"Hard-hitting journalism about religion," said the subject line on an email from a GetReligion reader.
Methinks that reader enjoys the fine art of sarcasm.
The friendly correspondent shared a link to a front-page story in today's Greenville News in South Carolina:
The story concerns a Baptist church — which disassociated itself from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999 — deciding to embrace same-sex marriage.
At 1,900 words, the Gannett newspaper's report on "One church's journey" is long enough to be considered in-depth. But hard-hitting journalism it most definitely is not.
If newspapers wrote love songs instead of news articles, this is how one might go — complete with the reporter tweeting unabashedly about the church's "amazing transformation."
Here's the first verse:
The conversation at First Baptist Church Greenville took place well before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to legalize same-sex marriages.
The dialogue was bold — particularly for one of downtown Greenville’s influential legacy churches that in its earliest years served as a birthplace for revered Southern Baptist institutions.
Would the congregation be willing to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church?
To ordain gay ministers?
To embrace the complexities of gender identity?
In an evangelical church born in the antebellum South? Whose founder more than a century and a half ago served as the inaugural president of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Here, in Greenville?
The answer to each was “yes.”
But the answers didn’t come simply.
“What I heard was, ‘We need to do the right thing, regardless of what anybody thinks or says about us,’” says Jim Dant, the 184-year-old church’s senior minister who led the church through its six-month discernment. “There were a few people who said, ‘Are they going to start calling us the gay church in town?’”
The dialogue was bold. If this were an actual attempt at journalism — and I find little evidence of that — I'd suggest the newspaper skip the editorializing and instead attribute that claim to a named source or sources.
Speaking of sources, care to guess how many people the Greenville News actually interviews besides Dant, the pastor?
First, let's count the number of church members quoted. That would be zero.
Next, let's count the number of Southern Baptist leaders interviewed to offer a different perspective. That would be zero. (The story does refer to past statements by a couple of sources, including Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
The newspaper wades into Dant's theology:
On the question of whether same-sex marriage is wrong, First Baptist took no position, Dant says, except that members are entitled to their personal convictions.
But throughout its discussions, the church examined scripture and the common arguments made in the debate over the legitimacy of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
One question that arose was whether Christians are bound to Old Testament Levitical law, which states that a man “shall not lie with a man as with a woman.”
However, Levitical law also allows for husbands to treat their wives and daughters as property, Dant says. Other sections encourage slavery, he says.
“There’s no family value system in the Bible that we would lay into the 21st century,” he says. “We don’t have two wives and sleep with our maids and have a bunch of children and that be fine. What we believe about marriage and family is culturally driven, not biblically driven.”
In the New Testament, Dant points to a story in the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts Philip speaking to an Ethiopian eunuch, who under Old Testament law would have been considered an outcast among Jews.
The eunuch was an Ethiopian by birth, a eunuch by choice. In either case, the conventional belief was that he wasn’t fit to be baptized into the Christian faith.
But, under the teachings of Jesus Christ, Philip saw no reason for him to be excluded.
The story, Dant says, speaks to whether its relevant that someone is born gay or chooses to be.
“It really didn’t matter if he was born the way he was or chose the way he was,” Dant says. “Either way, in the eyes of the law, he didn’t have a fighting chance to get in. But in the gospel of Jesus Christ, Philip saw no reason he couldn’t be baptized or welcomed into the faith — whether he was born the way he was or chose the way he was.”
How do leaders of other Baptist churches in Greenville respond to Dant's doctrine?
Ha! Good one!
In this single-source story, the microphone belongs to Dant alone, even though there's a Southern Baptist university nearby (North Greenville University), where presumably a theology professor or church historian might have been coaxed into talking.
While fawningly documenting the church's journey to a more "open and welcoming" approach, the newspaper fails to engage questions such as how the changes of recent years have affected membership numbers and finances.
I know. I know. That's a hard-hitting journalism question, and this story is a love song.