LA Times Counter-Reformation?

johnknoxAs much of an innovator as he was, the 16th-century Scottish reformer John Knox might still be shocked. An aspiring Presbyterian "priest?" Not to mention a female aspiring "priest"? Not to mention a gay-female-"priest" aspirant in a denomination which currently frowns on ordaining practicing gays of either sex?

Which one of these isn't true?

Though priest and presbyter have the same etymological roots, the priesthood of all believers, or access to God without the mediation of a priest is an article of faith among churches and congregants who follow the teachings of the Protestant reformers. So what showed up for a while in the pages of the Los Angeles Times on Monday would certainly have surprised John Knox, John Calvin or some of the colleagues.

Three rulings -- one from a church body, two from secular courts -- involved a California lesbian who hopes to become a priest, a dispute over church property in Colorado and whether children in Texas should observe a minute of silence before starting their school day.

In California, a Presbyterian Church commission issued a ruling Wednesday that essentially halted a lesbian deacon's candidacy for ordination as a priest.

A few paragraphs later we read that "So far, the measure to allow gay and lesbian priests is trailing" (which will come as news to every Presbyterian). As for Larges, the woman who has been pursuing her desire to have gays and lesbians eventually join the ranks of Presbyterian "priests", she remains "hopeful."

We'll see.

As a graduate of a Presbyterian Seminary and a member of a denomination that is mired in controversy over ordaining practicing gays as priests, I found this slip peculiar. Surely the gay ordination battles have been fought in the media enough for reporters to know the difference between a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian. Not to mention Roman Catholics, who have been ordaining priests for a lot longer.

The article also refers to Linda Larges as a deacon. Presbyterians do have deacons, who are often ordained, but they don't serve the same sacramental functions as do Catholic or Episcopal deacons, for example nor is it neccessarily seen as a prerequisite to Presbyterian ordination. It would have been really helpful to explain what a Presbyterian deacon is and does.

Late last night I noticed that the Los Angeles Times (perhaps after the string of incredulous comments) had posted a correction, at least on its website--flash! Presbyterian clergy are called ministers.

But it's hard not to speculate on whether this egregious mistake is another portent of what journalism may become if copy editors and beat religion reporters continue to go by the wayside at mainstream newspapers. Not every reader knows enough to roll their eyes and move on to the sports section. A mistake there would be grounds for a lawsuit, would it not?

Picture of John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, is from Wikimedia Commons

Hat tip to Ira Rifkin for directing GR to this article

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