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The voiceless disappearing flock

Just last week, I praised a Washington Post story that — in a fair, respectful way — managed to personalize black ministers who (a) fought for racial equality and (b) oppose same-sex marriage. Alas, that story required a reporter willing to listen to a 2,000-year-old religious point of view that seems to contradict the prevailing societal winds.

Fast-forward a week, and check out the St. Paul Pioneer Press' coverage of a black minister on the other side of the aisle:

The Rev. Oliver White took a proverbial leap of faith a few years ago and told his skeptical congregation that homosexuality was not a sin. Unable to shake the memory of the fire hoses that ripped the clothes off his back during the equality marches of the civil rights era, all were welcome, he said, at the Grace Community United Church of Christ in St. Paul.

As a member of the UCC's national synod in 2005, White flew to Atlanta to cast a vote endorsing same-sex marriage. The resolution passed after much discussion.

Membership at his largely black church in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood immediately declined. The next Sunday, about 25 percent fewer churchgoers filled the pews. The trend continued for three months until White, 69, had lost almost three-fourths of his congregation. With fewer members, church finances shrunk, and the 22-year-old church recently faced closing.

White never considered himself a crusader for gay rights, but he'd be damned before he'd stand in the way of anyone's equality. "I never really thought I would be in this position," White said. "I didn't ask for it. I really didn't ask for it."

And, to borrow this newspaper's preferred French, readers would be damned before they'd find any opposing viewpoints in this report.

White declares that homosexuality is "not a sin" but offers no theological reasons — at least in this story. Instead, this report sticks closely to a single preferred narrative, one in which there's a direct parallel between "gay marriage equality and the civil rights movement." Heaven forbid anybody be given an opportunity to disagree.

Based on my calculations, the heroic pastor's church lost 150 out of its 200 members, yet the story names nor quotes not a single one of them. They are guilty as charged, based on this story. No need to give them a voice.

Also guilty as charged are other black ministers in the city. No need to give them a voice:

The isolation has intensified. White says he has not been invited to preach at any historically black churches in Minnesota since 2005. "I've had African-American ministers tell me how wrong I am. I have many African-American colleagues, but I don't hear from them anymore," White said. "The last one I spoke to said he was praying for me, him and his church, which I find kind of hilarious."

Also guilty as charged: at least one of the 50 members who remain in the congregation. Again, no need to give the actual person referenced a voice:

Two days after White accepted the donation from Cathedral of Hope, a quiet congregant who tended to sit toward the back of the pews during his sermons wrote him "one of the most eloquent letters I've ever received...but his point of view was that I was sending my church to hell in a breadbasket."

"I folded his letter and put it in my Bible," White said. "I look at it frequently. I have not been able to answer his letter, because I don't know what to say, except 'I've enjoyed your company.'"

Speaking of crimes, is it illegal to quote people on the other side of this issue? Did I miss that legislation? Otherwise, I'd be tempted to call this a sad excuse for a news story. Except that it's so far from an actual piece of journalism that I'm hesitant to call it a news story.

I hate to be a total buzzkill, though. Give the Pioneer Press an A-plus for cheerleading.

Image via Shutterstock

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