I have been on the road all week so I must confess that I am way behind on my Summer of Sex readings, which is that annual wave of mainstream-media coverage of debates in the oldline Protestant denominations about you know what. This week it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) trying to decide, once again, whether to redefine the word "marriage" and to publicly recognize the pro-gay-rights changes that are already old hat in the church's seminaries, bureaucracies and in most of its blue-zip-code churches. The denomination has been stuck on pause for years now as doctrinal traditionalists keep managing to defeat the legislation -- somehow.
I scanned some of the coverage this morning and, you know, I had no idea that this story was so boring.
B.O.R.I.N.G. I mean, check out this story from the Courier-Journal in Louisville, as it ran in USA Today. Now, Louisville is the home of the PCUSA establishment, so you would think that there would be all kinds of informed, articulate voices to quote on a story this emotional, this symbolic, this doctrinal.
Apparently not. Even on the left, all we get is words off a piece of paper. Where are the gay theologians who can explain their biblical reasons for seeking these changes? For example:
The assembly's committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues voted 34-18 to change the definition of marriage in the church constitution to describe marriage as a covenant between "two people" rather than between "a man and a woman." This "would recognize committed, lifelong relationships that are already being lived out by our members," said a committee statement.
Both measures would require passage by the full General Assembly later this week, but their passage by strong majorities in committee shows they have strong prospects.
Since they would involve changes to the church constitution, however, the measures would face a tough ratification vote among regional presbyteries in the coming year. Those bodies have repeatedly rejected gay-ordination proposals since the mid-1990s, but the margin of defeat narrowed in the most recent round of voting ending in 2008.
Wow. Exciting stuff. Needless to say, the story comes up a bit short when it comes to finding informed traditionalist voices to explain the reasons behind that coalition's repeated victories at the coast-to-coast level.
Supporters of the ban say the Bible condemns homosexuality as sinful, and defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Can you feel the passion? Yes, readers, it doesn't get any more exciting and balanced than that.
As it turns out, late in the week the national assembly decided to stall at the switch -- again. This led to more coverage that is rather lukewarm. The basic Associated Press update, at least, found some informed voices to quote, both on the side of the establishment:
"We Presbyterians love to study, which is not a bad thing," said Cindy Bolbach, an elder at National Capital Presbytery in Washington and the assembly's elected moderator. "We're talking about some major new steps."
But supporters say Presbyterians have spent enough time mulling it over.
"I think we're seeing acts of desperation by those who feel their way of life is slipping away," the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, the openly gay pastor of Janhus Presbyterian Church in New York City, said after the marriage vote. "Progress takes time. But to gay and lesbian people, it says their relationships, who they are, does not matter to this church. I don't call that Christian or loving."
And, brace yourself, the story also quotes a conservative.
"I didn't see this turn of events coming," said Jerry Andrews, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Diego. ... "I think as the day went on, the mood became more conservative," Andrews said.
Now, what is missing here? Why doesn't the denomination make a clear move on this issue?
Well, some facts might help. Might it have something to do with declining membership totals? Financial cuts at the national level? Is there some fear of driving away even more people in the regions of the country where population is rising and church attendance is at least flat or in a slower decline?
Just asking. So there was no major story to cover this time. Why? Maybe that's a story.