Religion & Homosexuality

Avoid Mistakes by Doing Your Homework
By Randy Dotinga

If you're exploring the intersection of religion and homosexuality, you might wish you could buy a flak jacket before hitting the keyboard or picking up a microphone. But you can arm yourself against criticism by being fair and balanced.

Don't make assumptions about a religion, denomination or book of faith. Someone is bound to disagree with statements you may write or broadcast.

Some reporters, for example, have written that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But a variety of experts disagree that the Bible makes such statements when taken in context. Others note that many biblical laws are ignored in modern life.

Present the various points of view and let readers, listeners or viewers decide who's right. Even if you're a member of the faith you're writing about, you may not know about alternative views. Use the many available resources — the Internet, the library, academicians, religious groups for gays and lesbians, faith leaders — to get a more complete story.

Be aware of the presence of gays and lesbians in local churches and synagogues. "More are going back to churches — that has been my observation in the last decade or so," says Chuck Colbert, a freelance journalist who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal independent weekly newspaper. "In some cases, they're finding that congregations are supportive and not hostile. They're finding homes."

Colbert says journalists should search for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations in major (and even minor) denominations. "They should know there's an Integrity group for the Episcopalians and Dignity and New Ways Ministries for Catholics," he says.

Journalists covering clergy sex-abuse scandals should exercise caution. Some religious leaders might tell you that gay men are more likely than straight men to abuse children, but that contention doesn't belong in a news story unless you can provide research to support it.

If you write about sexual abuse involving homosexuality, consider exploring the larger picture. How does the church treat gays and lesbians in the pews and in the leadership? And what about gay and lesbian victims of abuse? "There's a reluctance to talk about that," Colbert says.

Explore what churches say about homosexuality. Is it a sin to be gay or lesbian? Does the church expect a gay man or a lesbian to be celibate?

We also urge our colleagues to consider how issues relate to one another. If a church is fighting gay rights, is it also taking equal aim at other societal problems such as divorce or premarital sex? If not, why not? Explore the motivations behind the targeting of particular groups.

Sloppiness, laziness or ignorance may swing your coverage of religion stories involving LGBT people in one direction or another. By being careful, you may avoid angry calls and letters from both sides.