LGBTQ redux: Seattle Times leans left while covering church struggles over the issue

On Sunday morning, the Seattle Times ran this story: “ ‘I am a gay Christian’: Debates about LGBTQ acceptance roil Seattle-area non-profits, churches.”

It was an even-handed headline, in the online version.

But in the print version, which was just above the fold on A1, the headline was: “When religion discriminates: LGBTQ debate roils faith groups.”

Reporters have no control over headlines, so this one inadvertently let us know what direction the story was going: Traditional religious groups are inherently discriminatory.

I am glad the Times tackled this, as it is a real issue here in the Pacific Northwest (even though as of Sunday night it only ranked third in reader viewership, after stories about an alleged remnant of an alien civilization and the burst water pipes that will happen if Seattle has an earthquake like Anchorage did last week).

But one does tire of the black/white view some reporters adopt. Which is: Liberal religious folks are good. Conservative believers are jerks.

Let me point readers to a multi-faceted story on the Christian music scene in Seattle that appeared three years ago this month in the Stranger, not a publication that is pro-faith by any means. Both sides were represented accurately and sympathetically.

So it is possible, but I can’t say the Times reporter did the same. Her article begins:

As board president of World Concern, Jun Young was a believer.

He felt called to the Christian development agency’s mission, spoke about it to donors, traveled to Sri Lanka to see the work up close and donated tens of thousands of dollars through his public relations company, Zum Communications.

“You are beloved.” That’s the message he said Shoreline-based World Concern imparts to marginalized people around the world. “I so believe in that. And I still do. It pains me that I can’t be part of that.”

This summer, parent organization CRISTA Ministries — a more than $100-million operation that runs schools, retirement communities and radio stations in addition to its international relief work — told Young he would not be invited to serve a second, 3-year term on its board or World Concern’s.

At 45, he had just unearthed a secret he had kept even from himself: He was gay.

The story then introduces us to two local Christian organizations who’ve been struggling with the issue.

World Vision, a Christian development agency based in Federal Way, faced a backlash from donors in 2014 when it said it would allow people in same-sex marriages on staff. Two days later, it reversed that decision.

Last year, Union Gospel Mission got hit with a different kind of backlash. A bisexual man sued the nonprofit for failing to consider him for a staff position.

Young had already gotten a divorce when he announced he was gay to the World Concern folks. It’s interesting that the WC people were OK with him being divorced –- as divorce used to be grounds for dismissal from Christian organizations –- but were not OK with him being gay. That’s certainly a topic worthy of coverage.

Quick tangent. When the Associated Press via CBS News reported on the same issue four years ago, a noted scholar said the issue will be resolved in evangelical churches just like divorce was:

Bill Leonard, a specialist in American religious history at Wake Forest Divinity School, said church leaders should be especially concerned about parents. He noted that many evangelicals began to shift on divorce when the marriages of the sons and daughters of pastors and "rock-ribbed" local church members such as deacons started crumbling. While conservative Christians generally reject comparisons between the church's response to divorce and to sexual orientation, Leonard argues the comparison is apt.

"The churches love those individuals and because they know them, those churches may look for another way," Leonard said.

Back to Young in the Seattle Times:

… He has studied biblical passages and varying interpretations. One argument persuaded him: The scant, censorious references to homosexuality in the Bible never address loving, committed relationships.

Is the content of pro-gay theology all that new to the reporter, Nina Shapiro?

The “loving committed relationships” reasoning has been out there for some time. Homosexuality was widely practiced during the first century and although Jesus did not address the topic (that we know of), the Apostle Paul did. He condemned all forms of homosexual behavior. See this link for a discussion of the Greek terms Paul used and how it’s unlikely that Paul didn’t understand the finer points.

Traditionalists dismiss that reasoning. Jay Smith, senior pastor at Cedar Park Church in Bothell, calls the argument “gymnastics” that obscure the plain-sense meaning of, say, the prohibition on a man lying with another “as with a woman.”

As I read through the piece -– and there was lots of good stuff in there -– I noted that all the lengthy, astute quotes were from the gay-friendly side of the equation. The traditionalists were mainly represented with “no comments” or –- as with the dissenting pastor in the above paragraph –- allowed only one word amidst a paraphrased quote.

While recounting the World Vision about-face -- instead of just relaying on their stonewalling -- could the reporter have found someone else familiar with the organization who could have given a more representative quote expressing how the charity was damned if they did and damned if they didn’t?

Certain the gay advocates in this story are compelling and they have the requisite quotes that establish sympathy. That’s essential to this story.

However, people on the other side is not given such an advantage. In fact, the reporter shows her hand with this:

On a Sunday morning, Corissa Calico and Jess Latousek arrive for the 9:20 a.m. service at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond. At a coffee shop inside the evangelical megachurch, the two twentysomethings tell the story of how they met online, prayed for each other to become straight, and eventually gave in to feelings for each other. Robertson, whose experiences with her son led her to become a kind of den mother to young LGBTQ people, looks on encouragingly.

It’s because of Robertson that Calico, Latousek and a number of other same-sex couples attend Overlake, sitting together in the pews.

If you lived here in the ’80s and ’90s and put together a list of homophobic churches, Overlake might be at the top. Former Pastor Bob Moorehead was renowned for condemning gays, before he was accused of inappropriately touching men, which he denied.

A list of “homophobic churches?” So is anyone with a traditional theology –- including beliefs that go back thousands of years and are supported by scriptures in both Old and New Testaments and other writings in the early church –- always being homophobic?

Fortunately, the piece explains why many gay Christians wish to continue attending evangelical churches instead of switching over to mainline Protestant congregations that are far more accepting — but where the theology veers leftward.

The article also mentioned the ex-gay ministry Exodus. Am wondering if the reporter knew it was based out of Seattle and that Bob Davies, its former director, is still in town. He works at University Presbyterian. Davies would have been a good counterweight to comments from the LGBTQ crowd.

About Overlake: I occasionally drop by there as it’s got a ministry to parents of adopted and foster kids. Its pastor refused to talk with the Times, but the reporter found Linda and Rob Robertson, who very much wanted to be interviewed. The Robertson’s gay 20-year-old son died in 2009 of a drug overdose.

Also, the article describes several gay couples who are at home with the church and are allowed various leadership roles. The way Overlake –- which is a truly huge place and some of us joke that it’s like attending worship in an airport hangar -– deals with it is as the reporter says, with “a degree of nebulousness.”

Calico and Latousek say they have been enthusiastically received as members. Calico, who after coming out was kicked off the musical “worship team” of her previous church, expressed a desire to work on a young leadership team at Overlake. The response, she said: Great, when can you start?

When Howerton took the stage this Sunday morning, after an energetic band finished performing and the dimmed lights went up, he subtly signaled acceptance.

No matter your ethnicity, your nationality, your gender, “how you reckon your sexual journey,” he said, “in Jesus, there is always one more move.”

It was perfect, Latousek said afterward. Not overly celebratory. Just clear.

It was also very Seattle. I’m betting that were Howerton preaching in the Bible Belt, he might not get away with such vagueness.

So where does that leave the non-Overlakes out there? As islands of homophobia that will someday be overtaken by a new order of “affirming” churches? Why can’t we have a piece that accurately describes the no-win situation they are in?

Yes, at the very end, the piece mentions Eastlake Community Church, a local “affirming” congregation that dumped biblical precepts, embraced the inclusive line and lost huge amounts of its members. How many pastors want to see that occur with their churches?

Instead of labeling people “homophobic” with headlines that accuse them of discrimination, what about showing the stories and beliefs of traditional believers some respect and striving to cover them as accurately as the material quoted from the liberal side of the debate?

I struggle to be realistic, when reading this story. Part of me says this is the best the Times will ever do on this topic, so I should be grateful it’s on the table.

The other part me feels that the story of the parent who marches in Pride parades with their kid and writes for HuffPost is always told. What isn’t told are the stories of people who feel they’re forced to choose between their child and their God, and the agony that entails.

Both sides deserve sympathy and respect and people on both sides deserve to appear in our stories.

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