This is not a post on theology, or even religion, per se. I don't intend to opine on those things on this blog. Specifically, I express no public opinion whatsoever about the doctrinal and ecclesiological matters tied up in the story.
Instead, this is a post about journalism.
It so happens—and I am not the first to notice this—that the press is often quite bad at reporting on religious matters. An example caught my eye this morning.
Yesterday, the Clarion-Ledger, a Gannett-owned statewide Mississippi newspaper, published an article by Ross Reily, “Methodist schism hits boiling point this week in Mississippi.” Here's the gist of the article:
Around 22 percent of all Mississippi's United Methodist Churches are likely to be allowed to leave the fold this week.
That process will take place Wednesday morning as part of the 2023 Session of the Mississippi Annual Conference…. There are 189 churches that will be submitted for ratification to disaffiliate in June 2023. All others that had an exploration meeting have chosen not to disaffiliate in June….
The issues for the United Methodist Church, in general, center around, but are not limited to, a difference in opinion about whether someone who identifies as LGBTQ should be ordained in churches.
It then notes that this is not the first time Mississippi churches have voted to disaffiliate from the UMC (55 others having left since 2019), briefly summarizes the disaffiliation process, and mentions two churches in which the vote was particularly close. It then goes on to list, with vote totals and percentages, which Mississippi churches have chosen to disaffiliate.
All fine, so far as it goes. But there are some glaring omissions, questions which immediately spring to mind on reading through it.
First, put simply, what happens next? It's implied that ratification of these churches’ disaffiliation votes is “likely.” But what are these churches’ options if they are not ratified? (Nobody knows, apparently.) And if the votes are ratified as expected, what will these churches then do? Will some or all of them affiliate with the Global Methodist Church? The GMC, after all, was set up specifically because of these internal Methodist disagreements as a home for those no longer happy with the UMC. Yet it receives no mention in this story. Or will these churches go their own way?
Second, the vote totals listed show some eyebrow-raisingly miniscule numbers at some churches: Cambridge United Methodist Church in Abbeville has its vote listed as 5–0 in favor of disaffiliation, for instance. Is the church really that small? It appears so, based on its listing on UMC.org, which lists its attendance as “6,” but it’s at the least an interesting fact that—at a glance—most of the disaffiliating churches are quite small, while those remaining include larger congregations (Galloway and Christ United in Jackson, First United in Clinton, etc). There might or might not be a story there, but surely it merits a mention?
Third, the article notes that Reily rightly sought a comment from the Methodist bishop of Mississippi (who, understandably, declined to provide one until at least after the ratification vote) as well as “several other United Methodist ministers.” It’s…unclear whether this latter specifically included ministers from those choosing disaffiliation—and if it did, why not say so? It’s also notable that, apparently, none of the laity, on either side—despite their votes being the driving force of the issue and the reason there’s an article at all—were asked for comment.
Last, and most minor, of the two photographs included with the article, one—and the one which is featured as the preview when the article is shared on social media—is of Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson, which, as mentioned above, voted not to disaffiliate. It’s a detail, I suppose, but it reinforces the sloppiness of the whole thing.
Do better, Clarion-Ledger.
 Not the point of this article, so I’m relegating this to a footnote, but I was quite surprised to see an entry on its listing for “Ethnicity: Caucasian/White.” This appears to simply be a standard field for the UMC’s church listings; Adkins Chapel United Methodist Church in Blue Mountain, MS, for another example, has one that says “Ethnicity: African American/Black.” That…is really odd in 2023 for most any organization, and for a Christian church certainly raises questions in light of Galatians 3:28 and the history of American Christianity in the last couple centuries.
#journalism #Christianity #Methodism