NYTimes (surprise) covers Mormon sexual ethics, without talking to Mormons

NYTimes (surprise) covers Mormon sexual ethics, without talking to Mormons

There are people out there in cyberspace (and in our comments pages from time to time) who think that, here at GetReligion, "balance" on stories about moral and cultural issues is all about finding the right number of voices on the right to say nasty things about the views of people on the left side of things.

Well, I would prefer to say it this way: When journalists cover controversial moral, cultural and religious issues, the journalistic thing to do is to talk to informed, representative voices on both sides of these hot-button debates. Of course, this journalistic approach assumes that journalists are willing to concede that there are two sides in these debates worth covering with respect.

This brings us once again to the term "Kellerism," a GetReligionista nod to those famous remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller. The Times ran a story the other day -- "Social Worker Spreads a Message of Acceptance to Mormons With Gay Children" -- in which it was crucial for readers to understand the moral doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the view of those who disagree with them.

A GetReligion reader offered this critique:

This was fairly good as far as avoiding the "Mormons as zoo creatures" pitfall that so many reporters outside the rural west fall into. I did notice that several terms were used that have different meanings to Mormons and Catholics, like "saint" and "sister." Since the story deals with both religions, there's a bit of a semantic gap there.

Notice how low the journalistic bar has been set, in this case. Clearly, the reader thinks there is little or no chance that the Times team will deal with Mormon beliefs with any degree of sensitivity. 

As you would expect, the story largely focused on the work of social worker Caitlin Ryan, a lesbian activist who is reaching out the Mormon families (those willing to work with her, of course) who are trying to relate to their gay children. Her voice and worldview are at the heart of the story, as they should be.

However, what about LDS leaders? The story does quote a Mormon or two who hopes the church receives a "revelation" and modernizes its teachings. No surprise there. Then there is this:

If such change does come -- and there are intriguing signs in that direction -- then some part of the credit will surely belong to Dr. Ryan. ...
While Mormon doctrine continues to view “homosexual behavior” as contrary to “God’s law,” the institutional church has been striving for a more moderate tone. It introduced the website mormonsandgays.org two years ago. “There is no change in the church’s position of what is morally right,” a statement on the site reads. “But what is changing -- and what needs to change -- is to help church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other church members, or elsewhere.” (Asked about Dr. Ryan’s project, a church spokesman made a similar point.)

And that's that.

There is that quote from a website and the strange non-quote from a Mormon public-affairs official. That's the extent of the Times attempt to wrestle with what Mormons believe and why they believe it on these crucial issues. That's the other side of the debate.

Really? Can you imagine the Times publishing a similar story in reverse, with paragraph after paragraph defending Mormon doctrines on these issues, balanced only by a quote from a gay-rights website and a shadowy quote from a spokesperson?

Again: Really?

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