The other day, Mollie criticized The Washington Post for running a one-sided story about gay marriage in California. Today I say that there is more than one way to be one sided. Consider this Newsweek story from Lisa Miller:
[A]s homosexuality ceases to be a cultural taboo, evangelicals increasingly have had to grapple openly with the question of how to deal with the gays and lesbians in their midst; last week Rick Warren announced that he was welcoming a group of gay fathers to his church for Father's Day. Now, even on very conservative Christian campuses, there are gays who are "out" and who want their authority figures to recognize them -- and their sexuality -- as deserving of God's love. Thanks largely to the efforts of Soul Force, which encourages dialogue between gays and Christians on campus, these students are trying to get organized.
The story is legitimate. Homosexual students are organizing on evangelical Christian campuses. Conflict, novelty, religion and politics -- the nut graph contains the ingredients of a fine story.
The rest of the story, however, lacks the rest of the ingredients of a fine story. To take the most glaring example, the story is not fair or balanced. Miller does quote from a Christian college administrator who reiterates an orthodox moral prohibition against homosexual conduct. Yet the quote is little more than pro forma. Miller's story fails to provide even a one-sentence explanation of the Christian position.
What makes Miller's story unique, however, is not its one sidedness. It's the presentation of reality from only one interest group on that side: Soul Force. Imagine if reporters in the civil-rights era wrote a story entirely from the perspective of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee without mentioning whether other civil rights organizations dissent from their tactics or strategies. Miller commits that mortal sin of journalism.
After reading the Newsweek story, I clicked on Soul Force's website. On the home page is the following news:
The American Family Outing is in full action as LGBT and straight-ally families have already shared the power of love, commitment, and dedication ... This Father's Day weekend families are set to visit Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
Maybe Miller got the news about Rick Warren's invitation elsewhere. Yet readers should question that assumption. In the next sentence in the passage quoted above, Miller described Soul Force this way:
Thanks largely to the efforts of Soul Force, which encourages dialogue between gays and Christians on campus, these students are trying to get organized.
The description is misleading. Soul Force seeks to do more than promote dialogue between gays and Christians. It aims to win the dialogue -- no, to conquer its bigoted rival. As its mission statement declares:
The mission of Soulforce is to cut off homophobia at its source -- religious bigotry.
In addition to misleading characterizations, Miller's story suffers from a lack of context.
For one thing, Miller neglects to mention that the group is evangelizing at Christian colleges. So are the students quoted in the story working for or coordinating with Soul Force? It's impossible to say. The story leaves the impression that the activist gay students at Christian colleges represent a spontaneous outgrowth of grassroots sentiment.
For another thing, Miller fails to mention that the Rev. Dr. Mel White, the founder and CEO of Soul Force, is a former speechwriter for evangelical leaders. Is White's background not relevant to the story?
At least the story ends on an appropriate note. It quotes from activist Rachel Watson, a lesbian student at Southern Baptist Union University.
Watson just graduated, "thank the Lord," and soon will go on the road as a gay activist with Soul Force.
Forgive readers for wondering whether Miller and her editors might join her.