ordination

Surprise! It's time for another one-sided look at the birth of a new church -- the Women Priests

Surprise! It's time for another one-sided look at the birth of a new church -- the Women Priests

It’s time for another GetReligion post about mainstream press coverage of the Women Priests (or “WomenPriests”) movement. So, all together now, let’s click off the key points that must be made.

(1) As Mollie “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway used to say, just because someone says that he or she plays shortstop for the New York Yankees does not mean that this person plays shortstop for the world’s most famous baseball team. Only the leaders of the Yankees get to make that call.

(2) The doctrine of “apostolic succession” involves more than one bishop laying hands on someone. Ordination in ancient Christian churches requires “right doctrine” as well as “right orders.” Also, it helps to know the name of the bishop or bishops performing the alleged ordination. Be on the alert for “Old Catholic” bishops, some of whom were ordained via mail order.

(3) Consecrating a Catholic bishop requires the participation of three Catholic bishops, and the “right orders” and “right doctrine” question is relevant, once again. A pastor ordained by an alleged bishop is an alleged priest.

(4) It may be accurate to compare the apostolic succession claims of Anglicans and Lutherans to those made by Women Priest leaders (although the historic Anglican and Lutheran claims are stronger). This is evidence of a larger truth — that the Women Priests movement is a new form of liberal Protestantism.

(5) It is not enough for journalists to offer an obligatory “Catholic press officials declined to comment” paragraph on this issue. Legions of scholars, lay activists and articulate priests are available to be interviewed.

(6) Sacramental Catholic rites — valid ones, at least — are rarely held in Unitarian Universalist sanctuaries.

Once again, let me make a key point: Would your GetReligionistas praise a mainstream news story on this movement that offered a fair-minded, accurate, 50-50 debate between articulate, informed voices on both sides? You bet. Once again: If readers find a story of this kind, please send us the URL.

That brings us to yet another PR report on the Women Priests, this time care of The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Gannett wire service. The headline: “Condemned by the Vatican, women priests demand place at Catholic altar.”

Kudos for the “Condemned by the Vatican” angle in the headline, which — sort of — addresses the New York Yankees shortstop issue. Another careful wording shows up in this summary passage at the top of the long, long, very long story, which opens with — you guessed it — a rite in a Unitarian church office:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Play the religion-beat game: Trying to parse United Methodist Church's options for future

Play the religion-beat game: Trying to parse United Methodist Church's options for future

During my decades on the religion beat, it's safe to say that I have met very few preachers -- people whose work requires solid pulpit skills -- who were lousy when it came time to crafting one-liners and soundbites.

If you want good quotes, preachers are safe bets.

However, the leaders of major religious organizations -- like denominations -- are another matter. They tend to be hyper-cautious leaders of complex coalitions and they often hide their views in clouds of theological fog.

I remember a U.S. Catholic Bishops meeting long ago in which the men in black were debating the moral status of nuclear weapons and the strategic concept of deterrence. At one point, they released a draft document that was so unquotable that it could have been written in Latin. In a press conference, I asked a panel of bishops if their goal was to "launch a preemptive strike on American headline writers" -- preventing coverage.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin offered this oh-so-quotable response: "Yes."

This brings me (a) to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), (b) my column this week for the Universal syndicate and (c) the latest strategic moves in the long, long, long war inside the United Methodist Church about biblical authority, marriage and sex.

The global UMC is less than a year away from a special General Conference that is supposed to make history. The goal is to approve a plan for church life in the post-Sexual Revolution world. Think of it this way: In terms of property laws, church agencies and pensions, they are trying to keep the "united" in United Methodism. Doctrine? Keep reading.

The bishops recently produced a press release that described two models that are under consideration. Pretend that you are a religion-beat professional who needs to parse this, as part of a religion-news game:

ONE CHURCH MODEL
The One Church Model gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Was this big news or not? U.S. Catholics share a symbolic hug with the Lutheran left

Was this big news or not? U.S. Catholics share a symbolic hug with the Lutheran left

Long, long, ago -- back in the 1980s -- an evangelical Presbyterian pastor in the Denver area asked me an interesting question. It went something like this: If the old mainline Protestant churches are shrinking and losing power, why do they keep getting so much news coverage in the mainstream press?

I think he was talking about the Episcopal Church, but the conversation ended up being about all of the famed "Seven Sisters" of the oldline Protestant world. And who are the "Seven Sisters"? Historians and sociologists have grouped these flocks under that label -- the United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Episcopal Church; United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA); American Baptist Church; and the Disciples of Christ.

There are lots of reasons that these churches receive so much attention in the news, starting with the fact that for decades their leaders have spent large amounts of time debating issues that journalists think are important, such as sex, war, economic justice, race, gender and the environment. While doing so, they have consistently steered to the cultural, political and doctrinal left. For journalists, that's the very definition of news.

In my experience, most -- not all -- of the religious believers found in American newsrooms are liberal Protestants or progressive Catholics. Long ago, I put it this way:

Walk into a meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association and say, "The Lord be with you,'' and a large number of the reporters in the room will say, "And also with you.'' A few will say, "And with thy spirit.''

The "Seven Sisters" still make news, but their impact seems to be fading. If you want to see an example of this, consider the short, short, short recent Religion News Service piece with this headline: "US Lutherans approve document recognizing agreement with Catholic Church."

Then there is this rather earth-shaking lede:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Warning! Journalism maze ahead! When ministers are ministers but maybe not ...

Warning! Journalism maze ahead! When ministers are ministers but maybe not ...

First, my apologies for the fact that this week's "Crossroads" feature post is a day or two late. The world just keeps spinning out of control and it's hard to catch one's breath.

Second, I should warn readers that this week's podcast -- click here to tune that in -- deals with a topic so confusing that, several times, host Todd Wilken and I got a bit confused ourselves. In the end, we confessed that we totally understand that some journalists struggle in this complicated corner of the religion-news world (and thus make mistakes, such as this and even -- oh my -- this).

The topic? The language that various religious groups use to describe their leaders who are ordained, or in other cases not ordained. As I wrote several days ago:

When it comes to history, some religious movements insist that they don't have ordained clergy -- yet clearly they have leaders who play some of the roles that ordained clergy play in other flocks. Remember all the controversies a few years ago about GOP White House candidate Mitt Romney and his time as a "bishop" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Suffice it to say that a Mormon bishop is not the same as a Pentecostal bishop, or a United Methodist bishop, or a Lutheran bishop, or an Anglican bishop, or an Eastern Orthodox bishop. Reporters need to understand these kinds of facts, when dealing with stories that involve clergy or other "ministers" in various religious traditions.

In addition to offering reporters and editors many, many chances to make factual errors, these ordained-on-not issues can affect a wide range of legal and even financial issues linked to religious life and practice.

Everyone knows that, when a Catholic priest hears confessions, this communication is -- stated in legal language -- "privileged" and protected communication. With America's heritage of church-state separation, the state has no write to ask this priest to violate his vows (a point of law that is, some are convinced, getting blurred as of late).

But how about a Catholic deacon who has a private conversation with a church member in which she or he divulges loaded information?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Correction please: Concerning that Catholic 'ordained minister' arrested for child porn

Correction please: Concerning that Catholic 'ordained minister' arrested for child porn

For me, one of the most fascinating (and complex) parts of working on the religion-news beat has been learning the many theological, technical and even legal differences that exist between the roles played by "clergy" in different religious movements.

Let me stress that I put the word "clergy" inside quotation marks for a non-scare-quote reason.

When it comes to history, some religious movements insist that they don't have ordained clergy -- yet clearly they have leaders who play some of the roles that ordained clergy play in other flocks. Remember all the controversies a few years ago about GOP White House candidate Mitt Romney and his time as a "bishop" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Suffice it to say that a Mormon bishop is not the same as a Pentecostal bishop, or a United Methodist bishop, or a Lutheran bishop, or an Anglican bishop, or an Eastern Orthodox bishop. Reporters need to understand these kinds of facts, when dealing with stories that involve clergy or other "ministers" in various religious traditions.

This brings me to a bizarre religious language issue in a story that ran the other day in The Huntsville Times in Alabama. It focuses on the arrest of a man named John Lindbergh Ellar Martin, who has been accused of possession and dissemination of child pornography. The headline: "North Alabama Catholic church staffer arrested on child porn charges."

Note the word "staffer." What, precisely, does that mean? Read carefully.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

In 2001, I became an ordained minister. Sort of.

I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman at the time and wrote a column about my experience:

It says so right there on the certificate with the official gold seal: "Reverend Bobby Ross."
My license from the Universal Life Church in Billings, Mont., came with a note that said, "Thank you for your purchase and God bless."
The best part: This high honor cost me only $29.95.
That's about the same amount Judas Iscariot accepted to betray Jesus Christ, as my friend Glover Shipp pointed out.
Perhaps, though, Shipp is looking at this the wrong way. He's assuming that anyone who offers to make you a "LEGALLY ORDAINED MINISTER in 48 hours!!!!" is a scam artist.
On the other hand, think of all the good I can do now.

Among the good that my ordination allowed me to do: perform weddings. (Sadly, no one ever asked me to provide that service.)

My column noted:

In Texas, your pet hamster can perform a wedding. But before you help someone say "I do" in Oklahoma, you must file credentials with the county clerk.

That piece was written 14 years ago, and I have no idea whether Texas law remains the same. So if you decide to exchange vows in the Lone Star State, you might check with proper government authorities before getting your hamster involved.

I thought about my quickie ordination this week as I read a Reuters editorial — er, news story — on an Oklahoma bill to eliminate government-issued marriage licenses.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Womenpriests: Press coverage in a familiar, strange mold

To be honest with you, I feel like taking a short break from the Vatican beat — sort of. I predict news from Rome sooner rather than later. You think?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Lo! A better-than-average Womenpriests story

Your GetReligionistas, as the divine Mrs. MZ once stressed, are way, way, way past the point where we joyfully go out of our way to write about the journalism issues linked to the mainstream media coverage that is, from time to time, poured out on behalf of the Womenpriests movement.

Please respect our Commenting Policy