It never ceases to amaze me how much media coverage of denominational politics we get for The Episcopal Church vis-a-vis all other denominations. It seems like every time an Episcopal clergyman sneezes, it's worthy of massive coverage. But a major church body -- the United Methodist Church -- holds its quadrennial convention in Fort Worth over the last two weeks and we get nothing. Or at least something close to nothing. I subscribe to every denominational press out there. The United Methodist News Service has been deluging its subscribers with stories. The press service for the church body is amazingly liberal, politically speaking. They ran a story this week attacking evangelical activists and traditionalists for caucusing with the also-evangelical and conservative African delegation. The conservative activists had supplied African delegates with cell phones to help coordinate efforts. A lengthy and completely biased story by the official news service of the Methodists three times accused the conservatives of racism when describing this coordinated political effort between conservative groups on two continents:
The giving of cell phones exclusively to people of color outside the United States raises some concerns about racial paternalism.
All week long I waited for some decent mainstream coverage of the larger Methodist story. Zip. Nada. I passed on the cell phone story to my husband who wrote it up for the National Review. It's not mainstream media but it has more reportage on the General Conference than I've seen elsewhere. Herewith ends the shameless plug.
Well, the Methodists finally got around to voting on issues dealing with homosexuality so we've got a few (emphasis on few) stories trickling in.
Sam Hodges with the Dallas Morning News filed a report about a protest that took place after delegates voted to retain the church's belief that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. After describing the protest -- it was peaceful, legislative action stopped to permit the demonstration, 300 people sang a spiritual before leaving -- he puts it in context:
Still, progressives were clearly disappointed that efforts to change the church's stance on homosexuality failed Wednesday in voting by General Conference delegates.
"It was a terrible day," said the Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas.
The General Conference is the UMC's quadrennial assembly for deciding church law and policy. It's scheduled to wrap up today.
Most UMC churches either quietly or openly welcome gay people as members, and Northaven is part of a network of congregations that's lobbying on related issues, such as allowing non-celibate gay clergy.
But the UMC's fundamental position that the practice of homosexuality conflicts with Christian teaching has stuck, despite strenuous efforts to remove it at one General Conference after another.
Hodges explains the African dynamic. He notes that the African delegation's numbers and influence have grown due to significant growth there. However, he doesn't explain that the American church is losing members at the same time. He also speaks with an African delegate and an American leader of conservative evangelical Methodist women who support the church's stance.
One line above caught my eye. What does it mean that "most" UMC churches quietly or openly "welcome" gay people as members? What does it mean to welcome gay members, exactly? And, then, how do we know that most congregations do this? And what, exactly, are the other congregations doing? What does it mean to not "weclome" gay people? Seems like some explanation and quantification is in order.
Still, I'm just so happy to see some actual news coverage. Hodges has also been linked to UMC press accounts of the convention on the Morning News religion blog.
Terry Lee Goodrich of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote a brief story about a lesbian couple exchanging vows outside the General Conference this week. The Associated Press' Angela K. Brown also had a report:
More than 200 Methodists attended a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony Friday in defiance of a vote to uphold a church law that says gay relationships are "incompatible with Christian teaching."
It would be nice if denominations could get coverage even when there are no protests. But at least we're finally getting some stories out there.