Gay Games and the Godbeat: a religion writer explores the treatment of gays

When I saw this headline, I wondered what to expect:

A story quoting all liberal believers with progressive views on homosexuality would not have surprised me. As regular GetReligion readers can attest, that's the nature of much reporting on this issue these days.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the fair, balanced nature of the Akron Beacon Journal story — that is, until I realized the piece was written by a Godbeat pro (almost always a plus, for reasons that tmatt highlighted this week).

Religion writer Colette M. Jenkins' report does an excellent job of incorporating faith leaders of differing beliefs and letting them explain their position in their own words:

The upcoming Gay Games 9 are generating an interesting response in corners of the Christian community where homosexuality is considered to be unbiblical.
Leaders in that pocket of the faith community are pondering ways to embrace the games’ LGBT participants without coming off as hateful because of their disagreement with the gay lifestyle.
Some have discussed the possibility of volunteering for the games or showing hospitality for participants, but decided against it to avoid sending mixed messages.
Others — like Sister Rita Mary Harwood, who heads the Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and the Rev. Joe Coffey, lead pastor at Christ Community Chapel in Hudson — are all in, planning outreach to the games’ LGBT participants.
“Our history is not very good. Our message has been negative, and we need to change the way [the LGBT] community views a Bible-believing church,” Coffey said. “We have to help people understand that members of [the LGBT] community are our neighbors and that just because we don’t agree with you doesn’t mean we don’t love you. And while we’re at it, we need to ask for their forgiveness.”
The Gay Games were established in 1982 as an international sporting and cultural event to be held every four years. This year’s event officially opens Saturday in Cleveland.

Like any good journalist, Jenkins leads into her story with her most surprising findings, then provides more routine details — such as the fact that LGBT-affirming churches are supporting the Gay Games:

Rabbi David Horowitz said his hope is that the games’ participants will be welcomed and accepted by everyone in the faith community, regardless of their theological views on homosexuality. He is rabbi emeritus at Temple Israel in Akron — a Reform congregation — and national president of PFLAG, which formerly was known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays.
“This is a great opportunity for the city of Akron and all of Northeast Ohio to reach out with acceptance and love to people who are coming from all parts of the world to live for a short while in our community,” Horowitz said. “In the world of sports, homophobia is rampant. The Gay Games allow people in the gay community be who they are. No matter what people’s views are on homosexuality, hopefully they will support the sports activities and reach out to the participants with acceptance and love.”

In the case of the religious leaders whose churches consider the gay lifestyle unbiblical — including Harwood and Coffey — the Beacon Journal provides space for those interviewed to explain their involvement with the Gay Games:

Coffey said the goal of an outreach plan at Christ Community Chapel during the Gay Games will be rooted in the gospel commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself ” (Luke 10:27).
The Scripture was the basis for a recent sermon Coffey delivered to address the church’s treatment of the LGBT community. The sermon (“When Gay Is Not a Game”) was prompted by the upcoming Gay Games and marked the first time in Coffey’s 32 years of public ministry that he devoted a sermon to the issue of homosexuality.
“Our message to the homosexual community is, ‘We are followers of Jesus. You are our neighbors. Please forgive us for not loving you the way we should have,’ ” Coffey said. “But please don’t think we cannot love you unless we agree with you. We can and we do.”

If space constraints were not an issue (and unfortunately, they almost always are with newspapers), the story could have benefited from more details on the specific beliefs of the religious groups represented.

But overall, this was a fine example of a newspaper — and specifically, a Godbeat pro — telling an important religion story in an informative, unbiased way.

Kudos to Jenkins and the Beacon Journal.

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