Los Angeles Times LGBTQ-beat reporter weighs in on local gay-friendly Methodist churches

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Ever since Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire biotech entrepreneur, bought the Los Angeles Times last July, the paper has been on a hiring spree. Check out this list of current openings.

Notice a gap?

Yep, despite all the 2020 political writers they’re hiring plus bureaus in Singapore and Seoul and increased staffing on entertainment and business beats, they’ve yet to hire one religion reporter. I’m losing track as to how many years it’s been since they’ve had one. And most beats on that paper have multiple reporters sharing the various beats.

But the religion beat will have to wait. And when there is important religion news, they bring in folks from other specialties — like an LGBTQ-beat reporter, who wrote the following piece on what the recent swing to the doctrinal right among United Methodists means for the locals. How do you think this approach worked?

Tim Baudler was taught that God doesn’t love gay people.

When he was about 10, he realized he liked other boys. So Baudler, who grew up in a conservative church in Iowa, made himself a promise: If he made it to 20 and still felt the same way, he was going to kill himself.

At 15, he was found to have a malignant brain tumor and was given days to live. He was relieved. God, he thought, was taking care of everything. He wouldn’t have to commit suicide, and he wouldn’t have to be gay.

But he made it to 20. Then 30. His family shunned him. He moved to California, where he found Hollywood United Methodist Church. The Rev. Kathy Cooper Ledesma told him, “We’re your family now.”…

But like so many gay Methodists, Baudler now feels betrayed by the United Methodist Church, which is fighting a civil war over homosexuality so acrimonious that it could split the denomination.

Actually, 40 years of fighting over the Bible, marriage and sexuality has already carved a painful divide in the United Methodist Church. Now if this was a conservative being covered, we’d see “betrayed” in quote marks, as if to suggest it really isn’t betrayal. But Baudler and this particular UMC congregation get the benefit of the doubt.

The article goes on to note that Methodists in the church’s tiny Western Jurisdiction, which includes California, have been flouting the denomination’s restrictions against gay clergy and bishops for some time. The war was already raging back in the early 1980s when tmatt arrived in Denver.

Including 12 states plus Guam, the Western Jurisdiction is by far the smallest group among U.S. United Methodists. It numbers 295,308 adherents. Most other jurisdictions have well over 1 million. California some unique congregations, such as First United Methodist of Los Angeles, which meets in a parking lot.

I’m curious if other United Methodists see this jurisdiction as their future or their failing. The Africa contingent, as tmatt said the other day, is only going to grow.

The plans of the more liberal folks were routed during the recent Methodist confab in St. Louis.

The General Conference instead chose what was called the Traditional Plan — punishing ministers who perform same-sex marriages with a one-year, unpaid suspension on the first offense and termination on the second.

The vote was supported by a vocal, well-funded alliance of conservative American churches and the denomination’s increasingly influential African bloc. Church membership is growing in Africa, where, in dozens of nations, homosexuality is a crime. African delegates made up 32% of the General Conference.

Whenever journalists wish to trash an organization or question a movement’s legitimacy, they use “well-funded” as a modifier. I’m not sure I’d call the Africans “well-funded” and be honest; there’s funds coming from the left side of the debate, too.

I googled “conservative Methodists” and “who funds’ and got nothing of substance. Feel free to add in the comments section if you know of a conservative sugar daddy out there. If not, let’s drop the “well-funded” wording — unless you are going to look at the UMC establishment’s sponsorship of the One Church plan favored by the left.

The reporter did give some attention to the conservative side of the denomination in the middle of the piece before swinging back to Baudler’s story and that of other local churches that are not giving an inch on their practices.

I can’t fault the reporting on the denomination and the article’s summation of what happened in St. Louis. I do wish the reporter had escaped from a west coast-centric lens to explain how the Western Jurisdiction is an outlier among Methodists, even in the USA. I also wish she had asked her interviewees why they felt they could get away with breaking church laws and their ordination vows indefinitely.

The United Methodist churches out west seem to be fairly small, so understandably the members don’t want to split from the denomination and with it their only hope of pensions and church property. But their direction is opposite of where worldwide Methodism is heading. So, what’s their Plan B?

I’m glad for religion to get coverage in the Times, but some critical distance would help here, if the goal is to provide coverage that treats both sides of this debate with respect and accuracy. That may not come from the newspaper's LGBTQ-news specialist.

But until the higher-ups at the Times see religion as a beat worth hiring not just one but several folks to cover one of the world’s most religiously diverse cities, readers will have to take what they can get.

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