story does quote two longtime church members -- including a former prominent choir member -- by name, along with church officials:

Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of the founder and senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, issued a statement Tuesday saying the document is intended to "clarify expectations placed on them as ministry leaders."

"It is true that our new choir covenant includes a definition of marriage and that may have contributed to the hurt," she stated. "The definition is the one that our denomination, The Reformed Church in America, and the Crystal Cathedral adheres to, based on its understanding of the scriptures."

Homosexuality has been a topic of debate and discussion in the Reformed Church in America for at least 33 years, but the story provides no background of that kind.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press and USA Today quickly relayed the Orange County Register report to national audiences.

This is the lede of the AP report:

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) -- Several choir members at Orange County's Crystal Cathedral say they're upset over a document they've been asked to sign that takes a strong stand against homosexuality.

The "Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant" recently handed out to members states that they should commit to being Christians by following the Bible in every way, the Orange County Register reported Tuesday.

Of course, AP quotes none of those "several choir members" -- not even the Register's anonymous source.

USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman used the California newspaper report as the basis for a blog post titled "Can you sing to the Lord if you're gay?" In the post, Grossman suggests:

You'd better not be having sex outside of marriage -- and gay marriage doesn't count -- if you want to lift your voice in the Crystal Cathedral's choir.

GetReligion focuses on mainstream media coverage, but I was intrigued, too, by the lede on the Christian Post report on this subject:

The Crystal Cathedral in Southern California has taken the surprising step of asking its choir members to model a biblical lifestyle, which would include abstaining from homosexual behavior.

Surprising that a church would ask its choir members to model a biblical lifestyle? Really?

In future coverage, I'd love to find out exactly how many members the Crystal Cathedral choir has. I'd love for a reporter to interview a number of members and see if -- indeed -- the entire choir is upset with this decision or if there is a diversity of opinions.

Other questions: Are all choir members also church members? Or has the choir traditionally been chosen for its ability to sing as opposed to its church involvement and beliefs? Are choir members paid? Or is this a volunteer role?

Feel free to chime in with your own comments and questions, but remember to stick to journalistic issues. We're not here to debate whether the choir covenant is good, bad or in between.

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