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Updated: 27 min 31 sec ago

Clickbait sins and social media: So who was that Nazarene pastor calling 'demonic'?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Please allow me to put on my journalism-professor hat for a moment as we take a second look at the media coverage of that Florida pastor's viral Facebook post about the recent rally for President Donald Trump in Melbourne, Fla.

When recording this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken asked me a question that focused on the journalism nuts-and-bolts of this mini-mediastorm. That question: How did a single social-media post -- with no follow-up interviews or research -- end up becoming a news report that ran in mainstream media around the world?

Good question. But before we get to that, please pay close attention to the very first few seconds of this CNN interview in which the Rev. Joel Tooley, senior pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Melbourne, was asked about his Facebook post and the events that inspired it.

The CNN pro begins by noting that this Florida pastor walked out of "President Trump's weekend rally, calling it 'demonic.' He says that his 11-year-old daughter was traumatized and in tears. ..."

Tooley immediately responds: "Well, first of all, to clarify, I didn't describe the event as 'demonic.' There was some ..."

The CNN host interrupts to say: "A headline described it as that. ..."

It's safe to assume she was referring to the headline on the Washington Post "Acts of Faith" news feature that read: " ‘Demonic activity was palpable’ at Trump’s rally, pastor says." That led to my post on the topic this week.

As the interview began, a CNN graphic (this is a screenshot) made sure that viewers got that point.

If you read the entire Tooley post, it is clear that what he is saying is that he believes he felt the presence of the "demonic" during a bitter encounter between anti-Trump demonstrators and a pocket of angry Trump supporters. The pastor and his daughter got caught in the middle when he tried to help shield the anti-Trump demonstrators from those attempting to abuse them.

So it was the "demonic" Trump mob vs. the pastor and the calm, reasonable anti-Trump folks?

That's pretty much what went down, according to this Religion News Service report, which was essentially a shorter version of the Post material. Once again, the crucial question was this: Who or what was Tooley calling "demonic"?

The headline on this piece: "A pastor’s encounter with the ‘demonic’ at Trump’s Florida rally."

That's an improvement, since the pastor did say that he encountered the demonic during an encounter that took place at the rally. Here is the overture in the RNS piece:

(RNS) The vitriol of the president’s supporters at a Trump rally has moved a Florida pastor to write a much-shared Facebook post about the mockery of religion he believed he witnessed.“I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable,” wrote the Rev. Joel Tooley, lead pastor of Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene.The pastor said he felt the “power of the Holy Spirit of God” protecting him and his daughter as he sought to shield protesters from angry Trump fans.

Now, that lede needs an additional word -- "some" -- to accurately capture what Tooley described. It should have began with these words: "The vitriol of some of the president’s supporters at a Trump rally ..."

Later, the RNS piece added that what upset Tooley the most were:

... several Trump supporters’ reactions to two women protesting at the rally, who were chanting: “T-R- … U-M-P; that’s how you spell -- bigotry!”The “people around them became violently enraged,” Tooley wrote, with one man grabbing one of the chanter’s arms and shouting: “I’m going to take you out! This is my president and no one has the right to disrespect him and no one has the right to keep me from hearing him!”Two women who were part of the “angry mob” shook their middle fingers in Tooley’s face and cursed him when he tried to protect the protesters.

Now, it's good that this story made it clear that the worst actions were done by selected members of the "angry mob" at the rally. Note that the conflict with the pastor took place when "he tried" to help the protestors.

That's accurate, in a way, but does not capture the fine details of what Tooley was describing. Here is the crucial passage from his post (which we can assume describes the scene from his point of view, only):

I raised my voice and calmly said, "These ladies have the right to do what they are doing and they are harming no one; this is America and they a right to express themselves in this way. They are harming no one." A couple of other people around me stepped in and supported me in protecting them as a barrier, as well.My daughter was shaking in fear as she clung to me. The one man behind the protesters shoved himself forward, grabbed the lady by the arm and screamed with multiple expletives, "I'm going to take you out! This is my president and nobody has the right to disrespect him and nobody has the right to keep me from hearing him!"I wish I could have captured the expressions of that man on camera. I will never forget him.The little girl on her mother's back was crying, completely frightened. I leaned forward and reassured her in her ear, "Your mommy is being brave and we will not let these people hurt you. You are afraid because these are angry, awful people. We will not let them hurt you or your mommy. You are being so brave and your mommy is doing something very brave."That's when another lady screamed in my face that what I was doing was un-American. I just chuckled and responded, "What I am doing is completely American -- I'm standing up for people who are being bullied -- it doesn't matter if I agree with them or not. You came here to see the President, now ignore these ladies, turn around and enjoy the show." ...

Several bystanders gave Tooley high-fives and the pastor asked why they didn't step in to help defuse the situation.

So there are several layers to this situation -- at least five -- as described in a single social-media post by a man who openly states that he is a less-than-neutral observer.

(1) There is the rally itself. (2) There are Tooley and his daughter. (3) There are the few anti-Trump demonstrators. (4) There is a circle of rude and potentially violent Trump supporters who verbally threaten the anti-Trump people and the pastor. (5) Finally, there are other Trump rally participants who step in to help Tooley protect the demonstrators.

Now, the loaded word "demonic" was used to describe what part of this complex picture?

The whole rally? That's how CNN read the Post headline and the story itself, which never actually quotes the passage in which Tooley uses that term.

Why the simplistic headline? Probably because his comments were too complex to produce a clickbait headline.

I mean, this is a hot headline: " ‘Demonic activity was palpable’ at Trump’s rally, pastor says." Would as many typical Post readers have clicked a (longer) headline that said something like this: "Pastor says ‘demonic activity was palpable’ during clash with a few Trump fans at rally."

Would as many people have clicked an RNS headline that described the actual details of Tooley's account? That would have said (again, longer) something like: "A pastor’s encounter with the ‘demonic’ during clash with some angry Trump fans during Florida rally."

Let me stress, once again, another point made in my earlier post. I do not care if Tooley, as some conservative online critics are noting, was a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary man, as is easy to learn by scanning his social-media accounts.

Not voting for either, my final assessment based on their closing thoughts: she's a confident, intelligent communicator; he's a mouthy brat.

— J O E L•t o o l e y (@JoelTooley) October 20, 2016

Frankly, as a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary guy, I think my reactions to this rally would have been almost identical to those of Tooley. People chanting "USA! USA! USA!" after reciting The Lord's Prayer? Lead us not into temptation? Amen. Forgive those who trespass against us? Amen. That doesn't sound like pep rally stuff to me.

So was Tooley's post -- all by itself -- worth a global news story?

I tell my students that social-media can be a tremendous resource for good reporting. It alerts journalists to voices and eyewitnesses that, in the past, they may never have heard about. But there's the key point: This is where the story starts, not where it ends. Social media provides material that is worthy of further research, information that needs to be validated and clarified. Other points of view -- diversity is good -- should be sought out.

In particular, I was left wondering if Tooley was the only clergyperson at that rally. Did others present share his point of view? I guarantee you that some did and some did not. I am sure that there were evangelicals there who cheered everything that happened. But what about the other half of the white evangelical population that voted for Trump, but didn't want to? Were any of them there?

In other words, Tooley's post is a great place to start the journalism process. It's not material, all by itself, that I would feel comfortable turning into a news story -- which is how it ran around the world on the Post wire. At the very least, talking to Tooley himself was essential.

It also would have helped if journalists had refrained from yanking his words completely out of context. In terms of good and evil in in the doctrines of basic journalism, the clickbait approach that we saw here was, uh, rather demonic. 

Enjoy the podcast.

Categories: Main

When a 4-year-old biological male prays to be a girl, a few questions for journalists to consider

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Houston Chronicle tugs at heartstrings — or at least makes a valiant attempt — with a story today focusing on a kindergartner who wants to use the girls' restroom at school.

No, the timing of the cover story in the major Texas newspaper's City and State section is not coincidental: It's related to the Trump administration's decision this week on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms. In case you missed it Thursday, we highlighted three key questions to consider on that issue.

Today's Chronicle headline and subhead play the issue down the middle:

Transgender policy change shows splitReactions vary among Texas school districts

But the actual story leans heavily in favor of one side. Guess which? It's the side upset with the decision to overturn an Obama-era directive. By my count, four transgender rights advocates are quoted vs. one source on the other side — a school superintendent whose past quotes are recycled.

While the piece ostensibly is an overview of area school district policies, the story begins and ends with the kindergartner mentioned above. And yes, there's a religious angle — not to mention a ghost or two.

Hang with me for a moment, and we'll get to my journalism-related questions.

But first, let's start with the lede:

Kimberly Shappley accepted that her son needed to be her daughter two years ago after she overheard the child praying and asking God to let him die and live as a girl with Jesus. She spoke to youth psychologists and other experts who convinced her that it was wrong to punish her son for proudly proclaiming that he was a girl.But Shappley worries what could happen to her daughter, now a 6-year-old named Kai, after the Trump administration Wednesday reversed a directive issued under President Obama that told schools and districts that transgender students should be able to use the restroom of their gender identity, regardless of what gender they were born.Leaving transgender rights up to the discretion of states will lead to families like mine having to relocate,” Shappley said. “Transgender youth are merely the latest minority under attack.”

If that prayer occurred two years ago, that means the child was 4 years old at the time. (Please forgive me for stating the obvious.)

Later in the piece, the mother tells the Chronicle that Kai Shappley — who was featured in an ABC News report last year — already has suffered from having to use a nurse's restroom instead of the girls' room:

On multiple occasions, the nurse was out of her office and the door was locked when Kai came to use the facility. In those instances, Kai wet herself.“That doesn’t seem like a big deal because kindergartners do have accidents,” Shappley said. “But when you’re conditioning this child to realize the adults in her life are not going to consistently be there for her, they’re failing her, that she did her part, she went there and the door was locked, and she peed on the floor.”Shappley said she’s especially worried about next year because first grade students do not have private restrooms attached to their classrooms. Kai will have another choice: Use the nurse’s restroom every time she has to relieve herself or use the men’s restroom. If she chooses the nurse’s restroom and continues to have accidents, Shappley said she’ll have to continue to have difficult conversations with Kai.“I have to explain to her that it’s not her fault,” Shappley said. “I have to apologize that she was failed, and I have to remind her of who she is and that the Lord designed her and that she’s beautiful.”

OK, do the portions of the story that I copied and pasted raise any important questions that the Chronicle fails to answer? Definitely, in my opinion. (Feel free to disagree.)

Among those questions:

1. What is the family's specific Christian background (I'm assuming it's Christian because of the reference to Jesus)? Do they have a church home? What does their church teach about this issue? How is that the same or different from what other Christian churches teach? 

The way the story is written, God and Jesus make only cameo appearances.

Honestly, and perhaps this is my GetReligion bias, I'm much more interested in the religion side of this story than I am the school district policy survey. I wonder if, just maybe, the Chronicle missed an opportunity to tell a better, more informative story by forcing the Shappley family's experience into this particular piece.

If religion is important enough for the lede and closing, why not take it seriously and really explore its role in this family's story? And in the issue overall?

2. What do youth psychologists and other experts say about 4-year-olds and gender identity? Is there general agreement? Or is the issue more complicated than the newspaper portrays it in the opening paragraph? 

Again, that story sounds much more intriguing to me than the one the Chronicle actually produced.

3. Is it fair, balanced journalism for the Chronicle to refer to Kai Shappley as a "she?" Or, in doing so, does the newspaper take sides on an issue with which its readers have diverse opinions? 

Yes, I know what the Associated Press Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — says (we've covered this before):

transgenderUse the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly. See LGBT and transsexual.

But is that style the correct approach for a journalism entity aiming to provide impartial coverage? Just asking.

Categories: Main

Why local media coverage of West Virginia's Bible bill is far from being 'almost heaven'

Thursday, February 23, 2017

There's faith-related news, apparently, in West Virginia, but the local media there are not paying too much attention.

On Monday, Feb. 20 (don't ask me why the state legislature was meeting on Presidents' Day, but apparently they did), State Delegate Ken Hicks (D-Wayne) introduced a measure to amend the state code with a single sentence: "The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book of West Virginia."

That's, um, news, rather interesting church-state news. Right?

Well, Hicks's measure did grab the attention of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, so that's a start:

"I think a lot of the biblical principles are the same principles that the state was founded on," Hicks said. "The Bible is a book that's been around for thousands of years. A lot of principles from the Bible are what modern-day and contemporary law is based on."There currently is no official state book for West Virginia.Hicks said he thought the state could have multiple official books, not limiting it to just the Bible. When asked about concerns as to whether the proposal would indicate an official endorsement of one religion over others by the state, Hicks said he hoped that people who were concerned would contact their legislators to let their feelings be known.

The Herald-Dispatch account -- noting the lawmaker says he is "a practicing Christian" -- quotes Hicks as saying the bill isn't designed to compel Bible reading. Yes, a bit more specificity would have been nice when dealing with his church tradition.

The measure is co-sponsored by seven other delegates, two Democrats and five Republicans. None of the other sponsors are quoted nor are their religious affiliations, if any, disclosed. Talking to the Democrats would have been a nice touch.

Also telling, and also helpful, is this caveat, at the end of the piece:

In April 2016, Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible that state's official book after the GOP-majority General Assembly approved the measure. Similar measures failed to pass in the Louisiana State Legislature in 2014 and in the Mississippi Legislature in 2015.

A reader might then ask, what's the story here? 

It's a bill, it may or may not pass, and similar measures have been vetoed or died aborning in each of the last three years elsewhere. Pretty close to a toss-up.

My journalistic question, however, is whether the Herald-Dispatch reporter (or their editor) thought to get a comment from, oh, I don't know, a preacher or two in the state. Gallup says West Virginia ranks "average" among the states for having a "very religious" populace, so surely there must be a few voices available.

There are also faiths nearby that don't embrace the Bible, per se, such as the massive Hare Krishna instllation at New Vrindaban, where there might be someone willing to make a comment.

Also, where is the ACLU of West Virginia? Wouldn't they have something to say about this?

Turns out they did, but not to the Herald-Dispatch. Instead, they spoke with ABC affiliate WCHS-TV in Charleston:

Eli Baumwell, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if passed, this bill would contradict separation of church and state.

"America is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world," Baumwell said. "We actually have some of the most faithful people in the world. It's particularly because we have that freedom, so everyone can find that religion that speaks to them that is that truth, and they're able to do that because we don’t have government that's endorsing one religion over another."

Perhaps most puzzling, though, is the silence of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, published in the state's largest city and the state capital. I've searched, and there's nary a word about the 2017 measure designated HB 2568.

It seems to me there's room for media in the Mountain State to dig a little deeper, especially if the bill appears to have any chance of passage. You know, make a few calls, ask a few questions. #Journalism

Categories: Main

Facts, framing and fairness: Three questions to consider on Trump transgender bathroom decision

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One of the big news stories of the past 24 hours — in fact, the lead story in today's Washington Post and New York Times — involves the Trump administration's decision on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms.

Interestingly, the story did not make the front page of USA Today or the Wall Street Journal.

I quickly read the coverage from those four national newspapers, along with reports from The Associated Press, CNN and Reuters.

In case you missed the headlines, the lede from AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transgender students on Wednesday lost federal protections that allowed them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, as the Trump administration stepped into a long-simmering national debate.The administration came down on the side of states' rights, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that had been characterized by Republicans as an example of overreach.Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex."This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.

In my rapid-fire assessment of the stories, I'm interested in three key questions:

1. Does the media outlet pitch the question as solely related to bathrooms? Or does it include mention of locker rooms and shower facilities?

This question is crucial because of the issue of students undressing and undressing in front of someone of a different biological sex.

As you can tell from the material quoted above, AP mentions "bathrooms and locker rooms" in the first sentence.

On the other hand, the New York Times and Reuters refer — throughout their stories — only to bathrooms. The Washington Post brings up "locker rooms" deep in its story, in a quote from a concerned mother. 

The Wall Street Journal hits closer to the mark:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday formally withdrew Obama administration guidance enabling transgender individuals to use sex-segregated facilities, including bathrooms, of their choice.

CNN, in its lede, cites "bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity." USA Today, meanwhile, highlights the locker room component.

2. Does the media outlet frame the issue as entirely a matter of removing protections for transgender students? Or does the report include opponents' concerns about privacy and safety?

Again, AP provides helpful coverage:

The reversal is a setback for transgender rights groups, which had been urging Trump to keep the guidelines in place. Advocates say federal law will still prohibit discrimination against students based on their gender or sexual orientation.Still, they say lifting the Obama directive puts children in harm's way."Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it's OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.Activists protested the move Wednesday outside the White House. "Respect existence or expect resistance," read one placard.Conservatives hailed the change, saying the Obama directives were illegal and violated the rights of fixed-gender students, especially girls who did not feel safe changing clothes or using restrooms next to anatomical males."Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues," said Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy. "It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity."

But in the Reuters report, the words "privacy" and "safety" do not appear. On the other hand, coverage by CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post do reflect — to varying degrees — those concerns.

From USA Today:

Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Obama guidelines were unlawful because federal Title IX law protects students based on their sex, not their gender identity. He also said that those directives violated the rights of other students, especially girls who may have suffered from sexual abuse in the past and do not want to be exposed to male anatomy. "It's understandable when a 16-year-old girl might not want an anatomical male in the shower or the locker room," Anderson said.

The New York Times notes that social conservatives "had argued that former President Barack Obama’s policy would allow potential sexual predators access to bathrooms and create an unsafe environment for children."

3. Is the story fair? Does the media outlet quote advocates on both sides?

As I already noted, AP quotes both sides in its evenhanded account.

On the other hand, except for the Ryan Anderson quote above, USA Today's story seems tilted toward the gay-rights side.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports up high:

Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and social progressives, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Trump's Nov. 8 election.

But then the wire service proceeds to quote gay-rights advocates from organizations such as Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT project, along with a Virginia transgender student suing to use the boys' room. Besides politicians involved in the case, no one on the other side — say, those "believers in traditional values" — are quoted. CNN's coverage suffers from similar imbalance.

The Wall Street Journal does a better job, quoting sources from the Human Rights Campaign as well as the Family Research Council.

On the other hand, the New York Times gives the Human Rights Campaign — a gay-rights group — a voice but neglects to include anyone from the other side in a story that focuses mainly on the politics. Kellerism, anyone?

The Washington Post's report strikes me as fair, representing both sides in this big chunk of text:

Advocates said the withdrawal of the federal guidance will create another layer of confusion for schools and will make transgender students, who are already vulnerable, more so.“Attacking our children . . . is no way to say you support and respect LGBTQ people,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.Others said the practical effect on the nation’s schools would be muted, in part because a federal judge already had blocked the Obama guidance in response to a lawsuit from 13 states that argued it violated states’ rights. And it is possible the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the matter soon, as it plans to consider a Virginia case involving a transgender teenager who was barred from using the boys’ bathroom at his high school.The Trump administration’s move drew cheers from social conservatives who oppose the idea that a student can identify as a gender that differs from their anatomy at birth.Vicki Wilson, the mother of a child at Fremd High School in Palatine, Ill., said she sympathizes with children who have “difficult personal issues” to deal with, but thinks that “young men shouldn’t be permitted to deal with those issues in an intimate setting like a locker room with young women.”School district officials in Palatine, bowing to federal pressure, allowed a transgender girl to change in the girls’ locker room at her school. “No school should impose a policy like this against the will of so many parents,” Wilson said during a news conference organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization.

I'll stress again that I read the stories quickly. 

There's every possibility that I missed something important. In that case, by all means, please feel free to let me know. Tweet us at @GetReligion or leave a comment below.

Please remember, as always, that we are concerned with journalism and media-related questions. This is not the place to voice your opinion, pro or con, of the Trump administration's position.

Image via Pixabay.com

Categories: Main

Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Every now and then, I like to write what I call a "mirror image" post. The basic idea is that you take a current news story and change one detail that flips the perspective around. Up becomes down, left become right, GOP becomes Democrat, etc.

The goal is to try to imagine how some elite newsrooms would have covered the mirror-image story, in contrast with how they covered the story that is making real headlines in the here and now.

So, in this mirror-image mode, let's go back four years. Pretend that it's the Barack Obama era and the president is holding a Florida rally to urge his base to back his agenda for the new term.

The pastor of a local church -- a single pastor from a normal church -- goes to the rally with his daughter and finds the attitude of Obama fans a bit unnerving, a bit too worshipful. Maybe there is language and symbolism in the rally that is worthy of that Obama Messiah website that collects material about Obama supporters comparing him with Jesus.

This pastor goes home and writes a Facebook post in which he opines that, instead of being a wholesome civic lesson, he thought that this rally was an ugly spectacle in which "demonic activity was palpable."

OK, here is the mirror-image question: Would this one Facebook post by this one ordinary pastor in which he voiced a strong opinion about supporters of President Obama have become an international news story?

I ask this mirror-image question because a journalism friend of mine who now lives on the other side of the world -- not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination -- wrote me when she saw this headline in The New Zealand Herald: "Trump rally: 'Demonic activity palpable' says pastor."

This journalism educator wondered, after reading one of my recent posts ("This is a national news story? Pastor with tiny flock sends email attacking new boy toy!") how this one Facebook post, out of myriad social-media blasts on any given day, turned into a news story worthy of international distribution. 

Now, it helps to know that The New Zealand Herald didn't have a staff reporter at the real Trump rally in Melbourne, Fla. This was -- surprise! -- a wire-service piece from The Washington Post.

At this point let me pause and stress what this post is not about.

If you have followed this blog for very long you know that, as a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary guy, I have opposed The Donald at every step of the presidential campaign. When watching the news, I continue to strive to prevent his face from ever appearing on my television screen. I am sure that if I had been at this Florida rally, I would have considered its civil religion content to have been absolutely creepy. I remain much more interested in Trump voters -- especially Rust Belt Democrats -- than I am in Trump.

I'm asking a journalism question here: Would journalists in a very strategic American newspaper have found messianic attitudes about our previous president as disturbing and newsworthy as they do similar themes about the current occupant of the White House? Would we have seen international news about the pastor of an ordinary church writing a fierce, and to some inflammatory, Facebook commentary (as opposed to something on a huge national denomination's website) about an Obama rally?

So what does the Post story say? Here is the overture:

A Florida pastor who took his 11-year-old daughter to campaign-style rally for President Donald Trump said he hoped the event would serve as a civics lesson -- but that it turned instead into a spectacle where "demonic activity was palpable."Joel Tooley, lead pastor at Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene in eastern Florida, said that when he heard that the president and first lady would be passing through town, he decided to go see them in person."I am enough of a sentimentalist that when I found out THEEEE President was coming to town, I got online quickly and reserved two tickets," he wrote on Facebook.But the rally last weekend was not what the pastor had in mind."As people were coming in, there was a lot of excitement and a strong sense of patriotism," Tooley wrote.

But then, theologically speaking, things got very dark. It appears that some were Pentecostal Christians and, while singing "God Bless the USA," some -- no surprise -- raised their hands high.

"People were being ushered into a deeply religious experience," Tooley wrote, "and it made me completely uncomfortable."I love my country; I honour those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and I respect our history and what we stand for, but what I experienced in that moment sent shivers down my spine. I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the song per se -- it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal."

It helps to know that the Post report notes that this pastor could not be reached for further comment.

Also, the White House "did not immediately respond" to a Post request for comments on this claim that the president's fans were, well, taking part in possibly demonic activities to back his cause.

Let's go back to the Facebook post, since that is the only real news hook for this Post "Acts of Faith" report. Things got worse:

"The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord's prayer," he added. "I can't explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn't a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative. People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, 'be the glory forever and ever, amen!' As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, "USA! USA! USA!"

I am curious about one thing -- the context of this pastor's use of the term "demonic."

I could not find that crucial information in this news report.

However, if you read the entire Facebook post -- click here for that text -- you learn that the "demon" language is found in his description of a confrontation between two female anti-Trump demonstrators and a cell of Trump supporters. The pastor and his daughter (holding "Make America Great Again!" signs distributed at the rally) were caught in the middle.

It appears that this crucial passage opens with strong language from two pro-Trump women who are yelling at the two anti-Trump females.

The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, "F*#% YOU!" Repeatedly.I calmly responded, "No thank you, I'm happily married." Their faces and their voices were filled with demonic anger.I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable. The power of the Holy Spirit of God was protecting me in those moments and was once again protecting me and my daughter in this moment.

Some other rally participants then stepped in to help Tooley protect the anti-Trump duo from people who were losing their cool.

Here is my question: My reading of this lengthy Facebook post is that the pastor is saying (a) that he found the religious overtones of the rally overblown and even disturbing (I say, "Amen, brother") and (b) that he felt the presence of evil in the bitter emotions unleashed during the clash between anti-Trump demonstrators and some, but not all, pro-Trump people.

Is the complexity of that dramatic scene accurately captured in a headline, and a lede, that simply state that "demonic activity" was "palpable" at the Trump rally? In other words, is it accurate to imply that Tooley linked the term "demonic" directly to Trump and/or all those who rallied to support the president?

What think ye?

UPDATE: The pastor speaks on CNN.

Right up front: "First of all, I did not describe the event as 'demonic.' "

Categories: Main

Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It’s been about three weeks since Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and we’re no closer to figuring out what makes him tick, spiritually. However, there have been a few jabs at trying to gauge the spiritual temperature of his family's parish in downtown Boulder, Colo..

The most aggressive reporting has been by a British outlet, the Daily Mail, whose reporters have shown up at Gorsuch’s parish, St. John’s Episcopal. The Mail has also been sniffing about Oxford University (pictured above), which is where Gorsuch apparently became an Anglican during his studies there. It was also where he met his future wife Marie Louise. Her family is Anglican and the Mail explains that all here and here.

Very clever of them to nail down his wife’s British background and that of her family and to have interviewed Gorsuch’s stepmother in Denver.

They too see a dissonance in Gorsuch’s purported conservative views and the church he attends:. 

He has been described as 'the heir to Scalia' and is a religious conservative whose appointment to the Supreme Court was greeted with jubilation on the pro-gun, anti-abortion Right.But DailyMail.com can reveal that Neil Gorsuch's own church, in Boulder, Colorado, is a hotbed of liberal thinking -- and is led by a pastor who proudly attended the anti-Trump Women's March in Denver the day after the President's inauguration.Another member of the clergy at St. John's Episcopal Church is outspoken about the need for gun control, and helped organize opposition to a gun shop giveaway of high-capacity magazines in the run-up to a 2013 law that banned them from the state of Colorado…And in a twist that may surprise religious conservatives who welcomed Gorsuch's appointment, church leader Rev. Susan Springer, 58, has said she is pro-gay marriage and offers blessings to same sex couples.The church, which trumpets its 'inclusive' ethos on its website, also operates a homeless outreach program that includes an LGBT center and a sexual health clinic in a pamphlet setting out the best places for those in need of help.

As noted in other posts here at GetReligion, Gorsuch had plenty of Catholic influence in his upbringing -- but he’s chosen the Episcopal Church (which has been dropping in numbers for decades partly because of its very liberal stances) and a left-of-center parish at that.

There are plenty of conservative Episcopal or Anglican church choices within a reasonable drive that he could attend, but his family picked St. John’s for a reason. And it’s up to reporters to tell us that reason, right? Or, as this CBN piece wonders, is Gorsuch’s attendance at St. John’s trying to tell us something

I understand how difficult it may be to get some answers. The Mail is asking the same questions. Its long piece details how radical St. John’s really is. Unlike other media, it sent a reporter out to the church to investigate.

When DailyMail.com visited the church in Boulder, parishioners and clergy alike were reluctant to discuss Gorsuch's elevation to the Supreme Court and the liberal policies espoused by church leaders.(One of the clergy) made repeated efforts to evade approaches from this website, while Springer is on holiday and refusing to take calls.Visited at her home, (another parish employee) said she was not prepared to answer questions and instead directed enquiries to the church office where staff also declined to comment.

That told us a lot more than most other pieces I’ve read. For instance, this Washington Post piece had only this to say about his church:

By contrast, Gorsuch has been aggressively vetted for the court by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, and they have backed him enthusiastically. These groups even scrutinized his attendance at St. John’s Episcopal Church -- which draws from the largely liberal population in Boulder, Colo., calls itself a largely liberal congregation and advertised on its website for the Women’s March in Washington last month -- and concluded it was not a strike against him.For their part, the church’s leaders alluded in a recent newsletter and Sunday sermon to the political divide between most of its parishioners and Gorsuch. But they added that Gorsuch’s views are not as narrow or predictable as some might think -- or fear.“I am privileged to have spent enough time with the family to come to know Neil as a broad-thinking man, one eager to listen and learn, and one thoughtful in speaking,” wrote the Rev. Susan W. Springer. “Those foundational qualities are ones I would pray that all public servants in any leadership role in our country might possess.”

Three weeks into this vetting process and the best we can get is a parish newsletter?

The wording is odd. What is this about Gorsuch’s views not being as “narrow or predictable?” The previous paragraph alluded to a conservative group looking at Gorsuch’s church. The right wording, then, would have been something more like “loosely liberal” or “theologically left of center like his own denomination.”

Other profiles such as this Politico piece give us no hint of Gorsuch’s religious beliefs. This Mother Jones piece tells us a bit about Gorsuch’s time at Oxford and his subsequent belief in natural law as “God’s law” as an indication of the theocracy the judge could install if confirmed.

The Denver Post’s Washington correspondent gave Gorsuch’s religious background a decent shot with this piece that includes a quote from Judge Gorsuch’s younger brother about how they were raised as Catholics. But there’s no word on why the nominee switched from Catholic to Episcopalian and when.

So, it looks like the Mail has done the most work here.

It’s not surprising that Gorsuch became enamored of Anglicanism in a place like Oxford, once the home of the famous literary discussion group the Inklings, several of whose members (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield) were Anglicans. The city practically drips Anglicanism with its zillions of chapels, its status as the birthplace of the Oxford Movement and so on.

But there’s a big difference between the Anglicanism that C.S. Lewis once knew to what the Episcopal Church is today.

Did the judge’s time at Oxford acquaint him with its Anglican history or the writings of its famous Anglican residents? Are there Anglican writers whose books are in his library? Has he been known to offer a C.S. Lewis quote or two?

The reasons behind why a conservative jurist would choose a liberal parish could be something quite prosaic (St. John’s may be the parish preferred by Marie Louise) or perhaps it’s the only local parish that allows the Gorsuch daughters to be acolytes. One can make all sorts of guesses.

Most curious is the fact that the Episcopal News Service has written exactly zero on the man who is currently the country’s most famous Episcopalian. Now why do you think that is?

So the coverage of Gorsuch’s spiritual bonafides seems to have hit a dead end at his parish although the Mail sure made a valiant attempt.

Someone, somewhere has the answers to all of these questions. One thing is certain: Questions about the contents of Gorsuch's head and heart are not going to go away anytime soon.

Categories: Main

Celebrate good times, come on! Enjoy these three great reads from the Godbeat

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sometimes, the best Godbeat stories don't make for the best GetReligion posts.

Like most everybody in the blogging world, we're focused on producing engaging content that people will read, share and, just maybe, comment on.

That means that we often gravitate toward the hottest, most timely topics — the kind trending on social media — when deciding which stories to review.

Moreover, negative posts pointing out journalistic problems and bias in mainstream media coverage of religion news tend to generate much more interest and buzz.

Please allow me to summarize the response to most of our positive posts about stories that do everything right: zzzzzzzzz. In case you need a video illustration of that response, here goes:

But since — amazingly — you actually clicked on a post promising "great reads," I'm going to reward you with three nice stories by Godbeat pros. All published within the last week, these are the kind of excellent pieces that sometimes get lost in our GetReligion guilt files.

What's the common thread that binds all three of these stories together? For one, all of the writers are religion beat pros who've received frequent praise from GetReligion: Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and our former GetReligion colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post.

Kaleem reports on Sikhs opening their temple doors to strangers fleeing a potential disaster:

RIO LINDA, Calif. — Each morning before the break of dawn, Nirmal Singh makes his way to a small stage at the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple adorned with roses and silk. There, the priest sits and reads prayers from a centuries-old Indian text to open the day.It's usually a quiet affair, with words spoken in Punjabi to an empty hall the size of a large backyard — a solemn start at the small Sikh temple that sees few people outside of weekend services.But this week, Singh had company. Bodies shuffled under blankets in front of him. On Tuesday a Mexican couple and their kids woke up to his right, revealing the head scarves they wore in respect of Sikh traditions. In a nearby room, an African American man was also was getting up to the sounds of prayer. As tens of thousands fled low-lying regions on the Feather River this week amid warnings of flooding from the rapidly filling Lake Oroville, Sikh temples across in the Sacramento area opened their doors to evacuees.

Just as I wondered "why Sikhs?" the L.A. Times writer provides the crucial background:

Sikhs in Sacramento, home to 10 temples and about 11,000 Sikh families, began putting out calls for supplies and volunteers on Sunday evening after 180,000 people living in communities downstream of Lake Oroville were given short notice for mandatory evacuations. 

Smith, meanwhile, offers a fascinating account of "The Duquesne Weekend: a retreat that started a movement":

David Mangan looks back on a retreat held 50 years ago this weekend as a life-altering event. And not just for him. Roman Catholics throughout the world are still feeling the effects of the spiritual movement launched by the small gathering at a retreat house about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh.Mr. Mangan, a recent Duquesne University graduate, had joined a group of Duquesne students and staff in mid-February 1967 for a three-day retreat focused on biblical teachings about the Holy Spirit.There, he was struck by a speaker’s comment that when the Bible promises “power” to Jesus’ followers, it uses the same Greek word that forms the root for “dynamite.”“I had to come to grips with the fact that although I was a solid Catholic, dynamite was not the descriptor of my spiritual life,” he said. That was soon to change. He went upstairs to pray in the retreat house chapel — a small, carpeted room with few furnishings other than some cushions and an altar.“When I walked into the chapel, I was completely overcome by the power of God,” the Turtle Creek native, now living in Michigan, said. “I found myself prostrate on the floor. Little explosions were going on in my body. I knew it was God. I knew it was the Holy Spirit. When I went to thank him, I started speaking a language I didn’t know. I later found out that was the gift of tongues.”

And Bailey travels to Denver for a profile of an undocumented immigrant seeking sanctuary at a church:

DENVER — On Wednesday morning, Jeanette Vizguerra was scheduled to show up for a check-in at the local office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service.Instead, Vizguerra, a 45-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, senther attorney to request a stay of her deportation. As Hans Meyer entered the low-slung brown brick building, a pastor by his side, scores of protesters waving signs shouted “No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here.”A few minutes later, Meyer returned. Vizguerra’s request had been denied. Then an activist put Vizguerra on speakerphone and held it up to a megaphone and, her voice choking with tears, the mother of four delivered her announcement to the crowd: Vizguerrahad decided to seek sanctuary 15 miles away in a makeshift bedroom in the basement of First Unitarian Society of Denver. There, she would remain indefinitely.“This is not the end… This is just a step in a long, long journey,” she declared in Spanish.ICE public affairs officer Shawn Neudauer affirmed in an email that Vizguerra was denied a stay of her deportation. He called her “an ICE enforcement priority” based on two misdemeanorconvictions.Propelled by President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the election in November, the number of churches and other houses of worship that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants like Vizguerra has doubled to an estimated 800 over the past year, according to leaders of the loosely-knit movement.

Beyond the specific bylines that drew my attention, each of these stories impresses me with insightful reporting and helpful context (mixed with important history).

And, yes, they are full of specific religious details, which in case you hadn't noticed, we highly recommend.

Categories: Main

Attention New York Times copy desk: It's time to buy more reference Bibles (and use them)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Truth be told, the Bible is a very complicated book. It also doesn't help that there are many different versions of it.

Why bring this up? Well, it's time to look at another error about the Bible found in a story published in The New York Times. Another error? Click here for some background.

This one isn't quite as spectacular as the famous case in which the Gray Lady published a piece on tourism in Jerusalem that originally contained this rather infamous sentence:

 "Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty."

That one still amazes me, every time that I read it. This error led to a piece at The Federalist by M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway with this memorable headline: "Will Someone Explain Christianity To The New York Times?"

That error was rather low-hanging fruit, as these things go. Surely there are professionals at the copy desk of the world's most powerful newspaper who have heard that millions and millions of traditional Christians believe in the Resurrection of Jesus?

This time around we are dealing with something that is more complicated. To be honest, if I was reading really fast I might have missed this one myself, and my own Christian tradition's version of the Bible is linked to this error.

So what do we have here? Well, it's a nice, friendly piece about some very bright New Yorkers, with this headline: "Testament to Their Marriage: Couple Compete in Worldwide Bible Contest." Try to spot the error as you read this overture, in context:

A question in the lightning round seemed to make Yair Shahak think twice.The question was, “Who struck the Philistines until his hand grew tired and stuck to the sword?”Mr. Shahak, 28, was competing in a worldwide Bible competition in Jerusalem that one Jewish news outlet described as “sort of a spelling bee, but with biblical verses rather than words.” Or maybe “Jeopardy!” with often-complicated questions in only one category -- the Bible. Specifically, Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. (For most readers this is the Old Testament, but a couple of books in the Hebrew Bible are not in the King James or the Revised Standard versions.)In that lightning round, Mr. Shahak zipped through the first half-dozen questions. Then came the one about the exhausted warrior. He thought for a couple of seconds before he said Eleazar, who is mentioned in 2 Samuel. It was the correct answer -- one of more than 70 that Mr. Shahak got right on his way to tying for first place.

Wait a minute. Take a second and reread that material about the Tanakh and the Old Testament canon. What is the problem that the Times team is trying to describe here?

Is the problem that there is a clash between the contents of the Hebrew Bible and Protestant texts such as the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version? Or is the problem here found when one compares the Jewish canon and the books found in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (and often Anglican) Bibles?

One of the readers who spotted this was GetReligion patriarch Richard Ostling, who sent me an email that noted:

Oops. As you know Protestants per the KJ / RSV followed the Jewish canon and both are identical. Rather the difference is between those two canons and the Catholic and slightly different Orthodox canons which add more than "a couple of books."

As I said, this is complicated material.

However, with a few clicks of a mouse one can find resources -- a Catholic site here or an Eastern Orthodox site here -- that explains what is going on. Or the Bible Odyssey page (linked to the American Bible Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities and others) has an essay with this headline, that includes some of the logical search terms: "What is the Difference between the Old Testament, the Tanakh, and the Hebrew Bible?" It opens with this extended paragraph:

The term Old Testament, with its implication that there must be a corresponding New Testament, suggests to some that Judaism’s Bible and by extension Judaism are outdated and incomplete. Well-intended academics thus offered Hebrew Bible as a neutral alternative. However, the new language confuses more than it clarifies by erasing distinctions between the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh. It is understandable if Christians think the Old Testament and the Tanakh are one and the same thing, but a closer look reveals important distinctions. For example, Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox Christian Old Testament canons include additional books, either written or preserved in Greek (Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Maccabees, etc.), that are not in the Jewish canon. And some Orthodox communions only use the Greek translation of the Hebrew (the Septuagint) -- which varies in word choices and length from the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text. The Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh are also distinct from each other in terms of punctuation, canonical order, and emphases.

Now, the rest of this Times story is fine, as far as I know. It's a nice feature about some interesting people. Here's a typical passage about this bright couple:

Mordechai Z. Cohen, a professor of Bible and associate dean of Yeshiva University’s graduate school, said the contest served a valuable purpose because it was “important to appreciate people who understand the original Hebrew text of the Bible.” And he said Mr. Shahak and Ms. Frohlich, who met as undergraduates at Yeshiva, where she attended Stern College, “know it far better than I do.”“I could recite passages,” Dr. Cohen said, “but I don’t know it at the same level of expertise as Yaelle and Yair. They have knowledge of the original sources. They could repeat it to you backwards and forwards in the original language. But their knowledge is not just rote knowledge. It’s really in-depth knowledge.”

I am glad that the Times published this story, which does involve some complicated, truly academic material.

However, if journalists are going to add notes to their stories that explain complicated issues, it helps if these notes are accurate. Thus, the Times needs to publish a correction in this case. As of the writing of this post, there is no correction attached to this feature.

Is this a matter of media bias? Probably not. This is a different kind of failure, in terms of not "getting religion." Often it is hard for journalists to know what they don't know and, thus, know what they need to look up.

However, there is a good chance that the world-class pros at the Times copy desk (who long ago used to call GetReligion about some of these issues) need a wider shelf of reference books? Or maybe editors -- in the frantic dash of journalism in the Internet age -- need a better online library of resources or experts to consult?

But, yes, one more time let's note the candid words of Dean Baquet, the executive editor at the Times:

I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don't quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer, but she's all alone. We don't get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives.

That's true. But there is also the simple truth that religion is complicated stuff and the facts matter, especially when things are published in the world's most powerful newspaper.

Categories: Main

Coastal New Hampshire paper's nearly pitch-perfect on decline in region's religious stats

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I'm not at all sure when the first story about declining church attendance might have been written, but it's surely been a staple for the past two or three decades. Perhaps the modern iterations stem from the famous April 8, 1966 cover story in Time magazine, headlined, "Is God Dead?"

Since then, we've seen any number of pieces on how church attendance is in decline, how congregations are shrinking and, here's the biggest trend, how the old mainline Protestant denominations are in straitened times. 

I've written such stories myself.

Whatever the present-day genesis, a piece in Fosters Daily Democrat, a daily in Dover, New Hampshire and the state's seventh-largest paper by circulation, examines the decline of faith in the state's seacoast region. There are several good things to read here, but also a couple of easily avoidable omissions, I believe.

Let's dive in:

Seacoast religious leaders said a recent cultural shift towards secularism has caused them to make significant changes, including altering their strategy for attracting members and consolidating churches.Secularism, which experts say has always been prevalent in New Hampshire and has continued to rise, have caused attendance to dwindle in many religious congregations. A Gallup poll in 2015 stated 20 percent of New Hampshire was considered "very religious," the lowest percentage found in the poll. Mississippi came in at the highest with 63 percent.In Portsmouth, Corpus Christi Parish, which is comprised of St. James Church, St. Catherine of Siena Church and the Immaculate Conception Church, is being consolidated into one church, and St. James Church is being put up for sale. Father Gary Belliveau, who leads the parish, said there is no longer a need for three churches led by three different priests.

Reporter Max Sullivan, described on the paper's website as "a Seacoast native and [University of New Hampshire] grad[uate]," certainly knows the area and the people. He also seems to understand one of the key factors in the decline of religious activity seen there.

The following passage is, well, chunky (i.e., long), but it bears close reading: 

Belliveau said Catholicism was more prevalent in Portsmouth in the 1980s, but church attendance began to decrease in the late 1990s, leading to the three churches joining under one parish in 2006. Shifts in the city's demographics played a part in this, he said, but secularism was a factor."What I think we're facing today with secularism is basically, there's been the shift from a reliance upon God and a deeper appreciation for the things beyond what we can see and figure out, to the reliance on self," Belliveau said.Dover's St. Charles Church was torn down last month and the site is expected to be used for workforce housing. Tom Bebbington, director of communications for the archdiocese in Manchester, said changes in demographics were a factor in the diminishing need for St. Charles Church, as well as the building's poor condition. However, he said secularism has played a part in that need going away as well.Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in religion, said New England states have experienced a drop in religious participation at an accelerated rate compared to other parts of the country.

There are a couple of interesting journalistic issues here: With the exception of the sociology professor and the diocesan spokesman, every voice in the article is that of a clergy member: Catholic, Baptist, Congregationalist, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist. What about the pews? Were there no parishioners of any congregation who might have observed changing trends, whose voices might have added something here?

Also apparently absent are any voices from relatively new and/or possibly growing religions on the scene.

Yes, reporter Sullivan reached out to the local Islamic Society, but what about the regional branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? The church's missionaries serve as many as 24 months knocking on doors and reaching out in places just like the New Hampshire seacoast. Might one of those missionaries have something to say about spiritual temperatures there? (If permitted, that is.) Pentecostal churches are on the upswing in most of America, along with nondenominational Protestant churches. Were there none in the paper's coverage area?

Another corner not heard from is Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, about an hour's drive away. Might someone on that faculty know a thing or two about trends in the Granite State and the wider region? How about the teacher of that class on "Evangelism and Discipleship Through the Local Church"? Or how about a professor at the Boston University School of Theology, also relatively nearby?

I learned a lot from this story about the religious situation in New Hampshire, but left hungry for more voices and more information.

Perhaps another roundup of voices, particularly incorporating the thoughts of those in the pews (and those not in the pews), might be helpful in understanding why what has apparently happened indeed took place.

Categories: Main

Concerning Trump and anti-Semitism: Scribes offer blitz of views on whether he is or is not

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The daily maelstrom that is the Donald Trump administration has left journalists across the religious and political spectrum gasping for air. There is so much real news -- don't get me started on the "fake news" dystopia -- that even a 24-7 news cycle is unable to keep pace.

So being only human, I've had to prioritize which issues I pay close attention to in an effort to keep my head from exploding. Not surprisingly, my priority issues are the ones I think impact me most directly.

These would include the future of the environment and climate change policy, White House attacks on the integrity of the press, health care, religious liberty for all, the economy and class divisions and the increase of anti-Semitic acts -- including a continuing rash of bomb threats -- and the president's reaction to them.

Meanwhile, the headlines just keep on coming. 

Sure enough, just prior to this post going live, the president commented on the bomb threats and other anti-Semitism incidents that have manifested of late. Click here for the latest.

The debates will continue. To say the least, the elite media, the American Jewish press and Israeli media have been all over the anti-Semitism issue.

I've read and viewed numerous reports that I thought handled it quite adequately and fairly. As you might expect, it's an explosive topic for any Jew who publicly identifies as such, as I do, and has family history connected directly to anti-Semitism at its very worst -- the Holocaust and Muslim terrorism against Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.

As a former wire service reporter (United Press International in New York and San Francisco during the 1960s), I retain a fondness for a well-crafted round-up on a complicated subject -- such as the charges from some Jews (and others) that President Trump harbors anti-Semitic inclinations. Of course, others say he at least looks the other way when such inclinations appear to surface in his associates and supporters.

 

Here's one Associated Press report from Godbeat veteran Rachel Zoll that ran last week.

It's a fine example of the wire's adherence to what used to be prized as "objective reporting," but which I prefer to call fair, fact-based journalism. She managed to include last week's developments relating to Israel and Trump's designated ambassador to Israel, all in about 950 words. 

I assume most GetReligion readers are familiar with the particulars, but if you aren't or need a quick refresher, please read Zoll's piece.

Now allow me to slip into journalism professor mode for a few paragraphs.

Mainstream, hard news journalists are expected to separate fact from opinion. If that's you, how do you reach some conclusion about whether or not the president and/or some of his key aides are anti-Semites, absent some huge smoking gun?

It's easy with a Hitler,  a David Duke. Their paper trails are clear -- as is this screed from a neo-Nazi publication (covered by The Forward).

But Trump insists he's not -- though, staying true to form, he's not above saying that in an absurd manner.

Plus, his administration includes a bevy of Jews, many Jews on the political right support him and -- as he keeps reminding us -- his convert daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, are Modern Orthodox in their Jewish religious observance. (On Monday, Ivanka -- but not her father -- did tweet a call for "religious tolerance." Later in the day, the presidential press office also issued a similar statement. But neither specifically mentioned anti-Semitism, as the president did Tuesday morning.)

So how does a news reporter decide whether Trump (leaving aside for now his entourage and any of supporters) is an anti-Semite?

You can't, of course, unless you're able to read his mind (which nobody I know is capable of) or have first hand knowledge of a time when he clearly acted so (which I don't, and probably you as well). Instead, we quote the opinions of others who, for one reason or another, we deem to be expertly informed on the matter.

It's called journalism 101.

But you may turn to the avalanche of analysis and opinion that's out there on this issue and every other aspect of the president's temperament and policies. Just make sure to balance your reading between those of varying opinions. When so many people are screaming, it's hard to know which voices to trust.

Here are a few analysis/opinion pieces I've found indicative of the range that's available. If you've read any you particularly appreciated please let me know in the comment section below.

This piece from The Times of Israel concludes that whether or not Trump is an anti-Semite matters less than how his actions power or disempower anti-Semitism. The author is a well-known left-wing Jewish activist.

This one from a prominent conservative Jewish writer published in National Review argues that Trump's actions around the issue by no means warrant his critics' Hitler comparisons. The writer, who strongly opposed Trump during the primary season and is still a critic of his governing style, also warns that left-wing anti-Semitism must not be overlooked.

Here's one more piece from the right, specifically the Daily Caller, in which the writer says asking Trump to denounce anti-Semitism is "insulting" and as conniving as would be asking the president when he stopped beating his wife.

To keep it even, here's my last example from, the liberal side. It's from The Atlantic and attacks Trump for acting personally aggrieved -- as if he's the victim -- by the anti-Semitism issue rather than responding to how he might assuage the fears of those who are the actual victims of anti-Semitism, which is to say, Jews.

That's more than enough to chew on. Besides, this issue surely won't go away -- certainly not as long as anti-Semitism persists in the United States, which I expect to be a long time.  Look for oodles more stories and columns to become available by the hour. Remember, journalists, to seek out transcripts and original texts (or in this White House, tweets).

Oh, and I'm sorry to disappoint you if you were hoping I'd unequivocally say whether I think Trump and some of his friends are anti-Semites, a damning charge, in my opinion, that's not to be bandied about lightly.

Truth is, I think he's an equal-opportunity amoral (or perhaps immoral) manipulator who is willing to throw any one (his immediate family aside), or any group to the wolves if he thinks it might momentarily advance his all-consuming interest, which is himself.

Jews are just one such group. Unfortunately, there are also many others. 

Categories: Main

This is a national news story? Pastor with tiny flock sends email attacking new boy toy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

OK, let's try this again. One of the hardest things for journalists to explain to ordinary news consumers is the whole concept of what makes a story a "story."

For example, a "march" in your city that draws two dozen protesters may end up on A1, while a rally that draws thousands may not even make the newspaper. An editor would probably say that the "march" was about a new issue, while the massive rally was about a cause that's "old business." Readers may suspect that it has something to do with subjects that do or do not interest the editors.

So the other day I wrote a post asking why it wasn't news that the Catholic committee that coordinates Boy Scout work released a statement saying that a new policy allowing trans scouts will not apply to the many, many units hosted by Catholic parishes. What, I asked, about other doctrinally conservative faith groups? This is a big story, since religious groups host about 70 percent of America's Boy Scout troops.

But that wasn't a "story" in mainstream news publications.

Now we have a story -- that is receiving quite a bit of online push in the national USA Today network -- about an Asheville, N.C., pastor who has a problem with a new product from the American Girl company.

Why is this a national story? Look for the really interesting details in this overture:

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A move by a national doll manufacturer to add the first boy to its lineup has one local minister in a tizzy.The Rev. Keith Ogden of Hill Street Baptist Church sent a message to more than 100 of his supporters and parishioners Wednesday titled, "KILLING THE MINDS OF MALE BABIES."Ogden invoked Scripture as he criticized the American Girl company for its debut of Logan Everett, a drummer boy doll, who performs alongside Tenney Grant, a girl doll with a flair for country western music. ..."This is nothing more than a trick of the enemy to emasculate little boys and confuse their role to become men," the minister said in the e-mailed statement he sent at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday after watching a segment about American Girl on Good Morning America.

That's right! This pastor sent an email to about 100 members of his "supporters and parishioners." In other words, his church only has 100 members or so (or that many with email addresses)? If you know anything about the South, this is not a large church.

Clearly, the hook here is that this wild Baptist man said something about gender that might have something to do with trans issues. Maybe. There is this quote later on in the story.

"There are those in this world who want to alter God's creation of the male and female," he wrote. "The devil wants to kill, steal and destroy the minds of our children and grandchildren by perverting, distorting and twisting (the) truth of who God created them to be."Later that morning Ogden told the AshevilleCitizen-Times that he doesn't think that boys should play with dolls, that he thinks American Girl's move will confuse children."Now you are going to have little boys playing with baby dolls, and that's not cool," he said. "We need to get back to our old values and morals."

Oh, those wild fundamentalist types.

But there is a problem with that image, this time. If you visit the website of this pastor's church -- he will soon be leaving this pulpit, apparently for reasons linked to his wife's health -- you discover that it is part of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. This is a small, but significant, African American flock. Here is a bit of background:

The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., (PNBC) is a vital Baptist denomination with an estimated membership of 2.5 million people. PNBC was formed to give full voice, sterling leadership and active support to the American and world fight for human freedom. The convention was the convention-denominational home and platform for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who addressed every annual session of the Convention until his death in 1968. New generations of Progressive Baptists are continuing the struggle for full voter registration, education and participation in society, economic empowerment and development, and the realization of universal human rights and total human liberation for all people.

Sure enough, the USA Today piece does note:

Ogden has been influential in Asheville's community, often speaking publicly about race and policing, violence in low-income communities and his opposition to same-sex marriage. ... Ogden said churches need to stand up and speak truth to power as the community wrestles with gender identity and changing values, especially as it relates to youth programming and activities. The Boy Scouts of America, last month, for example, announced that it will allow transgender children to enroll in scouting programs."It just doesn't make sense," Ogden said. "It's not natural for a boy to act like a girl. It's not natural for a girl to want to be a boy. You've got the government and people who placate this mess instead of telling little boys they can't change their biology."

So we have a black pastor with a tiny Bible Belt flock -- in a trendy, hip city in the mountains -- who has taken a stand linked to the gender wars. If you look at the larger picture, it's clear that his public activism has in the past addressed a mix (from the viewpoint of journalists) of liberal and conservative issues.

So why is this a story?

It's a story in Asheville, in part, because this pastor has made news in the past (see this earlier Citizen-Times story) on other newsworthy topics, such as race and same-sex marriage. Maybe the journalists there are trying to figure out why he is a good guy on some issues and a bad guy on others.

Why is this a national story worthy of promotion by the wider USA Today network?

I would assume that the answer is rather simple: It fit into a template, with a silly -- the pastor went into "a tizzy" -- fundamentalist pastor who is on the wrong side of history making a big deal out of a PR campaign for a new boy doll.

Dolls are symbolic and they are big business. The leaders of the USA Today network made sure to link this story to other developments in the world of Barbie diversity, for example. And thus:

The YWCA of Asheville, which works to empower women and eliminate racism, operates child care programs that serve children from infants through school age throughout Buncombe County. Though it does not have any specific programming or initiatives that address gender roles or gender neutral clothing or toys, it said American Girl's move was in line with progress."At the YWCA, we encourage play that helps all children explore what it means to be human and to accept each other's differences," CEO Beth Maczka said. "We are happy to see dolls that celebrate diversity and represent different races, abilities, body types and genders."

The bottom line: This was the kind of novelty culture wars story that produces "clicks" online. I mean, this story has the potential to get onto Comedy Central and Fox News! Tweeter in chief Donald Trump might even weigh in.

So this email from a Progressive Baptist pastor to a tiny circle of church members and friends (with a reporter or two in that list, based on previous contacts) in a small city suddenly becomes the stuff of national social-media chatter and maybe even late-night humor.

This is America.This is news. Right?

Categories: Main

Evangelicals and Jews: Religion & Politics report has a thoughtful profile on famous Orthodox leader

Monday, February 20, 2017

Some time ago, there was an opening for a religion reporter-like person to work at something new on the Washington (DC) landscape: A John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. It is named after the former U.S. senator from Missouri who is also an Episcopal priest.

I didn’t know any of the folks who were hired at the center, but recently I stumbled across its site and hit upon some intellectually meaty think pieces. For example, there’s a piece on newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by someone who appears to understand Calvinism and why DeVos probably isn’t a Calvinist at all. There’s a piece on President Donald Trump and “militant evangelical masculinity” by a Calvin College professor.

But what really interested me was another piece; this one on “How an Orthodox Rabbi became an Unlikely Ally of the Christian Right.” It begins:

We are in a third world war,” said Shlomo Riskin, slamming his fist on the table. We were sitting in a windowless room in the D.C. convention center, and Riskin, an Orthodox rabbi, was explaining how he had ended up here, at the annual summit of Christians United For Israel, giving a speech to thousands of conservative evangelicals.Riskin kept banging on the table. “If you have eyes to see, extremist Islam has taken over Islam. And this is the third world war!”Riskin is one of the most influential rabbis of his generation. Now an Israeli, he was born and raised in Brooklyn. As a young man, Riskin voted for Democrats. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma. He officiated at a young Elena Kagan’s bat mitzvah and advocated for women’s rights. Over time, he developed a reputation as a religious progressive.In the last decade, Riskin has quietly developed another project: outreach to Christians, and especially to conservative American evangelicals. His most important partnership is with John Hagee, a Texas megachurch pastor whose organization, Christians United For Israel (CUFI), claims a membership roll larger than that of AIPAC. Like AIPAC, CUFI advocates for policies that it sees as pro-Israel and organizes activists and donors across the country.

I remember Riskin’s controversial move to the West Bank in the early 1980s when he was leading the influential Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan. And I’ve been reporting on Hagee ever since my Houston Chronicle days. And I was covering CUFI long more most reporters even noticed it, such as when Hagee endorsed then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain; McCain repudiated the endorsement on the grounds that Hagee was anti-Semitic and a bunch of Jewish leaders sprang up to endorse the San Antonio pastor.

Hagee and CUFI now carry more heft than ever, which is why The Danforth Center’s Religion & Politics page has a large piece on Riskin.

Riskin is one of a rare breed of pragmatic Orthodox rabbis who do business with evangelical Protestants but he’s not the first. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who lives near me in the Seattle area, came before him. Both rabbis –- and those like them -– have taken stock of American Christianity, figured out that evangelical Protestantism is where the future lies and learned how to align themselves with it. And it means everything that these evangelicals are fervently pro-Israel.

Meanwhile, CUFI is the new AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee known for lobbying for Israeli interests) and it’s the smart rabbi who goes where the influence is. Here’s how the piece describes one CUFI gathering:

THERE ARE MORE Christians in Texas than Jews on earth. But at CUFI’s annual summit, it is the Jews -- their tortured past, fraught present, and uncertain future -- that are the center of attention. Each summer, a few thousand CUFI members from around the country attend exhibits and hear speeches by American and Israeli leaders. They participate in a Night to Honor Israel that is part fundraising dinner, part revival. In the summit gift shop, they buy metal seder plates, elegant Shabbat candles carved from wood, and CUFI’s signature mezuzot—the small box-bound scrolls that Jews traditionally affix to the doorposts of their homes. A vial of “anointing oil for the royal priesthood” costs six dollars.

Now, I commented here on the fracas that happened last September when then-candidate Donald Trump got draped with a Jewish prayer shawl during service at a Pentecostal church. What people blasted as cultural appropriation back then is encouraged at CUFI gatherings.

The reporter in this Politics & Religion piece correctly summarizes the mixed feelings among Jews about all this philo-Semitism and how evangelicals aren’t basing their romantic pro-Israel convictions on relationships with actual Jews. What’s thrown Jews and Christians together in recent years is not so much shared brotherhood but a common enemy: radical forms of Islam.

It’s a very interesting piece, especially when it points out the difficulties of trying to interview Hagee plus how Christians affiliated with Riskin and rabbis like him have toned down their convert-the-Jews rhetoric. I wish the reporter had interviewed a Messianic Jewish group for their take on this. In the past, Jews for Jesus has looked quite askance at Hagee’s group and those like it for wimping out when it comes to telling Jews of the messiahship of Jesus.

Also, I would have liked to have heard from a more liberal Jewish organization if it thinks Riskin’s alliance with CUFI is a savvy alliance or a pact with the devil. Reporters are always told to follow the money and John Hagee Ministries, the article points out, has contributed generously to Riskin’s Orthodox movement.

It would be interesting to know what would happen to that alliance should that money dry up or when Hagee, now 76, either retires or dies. However, Riskin is the same age.

Are there younger rabbis and pastors willing to keep up this mutually beneficial relationship?

Journalists looking for news: That could be the next story that needs to be done.

Categories: Main

Ghosts of Mark Sanford return: About Politico's religion-free profile of adulterer and Trump critic

Monday, February 20, 2017

"So much religion potential here ... and yet so many ghosts."

A faithful GetReligion reader offered that assessment of a long — LONG!Politico Magazine profile of U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina:

‘I’m a Dead Man Walking’ https://t.co/XOiHUKmhhl

— POLITICO Magazine (@POLITICOMag) February 18, 2017

After reading the piece — which focuses on Sanford's willingness to criticize President Donald Trump, the leader of his own party — here's my own, succinct response to the reader's critique: Amen!

The story, published just a few days ago, approaches 5,000 words. Roughly 4,997 of them are completely devoid of any religion content. So what else is new?

Before delving into the specifics of the Politico profile, it might be helpful to recall that holy ghosts (click here if you're not familiar with that term) have haunted the Sanford story for years.

Way back in 2009, reporters ignored the religion angle when Sanford — then South Carolina's governor and a married father of four — became embroiled in a sex scandal. Dig deep in the GetReligion archives, and you'll find posts from that year with titles such as "Sin and God's law at press conference," "Adulterers who pray together" and "Sanford's mission from God."

In 2013, when Sanford resurrected his political career and won a return to Congress, I wrote:

God figured heavily in Sanford's victory speech, with Yahoo News! noting that Sanford said he wanted to "publicly acknowledge God's role in this." (God was unavailable for comment, and I can't say I blame him.)I am pretty certain Sanford was referring to God's alleged role in his election victory — as opposed to a role in Sanford carrying on a secret affair with an Argentine mistress, to whom he's now engaged after his divorce from the mother of his four children.

Amazingly, "God" fails to make even a cameo appearance in the Politico story. Yet the first holy ghost shows up in the first paragraph:

None of this feels normal. The congressman greets me inside his Washington office wearing a wrinkly collared shirt with its top two buttons undone, faded denim jeans and grungy, navy blue Crocs that expose his leather-textured feet. Nearing the end of our 30-minute interview, he cancels other appointments and extends our conversation by an hour. He repeatedly brings up his extramarital affair, unsolicited, pointing to the lessons learned and relationships lost. He acknowledges and embraces his own vulnerability—political, emotional and otherwise. He veers on and off the record, asking himself rhetorical questions, occasionally growing teary-eyed, and twice referring to our session as “my Catholic confessional.”

The piece does not mention Sanford's religious affiliation. But according to the Pew Research Center, he is Anglican/Episcopalian.

Other ghosts sprinkled throughout the piece include a note that his rehabilitation included "virtual Bible studies with his four sons," while his return to Congress required "a bottomless supply of soul-bearing mea culpas."

Yet "God" is not alone in his absence from the profile. Terms such as "church," "faith" and "sin" are conspicuously missing, too.

The ghosts are even more amazing considering the life-and-death symbolism cited by Politico as Sanford explains why he has nothing to lose by opposing Trump:

All this gives Sanford a unique sense of liberation to speak his mind about a president whose substance and style he considers a danger to democracy. “I’m a dead man walking,” he tells me, smiling. “If you’ve already been dead, you don’t fear it as much. I’ve been dead politically.”His digs at Trump cover the spectrum. The president, Sanford says, “has fanned the flames of intolerance.” He has repeatedly misled the public, most recently about the national murder rate and the media’s coverage of terrorist attacks. He showed a lack of humility by using the National Prayer Breakfast to ridicule Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Most worrisome, Sanford says, Trump is unprepared for the presidency.For the first time, Sanford begins to measure his words. “I’ve got to be careful,” he says. “Because people who live in glass houses can’t throw stones.”

It's fascinating, really.

I just wish Politico had felt compelled to explore — at least a bit — the spiritual as well as the political. When it comes to Sanford, a little soul searching certainly seems appropriate.

Categories: Main

God is in the faith details? The messy, complicated lives of Norma 'Jane Roe' McCorvey

Monday, February 20, 2017

If you ever talked with Norma McCorvey, you know that there was one thing that she wanted journalists to do more than anything else: To tell her story, with all of its messy and complicated details.

She had more than her share of regrets. She had deep sorrows and, through the years, crossed an ocean of shame. As "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade she was a footnote in just about every textbook used in an American History class, at any level of education. Yet, from her point of view, she was famous because of a lie at the heart of her own life.

She knew that she could not make her lies go away. But she did want journalists to allow Americans to hear her tell the story of when she lied, why she lied and how she came to regret what legal activists built with the help of her most famous lie. Thus, she told her story over and over and over, while also trying to walk the walk of a conception to natural death Catholic pro-lifer.

The key point: For McCorvey, her adult life begins with lies and ends with attempts to live out the truth. For those on the cultural left, her public life began with truth and then sank into sad confusion and religious sentiment.

Now McCorvey has died, at age 69. That means that almost every newsroom in America will offer some version of her story -- one last time. How many of the scandalous details of her complicated life will make it into print? When looking at the mainstream obits, there is one key detail to examine: How seriously did each news organization take McCorvey's conversion to Roman Catholicism?

Let's start with the Associated Press, since that feature will appear in the vast majority of American newspapers. To its credit, the AP piece puts both halves of the McCorvey journey in the lede, where they belong.

DALLAS (AP) -- Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that legalized abortion but who later became an outspoken opponent of the procedure, died Saturday. She was 69.

A few lines later there is this crucial summary of her life -- stated from McCorvey's own point of view, drawn from an autobiography.

“I’m 100 percent pro-life. I don’t believe in abortion even in an extreme situation. If the woman is impregnated by a rapist, it’s still a child. You’re not to act as your own God,” she told The Associated Press in 1998.After the court’s ruling, McCorvey had lived quietly for several years before revealing herself as Jane Roe in the 1980s. She also confessed to lying when she said the pregnancy was the result of rape.Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, she remained an ardent supporter of abortion rights and worked for a time at a Dallas women’s clinic where abortions were performed.Her 1994 autobiography, “I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice,” included abortion-rights sentiments along with details about dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, an abusive husband, an attempted suicide and lesbianism.

This brings us to a crucial point in the story: McCorvey was converted to Christianity, and became active in anti-abortion work, in the context of evangelical -- some would say "fundamentalist" -- Protestantism.

I am often amazed how few journalists realize that the pro-life movement is a large and complex thing. It ranges from genuine cultural liberals -- take Secular Pro-Life, Pro-Life Humanists and Atheists Against Abortion -- to a radical fringe whose acceptance of violence against abortionists is rejected by the overwhelming majority of activists in the movement.

The life stories of some activists begin in more radical groups and then swing into the mainstream. Often, the most extreme radicals are people who have been pushed out of mainstream groups because they refused to embrace the style and tactics of those in the mainstream.

The AP obit wades into this minefield, once again leaning on McCorvey interviews and her own writings. This is long, but essential:

... She was baptized before network TV cameras by a most improbable mentor: The Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham, the leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America. McCorvey joined the cause and staff of Benham, who had befriended her when the anti-abortion group moved next door to the abortion clinic where she was working.

When I met McCorvey, she said that a crucial element of her conversion was her contact with the mothers and children of families involved in the anti-abortion protests. 

McCorvey also said that her religious conversion led her to give up her lover, Connie Gonzales. She said the relationship turned platonic in the early 1990s and that once she became a Christian she believed homosexuality was wrong. She recounted her evangelical conversion and stand against abortion in the January 1998 book “Won by Love,” which ends with McCorvey happily involved with Operation Rescue.But by August of that year, she had changed faiths to Catholicism. And though she was still against abortion, she had left Operation Rescue, saying she had reservations about the group’s confrontational style.

The AP obit then wades into the long timeline of McCorvey's life and journey, including the messy personal details that led to the crisis pregnancy at the heart of the Roe case.

If you are looking for a McCorvey obit that takes a radically different approach, the best one to read is in The Washington Post, with the headline: "Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, dies at 69."

But there is another Post piece, with another headline, that is getting quite a bit of push online.

"Jane Roe" made abortion legal. Then a minister made her repent. https://t.co/4MiCCtR3hY

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) February 19, 2017

Readers can also see this headline in the Post summary of the day's news, sent to online readers who are registered for this service.

Here is a screenshot of that.

 

The headline on this sidebar now reads: "‘Jane Roe’ made abortion legal. Then a minister made her rethink."

Suffice it to say, there is no branch of Christianity that believes that a minister can make someone repent of her or his sins. This is a terribly offensive headline and Post editors were right to change it.

But who crafted the original wording and put it into circulation in promotional materials? Who decided that she converted to a "cause," as opposed to a faith?

All in all, the Post coverage deals with the messy details of McCorvey's story, but consistently emphasizes the voice of Benham and stresses the Operation Rescue period in her life. This "Acts of Faith" feature focuses on that time period, alone.

There are many interesting details here -- but the word "Catholic" never appears in the "Acts of Faith" feature.

How is her conversion to Catholicism handled in the main Post obit? Here is the only passage that addresses key part of the final decades of her life:

She wrote another memoir, “Won By Love” (1997), with co-author Gary Thomas, founded the Dallas-based Roe No More ministry and reportedly became a Catholic. She participated in antiabortion protests and was arrested in 2009 for disrupting the Senate confirmation hearings on Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The key word there, obviously, is "reportedly."

She "reportedly" became a Catholic? For two decades?

It would appear that, in the Post coverage, the word "reportedly" is used to describe material that McCorvey herself either wrote or said.

The bottom line: It would appear that, to Post editors, McCorvey is not a crucial voice in describing the second half of her own life. Should McCorvey have been allowed to offer testimony of her own (there are stacks of videos and texts to consult and possibly quote) in the debates about who she was and why she did what she did? 

Here is a key passage of the Post piece, which is extremely well written, but also captures the newspaper's approach to this topic. Once again, the key person interpreting McCorvey's Christian faith is Benham -- someone who would clash with the vast majority of Catholic pro-lifers on many issues of theology (to say the least) and tactics.

She admitted that she peddled misinformation about herself, lying about even the most crucial juncture in her life: For years, she claimed that the Roe pregnancy was the result of a rape. In 1987, she recanted, saying that she had become pregnant “through what I thought was love.” Although the details of her account were legally unimportant, abortion foes pointed to the lie to discredit Ms. McCorvey and her case.According to the most sympathetic tellings of her story, she was a victim of abuse, financial hardship, drug and alcohol addiction, and personal frailty. For much of her life, she subsisted at the margins of society, making ends meet, according to various accounts, as a bartender, a maid, a roller-skating carhop and a house painter. She found a measure of stability with a lesbian partner, Connie Gonzalez, but even that relationship reportedly ended in bitterness after 35 years.Harsher judgments presented Ms. McCorvey as a user who trolled for attention and cash. Abortion rights activists questioned her motives when she decamped in 1995, after years on their side, and was baptized in a swimming pool by the evangelical minister at the helm of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue.The minister, Flip Benham, told Prager, who profiled Ms. McCorvey in Vanity Fair magazine in 2013, that he had come to see her as someone who “just fishes for money.”

Other than the "reportedly" reference mentioned above, the Post never deals with McCorvey's adult conversion into the church of Rome. Why leave this massive hole in her story?

The New York Times obituary includes an early mention of this Catholic conversion as a key fact in her life and, later, briefly documents the role that her Catholic faith played in some of her work as an activist.

... She attended rallies and protest marches in support of abortion rights, worked in women’s clinics, spoke to crowds, wrote two autobiographies and was the subject of a documentary and an avalanche of newspaper and magazine articles. She became a national celebrity of sorts.She also switched sides, from abortion rights advocate to anti-abortion campaigner. She underwent two religious conversions, as a born-again Christian and as a Roman Catholic, and became in her last decades a staunch foe of abortion, vowing to undo Roe v. Wade, testifying in Congress and bitterly attacking Barack Obama when he ran for president and then re-election.

This is a complicated and very messy story. It contains many issues that are worthy of debate, with voices speaking out on both sides.

I really appreciated this final paragraph in the Times coverage, with its reference to the famous lawyer who pushed and pushed to bring the Roe case to the U.S. Supreme Court:

In 2016, “Roe,” a play by Lisa Loomer, featuring Ms. McCorvey and Ms. Weddington as protagonists, opened at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The playwright told The Times: “Sarah Weddington, when she approaches the subject of Roe v. Wade, it’s about the law. It’s about choice. It’s about doing something to impact the lives of all women. For Norma McCorvey, Roe is about her. It’s utterly personal.”

In conclusion, here is the central journalism question: Why leave McCorvey's own voice out of these debates about her life?

Contrast the material contained in the AP obit with the coverage in the Washington Post. What is the "big idea" in these two radically different pieces? Which one allows McCorvey to help tell her own story?

Categories: Main

Your weekend think piece: Darth Bannon making earth move inside Vatican? Crux says look again

Sunday, February 19, 2017

In another example of the Catholic-beat team at Crux offering some timely media criticism, the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., has produced a follow-up analysis about that the highly symbolic media storm surrounding White House mastermind Stephen "Darth" Bannon and his alleged campaign to undercut Pope Francis.

The headline: "A dose of reality about the Steve Bannon/Cardinal Burke axis."

My original piece on this controversy -- "Looking for on-the-record Vatican voices in the New York Times shocker about Darth Bannon" -- focused on journalism issues in this case, in particular the lack of actual inside-the-Vatican voices about this giant inside-the-Vatican political conspiracy. Here is the thesis statement from the Times piece, followed by a quick replay of my concerns:

Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe, he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff.

I noted:

The key word is "many," as in "many" sources inside the structures of the Catholic Church. 

Later, the Times team adds, making that "many" claim once again:

For many of the pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda.

Obviously, Trump is a strange hero for Catholics who really sweat the details in moral theology. Now -- other than one think-tank voice with ties to Cardinal Raymond Burke -- one searches in vain for concrete sources for the information on this story, let alone "many" sources inside the halls of Vatican power. 

In his analysis essay, Allen is reacting to the waves of media commentary about the Times piece, very few of which did anything in the way of adding factual information about this alleged drama. It was enough that the Times printed what it printed. That means it's all true. Carry on!

Allen makes a number of points, some of which are linked to the journalism mechanics (and ethics) issues that drove my post. Let's start with this:

First, so far as we know, there has only been one face-to-face encounter between Bannon and Burke, which came before Trump’s election and even before the release of Pope Francis’s controversial document Amoris Laetitia … in other words, before the raw material of any potential alliance was actually in place.

Amen. As I noted in my piece, the timeline for this conspiracy was flawed from the start. Have Times editors a correction on that error?

Let's read one more very interesting point. I confess that I know next to nothing about inside-baseball Vatican affairs. Allen, however, has the experience necessary to make this rather complicated point:

Second, there’s no clear evidence Bannon and Burke have become BFFs, beyond a suggestion from Ben Harnwell, the Rome-based head of a conservative group called the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, that they’ve kept in contact.Even if the two men do occasionally swap emails, in itself there would be nothing extraordinary about it. I’ve covered the Vatican for twenty years, watching scores of American politicians wash through Rome, all hoping to establish contacts - either because they see the Vatican as an important global player, or because they think there could be domestic political value to being seen as having Catholic friends in high places, or both.American politicians tend to seek out the Vatican’s fellow Americans, first because many don’t speak other languages, and second, because those are the people they’re likely to know about. Generally they gravitate first to Americans they believe might share at least some of their views, which makes Bannon reaching out to Burke, whose combative rhetoric on Islam is well known, completely natural.From a very different point of departure, Bernie Sanders did the same thing when he came to Rome, as have John Kerry, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, and any number of others I’ve watched in action.

There's much more to read and ponder in this piece. By all means, check it out.

In the end, Allen notes that there doesn't seem to any significant evidence of an earthshaking conspiracy here. More than anything else, this media storm centered on people in Rome doing what people do when they are in Rome.

Bottom line: We don’t need a new “axis of evil” to account for what’s happening, simply the usual clash of competing ideologies and worldviews. That may not make anyone feel better, but it at least has the virtue of being closer to reality.

However, the Times piece was a massive hit in the community defined, in large part, by the worldview of the Times. Thus, several people sent your GetReligionistas links to this very interesting letter to the editor that the Times team decided to publish.

To the Editor:Re “Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide” (front page, Feb. 7):Stephen K. Bannon’s rendezvous with Cardinal Raymond Burke, Pope Francis’ harshest critic, and other Vatican conservatives may come as a surprise to many American Catholics. To those who have tracked Cardinal Burke’s attacks on Pope Francis, the collaboration makes perfect sense.Since his election, Francis has worked to make the church more relevant: to refugees and immigrants, lapsed Catholics, the L.G.B.T. community, Muslims and other marginalized groups. Cardinal Burke and others have attacked the pope, publicly questioning his letter on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” his warnings against unadulterated capitalism and his hope for the protection of the environment in “Laudato Si’.”Mr. Bannon’s collaboration with these papal antagonists will only widen the disdain the Trump administration holds for the pope’s expansive views on embracing the poor, welcoming the refugee and building bridges, not walls, derived from the pope’s relationship with a higher authority.THOMAS L. GALLAGHERWashingtonThe writer is chief executive and publisher of the Religion News Service.

Oh, and there was this, too:

Correction: February 16, 2017 A letter on Wednesday about the Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and the Vatican misstated a word in the name of the letter writer’s organization. It is the Religion News Service (not Religious).

Worried about issues of Times sourcing, logic and even plausibility?

Not so much.

Categories: Main

What’s the deal between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

LISA ASKS:

If Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, does that mean today’s head of the Episcopal Church is the reigning monarch of England?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

No. After the American colonies won independence, Anglican leaders in the new nation met in 1789 to form the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” as a totally separate, self-governing denomination, though with shared heritage, sentiment, and liturgy with the mother church.

The current distinction between these two bodies was dramatized when the Church of England bishops issued a new consensus report upholding “the existing doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships” (meaning the tradition that disallows same-sex partners) and supported it by 43-1 at a February 15 General Synod session. In separate votes, lay delegates favored the proposed “take note” motion by 58 percent but clergy delegates killed it with 52 percent opposed (click here for more info).

By contrast, the U.S. Episcopal Church has turned solidly liberal. It endorsed consecration of the first openly gay bishop in 2003, affirmed ordination of priests living in same-sex relationships in 2009, and rewrote the definition of marriage in 2015 to authorize same-sex weddings.

Since King Henry broke from Roman Catholicism in 1534, yes, the reigning monarch has been the head of the Church of England (odd as that seems from the U.S. standpoint). Upon coronation, the king or queen becomes the church’s “supreme governor” and takes a public oath to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.”

Nonetheless, modern-day monarchs are figureheads without any of the religious leverage exercised by Henry and his royal successors. The official explanation of the crown’s status: www.royal.uk/queens-relationship-churches-england-and-scotland-and-other-faiths.

Queen Elizabeth II gives pro forma approval to Parliament’s endorsement of General Synod policies, and she nominally appoints all bishops including the church’s actual leader, the archbishop of Canterbury. In reality she has no power. Bishop candidates are assessed privately by a 16-member Crown Nominations Commission that includes church delegates and the prime minister’s appointments secretary. The commission sends two nominees in order of preference to the prime minister — a politician not necessarily a Church of England member or even a devout Christian — who picks which bishop the queen appoints.

In the U.S. church, bishop candidates are openly named, with elections held by democratic ballot at conventions of a diocese’s clergy and lay delegates.

The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment of 1791 outlaws an “establishment of religion” by the federal government, but would that forbid a president’s personal leadership of a religious body as in England? James Garfield had been an important U.S. House member and a Disciples of Christ preacher, but not a top church leader, when elected president. Utah’s Reed Smoot was one of the 12 reigning apostles of the Mormon church throughout his three decades in the U.S. Senate. But no president has headed a denomination and as a matter of practical politics none ever will.

Ecclesiastical geography:  The U.S. church and the four separate Anglican entities in the United Kingdom (covering England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) are among 44 independent branches of the Anglican Communion, a loose world network of churches with British roots that together claim 85 million adherents. The archbishop of Canterbury is its honorary leader, but has no pope-like authority over the national branches. While the branches in England, Ireland, and Wales bar same-sex marriage, the Scots may give it final approval this year.

Both the English and American branches have experienced serious membership declines even as Anglicanism elsewhere is growing. ...

Continue reading "What’s the deal between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?", by Richard Ostling.

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America's most and least religious states: How could this shape Democrats’ future strategy?

Friday, February 17, 2017

There’s a solid local angle for every U.S. media outlet in 2016 polling that Gallup applies to ranking all 50 states in order of religiosity. Beyond collecting hometown reactions, reporters can factor in Pew Forum’s 2015 survey on religious identifications in each state’s population. Both data sets benefit from huge random samples.

Gallup counts as “very religious” the 38 percent of respondents who said they attend worship nearly every week and that religion is important to them. The “moderately religious” (30 percent) met only one of those two criteria, and the “nonreligious” (32 percent) met neither. Gallup’s “nonreligious” are similar to, but not identical with, Pew’s “nones” who lack religious identity.

Also, a rough political scenario can be developed by comparing Gallup rankings with the 2016 vote. President Trump won 23 of the 25 most religious states, the exceptions being No. 19 Virginia, whose pious Senator Tim Kaine was on the Democratic ticket, and heavily Hispanic New Mexico at No. 21. Mr. Trump romped in the eight states where half or more of respondents were “very religious” -- Mississippi, followed by Alabama, Utah, South Dakota, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton carried nine of the 10 most “nonreligious” states. Tops was Bernie Sanders’ Vermont (at 58 percent ), followed by Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nevada, Alaska (the oddity with a big Trump win), Oregon, Connecticut, Hawaii and Washington state. Next on the nonreligious scale were closely fought New Hampshire, then the two states that accounted for Clinton’s popular vote margin, New York and California (each with 40 percent nonreligious).

Where and how might the troubled Democrats improve their prospects?

One proposal: Forget the popular vote, build the right Electoral College lineup among 50 separate state elections plus D.C., and recognize the significance of religious dynamics.  

Last year, The Religion Guy kept lamenting press inattention to non-Hispanics who identify as Catholic, a swing vote up for grabs that shifted Republican. There’s no hard evidence this stemmed from clergy influence, but whatever is happening the Democrats need to figure it out.

Ponder Gallup and Pew numbers for three states where Trump managed shocking victories, though by less than a percent:     

Wisconsin: The citizenry identifies as 25 percent Catholic (and 22 percent evangelical Protestant) but is a modest No. 27 on Gallup’s state religiosity ranking, which by conventional rule of thumb should help Democrats.

Pennsylvania: Similarly, the population identifies as 24 percent Catholic (and only 19 percent evangelical), with a middling No. 25 on religiosity.

Michigan: Its population is only 18 percent Catholic but 25 percent evangelical, with a rather weak No. 29 on religiosity.  

Then there’s Minnesota: Trump came within 1.5 percent of stealing this supposedly “blue” state, ranked No. 28 on religiosity. Unusually, “mainline” Protestants (29 percent) outnumber Catholics (22 percent) and evangelicals (19 percent). 

Also, New Hampshire: Clinton won but by less than a percent in a state that’s a low No. 40 in religiosity and has few evangelicals, which should help Democrats, but 26 percent identify as Catholic.

Turn to staunchly Republican white evangelical Protestants (Democrats automatically sweep African-American Protestants, while white “mainline” Protestants are split and also declining):  As with Catholics, voters who identify culturally as evangelicals are distinct from the smaller number who are  active churchgoers holding evangelical beliefs (the former were notably fonder toward Mr. Trump than the latter).

Case studies:

North Carolina (Trump-Pence won by 3.7 percent): Democrats face a population that’s 47 percent “very religious” and 35 percent evangelical in identification. Except for this piety factor, it might be solidly “blue.” Republicans have regularly prevailed except in 2008.   

Georgia (Trump-Pence won by 5.2 percent): Democrats must do better with a citizenry that’s likewise 47 percent “very religious,” and fully 38 percent evangelical. In recent elections Democrats have only won by nominating southerners, and Southern Baptists, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Virginia (Clinton-Kaine won by 5.3 percent): The populace is 42 percent “very religious,” and 30 percent evangelical, yet has been trending Democratic.

Florida (Trump-Pence won by 1.2 percent): This complex swing state, a perpetual Democratic target, is only 24 percent evangelical and a mere No. 32 in religiosity.  

The data indicate that except for those four, Democrats will waste their time and money in southern states with strong religiosity and large evangelical numbers. Ditto for heavily Mormon Utah. 

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New Pew study: Are Americans feeling warm and fuzzy when they think about religious believers?

Friday, February 17, 2017

When you stop and think about religion, politics and the tone of American public life over the past year or two, are the words "warm" and "fuzzy" the first things that come to mind?

Probably not.

Let's make that question more specific, which is what host Todd Wilken and I did in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in). When you think about the tone of American debates about issues linked to religious faith -- think LGBTQ rights and religious liberty clashes, or the refugee crisis and terrorism threats linked to the Islamic State -- do you have warm, fuzzy, cheerful feelings about what has been going on and the future?

Probably not. 

Well, in that context you can understand why a blast of new numbers from the Pew Research Center made a few headlines this past week. Click here to see the previous GetReligion post on this topic, including links to the study and some of the coverage.

Once again, the content of that study was summarized in this rather warm and fuzzy double-decker headline at the Pew website:

Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious GroupsJews, Catholics continue to receive warmest ratings, atheists and Muslims move from cool to neutral

The lede at The New York Times took that basic idea and, of course, framed it -- logically enough -- in the context of the bitter 2016 race for the White House.

After an election year that stirred up animosity across racial and religious lines, a new survey has found that Americans are actually feeling warmer toward people in nearly every religious group -- including Muslims -- than they did three years ago.

Now think about this one more time. Go back to the questions at the top of this post. Isn't it logical to ask WHY Americans are feeling warmer and fuzzier feelings about various religious groups right now, when most of the evidence in public discourse -- certainly at the level of headlines and social media -- is suggesting the opposite?

To its credit, the Times team raised that issue in its straightforward and newsy report. Thus: 

... Jen’nan Ghazal Read, an associate professor of sociology and global health at Duke University, questioned the value of measuring “warmth” toward religious groups and the study’s conclusions.“To me, this makes it seem like all’s well in America, and I think that’s not accurately depicting the reality,” said Ms. Read, who has studied American attitudes toward Muslims. “What does ‘warm’ mean?”The responses varied depending on who was asked. Younger Americans, aged 18 to 29, rated Muslims and atheists more warmly, and Jews far more coolly, than Americans 50 and older. Black Americans felt more warmly than white or Hispanic Americans toward Muslims. But in every case, people felt more warmly toward religious groups when they personally knew someone in that group.

So what is the source of the bitter divide that keeps showing up in American public discourse whenever a topic is attached to truth claims linked to religion?

As I stressed in my earlier piece, and in the podcast, it really helps to read the Christianity Today piece about this Pew study. As you would expect, CT focused right in on the somewhat muted findings linked to the status of evangelical Protestantism. (This "location, location, location" focus is totally logical, as you can see in this other Pew study coverage from The National Catholic Register and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.)

The CT online team jumped one layer deeper and noticed that evangelical Protestants where the key American religious group that was left out of this warming trend. Thus:

Overall, 44 percent of Americans feel positively about evangelicals, while 38 percent feel neutral and 18 percent feel negatively. The ratings fall when responses from fellow evangelicals, who made up more than 1 in 4 of respondents, are removed: Just under a third of non-evangelicals (32%) have warm feelings towards the group.

As I noted, if you flip that final number around you get this interesting fact: More than two-thirds of non-evangelical Americans have cool or cold feelings about America's largest non-Catholic Christian flock. 

Please consider digging even deeper. There is evidence that African Americans -- at least in studies at the end of the 20th Century -- tend to be less prejudiced against evangelicals and fundamentalists than white Americans. So what would happen to that cool or colder number it you looked at white non-evangelicals, alone?

More questions? What would happen if you could look at the feelings of white non-evangelicals in, let's say, the all-important Acela zone that connects Washington, D.C., to New York City and then Boston? How about the feelings -- toward evangelicals -- in non-white evangelicals in major newsrooms? How about those same feelings among leaders in the Democratic Party and the country-club or Libertarian wing of the Republican Party? How about those feelings among the leaders of oldline Protestant flocks? Would the cool to colder factor top two-thirds?

Clearly, there is some kind of divide out there and, as always, the deeper implications of the new Pew numbers caused me to think about the book that has influenced my thinking more than any other over the past quarter century or more. That would be the bestseller by sociologist James Davison Hunter called, "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America."

Long, long ago -- when I was marking the 10th anniversary of my syndicated "On Religion" column -- I summed up Hunter's key point this way, in the context of the tensions at the heart of American public discourse about religion:

The old dividing lines centered on issues such as the person of Jesus Christ, church tradition and the Protestant Reformation. But these new interfaith coalitions were fighting about something even more basic -- the nature of truth and moral authority.Two years later [1988], Hunter began writing "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America," in which he declared that America now contains two basic world views, which he called "orthodox" and "progressive." The orthodox believe it's possible to follow transcendent, revealed truths. Progressives disagree and put their trust in personal experience, even if that requires them to "resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life."

Now, there are plenty of small-o orthodox Roman Catholics in American life, as well as orthodox Orthodox Jews, orthodox Anglicans, orthodox Eastern Orthodox Christians and other religious traditionalists in postmodern America. However, it's safe to say that in terms of press coverage and American entertainment, the truly dangerous conservatives in American public life -- think Religious Right -- are evangelical Protestants. Correct?

There is another irony here, one that is even harder to discuss in news reports. That is, the faith of many born-again, evangelical Christians is built primarily on feelings linked to personal experience, as opposed to ancient doctrines.

Ah, but that is a topic for another day. Right Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher and Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr.?

Enjoy the podcast.

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Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

Friday, February 17, 2017

To no one’s huge surprise, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman for refusing to provide flowers for a gay friend’s wedding. Also to no one’s surprise, she (that is, her lawyers) immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may get a new justice soon.

So what is the key question in this story for journalists striving to cover the actual arguments in the case? Once again, the small print in this story is that that Stutzman wasn’t refusing to serve gay people in all instances, like the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights era. Instead, she was claiming the right to refuse to provide flowers in one doctrinally defined situation -- a marriage rite.

But did mainstream news reporters make that crucial distinction?

In almost all cases the answer is "no." We’ll start with what the Seattle Times said:

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.

The article went on to rehearse the facts of the case and then quote several people (the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the gay couple) who were at a Seattle news conference. This went on for a number of paragraphs.

The Seattle Times gave two paragraphs to a press release from Stutzman’s attorneys.

Once again we see a familiar pattern: People are allowed to argue their case on one side, while the other side is reduced to words on paper. Why not talk to authoritative voices on both sides?

Perhaps the relevant word here is "Kellerism."

Note to the Times: You’ve been covering this case for some time. By now, you should have Stutzman’s home phone number as well as the cell phones of her lawyers. At least try to get some fresh quotes from her. Why not let readers hear her voice? It the Stutzman team will not talk, then say so.

The Tri-City Herald, Stutzman’s home newspaper, got a quote out of her. There’s no reason why the Times couldn’t have done the same.

The Seattle paper also said this:

A Benton County Superior Court judge last February ruled that Stutzman’s religious beliefs did not allow her to discriminate against the couple and that she must provide flowers for same-sex weddings, or stop doing weddings at all. The trial court also imposed a fine of $1,000 and legal fees of just $1.

The Times left out the fact that Stutzman is also being hit up for all the legal fees that the ACLU is incurring for the case, which could easily go over $1 million. That will take care of her retirement, house and her savings. That does not faze the Ingersoll and Freed team, which had a statement on the ACLU-Washington’s web site.

At least the Associated Press account mentioned the crucial fact that Stutzman had previously served this couple. In fact, she has no history of discrimination against LGBTQ people as customers or as workers.

She had previously sold the couple flowers and knew they were gay. However, Stutzman told them that she couldn't provide flowers for their wedding because same-sex marriage was incompatible with her Christian beliefs.

I wish some of the news accounts would ask the right questions. If certain dress designers are allowed to refuse to design dresses for Melania Trump because their art is protected under the First Amendment, why aren’t Stutzman’s floral arrangements classed under the same category?

The Stranger, an alternative Seattle newspaper, posted a copy of the tweet from Alliance Defending Freedom imploring President Donald Trump’s help in this case. Then again, look at the Stranger’s lead sentence:

The Washington State Supreme Court dealt bigots a loss today, ruling that the Richland florist who in 2013 refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding violated the state's anti-discrimination law.

I know this is blue-state Seattle, but that’s disgusting, even in an alternative paper.

There hasn’t been much original reporting on this case ever since Stutzman’s case was heard by the Washington state supreme court in November except for this Federalist essay that talked about the longtime friendship between Stutzman and Robert Ingersoll, one of the plaintiffs.

But when Stutzman turned Ingersoll down, it was Freed, his partner, who told the world about it on Facebook. That one action brought the media, the ACLU and State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (the same lawyer who’s defying Trump’s travel ban, by the way) on her head.

Freed was never criticized for revealing all on Facebook. Why was that OK, but when the owner of a Gresham, Ore., bakery (Sweet Cakes by Melissa) revealed –- also on Facebook -- that a lesbian couple had complained against them, that was considered harassment? Too often, reporters follow their own biases and don't ask the unpopular questions.

I hope this goes to the Supreme Court, because there’s been a bunch of wedding-related cases concerning aggrieved gay couples and the bakeries, photographers, florists, etc., who say they’re not discriminating against the people on a consistent basis, but they are refusing to celebrate a specific kind of event because of centuries of established doctrines in several major world religions. Up until now, the court has dodged taking any such case on.

Until they do, read this Christian Science Monitor account of the Washington state case, because it’s by far the best account out there about a complex case that most reporters reduce to clichés and leave it at that.

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Surprise! New York Times zooms past hyper-obvious religion angle in Gorsuch-and-gay-rights story

Thursday, February 16, 2017

If the conventional analysis is to be believed, a key reason so many white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump last November 8 was concern over who'd get the ninth seat on the Supreme Court. And, any other seats opening up over the next four (or even eight) years.

For many, if not most, of these voters, the nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver would appear to have been cause for celebration. He takes an "originalist" view of the Constitution, just like the late jurist he would replace, Justice Antonin Scalia.

My co-GetReligionista Julia Duin has written about the dearth of coverage of Judge Gorsuch's faith, but, much like a bad meal of gas-station sushi, the problem keeps coming up. And who better to belch forward another glaring omission than The New York Times, where the top editor breezily admits "we don't get the role of religion in people's lives," and moves on to the next thing?

This time, the "we-don't-get-the-role-of-religion" thing becomes glaringly obvious.

The Times is taking a look at one of the most contentious faith-based issues of the 21st century, that of the definition of marriage and how that definition will fare with Judge Gorsuch on the high court. "Gorsuch Not Easy to Pigeonhole on Gay Rights, Friends Say," reads the headline. From the story:

Democrats and their progressive allies are marching in lock step to oppose Judge Gorsuch, whose record they find deeply troubling, and gay pundits are painting him as a homophobe. But interviews with his friends -- both gay and straight -- and legal experts across the political spectrum suggest that on gay issues, at least, he is not so easy to pigeonhole.In nominating Judge Gorsuch, Mr. Trump has picked a man with impeccable legal credentials and cast him in the mold of the justice he would succeed, the late Antonin Scalia, who once accused the court of being swayed by a “homosexual agenda” and voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. Judge Gorsuch has said he cried when he learned of Justice Scalia’s death.Like Justice Scalia, Judge Gorsuch regards himself as an originalist, meaning he tries to interpret the Constitution based on the text as written by the founding fathers. But he is three decades younger than Justice Scalia was when he died. He has had two openly gay clerks, and he lives with his wife, Louise, and their two daughters in liberal Boulder, Colo., where his church, St. John’s Episcopal, welcomes gay members.That leads some friends to wonder if his jurisprudence might be closer to that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has carved out a name for himself as the court’s conservative defender of gay rights. Justice Kennedy wrote the landmark 2015 opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage -- a decision some analysts trace to his upbringing in tolerant California.

Did you catch that? The Gorsuch family attends an Episcopal congregation that "welcomes gay members."

That is the only reference to religion and gay rights you'll find in the entire story. No discussion of how or whether St. John's position influenced the judge. No quote from any member of St. John's, let alone from the head cleric there.

That cleric, described by The Christian Post as "a very liberal, pro-LGBT female rector named Rev. Susan Springer," would surely have something to say. Or, perhaps, the Rev. Springer would not have something to say, opting for pastoral discretion. But the only way to find out would be to ask the Rev. Springer, and there's no indication the Times picked up the phone. Or sent an email or tweeted or whatever.

Now, Christian Post reporter Samuel Smith apparently didn't call the Rev. Springer either, but he did offer some well-researched insights into whether or not the homilies delivered at St. John's might have an impact on the "originalist" nominee, thanks to comments from Episcopal analyst Jeff Walton of the doctrinally conservative Institute for Religion & Democracy:

"There is no question that it is a Lefty parish," Walton explained. "Out of curiosity, I looked on their webpage. They have some anti-gun rights stuff. The pastor there, she was at the Women's March in Denver. There were all kinds of red flags. But just because she has those views as the rector, doesn't mean that everybody who participates there has those views.""At IRD, we have supporters who are very conservative but go to churches that have more liberal clergy," Walton added. "The liberal clergy will occasionally spout off about something and these congregants will roll their eyes at it and let it wash over and it is not that big of a deal. That may be the situation [at St. John's]."

Smith also quotes Walton's observation that St. John's is Boulder's "social parish," where the elite meet to greet. (The family of the late Jon Benet Ramsey attended, albeit years ago.)

"This is where the professional class goes to church. In those sorts of parishes, the political sentiments of the rector don't carry as far as they might in another parish because people are not going there primarily for political organizing purposes," Walton explained. "They are there because it is basically sort of a class thing."

Now, I'm guessing it didn't take all that long for the Christian Post to find the very accessible Walton and arrange a chat. I'd imagine Walton would be equally happy to speak with The New York Times, should they call him. (Disclosure: Walton was a source of mine at the Deseret News.)

But instead of probing the judge's feelings about St. James, the Times ignores what might seem a hyper-obvious angle on a complex, emotion-laden story. The faith angle. The angle its top editor says they "don't get."

Do not be at all surprised if this, er, comes up again in the coming weeks as Judge Gorsuch faces hearings and a Senate confirmation vote. The New York Times has the chance, still, to try to get it right.

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