Terry Mattingly

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

This was certainly the strangest URL anyone sent me this week.

When I saw that an Episcopal bishop had called the president a sodomite I assumed that the problem in this story was that we were dealing with an "Episcopal" bishop -- a leader in some kind of fringe, buy-yourself-a-mitre church -- rather than a real, live leader in the liberal Episcopal Church establishment. As it turned out, the WLRN website was actually writing about a mainstream, and thus culturally liberal, Episcopalian.

So what the heck?

Eventually, this story or essay gets to the point, underneath the headline: "What Bishop Frade May Have Meant When He Called President Obama A Sodomite." But first, the story had to explain that this bishop was actually a good guy.

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Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

For the past 20-plus years, the overwhelming majority of my students have come from schools that could, to one degree or another, accurately be described as part of "evangelical" Protestant life here in America.

Yes, there are quotes around the word "evangelical," not because the word is scary, but because many people, including journalists, are not sure what it means.

Early on, most of my students -- when asked what kind of church they attend -- would have described themselves as part of flocks that were "independent," "nondenominational" and "evangelical." A few would have added the word "charismatic." The common denominator, however, was the word "evangelical."

Then, about six or seven years ago, that totally changed. Oh, most of my students still come from schools that can be called "evangelical." Most grew up in "evangelical" churches and most still attend churches that can be called "evangelical" to one degree or another. However, many if not most students are now backing away from that word -- "evangelical."

The reason why is pretty obvious: "Evangelical" has become a political term in public discourse.

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Sports Illustrated shuns the 'Christian' label in story of suicide, reality TV and hoops

Sports Illustrated shuns the 'Christian' label in story of suicide, reality TV and hoops

I don't know about you, but there are times when I can start reading a news feature and, even though there are no hints in the headlines, photographs or pull quotes, I can just tell that a religion shoe is going to drop sooner or later. 

That's how I felt when I started reading the epic Sports Illustrated story called "Love, Loss and Survival" about the struggles of New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson after his long-time girlfriend, reality-television star Gia Allemand, committed suicide. Read the opening lines of this story and see if you can spot the first clue:

The argument began, as so many do, over something small and seemingly insignificant. Ryan Anderson can’t even remember what it was. A text message? An offhand comment?
Then the quarrel grew, gaining strength. It carried over from lunch at a restaurant to the drive home, Gia Allemand’s voice growing louder. By the time Ryan dropped her at her apartment, in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, around six on the evening of Aug. 12, 2013, they’d said things they could never take back, and Gia’s anger had morphed into something else, dark yet strangely calm. Upon returning to his apartment, two long blocks away on Tchoupitoulas Street, Ryan flipped on a single light and slumped on the couch. All around were reminders of his relationship with Gia.

Spot it? 

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Crucial, symbolic details in the Jerusalem attack: Why the 'Twersky' name was so important

Crucial, symbolic details in the Jerusalem attack: Why the 'Twersky' name was so important

Anyone who wants to follow the daily flow of news and commentary -- light and serious -- about Jewish life knows that they need to be signed up for the daily newsletters from The Forward. I mean where else are you going to turn for key questions linked to the music of Pink Floyd?

Seriously, readers looking for the fine details on the lives of those lost in this week's bloody slaughter in the West Jerusalem synagogue (click here for the earlier Jim Davis post on the coverage) knew what they would find in the wave of coverage at The Forward. Whose blood was shed with those guns and knives and that ax? What made this attack so unique and disturbing? This is what specialty publications do -- offer depth.

In this case, that meant grasping the symbolic details at the heart of trends in modern Orthodox Judaism

It was all about the names "Twersky" and "Soloveitchik." This was, as is so often the case in Jewish news, about the past, the present and the future.

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Concerning that powerful, but strange, Los Angeles report on rape in Syria

Concerning that powerful, but strange, Los Angeles report on rape in Syria

First thing first: There is no way to read the recent Los Angeles Times report about the rape and torture of women caught up in the fighting in Syria without being sickened. This is powerful material and this lengthy news feature contains lots of on-the-record material about a crime that many are simply too humiliated and terrified to report.

But as I read through it, I noticed something rather strange. You can see hints in the opening anecdote:

Soon after the young woman was released by the Syrian government in a prisoner exchange, activists began noticing the signs.
The woman's husband immediately divorced her. She rarely ventured outside her parents' house. Not long after, she left for Turkey.
Activist Kareem Saleh, who knew the woman from their work within Syria's peaceful opposition, called her at her new home, hoping to document the suspected sexual crimes. But the woman resisted, asking why her story was important and how it would benefit the antigovernment cause. Saleh spoke to her over the course of several days, but even when the woman relented, she would describe the conditions of her captivity only in general terms.
"She said, 'There was a lot, a lot of torture,' and I said, 'What kind of torture?' She kept repeating, 'A lot, a lot of torture,' and I kept pressing until I wore her down and she finally began telling me specifically about the rape."

What does religion have to do with this? 

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Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

The Church of England has, after several decades of debate, voted to allow women to become bishops. As the New York Times story noted, in the lede, this act "overturned centuries of tradition."

That is true, but it's important for readers to understand why that matters and to whom it matters. This is especially true since, while the Church of England is important, it no longer represents the statistical future of Anglicanism worldwide. The story notes:

“Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together,” the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said after the vote.
Two decades after the first female priest was ordained, the issue of women taking senior roles in the church hierarchy remains divisive. As recently as 2012, the proposal had been defeated by six votes.
But Archbishop Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who supported the vote from the start, had warned fellow church leaders this year that the public would find the exclusion of women “almost incomprehensible.”
On Monday, however, he acknowledged that a split in the worldwide Anglican community was now a serious possibility. “Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” he said.

The heart of this story is found in Welby's hope that Anglicans will be "moving forward together" which is then contrasted, a few lines later, by his comment that without "prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures." Via media, at best.

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Stephen Glass confesses in The New Republic: Sin, penance and a search for redemption?

Stephen Glass confesses in The New Republic: Sin, penance and a search for redemption?

During a graduate-school readings class on trends in 20th Century Judaism, I was asked to read Simon Wiesenthal's classic book, "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness." Here is the Amazon description of this amazing and unforgettable book:

While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS. Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to -- and obtain absolution from -- a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing.  But even years after the way had ended, he wondered: Had he done the right thing? 

After the actually telling of this real-life parable, the book offers a large collection of short essays in which Jewish and Christian ethicists and theologians discuss that haunting question. With a few exceptions, the Christians say that -- after the soldier's repentance -- Wiesenthal should have offered words of comfort, if not forgiveness. Most Jewish thinkers -- citing the tradition that forgiveness should be granted by victims, alone -- support Wiesenthal's silence.

This brings me to Hanna Rosin's 6,000-word piece in The New Republic about her encounter with Stephen Glass, the former journalist whose faked stories (see the movie "Shattered Glass") sparked a crisis that threatened the magazine's future. This story, as you would imagine, has been the subject of a tsunami of water-cooler chatter here in Beltway land.

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Dear Washington Post editors: Why was National Cathedral security so tight during Muslim prayers?

Dear Washington Post editors: Why was National Cathedral security so tight during Muslim prayers?

Over the past few days, I have had quite a few people ask me what I thought of the first-ever Muslim prayer service held inside the vault of the Washington National Cathedral. Would GetReligion be "covering" that? 

My response, of course, was whether they were asking for my personal take on this event, as an Orthodox Christian, or for my take on the media coverage of the event, which is what GetReligion is all about? Most meant the former, which isn't all that relevant to what we do here on this blog. Thus, let me offer a thought or two about the Washington Post coverage of the event, which ran under this headline: "Washington Cathedral’s first Muslim prayer service interrupted by heckler."

Your GetReligionistas rarely critique reporters by name, since we think editors also play crucial roles in the final product that ends up in print or on the air. However, in this case I'd like to note that it was interesting, and I think wise, that the Post editors assigned veteran foreign correspondent Pamela Constable to this story. She has years of experience in Pakistan and Afghanistan and is also known as the author of the book, "Fragments of Grace: My Search for Meaning in the Strife of South Asia."

The information that made it into the story was solid, although at several points I wanted to know more -- such as the actual doctrinal content of the sermon scholar Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s U.S. ambassador. In each case, I found myself wondering if these vague spots were the result of editing or the values of editors in the newsroom.

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CNN offers readers an atheist veteran, smiling down from heaven after his suffering ends

CNN offers readers an atheist veteran, smiling down from heaven after his suffering ends

If anything has changed, over the 10 years-plus your GetReligionistas have been doing what we do, then it has been the number of questions we hear from readers about that blurring line between basic news writing and commentary.

At first we tried to ignore this, saying that we just write about hard news -- period. Eventually, this rising tide of journalistic confusion became impossible to ignore, in part because readers kept asking us about it.

So what we have here is a perfect example, a CNN feature under the headline, "Soldier broken by war silenced by death." A longtime GetReligion reader who closely follows atheist issues sent it in, basically asking, "What the heck?" or words to that effect. I agree that this is a strange one.

For starters, this article was located in the U.S. news section and it is not flagged as an analysis piece. Yet, right in the lede, the writer -- Moni Basu -- breaks into first-person voice and frames the story in terms of direct contacts with the subject, paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. First person? That would normally mean that this is a column, right?

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