GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 6, 2013

Why did My Newspaper Do That? The pastor's fiery column

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — The Midweek Musings column, which appears most Wednesdays, has long been a staple of the Times, and seems like one of our more popular features.

A regular contribution generally rotated among perhaps a dozen local pastors and others in the Cape Ann clergy who often coordinate their submissions through Rev. Rona Tyndall, the column can, I admit, sometimes seem an odd fit on the Opinion page, with its regular local and national political debates and exchanges of ideas. Yet the column is, indeed, built on opinion, and while it has a religious bent, it also often addressed timely issues of the day, and gives them a spiritual perspective.

That was the case this week with a column submitted as a Midweek Musings piece by the Rev. Patrick Slyman, pastor of Rockport’s Pigeon Cove Chapel. Rev. Slyman did not coordinate the column through Rev. Tyndall, but instead submitted it directly to me, and – given that he had contributed very occasional columns in the past — I decided it would run, when other Midweek Musing columns submitted by other clergy in advance had run out.

That day came this past Wednesday, and even if you didn’t read Rev. Slyman’s column that day, you can probably tell by the reactions in letters both in this page and yesterday’s Opinion page that the reaction has been, well, intense — and understandably so.

In short, the column railed not only against Gloucester’s flying of the Rainbow flag during the month of June — recognized across the nation as “Pride Month” — but harshly decried all gay men and women as “sinners” for engaging in their lifestyle, and condemned the city and Mayor Carolyn Kirk, whom he said was basically “shaking her fist in the face of God” for allowing the flag to be flown in the first place.

Now, do I agree with those beliefs? Not for a second. And did it fit the usual mold of our regular Midweek Musings columns? Not in the least. Did I expect it would be seen as offensive to many readers — and to other members of the clergy, who have submitted a response of their own on this same page today? Yes.

So you may well ask — as some have — why would we run the column? Or as we ask here each week, why would your community’s newspaper do that?

Because, while I recognized how volatile Pastor Slyman’s column would be, I also recognized he has every right to express his views.

First, if we used our own stands on issue to determine which letters and columns run and which ones don’t, it would be a pretty boring Opinion page, and I like to think ours is anything but. I’ve always felt it’s important that the page include a variety of views — including letters critical of our own editorials and news coverage — and we print letters such as that all the time.

Also, let’s remember that Rev. Slyman is not only a recognized clergyman, but he is, in fact, pastor of a church based right here on Cape Ann and in that sense, a community leader. And in terms of timeliness, his column, at its core, raised questions regarding the mayor’s decision to fly the rainbow at Grant Circle. That indeed has been a local issue in some quarters, and has been questioned by others as well, most notably in our online comment forum at gloucestertimes.com.

For what it’s worth, I also think it’s worth noting that, as pastor of Pigeon Cove Chapel, his hard-line views are in fact in line with those of some if not all of those who are part of the chapel’s regular congregation. And in that vein, there’s something to be said for reminding readers that Rev. Slyman’s staunch anti-gay views are not somehow limited to people of other far-flung religions or to other parts of the country, but are very much alive and well in some segments of the population here.

Our Times Opinion page is a space to share ideas and debate the issues of the day, especially those involving Gloucester and Cape Ann. But it is indeed a place for exchanging all sorts of ideas — including those that seriously challenge views that may be held by the vast majority of readers and those in our community.

Rev. Slyman’s column was more challenging – and, some would say, offensive — than most, but it was indeed a column that readers needed to see. As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432.