Union Gospel Mission

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

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.

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Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Union Gospel Mission is probably Seattle’s most venerable charity. Starting with the Great Depression, it has an 85-year history with the Emerald City especially in terms of its help with the homeless and the addicted.

Also known as UGM, the mission has done the dirty week of patrolling the streets, helping clear homeless encampments and serving a city where homelessness grew by 7.3 percent last year. Seattle is third in the nation (behind New York and Los Angeles) in numbers of homeless even though it’s the 20th largest city in the country.

But no one seemed to figure out until recently that the “Gospel” in Union Gospel Mission meant the organization may have religious and moral standards for its employees. That is, until a gay lawyer tried to get a job there.

I’ll start with the Seattle Times account of what happened next, partly because it’s fairly long and it’s written by Christine Willmsen, who was one of the young reporters I oversaw as city editor of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M. more than 20 years ago.

A bisexual Christian man is suing Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after it refused to hire him because of his sexual orientation.
Union Gospel Mission, which has provided addiction recovery, one-on-one counseling, emergency shelter and legal support services for homeless people in King County since 1932, says employees must live by a “Biblical moral code.”
When a staff attorney position opened in October 2016 for the nonprofit, religion-based organization, mission volunteer Matthew Woods was encouraged to apply, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court.
But as he started the application process, he disclosed he was in a same-sex relationship. David Mace, Union Gospel Mission’s managing attorney, told Woods, “sorry you won’t be able to apply,” because the Employee Code of Conduct prohibits homosexuality, the lawsuit says.

But Woods didn’t give up, deciding that a state law prohibiting job discrimination because of sexual orientation was more than enough ground to base a lawsuit on. Seattlepi.com explained how Union Gospel’s requirements for the job automatically excluded him.

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