In our denomination, we have an ultra-conservative (and ultra-powerful, in many ways) independent newspaper called The Presbyterian Layman. They consider themselves the watchdogs of our church, protecting us from all sorts of heresy and foul behavior. And, maybe I’m just getting this from the name, but it seems as if they’re shielding the church from…err…our own ministers.
I don’t read it. I have a lot of friends who do, but I had to put it down, because it made me feel all irritated. It gave me the same overwhelming frustration I got when I was in second grade and I wanted to punch my older brother (he was in eleventh).
So now I just read it when my friends make the cover. I call them, tell them I’m sorry, and we laugh about all of the mistakes and misinformation that the reporters passed on. If I can mix up some more family metaphors, the newspaper’s like that weird, embarrassing uncle that everyone tries to avoid at the reunion, but then he gets so loud that he’s hard to ignore.
Likewise, the rant rag has gotten more annoying. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in denomination for more years, and so I’m more invested in it. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched my conservative friends get run through the gristmill along with the liberals, and I just don’t think it’s fair. And, of course, there are the wonderful people who are just doing their jobs….
A couple years ago, my dear friend Beth Sentell was engineering a merger between two small churches. To do something like that successfully is no small feat. Often one congregation is simply engulfed by another, but she and a neighboring pastor managed to do the delicate work of uniting two congregations without losing anyone along the way.
And then, of course, there was the issue of property. They didn’t need two buildings any longer, so they put the church up for sale. After months, they got an offer–a really good offer–from an Islamic Community Center. They sold the property, and figured that the matter was settled.
It was, until the Layman decided that the good laws that govern that govern our good nation (namely that you can’t discriminate against people on real estate deals on the basis of religion) weren’t good enough.
They wrote a story, misconstruing the facts. Among other things, they wrote that the congregation had turned down solid offers from other churches in order to sell it to the Muslims. Soon after the story ran, an anti-Islamic blog reprinted it. And so now, when someone does a google search on Beth’s name, all of this stuff comes up….
I’m all for free speech, but shouldn’t free speech be tempered by some sort of responsibility? And, we’re all Christians, right? Shouldn’t that apply to us even more? How long do we put up with this? Is there anything that we can do to defend people whose reputations are ruined by nastiness? Do any other denominations have this sort of thing? What do you do?
I don’t know the people who run the newspaper. Parker Williamson looks like he’s close to retiring. I hope that his way of thinking retires when he does.
The photo’s of my brother, Mark Howard (whom I haven’t wanted to punch in 25 years), shredding up the waves in Hawaii.