Did not paper report what Piper did not say?

Read the lede to this Minneapolis Star-Tribune story, and tell me if it doesn't make your head spin:

Two key conservative evangelical leaders in Minnesota are not endorsing the marriage amendment or directing followers to vote for it, marking the first time during debate over the measure that major faith leaders have not encouraged members to take a stand on the issue.

Did anybody catch the double negative there? The two not's are a crucial element of the story.

Keep reading:

Influential preacher and theologian the Rev. John Piper came out against gay marriage during a sermon Sunday but did not explicitly urge members of his Minneapolis church to vote for the amendment.

The Rev. Leith Anderson, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's longtime pastor, also said this week he does not plan to take a public side on the amendment, which would change the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Did not explicitly urge members of his church to vote for the amendment? Sooooooo ... did he urge them to vote for it or not?

Religious observers say the lack of formal backing from the two influential figures could signal that evangelical leaders in Minnesota are taking a less active role in supporting the amendment -- a marked departure from evangelicals in dozens of other states where similar amendments have passed.

Could signal?

Go ahead and read the whole story. Then tell me: Am I the only one who finds this story rather squishy on facts and long on conjecture?

It appears that the reporter listened to Piper's sermon online and decided to run with the angle chosen. I'm just not certain the writer fully grasped the entirety — or all the subtlety — of what the pastor was trying to say.

What would have been fascinating, I think, is if the reporter had interviewed a few ordinary church members who actually heard the sermon. What did they take home from it? Did they leave the church building more or less likely to vote for the marriage amendment?

Piper himself has challenged the accuracy of the report on his blog:

The part that they got right was that I did not give a public endorsement for any legislation or candidate.

But they got two parts wrong.

First they say, “Key Minnesota pastors opt out of marriage fight.” I didn’t opt out. I opted in. What is at stake more than anything else is the meaning of marriage and how important it is for the common good and for the glory of Christ. That was the main burden of the message. Marriage is the sexual and covenantal union of a man and a woman pledging life-long allegiance to each other as husband and wife. There is no such thing as so-called same-sex “marriage.” That is clear in God’s word.

The second mistake is to say that I “have not encouraged members to take a stand on the issue.” That is, in fact, the opposite of what I was saying in the last two points of my message (points 7 and 8).

The Star-Tribune itself has published a response from a reader who argues:

The reporter must not have listened to or read Piper's wise and compassionate sermon, because no one could hear or read his words and conclude that Piper has opted out of the fight for marriage. In unequivocal language, Piper provided clear guidance to Christians on the issue of amending constitutions to protect marriage.

Piper concluded by saying, "If the whole counsel of God is preached with power week in and week out, Christians who are citizens of heaven and citizens of this democratic order will be energized as they ought to speak and act for the common good."

If this is what "opting out of the marriage fight" looks like, let's hope and pray that countless pastors across the country opt out as John Piper has.


Turns out that reporting accurately what someone said on a complicated subject matter can be a gargantuan task. That apparently goes double — as in double negative – when attempting to report what they didn't say.

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