Abusive Presbyterians?

Reuters runs a piece about how a "Gay-led Los Angeles parish breaks with Presbyterian Church." It begins with some dramatic language:

As throngs of religious conservatives break from the U.S. Presbyterian Church over the ordination of gay ministers, a small gay-led California parish is staging a schism of its own, saying the church has done too little to accept homosexuality.

Throngs suggests that we're talking about a ton of people. And yet the only quantification for that number is at the end of the piece where we're told that a conservative advocacy group lists 35 congregations that have begun the process of leaving. We do learn that West Hollywood Presbyterian Church is the first to leave in order to join a more liberal church. In this case, that's the United Church of Christ. On that note, I was a bit confused by the way Reuters describes which denomination is in question. I mean, I knew it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) but the "U.S. Presbyterian Church" language kind of threw me.

The reader who sent it in did so because he thought the quotes in the story deserved a response from "the other side" of the debate. Here's a sample:

"I can't wait" said the Reverend Dan Smith, a gay pastor who has led the congregation with 57 members since the 1980s. "It's like being released from an abusive relationship," he said. "We're ready to be set free."

Clearing a last hurdle for the defection, a regional governing body called the Presbytery of the Pacific voted on Tuesday to let the 99-year-old parish keep property belonging to the parent church when it makes the move.

West Hollywood is the first congregation to leave the fold to join a more liberal church under a so-called "gracious-dismissal" policy church elders devised to avoid contentious lawsuits over congregations seeking to leave the denomination.

The reader felt that allegations of abuse deserved a response. And that seems right. Particularly since the story itself fails to substantiate those claims. Not only do we learn about the "gracious-dismissal" policy but the only quote from someone supportive of the Presbyterian Church -- which we'll look at in a second -- isn't supportive of the abuse claim.

The story does a nice job of explaining the views of the departing congregation, though more of a discussion on doctrine than emotions would have been helpful. Or doctrine in addition to emotions. We simply never learn the justification for either the Presbyterian Church's position on same-sex marriages or the departing congregation's, a missed opportunity.

A pastor and her partner were married by another Presbyterian pastor, who was rebuked. We learn that the couple attends the church in question and that the pastor, Rev. Lisa Bove, was sad about her church's move:

"But I'm not sad for the congregation," she said. "All people deserve the chance to be loved, to know that their parent church body is proud of them and celebrates their gifts.

"The United Church of Christ is proud to have us. Presbyterians are just waking up to tolerate us. We want our gifts celebrated, not just simply tolerated."

Then we hear from a remaining Presbyterian who says that his church body is a hostile environment for gays and lesbians. Yet we don't learn what that means or why the environment is viewed as hostile. In other words, there's kind of a surprising lack of religious content in this story about a religious dispute.

Anyway, here's the solitary quote from the mean, abusive and hostile side:

The Reverend Mark Brewer, also a member of the group that negotiated the dismissal, supports the parent church's opposition to same-sex marriage and said he thought the congregation would "find the peace in the United Church of Christ that they wouldn't find in the Presbyterian Church."

Yes, all the quotes -- whether we're talking about this one or the ones from the departing side -- are about this substantive. I found myself wanting to know more about the euphemisms and language used. What is a "rightful place at Christ's table" in the context of this sexual issue? What does "progressive" mean, in this context? And so on.

I love that Reuters is highlighting the departure of this small congregation, but a bit more substance would have been nice. And, of course, if you quote people attacking others for being hostile and abusive and what not, it's only proper reporting to go ahead and get the other side's perspective in the dispute, too.

Gay Rights image via Shutterstock.

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