The other day, I had an interesting conversation with a reader, someone with a long history of reading my "On Religion" syndicated column (my column has run in The Knoxville News Sentinel for 26-plus years) and now this blog.
To be blunt, this person (Catholic, by the way) was a bit upset about my recent column that went out on the wires with this suggested headline: "Triumphant day for the Episcopal Church establishment." In particular, this reader was upset that -- in lengthy quotations -- I let the openly gay, noncelibate retired Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire essentially do a victory dance celebrating (a) the 5-4 Obergefell decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court backed same-sex marriage and (b) the Episcopal Church's decision to proceed with same-sex marriage rites in its churches.
Why did I do this in my column? I responded: Because that was the essence of the story. Robinson and the Episcopal left won and, for readers to understand that victory, they needed to know what that meant to one of the symbolic figures in that long and painful drama.
I bring this up because several readers have asked your GetReligionistas what we thought of the recent commentary at National Public Radio on a related issue, one that ran under this headline, "Ombudsman Mailbag: On Staffing, Missing Information, And Religious Viewpoints." Settling up the crucial discussion, Elizabeth Jensen wrote:
I've heard from some Christians who feel NPR's coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage left the impression that all Christians oppose it. There's quite a bit of social media chatter on this, as well.
Arthur Shippee, of Hamden, Conn., wrote to my office on June 26, the day of the ruling:
In surveying reactions to the marriage equality decision, you have only one called "religious," and that one is a delusional prediction about jailing pastors, and your reaction summary includes "religious" as among the opponents. Yet this very week, the new constitution of Presbyterian Church, USA, came into effect, supporting marriage equality. How about offering a word about all the Christian support of marriage equality? Why are you so focused on one, noisy portion of religious folks? Why attribute their anger to me and my Christian sisters and brothers who have struggled for marriage equality and other GLBT issues for years? Please, look.
Another reader put it this way. Oh yes! Trigger warning to copy editors who flinch when the word Episcopalian is used as an adjective:
Mitch Gunderson, of West Saint Paul, Minn., wrote to NPR:
The faith community has been on the front lines of this fight for equality, too, but it seems that the only time it is mentioned on the air is to focus on some evangelical minister who is vocally opposed. I feel this gives a skewed view of the Christian community's feelings on this issue. Every local march I have seen has included ministers, denominations such as The Episcopalian, Lutheran ELCA, Unitarian Universalists and Congregationalists (to name a few) have been ordaining gay ministers for years and vocally speaking out about this issue from the pulpit. (My priest and our past bishop are lesbian women). Many of these faith leaders, denominations and their thousands of faithful have been fighting this fight for a long time and many ministers have risked (and in some cases endured) physical violence to fight along side those seeking rights as a Christian imperative. I think it would be awesome to see some of these courageous people highlighted as well, rather than giving your audience a one-sided perspective which furthers this idea of a false dichotomy which sets liberals on one side and people of faith on the other. Let's expand this narrative. The evangelicals should not be allowed to be the "voice of Christianity" for our whole nation.
As it turns out, NPR had run eight stories on evangelical reactions to the ruling and a mere one built on voices on the religious left and that one story focused on debates among Mennonites on the wider same-sex marriage issue.
Where were the stories about the oldline Protestant denominations (and others) who have fought for gay rights? What about Catholics, a few clergy and religious included, who have for years openly fought against the doctrines of their church? And where -- as GetReligion has been preaching for 11 years -- were the stories in which these progressives offered doctrinal arguments for why they believe what they believe?
So one would have to say that, yes, NPR shortchanged the religious voices on one side of this massive story. No doubt about it. Why? That's another question. Any theories?
As it turns out, NPR did cover the Episcopal Church votes for same-sex marriage rites. And Chris Turpin, vice president of news programming and operations:
... said he's pleased with NPR's coverage of same-sex marriage overall, leading up to and following the Court decision: "On the whole I thought we did a very, very nuanced job."
That said, he added -- with the caveat that live coverage and responding in the second is not always neat and clean -- "We probably had a couple of pastor interviews too many. There were a couple places where it would have been great to have just a little bit more context of the overall breakdown of where American Christians stand on gay marriage."
Yes, I am sure that all of those evangelical voices did rub the core NPR audience a bit raw. But in this case, it's clear that they had a right to complain. Comments?