Below are suggestions for journalists and media outlets on covering LGBTQ Issues and Religion:
Balancing the debate
- When interviewing a religious leader who is against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, CLGS recommends also interviewing a religious leader in favor of LGBT equality. Frequently, in reports or debates on LGBT issues, the views of conservative religious leaders (e.g. Pat Robertson or James Dobson) are “balanced” by the views of secular leaders (e.g. the executive director of Human Rights Campaign.) This means the leaders are speaking from completely different perspectives and will likely talk past each other rather than engaging one another’s concerns. This also contributes to the common social and media perception that the issue of LGBT rights is a secular versus religious issue.
- The issue of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples is also not a secular versus religious issue. A number of denominations currently bless same-sex relationships, including Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the Metropolitan Community Churches. Some congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), some Episcopal churches, and some Baptist churches also bless these unions. Although these organizations recognize the significant difference between the civil right of legal marriage and the spiritual rite of religious marriage, they are compelled by their religious values to support full legal equality in marriage for same-sex couples.
Avoiding biased terminology
- Be aware that terms like “family values,” “pro-family,” or “traditional values” are terms that anti-LGBT organizations have politicized to suggest that those who do not agree with their views are “anti-family” or “anti-values.” Most LGBT people are strong proponents of family, values, faith, spirituality, and in many cases, even tradition.
- When covering denominational meetings and conventions in which LGBT issues are discussed (e.g. ordination of LGBT people or blessings of same-sex marriage) it has been the experience of CLGS that terms of conflict, like “denominational battle,” “bitterly divided,” “religious skirmish,” or “schism” are inadequate to describe the tenor and complexity of the discussions that take place. Journalists should also be aware that it is the policy and practice of anti-LGBT organizations in the Protestant denominations to play up the conflict over this issue, suggesting that LGBT people are a radicalized threat to the peace and unity of their denominations.
- Several of these denominations have been working to modify the tone of debate as they discern the role of LGBT people in their churches. Although some congregations have broken away from their denominations over the issue, the vast majority have stayed, and are working with their churches to create understanding between differing camps and to find ways forward as unified communities. CLGS suggests words like “discernment,” “struggle,” “discussion,” or even “passionate debate” rather than the “division language” favored by anti-LGBT factions.
- As an example, this article by the Bishop of Durham “explains” the recent vote of the Episcopal Church in America to end its moratorium on ordaining openly gay bishops as a “vote for schism.” It is a difficult line for journalists to walk, considering the emotions aroused by this issue, but to portray the discernment of LGBT issues in the churches as an intractable and divisive issue is to use the language and rhetoric of the anti-LGBT side of the debate.
Dealing with Scripture
- CLGS suggests avoiding making assumptions about what the Bible says or doesn’t say about sexual ethics, including homosexuality: e.g. “Reverend Smith believes she can be a lesbian and a Christian despite the Bible’s prohibition of homosexuality.” Biblical scholars are not in agreement about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality or whether it has any coherent and consistent sexual ethic at all. Your best bet is to ask the individual what he or she believes the bible has to say on sexual issues, and how the individual relates to that belief in his or her own faith life.
The history of movements for LGBT equality in religious communities
- There have been religious movements for LGBT equality since the before the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. The Council on Religion and the Homosexual was founded in 1964 in San Francisco as a coalition between secular activists and clergy to begin to combat homophobia in religious communities and society. Rev. Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination that ministers primarily to the LGBT community, in 1968. Both of these events predate the “official” beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement at the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969.
- Other denominational LGBT organizations, such as More Light Presbyterians, Integrity (Episcopalian), Dignity (Catholic) and synagogues like Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, were founded in the 70’s and have grown up alongside secular LGBT rights organizations. Organizations, churches, synagogues, and temples advocating for and ministering to the needs of LGBT people have grown out of almost all religious traditions, including: Islam, Buddhism, Pentecostalism, Christian Evangelicalism, Baptist, Mennonite, Mormon, and Jehovah’s Witness. To read more about the history of religious LGBT organizations, see the CLGS Religious Archives Network. To read about the positions of various faith traditions on LGBT people, as well as to find out more about resources and organizations for LGBT members of these traditions, see the Human Rights Campaign Web site.
Remember, LGBT issues are human issues
- Churches, news organizations, schools, and governments have treated disputes over the rights of LGBT people as an “issue” or a “conflict.” LGBT people do not have the luxury of seeing this as an interesting political debate. For LGBT people, full inclusion in church, society, and government is about their personal dignity and that of their partners, spouses, children, and families.