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Bible Used to Justify Murder; GLAAD Works with NBC Philadelphia to Improve Coverage

John Joe Thomas (left); Murray Seidman (right).

Sometime in early January, 70-year-old Murray Seidman of Lansdowne, Penn., was beaten to death.  Days later, Seidman's murderer - 28-year-old John Joe Thomas - returned to Seidman's apartment to make it appear as though he had just discovered Seidman's body.

Only recently was Thomas charged with murder, having told police that he stoned Seidman to death after the 70-year-old man allegedly made sexual advances toward him.  Thomas justified the murder based on what he read [incorrectly] in the Bible.  According to court documents, Thomas said that he read in the Hebrew Scriptures that gay people should be stoned to death [that's not what the text says].  After Seidman allegedly made advances toward him over a period of time, Thomas told authorities that he received a message in his prayers that he must end Seidman's life.  Seidman's younger brother, Lenny, has since stepped forward and said that Murray was developmentally-challenged, was not gay, and "didn't have the capacity to have deep feelings in a sexual way."

It goes without saying that all of this is devastating - a senseless act of violence, a profound loss for Murray Seidman's family and friends, and certainly a tragic story to hear on the evening news.

WCAU-10, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, is where GLAAD first learned of Seidman's murder.

Prior to GLAAD outreach, this headline contained problematic terminology.

The headline for this story was initially written problematically.  (For more information as to how responsible journalists should report on issues that involve LGBT people or LGBT-perceived people,  please see GLAAD's Media Reference Guide.)  Problematic terminology was addressed swiftly by WCAU reporter Teresa Masterson in response to GLAAD outreach.

Also concerning was that initial reports did not challenge Thomas for using the Bible to justify Seidman's murder.  The reports simply stated that Thomas used the Bible for reasoning; they did not include the voice of a theologically-trained religious leader or in any way challenge Thomas' interpretation of what the Bible actually has to say about gay people.

Absent from initial reports, the WCAU Web site now includes this important biblical perspective. The commentary stands alone on the station's Web site, linking to the initial reports and vice versa.

After consultations with GLAAD, WCAU management invited GLAAD to submit a commentary that articulated the points we raised in our conversations with the station.  GLAAD then turned to Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge.  (Rev. Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever.org: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, the pastor of Jubilee! Circle United Church of Christ (UCC) in Columbia, S.C., and the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008).  In addition, Rev. Chellew-Hodge is a regular contributor to the daily online magazine Religion Dispatches.)  Rev. Chellew-Hodge's commentary ("Bible is No Defense for Violence") now appears on the WCAU Web site.  It thoughtfully articulates a much-needed biblical perspective that was absent from WCAU's coverage prior to GLAAD outreach.  WCAU also posted the commentary to the station's Facebook page:

GLAAD appreciates that WCAU was so open to our feedback and that the station moved quickly to improve their coverage.  We anticipate a much closer working relationship with the station going forward, and we are hopeful that other media outlets will heed this as an example of how GLAAD can help journalists to do their job more inclusively.