ELCA wars: An ironic twist

hissocks_300It looks like we are going to need our own Anglican-esque "Lutheran wars" logo for use with future posts about the battles in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the wake of its trailblazing stand in favor of the ordination of gays and lesbians living in committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships. So now the counter-revolution begins, as noted in this short Associated Press report about an upcoming gathering of doctrinal conservatives inside the nation's largest Lutheran body. Note the point of view in this piece:

CHICAGO -- The presiding bishop of the nation's largest Lutheran denomination warned Wednesday that withholding financial support to protest a recent gay clergy vote would be "devastating" to the church.

Bishop Mark Hanson laid out his concerns in a letter to leaders of the 4.7 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is based in Chicago. ... Hanson's letter comes on the eve of a meeting in suburban Indianapolis of conservative ELCA group Lutheran CORE, which has urged supporters to "direct funding away from the national church" because of the vote.

Withholding funding would hurt the mission of the Chicago-based denomination, Hanson wrote.

Of course a conservative boycott would hurt the denomination, as some congregations head out the door. That's a secondary effect of the upcoming rally for the Lutheran right. The alternative is for the traditionalists to stay and fight. And there's the story: How many want to stand and fight and how many want to leave?

But notice that this story is defined -- dateline Chicago, home of the ELCA hierarchy -- as the response of the denomination, not the action of the rebel group. The people making the news are not the center of the story. The people responding to the news are, by definition, the primary actors.

At the end of the short report we hear from Pastor Mark Chavez of Lutheran CORE, on the right. He is quoted responding to the response. The reporter in me wanted to know: What's supposed to happen at the actual meeting of the rebels? What are they saying and doing? AP says there are 1,200 people gathering. Is that a big meeting or a small meeting?

As you might expect, to find out that information you need to turn, once again, to a "conservative" news source, in this case a Julia Duin piece in the Washington Times. This report begins with the conference and its actions, then ends with the Hanson response to that news. Is that format automatically "conservative"?

As you would expect, the veteran Godbeat scribe has several fascinating details in her short commentary. For starters, the Lutheran CORE meeting had to move to another location due to the size of the crowd that showed up.

classic_300That's interesting. The new location?

Lutheran CORE, the chief opposition group, had slated a convention to start this Friday in Indianapolis, and they recently sent out a bulletin saying their registrations were swamped. Not only did organizers have to move the venue to a larger church -- a Roman Catholic one, in fact -- but as of Sept. 14, they had reached their limit of 1,200 attendees. Some of you who are older than 50 may remember an era in which Lutherans and Catholics never spoke to one another, much less shared worship spaces.

It is a rather symbolic detail. Meanwhile, Duin also mentions Hanson's pre-meeting response to the meeting and, since this is online, provides a link to his text. This kind of information is, of course, a strength of online reporting.

But here is my question again: If leading with the event itself is "conservative" news, what is leading a story with the response to the event, rather than the content of the event? Did I miss an earlier AP report?

My assumption is that the event and the response deserve equal coverage, if the response is genuinely newsworthy. This one probably is -- as this doctrinal, legal and economic conflict shifts into a higher gear.

So let me try again. Here's my basic question: What is the AP's reason for not actually covering the Lutheran CORE event itself? Is there still an AP bureau and/or member newsroom in Indianapolis?

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