Cynthia Meyer

Surprise! Kansas City Star covers only one side of United Methodist debate on sexuality

Surprise! Kansas City Star covers only one side of United Methodist debate on sexuality

Let's say that you are a mainstream reporter covering a story about a liberal United Methodist congregation that has been sent a very conservative pastor who decides to take a controversial stand on gun control.

People in the region are outraged and efforts are made to replace the pastor.

Who are the crucial people and groups that journalists would need to contact for input and quotes? First, you would have the pastor. Then you would have the pastor's supporters and critics in the congregation. Then -- absolutely -- you would need quotes from the regional UMC leaders who are in charge of resolving this situation and could speak to the state of church teachings related to this issue. Finally, if reporters have the time and space, they might contact activists on both sides of this hot-button issue.

Now, with these basic journalism values in mind, let's return to the case of the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, the openly gay and non-celibate United Methodist pastor who recently was removed, with some national media fanfare, from her altar and pulpit. Click here for my previous post on this case: "Do ordination vows matter? A crucial hole in RNS report on United Methodist dispute."

Now, The Kansas City Star has an update that starts like this:

On a cold Sunday in January, Cynthia Meyer, pastor at Edgerton United Methodist Church, came out to her congregation.
She did so with hope that change regarding the denomination’s stance on homosexuality was coming. But eight months later, that hope, for now at least, is gone. And after the end of August, Meyer will be gone as well.
To avoid a church trial, Meyer and Methodist officials agreed that she would give up her duties and go on involuntary leave. Her final sermon in Edgerton in Johnson County will be Aug. 28. ... She said she was glad to avoid a trial, which could have resulted in her losing her credentials to ever pastor again.

Before we get to the sourcing issue, let's note a few questions raised in that passage.

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Do ordination vows matter? A crucial hole in RNS report on United Methodist dispute

Do ordination vows matter? A crucial hole in RNS report on United Methodist dispute

When United Methodist ministers are ordained, the rites follow a pattern established in this oldline Protestant denomination's Book of Discipline.

There is a reason for this, of course. If the church is going to be one body, one Communion, then it helps to establish that there are ties that bind its members together, especially at the level of pulpit and altar.

Here is one vow spoken by women and men as they are ordained to the ministry. It asks the new United Methodist clergyperson if she or he will accept the denomination's "order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God's Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?"

The candidate then replies: "I will, with the help of God."

The assumption, of course, is that ministers are telling the truth when they take this vow.

The problem is that the Book of Discipline -- the touch point for those doctrines and disciples -- also addresses now-controversial issues, such as marriage and sex. At one key point, it requires clergy to honor their vows that they will maintain "personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." The denomination has defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Let me stress, as always, that reporters covering stories focusing on controversies among United Methodist clergy, especially those identifying as LGBTQ, do not have to agree with these doctrines and the ordination vows that point back to them. However, it's hard to argue -- if a vow is a vow -- that the contents of the Book of Discipline are not relevant to United Methodist events and trends.

This brings us to a new Religion News Service report with this headline: "Methodist pastor in Kansas placed on leave after coming out as a lesbian." Here is the overture:

(RNS) The Rev. Cynthia Meyer has been placed on an involuntary leave of absence after coming out as a lesbian earlier this year to her rural Kansas congregation.

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For reporters’ datebook: A busy nine weeks on LGBT issues for U.S. Protestants

For reporters’ datebook: A busy nine weeks on LGBT issues for U.S. Protestants

With Easter celebrations behind them, four U.S. Protestant denominations are about to plunge into a 9-week swirl of big decision-making on their unceasing and anguishing gay dispute. The actions will come less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage.

In the Reformed Church in America, 21 days of continent-wide fasting and prayers for wisdom will culminate in an April 15-18 “Special Council on Human Sexuality” in Chicago. The 74 delegates are assigned to devise “a constitutional pathway forward” that can manage the deep division over sexuality, for proposal to the General Synod June 9-14 in Palos Heights, Illinois. Though relatively small, the RCA is one of the oldest U.S. denominations, dating to 1628 in New Amsterdam (today’s New York City). 

Next up is the May 10-20 General Conference of the large United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon. The UMC has debated the question without letup since 1972, always upholding the belief that “the practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” while liberals regularly defy the required discipline of clergy living in homosexual relationships or who conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples.

An unusual aspect of the situation is that though the U.S. flock has declined dramatically to 7.2 million, the UMC includes overseas churches, mostly in Africa and mostly conservative, that now boast 5.2 million members. Legislation on the table includes a bid from the “Connectional Table,” an official coordination body, to replace the strict UMC-wide policy with local option.

The split is demonstrated by two pending cases.

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