Clinging to journalism doctrines

toasterAfter one brief palate-cleansing look at decent stories on the same-sex marriage issue, we can now return to the mainstream media's attack on defenders of traditional marriage. At this point, I'm not sure how inadvertent the biased stories are. Take this feature from yesterday's Los Angeles Times. Headline:

California's gay marriage law revives religious debate over homosexuality

Some cling to literal reading of religious texts. Others call for new interpretations.

One would think that in a year such as this, when Barack Obama got in a spot of trouble for characterizing some rural voters as Bible-clingers, the copy desk would be more sensitive to the word. Some "cling" to the Bible as written while others "call for" new interpretations? Are you kidding me? That is just a shameful and stupid headline.

Perhaps those of us that "cling to" the idea that journalists should at least try to be unbiased in their reporting can comfort each other. Unfortunately, reporter Duke Helfand doesn't really improve things with his story, which purports to look at the Scriptural battles over gay marriage:

"Homosexual intimacy is out of bounds. It's not what God created us for," said Richard Mouw, president of the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

Mouw cites Romans 1 in the New Testament that decries men and women abandoning "natural relations" and men "inflamed with lust for one another" committing "indecent acts with other men" -- behavior that carried death as punishment.

Behavior that carried death as punishment under what law? Jewish? Roman? But Mouw is talking about New Testament teachings. And unless some new verses have been added to Romans recently, I don't recall Paul calling for the death penalty for homosexual behavior. I mean, unless reporter Duke Helfand is taking the exegetical position that what Paul is doing in his Romans sermon is calling for the death penalty to be imposed on those who sin in general -- be it sexual sins, pride, envy or any of the other sins he enumerates in that chapter. To the Christian, the wages of sin may be death -- but that's kind of the whole point of the "good news" of the Gospel.

Anyway, Mouw's views are followed by the Rev. Mel White's, former Fuller professor who got married to his male partner on Wednesday:

"The Bible says as much about sexual orientation as it does about toasters or nuclear reactors," White said. "We have to grow with the times."

Other clergy reject the scientific argument and say homosexuality is a choice.

I'm not sure why Duke Helfand didn't write the entire story about this huge piece of breaking news. Science has decided this contentious issue? Sure, scientific studies on this topic are conducted all the time -- but has there been a definitive conclusion? Have we found the elusive gay gene? What's more, many clergy are opposed to homosexual behavior whether it's innate or immutable. So it's sort of a silly statement either way, designed to make it seem like there are good people (the scientific types) versus bad people -- the idiots who have no basis in reason or science for their awful, backward views.

The entire story is more of an instructional guide for how to argue against traditional religious opposition to homosexuality as opposed to an objective piece of journalism:

Theologians and biblical scholars trace the origins of the dispute to a handful of passages in the Torah, New Testament and Koran.

Perhaps the most frequently cited is Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman: It is an abomination."

The passage from the Torah is repeated, with slight variations, in Christian scripture, which, like the Jewish text, orders death for violators. The Koran also denounces homosexuality, in Chapter 7, Verse 81: "For you practice your lust on men in preference to women: You are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds."

reactorThis is just another bizarre passage. It belittles the issue to cast it as a dispute over a "handful" of passages. The teachings about homosexuality -- no matter which side you're on -- are about much more than a handful of Scriptures. There is an entire ethic -- woven throughout Scripture -- about sexuality in which homosexuality is just a part. There are also 2,000 years worth of tradition and church teaching about the matter.

And is Helfand aware that Christians also hold the Torah as Scripture? The Torah -- aka the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy -- may be called the Pentateuch or the Law by Christians but they're the same books of Moses. Perhaps someone should tell the reporter that they say the same thing. But as for New Testament passages on homosexuality, there is no death penalty, as we mentioned. So Helfand's writing is just a mess in that last paragraph.

He quotes a Roman Catholic priest saying that the church teaches that homosexuals are to be treated with love and respect but that society does not have the authority to redefine the natural and divine institution of marriage. But that argument is only placed there so that it can be countered:

But other clergy criticize what they see as a selective analysis of the texts. Jesus condemned divorce and remarriage, they point out, but that hasn't stopped many Christians from splitting and remarrying.

The Old Testament not only denounces adulterers and children who curse their parents, it demands the death penalty for both. It prohibits sex between husbands and wives during menstruation, even though theologians acknowledge the practice occurs without any formal reprimands.

This is not journalism. And no editor should ever permit Helfand to perform any exegesis of any Scripture at any point in the future. This reads like something Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens would write, except not as erudite or witty. Where oh where is Stephanie Simon? How can the paper have fallen from those heights so quickly?

Anyway, Helfand quotes the director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Berkeley's Pacific School of Religion saying that everybody without exception reads the Bible selectively and that all texts need to be interpreted with regard to the culture and society that they were written in. He shows how the issue has been debated in Conservative Judaism and in some sectors of Islam. The piece then ends with an obligatory quote from Father Thomas Reese, the Larry Sabato of religion stories.

You've got to hand it to Helfand. In a sea of bad stories related to California's same-sex marriage ruling, he's one big fish.

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