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Saith The Economist: The Church of England is (all together now) not dead yet

Saturday, January 31, 2015

There was a time in my youth when no party was complete without someone reciting lines from the 1975 film comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

For my generation, that movie's catchphrase “Bring out your dead!” is the verbal equivalent of Proust’s madeleine, evoking powerful memories of things past. I once even heard Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, obliquely refer to that classic line in a press conference.

The “Bring out your dead!” movie scene begins with John Cleese carrying over his shoulder an old man dressed in a nightshirt. He starts to place the old man into a cart carrying victims of the plague. Eric Idle is the driver.

All together now.

Cleese: Here's one.
Idle: Ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!
Idle: What?
Cleese: Nothing!  Here's your ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!
Idle: 'Ere! 'E says 'e's not dead!
Cleese: Yes he is.
Old Man: I'm not!
Idle: 'E isn't?
Cleese: Well, he will be soon. He's very ill.
Old Man: I'm getting better!
Cleese: No you're not. You'll be stone dead in a moment.
Idle: I can't take 'im like that! It's against regulations!
Old Man: I don't want to go on the cart.
Cleese: Oh, don't be such a baby.
Idle: I can't take 'im.
Old Man: I feel fine!
Cleese: Well, do us a favor...
Idle: I can't!
Cleese: Can you hang around a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
Idle: No, gotta get to Robinson's. They lost nine today.
Cleese: Well, when's your next round?
Idle: Thursday.
Old Man: I think I'll go for a walk.
Cleese: You're not fooling anyone, you know. (To Idle) Look, isn't there something you can do? (They both look around)  
Old Man: I feel happy! I feel happy!  
(Idle deals the old man a swift blow to the head with a wooden mallet. The old man goes limp.)  
Cleese: (Throwing the old man onto the cart) Ah. Thanks very much.
Idle: Not at all. See you on Thursday!
Man: Right! All right.

The Church of England, like the old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is not dead yet. Granted, it is not at all well. A steady decline of a hundred years or so is not an indicator of health, but a report last week in The Economist shows some signs of life.

The article in the Jan. 17 print edition entitled “London supplies England with wealth, culture -- and, increasingly, Christians” reports on the church-planting movement within the Church of England. Unlike many press accounts of the CoE, which predict its imminent demise, the editorial line of The Economist article favors its subject matter.

There is nothing in this story about women bishops, homosexuality, liberal politics, naughty vicars or any of the usual fodder for CoE articles. In some ways I am surprised by this piece, as it could have been printed in a religious newspaper or magazine. The assumptions and attitudes it displays value the church and its mission. Overall this is a very nicely done story, yet I wonder if The Economist could have pushed a bit harder. Were they too respectful?

The article reports on St. Peter’s Church in Brighton and its vicar and his wife, Steve and Jodi Luke, and the remarkable growth the church has experienced.

Since the couple moved to St Peter’s in 2009 along with 30 other Christians, the congregation has swelled from 15 to almost 1,000 people.

The article recounts the decline of organized religion in Britain, but states:

Continue reading "The Church of England is (all together now) not dead yet " by George Conger.

Categories: Main

Gays and Mormons: Times headline chooses the frame, then paints the picture

Friday, January 30, 2015

When my "rights" clash with your "beliefs," who should win? Right. That's how the Frame Game is played.

That's why the headline for a New York Times story on gays and Mormons is manipulative in the extreme. "Mormons Seek Golden Mean Between Gay Rights and Religious Beliefs," it says.

"The Frame Game" is tmatt's term for framing the conversation to shape your opinion, perhaps without even realizing it. Fortunately, the Times article itself is better, with the lede framing the issue as "gay rights and religious freedom." Although it could still be construed as rights trumping freedom.

At least the hed is accurate in reporting the balancing act of Mormon leaders: trying to oppose anti-gay discrimination while preserving the right to disagree with gays. In states like Utah -- where pro-gay legislation has stalled for years -- that could make a big difference, the Times says:

But they also called for these same laws, or others, to protect the rights of people who say their beliefs compel them to oppose homosexuality or to refuse service to gay couples. They cited examples of religious opponents of same-sex marriage who have been sanctioned or sued or have lost their jobs.“Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of a group of church leaders known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for L.G.B.T. rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.”

This gets points just for balance. It brings up the conscience issue without belittling it or hinting that it's a cover for bigotry. It directly quotes a church leader, not just a static statement from LDS offices. And it allows Oaks to bring up the irony that many conservatives have cited: gay activists demanding rights for themselves, then denying rights to others.

As the Times reports, gay leaders gave the LDS Church a p.r. bruising when it helped pass Proposition 8, outlawing gay marriage in California. The Mormons also sat out efforts to pass anti-discrimination laws in Utah, a position they now say they want to change.

The article cites five sources, a good count for a story of some 850 words. Surprisingly, after directly quoting a Mormon leader, the story simply quotes an unattributed handout statement from the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign. (Often, it's the opposite with mainstream media: quoting liberal people and conservative statements.) However, it devotes two paragraphs to the HRC, allowing it to say that the right to deny service equals the right to keep discriminating -- by doctors, landlords, businesses, etc.

Then the newspaper comes back with a criticism of the Mormons' new initiative by Baptist leader Russell Moore, who says the opposite -- that pushing for gay rights in jobs and housing always lead to "assaults on religious liberty."

The story says the new dual Mormon emphasis is "an attempt to placate all sides of a divisive issue," but there's a little editorializing when it gets skeptical on how well the approach will work:

But the approach announced on Tuesday by Mormon leaders is unlikely to do much to help calm this front in the culture wars. Gay rights advocates have long maintained that denying service to gays on the basis of religious belief is no different from the discrimination against blacks that was outlawed during the civil rights movement.

The article does commit at least one framing offense, adding sarcasm quotes to the term "religious liberty" campaign. The paragraph also errs in grouping Catholics with "other conservative evangelicals," although this may be a case of writing too fast.

One puzzle, or perhaps a dangling shoe: The Times says the Mormons supported passage of a local anti-discrimination law in Salt Lake City, but largely sat out the effort to the do the same statewide. What if the state law does pass? Will the Times, the Human Rights Campaign and others then start pressuring the church to do the same toward a national law?

Still, with the few glitches mentioned, the Times does a decent job of balance in this story. It applies terms moderately. It quotes more than side, and respectfully. And it doesn't try to tell us how the debate "should" work out.

Now, if the newspaper can train its headline writers to be as sensitive.

Categories: Main

Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Readers may recall that, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I put up a quick post lamenting that I wasn't seeing much mainstream-media coverage of this haunting event. I also noted that hoped we would see more coverage -- logically -- on the day after, with news stories focusing on the content of the anniversary events.

I hoped that would happen and that was, at quite a few publications, precisely what happened.

As you would expect, The Washington Post -- in the same city as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published a local-angle story, hooked on the events in the Hall of Remembrance.

The newspaper's foreign desk also contributed a stunning story -- "A Nightmare Revisited" -- reported from Auschwitz, where 300 survivors returned to what it called the "bloodiest site of the Holocaust." And there was a sidebar listening to the voices of Auschwitz survivors.

I recommend these stories highly. Yet, I do so even as I note that the news stories failed to dig into the impact of this singular event, this singular vision of evil, on the lives of post-Holocaust Jews as religious believers and on the Jewish faith in general.

The timeless theodicy question, of course: Where was God?

OK, I will ask: Where were the God issues in these otherwise fine news reports? Take, for example, the missed opportunities for poignant -- and crucial -- content in the local story from the Holocaust Museum. At the very top, readers are told:

The sound of Jacqueline Mendels Birn’s cello filled the Hall of Remembrance like a lament.The notes, low and sorrowful, were those of “Ani Ma’amin,” a song of Jewish faith said to have been sung by concentration-camp prisoners on their way to the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust.It was a sound like a human voice, said, Birn, 79, a French Holocaust survivor, who wore black earrings and black clothing in the Holocaust Memorial Museum ... as she played a requiem for the lost millions.

Simply stated: Does this song -- "Ani Ma’amin (I Believe)" -- have lyrics? Might a few lines be relevant?

In other words, why not quote at least a few lines of what the victims were reported to have sung as they went to their deaths? It is, after all, a song of Jewish faith. Click here for one version of the song. Some of the words, in English:

I believe with complete faith 
In the coming of the Messiah, I believe ...
And even though he may tarry
Nonetheless I will wait for him
And even though he may tarry
Nonetheless I will wait for him ... I believe

Is this poignant? Would some say this is both painful and ironic? Is it hard to even contemplate, in that context?

A few lines later, the Post sailed right past another chance for religious content.

During the ceremony, Holocaust survivors spoke to the gathering, victims’ names were read, and one survivor, Manny Mandel, recited kaddish, a traditional prayer often said in mourning.“We say kaddish today for all those for whom there is no one to say kaddish,” he said.The prayer was followed by a moment of silence.

OK, I will ask the same question. The content of Mourning Kaddish is of tremendous relevance to this event, in part because -- again -- it is a statement of belief and even hope, in spite of its connection to death and grief. Is this a relevant issue in Jewish life and culture, in a post-Holocaust world? Anyone who has read works linked to post-Holocaust theology and even sociology know the answer to that.

What does the Kaddish say, in part?

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

According to "his will"? Once again, there is the theodicy issue in all of its power.

Many readers would know the Kaddish. Many more would not. Why not quote a few words to show the content of the actual rite that was being covered?

Still, I want to recommend these stories. Please hear me say that. The end of this story was especially power, stressing the power of the memories of the survivors who will not be with us much longer. And, as one participant said, right now the world is "closer to the spirit of the 1930s than the 1990s."

Here is the end of the piece:

When Birn, the cellist, who lives in Bethesda, Md., finished playing, she carefully laid down her instrument, which she has had since she was 11. She went to light a candle herself.She was a little girl, born in Paris, when the Germans conquered France, and with her family managed to elude Hitler’s henchmen. “We were hiding,” she said.“We were first in Paris, then we fled,” she said. “My parents were arrested. And, miracle after miracle, we were not put in a camp.”Other members of her family were not so fortunate. “So much of my family, so many members, were murdered in Auschwitz,” she said. “It’s very painful for me.” She went on: “Two hundred members of my extended family were murdered. It’s a horrible background that I have. I have no family.”Grandmother, uncles, cousins.“They were all murdered,” she said.

The. Words. Quote. Them.

Categories: Main

Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's been a while since I quoted "Shrek." 

But every now and then, I like to recount one of my favorite scenes in the original movie. It's the one in which the title character explains that "there's a lot more to ogres than people think."

"Example?" Donkey responds.

“Example … uh … ogres are like onions,” Shrek says, holding up an onion that Donkey sniffs.

More of the dialogue:

Donkey: “They stink?”Shrek: “Yes. ... No!”Donkey: “Oh, they make you cry?”Shrek: “No!”Donkey: “Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.”Shrek (peeling an onion): “No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.”

I've used this analogy before, but too many news stories lack layers.

That's what impressed me about a USA Today story this week on the exclusion of some Roman Catholics from the Boston Marathon trial's jury: It's multilayered.

If you live by #Catholic social teachings, you can't be on the #Tsarnaev jury. Good idea? Or unfair? My @USATODAY rpt

— G. Jeffrey MacDonald (@gjmacdonald) January 26, 2015

The lede nails the enterprising religion angle:

BOSTON – As the quest for a jury in the Boston Marathon bombing trial approaches its fourth week, some of the area's 2 million Roman Catholics are growing frustrated with criteria that effectively disqualify followers of church teachings.Potential jurors in bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial must be able to impose the death penalty or a life sentence with no possibility of release. That standard eliminates Catholics who heed the catechism of the Catholic Church, which says a death sentence is not to be used when "non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor." Cases warranting the death penalty "are very rare, if not practically non-existent," according to the catechism, because government has other means to keep the public safe from convicts."It is both ironic and unfortunate that Catholics who understand and embrace this teaching will be systematically excluded from the trial," says the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College. "It is frustrating."

But the writer — a Godbeat pro named G. Jeffrey MacDonald — doesn't stop there.

He provides important context, including this:

Greater Boston is 46% Catholic, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, but religion isn't necessarily a strong shaper of local attitudes. Massachusetts is the fourth least religious state after nearby New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, according to the Gallup Poll, which looks at worship attendance and how important people say religion is in their daily lives.Yet when faced with extraordinary decisions, even less-observant Catholics turn to church teachings for guidance, according to Dillon. They're apt to do so if tapped for the Tsarnaev trial, she said.

And this:

Nationwide, 62% of Catholics favor the death penalty for murderers, according to the General Social Survey's most recent data from 2012. That is a substantial decline from 30 years ago, when 82% of Catholics favored it. ...Catholics aren't obligated to heed church teaching on the death penalty, Bretzke said, because the teaching is not considered infallible.

It would be easy for such a story to present Catholics as a monolithic group who all believe the same thing and place the same level of importance on their faith. This story doesn't do that. It has layers.

Kudos to MacDonald and USA Today for peeling back those layers.

This story definitely passes the "Shrek" test.

Categories: Main

Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

Thursday, January 29, 2015


When did circumcision start and how was God involved? How did its use evolve to today’s practice?


In the Jewish faith, ritual circumcision of males (bris) to remove the foreskin of the penis has been a requirement ever since God designated it as a “sign of the covenant” with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). So God has been “involved” for some 4,000 years now.

Anthropologists tell us that circumcision was practiced long before Abraham, across the globe from pharaonic Egypt to aboriginal Australia. It was often a tribal “rite of passage” at puberty, and not the Bible’s sign of commitment to God performed on eight-day-old newborns. The “why” of circumcision prior to biblical times is uncertain. Macmillan’s “Encyclopedia of Religion” says contemporary experts dismiss the theories that it originated to mark captives, attract women, enhance sexual pleasure, aid hygiene, test bravery, or symbolize submission to elders or the cutting of bonds with mothers.

Jewish surgery and ceremonial are commonly the work of a specialist known as a mohel. The operation is traditionally required for adult converts as well as infants born in the faith. Though liberal Reform Judaism dropped that mandate in 1893, some of its rabbis continue the tradition. Note that any male born of a Jewish mother is deemed a Jew, even if he is not circumcised.

Jesus, as the son of devout Jews, was circumcised in infancy (Luke 2:21). But decades later Christianity’s first policy council made the Jewish regulation optional for Gentile converts to the new faith (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15). As the missionary Paul hoped, this fostered rapid expansion around the Mediterranean. Jewish Christians apparently preserved the rule (Acts 21:21) as did later Coptic Christians in Egypt and Ethiopia. Today’s churchgoers will often choose circumcision, but not for religious reasons.

Islam, the youngest of these three great monotheistic religions, has made circumcision of male newborns universal, but it is not always demanded of adult converts. Muslim circumcision does not carry Judaism’s covenant meaning and is neither a commandment in Scripture nor counted as one of the “pillars” of obligatory practice.

However, in the Quran (16:120-123) Abraham’s example is powerful since he’s a “praiseworthy” model and God states, “We revealed to you: Follow the religion of Abraham, the upright.” Subsequent teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (hadith) agree with the Bible that Abraham instituted circumcision and the prophet declared it sunnah (traditional and normative). A Web site aimed at prospective converts therefore encourages adult newcomers to be circumcised even though this is not an absolute commandment for them.]

Circumcision is a striking example of an ancient religious tradition involved in modern controversy. In 2011, petitioners put on San Francisco’s city ballot a measure to outlaw circumcisions, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a year in prison.

Continue reading "Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why?" by Richard Ostling.

Categories: Main

Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Back in the 1980s, when I was working at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP, maybe) in Denver, I was in regular contact with press officials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both locally, especially during the building of the Colorado temple, and those working in the big white tower in Salt Lake City, Utah.

We frequently discussed issues of newspaper style and how the church's unique beliefs were handled in the mainstream press. We didn't always agree, of course, but I knew where they were coming from. We had many discussions, for example, about what to call the leaders of local and regional Mormon flocks. The key: Mormons don't have professional, full-time clergy in the same sense as other churches. The word "ordain" isn't used in the same way.

Thus, it has been interesting to follow the many interesting comments on my recent post about the New York Times story covering the ongoing political and religious pilgrimage of Mitt Romney. The key reference was right near the top:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.

It seems clear to me that Mormons have, in recent years, continued in their efforts to find ways to talk about their lives in language that is less foreign to other Americans. Thus, rather than saying that a local LDS leader was the "bishop" of his "ward," it is becoming more likely that -- when talking to outsiders -- Mormons are more likely to say that some is the "pastor"  of their local "church" and THEN go on to explain the differences. Read the comments on the earlier post and follow the discussion.

Now, The Washington Post has rolled out a pre-campaign-madness story on the same topic and there are some slight, but interesting, differences that, in some ways, resemble the suggestions made by GetReligion readers. Thus, readers are told:

If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private. He rarely discussed his religious beliefs and practices in his failed 2008 and 2012 races, often confronting suspicion and bigotry with silence as his political consultants urged him to play down his Mormonism.Now, Romney speaks openly about his service as a lay pastor in the Mormon Church, recites Scripture to audiences, muses about salvation and the prophet, urges students to marry young and “ have a quiver full of kids,” and even cracks jokes about Joseph Smith’s polygamy.

Note the term "lay pastor." It's a subtle point, but one that I think captures the key distinction that I have heard Mormons make about their own local leaders and the "professional" clerics who lead other flocks.

And what about the "b" word? This is really crucial, because Romney's years as a "bishop" are closely linked to the major theme of the story -- which is how he hopes to be more open (think Netflix "Mitt" documentary) about who he is as a man, husband, father and community leader, as opposed to being a robotic politico:

Romney’s friends and family believe he could have overcome such character concerns by talking more about his church service.“He just didn’t talk enough about how he, as a man, was able to do so much to help those in need,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who also is a Mormon. Being a volunteer bishop, as Romney was, is “a high calling in the Mormon Church. You spend most of your time helping people with their problems -- everything from financial problems to work problems to marital problems to sexual problems.”

Again there is a new adjective -- he was a "volunteer" bishop. I still would have liked to see the Post team offer at least one clear sentence that discusses the doctrinal details of his volunteer, yet "pastoral" work. Again, the whole point of the story is that Romney, as a church leader, has had contact with the daily lives of real people as they live their real lives.

So major progress has been made here and should be applauded, but the news style work will continue.

Meanwhile, I would like to gently challenge one rather mushy wording in this Post story. Once again, this is a passage about Romney opening up and talking about the role his faith has played in his life through the decades. Spot the problem?

Romney did just that in November, when he addressed the student body at Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He talked about how his spirituality had shaped his life.“There may be times in your life when you may feel that it is a bit of a burden being a member of the church,” Romney said. “Some folks will think you’re not Christian, some may be insulted that you don’t drink, and others will think you’re trying to be better than them by not swearing. But I can affirm this: Your fellow members of the church will be a blessing to you that far more than compensates.”

Yes, the vague "s" word shows up. In a common online dictionary, "spirituality" is defined as:

... the quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters : the quality or state of being spiritual

I guess the "state" of Romney's attempts to be "spiritual" is an interesting topic, but that is not what this Post story is actually about.

Sure, I'd love to know how much he prays and studies The Book of Mormon. However, this is a story about the man's ACTIONS and how, in practical ways, he has lived out the doctrines of his faith. That's what is the material that's relevant to his public life.

So follow the money. Follow the hours in his pocket calendar. Look at the factual details of his life. Go for it.

Categories: Main

Is the American Family Association really a hate group? AP needs to tell both sides of the story

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Associated Press highlighted a weekend prayer rally hosted by Louisiana Gov. — and potential Republican presidential candidate — Bobby Jindal:

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Gov. Bobby Jindal continued to court Christian conservatives for a possible presidential campaign with a headlining appearance Saturday at an all-day prayer rally described as a "global prayer gathering for a nation in crisis."The rally attracted thousands to the basketball arena on LSU's campus but drew controversy both because of the group hosting it, the American Family Association, and Jindal's well-advertised appearance.Holding his Bible, the two-term Republican governor opened the event by urging a spiritual revival to "begin right here, right here in our hearts." He was scheduled to speak again later Saturday afternoon.While people sang, raised their hands in prayer and gave their personal testimonies inside the arena, hundreds more protested the event outside.

The American Family Association figures heavily — and negatively — in the AP report.

There's this reference:

Outside the prayer event, critics held a protest, saying the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group, promotes discrimination against people who are gay or of non-Christian faiths.

And this one:

Jindal hasn't commented directly on the views of the American Family Association, which has linked same-sex marriage and abortion to disasters such as tornadoes and Hurricane Katrina.

How does the American Family Association respond?

The AP story doesn't say, although that information is readily available on the association's website:

Author:  Patrick Vaughn, Legal Counsel - AFAThe Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls the American Family Association (AFA) a “hate group” because AFA promotes traditional Biblical views on homosexuality and marriage. SPLC does not have a standard for who they label as a “hate group.” They apply the label to whomever they want to dehumanize and attack. Surprisingly, President Obama stated the same position on homosexual marriage that AFA holds when he first ran for President, but SPLC did not call him a hater.

Meanwhile, a 2014 letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey and signed by the leaders of 15 conservative and/or Christian groups — such as the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition and the Alliance Defending Freedom — complained about the FBI Hate Crimes website listing the SPLC as a resource. 

That letter argued that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled many organizations as hate groups because "they are ardent defenders of marriage and sexuality as defined by the Christian and Hebrew Bible." The letter also accused the SPLC of "stalking and bullying" its political opponents.

What to expect when you’re interviewed by @AP: Standards Editor @tjrkent explains in an update on our blog:

— AP CorpComm (@AP_CorpComm) January 21, 2015

In a blog post last week titled "What to expect when you're interviewed by AP," the wire service's standards editor, Tom Kent, cited a commitment to telling all sides of a story:

If there are other points of view besides yours on the subject at hand, we’ll look to obtain those as well and include them in the story.

Unfortunately, the story on the prayer rally headlined by Jindal fails to live up to that high standard.

If AP truly intends to serve as an unbiased news source, it can — and must — do better.

Categories: Main

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

How widespread sexual aversion is among ultra-Orthodox women is impossible to say, and the question is made especially difficult because there is a host of movements and sects with varying statutes and customs. But there is an erotic ideal that all these cultures share. After a young woman marries — often, like the Satmar wife Marcus told me about, to a man she has met and spoken with only once before the wedding — she’s supposed to feel that sex is a blessing, a union full of Shekinah, of God’s light, not just a painful or repellent reproductive chore. Quietly, rabbis refer struggling wives to Marcus’s care. Her task is to instill desire in them.

Nearly all of the story centers on Marcus; the only other quoted sources are a patient and a Haredi rabbi who began referring women to her. Both are quoted without names -- a reflection, the Times says, of the shame and stigma among the Haredim about even discussing sex.

Women especially, according to this story, feel crippled on the road to sexual bliss:

 Below her brown bangs, Marcus’s eyes fill with tears sometimes when she talks about how Orthodox Judaism — and above all the most restrictive branches of Haredi Orthodoxy — can quash female eros by imbuing a physical shame and a nearly apocalyptic sexual terror, by teaching that if the laws of tzniut, of modesty, are broken, calamity will come. One Haredi rabbi I met likened eros to “nuclear energy”: Sex could bring disaster to the world, but, he said, “the careful regulation” of it can connect a couple to God and beckon “transcendent experience.”

How does Marcus deal? She tries to loosen up her clients on a range of practices: from nighties to romance novels to suggesting the women "learn about their own bodies," alone, by hand. But the story pays the most attention, for some reason, to vibrators -- in two paragraphs totaling about 275 words.

And she leads seminars for teachers on Jewish sexuality, including what is allowed and what is not forbidden. In those sessions, she teases out teachings by rabbis and the Talmud that bless sex between husband and wife as pleasurable and even holy.

Marcus admits that her goals go beyond therapy to systematic change among the Haredi:

“I tell them our values are the same,” Marcus said about winning over her Haredi patients, “but in a way, I’m being disingenuous.” In addition to working one on one with women, she holds seminars for kallah teachers. She is on a kind of crusade, a fledgling effort to carry new ideas about eros into Orthodoxy, to educate the educators, to persuade them to give brides an abundance of detail about the anatomy of pleasure, about orgasm.

Leaving aside the wisdom of using "crusade" in a story about Jews -- who don’t generally look kindly on the Crusades -- that paragraph appears only in the last fifth of the story. By then, we've gotten 2,500 approving words on Marcus' experiences and opinions.

Back to my "granteds" at the start of this piece. Yes, "getting multiple perspectives would be hard," as noted by the reader who tipped us to the Times story. But not impossible.

The writer could have called Jewish schools like Brandeis University, which has a Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Program. Or Yeshiva University, which teaches an "overview of human sexuality" at its Stern College for Women. Even the umbrella Orthodox Union recommends a book called Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality.

A Talmudic scholar would have been a good source when the story brings up a concept called biah shelo k’darka, “sex in the non-normal manner.” Marcus argues that passages like this imply that all pleasurable acts between a married couple -- oral, anal, etc. -- can be sacred. The Times should have checked.

Why not at least try to get reaction from Satmar leaders, since the sect is mentioned five times? The Times could have also asked Marcus' own rabbi, who is Orthodox, though not Haredi. The story doesn't even name her synagogue.

Unless an editor cut the story savagely, I can only guess that the writer made little effort to get other perspectives. Perhaps that's because the writer, Daniel Bergner, is himself the author of a book on "female desire."

This feature is valuable in introducing us to a little-known pioneer on sex therapy for women in little-known Jewish communities. But when it has Marcus wading into religious teachings, it needs others to wade in, too. Otherwise, the story broadens our knowledge, yet narrows our understanding.

Categories: Main

Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I am in the middle or writing a pair of "On Religion" columns about the recent "Getting Religion" conference in Westminster, England, led by the Open University and the Lapido Media network that promotes religious literacy in the press and in diplomatic circles. Click here to read the first of those Universal syndicate columns, if you wish:

However, the main thing that I wanted to share with GetReligion readers -- especially working journalists -- is this video that was shown as part of the conference. No, I wasn't there (my final semester here at the Washington Journalism Center was starting right about that time), but I certainly wish that I could have gone.

Click on to see the full post -- to see the video at the top.

What was the general thrust of this event? Here are some crucial background quotes, the first drawn from published remarks (.pdf here) by Richard Porritt, a former top editor at The London Evening Standard and the British Press Association wire service.

Let this soak in, as a statement about UK media (and elsewhere):

A journalist who is not confident about the facts is dangerous. And with a specialism like religion mis-reporting can lead to widespread misunderstanding. For too long religious affairs -- as editors deem fit to call the specialism -- has been a job palmed off on reporters. It is a role that has traditionally been dodged by the cream of the newsroom for specialisms thought to be more glamorous or hard-hitting. But there is no more vital role in a modern society cluttered with half-truths and myth surrounding religion.Religion affects us all -- whether we have faith or are atheists. The industry cannot afford to let ignorance grow. Many newsdesks shun real religious news because they believe the subject
matter is too tricky to get across properly -- and the fear of getting anything wrong is too great.But ignoring these stories, or not reporting them fully, is anti-journalism. It is the exact opposite of why every reporter signs up in the first place -- to uncover the truth and educate your
audience.The media must not avoid hard truths just because they are hard. The time for thoughtful, incisive and investigative coverage of religion and faith is long overdue.

I would also recommend that journalists take a look at the "Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties" report that was issued during this conference. Click here to download the .pdf document. It's heavy reading, at times, but essential. My second "On Religion" column will focus on some of its recommendations.

Enjoy the video, if "enjoy" is the right word. This is sobering, and for GetReligion readers, very familiar material. But even the choir needs to hear this sermon, again.

Categories: Main

Washington Post story on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is long on emotion, short on religious insight

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What it's like to get married in a state where most people strongly oppose your marriage

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 26, 2015

Since I live in Oklahoma, this Washington Post headline caught my attention:

Deeply conservative Oklahoma adjusts to sudden arrival of same-sex marriage

I'm not sure what I expected when I clicked the link. 

I guess I hoped the Post would go below the surface and not rely on easy stereotypes to characterize the beliefs and attitudes of my fellow Oklahomans.

To a certain extent, this in-depth piece — produced by a Style section writer — does that, focusing on one lesbian couple's decision to marry and the reactions they receive from friends and family.

A top newspaper reporter here in Oklahoma tweeted the link and called it a "great story." My reaction is more mixed. On the one hand, the Post does a pretty nice job of highlighting the emotional experience of the couple featured. On the other hand, the newspaper avoids any meaningful exploration of religion, an obviously key factor at play in this state — and in this story — but one that the Post relegates to a cameo role.

The opening scene:

The “polite gays,” was how Tracy and Kathryn described themselves. Not political or loud, not obvious or overt, but understated, in keeping with their Oklahoma surroundings. Never asking anyone to think too hard or talk too much about the fact that they were gay at all. Except now they were about to ask everyone they knew to think about it, because they’d decided to have a wedding.

“Okay, here are our wedding plans, right here,” Tracy Curtis said, opening her notebook at the Hideaway Pizza and scanning the friends she and her partner, Kathryn Frazier, had invited to their inaugural planning session. “If you’ll notice, this notebook’s empty. We need help.”

“Tracy, I don’t know.” Across the table, one friend half-raised her hand. “I just haven’t been to many gay weddings. And I’m gay. We’re in kind of uncharted territory.”

They were at this restaurant because in October the Supreme Court decided to let several lower court marriage rulings stand, which made same-sex unions legal in some of the country’s reddest states, including theirs. The next day, Tracy and Kathryn picked up a marriage license on the advice of a lawyer friend who told them to hurry before this suddenly opened window closed. But after a two-minute ceremony, Kathryn, 39, went to work and Tracy, 44, went to a doctor’s appointment, and then went home and cried because what they’d just experienced felt like checking something off a list, not like getting married.

And so now, in November, they were at the Hideaway to plan an actual wedding, to take place in a state where 62 percent of people in a recent poll said they didn’t approve of same-sex marriage — and 52 percent said they felt that way strongly.

I'm not sure if the lede's reference to the Hideaway is designed to make it sound mysterious or if I just have a weird sense of humor (probably that), but Hideaway is a popular pizza chain here in Oklahoma with locations in every direction from my house. (And suddenly, I'm starving.)

Why do a majority of Oklahomans oppose same-sex marriage?

As the Post indicates, religion might have something to do with it:

Oklahoma. This was a place where Kathryn’s workplace had a cussing jar, a quarter per swear, and the words written on it, “Let Go and Let God.” Here, Christianity was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and Oklahoma football was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and people could be decent and kind and judgmental, sometimes all at once, which was why, when Tracy told some Rotary Club friends that she and Kathryn were getting married, she kept her eyes planted above their heads so she wouldn’t have to look at their faces.

Later, as the couple reflects on who might attend the wedding, the Post puts a face on Oklahoma's disapproval of same-sex marriage:

What about Kathryn’s boss, Tim? He and Kathryn talked all the time about homosexuality and the Bible, and his wife, Kelly, was the leader of Tracy’s Bible study. The two couples had eaten dinners at each other’s homes and been friends for more than a decade — but would Tim and Kelly come to the wedding?

Eventually, readers learn that Tim and Kelly won't attend the wedding because they consider marriage "holy and biblical, something whose definition shouldn't be changed."

Near the end of the story, there's a final reference to religion:

“There is no deeper question that they can have about me that I haven’t had about myself,” Kathryn said. “I’m a gay Christian in Oklahoma — there is no greater cosmic joke than for me to be a gay Christian.”

But here's the problem with the story: The religion angle remains vague and unexplored. If Tim and Kathryn talk "all the time" about homosexuality and the Bible, what do they say? If Kelly leads Tracy's Bible study, what do they study? What — and who — does the study involve? The Post reporter apparently tags along to the pizza place, the workplace and the dress place. Was she not invited to the Bible study?

The Post provides no information on where — if anywhere — the main characters worship or what precisely they believe. The story is 3,400-plus words long. Amazingly, not one of those words is "church."

If you like cotton-candy journalism, you'll enjoy this piece.

Looking for something meatier? Take my advice and try the Hideaway.

Categories: Main

Journalistic story baking? Via World magazine, Colorado man denies requesting 'God hates gays' cake

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"This Colorado baker refused to put an anti-gay message on cakes. Now she is facing a civil rights complaint," proclaimed a Washington Post headline.

"Complaint: Baker refused to write anti-gay words on cake," reported USA Today.

"Denver baker sued for refusing to write anti-gay slogans on cake," said The Christian Science Monitor.

In a post last week, I characterized The Associated Press' coverage of the latest skirmish in Colorado's cake/culture wars as "less than perfect."

Now comes Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of the evangelical Christian news magazine World, with questions about mainstream media coverage of the dispute:

WORLD’s @MarvinOlasky reports that #BillJack did not request a cake with “God hates gays” written on it.

— WORLD News Group (@WORLD_mag) January 27, 2015

The top of Olaksy's report, titled "Cake baking and journalistic story baking":

Bill Jack goes on the offensive today in the Colorado cake-baking story that’s received enormous media attention over the past week.Jack is a founder of and frequent speaker at Worldview Academy summer camps that train students to think and live Christianly. The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other media powers have lambasted him for purportedly asking the owner of Azucar Bakery in Denver to decorate a cake with “anti-gay slogans,” particularly “God hates gays.”But Jack’s account of what he asked for is very different. In an email to WORLD, he wrote that he requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible. He asked that the first cake show on one page, “God hates sin—Psalm 45:7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin—Leviticus 18:22.” He requested that the second cake have on one page, “God loves sinners,” and on the facing page, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us—Romans 5:8.”

Later in the piece, Olasky applies a GetReligion-style critique to the coverage:

The Washington Post reported the story this way: “Jack walked into Azucar Bakery last March and asked for two cakes, both in the shape of Bibles. That wasn’t a problem for Marjorie Silva, the bakery’s owner. It was what Jack wanted her to write on the cake: Anti-gay phrases including ‘God hates gays.’”The Los Angeles Times and other publications similarly accepted Silva’s account as fact.The Associated Press, though, followed basic journalistic rules by suggesting that this was Silva’s side of things, not necessarily the truth: “Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake.” USA Today added that Jack “wouldn’t let employees make a copy of the paper and would not read the words out loud, Silva claims.”

World doesn't link to the Los Angeles Times account, but I found this article (labeled as an opinion piece) via a Google search.

Olasky discloses that Jack's Worldview Academy advertises with World, and the magazine makes no secret of its desire to report news from a "uniquely Christian worldview."

Those caveats aside, Olasky raises intriguing questions about some news organizations' apparent willingness to accept one side of the story as fact.

That style of reporting, of course, is not journalism. It's advocacy.

Categories: Main

Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an event that -- to my surprise -- is getting very little coverage in the mainstream press on this side of the Atlantic.

Why is that? Any theories?

Perhaps the coverage will be tomorrow, focusing on news events linked to the anniversary. Maybe.

Anyway, this made me think about a piece of journalism-related material that I had hoped to post this past weekend in one of my usual "think piece" slots, but other news jumped ahead in my priorities.

While there is, let me stress, no direct connection between the issue of Holocaust coverage and current debates about coverage of Israel, I thought that this piece from The Forward was very interesting.

I don't know about you, but I often get tired of the usual left vs. right debates in politics, media, religion and culture. In this case, we have a liberal Jewish publication offering a serious critique of the newspaper -- The New York Times, of course -- that serves as holy writ for the cultural left. The headline: "The New York Times and its Israel Bias --The Gray Lady's Blind Spot."

This piece, in turn, opened with a Times hook -- a column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in response to waves of letters from readers about this topic.

The key is a topic that your GetReligionistas hear about all of the time from our readers: How are people supposed to believe that the EDITORIAL perspective shown in social media and columns is completely separated from the worldview that drives the hard-news coverage in the same publication?

Thus, Richard A. Block of The Forward begins with this:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not confined to the battlefield. It is also waged in the media, nowhere more prominently than in The New York Times. In “The Conflict and the Coverage,” a November column she “never wanted to write,” Margaret Sullivan, Times Public Editor, addressed “hundreds of emails from readers on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, complaining about Times coverage.” Her verdict: a “strong impression” “that The Times does everything it can to be fair in its coverage and generally succeeds.” She was wrong.A prime reason is the limited evidence Sullivan considered. “This column,” she wrote, “is restricted to news coverage and does not consider the opinion side offerings.” This ill-advised, self-imposed constraint doomed her effort from the outset. The Times’ “worldview” of the conflict is also revealed in its editorial page, headlines and storylines, and the Op-Ed columns it chooses to run.

And, at the very end, there is this, for me, rather frightening reference to recent debates about "false balance" in media reports (perhaps even "Kellerism" at The Times) and other postmodern discussions of balance, fairness and, perhaps, even accuracy.

It comes as no surprise that, as Sullivan laments, many readers mistrust the motives and efforts of Times editors and reporters. ... The ultimate question is whether The Times will transform its culture, given systemic problems that Sullivan, and senior editors she takes at face value, fail to acknowledge. Her most problematic recommendation is that The Times stop trying to show both sides of each story, creating the impression of “running scared“ or exhibiting “an excess of sensitivity.” Rather, its reporting should reflect “the core value of news judgment.” However, in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poor news judgment is The Times’ essential deficiency.In her widely praised book, “Buried By The Times,” Northeastern University Professor Laurel Leff excoriated “America’s most important newspaper” for its scandalously negligent coverage of the Holocaust. Max Frankel, Times Executive Editor from 1986 to 1994, called it “the century’s most bitter journalistic failure.” Someday, historians will render a similar judgment on its coverage of the Jewish State and will discern a clear connection between the two colossal miscarriages of justice.

Read it all.

Categories: Main

Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mitt Romney is in the news again, which means it's time for people to argue about whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, well, you know, normal and safe and whatever.

This leads us to a really interesting question linked to a New York Times piece that ran the other day: Is it a mistake when journalists print a factually inaccurate statement about a religious believer, yet there is evidence that they were quoting -- without saying they were quoting -- the believer himself?

The discussion starts here:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.Three years ago, Mr. Romney’s tortured approach to his religion -- a strategy of awkward reluctance and studied avoidance that all but walled off a free-flowing discussion of his biography -- helped doom his campaign. (The subject is still so sensitive that many, including the prominent Republican, would only discuss it on condition that they not be identified.)

Veteran religion writers will spot the problem quickly: Mormons don't have "pastors," if that noun is a reference to ordained clergy who work for the church as their calling and vocation. While Mormons use the term "ordained," it doesn't have the same official, professional implications that it has in other bodies. He was not a trained clergyman.

The accurate statement is that, at one point in his adult life, Romney was asked to serve as a "bishop" and for a period of time led a Mormon "ward," or regionally defined congregation. As a former GetReligionista put it, in an email to me:

The bishop acts like the pastor, but in a lot of ways the job is half-master of ceremonies, half-pastor. He does pastoral counseling, weddings, funerals etc. but is not expected to give a sermon every Sunday -- bishops usually have members of the congregation and/or visitors give talks on assigned scriptural themes. Also, bishops are not professional clergy. They're not paid for what they do and usually have zero formal theological training. And even though the time commitment often amounts to a full-time job it's done in addition to their day job. This is ameliorated by the fact it's usually a temporary commitment -- usually five years or so, just enough for some continuity. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The job is very different in crucial ways from what most Americans think of as a "pastor."

However, when you look up the word "pastor" in a typical dictionary, things get a little bit vague.

... A spiritual overseer; especially :  a clergyman serving a local church or parish.

In other words, Romney may have served as a spiritual "overseer," and he may have acted in a "pastoral" manner in his ward role, but it would be factually inaccurate to say that he was an ordained clergyman.

So does the Times team -- which has one of the best corrections units in all of journalism -- need to print a correction on this one?

Meanwhile, there is another problem here. What if, in an attempt to help potential Republican voters relate to his non-traditional faith (from the point of view of a vaguely Trinitarian Christian American public, including in the mushy middle of, allegedly, God's Own Party) Romney actually referred to himself, at least one time, as a former "pastor"? Does that automatically change things, making it OK for journalists to inaccurately refer to him -- outside of an attributed quote -- as a "pastor"?

Has Romney done this? Yes, he has. See this transcript from a 2012 debate:

I understand what it takes to make a bright and prosperous future for America again. I spent my life in the private sector, not in government. I’m a guy who wants to help with the experience I have, the American people.My -- my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God. And I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I -- I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I’ve sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times.

Was this Mormon candidate simply trying to speak in language that ordinary Americans would understand? Note that, in this same part of his remarks, he also noted that he has spent his adult life in the "private sector" -- code for the business world, as opposed to living his life in government jobs.

But he did say the word "pastor." So, again, does that mean that the most accurate wording the Times could have used in this case -- without attribution -- was to state that he was a "former Mormon pastor"? I would argue that it would have been better to say that, while Mormons do not have ordained clergy, Romney once helped lead his local congregation, or words to that effect.

There is one other thing to mention about this article: The basic premise. Right at the top, readers are told:

... Now as Mr. Romney mulls a new run for the White House, friends and allies said, his abiding Mormon faith is inextricably tied to his sense of service and patriotism, and a facet of his life that he is determined to embrace more openly in a possible third campaign.Kirk Jowers, a Mormon family friend who lives in Utah and chaired Mr. Romney’s leadership PAC, said that Mr. Romney’s contemplation of a third bid is motivated by an “almost devout belief that he needs to do something for this country.”But this time, Mr. Jowers said, Mr. Romney would treat his religion differently. “In 2008, Romney risked being a caricature of the Mormon candidate,” he said. “Now everyone seems to know everything about him, and that will be very liberating for him to talk about his faith.”

Now, as yet another former GetReligionista noted, what is unusual about saying that a religious believer is convinced that his "faith is inextricably tied to his sense of service and patriotism"? Would Hillary Clinton say that? Certainly. How about Jeb Bush or, for sure, Mike Huckabee? That would be "yes" and "yes."

Ah, but we are talking about a MORMON HERE. Those people are rather strange and foreign, right? Thus, the Times team offers a one paragraph -- one paragraph! -- venture into one of the most complex and controversial subjects in Mormon thought, a topic that (trust me on this) is simply hard to discuss in one paragraph.

One. Paragraph. Yes, I know that journalists have to do that sort of thing from time to time, but this was not one of them, methinks.

Some Mormons also believe in something called the “white horse prophecy” that, while not official church doctrine, says the Constitution will “hang like a thread” and be saved by a white horse -- which some elements believe to be the Mormon Church or a prophetic church figure. High-profile Mormon candidates often reinvigorate this lore, and Mr. Romney is no exception. A longtime friend says that he has seen Mr. Romney approached at church about the prophecy.

Yes, the Times team went there. Right into the heart of Mormon conspiracy theory land. Let me stress that I think this is a valid topic for coverage, but not for one-liners.

Be careful out there, people. Romney is back, for now.


Categories: Main

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Monday, January 26, 2015

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

* Help underprivileged students pay for religious schools.

* Aid houses of worship hit by natural disasters.

*Exempt religious dissenters from the “Obamacare” individual mandate, an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court faces, as well.

* Recognize a religious right for adoption agencies and public accommodations to avoid serving gay clients.

* Let military chaplains express their specific creeds when praying at mandated events, and guarantee similar freedom of speech and action for all those in uniform. (Also see the separate broadside (.pdf) titled “Clear and Present Falsehoods: Debunking Claims About Religious Freedom in the Military”).

Nutshell: Americans United liberals contend that only strict church-state separation produces religious freedom. Religious conservatives take the opposite side on issues and claim that their policies honor that same freedom, by defending the free exercise of religion.

If Americans United itself might be worth a story, there’s some intriguing history. The organization  began life in 1947 with a longer name that began with “Protestants and Other Americans... ” Its founding fathers were indeed patriarchs of what we today call “Mainline” Protestantism, and the chief author of its founding platform was The Christian Century’s editor.  
In 1948, prominent Catholic thinker John Courtney Murray depicted  the newborn PaOAUfSoCaS  as a “political instrument of the Protestant churches,” writing for the Jesuits’ America magazine. He thought the organization’s “angry mutterings,” “scare-technique” and “nightmare-theory” were at least “much more civilized” than the anti-Catholicism of the American past. 

Father Murray, of course, was later the top theological brain behind the Catholic Church’s 1965 embrace of American-style religious liberty at the Second Vatican Council.

Stay tuned, as things turn, turn, turn.

Categories: Main

Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Now here is an interesting thing to ponder. What we have here is a Baltimore Sun story about a controversy in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland that does not appear, at first glance to have anything to do with evolving sexual ethics or alcohol. The latter, of course, is a reference to the various charges brought against Bishop Heather Cook, including multiple charges of drunken driving, after the car that she was driving veered into a popular bike lane and hit a cyclist, killing a 41-year-old father of two.

No, this story has to do with a shrinking parish and conflict about the sale of a valuable piece of property that includes a church sanctuary. Thus, what we have here is a Baltimore-area story linked to a much larger national and even global trend about what religious leaders can do with properties held by flocks that are, to be blunt, not producing their fair share of converts and/or babies.

The issue, of course, is whether the Sun editors know about this demographics-is-destiny connection and whether they want to cover it. It is clear, however, that they know their local diocese has major financial problems (even before the DUI bishop case) and that the parishioners at the tiny Church of the Ascension allege that their property is being sold, against their will, because of that. Thus, readers are told:

The Church of the Ascension is an unremarkable Middle River landmark, just a squat, brick building on an isolated peninsula south of Martin State Airport. But for Episcopalians in eastern Baltimore County's Wilson Point community, the small church has been a fixture for generations -- home to such cradle-to-grave memories as baptisms, weddings and funerals.And on a street of mostly fenced-in front yards, the church's rolling lawn has served as an informal waterfront park to the entire neighborhood since aircraft pioneer Glenn L. Martin donated the property to the community 75 years ago. Residents walk their dogs to the tree-lined shore. A sliver of beach provides a popular spot for fishing. And a wooden bench perched amid a community garden beckons visitors to sit and gaze at the ducks on Stansbury Creek.But these days the garden is dead, the creek is frozen and the church is locked.

As you would imagine, the secular and canon laws involved -- including an old document giving the parish a quasi-independent status -- are complicated. The Sun also makes it clear that the church has about 20 members (elsewhere described as a core of 10 to 15 families) that was struggling to exist as a church, yet was paying its bills, collecting modest assets and operating in the black. The story also connects this long-running drama with the tensions caused by the Cook scandal and national church battles.

Nationally, the Episcopal Church has been ensnared in a number of property disputes. Typically such fights are triggered by congregations breaking away over issues such as the denomination's support for same-sex marriage and gay clergy, experts say. The Maryland diocese experienced such a defection in 2010 when Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore voted to become Catholic. In that case, the diocese simply sold the building to the departing church.The issue in the Middle River case is different, inflamed by local passions for a property that many in Wilson Point see as a tribute to Martin's benevolent legacy.

Here is where I see the problem. This is a story about money, in other words, not doctrine. Yet readers never really learn to details of how the Diocese of Maryland is doing, in terms of the basic facts about finances and the health of its parishes.

It's clear that many churches are in sharp decline and that gray hair is the norm in far too many pews. It's clear that the diocese needs money to pay its bills and even to wrestle with complications like the Cook case. But where are the facts? If the parishioners believe their sanctuary, land and assets are being seized by a greedy diocese, do they have any facts with which to make that case?

As I mentioned earlier, this is a story that is unfolding everywhere -- at the local, national and global levels. Yes, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York is closing churches and making headlines. But have you been to ROME ITSELF lately? There are lots of empty pews sitting on lots of very valuable land. The clock is ticking.

Thus, The Wall Street Journal recently reported (with Rod Dreher taking us behind the newspaper's pay wall):

The Church of England closes about 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed nonviable or underused. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has shut about 515 churches in the past decade.But it is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years. ...The U.S. has avoided a similar wave of church closings for now, because American Christians remain more religiously observant than Europeans. But religious researchers say the declining number of American churchgoers suggests the country could face the same problem in coming years.

Check out this devastating quote from a kid who frequents a facility that once was a church in Arnhem, but is now a skateboarding center:

Another regular, Pelle Klomp, 14, says visitors occasionally stop by to complain. “Especially the older people say, ‘It’s ridiculous, you’re dishonoring faith,’ ” he says. “And I can understand that. But they weren’t using it.”

In other words, there is no painless way to cut a shrinking pie. When churches age, fade and die, someone gets the assets.

I am not arguing that the Sun team needed to add a dozen inches or more to this story to get into a deep discussion -- yes, demographics and doctrine often mix -- about why so many of these oldline church pies are shrinking and facing the demographic reaper.

But, in this case, readers certainly needed to know a bit about the statistical health and finances of the local diocese, since those facts are directly linked to claims made by the angry parishioners about why their beloved little church -- with its nice views of the water -- is being sold out from under them.

It's that old journalism saying: Follow the money.

So how is the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland doing, in terms of finances, converts, babies and demographics? How many other little churches are threatened and how much might the church leaders make by selling some of them? This are fair questions during hard times. Sun editors needed to push their reporters to ask them.

Categories: Main

Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Monday, January 26, 2015

Seems like everyone is into mergers; why not Catholics? A new Washington Post story surveys the Catholic pro-life movement and concludes that it's merging with other social movements, like homelessness and immigration reform.

The story says the merging is a response to Pope Francis' admonition to stop "obsessing" about abortion. Whether that's true, though, is questionable. More on that later.

For now, some of the good stuff. The article catalogs a buoyant mood among Catholic pro-lifers during the recent March for Life: cataloguing a "belief that U.S. culture is turning in their favor."

Among the perceptive facets are an observation that "the March for Life participants were overwhelmingly young and religious." The article also reports on a separate pro-life march in Southern California, "highlighting not only abortion but also homelessness, foster care and elderly rights."

And here are two nice "nut" paragraphs:

Catholics have been debating the proper place of abortion in the hierarchy of issues since Roe v. Wade was decided, with some saying it holds the highest theological priority and shouldn’t be muddled in with other topics that may be less black and white and less fundamental. But Francis’s framing of such issues as care for the elderly, economic inequality and loneliness as urgent — rather than abortion and same-sex marriage — has forced Catholics to consider what being an advocate of “life” means.“My suspicion is that a number of people have gotten what we’ve come to call the memo from Pope Francis,” said Terrence Tilley, a theologian at Fordham University. “That is, we want to be a church that is pastoral and welcoming and not to war against the culture but to work to convert those who have to live in the culture.” Working against abortion goes from being a litmus test, Tilley said, “to one of the things you do.”

The piece also cites a more liberal leader -- Jon O'Brien of Catholics for Choice: “Having failed to make political or electoral inroads to defeat pro-choice support in the United States under Roe v. Wade, the anti-choice lobby is elbowing into more popular issues like immigration reform and anti-death penalty advocacy.” He recommends that other leaders steer clear of pro-lifers' efforts to "co-opt their issues."

True or not, that's a mark of good coverage: acknowledging that there is another side with articulate voices. So what could be so wrong with the Washington Post article?

For one thing, the Post says Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles merged the Justice and Peace office and the Life office in the "spirit" of Francis' interlinking of several issues. As a faithful reader of GR points out, the merger was in 2011, while Pope Benedict XVI was still Vatican Resident #1.

More importantly, Faithful Reader adds, Francis was hardly the first to interlink social causes:

There's a key phrase and a few decades of historical context missing here. It's on the tip of my tongue . . . streamless varmint? Schemeless gargoyle? Neither "seamless garment" nor Cardinal Bernardin's name come up at any point. Nor does the phrase "consistent ethic of life." It's a pretty mind-boggling lack of context.

Sarcastic, yes, but when you're right, you're right. For more than a generation, the Catholic Church in America has woven a "seamless garment," aka Consistent Ethic of Life, on the "dignity" of every person -- with far-reaching ramifications:

In encompassing "the moment of conception to natural death", this ethic encompass any issue during a person's life which places the dignity and worth of human life at risk.This includes (but is not limited to): human trafficking, abuse, just wages, medical ethics, homelessness, poverty, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, abortion, war, and the death penalty.

Although the "seamless garment" phrase was applied by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, the U.S. bishops have used it often, as with this statement against capital punishment. And others have used it in other terms.

As religion writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, I covered the installation Mass for Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. Like Francis and Bernardin, he flew the banner of human dignity over several issues:

Wenski acknowledged issues of tight economics and of clerical sex abuse that he would have to deal with. He also mentioned not only current immigration policies, but also abortion, the death penalty and torture of prisoners as practices that Catholic teaching condemns."I believe it can be summarized in one simple phrase: No man is a problem," he said, echoing a column he wrote for the Orlando edition of the Florida Catholic newspaper. "As archbishop of Miami, I will continue to proclaim a positive and consistent ethic of life."

It's entirely possible that Francis revived the idea of blending causes for American Catholics. Or, it's possible that it was the Americans who inspired him. But the Post itself suggests another factor: "that abortion is associated with moral gravitas that other groups would like to share."

I don’t like to fall back on clichés like "perfect storm," but the last few years may have formed one: persistent pro-life activism, pro-immigrant action, new focus on the poor -- and, of course, Francis' much-reported teachings on kindness and benevolence.

Sure, listen to the man at the top. But pay attention also to vocal, active branches of the Church, like that in America. You can't always use one text for context.

Categories: Main

Frame game returns: Yes, yet another blast of biased language on abortion and politics

Sunday, January 25, 2015

This past week, on the day of the annual March For Life, I wrote a post that raised a few questions about how The Washington Post team framed debate about the GOP retreat (surprise, surprise) on a bill that would have protected unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy, right on the front door of viability if born prematurely.

Yes, I just used that wording again, to help underline the obvious.

... You saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate. ...Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate?

That post was noted and, for the most part applauded, by the online site for the National Right to Life News -- which wasn't so sure that words such as "protect" and "expanded" were, as I put it, "loaded."

Yes, that is loaded language, in mainstream media. Thus, let me note that my point was not that I wanted mainstream reporters to replace biased pro-abortion-rights language with language that favored those who oppose  abortion and/or favor expanded restrictions on late-term abortions. No, I wanted journalists to stop and think about the language that they were using and to think strategically about how they could frame this issue in a way that was accurate, fair and balanced for believers on both sides of this hot-button issue.

I also urged readers, journalists in particular, to check out this classic Los Angeles Times series -- "Abortion Bias Seeps Into the News" -- by the late David Shaw, a mainstream reporter and media critic who was himself pro-abortion rights.

The key to this language war is who gets to be called "moderate," as opposed to who is "radical," "extremist" or worse. By the way, it does not appear that anyone in American life is "liberal" on abortion, even though the United States is one of only a handful of nations -- standing tall with North Korea and China, for example -- that allow late-term abortions, after viability (again, here is the must-read post at The Federalist by GetReligionista emeritus  M.Z. Hemingway).

So see if you can spot any framing devices in this Los Angeles Times piece:

After spending the last few years butting heads with his most conservative members, House Speaker John A. Boehner has a new headache: a revolt by moderates.Tired of staying quiet while tea-party-minded conservatives pull the Republican majority further to the right, more temperate voices are starting to rise in the new GOP-led Congress.Female lawmakers pushed the party to drop Thursday's planned vote on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forcing leaders to abruptly switch course and pass a different antiabortion bill.

Wait, I thought that the tea-party crew leaned libertarian, as opposed to a cultural conservatism that often is -- think Gov. Michael Huckabee -- harder to label on issues of spending and government programs. Someone at the copy desk needs to work out the precise meanings of these negative political labels.

And check out this three-paragraph bite of Associated Press coverage, which appears to be the totality of the March For Life 2015 coverage in The New York Times (unless my search missed something later). Study the third paragraph, please:

WASHINGTON -- Anti-abortion demonstrators have crowded the National Mall for an annual march coinciding with a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.Demonstrators at Thursday's annual March for Life carried signs with slogans like "Defend Life," ''I am a voice for the voiceless" and "Thank God my mom's pro-life." The march is held annually on the day that the Supreme Court announced its decision in the Roe v. Wade case in 1973 and ruled that the Constitution protects a woman's right to an abortion.As demonstrators were packing the National Mall, Republicans muscled legislation through the House tightening federal restrictions on abortions. The White House warned that President Barack Obama would veto the measure, all but ensuring that it would not become law.

That middle paragraph was interesting, falling into the "when in doubt, quote people" school of coverage. And that third paragraph? Can some one find me a mainstream media example of a case in which cultural liberals "muscled through" legislation that, oh, restricted the freedom-of-association rights of elderly nuns who work with the poor and the elderly?

Categories: Main

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A hearty "Amen!" in this corner for the key points in Mark Silk's Religion News Service take down of a really, really strange Time magazine interpretation of a poll on the Bible and religion.

Let's let the man preach:

This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?

Silk, with justification, notes that this interpretation slants everything away from cultural Catholicism and in the Bible-driven direction of Protestantism and, especially, evangelical Protestantism. That's accurate. However, I would argue that Time missed at least two other crucial points in this tone-deaf piece.

First of all, it misses the larger truth that -- statistically -- the dominant form of faith in American is a kind of watered down, feel good, shopping mall bookstore religion that for 20 years I have called the faith of "Oprah America." The more formal term, with a big hat tip to sociologist Christian Smith, is "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" or, for headline writers, "MTD."

All together now, journalists, can we recite the basics of that creed? (Click here for the essential .pdf)

* A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over it.* God wants people to be good, nice and fair to one another, as taught in most religions.* The goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.* God gets involved when we have problems we need solved.* Good people go to heaven.

Now, all of that has little or nothing to do with the Bible (or the Catholic Catechism, either), but can it accurately be called "Godlessness"? No way. That's like the Religious Right people who claim that the dominant spirit of our American age is a true secularism. No way, we live in an age in which there is, from the viewpoint of many elites, good, progressive religion and then bad, orthodox, doctrinal religion. Can you say James Davison Hunter? I knew that you could.

Time also, in a way, did something that GetReligion has been blasting since we opened our cyber-doors nearly 11 years ago -- it ignored the doctrinal and faith elements of liberal forms of major religions. In a strange way, this piece assumed that liberal forms of faith equal Godlessness. That's wrong. Way too often, journalists turn religious liberals into mere political junkies. That's bad journalism too.

Now, one more thing about the Silk piece. There was this:

I suppose we should cut the author of the Time story, Sam Frizell, some slack on this. He’s but a humble business and breaking news reporter. But albeit New York City has made the bottom 10 for the first time, shouldn’t his editors have known better? And for crying out loud, why isn’t GetReligion, cop on the Godbeat, all over this? Surely tmatt & co. don’t equate Bible-mindedness and Godliness!

Amen to that. I wish I had seen the Time piece and I am thankful that he pointed it out. I'm getting ready to move my office from not-so-Godless Washington, D.C., to rather Bible-friendly Oak Ridge, Tenn., in a few months and I am not subscribing to as many tree-pulp magazines as is the norm for me. Time is a magazine I have let go, to be frank about it.

So thanks for this great tip. And readers, we welcome your notes and URL tips (links to good coverage and bad), as always. Keep those tips coming. We need them.

Categories: Main

Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Friday, January 23, 2015

Marcus Borg, by all accounts, blended a nice-guy approach with blunt denials of nearly every historic belief about Jesus. That often drove conservative believers to distraction, of course. But not mainstream media, which helped the Bible scholar spread his ideas for decades.

Much of that enthusiasm also marked the obits on Borg, who died Wednesday at 72. Among the most-republished obits is the detailed, 860-word obit from the Religion News Service.

RNS notes that Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which "helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament." The story correctly calls Borg a "liberal theologian and Bible scholar."

But it appears subtly to take sides in the debates:

Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called 'quest for the historical Jesus,' the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.

Assuming that there is, in fact, myth in the Gospels puts a spin on the term. In another narrative tilt, RNS later says Borg was a "hero to Christian progressives and a target for conservatives." Borg's opponents, then, are against progress.

And although the obit quotes a couple of scholars saying they disagreed with Borg, it doesn't give the what or why of the disagreements. The article mentions Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, who often lectured with Borg and even co-authored a book with him. A live quote would have been a good idea. Otherwise, it's like recapping a horse race by talking mainly about one horse.

The Associated Press obit does a bit better, saying Borg "attracted praise and controversy by helping to lead efforts to analyze Jesus as a historical figure." Then it fleshes out some of that controversy:

Through such books as "Jesus: A New Vision," Borg is credited with bringing scholarly debates about Jesus to a broad readership. His work drew much criticism from more theologically conservative Christians and others, who argued his methods were unsound and his work undermined faith. But Borg wrote that he had conducted his research within the context of his "unbelieving past" and his "believing present" as a Christian.

Beyond that paraphrase, though, objections to Borg's work and thought are lacking in the story. Yet AP found the space to quote praise from his publisher about being "unafraid to follow the scholarly evidence" and "communicating complexity fluently."

And the above constitutes a kind of "ghost" -- not exactly a religious one, but an academic one. Borg really said little new; neither did the Jesus Seminar, the coalition of liberal scholars he worked with. The attempt to separate a "historical Jesus" from the "Christ of faith," after all, has been going on for three centuries.

The difference was Borg's casual, low-key conversational style and the media savvy of Jesus Seminar founder Robert Funk. The Seminar also found ready allies among reporters and editors who always welcome a new spin on old topics.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times in Oregon naturally angled its story on Borg as a native son who in 1992 saved the religious studies department at Oregon State University. As did RNS, the Gazette-Times plays up Borg's good nature and his way of engaging people who disagreed with him.

I liked this Borg quote: “Life is short, and we have not too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.”

But c'mon, did the newspaper have to lionize him as a "world-recognized expert on the historical Jesus"? I also raised an eyebrow when the story called Jesus a religious "icon" -- one of the worst uses of the word in a long train of them.

The Oregonian, the newspaper of record for that state, has a surprisingly short, 300-word obit on Borg, who taught at Oregon State University from 1979 to 2007. Still, the story brings out more of the Jesus Seminar's methods and conclusions than most stories:

Borg was a fellow at the controversial Oregon-based Jesus Seminar, an independent group of biblical scholars that concluded Jesus did not walk on water or compose the Lord's Prayer. In 1996, the group published an original translation of the gospels that ranked the reliability of Jesus's sayings by color: red for historically reliable, pink for probably reliable, gray for possible but unreliable and black if they were improbable.

My main beef there is that the Lord's Prayer and walking on water were not the most controversial products of the Jesus Seminar. Nor did the Oregonian cite one of the first products of the color coding: Back in the 1980s the group famously claimed that only about 100 of the 503 sayings attributed to Jesus could be traced to him.

Then there's the resurrection. Borg himself told me in 1992: "For me, the issue is not whether Jesus rose from the dead; it's whether anything happened to his body. Resurrection is not necessarily resuscitation. It's more like an entry into another kind of existence … The historical Jesus is dead and gone, a figure of the past. It's the risen and living Christ (i.e., the theological concepts) that we can know and pray to and worship."

The Oregonian and RNS alike, however, bring out a humble side of Borg. RNS says he "maintained strong friendships with those who disagreed with him, developing a reputation as a gracious and generous scholar in a field and a profession that are not always known for those qualities."

RNS and the Oregonian cite an anecdote from a Q&A at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston. Someone asked Borg, "But how do you know that you're right?"

He paused, then said, "I don't know. I don't know that I'm right."

If only he had said that whenever he gave media interviews. His pronouncements would have sounded much different.

Then again, many of his interviewers -- including myself -- didn't ask. We were too interested in reporting something new.

Categories: Main

The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

Friday, January 23, 2015

Week after week they march (or liturgical dance) foward, leaving in their wake a river of YouTubes and mainstream media reports.

Oh, and Associated Press style questions: Are they the "Women Priests," the "WomenPriests" or the "Womenpriests"? At some point, will they be the "Womynpriests"? Right now, at the official site, it is "Womenpriests."

Your GetReligionistas have written quite a bit about this tiny movement because the mainstream media have spilled oceans of ink on coverage of it. Also, the Womenpriests denomination -- and coverage thereof -- really gets under the skin of Catholics who read this blog.

Yes, I just referred to the Womenpriests as a new denomination, because historically that is what this is. This is a new Protestant denomination and the ordination of these women is totally valid to the people who are members of this flock, along with the rites they perform. The problem, of course, is that many reporters continue to refer to these women as Roman Catholic priests -- because they say that they are.

Well, in terms of Catholic tradition, you can't be a Catholic priest unless the Catholic pope says you are a Catholic priest. Ditto for major-league shortstops. You can't say that you are the shortstop for the New York Yankees unless the Yankees have hired you to play shortstop. This applies to quite a few other vocations in the real world. Right? I can't say that I'm a columnist for The New York Times, either.

This is where many GetReligion readers get so upset and send us smoking emails. Case in point, concerning a report from NBC News:

I see similar articles posted every now and then. The press reports these stories as a kind of magic ceremony, the words were said there gestures were made, never mind that none of the participants believe what the Catholic Church teaches, or is in submission to the authority of a Priest or Bishop of the Catholic Church in good standing, let alone the Church recognizing them as what they claim to be. It is like taking a vow of service in a foreign governing body in front of the TV, without being elected, then telling everyone you are Prime Minister of Europe.

Did this story deserve this familiar critique? Yes and no.

Let's start by looking at the entire top of the report, piece by piece:

Eighty-year-old Rita Lucey has been a military wife, a foster parent and a great-grandmother. But one title she coveted was off-limits because she's a woman: Roman Catholic priest.That, the Florida golden-ager says, all changed Saturday when she was ordained by a renegade group in a ceremony steeped in church ritual but wholly rejected by the Vatican.

Note what the NBC squad got right. Who says she is a priest? She does. What kind of group ordained her? A "renegade" one. Who rejected this rite? The Vatican.

That isn't all that bad, frankly. Let's move on.

With her family watching, Lucey joined a small but growing group of convention-busting women who have branded themselves priests despite the threat of excommunication. ...The ceremony in a borrowed Unity church had many hallmarks of a regular Catholic ordination: Lucey wore white robes and received a red stole. A female bishop laid hands on her, and she prostrated herself in the aisle. Afterward, she gave out Communion.To the Catholic Church, the entire rite is bogus because canon law says only men can be priests. Even liberal Pope Francis has ruled out the prospect of women priests.

There is much to praise there, other than the reference to Pope Francis as a doctrinal -- we are talking about sacraments, here -- "liberal." Note, in particular, that this rite was not even held,  as seems to be the norm, in a liberal mainline Protestant sanctuary.

So does this story mess anything up? You betcha. Consider the following material, including quotes from Womenpriests Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, that would turn any qualified church historian into a pillar of salt:

That hasn't stopped Lucey and 200 other women worldwide -- 160 of them in the United States -- who have undergone unsanctioned ordinations since an excommunicated Argentinian father bestowed the priesthood on seven women on the Danube in 2002.Meehan, an excommunicated nun who was made a bishop by the movement in 2009, said the priests come from all walks of life: "We have a lot of grandmothers, we have some women who are lesbians...we are starting to attract some younger women."The group even includes what Meehan calls "catacomb nuns" — anonymous sisters from orders overseen by the Vatican who are worried they would be forced out if their names were made public.

And finally, concerning their rites:

None of that is sanctioned by Rome, though the U.S. women priests insist they are bona fide because a clergyman in good standing -- referred to only as Bishop X -- ordained the first female bishop.

OK, for starters, a "father" cannot ordain a priest. Bishops do that. And as for Bishop X, how many bishops does it take to raise someone else to the episcopate? It takes three and, once again, they have to be in Communion, yes in good standing, with Rome. What do you call a Catholic bishop who ordains Womenpriests or a female bishop? He is someone who is not in Communion with Rome.

I could go on, as your GetReligionistas have many times. For example, please see this post offering measured praise for a story on this popular topic: "How to cover a Womenpriests story." Also, might I recommend a post and podcast that asks if mainstream reporters would handle this story in the same way if Southern Baptists were claiming to ordain rabbis? Would they embrace the claims of the renegades and, as The Baltimore Sun did in one instance, actually help shelter and support those doing the extralegal ordinations? Read on, please:

So let's say that the home mission board of the Southern Baptist Convention decided to hold a celebration in a Baltimore-area church sanctuary in which four people who are of Jewish birth and background would be ordained in order to serve in new congregations that would compete directly with local congregations that are affiliated with traditional Jewish movements.Instead of being called pastors, however, the organizers -- leaders in the Jesusrabbis movement -- insist that these newly ordained ministers are not, in fact, Protestants or even "Messianic Jewish" pastors. No, they insist that the newly ordained are rabbis -- period.Now, as it turns out, the participants in this public celebration actually included recognizable leaders from the Baltimore Jewish Federation, major Jewish schools, the Jewish studies programs of local universities and even major Jewish congregations. They were there to celebrate the ordination of these new "rabbis," cheering and applauding the rites.And how about the news media? The event's organizers asked the media professionals who were present to honor the privacy of these Jewish leaders who came to celebrate the ordination of these Jesusrabbis. For example, the Baltimore Sun team members agreed not to cover this important factual element of the story or even to take photos of the crowd. In a way, the Sun actually helped these Jesusrabbi movement supporters to maintain their positions in prominent local Jewish institutions, even though the overwhelming majority of local Jews would see their actions as scandalous acts of betrayal to any traditional form of the Jewish faith.Did I mention that all of this took place in a church sanctuary in an event that was clearly open, in some sense, to the public?But wait! If the event was secret, then that would be even more significant. The Jesusrabbi Movement even knew to invite these Jewish leaders who were acting in rebellion against their own congregations and institutions. They would had to have been, to some degree, on the inside.So, who can imagine Sun editors cooperating in this manner in this hypothetical case, going to far as to ignore crucial news information that the public would want to know? How about other major media institutions? Would they agree to help the Jesusrabbis movement in this manner?

Make sense?

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