Wilshire Baptist Church

News reports aside, battle for hearts, souls and LGBT stances of Texas Baptists is complicated

News reports aside, battle for hearts, souls and LGBT stances of Texas Baptists is complicated

For decades, a battle has waged for the hearts — and souls — of Texas Baptists. I covered this battle during my time as a Dallas-based religion writer for The Associated Press.

More than a decade after I left AP, a new skirmish has erupted in the Lone Star State over some Baptist churches embracing same-sex marriage. I mentioned this clash briefly last week in a post that highlighted the Dallas Morning News' tone-deafness on Baptists who describe themselves as "welcoming but not affirming" of LGBT behavior.

The Washington Post — a national newspaper that, to its credit, devotes multiple full-time journalists to religion news — jumped on the Texas Baptists story with a report published both online and in print.

By referring to the Dallas church "getting kicked out of the Texas Baptists," of course, the headline gives a pretty clear idea of the direction the Post story will take: Rather than a Dallas church voting to "sever ties" with Texas Baptists by defying their theology, this is a case of a heroic, victimized church doing what it considers right and suffering unfortunate consequences for it.

Certainly, that's one side of the story. But shouldn't a fair, impartial news report play it more down the middle?

The Post's lede is equally slanted toward the pro-LGBT side:

A young man came to the Rev. George Mason, wanting to talk about his parents’ wedding.
The youth, of course, hadn’t been at the wedding. But Mason had, and he remembered it well. Some 800 or 900 people. Pillars of the community. One of the largest weddings in the history of Wilshire Baptist Church.
“You performed the wedding of my parents in this church,” the young man said to Mason. “If I fall in love and want to get married, my question is, will my church community support me?”
The youth would want to marry a man. And in that moment, as in other moments in recent years, Mason realized something that would have shocked him when he started out as a pastor 37 years ago: He would want to officiate at that gay wedding.
Now, after putting the issue to a contentious popular vote that has torn his congregation, Mason, 60, can do just that. Wilshire Baptist Church voted 577 to 367 to welcome LGBT people as full participants in every aspect of the church — as members, as lay leaders, as potential clergy, and yes, as brides and grooms.
As soon as the Dallas church completed its vote, the Baptist General Convention of Texas started proceedings to kick the church out of the denominational body. “All Texas Baptists are loving, respectful and welcoming to all people. But while we are welcoming, we are not affirming,” said a spokesman for the denominational association, which often goes by the name Texas Baptists. The spokesman talked with The Post on the condition that his name not be published.

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Hey Dallas Morning News: Bible contains two books of Timothy, and Peter didn't write them

Hey Dallas Morning News: Bible contains two books of Timothy, and Peter didn't write them

Imagine if a sportswriter covering the Dallas Cowboys (who are on quite a roll!) didn't know the difference between a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

Or if a journalist reporting on the Texas Rangers (my beloved Texas Rangers) failed to understand how a batter could swing and miss at strike three — and still reach first base safely.

Now contemplate this for a moment: What if —  a la Donald "Two Corinthians" Trump — a major newspaper's reporters and editors failed to realize that the apostle Paul wrote two letters, not one, to his "son in the faith" Timothy? Or even that Paul, not Peter, was the one who penned them?

Welcome to the Dallas Morning News of 2016 — a once-great newspaper with a once-unrivaled team of Godbeat pros.

These days, this — referring to Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas — is what passes for religion reporting in the Texas newspaper:

In another video he posted Wednesday morning, Jeffress pointed to the Book of Timothy, where Peter instructed Christians to pray for all leaders. He tweeted that he would have the same message if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency.

For everyone reading this in the Dallas Morning News newsroom (and that's no longer a large group of people, which is part of the problem), those New Testament epistles are known as 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. (Or for president-elects who might ever need to mention them out loud, think First Timothy and Second Timothy.

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Dallas Morning News revisits Ebola crisis and Baptist church's embrace of victim's fiancée

Dallas Morning News revisits Ebola crisis and Baptist church's embrace of victim's fiancée

I should love this story.

Really, I should. So why don't I?

That's what I'm trying to figure out as I consider my reaction to this 1,600-word Dallas Morning News takeout.

The lede sets the scene:

Recently, between Palm Sunday services, Pastor George Mason weaved confidently and quickly through the halls of Wilshire Baptist Church. He greeted everyone with his trademark smile, passing some with a handshake, others with a pat on the shoulder.
“Good morning!” “What’s your good news today?” “Hello!”
It was a busy time, but there was an extra layer of complication: One of his church’s members, Louise Troh, was preparing to release My Spirit Took You In, a memoir to be published Tuesday. The book details her relationship with fiancé Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from the Ebola virus in Dallas last fall.
Now, yet again, cameras were coming into his sanctuary. Reporters were coming with empty notebooks and lots of questions.
Troh had started to open up to interviews, but the majority of the press wrangling went to the pastor and Christine Wicker, a former religion reporter for The Dallas Morning News and co-author of Troh’s memoir.
Since the Ebola virus struck Dallas last September, Mason has balanced the roles of media liaison, pastor, advocate and more. He’s sat for interviews on CNN. He’s fought to find Troh and her family a place to live away from the cameras. He’s sheltered them, giving them time and space to grieve, away from the news media.
“This was a matter of ordinary care in the midst of extraordinary times,” Mason said. “The church has been willing to address significant matters culturally.”

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How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

"Daily Beast stupidity," said the email's subject line.

"I realize this headline might just be dramatic on purpose, but seriously: The church is not a business or something," the tipster wrote to GetReligion.

The headline in question (cue the dramatic music):

Can These Texas Churches Survive Ebola?

And the subhead:

The virus appears to be contained within a Dallas hospital for now, but concerns are spreading fast through local parishes, where congregants may have personal experience with Ebola’s deadly toll.

Clickbait, anyone?

Granted, we at GetReligion have acknowledged our struggle to determine the dividing line between The Daily Beast's progressive advocacy and its news coverage. In this case, the story — unlike the headline — is actually pretty informational and even-keeled.

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