The Raw Story reported two days ago that a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Indiana lost 80 percent of its members after its pastor fired a gay choir director because of his sexuality. Over the past two days, other online media have picked up the Raw Story’s account of a large-scale exodus in this conservative, rural church.
The problem: the story’s hook that an unbelievable EIGHTY PERCENT of members left in protest is, well, not believable.
Investigation by other news outlets suggests that reports of a mass exodus are exaggerated. Methodist spokesperson Dan Gangler told the Huffington Post that attendance at the church has not changed. Gangler further said the superintendent of the United Methodist Indiana Conference, who supervises the church’s pastor, is working “to bring reconciliation.”
The Raw Story’s “report” was picked up by other media outlets even though it featured no original reporting. It was a rewrite of a story in the Anderson, Indiana Herald Bulletin.
But what should have tipped people off that there was something amiss was the curious picture chosen by Raw Story to accompany the story. The clergy member in the photo is not the pastor from the Indiana methodist church. In fact, it’s not even a Methodist. The Jerusalem Cross on his robe and the photo caption: “priest wearing purple robe gives sermon”–Methodists don’t have “priests” and the Jerusalem cross is closely associated with Episcopal and Catholic clergy.
It turns out that the clergy member in the picture is a Catholic priest from Alberta, Canada. That may not have been apparent in the picture, but it would have been clear to Raw Story when it decided to use the stock photo.
Catholic, not Methodist. Alberta, not Indiana. Who cares about details when the image grabs attention?
We all should care. The incident raises important questions about gay rights, religious liberty, and even church governance. Cutting corners may make for a great headline, but we need to get our facts straight first if we’re going to make progress answering these questions.