Since the departure of Bob Smietana in August 2013, The Tennessean — the major daily in Nashville — no longer has a full-time Godbeat pro.
The newspaper relies on a talented freelancer to provide some religion news reporting, but I miss the award-winning coverage with which Smietana — now a senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine and still president of the Religion Newswriters Association — spoiled Tennessean readers.
(The Tennessean does have an award-winning religion writer — Holly Meyer — on it staff, but she's covering crime and breaking news. Perhaps we could start a petition effort to transfer her to matters of faith? But I digress.)
I was reminded of The Tennessean's lack of a full-time religion writer when reading the newspaper's seven-paragraph coverage of a vote by local Presbyterians on the definition of marriage.
An amendment changing the church's definition of marriage squeaked through a Presbytery of Middle Tennessee vote on Saturday, as local Presbyterians became some of the first in the nation to help decide the issue.
Only 23 of 171 presbyteries — what the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination calls its regional bodies — have voted on an amendment to change the definition from a "civil contract between a man and a woman" to a "unique commitment between two people." Middle Tennessee's outcome was 92 yes, 84 no, a tally celebrated by many but causing consternation in some corners.
A tally celebrated by many but causing consternation in some corners. Huh?
Who are the "many" that we're talking about? Who are the "some?" And does not the split vote tally itself adequately reflect the controversial nature of the decision without the editorial language slanted in one direction?
Later, there's this quote:
"The immediate reaction to the announcement was one of respect and understanding across the aisle," said Rev. Warner Durnell, the local executive presbyter. "But there are also many who decry these actions and are not quite ready to embrace the change that may be forthcoming."
So "many" are upset? I thought it was "some."
The only other direct quote in the story:
"We're encouraged by the positive votes in places like the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee and elsewhere," said Rev. Brian Ellison, executive director of the marriage-equality-supporting Covenant Network of Presbyterians. "We're hopeful that presbyteries will continue to affirm that the values that define marriage — like faithfulness, mutuality and commitment — are worthy of celebration in the church for couples, regardless of gender."
So both of the sources quoted by name seem to lean toward redefining the definition of marriage. But where are the quotes from those who opposed the decision? Why talk about them instead of to them?
Granted, The Tennessean already had previewed the vote and quoted sources on both sides a few weeks earlier. But shouldn't the story on the vote itself also reflect a full range of voices?
Of course, quality religion journalism is harder to do when a newspaper fails to devote adequate staffing and resources to the beat.
We miss you, Bob Smietana.