The Episcopal Church, Equal Marriage, and Religious (il)Literacy

Today the Episcopal Church voted to approve a liturgy which blesses same-sex unions. It’s a great step forward for equality, and a time for thanksgiving. It’s also another opportunity to watch the way that stories about mainline churches are often mis-reported by the media.

The headlines today say the Episcopal Church is the first maichurch denomination to approve same-sex marriage. That’s wrong on two counts. First, the Episcopal Church is explicitly avoiding the use of “marriage” in describing these same-sex rites. Second, the United Church of Christ, a denomination roughly the same size and with as deep a heritage as the Episcopal Church, affirmed marriage equality in 2005 and calls all unions (gay and straight) “marriages”.

This is just the latest example of reporters,including religion reporters, getting it wrong. Last year, for example, the ordination of the “first out LGBT Presbyterian minister” was heralded in religion sections everywhere. For the sizeable number of PCUSA clergy who had been ordained when they were also out, this was surprising news.

So why do journalists who often pride themselves on accuracy so often get it wrong?

I think it points to a greater issue: the lack of mainline voices in the public arena. Members of the religious right have co-opted the public square and professed to speak for all Christians. Whether it’s birth control, LGBT rights, or the role of women, they’ve somehow convinced the news industry, and those who rely on it, that they are the voice of Christians everywhere. In doing so, we in the mainline have become less relevant, less well-known, and less distinguishable.

So, mainliners, how do we change that?

One comment

  1. I think the primary issue is not that the “wrong” Christians are being represented in media, but that very few are period.

    Barbara Walters recently had a two hour special on heaven. Who did she interview? Primarily celebrities.

    There was a time when intelligent, faithful Christians were often in the news or part of it, but today Christians of all stripes seem to be seen as a curiosity in media reports highlighting Mr. Terry (Koran burning pastor), but not pastors of much larger congregations doing the opposite like Bob Roberts, Jr. who has done outstanding outreach to Muslims. http://www.glocal.net/

    I’m afraid I don’t see any change happening to that anytime soon. The days of media helping the Christian church appear to be over.

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