Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Media Bias in LGBT Reporting

This last week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made headlines. According to the ELCA news service:
The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
You got that? Living in committed relationships. To further clarify:
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
Here is the text of the assembly action (pdf):
RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America make provision in its policies to eliminate the prohibition of rostered service by members who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships; CA.09.05.27
"Publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The assembly action (merely 848 words) uses that phrase, by my count,
twelve times. The phrase is laborious but very clear. This action was NOT about approving carte blanche sexual promiscuity. How many straight clergy can meet the standard of "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, opposite-gender relationships?"

The Johnson City Press chose to publish the news of this action in this way:

The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination took openly gay clergy more fully into its fold Friday, as leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to lift a ban that prohibited sexually active gay and lesbian people from serving as ministers.
Sexually active? As if they are a bunch of horny teens making out in the back of the church van.

Over half the article reported on conservatives' objections. Four individuals and one organization were quoted in opposition to the action. One person was quoted in favor.

The Press accompanied the article with this photo of a dour-looking bunch.

The caption reports on opponents making a last stand against "sexually active gays and lesbians." Although here they at least used the phrase, "in committed relationships."

Not once in the article did they report the phrase that the resolution used a dozen times:

"publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

My friend, Drew, was one of the first to notice this bias.

Sex was not affirmed, but a very specific kind of relationship that clearly does not add provision for "sexually active gays" in the way that the AP wire has falsely reported it. That NPR, New York Times and others would choose to publish this wire shows how long we have to go before we understand that this is about the legitimacy of a kind of relationship, and not about sexual practices.
William Lindsey at Bilgrimage also reports on this media bias:
Such indefensible attempts of reporters supposedly pledged to objectivity to skew intra-ecclesial and society-wide conversations about justice for gay persons need to stop. And those of us who are gay, along with our supporters, need to stop putting up with this, and to demand accountability on the part of those who pay reporters’ salaries.
Right on.