Baptist Press tries a GetReligion story

SMALL CarlaCoverLike it or not, digital technology and blogging software have raised up armies of freelance media critics, many of whom are dedicated to taking potshots at the principalities and powers in the mainstream press. That is part of what we do here at GetReligion, although we also try to praise the solid Godbeat reporting that we see.

A few days ago, the national Baptist Press -- the news wire for the largest non-Catholic flock in America -- published a column by Kelly Boggs, editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, that marched boldly into territory that we usually cover here at GetReligion. Here is the opening:

Imagine a prominent conservative Christian publicly announcing that he has renounced heterosexuality and will henceforth and forever be homosexual. Add to the scenario the leader declaring he is dedicated to promoting the glory of gayness and encouraging others to become homosexual. Now try to imagine the mainstream media ignoring such an announcement.

Try as I might, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine the mainstream press failing to report such news. Instead, there would be a media firestorm. The news would spread fast and furious from sea to shining sea ...

If the mainstream media types would be quick to pounce on the news of a Christian leader coming out of the closet, and I believe they would, do you think they would be as eager to cover a prominent homosexual activist who embraced Christianity and renounced his or her homosexuality?

To make a long story short, Boggs wants to know why we're not seeing mainstream coverage of the decision by former gay activist Charlene E. Cothran, editor of Venus magazine, to embrace Christianity and renounce her life as a lesbian.

This has also, needless to say, had a major impact on her magazine and its leadership role among African-American homosexuals. Let's put it this way -- her cover article in the February issue is titled "Redeemed! 10 Ways to Get Out of the Gay Life, If You Want Out." Boggs focuses on these quotes from Cothran:

Over the past 29 years of my life I have been an aggressive, creative and strategic supporter of gay and lesbian issues. I've organized and participated in countless marches and various lobbying efforts in the fight for equal treatment of gay and lesbians.

... But now, I must come out of the closet again. I have recently experienced the power of change that came over me once I completely surrendered to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Once again, the question for Boggs is why this story isn't getting mainstream ink. I think that's a good question, but there might be complicating factors.

For starters, some would argue that Cothran isn't a national figure. Thus, her change of heart and life isn't a mainstream story. However, she was a leader in a highly symbolic and newsworthy niche -- the much-discussed world of black gays and lesbians. It is clear that her magazine was important in those circles.

Thus, this story is already receiving major attention in gay periodicals. The New York Blade, for example, openly alleges that Cothran "sold her soul" to right-wing homophobes in the black church and in the world of Christian outreach ministries to homosexuals seeking to change their lives. Why would she do such a thing? To raise money to save her struggling magazine.

venusMeanwhile, the more interesting story in the gay press is at Windy City Times, which published a question-and-answer piece by reporter Amy Wooten that, among other things, notes that Cothran's standing with the black church does not appear rock solid -- at least not yet.

Also, Wooten writes:

Cothran does not consider herself to be a spokesperson ... for the so-called ex-gay movement. "I consider myself to be a spokesperson -- if I am a spokesperson -- for Jesus Christ," she told Windy City Times, adding that she has applied to three universities and is prepared for seminary training.

Until Venus recently changed its mission and direction, the publication, at times, covered stories about the ex-gay movement. "I remember the stories we did on ex-gay movements [laughs] in Venus years ago," Cothran admitted. "I understand our community's view of the ex-gay movement. My personal testimony has been skewed by their view of the ex-gay movement as I know it to be."

. . . Condemning or vilifying lesbians and gays is something Cothran doesn't think of herself as doing. "It's offering a way out through Jesus Christ and prayer for those who desire a way out. And I am getting letters from those who desire a way out."

While I cannot find any mainstream coverage on the Cothran story, it is interesting to note that the Bible of Blue America has published a provocative piece on the work of so-called "ex-gay ministries" -- a label that few people who back that cause embrace. Cothran isn't in this story, but she could have been.

The headline on the New York Times article by reporter Michael Luo is sure to anger people on both sides of the issue: "Some Tormented by Homosexuality Look to a Controversial Therapy."

The story itself is sure to raise eyebrows, too. Clearly, some people have, through counseling and prayer, been able to make changes to one degree or another in their sexual lifestyles. Others appear unable to do so. A story that reports both sides of that equation -- which is what Luo does -- is sure to be seen as heresy by some people on both sides.

Although the scientific community cannot say definitively what determines sexual orientation -- whether it is nature or nurture -- most mainstream mental health professionals dismiss attempts to eradicate homosexual desires or to change someone's sexual orientation as quackery that is potentially harmful.

Gay rights advocates say the efforts only provide additional fodder for homophobia. Mental health experts say there is no proof that sexual reorientation therapy, as it is often called, works. Meanwhile, they argue, the damage it can inflict on self-esteem, triggering depression and even suicide, is well documented.

"There's not a debate in the profession on this issue," said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and former chairman of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association.

Now, raise your hand if you are surprised that this is what the former chair of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association thinks about this issue. No surprise there. This is something like asking folks at Focus on the Family for their opinion on the moral standing of gay marriage -- you already know the answer to that one.

But Luo's story features the views of many other people and notes the presence of these counseling centers among Protestants, evangelicals, Jews, Mormons, Catholics and elsewhere. It's a good story. I hope that people on both sides of the issue read it -- including people in newsrooms. It's called journalism.

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