What we have here is one of the most ironic little religion-news stories that I have come across in quite some time.
However, readers of The New York Post would almost certainly not know that, since the team that produced the story left out The. Crucial. Fact. that made the story so ironic and interesting in the first place. The headline: "Lesbian pastor’s widow takes on church to get pension payments."
I think that the Post team thought they had yet another story about generic, Christians being prejudiced against a lesbian Christian. They didn't realize that this story was much more ironic than that. Let's look for the crucial missing detail at the top of this news report. Read carefully.
A lesbian pastor’s widow is battling the Presbyterian Church for refusing to pay her pension.
Letty M. Russell, a Harvard-trained author who became one of the first ordained women ministers in the United States and one of the first female teachers at the Yale Divinity School, served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Ascension in East Harlem from 1959 to 1971, says her widow, Shannon Clarkson.
Russell collected a $600 monthly pension for seven years while she was alive and designated Clarkson, her partner of 32 years, as her beneficiary. But when the 77-year-old Russell died of cancer in 2007, the Presbyterian Church’s pension board quickly cut Clarkson off.
OK, here is the crucial question: What in the world is "the Presbyterian Church"? Which denomination is that, pray tell, out of the alphabet soup that is Presbyterian life in America? (Oh, and shouldn't her name be "the Rev. Letty M. Russell"? Why do so few newspaper editors use Associated Press style for clergy titles when dealing with ordained women?")
That can't be the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) because, well, it is a conservative flock in terms of doctrine.
Might we be talking about the liberal denomination known, since the early 1980s, as the Presbyterian Church (USA)? That would make sense, since we are talking about (a) a women on the cutting edge of women's ordination history, (b) a theology graduate from the liberal Harvard Divinity School, (c) a faculty member at the liberal Yale Divinity School and (d) an ordained woman who married another woman.
That's a consistently "liberal" resume, when it comes to being a minister in that era of American life. Can I hear an "Amen"? I would assume that she was ordained in the old northern United Presbyterian Church. Which means that she would have become part of the ....
Now do you see the central irony in this story? The widow of this trailblazing lesbian pastor and liberal theologian is not battling the generic "Presbyterian Church," whatever that is, for control of of this pension. It would appear that she is battling one of the most liberal churches in the world of liberal oldline Protestantism, a flock that is now considered one of America's most gay-friendly Christian denominations.
In other words, shouldn't the headline on this story be, "Lesbian pastor’s widow takes on liberal church to get pension payments"?
Now that's ironic. It also makes the story much, much more interesting. As the story notes:
The board denied Clarkson the pension even after the Presbyterian Church chose to recognize same-sex unions in 2013.
“I think it’s a matter of justice,” Clarkson told The Post. “If you don’t recognize people for who they are, you’re not treating people as children of God. It seems like it’s an unjust position.”
What in the world is going on here? I ask that question sincerely.
So, in terms of journalism issues, where are the liberal Christian voices in this story, other than the widow herself? Surely there would be other gay clergy and liberal voices in the PCUSA that would want to address the questions raised in this case. But, alas, the story simply ends with this statement:
The pension board did not return a message.
OK, I'll ask: Which pension board declined to comment? Are Post personnel sure that they called the right one, since they have the denomination's name wrong in the story?