Edgy advocacy reporting on San Francisco's quasi-Christian church counterculture

When I joined GetReligion almost a month ago, it was with the idea that I’d concentrate on religion reporting in newspapers west of the Rockies. With the exception of Utah, the Godbeat is a bit sparse in these parts. The Religion Newswriters Association list for members out this way lists none in Nevada, the Dakotas, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, west Texas and Wyoming. Other states had maybe one member listed and some -- California and Colorado are examples – didn’t include anyone from the major state newspapers.

Which is why I've been plying the alternative weeklies, of which there are tons on the Left Coast. Opinion and reporting merge in these publications, but you can locate stuff here that no one else is covering. The San Francisco Weekly, just ran this piece on San Francisco’s counterculture churches:

When I drive up to the foot of Twin Peaks on a Sunday morning to attend the Liturgy of the Divine Feminine at herchurch, the congregation inside is friendly and welcoming. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that I'm a newbie, fresh meat, a potential recruit. Among the roughly 50 adults in the sanctuary, fewer than 10 are men. The 90-minute service is structured much like the traditional Catholic services of my youth, except that this one includes soft acoustic folk music, a prayer with a Tibetan bowl and bell, and an ecstatic call-and-response in an indigenous language that sounds like a Pentecostal channeling the Spirit. ...
Herchurch is technically Ebenezer Lutheran, a 131-year-old congregation. But earlier this century, the church altered its theological orientation to a degree that might rival, say, an early Christian basilica replacing a wine-soaked temple of Dionysus. While still part of the large and fairly liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, herchuch's minister, the Rev. Stacy Boorn, says she felt challenged by the overt masculinity in the language of Scripture.

We learn later that all but five of former members of the congregation (before Stacy Boorn’s arrival, apparently), have left, a subtle way of letting us know that most of them voted with their feet. Plus the overwhelming use of lavender shades in the church’s décor insures that a lot of guys, especially doctrinally orthodox guys, are not going to step foot in there.

The reporter next alights on a Taize prayer meeting, an 1,100-member United Methodist Church that serves the homeless and a “post-Christian” Metropolitan Community Church whose pastor is “an openly polyamorous leatherman.”

Anyway, I’m actually enjoying reading this piece when along comes a statement that slaps the reader between the eyes:

According to (the pastor), MCC's "post-Christian" theology differs from progressive Christianity in that it rejects both the hateful dogma in Christian Scripture and anything scientifically dubious, such as the virgin birth of Christ and most of Genesis.

Hmmm. There seem to be some missing quotation marks in that material. Couldn’t the reporter have put a bit more distance between himself and his subjects?

That said, we get this interesting snippet of whether this overwhelmingly gay denomination has outlived its usefulness.

But the biggest issue facing MCC as a larger denomination is that the progressive society the church has fought for may be its undoing. If LGBT people aren't being pushed out of traditional churches in the numbers they once were, that's objectively a good thing, even if it means empty pews at MCC. (The pastor) is sanguine about this, noting that the MCC's founder, the Rev. Troy Perry, "started the church saying he hoped that one day LGBTQQAAI folks would be so welcome you wouldn't need to have an MCC."

And then there’s the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, whom the author actually calls “nuns” and treats with the seriousness of a true Roman Catholic order. This being an alternate weekly, you’re going to get opinion with your reporting and the author doesn’t stint here:

Typically, opposition (to the Sisters) comes from blowhards such as Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly or the Catholic League's William Donohue, who uses the Sisters' supposed heresy and moral turpitude as fundraising bullet points in a never-ending hate campaign.

Couldn't the reporter have thrown in at least one theologically conservative church? Surely in San Francisco there is such an animal and, in this particular neck of the woods, traditional would almost be "alternative." He writes:

These churches may be unorthodox, they may be LGBT-friendly -- in one case, they may even consider the late jazz legend John Coltrane a saint -- but they are anything but anomalies. They represent a thriving counterculture of specifically Christian-based churches in a city long known for its spiritual alternatives.


That's more like it.

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