Every now and then, I see an email or comment from a reader who says something like: “If you guys keep seeing big holes in stories, why don’t you do some work and try to fill them?”
Truth is, we are a commentary website, not a hard-news operation. Some holes can be filled with a few clicks of a computer mouse, and we have been known to do that. Others would require direct contacts with sources involved in the original story.
A trickier issue is when people involved in stories CONTACT US and offer their own takes on what was published. Also, your GetReligionistas never assume the reporter named in the byline was responsible for every detail or wording that appeared in the final story. Trust me, it really ticks off a reporter to be blamed for a flaw in a story — when it was the result of an editor’s work.
Now, all of that is a prelude to this unusual post, which is an update on this one: “Kansas City Star shows a curious lack of curiosity about pro-LGBTQ Christian school’s closing.” In this case, a religion-beat veteran decided to run the Star report as a wire feature, but was curious about some of the same issues that caught my attention.
Let’s start at the end of my post:
What is the painful reality that this story is striving to avoid? To answer that question, we would need to know something about the churches on both sides of this debate.
Here is my suggestion: Talk to the leaders of nearby African-American evangelical, Pentecostal and Baptist congregations, especially those linked to parents who were sending their children to this school.
To be blunt, there was a very obvious “reality” that the Star report — “KC Christian school lost donations after supporting LGBTQ rights. Now it’s closing” — avoided. What was it? Readers will need to see that information in context. So, yes, hold that thought.
The big question: Why did parents, donors and church leaders cut their support for this idealistic urban school? The Star said it was the candid change in the school’s doctrinal statement on LGBTQ issues — period. Quoting the school’s leader, the original report assured readers that “no other issues have led to the school’s situation.”
What happened? In my post I noted that:
“… (E)xecutive director and co-founder Kalie Callaway-George describes its decision to recognize the ‘hurt and pain our queer community members were experiencing.’ … The school, states Callaway-George, has been “bombarded by hate,” in response to its honest statement of its doctrinal commitments (read the specifics of that here).
Then there is this, from the original Star report:
In its nine years of existence, Urban Christian Academy steadily grew, adding a new grade each year in a neglected southeast Kansas City neighborhood.
The school has provided its students, kindergarten through eighth grade, with a tuition-free private education. And with its “inclusive theology,” it always supported LGBTQ students and staff. But it did so quietly, as issues like same-sex marriage and gay clergy divided Protestant denominations while hate crimes and violence against the LGBTQ community rose.
The school updated its mission statement and website, stating that it affirms LGBTQ rights, and informed the school community of the change in a newsletter.
In the following six months, Callaway-George said, the school lost 42% of its funding — donations from churches and congregation members that keep the school running and pay for students’ tuition. By the end of 2022, the school lost 80% of its funding. And now, officials say the school is forced to close this spring.
While editing this wire report for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (paywall protected), journalist Frank Lockwood was curious about this sudden drop in support from parents and donors.
Was something missing? He did some basic online research and sent a few emails — receiving responses that yielded on-the-record information that led to significant additions in the story.
For starters, the school was founded by two white educators with “evangelical backgrounds.” Also, the updated story noted:
Things changed … after leaders announced that the school would embrace the LGBTQ community. In addition, co-founder Kalie George revealed that she would be marrying another woman and that they would be having a baby together. She took Callaway-George as her surname. The couple has raised $2,315 for their “baby fund” over the last five months with help from the giftofparenthood.org website, it notes.
“We dream of a family where all humans are invited to be loved and celebrated exactly as they are,” the couple wrote in the “campaign story” posted online.
Also, the updated report added information to this passage:
The school has relied on Kansas City area churches and their members since its start. Two Southern Baptist congregations had been among the most supportive.
In 2014, for example, Wornall Road Baptist Church offered up space to house the school until it could secure its own building, according to a blog post from the school. After outgrowing the space in 2020, leaders bought and rehabilitated an old school with the help of a $160,000 pledge from Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, a post says.
Both congregations have ties to the Southern Baptist Convention, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
So what happened here?
The school was built on support from Black families and sympathetic donors in local churches, including strategic gifts from Southern Baptist congregations. While the change in the doctrinal statement was important, it was more than symbolic that the change was simultaneously reflected in the lives and beliefs of the school’s leaders — including a publicly announced same-sex marriage and plans for a pregnancy.
What would local evangelical parents and clergy — Black and white — think about that? As the original story noted:
The school has prioritized enrolling children who live in a high-poverty area of the city, most of them students of color from low-income families. But school leaders’ affirmation of the LGBTQ community quickly fractured the tight-knit community.
Callaway-George said she began receiving requests to refund donations immediately after putting the support in writing.
Yes, the doctrinal document mattered. However, was that what caught the attention of parents and clergy who were sending children to that school?
The bottom line: Gay marriage remains a very controversial issue in conservative Christian churches, Black and white. Why leave the gay marriage — a lived reality for one of the school’s most public leaders — out of the story? What is the journalism logic for that omission?
FIRST IMAGE: Uncredited featured art with “The Missing Piece” post at Spirit and Truth Online.
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