Powder-puff press: Tutu's daughter marries a woman, and media hand her the mic

"Tell us how the bad men hurt you": As she often does, M.Z. Hemingway adroitly blends humor and precision in finding the nugget of a story.  Her suggestion for a GR post on the daughter of Desmond Tutu was devastatingly accurate, not only for the BBC but for the Guardian.

The Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth recently married a woman -- an atheist, at that -- and now she's complaining that the church yanked her preaching license. And the BBC and the Guardian help her complain. Not just by reporting her quotes, but enshrining every word as gospel.

Here we go with the BBC:

Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth followed her father into a life in the Anglican church, but when she decided to marry the woman she loved, she had to leave.
She married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands at the end of last year, but they went public last month when they had a wedding celebration in Cape Town.
"My marriage sounds like a coming out party," explains Ms Tutu van Furth.
"Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else," she tells me.

At least the BBC quotes church law: "Holy matrimony is the lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman." So why is Tutu van Furth making an issue of it? To advance what she calls a "very important conversation'" about same-sex marriage:

"Not only do we have gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual people of every description sitting in our pews, to be perfectly honest we have all of those people standing in our pulpits too.
"And yet very often they sit in fear in the pews and they stand in fear in the pulpits because they are not free to fully own who they are and who they love."

The BBC itself could have advances the conversation with a few penetrating questions. How many such people are in the pews and pulpits? Why would clergy vow to uphold beliefs that they were already breaking? And how will it affect Tutu van Furth's ministry to have a mate who rejects the basics of what she preaches -- even the existence of the deity she worships?

But none of that comes up, either in the article or the video of the interview. Instead, the interviewer wafts powder-puff questions and comments:  

* "Was it difficult for you to relinquish your license?"

* "You’ve said that you hope that this will start a conversation within the Anglican church."

* "From just listening to you now, it makes me think that then a part of who you are has been stripped away from you."

* "That's where it hurts the most?"

Any longer, and the interviewer would have been patting Tutu van Furth's hand and cooing, "There, there."

The Guardian's story is twice as long, at 1,750 words, but it's even worse:

For someone who is in love and recently married, a wedge of "very odd pain" is lodged in Mpho Tutu van Furth’s heart.
It is caused by the South African Anglican church’s refusal to allow the daughter of one of the world’s best known Christian leaders to continue to work as a priest after she married the person with whom she has pledged to share the rest of her life: a woman.
"It was hard for me to give up my [priest’s] licence, it felt incredibly sad," Tutu van Furth – whose father, Desmond Tutu, won the Nobel peace prize in 1984 for the struggle against apartheid – told the Guardian.
"My father campaigned for women’s ordination, and so every time I stand at the altar I know that this is part of his legacy. And it is painful, a very odd pain, to step down, to step back from exercising my priestly ministry."

We'll leave aside the romance-novel notion of something lodging in one's heart; any newspaper editor should delete that right away. The top of the story raises a couple of unasked questions.

Should a clergywoman be exempt from church teachings about same-sex marriage, just because she is the famous Desmond Tutu's daughter?

Or does the successful campaign for women's ordination somehow prove that women should get to marry each other?

Now, the Guardian does establish that Archbishop Tutu campaigned for same-sex marriage as well. It cites a 2013 BBC report in which he said, "I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven … I would not worship a God who is homophobic." But does that automatically equate women's ordination with same-sex marriage?

The rest of the story simply takes Tutu van Furth's word that:

* Bishop Raphael Hess of Saldanha Bay, who took back her preaching papers, was "incredibly caring and generous with me."

* Tutu van Furth has had an "incredible outpouring of support" in South Africa.

* The Rev. Charlotte Bannister-Parker of Oxford "has been subject to horrific attacks" after officiating at Tutu van Furth's wedding.

* Tutu van Furth's parents are supportive of her marriage.

* Her daughters are "adjusting," as do other kids who have seen a shift of parents.

None of this does the Guardian try to corroborate in this one-source story. It even repeats the following as fact, without attribution: "Other clergy in the diocese offered to hand in their licences in solidarity with Tutu van Furth."

Among the few improvements over the BBC article is about her differences with her partner:

Her wife’s atheism is not an issue between them, she says. "It would be different is she was anti-Christian, but she’s not; she’s respectful. She comes to church with me; she doesn’t pray in the way I do, but she listens. She has space for the rhythm of my life."

Then again, the newspaper doesn't ask Marceline van Furth herself about it.  

I have to give the Guardian one gold star for allowing a theological issue to peek through the propaganda.

"I’m not spoiling for a fight; it has to be a conversation. But the gift of being in a country where same-sex marriage is legal should mean the church can be the place where we can have a theological conversation about the nature of marriage.
"That conversation can inform some of the dysfunctional relationships that people have that get to be called marriage because they’re between a man and a woman whether or not they have any regard to mutuality, choice, respect or any of the other things that make marriage truly joyful and worthwhile."

But it's just a peek. True to form, the article doesn't let anyone give a counterpoint.

Maybe it's not Tutu van Furth's lips to God's ears, but it apparently goes straight to the BBC's and Guardian's audiences.


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