Is it good for religion-beat journalists to ask questions that they already know specific religious leaders will not want to answer?
I would say, “Yes.” I’ve been saying that my entire journalism career.
I believe that it is appropriate to ask conservative religious leaders questions that they don’t want to answer. I also think it’s appropriate to ask liberal religious leaders questions that they don’t want to answer.
Oh, and I think it’s especially important for journalists to ask “establishment” religious leaders questions that they don’t want to answer. In my experience, the “establishment” folks are usually ecclesiastical bureaucrats who have financial reasons to avoid hard questions, because they need to keep cashing checks from people on both sides of lingering doctrinal disputes. Thus, they say, “Peace, peace!”
This brings me to a San Diego Union-Tribune article with this headline: “San Diego Nazarene pastor fired for same-sex marriage stance.” GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this is a totally one-sided story, containing zero heretical small-o orthodox voices that are allowed to defend the denomination’s affirmation of two millennia of Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality.
Did the newspaper even bother to contact the heretics? I don’t know.
Did the newspaper contact mainstream Nazarene leaders? Did they decline to answer questions that they don’t want to answer, (a) because they don’t trust the newspaper or (b) they really want this issue to go away, as if there was a chance in hades that this could happen in the California media climate?
We will come back to this news story, even though there is nothing unusual about it. Like I said, there is no evidence that small-o orthodox Nazarene leaders were asked hard questions (Will you ask Nazarene college faculty members to vote on whether they support church teachings?), if they were contacted at all. And there is no evidence that progressive Nazarene leaders were asked hard questions (Who owns your campus?), since the goal of the story appears to have been to back their cause.
Before we return to the Union-Tribune press release, let’s remember some words of wisdom from the Baptist left, care of Mercer University ethicist David Gushee, who was once a small-o orthodox voice who then converted to mainline American doctrine:
“It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it,” wrote Gushee. …
“Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”
Yes, the doctrinal police will do what they do.
On the left, there is a useful website — ChurchClarity.org — that probes the contents of congregational websites in order to provide information, backed with URLs and/or documents — about the doctrinal convictions of their leaders.
If a conservative group did this, it would probably be called a hate site. But this is a liberal website, so what it is doing is acceptable. Frankly, as an old-school journalist, what I care about is that websites provide links to on-the-record, quotable sources and documents.
I would also like to remind readers of the “tmatt trio” questions that I have been asking since the 1980s when covering divides in Christian organizations, questions that I discussed through the years with the late George Gallup, Jr., and other polling professionals. In this case, note the third question:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?
Actually, I would be interested in hearing Nazarene responses, these days, on all three.
Now, back to the Union-Tribune overture:
A popular pastor who led San Diego First Church of the Nazarene for 17 years has lost his job after penning an essay that disagrees with religious doctrine forbidding same-sex marriage.
Written by former Senior Pastor Selden “Dee” Kelley III, the treatise is titled “A Hope for Change” and appears among 90 submissions that compose “Why the Church of the Nazarene Should Be Fully LGBTQ+ Affirming,” a recently published book by theological scholar and dissenter Thomas Jay Oord.
Kelley confirmed by email … that denominational Nazarene leadership informed him on Aug. 14 that a “denominational judiciary process” found that he was “in violation of denominational clergy standards” because of his essay. The pastor declined to say more about the matter as he has appealed the church’s decision.
Kelley also confirmed that Thomas Taylor, superintendent of the Southern California District of the Church of the Nazarene, asked for his resignation and, when it was not forthcoming, started the hearing process, which occurred after a complaint was filed by a group of church elders outside the First Church congregation.
Are Nazarene churches divided on marriage and sex? Clearly they are.
The pastor in question is quoted, of course:
The pastor expresses his discomfort in ministering to same-sex couples seeking the same grace received by those in more traditional man-woman relationships.
“I am unable to justify telling a couple, who are in love with Christ and each other, seeking godly counsel, and participating in the life of the church, that I must refuse them blessing and participation in the sacrament of marriage,” Kelley writes.
Withholding his pastoral blessing, he adds, is impossible.
“Though I am currently prohibited from joining two people in same-sex matrimony, I can’t imagine withholding blessing, encouragement, counsel or love,” Kelley writes.
The essay did not appear to create a schism at First Church, with a photograph circulating of a large group of parishioners accompanying and praying with Kelley just before his hearing.
“Did not appear” to create a schism? That’s probably true, but journalists will want to interview members of the congregation on both sides of that question. Correct? Maybe?
Meanwhile, is the local Point Loma Nazarene University divided? Clearly it is, although journalists should ask if the faculty has produced any candid, signed documents.
Locally, Point Loma Nazarene University, which is a separate institution than First Church, found itself under fire for the dismissal of Mark Maddix, dean of the private college’s school of theology. An association of LBGTQ+ alumni recently released a statement condemning the firing which the organization deems an effort to punish an adjunct professor “for her support of LGBTQ+ rights.”
In a document posted to its website entitled “Diversity and LGBTQ Issues at PLNU” the university notes that its theological tradition “has long-held beliefs about marriage and expectations for sexual behavior.
“As an institution, we are trying to carefully and thoughtfully navigate the tensions between these two strongly-held beliefs in order to authentically and respectfully care for all people.”
Were administrators and small-o orthodox campus leaders offered a chance to speak on the record to defend their now-controversial beliefs? If they were asked, and they declined to answer, then the newspaper should state that — clearly.
And that’s that. The story is predictable in its sourcing, with zero evidence that reporters asked any hard questions to people on either side.
However, leaders on both sides should remember Gushee’s words: “Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”
I agree, and I will say this again: Sooner or later, journalists (maybe), or activists (left or right), or people in the pews, or parents, or donors, or trustees, are going to ask, “Is sex outside of marriage a sin?”
FIRST IMAGE: Graphic featured with a YouTube posting — “Christian Colleges Face Lawsuit For Being Too Christian” — by the conservative Freedom Project.