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Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The notion of caring for those at the end of life's journey is a relatively new one, dating back about 70 years to the work of Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician who began working with the terminally ill in 1948. In 1974, Florence Wald, a dean of Yale University's nursing school, teamed up with a chaplain and two physicians to start the Connecticut Hospice in Bradford, Conn.

Since then, at least 5,800 hospice programs have been organized in the United States, according to the most recent figures available (2013) from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. There's no doubt these programs span a spectrum from highly secular to highly spiritual.

It's the latter that has caught the attention of The New York Times, where the notion that there are religious organizations serving the needs of those in their final days seems to be a rather new concept.

Some background: Until a few months ago, a triple-amputee named B.J. Miller ran the 30-year-old Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, California, where patients went to confront the end of life, receive palliative care and even, in one case, help plan a wedding for the family member of a hospice patient.

Thanks to the Times, we know these things take place in the city by the bay, and what interesting, innovative, totally unique things they are! Read on:

... Miller also seemed to be on the cusp of modest celebrity. He’d started speaking about death and dying at medical schools and conferences around the country and will soon surface in Oprah’s living room, chatting about palliative care on her “Super Soul Sunday” TV show. Several of Miller’s colleagues described him to me as exactly the kind of public ambassador their field needed.Vicki Jackson, the chief of palliative care at Massachusetts General Hospital ... pointed to the talk Miller gave to close the TED conference in 2015. Miller described languishing in a windowless, antiseptic burn unit after his amputations. He heard there was a blizzard outside but couldn’t see it himself. Then a nurse smuggled him a snowball and allowed him to hold it. This was against hospital regulations, and this was Miller’s point: There are parts of ourselves that the conventional health care system isn’t equipped to heal or nourish, adding to our suffering. He described holding that snowball as “a stolen moment,” and said, “But I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin, the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet, in this universe, mattered more to me than whether I lived or died.” Miller’s talk has been watched more than five million times. And yet, Jackson told me: “If I said all that -- ‘Oh, I could feel the coldness of the snowball ...’ -- you’d be like: ‘Shut. Up. Shut up!’ But no one is going to question B.J.”Now, at the morning meeting, Miller began describing the case of a young man named Randy Sloan, a patient at U.C.S.F. who died of an aggressive cancer a few weeks earlier at Zen Hospice. In a way, Sloan’s case was typical. It passed through all the same medical decision points and existential themes the doctors knew from working with their own terminal patients. But here, the timeline was so compressed that those themes felt distilled and heightened.

There's more, of course: How it turns out that Randy Sloan, a mechanic, had helped outfit a motorcycle for Miller, to be operated with one hand, and how the Zen Hospice staff helped Sloan in the final days of his life. It's a tender story designed to tug at the heartstrings, which it does.

By the way in which the Times presents this, however, you might imagine that this is one of the few instances where hospice workers and chaplains have come together to help the terminally ill face the end with a spiritual focus.

Forget Dame Cicely, forget Florence Wald, forget even Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose trailblazing book "On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families" is credited with spurring the growth of the hospice movement -- and its faith-friendly components -- in this country.

Nope: Ground zero, saith the Times, is in San Francisco at the Zen Hospice, at least the spiritually revolutionary part.

One GetReligion reader -- who identified himself as a chaplain -- saw the journalistic question immediately, as they expressed in referring the article to our team:

Check out the article ... which I absolutely guarantee would never have been published had this doctor lived in Muncie, IN and been a Christian rather than the director of a Zen hospice. The doctor in question begins to think about suffering as part of life. . .gee, I wonder if any other Western traditions have ever considered that? Nothing from anybody Jewish, Christian, Muslim. . . not a peep from chaplains who are in most hospitals who are the professionals trained to help people make meaning (or acknowledge the lack thereof) in their suffering! 

It's a valid point.

As with so many bright, shiny objects in the spiritual firmament -- think of any number of "hipster" clerics seeking to make ancient texts and their timeless message more "relevant" -- there always has been a precedent, going back to the earliest days of just about any faith. Chaplains and hospice workers have endeavored for years, decades even, to lighten the burdens of the suffering and their families, as we've seen. And those chaplains almost always approach things from a spiritual perspective, including arranging a wedding ceremony if needed or desired. 

Or, as our very perceptive reader suggests:

But why ask chaplains or other palliative care doctors or volunteers at Catholic or Jewish hospice systems about their experience or motivations when you can make it seem like the cool Zen people in SF are doing something new? The absence of chaplaincy and religious thinking in this article -- as background, even -- is just amazing. They really don't know what they don't know.

I suppose it could be argued that if Miller really is attempting to "reinvent how we look at death and dying," it might be understandable to focus chiefly, if not solely, on his work. Yet as our reader points out, others have been -- and are -- doing the very same things that are being done at the Zen Hospice, save perhaps for the "flower ceremony" in which a deceased is adorned with petals after they pass.

That The New York Times felt it acceptable to present Miller's work as sui generis and not even mention anything similar suggests the paper's admitted lack of understanding about religion and people of faith extends far beyond the political realm.

Categories: Main

No pro-lifers? Journalists find that Women's March on Washington doesn't want them

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

When I first moved to Washington, D.C. in 1995, one of my first assignments was to cover the annual March For Life that commemorates the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

It was around that time that the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians asked to be a part of the march, only to have its chief organizer tell them they weren’t welcome.

Everyone I knew disagreed with this organizer –- who has since died -– because most people felt abortion was so evil, there needed to be a much larger coalition opposed to it other than the usual suspects. The PLAGL folks marched anyway and they were welcomed, as far as I know. They have been marching for years, now.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, culturally speaking.

The Women’s March on Washington, slated for this Saturday, was supposed to be about women, right? It turns out access to abortion is one of the basic principles in this march, which, The Atlantic reported Monday, puts one group of women in a bind.

Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

Nevertheless, the magazine reported, organizers had originally granted a pro-life group partner status in the rally. But once that news got leaked out, the organizers did an about face.

Many pro-life women felt just as outraged as pro-choice women about Donald Trump’s conduct and comments, including the revelation that he once bragged about groping women without their permission. For their part, the organizers say pro-lifers will be welcome to march on January 21st. A pro-life group based in Texas, New Wave Feminists, was granted partnership status on Friday. “Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement,” said Bob Bland, one of the event’s co-chairs. “We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.”(On Monday afternoon, after the publication of this article, the Women’s March organizers removed the New Wave Feminists from their website and list of partners. “The Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one,” the organizers said in a statement. “The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women's March on Washington. We apologize for this error.”)

I must applaud the staff writer who did this story in that she had her ear to the ground enough to catch what was going on and to scoop other media. Rarely do reporters care what's happening among women and men in the anti-abortion movement, much less try to cover what they do, so this was a nice change.

Religion is not a part of this story except in an indirect way, yet through a link that will be familiar to any GetReligion reader or any consumer of mainstream news coverage of life issues.

I’m guessing many of these pro-life feminists carry some faith with them, in terms of their beliefs and motivations for activism. The article ends with a cross section of pro-life women interviewed who have varying reasons for wanting to be in the march and who aren’t going to let any organizer stop them.

The idea of the New Wave Feminists being de-partnered intrigued The Washington Post into doing its own story which evolved into a discussion on the essence of feminism. While one Georgetown University professor argued that access to abortion was foundational to feminism (which is ironic in that Georgetown –- at least in name -– is a Catholic university), others said feminism concerns pre-born women as well.

The Post added one interesting tidbit: The women’s march is being seen as a “galvanizing event for Hillary Clinton supporters;” that is, a farewell wave to the Clinton machine. laid out a timeline of the behind-the-scenes machinations among the organizers distancing themselves from the pro-lifers after they got attacked on Twitter for including the New Wave folks. Reason had its own beef with the march not standing up for sex workers. In other words: 

That's right: anything less than complete agreement about abortion and the group doesn't even want you participating in the rally. Never mind if you're with the group on any or all of its myriad other principles -- identify as pro-choice (but against sex-worker rights) or the cool girls don't want to sit with you.

In short, I found the coverage to be fair this time around and even, which always takes a swipe at anything conservative, pointed readers toward New Wave's Facebook page, which is a hoot. Take note of the still from the movie "Mean Girls" with the words "You can't march with us!!" superimposed. 

Around the country, I found this amusing story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the annual right-to-life march occurring downtown this Saturday right before a “sister” demonstration for the march on Washington. So far, both groups are trying not to step on each others’ toes.

Given the heated emotions of the week leading up to Trump’s Friday inauguration and its many demonstrations, having the Women’s March and its liberal groups including NARAL Pro-Choice California in direct proximity to the conservative Walk for Life is, well, unfortunate, organizers say. But in a rare hands-across-the-aisle moment, they’ve been talking to each other to keep things cool.“We’ve been doing our march every year around now for 13 years, and this year was an odd coincidence,” said Eva Muntean of San Francisco, a Walk for Life organizer. “They put themselves on top of us, and we’re not happy about it, but what can we do?

Like the PLAGL folks ended up doing in the mid-1990s, the New Wavers and some other pro-lifers are going to be in the women's march anyway. Maybe Feminists for Life, with images of the great early feminists who opposed abortion (and check out the end of this Saturday Night Live skit about Susan B. Anthony)? How about Democrats for Life?

When there's an over-arching cause, all hands need to be on deck.

Categories: Main

Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

As I've mentioned previously, "One church's vote for Jesus" was the headline on a story I wrote a few years ago on a Washington, D.C.-area congregation that declared itself a "politics-free zone."

This was the lede:

LAUREL, Md. — People of all political persuasions are welcome at the Laurel Church of Christ.Politics is not.“Believe it or not, it almost destroyed this church at one time because we’re so close to Washington,” said adult Bible class teacher Stew Highberg, who retired from the Air Force and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.“The politics of the president and the House and the Senate would creep in,” explained Highberg, a former Laurel church elder. “So we had to put a moratorium on it. You’ll get booted out of here if you start talking politics.”He was joking about that last part. Mostly.More than 300 people worship with this fast-growing Maryland church: Roughly three-quarters work for the federal government, the military or a government contractor or have a family member who does.“We figure we can try to convince people they’re wrong politically, or we can try to persuade them to follow Jesus,” preaching minister Michael Ray said. “We pick Jesus.”

I was reminded of that Maryland congregation when I saw a front-page story in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on elephants and donkeys sharing church pews:

Front page of Tuesday's @PittsburghPG. #religion #journalism

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) January 18, 2017

The Pittsburgh story was written by Peter Smith, the Post-Gazette's award-winning religion reporter (and a longtime favorite of your GetReligionistas). Given the byline, I knew that I would find the piece fair, interesting and thought-provoking. But just to make sure, I went ahead and read it. 

Once again, mission accomplished:

The Sunday after the presidential election, Pastor Rock Dillaman kept his ears tuned to the conversations among members at the church he leads.He knew from his own observations and general trends that in a racially diverse congregation, there would be plenty of Donald Trump supporters and Hillary Clinton backers, and he could only wonder at the fallout after the most bitter campaign in recent memory.“What I found that first Sunday was people loving one another, laughing with one another,” said Mr. Dillaman, pastor of Allegheny Center Alliance Church, a North Side congregation with large numbers of white and black worshippers.Many religious congregations may be almost entirely red or blue in their politics, depending on their racial, theological, geographic and economic makeup.But some houses of worship have flocks made up of a fairly even mix of donkeys and elephants. Preachers there find themselves “struggling to say something that’s both unifying and prophetic,” wrote Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, in a recent edition of the journal Christian Century.

It's a quick, easy read — a nice nugget of daily journalism by one of the best on the Godbeat — and definitely worth your time.

Another Godbeat story that is timely with President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration just two days away: religion writer Holly Meyer's piece in The Tennessean — and picked up by Gannett flagship USA Today — on the Bibles that Trump will be sworn in on:

When President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath of office on Inauguration Day, his hand will rest on his family Bible and the Abraham Lincoln Bible.Alex Stroman, the deputy director of communications for the 58th Inaugural Committee, confirmed the picks Tuesday morning. The Lincoln Bible, used during the 16th president's first inauguration, was most recently a part of President Barack Obama's first and second inauguration ceremonies and is a part of the Library of Congress' collection.Trump's Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York. Trump showed off the Bible in an early 2016 campaign video, thanking evangelicals for their support. Exit polls showed that four out of five white evangelicals voted for Trump.“My mother gave me this Bible. This very Bible many years ago," Trump said in the video. "In fact, it’s her writing, right here. She wrote the name and my address, and it’s just very special to me."Trump, a Presbyterian, has called the Bible his favorite book, and referred to it often on the campaign trail. But his Bible literacy has been questioned, including when he mispronounced a Bible verse. He cited “two Corinthians” rather than of saying “Second Corinthians” while speaking at Liberty University.

Keep reading, and Meyer (also a GetReligion favorite) offers nice details on the history of Bibles being used as new presidents take the oath of office.

I am curious whether "Revised Standard Version" should be capitalized. The Trump team's news release did not do so, but I believe it should be. 

Also, I would remind GetReligion readers that there's some debate on whether Trump got the Second Corinthians reference wrong or not:

Why @realDonaldTrump didn't REALLY mess up when he said 'Two Corinthians':

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) January 19, 2016

Meanwhile, perhaps the most intriguing Godbeat/Trump story of the week comes courtesy of Religion News Service and national writer Lauren Markoe.

Markoe takes a deep dive into this question:

Did God choose @realDonaldTrump? via @RNS

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) January 17, 2017

Some of the meaty content in the RNS report:

But theologians across faith traditions have taken the question of God’s role in human affairs quite seriously for millennia.Among those who study religion and politics — even among those who don’t believe in God or reject the notion that he puts his thumbs on the electoral scales — the belief remains relevant if only because so many people hold it.And while many scholars of divinity deem it theologically problematic, they still invite study of the issue. It’s an unsettled question in many minds, and complicated: Not everyone who believes God intercedes in human affairs believes so in the same way. Not everyone who believes God put Trump in office likes Trump.The question of God and the election begs bigger questions — about the nature of God, and if and how God becomes involved in earthly affairs. It is also a question of comfort. For some believers a God who picks the president is a God close at hand.“At bottom, it is connected to the belief that God cares about our lives, which is a great thing,” says Wheaton College theologian Vincent Bacote, who nevertheless subjects to close scrutiny any claim that God intercedes in American elections.

Finally, if you're in the mood, Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey — a former GetReligionista — has a quiz on the biblical kings to whom Trump has been compared:

QUIZ TIME: King Donald? Guess the biblical kings Donald Trump has been compared to from @kirkland_an and yours truly

— Sarah Pulliam Bailey (@spulliam) January 18, 2017

I bet you can't beat my perfect score:

I got 6/6. That Church of Christ Sunday school, I tell ya. @spulliam

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) January 18, 2017

Really, I hate to brag. But if you saw my college transcript, you'd know I'm not used to grades that high.

P.S. Please feel free to provide links to any Godbeat/Trump stories I missed this week.

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Categories: Main

Does New York Times style guide discourage using 'March For Life' in news reports?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Is anyone really surprised when there is controversy about mainstream press coverage of Washington, D.C., marches linked to abortion?

Honestly. I was reading articles on this topic back in the early 1980s during my graduate-school days at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Abortion had already emerged as one of the hot-button issues in any study of news-media bias.

So are we really surprised that The New York Times published a news article -- not a column or analysis piece -- in which great care appears to have been taken to avoid using the words "March For Life" when reporting on the 2017 March For Life?

We will come back to that topic, after a flashback to 1990. That's when The Washington Post put a spotlight on this issue with it's radically different coverage of two different D.C. marches about abortion. Post management eventually conceded that something strange had gone on.

First, there was a major march in favor of abortion rights. Here is how David Shaw, writing in The Los Angeles Times, described the Post coverage of that event:

... When abortion-rights forces rallied in Washington ... the Post gave it extraordinary coverage, beginning with five stories in the five days leading up to the event, including a 6,550-word cover story in the paper's magazine on the abortion battle the day of the event. The Post even published a map, showing the march route, road closings, parking, subway, lost and found and first-aid information.The day after the abortion-rights march, the Post published five more stories covering the march, including one -- accompanied by three pictures -- that dominated Page 1. The march stories that day alone totaled more than 7,000 words and filled the equivalent of three full pages, including most of the front page of the paper's Style section.

How did that compare with Post coverage of the next major rally and march, organized by the National Right to Life Committee? Maps? Major features? There was modest, but significant, coverage in other major news media. But at the major news outlet closest to the march?

... The Post consigned the rally to its Metro section and covered it with just one, relatively short story. ... Rally sponsors were outraged.

This incident, to be blunt, became the template for future battles over media coverage of these kinds of events inside the Beltway and in other major cities nationwide.

So what's up this time? The news piece that is drawing the most discussion is a New York Times piece that ran with this headline: "Kellyanne Conway, Who Managed Trump to Win, Will Speak at Anti-Abortion March." Here's the overture:

WASHINGTON -- In a sign of abortion opponents’ newfound clout in the capital, Kellyanne Conway, the Republican strategist who led Donald J. Trump to victory and will serve as his White House counselor, will speak at a major anti-abortion march here the week after his inaugural.Ms. Conway, 49, made history in November as the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign. She has long been an outspoken foe of abortion, and she could become the first sitting White House official to address the annual march in person, though both Mr. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence have been invited.“It’s an incredible gesture for pro-life Americans,” said Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican former congresswoman from Colorado, now the top lobbyist for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group here. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said of Ms. Conway: “She’s one of us.”

It's ways, in the search-engine age, to contrast this interesting journalism style choice with Times coverage of the upcoming Women's March that is supporting causes on the cultural and political left. Thus, The Washington Examiner summed up the results in this piece: "NY Times removes references to the 'March for Life' from article about … the 'March for Life'."

The Examiner article does note that Times editors did use the actual title of the event was used one time, five paragraphs into the 700-word report, in the context of a march leader's job title.

So far, so strange. But this is where things get really interesting.

GetReligion readers often ask why this site, as a general rule, declines to criticize reporters by name. There is a simple reason that for, one that your GetReligionistas understand because we have, when you add us all up, a century-plus of experience covering religion in the mainstream press, in news pieces and in columns.

We rarely mention the names of reporters because we have no way of knowing if the reporter was the source of the problem on which we are commenting. All of us know the pain of having cuts or changes by editors introduce holes or errors into a story. Editors can save a reporter's neck by catching errors (and they do), but they can also make errors and strange editorial decisions.

In this case, there may be an issue with the "March For Life" name, based on either a formal, or informal, style guideline at the Times. The Examiner notes:

The fact that the article barely mentions the protest by name seems an odd one considering the rally is a central element to the report.The report's author, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, claimed ... that the version of the article she submitted to her editors included more than one usage of the annual demonstration's proper name. However, she said, her copyeditors removed all but the one reference from the story."I personally did use March for Life. Alas, working for [the New York Times] sometimes means copy editors change things while you are eating dinner," she said on social media.The Times' executive editor did not respond immediately to the Washington Examiner's request for comment.

So what happened? And how does this editorial choice compare with Times coverage of the Women's March?

Perhaps the editors made a mistake while cleaning up the original draft. Perhaps it's a genuine oversight. Nevertheless, even if the Times didn't mean to limit the title to only one buried reference, it's hard not to notice the editorial choice, especially as it comes right after the paper's coverage of a separate demonstration planned for the nation's capital.The Times had no problem this week referring to an anti-Trump protest scheduled for after the inauguration by its proper title.The paper's Jan. 9 report on the Women's March on Washington refers to the demonstration by its proper name both in the headline and in the story's opening paragraph. "Women's March on Washington Opens Contentious Dialogues About Race," read the headline.

Interesting. Another case of deja vu all over again?

Let us know if you see other commentary on coverage of these two marches. Just send us a URL or leave comments on this piece.

This is an old, old topic that keeps coming around again and again on the calendar, year after year after year. But the issue remains symbolic and important, for those accurate and balanced news coverage of hot-button issues linked to religion, culture and political life.

Categories: Main

Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When talented Time magazine colleague John Moody became a top Fox News Channel founder 20 years ago, the Religion Guy thought, “He’d better have a golden parachute because this is probably going to fail.”

After all, pioneer CNN was thoroughly entrenched, and newborn rival MSNBC had rich corporate resources.

Ha. Nielsen tabulations show FNC not only topped those news competitors for all of 2016 but drew the #1 audience among all cable TV channels. Remarkable. The question now becomes whether the defection of 9 p.m. shining star Megyn Kelly to NBC will hurt ratings.

Don’t bet against Fox News. But, hey, how about giving religion correspondent Lauren Green more airtime! Think about it. What percentage of Fox News viewers are concerned about issues of religion, family and culture?

Inside FNC, that which Ailes (Roger, that is) produced a tumultuous year. And the same for Kelly, who just issued an autobiography, “Settle For More” (Harper). The Guy approached this book with mild interest, but was quickly swept up by insider scoop about her role in the Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal and her behind-scenes account about dealings with the new president and his followers.

The months of Donald Trump strangeness were perhaps without precedent in news annals.

Imagine trying to give fair coverage to the Trump campaign despite the candidate’s harangues and alongside followers’ social-media filth and death threats with armed guards accompanying your youngsters. Journalistic fame can exact a high price. An evangelical hero, attorney David French, suffered similar abuse from fans -- this is a must-read -- after becoming a NeverTrumper.  

Apparently due to the publishing deadline, Kelly doesn’t moralize about  Mr. Trump’s “Access Hollywood” bragging about unwanted sexual groping. On that, and other topics, the book leaves a big vacuum that some Godbeat specialist should fill with a good interview when her shows launch on NBC (whose parent firm, incidentally, invested $400 million in BuzzFeed of Trump dossier infamy).

In particular, the book shuns reflections on whether and how religion might have shaped Kelly’s decisions during the Ailes and Trump entanglements. (See this earlier GetReligion post on similar issues in a Vanity Fair profile of Kelly.)

In the end, readers learn more about angst over 7th grade bullies, high school acne, the rigors of breaking into a hotshot law firm, and the TV news grind.

Kelly depicts her parents as very devout Catholics. Her father, a professor, “lived a life of faith and scholarship” and before marriage considered a celibate vocation with the Christian Brothers. There was “no moral relativism at our house.” Struggling to comprehend her beloved father’s death, the teenage Kelly eventually reasoned, “Who are we, as mere mortals, to say there is no power beyond? To presume all of this energy, this beautiful, strong, complex energy, just dies when our hearts stop beating?”

Though Kelly clearly identifies as Catholic, she suggests personal opposition to official birth-control teaching. On abortion, she realized another pregnancy could interfere with her blooming career but concluded, “We cannot make decisions about our children on what works for Fox. We have to do what works for us.” To others, the point is “what works” for the unborn child.

Another delicate aspect to explore is that Kelly personifies millions of American Catholics coping with the divorce question that is currently roiling her church. She and her physician first husband were sacramentally married in a Catholic ceremony with five priests present. But they were terribly ambitious, time-robbed professionals who drifted apart and divorced.

Kelly’s second marriage, to Presbyterian businessman-turned-novelist Douglas Brunt, was conducted by Kelly Wright, an FNC colleague and Protestant pastor. But she does her best to attend weekly Mass and is raising her children as Catholic (the oldest has First Communion this year). She calls occasional FNC talking head Jonathan Morris the family priest, but considers a sister-in-law “my spiritual guide” whose “philosophy is very empowering -- that everything we want or need in life we can have, and we can get for ourselves.”

Do we hear an amen from President Trump and his “prosperity gospel” boosters?

Categories: Main

Surprise! Yes, it IS possible for mainstream media to produce fair, balanced abortion news

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Advocates on both sides of #abortion debate find good news in new @Guttmacher report - but for different reasons:

— Sarah McCammon NPR (@sarahmccammon) January 17, 2017

Just yesterday, I critiqued a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on abortion that — in its headline and lede — favored the pro-choice side.

In that post, I pointed readers toward the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against pro-life advocates. 

I noted that this longstanding and indisputable problem remains painfully relevant for people who run newsrooms today.

So imagine my surprise today when I read a National Public Radio report on abortion that impressed me as extremely fair and balanced. (As always, I invite you, kind GetReligion reader, to read the report yourself and challenge my assessment if you disagree.)

Let's start with NPR's headline:

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since Roe v. Wade

That's pretty straightforward, right? Just the facts, ma'am.

In case you're new to this journalism blog, that's how we like it: We promote a traditional American model of the press, with impartial reporting, fair treatment of all sides and sources of information clearly identified.

Next up, let's check out the lede:

The abortion rate in the United States fell to its lowest level since the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion nationwide, a new report finds.The report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion, puts the rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (ages 15-44) in 2014. That's the lowest recorded rate since the Roe decision in 1973. The abortion rate has been declining for decades — down from a peak of 29.3 in 1980 and 1981.The report also finds that in 2013, the total number of abortions nationwide fell below 1 million for the first time since the mid-1970s. In 2014 — the most recent year with data available — the number fell a bit more, to 926,200. The overall number had peaked at more than 1.6 million abortions in 1990, according to Guttmacher.

What's not to like?

The journalist — Sarah McCammon — clearly reports the relevant details without editorialization. She even identifies the source of the report as a pro-choice group, which is important to readers as they assess the credibility of the findings.

From there, McCammon offers a transition sentence:

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the longstanding controversy around abortion policy, the meaning of the report is somewhat in dispute.

Here's what I like about that transition: It lets readers know that NPR intends to present opposing viewpoints. Without that transition, it might not be clear that the next source quoted — Planned Parenthood's top official — will be followed by a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life.

If I might offer a bit of constructive criticism, two squishy words bog down that transition: "perhaps" and "somewhat." I'm not sure either is needed. Could anyone challenge the accuracy of that sentence without those two words? Then again, "not surprisingly" might be interpreted as offering an opinion rather than simply reporting. But if that's the case, I don't know that adding "perhaps" to it changes that overall dynamic.

The rest of the story gives each side an opportunity to respond to the report's findings.

As McCammon notes in the above tweet, pro-choice and pro-life forces both find good news in the report — but for different reasons.

Kudos to NPR for highlighting those reasons.


Categories: Main

Two final battles for author of 'The Exorcist;' Washington Post buries a key local angle

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Anyone who interviewed William Peter Blatty in the final years of his life knew that there were two major issues that were constantly on his mind.

Both subjects were linked to his Catholic faith and, from his point of view, the reality of evil in the world. Both were linked to his education at Georgetown University.

The first challenge was making sure people really knew what was going on at the end of "The Exorcist," the Hollywood blockbuster that loomed over everything he did in his career as a novelist and screenwriter. This meant tweaking both the movie and the novel, to add a bit of clarity to what was happening between God, a demon and a courageous priest.

The second subject involved Blatty's appeal to the Vatican seeking actions to pull Georgetown into line with the 1990 "apostolic constitution" on the core values of Catholic education issued by St. Pope John Paul II, entitled "Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church)." If that failed, Blatty wanted his alma mater stripped of its "Catholic" status.

Blatty could understand why the media was still obsessed with "The Exorcist." He couldn't understand why journalists -- especially in Washington, D.C. -- were not digging into the issues behind his intellectual and spiritual wrestling match with Georgetown.

Now Blatty is gone and, as you would expect, "The Exorcist" dominated the mainstream media features about his life and work. But what did The Washington Post do with the other major Blatty story, right there in its own Beltway backyard? This question takes us -- literally -- the the final lines of the Blatty obituary:

In recent years, Mr. Blatty had a public dispute with Georgetown University, charging that it had abandoned its Catholic heritage. He organized a petition that he sent to the Vatican.But Mr. Blatty remained inescapably linked with the book and movie that brought him the fame he sought for so long.“I can’t regret ‘The Exorcist,’ ” he said in 2013. “I always believe that there is a divine hand everywhere.”

That's all there was to it, apparently. Don't you love the word "but" at the start of transition from the brief mention of the Georgetown dispute, back into Exorcist material? In other words, Blatty thought the state of Georgetown's Catholic witness was crucial, BUT now we head back to what really matters.

The problem is that the Georgetown dispute is not over, as implied by the Post, at least not according to public statements from the Vatican.

Thus, the National Catholic Register piece on Blatty's death offers tons of information about that ecclesiastical battle. The headline: "'Exorcist' Author William Blatty Has Died, But His Georgetown Reform Campaign Continues." A sample of that report:

... Perhaps the effort which had the greatest impact within Catholicism was not Blatty's published writing, but a Canon Law petition which Blatty authored, regarding his alma mater, Georgetown University. In the petition, which was signed by more than 2,000 concerned alumni, students, faculty and parents, Blatty asked Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to remove the label “Catholic” from the school because of its continuing embrace of secularism. ...

in May 2012, William Blatty launched a new organization, the Father King Society, after the university honored Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at the university’s Public Policy Institute’s Tropaia awards ceremony. The Father King Society, named for the late Fr. Thomas King, S.J., of the theology department, had as its mission to “make Georgetown honest, Catholic and better.”

Also in 2012, Blatty announced plans to file a complaint against his alma mater. ... On May 31, 2012, the petition -- some 198 pages including 476 footnotes, 91 appendices and 124 witness statements documenting 23 years of “scandals and dissidence” -- was delivered to the offices of the Archdiocese of Washington.

What is the status at this time, in terms of public statements?

In 2014, in a letter which gave hope to the complainants, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education seemed determined to investigate the situation at Georgetown, and to work with the university to enact reforms. In a letter dated April 4, 2014, Archbishop Angelo Zani, secretary of the Congregation, wrote: “Your communications to this Dicastery in the matter of Georgetown University . . . constitutes a well-founded complaint.” Zani added: “Our Congregation is taking the issue seriously, and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard.”

Now, it's clear that "The Exorcist" angle of Blatty's life is the more important news topic -- for readers at most newspapers. The Georgetown dispute is primarily of interest to (a) Catholics and (b) readers near Georgetown, as in readers in Washington, D.C.

This raises an obvious question: Why did the Post team bury the Georgetown dispute in its Blatty obit?

Why leave readers with the impression that this subject -- the driving concern in the final act of Blatty's dramatic life -- is dead and buried? Isn't this part of Blatty's life a major local angle for a newspaper in Washington, D.C.?

I can understand why, oh, The Los Angeles Times did little or nothing with these Catholic angles in the Blatty story. Well, come to think of it, there is a Jesuit campus in that paper's backyard, as well.

The same is true for The New York Times. But at least the Times team did a fine job of trying Blatty's faith into material about "The Exorcist" and his attempts to produce a definitive version of that horror classic.

Thus, here is the end of the Times obit:

Mr. Blatty became reconciled over the years to the overwhelming dominance “The Exorcist” -- most recently adapted into a 2016 TV mini-series -- would have on his reputation as a writer. ... But one thing bothered him.Many moviegoers, including the president of Warner Bros., had interpreted the movie’s climax -- in which the younger of the two priests (played by Jason Miller) goads the demon into leaving the girl to take up residence inside him instead, then jumps to his death -- as a win for the demon.That was not how Mr. Blatty meant it. For years he pleaded his case to Mr. Friedkin, a longtime friend. In 2000, Mr. Friedkin relented, issuing a re-edited director’s cut of the film that made the triumph of Good over Evil more explicit.With the same purpose in mind, Mr. Blatty rewrote parts of the original book, even adding a chapter, for a 40th-anniversary edition of “The Exorcist” published in 2011.It was essential to him, he told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans in 2000, that people understand the point of “The Exorcist”:“That God exists and the universe itself will have a happy ending.”

Or, as Blatty explained to me:

If readers and moviegoers pay attention, said Blatty, the chills caused by the demonic acts on the screen are merely the first step in a spiritual process that should drive them to look in the mirror."My logic was simple: If demons are real, why not angels? If angels are real, why not souls? And if souls are real, what about your own soul?"
Categories: Main

Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

Monday, January 16, 2017

If you have read for any time at all, you are probably familiar with the whole idea of "scare quotes."

Actually, I would assume that this piece of media jargon is now in common in just about any setting in which critics, news consumers and journalists argue about issues linked to news coverage and, especially, media bias.

So what does the term mean and what, on this day, does it have to do with discussions of "radical" forms of Islam? Wait. You see the quote marks that are framing the word "radical"?

Here is one online definition of this term:

scare quotes -- nounquotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

For example, this online dictionary notes that, "putting the term 'global warming' in scare quotes serves to subtly cast doubt on the reality of such a phenomenon."

Here at GetReligion, many of our discussions of scare quotes have started using them to frame a perfectly normal term in discussions of the First Amendment -- religious liberty. Religious liberty turns into "religious liberty" whenever religious traditionalists, usually in conflicts over the Sexual Revolution, attempt to defend their free speech rights, rights of freedom of association and rights to free exercise of religious beliefs.

A GetReligion reader sent me a recent piece from The Atlantic and asked if another important term in public discourse is about to be shoved into "scare quotes" territory. The double-decker headline on that piece saith:

The Coming War on ‘Radical Islam’How Trump’s government could change America’s approach to terrorism

You knew Trump had to be involved in this somehow, right? Here is the overture, which shows the context of the question that was raised by our reader:

In the fall of 1990 -- around the time U.S. troops arrived in Saudi Arabia, enraging Osama bin Laden -- the historian Bernard Lewis sounded an alarm in The Atlantic about brewing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. “[W]e are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them,” he wrote. “This is no less than a clash of civilizations -- the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival.”America’s two post-9/11 presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, attempted a balancing act: combatting jihadist terrorism while seeking to avoid the impression that the Western and Muslim worlds were engaged in the kind of clash Lewis described.Donald Trump may soon steer the government in a different direction. Several of the president-elect’s national-security appointees have argued that the United States is at war with “radical Islamic terrorism,” or “radical Islam,” or something broader still, such as “Islamism.”

Here is the really crucial slice of the story that journalists need to stop and think about. Here is the heart of this language and journalism style issue:

For years now, Republicans have condemned Obama’s avoidance of the term “radical Islam,” arguing that it represents the president’s failure to properly assess and address the threat. Radical Islam, Obama’s critics contend, is what it sounds like: radicalism rooted in the religion of Islam. Where Obama sees “violent extremism,” his critics see militant religiosity. Where Obama sees a clash within Islamic civilization -- between a tiny faction of fanatics and the vast majority of Muslims -- his critics see a clash between Western civilization and a small yet significant segment of the Muslim world. Where Obama sees a weak enemy that is getting weaker, his critics see a strong enemy that is getting stronger. Where Obama sees limits to what the U.S. can do on its own to eradicate radical interpretations of Islam, his critics see an appalling lack of effort by the U.S. government.

Now, please, please, please try to forget about the personalities and policies of Obama and Trump for a moment.

Instead, try to focus on the terms that journalists need to use if trying to describe a conflict that, as GetReligion has described it from the beginning, is a battle INSIDE Islam between millions of ordinary Muslims (avoiding the shallow label "moderate") and the many Muslims who have adopted radicalized forms of the faith.

There are journalists who agree with Obama that the term "radical Islam" should not be used at all, since it might be seem as an affront to other Muslims. But stop and think about this for a moment. If there is a battle taking place inside Islam between radical elements and traditional elements, what does it mean when journalists put scare quotes around the term radical Islam?

At this point, does anyone disagree with the idea that radicalized forms of Islam exist?

At this point, does anyone doubt that the Islamic State, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and similar groups can be called examples of radical Islam?

So why scare quote the term when writing groups such as these? In a way isn't that expressing some kind of doubt about whether "radical" Islam is real? And if that is the case, then wouldn't that imply that Islamic State is somehow normal? Is that fair to ordinary Muslims?

So if you scare quote the term radical Islam, what is the meaning of those quote marks? Are you saying that it is the mere opinion of a public figure who uses this term that radical Islam exists and that readers should doubt that? Is the goal to suggest that it is mere opinion that groups such as ISIS represent a radical form of Islam?

Help me out here. Help me understand.

What is the purpose of the quote marks in this case? And if journalists do not strive to use clear language when writing about radicalized forms of Islam, what are they saying to ordinary Muslims who are on the other side of this crucial struggle inside Islam?

Categories: Main

You'll never guess who called Texas bill to end abortion the 'most extreme measure' yet

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Texas minister who reads GetReligion called my attention to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's coverage of a bill to criminalize abortion in the Lone Star State.

Michael Whitworth's tweet to me made clear where he stands on the issue:

How is ending the holocaust of the defenseless "extreme" and "cruel"? I want @bobbyross or @monan_chuck to weigh in on this.

— Michael Whitworth (@the10throcket) January 13, 2017

Whitworth's question came in response to the headline atop the Star-Telegram's abortion bill story:

End abortion in Texas? Plan called cruel and ‘most extreme’ measure so far in 85th Legislature #texas #txlege

— Anna M. Tinsley (@annatinsley) January 13, 2017

I replied that I wouldn't attempt to analyze the story in a 140-character-or-less Twitter post. However, I said it looked like good fodder for GetReligion. 

Of course, my role as a media critic is not to give my personal opinion on abortion. It's to critique the journalistic quality of the Star-Telegram's report and address questions such as these:

1. Is the headline slanted in favor of one side? What about the story?

2. Is the story fair to both sides?

3. Is the story balanced in terms of the sources quoted, the space given to pro-life and pro-choice voices and the willingness to present each side's best argument(s)?

I'll get to those questions in a moment, but first, a bit of familiar background for regular GetReligion readers: In abortion-related coverage, news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side are a longstanding and indisputable problem. If you somehow missed it previously, check out the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents. Go ahead and bookmark that, because it remains painfully relevant for people who run newsrooms.

Back to the Star-Telegram story: Let's start with the first question. The answer is easy: Yes, the headline favors the pro-choice side. So does the newspaper's lede:

A Tarrant County lawmaker’s plan to abolish abortion once and for all in Texas has already been dubbed by critics the “most extreme measure” so far in the Legislature this year.But state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said he is determined to end abortion here and is going to fight for passage of his bill criminalizing the medical procedure in Texas.“I’m pretty passionate about the pro-life movement,” said Tinderholt, father to a 7-month-old daughter with wife Bethany. “When you read and see how abortions are performed, and how they end the life of an innocent child, it amazes me that we allow that.“When we look back over history and we see … the cultures that took the lives of children, people are appalled by that,” he said. “People are going to do that with America, too, and look back one day and say they can’t believe we allowed this.”Tinderholt’s House Bill 948, one of several measures addressing abortion in the Legislature this year, drew a quick response from critics.“This cruel bill is the most extreme measure we’ve seen at the Texas Legislature,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “It takes away a pregnant person’s legal rights and could open up to investigation and prosecution of anyone who has a miscarriage or who seeks an abortion.“When politicians criminalize safe medical procedures, they put patients’ health and safety at risk,” she said. “HB948 strips away our constitutional right to abortion.”

The editorialized headline and opening sentence prejudice the entire story. They indicate that the newspaper has picked a side — the one that supports abortion rights. 

From a journalistic perspective, that's a real shame. Even more so because — if you keep reading — the Star-Telegram wrote an otherwise extremely fair and balanced story (see the second and third questions).

Overall, in fact, this is one of the more impressive abortion news pieces I've seen in terms of quoting advocates on both sides in their own words — including mentions of "God" both to support a ban and to advocate letting a woman choose.

It's impossible to know whether the opinionated intro came from the reporter or was, in fact, a change made by an editor. In either case, it's too bad the Star-Telegram didn't see fit to whack that first sentence and produce an impartial lede. Especially since a pro-abortion rights group voicing opposition to an anti-abortion measure isn't exactly stop-the-presses headline worthy. Next thing you know, a dog will bite a mailman.

How easy would it have been simply to start the story with the second sentence? I'd also delete "medical" before "procedure" to eliminate an unnecessary adjective that the pro-life side would view differently than the pro-choice side.

My proposed rewrite:

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said he is determined to end abortion in Texas and is going to fight for passage of his bill criminalizing the procedure.“I’m pretty passionate about the pro-life movement,” said Tinderholt, father to a 7-month-old daughter with wife Bethany. “When you read and see how abortions are performed, and how they end the life of an innocent child, it amazes me that we allow that.“When we look back over history and we see … the cultures that took the lives of children, people are appalled by that,” he said. “People are going to do that with America, too, and look back one day and say they can’t believe we allowed this.”Tinderholt’s House Bill 948, one of several measures addressing abortion in the Legislature this year, drew a quick response from critics.“This cruel bill is the most extreme measure we’ve seen at the Texas Legislature,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “It takes away a pregnant person’s legal rights and could open up to investigation and prosecution of anyone who has a miscarriage or who seeks an abortion.“When politicians criminalize safe medical procedures, they put patients’ health and safety at risk,” she said. “HB948 strips away our constitutional right to abortion.”

Now, imagine if the headline followed suit and read something like this:

Tarrant County lawmaker pushes for criminalization of abortion in Texas

With that headline, readers' reactions would be related to the proposed legislation — either to praise it or criticize it.

But in that case, nobody could have accused the Star-Telegram of doing anything except its job ... reporting the facts.

Categories: Main

Bigoted in Seattle? Anschutz-owned festival group blasted by Seattle Weekly

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival is an annual end-of-the-summer party that takes over the area around Seattle Center every Labor Day weekend. It’s mainly art and music and an event my family used to attend before the crowds and traffic pushed us away. But lots of people still go.

It's a gathering free of politics -- or it was until the Seattle Weekly attacked the festival organizer in a recent piece headlined “Bigotry in the Spotlight.” The piece is about how the entertainment group that produces the festival is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz. And because Anschutz funds conservative causes, he is, of course, anti-LGBT and a bigot.

We’ve written about Anschutz here and here and here. Anschutz is a devout Presbyterian and he’s also funded a lot of faith-friendly projects, such as Walden Media, which produced C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which came out as a movie 10 years ago. So here's how he's playing in one Seattle publication:

When Chick-fil-A announced plans for a Seattle store in 2013, mayoral candidates rushed to denounce the chain. Current mayor Ed Murray said he would “push” to keep the company out of town, and then-mayor Mike McGinn called its leader a bigot, due to CEO Dan Cathy’s financial support of groups opposed to same-sex marriage and his statements opposing it.But a far bigger bankroller of conservative causes—including anti-LGBT groups—already does brisk business in Seattle. His name is Philip Anschutz, and he is the owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG. AEG took over local festival Bumbershoot in 2015, which it produces in a multimillion-dollar partnership with the city. The city also handed over large portions of KeyArena’s management to AEG in 2008, splitting the venue’s revenues. That contract was renewed in 2015.

After adding that King County (which surrounds Seattle and its suburbs) is also in business with AEG, and that an AEG subsidiary company in California got reamed by lefty outlets such as Vice and the Huffington Post for not falling in line with LGBT demands, the article continues:

Equal Rights Washington board president Monisha Harrell says the city must also reconsider its relationship with AEG. “This is very problematic,” says Harrell. “They always say that when you know better, you need to do better. Now that this information is coming into the light, this is one of those times that is true… . If the head of AEG has a record of supporting those who would do harm to our communities and our rights, we should certainly be looking for another partner for Bumbershoot.”In a Washington Post editorial last summer, Anschutz was named one of the nation’s biggest “enemies of equality for LGBT Americans.” …

What the piece doesn’t mention is that the editorial/column wasn’t necessarily representing the paper’s official view but that of Jonathan Capehart, a staff blogger who just got married on Jan. 7 to his partner in Washington, DC. And that Capehart got reamed by his commentators for creating a gay enemies list and for ramping up the outrage. There's more:

This charge, leveled by national LGBT advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, was made in connection to his foundation’s donations to three groups: the Alliance Defending Freedom, an advocacy group that has compared being LGBT with committing incest and bestiality; the Family Research Council, a think tank that has lobbied against gay rights and argues there is a “disproportionate overlap” between being LGBT and pedophilia; and the National Christian Foundation, a philanthropy network that has donated over $163 million to anti-LGBT organizations.

It does throw the Anschutz Foundation a bone:

AEG Vice President of Communications Michael Roth pointed Seattle Weekly toward a statement from Anschutz, which noted that “Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBT are nothing more than fake news—it is all garbage.” The statement added that the Anschutz Family Foundation would pull support from any organization found to be involved in anti-LGBT activity.

But that caveat was not enough for the Weekly.

Harrell says withdrawing financial support to these groups would be a welcome step, but not enough. “I personally still don’t eat at Chick-fil-A,” Harrell says, despite its withdrawal of support for antigay marriage efforts. “It’s not enough for them to say we don’t do it anymore. They need to repair the harms they’ve done. On issues of ethics, it’s not enough for them to be neutral, or for us as a city to be. Neutrality supports oppression.”

It’s no huge shock that Harrell doesn’t eat at Chick-Fil-A because there are only four locations in the state, none of which are in Seattle.

But it’s the last paragraph, with its fascist implications, that is disturbing. It’s not enough to be disagree. You must be forced to recant, kowtow to the opposition, then pay them off.

And although the article isn’t about religion, it’s about what some religious people are doing. The Alliance Defending Freedom is the legal group that is defending a lot of those Christian wedding planners, cake bakers and photographers who don’t want to service gay weddings. The Family Research Council and National Christian Foundation are overtly religious groups.

So the mode of attack these days is not to single out a person's faith, but to simply label them -- or their organization -- as "anti-LGBT."  

I wouldn't call this piece fake news; it is created news.  Do people really care that one of the city's most popular festivals belong to one of a zillion conglomerates and businesses owned by a conservative? It'd be one thing if certain musicians were barred from participating but even this story admits elsewhere that the AEG has promoted pro-gay-marriage musicians in the past. 

It's editorials-disguised-as-news like this piece that convince some people that the media is out to vilify anyone who doesn't agree with the LGBT movement. In this case, they're right. Even though the Weekly is well known as alternate media, that doesn't let them off the hook of responsible journalism. Unless they ceased caring about journalism a long time ago, which is what has happened here in the Emerald City.

Categories: Main

Obviously, journalists needed (trigger warning) to let Nat Hentoff speak for himself

Saturday, January 14, 2017

If you really want to understand why the First Amendment radical Nat Hentoff was so controversial -- I mean, other than that whole Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing, pro-lifer thing -- then what you really need to do is spend some time reading (or listening to) to the man.

That will do the trick. So watch the video at the top of this post. And hold that thought.

In this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilkens and I talked about the difficulty that some elite news organizations had -- in their obituaries for this complex man -- managing to, well, let Hentoff be Hentoff.

As our launching point, we used the passage in my earlier GetReligion post about Hentoff -- "RIP Nat Hentoff: How did press handle his crusade against illiberals, on left and right?" -- that argued:

... (T)hree pieces of Hentoff's life and work that must be mentioned in these pieces. First, of course, there is his status as a legendary writer about jazz, one of the great passions of his life. Second, you need to discuss why he was consistently pro-life. Note the "why" in that sentence. Third, you have to talk about his radical and consistent First Amendment views -- he defended voices on left and right -- and how those convictions eventually turned him into a heretic (symbolized by The Village Voice firing him) for post-liberal liberals who back campus speech codes, new limits on religious liberty, etc.

To my shock, Wilken ended the podcast session -- with about 90 seconds to go -- by asking me the three essential themes that would have to be included in an obituary for, well, Terry Mattingly. Talk about a curve ball question! You can listen to the podcast to hear my rushed answer to that one.

Like I said earlier, anyone writing about Hentoff has decades of material to quote, if the goal is to let the man speak for himself. Journalists tend to produce lots of on-the-record material.

But let's look at two passages in a very important -- a turning point event, even -- speech in his career. It's called "The Indivisible Fight for Life" and was delivered in 1986 at a Chicago meeting of Americans United for Life.

Let's start here, with some of the events that led him to adopt a consistently pro-life position on a host of issues:

For me, this transformation started with the reporting I did on the Babies Doe. While covering the story, I came across a number of physicians, medical writers, staff people in Congress and some members of the House and Senate who were convinced that making it possible for a spina bifida or a Down syndrome infant to die was the equivalent of what they called a "late abortion." And surely, they felt, there's nothing wrong with that.Now, I had not been thinking about abortion at all. I had not thought about it for years. I had what W. H. Auden called in another context a "rehearsed response." You mentioned abortion and I would say, "Oh yeah, that's a fundamental part of women's liberation," and that was the end of it.But then I started hearing about "late abortion." The simple "fact" that the infant had been born, proponents suggest, should not get in the way of mercifully saving him or her from a life hardly worth living. At the same time, the parents are saved from the financial and emotional burden of caring for an imperfect child.And then I heard the head of the Reproductive Freedom Rights unit of the ACLU saying -- this was at the same time as the Baby Jane Doe story was developing on Long Island -- at a forum, "I don't know what all this fuss is about. Dealing with these handicapped infants is really an extension of women's reproductive freedom rights, women's right to control their own bodies."That stopped me. It seemed to me we were not talking about Roe v. Wade. These infants were born. And having been born, as persons under the Constitution, they were entitled to at least the same rights as people on death row -- due process, equal protection of the law.

Later there is this:

Well, in time, a rather short period of time, I became pro-life across the board, which led to certain social problems, starting at home. My wife's most recurrent attack begins with, "You are creating social mischief," and there are people at my paper who do not speak to me anymore. In most cases, that's no loss.And I began to find out, in a different way, how the stereotypes about pro-lifers work. When you're one of them and you read about the stereotypes, you get a sort of different perspective.There's a magazine called the ProgressiveIt's published in Madison, Wisconsin. It comes out of the progressive movement of Senator Lafolette, in the early part of this century. It is very liberal. Its staff, the last I knew, was without exception pro-abortion. But its editor is a rare editor in that he believes not only that his readers can stand opinions contrary to what they'd like to hear, but that it's good for them. His name is Erwin Knoll and he published a long piece by Mary Meehan, who is one of my favorite authors, which pointed out that for the left, of all groups of society, not to understand that the most helpless members of this society are the pre born -- a word that I picked up today, better than unborn -- is strange, to say the least.The article by Meehan produced an avalanche of letters. I have not seen such vitriol since Richard Nixon was president -- and he deserved it. One of the infuriated readers said pro-life is only a code word representing the kind of neo-fascist, absolutist thinking that is the antithesis to the goals of the left. What, exactly, are the anti-abortionists for? School prayer, a strong national defense, the traditional family characterized by patriarchal dominance. And what are they against? School busing, homosexuals, divorce, sex education, the ERA, welfare, contraception and birth control. I read that over five or six times and none of those applied to me.

Kind of a hard man to sum up in a short, shallow, burst of stereotypes. Right? 

Enjoy the podcast.

Categories: Main

What’s to be learned from the religious makeup of U.S. Congress members?

Friday, January 13, 2017

On January 3 the Pew Research Center issued its biennial “Faith on the Hill” listing of the religious identifications for each member of the incoming U.S. House and Senate, using biographical data compiled by CQ Roll Call. Reporters may want to tap scholars of both religion and political science for analysis.

Coverage in the Christian Science Monitor and other media emphasizes that although religiously unaffiliated “nones” are now as much as 23 percent of the population, members of Congress are lopsidedly religious -- on paper -- with 90.7 percent identifying as Christian, close to the 94.9 percent back in 1961.

Only popular three-term Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) officially has no religious affiliation, though several members are listed as “don’t know/refused,” along with many generic identities of  "nondenominational" or “Protestant unspecified.”

What’s the news significance here? After all, formal identifications often tell us little about an office-holder’s actual faith, or stance on the issues, or whether there’s a connection. Consider liberal Sonia Sotomayor, conservative Clarence Thomas and straddler Anthony Kennedy, all self-identified Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court, or all the pro-choice Democrats who are "personally opposed" to abortion.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is counted as “Jewish,” but was probably the most secularized major presidential candidate yet. Does a “Presbyterian” legislator belong to the “mainline” Presbyterian Church (USA) or the conservative Presbyterian Church in America? Are these currently active affiliations, or mere nominal labels that reflect childhood involvement? In reality, are a particular legislator’s religious roots important in shaping policies?

It all depends.

Nonetheless, Pew’s lineup demonstrates that despite secularization, a broadly religious image remains valuable for an American politician, whatever his/her inner life. Political scientists David Campbell and John Green both told the Monitor that “nones” are not necessarily anti-religion and may feel that faith gives a politician moral moorings. A 2015 Gallup Poll showed only 58 percent  were willing to vote for a qualified atheist as president (though that compared with 18 percent in 1958).

Pew portrays some continuation of the longstanding alignment of Catholic and Jewish politicians with the Democratic Party. With Republicans in Congress, 27 percent are Catholic (among them House Speaker Paul Ryan), compared with 37 percent of Democrats. As of 1961, Protestants claimed 398 members of Congress, versus a slim majority of 299 today. During the years since President Kennedy took office, Catholics have increased from 100 to 168.

There are only two Jewish Republicans versus 28 Democrats. That Jewish total of 30 is a rapid drop from the 45 in the 2009-2010 Congress. Yet an impressive 8 out of 100 Senators are Jews, over-representation compared with their 2 percent of the over-all population. The traditionally elite Anglican/Episcopal category is over-represented, with 35 members in the two houses, though that’s a drop of six from the previous Congress. Baptists, at one time under-represented, are the largest Protestant category with 61 House members and 22 Senators (including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), equaling their 15 percent of U.S. adults.

Also, the listings are social barometers that tell journalists something about new groups’ ascent into the ranks of high-prestige officials. All of the following are Democrats:

* Three Buddhists (Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and newly elected Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii).

* Three Hindus in the House (Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, newly joined by Ro Khanna of California and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois).

* Two Muslims in the House (Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first of his faith in Congress, and Andre Carson of Indiana). However, the Muslim count could  drop to one because Ellison says he’ll resign if chosen new chair of the Democratic National Committee at a February 23-26 meeting.

Categories: Main

New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

Friday, January 13, 2017

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that one of the buzz topics in religion-news circles this week was that job posting at The New York Times, the one with this headline: "Change Is Coming to the New York Times National Desk."

It appears the Times is thinking about doing something new on the religion beat, 12-plus years after the 2005 report on its newsroom culture and weaknesses, "Preserving Our Readers Trust." That was the amazing document that urged editors, when hiring staff, to seek more intellectual and cultural diversity -- to help the Gray Lady do a better job covering religion, non-New York America and other common subjects. Yes, I've written about that report a whole lot on this site.

Oh, and Times editor Dean Baquet's recent journalism confession on NPR -- that the "New York-based and Washington-based ... media powerhouses don't quite get religion" -- may have had something to do with this, as well.

The bad news? There is one chunk of language in this job posting that, for veteran Godbeat observers, could cause a kind of bad acid flashback to another religion-beat job notice in another newsroom, at another time. Hold that thought. 

So here is the Times job notice for a "Faith and values correspondent."

We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine. The position is based outside of New York, and you will work alongside Laurie Goodstein and a team of other journalists who are digging deep into the nation.

Did you see the key sentence? Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher sure did:

Two cheers for them! I’m glad they’re adding this position, and I’m really glad they’re not basing this reporter in New York (I hope they don’t base him or her in any coastal city, or in Chicago, but rather someplace like Dallas or Atlanta). Why not three cheers? That line about how “you won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine” bothers me. ... I don’t want to read too much into this, and to unfairly knock a good-faith (so to speak) effort. Certainly a general-news “faith and values” correspondent doesn’t need to be able to give a detailed explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, or parse the finer points of sharia according to the Hanafi school. But the reporter certainly should be able to understand why doctrine matters to religious thought and belief. My concern here is that the Times is inadvertently minimizing the importance of religious knowledge, along the lines of, “You don’t really have to understand how religion works in order to report on it in the lives of ordinary Americans.”

Dreher echoes a point that I have been making for decades, in effect asking if you can imagine a great newspaper such as the Times posting a notice such as: "We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to probe the work and impact of the U.S. Supreme Court. You won’t need to have a law degree or be an expert on the court and U.S. jurisprudence."

Or how about this: "We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to cover the National Football League and our New York teams. You won’t need to know much about football."

More? "We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to probe the business and cultural impact of the arts in American life. You won’t need to have studied the arts, arts criticism or anything like that."

Now about that bad acid flashback. Does anyone else remember that famous, or infamous, 1994 religion-beat job posting at The Washington Post?

That notice played a major role in my "Getting Religion in the Newsroom" chapter in the 2009 Oxford University Press book called "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion." The chapter included quotes and input from lots of insiders, such as the late Peter Jennings of ABC News, Roy Peter Clark of, former Scripps Howard Inc. CEO William R. Burleigh, Richard Ostling (of Time, AP and, now, GetReligion), Steven Waldman of Barack Obama's Federal Communications Commission team (and many other relevant jobs), University of Colorado religion-news scholar Stewart Hoover, Kelly McBride of the ethics office, omnipresent church historian Martin Marty, Los Angeles Times legend Russell Chandler, Mark "A Jew Among the Evangelicals" Pinsky, former diversity expert Aly Colon and, last, but certainly not least, the late George Cornell of the Associated Press.


The acid-flashback Post memo comes up in the context of my discussion of why elite newsroom managers need to seek out skilled, veteran, award-winning religion-beat specialists when they have a strategic job opening. This is long, but you will see the relevance. 

Some newsroom managers believe that religion news is best covered by reporters who are not specialists, by newcomers who offer what some consider a fresh, blank-slate approach and fewer preconceptions.Debates about this issue often return to a highly symbolic event in 1994, when editors at the Washington Post posted a notice for a religion reporter, seeking applicants from within the newsroom. The "ideal candidate," it said, is "not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion."Notice the fascinating use of the word "ideal." Professional religion writers often argue about the pluses and minuses of religious believers working on this beat and I don't expect these arguments to end any time soon. However, I have seen believers and non-believers do excellent work covering religion news, including fair and accurate cover of faiths radically different than their own. Thus, there is no need to debate the appropriateness of the Post editors stating that the "ideal candidate" is "not necessarily religious. What is controversial, however, is the statement that the "ideal candidate" is not necessarily "an expert in religion."The editors were, in effect, arguing that a lack of expertise and experience can be a plus -- a virtue -- when covering religion news.Imagine, for a moment, this standard being applied to other news beats. Try to imagine Post editors seeking a Supreme Court reporter and posting a notice saying that the "ideal candidate" is one who is "not interested in the law nor an expert on legal issues." Try to imagine elite editors seeking opera critic and arguing that the "ideal candidate does not necessarily like opera or know much about opera." How about similar notices seeking reporters to cover professional sports, science, film and politics?Why would editors seeking excellence on the religion beat use a different approach than they would use on other complex news beats?"The religion beat is too complicated today for this kind of approach to be taken seriously," said Russell Chandler, another religion-beat pioneer who won numerous national awards for his work with the Los Angeles Times. "You need experience and if you don't have experience you have to pay your dues and get some. Then you have to keep learning so that you get the facts right today and tomorrow and the day after that."I have never really understood what this argument is about. It's like saying that we want to sign up some people for our basketball team and we don't really care whether or not they can play basketball or even if they want to play at all. Everything will be OK, because we'll teach them to play the way we want them to play."

Hello editors at The New York Times. As Yogi Berra would say, "It's deja vu all over again."

Thus, I went on to note:

... The way for newsroom executives to improve religion coverage is for them to take precisely the same steps they would take to improve coverage on any other complicated, crucial news beat. They should hire qualified, talented specialty reporters who have demonstrated commitment to the beat and then give these reporters the time and resources necessary to do their jobs. Lacking such an applicant for a religion-beat job, they should find a dedicated reporter who is interested in learning.Call me old-fashioned, call me naïve, but I believe that the best way for journalists to gear up to cover religion is the way they prepare to cover sports, opera, law or the environment. Religion-beat professionals need reporting skills, commitment and a broad knowledge of religion facts and trends, both national and global. To paraphrase the political strategist James Carville: It's journalism, stupid.

The bottom line: Since when is a lack of knowledge and experience a JOURNALISTIC VIRTUE when covering a complex news beat? Why do elite editors seem to have different goals and journalistic standards when hiring pros for the religion beat? Think of the religion-beat talents who could apply for this top-of-the-pyramid job!

Just asking. Again. And Again. World without end. Amen.


Categories: Main

'Real Housewives of ISIS' on BBC gets laughs from Muslims; who'd have thunk it?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Every so often, a religion story comes along that is simply fun to read about. Such is the reporting on “Real Housewives of ISIS,” a BBC comedy spoofing the daily regimen of the women who went to Syria to become jihadi brides.

The photo with it gives you an idea of what’s to come. Four women who are fully cloaked in hijabs and body-covering black robes, stand arm-in-arm gazing at one of the women’s iPhones as she takes a selfie of them all. Another of the women is wearing a suicide vest.

Instead of wallowing in political correctness and seeking out every indignant Muslim group possible, British journalists stuck to the basics in their news coverage of a piece on religion and satire. 

Here’s how The Guardian describes it:

As 23-year-old student Zarina watches Real Housewives of Isis on a phone amid the bustle of Whitechapel market in the east end of London, she puts her hand to her mouth and gasps before bursting into laughter.On the screen a hijab-wearing character models a suicide vest for her fellow jihadi wives. “What do you think?” she asks. “Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The pal reacts by excitedly posting a picture on Instagram, saying: “Hashtag OMG. Hashtag Jihadi Jane. Hashtag death to the west, ISIS emoji.”The comedy sketch -- aired this week as part of BBC2’s new comedy series Revolting -- has come under fire from some viewers who have called it “morally bankrupt” and insensitive, while others have accused the BBC of making “Hijabis feel more isolated [and] targeted by Islamophobes”. Comedians, however, have said that reaction to the sketch is part of a growing culture of offense which -- alongside stories that overhype the reaction -- are in danger of stifling one of Britain’s most successful exports: its satire.

What’s interesting about the piece is that the reporter mainly quotes actual Muslims about the show.

For example, here is a British comedian with Pakistani parents.

“Some people say that they are offended, some people are offended on others’ behalf, others are offended and they don’t even know why. Being offended is very popular these days,” says comedian and writer Shazia Mirza.The stand-up, who is currently touring her show The Kardashians Made Me Do It, inspired by the jihadi schoolgirls who joined Isis, said reports of outrage often amounted to a small collection of opinions scooped from social media. “The rightwing press might be offended, and maybe the leftwing liberals, but Muslims aren’t offended -- it’s like they want us to be offended but we aren’t. We’re OK, thanks,” she says.“There’s a long history of people from different religions mocking themselves -- Christians, Jews, Catholics -- why can’t Muslims make jokes about themselves? If we are going to continue that proud tradition of satire that has to be allowed.”

Then the reporter quotes another Muslim:

The satire of the piece could be a powerful tool in preventing the radicalisation of young women, argues Shaista Gohir, the chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK. “[When trying to combat Isis] everyone just uses the same old approach, telling terrible stories of girls who went, but this is very different and it gets the message across in a satirical way,” she says.

Further down, the writer quotes a Sunni Muslim actress from India and a Muslim shopkeeper in east London, along with some people in the entertainment industry. Too often in articles critiqued by this blog, reporters don’t talk with real live practitioners of the religion being written about. The Guardian went out of its way to do so.

The Los Angeles Times covers the show, but only in an editorial.

 So does Rolling Stone and, which was the only outlet to report that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is miffed by the show. A few other outlets got stuck on the who's-now-offended angle, but the real story isn't that. It's about what really happens to girls who actually move overseas to join ISIS and how one way to combat evil is to laugh at it. This isn't hard-news journalism, of course. It's more like an extended video op-ed satire essay.

The New York Times aimed at the latter angle in this story. I wonder if such a show would have seen the light of day on this side of the pond. I doubt it. The political correctness marshals would have made sure it'd never go on the air. Fortunately, Mother Jones notes that media in the Middle East have been satirizing ISIS for some time. 

So leave it to the Brits to mix satire with religion news and trends. They do the best job at it.

Categories: Main

Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday's @postandcourier front page, including Haley, Trump, MUSC, Roof and more.

— Mitch Pugh (@SCMitchP) January 12, 2017


So powerful.

That's the only way to describe the lede on today's front-page Post and Courier story on victim impact statements to Dylann Roof, the condemned gunman in the Emanuel AME church massacre:

Clutching the blood-stained Bible she had with her when Dylann Roof executed nine family and friends around her, Felicia Sanders told the self-avowed white supremacist in court Wednesday that she still forgives him for his actions. They have scarred her life but haven't shaken her faith.Addressing Roof the day after a jury sentenced him to death, Sanders said the mass shooting that killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 has left her unable to hear a balloon pop or an acorn fall without being startled. She can no longer shut her eyes when she prays.But she will carry on, she told him, and continue to follow the words of God still clear in the battered Bible she cherishes."I brought my Bible to the courtroom ... shot up," she said. "It reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof."Sanders, who lost her son Tywanza and her aunt Susie Jackson in the shooting, told Roof that when she looks at him she sees "someone who is cold, who is lost, who the devil has come back to reclaim." 

As many times as I've praised the Charleston, S.C., daily's coverage of the massacre and its aftermath — most recently on Wednesday — I know I sound like a broken record.

But the latest story by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her Post and Courier colleagues is again filled with relevant, compelling religious details such as these:

Dan Simmons Jr., speaking in a low, hissing whisper, said his faith requires him to pray for Roof and he has done so. He encouraged Roof to find that same spirit, that same river of faith, within himself, and drive out the evil spirit dwelling within.“I forgive you for you actions. You are just a body being used. You didn’t understand the presence of the evil that possesses you," he said. "But thank God that he gives us the opportunity for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the heartbeat that pulls us to another level.”Myra Thompson's sister, Marlene Coakley-Jenkins, offered Roof similar counsel, telling him to take "ownership of who you can be" and release the hate."God has a place for all of us," she said.

I'll resist the urge to copy and paste the entire story and simply encourage you to take the time to read it all. 

In a previous post, I noted that the best stories about the Roof case don't focus on the killer — but on the victims.

The latest Post and Courier coverage only reinforces that message — times a million.


So powerful.

Categories: Main

New York Times ignores key faith facts when covering Michael Chamberlain's fight for justice

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I'll be upfront about my interest, or perhaps "bias," in the case of Michael Chamberlain, 72, who passed to his rest on Jan. 9 from complications of leukemia.

Chamberlain, an Australian, was a Seventh-day Adventist, as am I.

Knowing a few Australian Adventists, I can attest that the case of Michael and his former wife, Lindy, was a searing moment in the 131-year history of the movement in that country. (Adventism -- founded by some veterans of the Millerite movement -- itself dates back to 1863, when its General Conference was first organized.)

The Chamberlains were a young pastoral couple serving in Australia when they went on a camping trip in 1980 with their children, including a nine-week-old daughter, Azaria. At one point, Azaria vanished from the campsite, with Lindy claiming to have seen a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, in the vicinity. Azaria's body was never found.

Almost immediately, public suspicion fell on the Chamberlains: No one else heard or saw an animal in the area when the child disappeared. Was baby Azaria's name some sort of cultic reference to a child sacrifice? (It wasn't.) And what about the Chamberlain's religion -- aren't those Adventists a weird sect that does kooky things?

While some may wish to debate the pros and cons of Seventh-day Adventist belief and practice, I can't think of too many rational people who believe that Adventism is a blood-sacrifice-loving cult. But in the heated antipodean media environment of the early 1980s, it was easily possible to lose sight of that.

But 37 years after Azaria's tragic death -- ruled, in 2012, to have indeed been caused by a dingo and without the parents being at fault -- the faith angle of this story is, or should be, widely known. Apparently, however, these crucial details slipped past The New York Times (paywall), which reported on Michael Chamberlain's passing thusly:

It was a mystery that captivated Australia for years, inspired a Meryl Streep movie and tormented a couple for more than three decades.Now, one of the central figures in the case — in which a dingo, a type of wild dog found in Australia, was found to have killed the couple’s nine-week-old baby girl — has died.Michael Chamberlain, a former pastor who fought for decades to prove to the world that the animal was responsible for his daughter’s disappearance, died on Monday, his former wife, Lindy Chamberlain, told The Associated Press. He was 72.The cause was complications of acute leukemia, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.The couple’s ordeal began in 1980, when their daughter, Azaria, disappeared from the family tent while on a trip to the Australian outback.

In the better part of 600 words, the Times discusses the case and the circumstances of Michael Chamberlain's life, including his remarriage after Lindy Chamberlain divorced him. Michael earned both a master's and doctorate degrees after the trial, went on to teach in Australia, and was for five years a caretaker for his second wife, Ingrid, who suffered a severe stroke in 2011.

But apart from calling Michael Chamberlain a "pastor" and noting he and Lindy had met "while studying theology at college in Australia" [sic], there's nothing — absolutely nothing — said of Chamberlain's faith or the role it played in the case.

Egregious seems a mild word to discuss this omission. The Chamberlains' prosecution took on a sensationalist turn almost exclusively because of their religion. To omit this -- which the AP and Sydney Morning Herald stories cited above did not -- I believe does further harm to the memory of a child tragically taken and of her late father, whose fight for justice gained international notice.

Categories: Main

Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I know. I know.

Trust me, I know that your GetReligionistas keep making the same point over and over when digging into mainstream news coverage of LGBTQ teachers (or people in other staff positions) who, after making public declarations of their beliefs on sex and marriage, lose their jobs in doctrinally defined private schools.

We keep making the point over and over because it's a crucial question when covering these stories. When are reporters and editors going to start asking the crucial question?

The question, of course, is this: Had the person who was fired voluntarily signed an employee lifestyle (or doctrinal) covenant in which they promised to support (or at least not openly oppose) the teachings at the heart of the religious school's work?

So here we go again, this time in an Associated Press report -- as printed at Crux -- about another conflict in Charlotte:

A gay teacher sued a Roman Catholic school on Wednesday for firing him after he announced his wedding to a man, the latest in a series of legal fights over anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.The lawsuit argues Charlotte Catholic High School violated federal employment law by firing Lonnie Billard from a substitute teaching role in 2014 after a Facebook post about his wedding. While the lawsuit doesn’t invoke state law, it comes amid protracted litigation over a North Carolina law limiting protections for LGBT people.Billard taught English and drama full time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to the lawsuit.

Let me stress, as always, that journalists do not have to agree with a religious school's doctrines -- in this case Catholic -- in order to accurately cover these stories. You just have to realize that many if not most private schools, both liberal and conservative, have these kinds of covenants defending the faith that they claim to represent in their work.

Consider this, for example: What would happen at a liberal Jewish school if one of the teachers converted to Christianity, declared his or her status as a Messianic Jew and signed up with Jews For Jesus? The teacher might insist that he or she was still Jewish, but doesn't the school get to define the terms of its contracts and covenants?

In this Charlotte case, the word that caught my attention was "substitute," as in "substitute teacher." That adds a wrinkle to the questions that reporters must ask.

So basically we are looking at this equation: Does Charlotte Catholic School -- as is common in many Catholic schools -- ask employees to sign a doctrinal covenant linked to church teachings? If so, had Billard signed one in the past?

However, I would think that there is some chance that substitute teachers may not be asked to sign such a document. Maybe this teacher -- planning his marriage -- changed his status in order to fit into a different category, one not defined by a written, signed covenant.

Did anyone ask about that?

As is the norm, the story is essentially a dialogue between a school PR officer, or other church officials whose words end up printed on paper somewhere, and the teacher's legal team and advocates of his cause. That looks like this

[Billard] posted about his upcoming wedding in October 2014, and was informed by an assistant principal several weeks later that he no longer had a job with the school.Not long after that, local diocese spokesman David Hains publicly stated that Billard was let go for “going on Facebook, entering into a same-sex relationship, and saying it in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” according to the lawsuit.Hains said Wednesday that officials from the diocese hadn’t seen the lawsuit and typically don’t comment on pending litigation.Billard’s lawyers argue the firing violates prohibitions against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Wait a minute. Didn't someone at the Associated Press team, or journalists at papers linked to AP, call the diocese, ask new questions and get real quotes? Didn't someone get in a car and drive there and, after waiting in the lobby, earn the right to say "diocesan officials declined to respond to questions about the status and contents of the school's covenant documents"?

This could be a completely different case if the school does not require staffers to sign a doctrinal covenant or if the contents of that document are vague and meaningless.

If I was covering this story I would also check to see if the viewpoint of the school's leaders on covenant issues is different than that of the local bishop. That could lead to a tense silence in both the school offices and the diocesan offices -- but that tense silence would be big news.

In other words, if there was no doctrinal covenant, one signed by Billard, then isn't this a different kind of legal case?

One more question: Maybe the school -- prodded by church officials -- has a covenant now, but did not have one when Billard began his work on the campus. Check out this quote:

“I know that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, but I don’t think my commitment to my husband has any bearing on my work in the classroom,” Billard said in a statement. “I have never hidden the fact that I’m gay and my relationship with my partner was no secret at school.”

Oh, one more thing. While the story discusses lots of legal and political angles linked to these issues, guess which U.S. Supreme Court case it does not mention? Here's the top of an earlier, but very relevant GetReligion post:

It's rare for the U.S. Supreme Court to produce a ruling backed with a 9-0 vote, especially on a church-state issue these days. However, that's what happened in 2012 with the case called Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al (.pdf here).The key was that the court said it was "extreme" and "remarkable" that the government thought it was wrong for religious groups to take doctrine and beliefs into account when hiring and firing their leaders. Thus, the court affirmed a "ministerial exception" that protects religious organizations from employment discrimination lawsuits.Ah, but what is a "minister"? This is a crucial question that is affecting some emerging conflicts linked to gay rights and religious education, especially in Catholic schools.The Hosanna-Tabor case focused on a teacher in a Lutheran school -- a school that blended church teachings into everything that it did. Thus, this teacher was also teaching doctrine, in word and deed. The school viewed all of its teachers this way.

One more time: Did the Charlotte school have a covenant that created this kind of clear, doctrinal link with its employees?

I know. I know. You'd think someone at AP would know the significance of a very recent 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Categories: Main

Dry bones transformed and other visions: What do Jews believe about life after death?

Thursday, January 12, 2017


The Hebrew Bible makes no mention of an afterlife. When did this belief come into being among the Israelites, and why?


This is an appropriate follow-up to our December 1 answer to Paula concerning “what does Christianity say happens to believers after death?”

True, the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (or for Christians the Old Testament) has no explicit and detailed concept of the afterlife such as we have in the New Testament. This whole topic has been considerably more central and developed in Christianity than in Judaism. However, Jewish authors offer a more complex scenario than that Jewish Scripture “makes no mention of an afterlife.” They observe that while most biblical references are vague, we see an evolution in belief. Some particulars:

Frequent references in Genesis, followed by the Psalms and the prophets, say that the dead abide in a shadowy state called sheol. Such passages as Ecclesiastes 9:5, Job 14:21, and Psalm 88:11-12 indicate that this involves no conscious existence.

On the other hand, the Bible depicts forms of life beyond death in Genesis 5:24 (Enoch taken directly to God), 2 Kings 2:11 (the same with Elijah), 1 Samuel 2:6 (God “brings down to sheol and raises up”), Psalm 49:15 (“God will ransom my soul from the power of sheol, for he will receive me”), and Saul’s notable conversation with the deceased Samuel in 1 Samuel 28.

Also, sages interpreted the prophet Ezekiel’s “dry bones” vision in chapter 37 as depicting a communal afterlife for Israel, and the Talmud saw Isaiah 60:21 (“they shall possess the land forever”) in terms of bodily resurrection. Then the prophet Daniel describes the end times in individual terms, with the clearest conception of resurrection up to that time:

“Your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:1-2)

Also note passages in books that Judaism deems non-canonical but were included in the Jewish Tanakh translation into Greek and thence the Catholic Bible: 2 Maccabees 12:44 (“if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead”), Wisdom 3:1-10 (“the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment will ever touch them”), and Wisdom 5:15-16 (“the righteous live forever, and their reward is with the Lord; the Most High takes care of them.”

Prior to the rise of Christianity, a growing Jewish movement led by the Pharisees affirmed the afterlife for believers, including resurrection of the physical body. Part of such thinking, we’re told, was a logical conclusion that a just God needs the “world to come” (olam ha-bah) to balance out the good and evil that occurs in this life.

Those beliefs became vital for Christianity which, of course, originated as a faction among Jews.

Continue reading "What do Jews believe about life after death?", by Richard Ostling.

Categories: Main

Huston Smith: Farewell to a religious voyager who personified modern, progressive faith

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Huston Smith -- to my mind an unmatched connoisseur of spiritual experimentation who was also exceptionally grounded in an extraordinary range of religious protocols -- died just prior to the new year, Dec. 30, to be exact, at age 97.

News media coverage of his death, while adequate, underplayed at least one salient point.

Which is: If any one person can be said to represent wholesale societal change, then it may be said that Smith personified the radical reevaluation of contemporary religious beliefs and practices that has profoundly divided Western culture. From the mid-20th century until today, this reevaluation continues.

Evidence of it may be seen in the ongoing culture wars dividing the United States and in parts of Europe.

As I said, the major news media provided adequate coverage of his death, given his limited fame among the general public, and even if they lingered a bit too long on Smith's brief experimentation with (then still legal) psychedelic drugs in the early 1960s.

The factual and many faceted details of Smith's academic and personal biography were capably reported, as was his strong support for religious freedoms and religious and cultural pluralism.

For those who missed his death, or are unfamiliar with his life and work, click here for the New York Times obituary. Or click here for the Los Angeles Times obit.

Several outlets noted Smith's death by reposting past interviews and stories. How much easier and cheaper is that in this age of instantaneous web news and shrinking editorial budgets?

This one from 2009 was reposted by Newsweek, and this piece, from the same year, popped up on the CNN website.

Here's a fat graph from the Newsweek piece that provides some clarity about Smith's place in the academic religion firmament:

Smith was a professor. He taught at MIT and Syracuse and other universities, and he talked about religion on public television. But he is best known for a book he wrote in 1958—before the yoga craze and the meditation craze, before the Beatles went to India—called "The World's Religions." (Upon publication, it was called "The Religions of Man," but Smith changed the title in 1991.) Each chapter is 40 or 50 pages long and each encapsulates and explicates a great religious tradition. There are eight: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and what Smith calls the "Primal Religions," meaning those of native people. In today's world, where scholars exhaust careers parsing one or two Bible verses, a professor who dares summarize Christianity in 50 pages might be seen as foolhardy. But in his day, Smith was doing something revolutionary. Without oversimplification or condescension, Smith introduced Americans to the notion that the world is full of all kinds of believers and that an educated person might learn a thing or two from another's faith. "The World's Religions" has sold 2.5 million copies since publication. It has been reprinted more than 60 times.

Yes, Smith was a revolutionary, academically as well as in his search for meaning.

In this he reminded me of the young adult children of Summer Institute of Linguistics evangelical Christian missionaries I met in the mid-70s, when I traveled with the group in Ecuador and Peru. These young people, academically trained in rain forest sciences in the United States and thoroughly theologically literate, would canoe into the Amazon forest with only peers for company and a shotgun and fishing spears for protection and food gathering.

They'd stay out there for a week or so, absorbing the sort of knowledge you just can't obtain from books and lectures, but can only acquire experientially. Experientially was also Smith's preferred way to understand religious traditions and spiritual wisdom.

I first interviewed Smith in the mid-1990s in sunny courtyard of a Washington hotel just up 16th Street from the White House. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation (just as so many who met him have also said since his death, including Don Lattin, a veteran religion reporter who arguably, knew Smith as well as any journalist still working today).

Thereafter, Smith became an invaluable source for me at Religion News Service, who had a habit of sending me postcards -- always postcards, never letters -- suggesting story ideas (his hearing was already failing and he never took to electronic messaging of any kind).

Curiously, he never wrote my address on the cards he sent. Instead, he would snip my return address from my letters to him and paste it on his cards to me. I never asked why he did this.

It was during that first conversation with Smith -- the son of Christian missionaries in China and an ordained Methodist minister himself -- that he defined his religious identity as a "Confucian Christian." By that, he meant that despite all his religious shape-shifting, he remained a Christian (and a regular churchgoer) because that was his ancestral faith, and one to which he owed a familial spiritual allegiance.

I'm well aware that many far more doctrinally and culturally traditional believers, including many GetReligion readers, dismissed Smith as a superficial and unmoored religious thinker who fell prey to the popular syncretism of his time. If that's your want, go right ahead, but please give factual reasons (we like URLs) for why you think that in the comments section below.

However, to dismiss Smith in this way also means to dismiss the seriousness of contemporary Western religious trends toward less doctrinal formality and the borrowing of practices and insights from other faiths. This was a major news trend whether you, doctrinally, agreed with it or not.

It also means remaining willfully under informed about the religious practices and spiritual beliefs of sincere religious progressives -- a community that too many journalists, including religion specialists, are as ignorant of as they are of traditionalist believers.

That last thought of mine was underscored by a religion professor from Virginia who wrote this opinion piece published by Vox. The headline: "Americans -- not just liberals -- have a religious literacy problem."

I'm sure Huston Smith would agree wholeheartedly because it's what he devoted his inner as well as his outer life to. He did so in bold letters.

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As Emanuel AME gunman gets death, looking for faith — and finding it — on victims' side

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's impossible to tell the story of the Emanuel AME church massacre without a huge dose of faith.

All along, we at GetReligion have praised the unsurpassed local coverage of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her colleagues with the Post and Courier, the daily newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

In the wake of gunman Dylann Roof receiving a federal death sentence Tuesday, we again point readers to Hawes & Co.'s banner coverage of the decision:

Front page of @postandcourier. #RoofTrial

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) January 11, 2017

But I also want to call special attention to a national story on Roof's sentencing, via the New York Times: 

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann S. Roof, the unrepentant and inscrutable white supremacist who killed nine African-American churchgoers in a brazen racial rampage almost 19 months ago, an outburst of extremist violence that shocked the nation, was condemned to death by a federal jury on Tuesday.The jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Mr. Roof guilty of 33 counts for the attack at this city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, returned their unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of a heart-rending and often legally confounding trial.

The Times' story is full of strong and appropriate religion content, including this reaction:

The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, the widower of another victim, Myra Thompson, said in an interview on Tuesday that while he remained “in awe” at how much Mr. Roof enjoyed doing what he did, he would not relinquish his forgiveness. “I forgave him, and I’m not going to take that back ever,” he said.

The story also includes this background:

The jury’s sentencing decision effectively capped Mr. Roof’s federal trial for the killings on June 17, 2015, the Wednesday when he showed up in Emanuel’s fellowship hall and was offered a seat for Bible study by the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. Mr. Roof sat quietly, his head hung low, for about 40 minutes while the group considered the Gospel of Mark’s account of the Parable of the Sower.

And this:

Mr. Roof’s rampage, which the authorities said was not coordinated with any organized groups, staggered this area, which was already reeling from the shooting death two months before of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in North Charleston.But two days after the church killings, with a blank-faced Mr. Roof standing in the Charleston County jail, five relatives of the victims publicly offered him forgiveness during an extraordinary bond hearing. The following week, President Obama argued in a soaring eulogy for Mr. Pinckney, which culminated in an a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” that the attack’s lessons offered a way forward for race relations.The Rev. Sharon Risher, a daughter of (victim Ethel Lee) Lance, said she harbored a deep opposition to the death penalty, but found her stand tested by Mr. Roof and his lack of remorse.“I don’t believe in the death penalty, but I’m my mother’s child and with everything that’s happened sometimes I want him to die,” Ms. Risher, who watched the entire trial, said in an interview on Monday. “It’s like, you know what, this fool continues to just be evil. I’m just glad that they didn’t leave that decision to me. I just reconciled myself that whatever they decided he will never see the light of day again.”

Yes, as seems to be the case most days since Donald Trump's surprise election as president, Washington, D.C., politics dominates today's Times front page (and those of other newspapers across the nation).

But unlike the Washington Post (which played the Emanuel AME story inside its main news section), the Times found a spot for the Roof sentencing at the bottom right of A1:

Front page of @nytimes. #RoofTrial

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) January 11, 2017

And these closing paragraphs reward readers who follow the story all the way to the end:

Mr. Graham reflected Tuesday that someday Mr. Roof could adopt a strong Christian faith.“He decided the day, the hour and the moment that my sister was going to die, and now someone is going to do the same to him,” he said. “But unlike my sister, he has another chance. He’s in God’s hands, and if he turns his life around, and if he makes a humble confession to God, when he gets there, when he gets there, he can join my sister and the others in heaven.”

I'll say it again: It's impossible to tell the story of the Emanuel AME church massacre without a huge dose of faith.

Look for that angle to be even more powerful in coverage of today's victim impact statements. Just a sampling from Hawes' Twitter feed:

#EmanuelAME shooting victims get their say today. Many face #DylannRoof & speak to him directly, some calling him evil, hope he goes to hell

— Jennifer Berry Hawes (@JenBerryHawes) January 11, 2017

Many of the #EmanuelAME families prayed for #DylannRoof, tell him to repent. They utter themes of forgiveness similar to his bond hearing.

— Jennifer Berry Hawes (@JenBerryHawes) January 11, 2017

When #EmanuelAME shooting survivor Felicia Sanders spoke to Roof, she held up worn Bible, cleansed of blood, pages repaired after massacre.

— Jennifer Berry Hawes (@JenBerryHawes) January 11, 2017
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