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Wednesday, May 27,2009

Steeling oneself

The reporter who covered a radical “queer” action at a Delta Township church last November — and found himself accused of being an accomplice — is a devout Christian and a devout journalist.

by Neal McNamara

Growing up in Oakland County, Nathan Harris went to church every Sunday with his parents. As he described it, the church was "conservative Baptist." When he came to Michigan State University, he kept up his faith, but now his Christianity is more personal, while before it was a family event, and he attends a non-denominational church. He is also a member of the MSU club, Campus Crusade for Christ.

So it was somewhat of a crisis for Harris, 20, last winter when, as an intern at City Pulse, he reported on the Nov. 9 invasion of the Mount Hope Church by the self-described "queer" anarchist group, Bash Back. He faced intense criticism for his coverage of the story and now, almost eight months later, an evangelical Christian legal defense fund is suing Bash Back for its actions and Harris may get caught in the mix: A member of Bash Back told City Pulse that Harris' name is on a subpoena that it received, presumably to testify.

Even thought Harris was the only reporter at the Bash Back action, news of the event first appeared on the right-wing blog, Right Michigan. Bloggers fervently denounced Bash Back and Harris, who is majoring in journalism with a minor in chemistry.

"According to a source inside the church yesterday there was a 'journalist' from the Lansing City Pulse along for the ride, tipped off about the action and more interested in getting a story than in preventing the vandalism, the violence and anti-Christian hatred being spewed by the lefties," read a post on Right Michigan.

The criticism of bloggers and anonymous comments online caused him to wonder whether he should have tried to stop Bash Back.
His instinct during the event was to remain neutral and report the
story, which he reassured himself of by talking to fellow journalists,
and through prayer.

“It was just a matter of steeling myself
against it,” he said. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience, to be called
out by people you never met and never will.”


In the past, he says he
might have agreed with the conservative bloggers and the outraged
pastors and flock of Mount Hope Church — not that he supports Bash
Back’s tactics — but found himself treated more fairly by Bash Back.


Representatives of the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing
Mouth Hope Church in its suit, would not comment on whether Harris
would be subject to subpoena. A representative named Joe would
only direct a reporter to a press release and ended the call by hanging
up before any questions could be asked. Similarly, Mount Hope and Bash
Back did not respond to a request for comment.

Harris does not agree that a suit against Bash Back was the best option for the church.


“I don’t think it reflects well on the church. There’s a prayer in the
suit (that asks for judicial relief), and I find that distasteful,” he
said. “Christianity’s successes have not come from being
confrontational, but when it shows kindness and love.”


The defense fund
is using the 1994 federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act,
which is a law that protects women entering abortion clinics from abuse
or blockade, to sue Bash Back. The act also protects religious
services: U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, added language to the act to
protect churches from radical gay activist groups, according to a
Washington Times article from 1993.


Local members of the gay community
— some former activists themselves — are on the fence about Bash Back.
They are in favor of gay rights activism, but not to the extreme. Bash
Back members claim they carried out the action because Mount Hope is
anti-gay — among other things, it has held mock haunted houses that
derogatorily depicted homosexuality.

Doak Bloss, who
co-founded the Lansing AIDS Network in the 1980s, disagrees with Bash
Back because he believes fighting churches on gay rights is futile,
since the Bible speaks disparagingly of it.


“In
general, I think it’s a terrible thing,” Bloss said of Bash Back’s
action. “We don’t need to create acrimony in the community by violating
someone else’s rights.”

Stephanie McLean, a Lansing political
consultant who was involved in gay rights demonstrations surrounding
the AIDS epidemic (including in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New
York), doesn’t completely agree with Bash Back’s tactics.

On
Bash Back, “I’m ambivalent,” she said. “I think throughout history and
the struggle for civil rights there’s always been an element of
extremism. But I think that (Bash Back’s action) is perceived by the
greater society as violent and extreme. Being a member of a
minority group, I’m not sure that’s helpful.”


Reflecting on the
situation, Harris said it was his faith that got him through.

“I
think, as a Christian, I should have certain values: I should not hate,
I should not be angry,” he said. “But that would’ve been a bigger
problem if not for prayer … more because of the acts of the church or
the bloggers.”



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