Big news report card: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) changes definition of marriage to include same-sex couples

As noted by The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey — a former GetReligionista — the denomination voted to change its definition of marriage from "a contract 'between a woman and a man' to being 'between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.'"

In light of the widespread coverage of the Presbyterians' decision, it's time for another "big news report card." 

In today's grades, I'm particularly interested in how the major media covered these factors: the decision itself, the ramifications for the denomination, the reactions of supporters and opponents, and the wider context of American Christianity within which this decision occurs:

Associated Press: A

Nice work by AP's longtime Godbeat pro, Rachel Zoll, on all the criteria I mentioned.

In particular, Zoll did an excellent job of putting the decision into context:

Although several Protestant denominations have taken significant steps toward recognizing same-sex relationships, only one other major Christian group has endorsed gay marriage churchwide.
In 2005, the 1.1 million-member United Church of Christ became the first major Protestant denomination to back same-sex marriage, urging its individual congregations to develop wedding policies that don't discriminate against couples because of gender.
The Episcopal Church, which blazed a trail in 2003 by electing the first openly gay Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson, does not have a formal position on gay marriage, but allows bishops to decide whether their priests can officiate at the ceremonies. Episcopalians will take up gay marriage at a national meeting in June.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which eliminated barriers to gay ordination in 2009, takes a similar approach, allowing some discretion by clergy and congregations to officiate at same-sex ceremonies without formally recognizing same-sex marriage as a denomination.
The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., bars "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from ordination and prohibits gay weddings. Many Methodist clergy have been performing gay marriages as a protest of church policy.


CNN does a lot of exceptional reporting on religion. 

But this is one of those times where CNN really could have used the AP wire.

To illustrate the failing nature of this coverage, check out the opponents quoted by CNN — random commenters on the church website:

Not all members supported the decision.
In a post on PC (USA)'s website, Jean and Robert Gorney accused the church of going against the Bible and threatened to leave.
"We are not to change the Bible," their post said. "I don't care who disagrees."

* Los Angeles Times: D

This isn't journalism. It's cheerleading, with no mention of opponents or the conservatives who have left the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

In an open letter, two top church leaders said the amendment “lifts up the sanctity of marriage and the commitment of loving couples within the church.”
“We hope that such ‘up/down’ voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community,” said Elder Heath K. Rada and the Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, moderator and vice moderator of the current General Assembly.
Activists who have fought for greater inclusiveness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church rejoiced.

NBC News: D

Nothing to see here. My advice: Move along.

New York Times: B-plus

Religion writer Laurie Goodstein's coverage is mostly excellent.

I marked off slightly because I thought the description of the numbers who have left the denomination could have been less vague:

Plenty of moderates and conservatives, however, have chosen to stay within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one of the nation’s historic mainline Protestant denominations, which has its headquarters in Louisville, Ky. Ministers who object will not be required to perform a same-sex marriage.
Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, a group of conservatives who have stayed in the church, said: “Our objection to the passage of the marriage amendment is in no way, shape or form anti-gay. It is in no way intended as anything but concern that the church is capitulating to the culture and is misrepresenting the message of Scripture.”
He added, “We definitely will see another wave, a sizable wave, of conservative folks leaving,” but said he and others were staying because “this conversation is dreadfully important to be a part of.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A-plus

Religion writer Peter Smith covered the Louisville, Ky.-based denomination for years while with the Courier-Journal. 

The Post-Gazette benefits from his expertise on this story, in which he covers all the angles fairly and thoroughly, as he always does:

The ratification — combined with an amendment four years ago allowing the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians — decisively breaks what had been a decades-long stalemate over homosexuality in the church.
“Our denomination steps forward into a new chapter,” said the Rev. Randy Bush, pastor of East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh and co-moderator of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a national liberal advocacy group.
The vote, he said, “respects the importance of pastoral discretion in congregational matters and yet offers to the world a compelling witness about how God’s grace is active in loving, mutual relationships.”
But Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, predicted the denomination would lose members, congregations and overseas relationships.
“We regard this vote as a repudiation of the Bible and the clear teaching of the Word of God,” said Ms. LaBerge. “This places the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) outside of the fellowship of the global Christian church. And it will be difficult going forward for the PC (USA) to have any moral authority on any other issue.”

Washington Post: B

I'm going to get myself in trouble for giving a friend and former colleague a less-than-perfect grade.

However, the Post story lacks any reaction — from opponents or supporters — so I don't see how I can give it an A.

I did like that the Post provided specific information on the denomination's membership decline:

The vote comes amid a larger debate over whether gay marriage conflicts with Scripture and would cause more Presbyterian churches to break relations with the PCUSA. The church has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992. Most of the congregations that depart opt to affiliate with either the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or a newer body called Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. The formality of Tuesday’s decision could accelerate more departures.

As always, please feel free to grade my grades, either in the comments section or by tweeting us at @getreligion. Also, if you see any coverage — good or bad — that I missed, please provide links.

Update: Just saw this tweet after hitting the publish button. File this one under "Oops!":

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