Don't tell the folks at Westboro Baptist Church, but there was a story out of Kentucky last week that was bound to be circulated in newspapers and on TV Web sites. "Church to ordain sex offender" was the headline of an AP report from the Cincinnati Enquirer. First the news, then I'll get to what was missing from it:
LOUISVILLE -- A small Kentucky church is planning to ordain a convicted sex offender as a minister to its flock.
The decision has led some members of an abuse victims group to ask the church to reconsider.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests met outside the church Thursday and said in a letter that the ordination would be "a reckless move that will only put kids in harm's way." The group sent the letter to the church asking that it postpone any action and hold a public hearing.
At which point you might be wondering just what kind of church this is. The strange thing: The AP never says. It does, however, mention that it's a "church that welcomes gays, lesbians and transgenders." Not sure what parallels the AP did and didn't intend to draw between child molesters and gays or why in the final paragraph the wire service refers to the church as Pentecostal.
That last one really got my attention. It's been a while since I've encountered an open and affirming Pentecostal church. In fact, I never have. Surely the organization affiliation of such an unusual church needs to be mentioned. (I'm pretty sure it's not Foursquare.)
Fortunately, we can thank Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal for doing some actual reporting -- and reader Mike for passing this along.
To begin with, if City of Refuge Worship Center is Pentecostal, it's not part of any denomination but would be so based on the formative Christian years of its pastor, Randy Meadows. That was immediately apparent when I visited the church's website, and Smith picks up on it:
City of Refuge, an independent congregation on Goss Avenue that touts its acceptance of people of diverse sexual orientations and identities, plans to ordain Mark Edward Hourigan Sunday, according to a WHAS-TV report.
Hourigan, 41, of Rowena Road, is listed on the Kentucky State Police Sex Offender Registry, which says he was convicted of two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of an 11-year-old.
Randy Meadows, pastor of the congregation, did not return phone messages. When a reporter visited the church Wednesday night before its midweek service, a woman at Meadows' office said the church was not granting interviews.
According to WHAS, Meadows defended the approaching ordination.
"God is a loving and forgiving God, and I'm doing what he's telling me to do. And if that's not popular, Jesus wasn't either," he was quoted as saying, adding that Hourigan would not be alone with children.
In an interview with CNN, Hourigan said: "God can use me to reach out to those people that need that hope and need that light. … I've learned that I have to change the way that I think in order to change my actions and my behaviors, and I've learned a lot of things as far as what situations not to place myself in."
Trouble is, it's the AP story that's been picked up by smaller papers and appears to have been re-written by the Christian Post without re-visiting the Pentecostal question.
It seems pretty obvious the reporter didn't really understand the greater complexities involved in this story, other than the fact that a church was ordained a sex offender and SNAP was protesting. The reporter was diligent and at least consulted the church's Website for background info, but he really missed the mark.
The City of Refuge story reminds me of one I wrote four years ago for The Sun in San Bernardino. (It's no longer online.) The article had nothing to do with a convicted sex offender being ordained -- and that is an odd story hook, indeed -- but involved the same themes of establishing a church to the LGBT community. Notice the difference in approach and the attention I paid to the church founder's pastoral roots:
Three months after being ordained in a conservative Christian denomination, the Rev. Micah Royal found himself wrestling with his church's condemnation of homosexual and transgender lifestyles.
So the 26-year-old assistant pastor left that church. Soon after, his 23-year-old wife, who had attended the World-wide Church of God with him, confessed she could no longer keep secret her attraction to women.
A year later, the former evangelical minister has launched Safe Haven Community Church. The nascent Colton congregation is reaching out to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, as well as those, with mental and physical disabilities.
"There are too many people out there judging. And we really needed a place we all could go and feel loved and comfortable,' Royal said. "Who people are is a gift from God to be celebrated not to be looked down on."
This was not a good story, only 459 words and written in my second year as a professional reporter. It was, for lack of a better expression, nothing to write home about. But if a rookie reporter can identify the importance of something so simple, is it too much to ask of the veterans at the AP?
PHOTO: An open-and-affirming church from Wikimedia Commons