Making every word count

Here at GetReligion, we write about reporters and their journalism. But you wouldn't have stories without story subjects. And I always find it interesting when subjects discuss what it was like to be written about in an article. Earlier this week, I highlighted an Associated Press article that I thought was very well done. It managed to break from the typical template for writing about homosexuality. It wasn't terribly political and understood that people on all sides of the issue can have complex backgrounds.

The article began with an anecdote about Bill Henson, a man who testifies that he had been in a gay relationship until he became convinced, through Scripture, that it was sinful. He is now married, with children, and discussed what the change means and doesn't mean. He says he's married to the only woman he's ever been attracted to and that he still deals with same-sex attraction. He had some provocative things to say about how the church handles those with same-sex attraction. But on all sides, the discussion seemed civil and interesting.

He was pointed to our discussion of the article by a friend and weighed in on some of the responses the article received. I thought his comments were interesting:

First, I agree the AP reporter did an excellent job. Many views are represented in this article without the typical "culture war" tone of pitting one side versus the other. Each person is quoted fairly and each quote adds something useful.

Second, this story is primarily about how FOTOS seeks to extend Christ's love to LGBT people in evangelical settings -- not my personal story. The strength is that Jay captures "the mission" in action through the lens of direct observers. The weakness is that the soundbites about my personal story understandably leave people asking MANY questions!

Third, I agree: my wife comes across as a silent figure. This leaves readers with additional questions. The deeper reality is that my wife is everything to me and we mutually share a great passion in this area of ministry. Do people really think she does not exist? (smile)

Fourth, do readers really think my former partner also never existed? (smile) It is not my right to reveal his identity 15 years later. That would be an extreme act of disrespect that could deeply harm him, his family and his current partner. I readily concede that evangelicals have biases against LGBT folks. Just a question though: do suggestions that sources be gathered to confirm my former gay relationship reflect a similar bias?

Fifth, as the subject of this article, it may be interesting for others to hear how I felt most misunderstood. Lindsay writes that I describe my former partner as "beautiful." The online LGBT community is having fun with the impression that I am still grieving Mr. Beautiful! (smile) I used that word to refer to how I experienced the relationship 15 years ago. The lesson learned is three fold: one must be careful what one says in an interview; one can never fully control how he/she will be perceived; and one must surrender what others think since there is really no way to correct this kind of misunderstanding.

It's always the small things that seem to get folks impassioned. I remember the first time I wrote about religion, the newspaper that published the piece only used "the Rev." on first reference. After that, it was "Mr." Many people thought that style rule indicated a lack of respect for the individuals about whom I wrote.

Or how when you're quoted, it's usually a few words out of several minutes of discussion. The onus is really on the reporter to make sure each quote is set up accurately. And then, as Henson notes, no matter how much care is put into what you say in an interview or how much care the reporter puts into framing issues and quotes . . . there will still be incomplete understanding.

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