Gay and transgender issues underscore a Godbeat rule: Carefully monitor parochial media

In late 2016 the Colson Center for Christian Worldview assembled endorsements from dozens of Christian leaders for a conservative declaration decrying problems with religious freedom with the gay and rapidly emerging transgender issues.

Coverage to date underscores a perennial rule of thumb in religion coverage: Carefully monitor parochial religious media -- and in this case also gay media -- to catch developments that might have broader significance.

Apparently the earliest story on this occurred in the Seattle Gay News (December 2), and then online postings by religious and conservative media. Eventually, mainstream press articles appeared, but in outlets like the Deseret News of Salt Lake City (January 12) and Colorado Springs Gazette (January 13).  As of this writing, The Guy found nothing in major national media (or The Advocate).

Did the sponsors try and fail to gain publicity? Or was this designed to rally activist insiders, not to sway public opinion?

Either way, there’s ample room left for reporters to take a look.

Activists and ideologues continually pepper the media with such petitions on this or that, signed by the highest-profile endorsers they can manage to muster. Amid the glut, why would this document be worth journalistic consideration? Hold that thought till we scan what the text says.

It contends that laws and administrative rulings to protect “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) interests “threaten basic freedoms of religion, conscience, speech, and association” and “violate privacy rights.” Such pressures “attempt to compel citizens to sacrifice their deepest convictions on marriage and what it means to be male and female,” through a range of penalties for both individuals and organizations.

On marriage, it explains, a small business may be willing to “serve everyone” yet in conscience cannot be involved with a same-sex wedding. On the transgender question, people may want “to protect privacy by ensuring persons of the opposite sex do not share showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other intimate facilities.” 

What’s significant? We’ve known conservatives worry about the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage and the Obama Administration’s attempt to change school toilets and locker rooms nationwide over transgender concerns. The new petition sharpens the emerging pattern for resistance: (1) Treat these two issues as one and the same. (2) Adopt a defensive posture and seek conscience protection without forcing traditional beliefs on others.

With all petitions, an important aspect is the makeup of the endorsers. It’s no surprise to find leaders from Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defense Fund that litigates such cases, or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which focuses more on social issues under Franklin Graham. Signers from religious colleges and day schools are doubtless alarmed by the temporary threat to accreditation over sexual rules at Gordon College, even though it’s fully qualified academically.

Particularly important is that American’s two largest denominations are allying on transgender disputes as on abortion and gay marriage. The Roman Catholic endorsers include the bishops who chair the four relevant committees of the U.S. hierarchy. Southern Baptist Convention support comes from its chief spokesman on social issues plus the presidents of four seminaries, among others. Analysts will also see there are some missing persons.

A broader look would report on efforts to have “mainline” and liberal Protestant churches endorse the transgender cause. That’s evident in the January 18 “Being Trans” cover package in the Christian Century magazine. The material includes religious testimonies from nine transgender writers.

Finally, there's the “Fairness For All” campaign for legal compromises that honor both SOGI and religious interests. The Desert News article shows that achieving such accord isn’t easy. 

What did we miss? Any others?

Please respect our Commenting Policy