News vs. advocacy: Time reports on an evangelical church coming out for same-sex marriage

A number of folks emailed us links to Time's recent story on an evangelical church changing its position on same-sex marriage

Or as the magazine's headline described it:

Nashville Evangelical Church Comes Out for Marriage Equality

At GetReligion, we advocate a traditional American model of journalism — one that relies on a fair, impartial reporting of news.

In this case, the Time story seems slanted from the beginning, unabashedly advocating for the change made by the church — as opposed to simply reporting facts.

The lede:

"Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?" says pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church. "I don't think I can do that."
Three Sundays ago in Franklin, Tenn., twenty minutes south of Nashville and in the heart of the country's contemporary Christian music industry, pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church preached what was perhaps the most important sermon of his life. You can watch it above–start around 44:40 if you are short on time.
For the past three years, GracePointe has engaged itself in a time of listening on the topic of sexual orientation and identity. It began around the time that the country star Carrie Underwood, who goes to GracePointe, spoke out in favor of marriage equality in 2012, and the Westboro Baptist picketers showed up the church.

"The most important sermon of his life" is typical of the tilted language throughout the piece.

Keep reading, and this church's decision is presented as a fateful moment in evangelical Christianity:

"Our position that these siblings of ours, other than heterosexual, our position that these our siblings cannot have the full privileges of membership, but only partial membership, has changed," he said, as many in the congregation stood to their feet in applause, and other sat in silence. "Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all. Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage."
With those words, GracePointe became one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to openly stand for full equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ community, along with EastLake Community Church near Seattle. The results of the conversation, he told his congregation, were not unanimous or exhaustive, but they were sufficient.

Here's my question: Is GracePointe a megachurch? The Nashville area is, of course, filled with megachurches — roughly two dozen of them. But does GracePointe qualify? 

Time reports:

When GracePointe began the listening process in 2012, Sunday attendance averaged 800-1,000. The Sunday he preached the inclusion sermon, attendance was 673, and two weeks later, it was down to 482.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research defines a megachurch this way:

The term megachurch generally refers to any Protestant ... congregation with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2,000 persons or more in its worship services.

By that definition, GracePointe isn't a megachurch. In fact, it's down to about one-fourth the size of a megachurch, according to Time. Then again, a national magazine story on an ordinary Nashville church probably wouldn't have the same ring as "one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to openly stand" for something Time seemingly approves.

Time gives evangelical opponents of same-sex marriage — although no dissenting GracePointe members themselves — a single paragraph to voice concerns. Then the magazine quickly turns to defending the church's decision — presumably from Time's own knowledge of evangelical theology, since no experts are quoted:

But churches that are shifting, like GracePointe and EastLake, are not only retaining their faith, they are also using their very evangelical roots to come to these new decisions. There are four hallmarks of evangelicalism, according to the historian David Bebbington–Biblicism, a high view of Scriptural authority; crucicentrism, a focus on the sacrifice of Jesus; activism, living out this gospel message; and conversionism, transforming their own lives.
Mitchell's sermon pays tribute to all four of these, especially in his very high view of Scripture. It's clear that GracePointe's shift rests on study of and belief in the Bible. Mitchell's interpretive methods rely heavily on textual analysis and even ancient word translation, two traditional elements of evangelical preaching. It may be a different reading of Scripture than evangelicals like Burk or Schwarzwalder or even Southern Baptists like Russell Moore use to shape their ethical outlook, but its evangelical core is hard to ignore. "Who has the copyright on the word evangelical?" Mitchell tells TIME. "I didn't know there was a papacy on this."

And so on and so on.

Anyone looking for real journalism will figure out in a hurry that this story isn't it.

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