Pod people: If Womenpriests were rabbis?

In most of our recent posts about coverage of the Womenpriests movement, such as this piece by the Divine Ms. MZ Hemingway, we have ended up discussing how journalists often struggle to grasp basic historical facts about the Roman Catholic priesthood. In particular, journalists just can't seem to realize that the Church of Rome is a voluntary association and that to be a priest in this body one must, first and foremost, be in Communion with the pope of Rome and the bishops of that Communion. However, in an earlier post, I voiced my concern about the degree to which journalists from the Baltimore Sun seemed to have been cooperative, if somewhat passive, participants in the public Womenpriests ordination rite that they were allegedly covering as members of the public press. Here is a flashback to a worrisome passage in the Sun coverage:

Andrea Johnson, presiding as bishop, ordained two women from Maryland, Ann Penick and Marellen Mayers, one from Pennsylvania and one from New York in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ. The church was filled with family members -- including husbands of three of the ordinands -- and friends, including some who are employed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore but who support the ordination of women. Photography was limited to protect the privacy of those attending the ceremony.

Later, we learned that until recently Mayers had been employed as "a campus minister and religion instructor at a Catholic high school" until she was outed as a Womenpriests activist. The Sun team declined to click a mouse once or twice and give the name of her former school, perhaps, once again, because the journalists did not want to print information that would violate the privacy of well-placed Catholic progressives in the administration there. Might some of these people be longtime sources for the newspaper?

Anyway, this issue has continued to bug me and it is the subject of this week's GetReligion podcast. Click here to listen or head on over to iTunes to add our weekly offerings to your iPhone/iPod queue.

Even after we recorded this broadcast, I continued to work this situation over in my mind.

I've been trying to find a good metaphor, a journalistic parallel case, that might help readers understand why this bothers me so much.

The following metaphor isn't perfect, but it's close enough -- as we would say in Texas -- for horse shoes and hand grenades.

So let's say that the home mission board of the Southern Baptist Convention decided to hold a celebration in a Baltimore-area church sanctuary in which four people who are of Jewish birth and background would be ordained in order to serve in new congregations that would compete directly with local congregations that are affiliated with traditional Jewish movements.

Instead of being called pastors, however, the organizers -- leaders in the Jesusrabbis movement -- insist that these newly ordained ministers are not, in fact, Protestants or even "Messianic Jewish" pastors. No, they insist that the newly ordained are rabbis -- period.

Now, as it turns out, the participants in this public celebration actually included recognizable leaders from the Baltimore Jewish Federation, major Jewish schools, the Jewish studies programs of local universities and even major Jewish congregations. They were there to celebrate the ordination of these new "rabbis," cheering and applauding the rites.

And how about the news media? The event's organizers asked the media professionals who were present to honor the privacy of these Jewish leaders who came to celebrate the ordination of these Jesusrabbis. For example, the Baltimore Sun team members agreed not to cover this important factual element of the story or even to take photos of the crowd. In a way, the Sun actually helped these Jesusrabbi movement supporters to maintain their positions in prominent local Jewish institutions, even though the overwhelming majority of local Jews would see their actions as scandalous acts of betrayal to any traditional form of the Jewish faith.

Did I mention that all of this took place in a church sanctuary in an event that was clearly open, in some sense, to the public?

But wait! If the event was secret, then that would be even more significant. The Jesusrabbi Movement even knew to invite these Jewish leaders who were acting in rebellion against their own congregations and institutions. They would had to have been, to some degree, on the inside.

So, who can imagine Sun editors cooperating in this manner in this hypothetical case, going to far as to ignore crucial news information that the public would want to know? How about other major media institutions? Would they agree to help the Jesusrabbis movement in this manner?

Enjoy the podcast. Please keep your comments focused on the journalism issues in this post.

IMAGE: Messianic Jews in worship in a congregation with Baptist roots.

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