Same-sex relationships are the new Rubicon for America’s evangelical churches, and judging by much of the news coverage, the outcome has already been decided. Evangelical Protestants in particular haven’t gotten with the program, thus a lot of the news coverage out there reads like advocacy journalism, saying it’s time to wise up. In other words, more Kellerism.
One of the newest pieces out there is an RNS article on a church just south of hip red-state Nashville, certainly a buckle on the Bible Belt. The Rev. Stan Mitchell, pastor of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tenn., has been agonizing over homosexuality and the Bible for some time. Then he conducted a same-sex marriage without telling his board (yes, this is the church that drew slanted Time coverage, as noted by our own Bobby Ross Jr.).
Then, during Sunday services on Jan. 11, Mitchell announced that the congregation henceforth will be "fully affirming." That is how the reporter described it in the second half of the article, albeit without the quote marks. Here is how it begins:
Pastor Stan Mitchell’s announcement that his evangelical GracePointe Church would fully affirm gay members met with a standing ovation from some, stunned silence from others, but everybody prayed together quietly at the end of it.
A month and a half later, Mitchell routinely receives emails inviting him to kill himself, often including the assurance they were sent in love from other Christians. Half of his 12-member board has left, along with half the average offering and about a third of the weekly attendance — once at 800 to 1,000 people.
He’s met with dozens of disenchanted members and plans to see dozens more, apologizing almost compulsively for his handling of the issue. But there’s no going back, he says. He doesn’t even want to.
Much bad karma ensues. If half of the offerings are walking out the door, that’s a serious matter when your church building is only five years old and there are mortgage payments to make. But Mitchell is valiantly not backing down. The future is, the story makes clear, clearly with the pro-gay progressive evangelical crowd and he’s made his choice.
The story comes with a load of assumptions. Phrases like “support for LGBT equality,” quotes that suggest the pastor is being “crucified” for his views and that second paragraph about how the pastor now receives hate mail -- advice that he commit suicide is the claim -- from other Christians. So here's this poor guy who’s only doing what he thinks is right and now his hate-filled Christian brethren are unloading on him.
What couldn’t be asked is why he pulled a fast one on his congregation by independently doing this gay union, then asking for understanding and sympathy when those who disagree walk out on him? As any media theory class will tell you, it’s all in the framing.
I also have a problem with phrases without attribution that state:
The same is true of homosexuality: In biblical times, there simply was no concept of loving, equal, committed relationships between people of the same gender.
That is right out of the gay theology playbook. Ancient Greeks -- who were no strangers to same-sex relationships -- were quite familiar with such "committed relationships" usually between adult men and adolescent boys. I’m no historical expert in this area but you can read about it here and here, for starters. Lovers could -- and did -- continue their trysts into adulthood and it was common enough that a thoroughly disgusted Apostle Paul spoke out against it. To say that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality begs the question; in religiously observant, and occupied, first century Israel it was less of an issue than the vastly more cosmopolitan Greek cities in which Paul traveled. The article continues with this:
In retrospect, Mitchell admits his change of heart could have been better communicated. But the schism isn’t surprising: After moving toward greater acceptance of LGBT parishioners, the Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Episcopal Church have all seen small but significant losses.
“Better communicated” is a masterpiece of understatement. Not telling your elders that you’re performing a same-sex marriage? And saying that the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopal Church have seen “small but significant” losses? The Episcopalians have been in statistical free-fall even before the 2003 ordination of their first gay bishop. During a 50-year time span, they’ve lost half of their members (from 3.6 million in 1966 to 1.8 million today), as a chunk of the denomination -- including whole dioceses -- have walked away to form a new Anglican branch. After the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to allow gay clergy in 2009, the denomination had to immediately cut 7.7 million in staff salaries because of budget cuts due to departing members. Presbyterians only voted to bless gay unions last June, so it’s a bit soon to tell who’s leaving and who’s staying, but some of their most historic churches are saying good-bye.
There is very little actual reporting in this piece representing those who oppose Mitchell’s actions. There’s three sources who agree with Mitchell, plus a list of churches and authors who also agree with him. We get a reaction from one departing elder, which is better than a similar story in The Tennessean that had no opposing voices, but how about something from the Southern Baptist Convention, which is based in Nashville? Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has spoken out a lot about this issue and is pretty media-accessible.
So we have one more in the flood of gay-couples-are-inevitable-in-evangelical-Protestantism stories out there. Time magazine alone ran two stories in January about this with loaded phrases like “marriage equality." This use of language to benefit one side of the debate reminds me of the language debate over abortion where one side got saddled with the "anti" label, as in "anti-abortion" where the other side was called "abortion rights" or "women's rights."
And I listened to part of Mitchell’s speech where he explains his decision and his agony in making it and I’m fine with reporting that. I’m not so fine at loading the deck so that mostly one side is presented. The goal, once again, is basic old-school journalism.