Playing pin the sin on the pastor

The other day, Cathy Lynn Grossman suggested that some of ironic twists she's seen in the news come from someone who offers truth claims and then turns out to be hypocritical. You might think another one of those stories is brewing if you read Poynter's Romenesko blog. "Reporter 'outs' anti-gay pastor by crashing confidential support group," the headline said. But if you look closely, this is not necessarily a Ted Haggard or Mark Souder situation. A reporter outed a minister after he attended a confidential meeting of gay men "struggling with chastity."

The article appeared on the cover of Lavender -- a twice-monthly GLBT magazine based in Minnesota -- titled, "Antigay Lutheran Pastor Protests Too Much."

We tend to focus on mainstream outlets, so I don't necessarily want to focus on the ethics behind Lavender's reporting. At the very least, there seems to be an unspoken agreement between journalists that you don't go to support groups to do reporting without permission.

Instead of dwelling on the expose, I'm mostly interested in the Associated Press article on Lavender's piece and the church's reaction. The lead seems carefully written, even if the word "ardently" could have been omitted (are people usually "softly" critical?).

A Lutheran pastor ardently critical of allowing gays into the clergy is on leave from his Minneapolis church after a gay magazine reported his attendance at a support group for men struggling with same-sex attraction.

Church officials, however, said Wednesday that the Rev. Tom Brock likely will return to the pulpit at Hope Lutheran Church because he acted in accordance with his faith by attending the group.

Instead of vaguely saying he's "anti-gay," it specifically says what the pastor opposes. It also specifies that the group is for those who discuss same-sex attraction, not homosexuality.

A fixture on local cable access shows, Brock regularly broadcasts conservative views on homosexuality and criticizes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for liberalizing its gay clergy policy.

What does it mean that this pastor has "conservative views on homosexuality"? Does the reporter mean conservative theologically, politically, socially, or something else? Next, there are seemingly contradictory paragraphs next to one another.

"The fact that he said one thing publicly, and privately he's a homosexual -- that's somewhat inconsistent," said Lavender president Stephen Rocheford. "This company has a policy not to out people. The one exception is a public figure who says one thing and does another."

The Lavender article never explicitly said Brock confessed to homosexual activity. It quotes him at one point talking about a recent mission trip to Eastern Europe, of which he says, "I fell into temptation. I was weak."

So how again did this "public figure" say one thing and do another? If a Christian vaguely says, "I fell into temptation," it often means you didn't "fall into sin." So maybe the reporter could have challenged Rocheford's assertions a little bit more.

The story then considers the ethics behind Lavender's reporting and explains the pastors' previous statements related to homosexuality.

Unfortunately, we don't find out the church's denominational affiliation until the very end. You might think he's being put on leave by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) after speaking out against the denomination's policies. But at the end, we learn that his church left the ELCA last year with no details behind why the church left or more explanation behind the differences between the ELCA and its new home in the Association of Free Lutheran Congregation.

Also, the reporter also never explained how Brock actually acted in accordance with his faith by attending the group (mentioned in the second paragraph). It's probably because the church encourages this kind of support for what they see as a struggle, versus being part of a group that embraces or even celebrates gay identity.

In other words, in writing these kinds of stories on theologically sensitive topics, reporters could further consider the distinctions between temptation, sin, support, discipline, repentance and forgiveness.

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