Terry Mattingly

Another Kellerism case? Or a priest refusing to violate the seal of confession?

Another Kellerism case? Or a priest refusing to violate the seal of confession?

Every now and then, a longtime reader sends your GetReligionistas a note that, in addition to the URL to a mainstream news story, includes their own commentary that almost writes a post for us.

That was the case with a note about a recent report from The Billings Gazette about yet another clash between a Catholic priest who is attempting to defend the doctrines of the church and one or more progressive Catholics who see themselves as loyal, practicing Catholics, even though they openly reject one or more specific teachings of the faith.

At first glance, this story looks like a classic "Kellerism" case of advocacy journalism, with a team of journalists doing everything they can to stack a story with materials that back the brave, faithful Catholics who want to see doctrines changed or ignored, while turning the orthodox side of things into a small circle of grim canon lawyers and literalists. 

Thus, the opening of the story:

LEWISTOWN -- The first thing you need to know about Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff is both are lifelong Catholics.

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A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

If there are readers out there in cyberspace who have been reading GetReligion for a decade-plus, the odds are good that they have heard of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 18. That's the one that proclaims, in the name of the United Nations:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Long ago, this statement was considered a cornerstone on the political and cultural left. However, that is no longer (alas) always the case today. Here at GetReligion I have been asking the following questions in recent years, while probing some of the shallow labels that journalists often use with little or no thought. They are:

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of speech?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of association?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of religion?

I'm not sure what the correct answer is, these days, but anyone familiar with the history of political thought in the West will know that the correct answer is not "liberal."

Why bring this up right now? Well, because of an absolutely bizarre statement at the end of a recent BBC report that ran under this strange (it's almost a fragment) headline: "Sudan apostasy woman Mariam Ibrahim 'to campaign'."

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Beheading in Oklahoma: In this case, the religion ghost is right out in the open

Beheading in Oklahoma: In this case, the religion ghost is right out in the open

At the moment, it's easy to read the mainstream coverage of the beheading in Moore, Okla., and sense the tensions that journalists are feeling as they try to decide which post-9/11 news template to apply to this heartland drama.

There's the "workplace violence" template. This is used (think MSNBC) when a story has, you know, a religious angle that public officials really do not want to talk about. This template exists, in part, because -- with some justification -- officials fear that coverage of the attacker's connections to radicalized Islam will lead to unfair criticism of ordinary, mainstream Muslims. 

Then there is the "global terrorism" template. This is used (think Fox News, initially) when there is even the slightest reason to connect what could be a lone-wolf attacker to Jihadist networks at home or abroad. In this Oklahoma attack, here is what that kind of story looks like -- care of Breitbart.com.

Often, there is good cause to run with either of these templates. The key, however, is whether journalists are able to keep digging -- without prejudice -- for the basic facts that point one way or the other.

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LATimes: Generic ancient, liturgical Christians are on the run in Iraq

LATimes: Generic ancient, liturgical Christians are on the run in Iraq

If news consumers in the United States have learned anything in the past decade or two, they should have learned that there is quite a bit of diversity inside Islam in the Middle East and around the world. The doctrinal differences between Shia and Sunni truly matter, for example. And there are crucial divisions among the Sunni that have often caused fierce, hellish conflicts such as the one between Saudi Arabia and the tribes forming the Islamic State.

If anything, the Christian churches in this troubled region are even more complex, with some divisions dating back to the early church fathers and others having roots in the past millennium or thereabouts. 

Take Iraq, for example. Even a short list of the Christian flocks in that war-ravaged land would have to include the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Armenian Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Christians with ties to Antioch and the Byzantine rite Catholic churches with ties to Rome. Yes, there are Latin rite Roman Catholics and various kinds of Protestants in these lands as well, including Anglicans.

At the moment, of course, these churches are united by one hellish condition -- persecution.

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Time on decline of marriage among the young: What's God got to do, got to do with it?

Time on decline of marriage among the young: What's God got to do, got to do with it?

Even frequent critics of the various institutions linked to the Pew Research empire usually complain more about how Pew insiders parse and explain their data, as opposed to questioning the importance of the survey numbers they collect. In particular, news consumers can almost always count on the Pew scholars to pay attention to the religious, moral and cultural implications of trends they believe they have documented. When it comes to religion, Pew people consistently get it.

This is not always the case with people who try to spot the most newsworthy trends in all of those surveys and statistics. I make this observation at this time because of the Time magazine report that just ran, online, under the headline, "Why 25% of Millennials Will Never Get Married."

To be blunt, there is no religion content in this Time essay, no exploration of its religious implications. That is not the case when one looks at the actual Pew Research numbers and the executive summary. 

Moral implications, as opposed to mere economics?

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Jump in the WABAC Machine: NYTimes buried Jesus way back in 1997?

Jump in the WABAC Machine: NYTimes buried Jesus way back in 1997?

There has been quite a bit of reaction online, as you would expect, to the GetReligion-esque takedown that the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway wrote for The Federalist about that New York Times travel piece that -- in the print edition -- said the following:

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.

The piece was later changed in the online edition, with "is" changed to "was" in keeping with, well, the crucial doctrine at the heart of global Christendom -- the Resurrection. The Times team did not, however, deign to publish a formal correction (and I just checked the online text again).

If you read the comments on several different posts on this topic -- M.Z. and Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher, for example -- you know that many readers were convinced that this was a tempest in a teacup about a mere typo that just slipped past the world-class copy desk at the world's most powerful newspaper.

Here at GetReligion, reader Tom Hanson offered this example of that line of thinking:

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Those 'Arab' nations: I do not think that single word means what you think it means

Those 'Arab' nations: I do not think that single word means what you think it means

Once again, we have an "Arab" issue to discuss.

Pick up a newspaper right now, or turn on cable news, and you will almost certainly run into a story or two about the White House efforts to recruit "Arab" nations to join in the sort-of-fight against the Islamic State. This is slightly confusing, when you stop and think about it. As I wrote the other day:

What is the most important uniting characteristic in the governments being courted by the Obama White House? Is "Arab" the most accurate label to assign, when pondering the common structures and influences in cultures such as Turkey and Egypt (as well as Lebanon)? What unites them?
The bottom line: Journalists must be careful when using the term "Arab." Often that word does not mean what journalists seem to think that it means.

Now, a new story from the Tribune Washington Bureau, which has appeared in many newspapers from coast to coast, has quite precisely illustrated the tricky issues journalists are facing in this case.

The problem? A missing word -- "league."

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Revenge of GetReligion MZ: Concerning the NYTimes effort to bury Jesus

Revenge of GetReligion MZ: Concerning the NYTimes effort to bury Jesus

How does that song go? "There she goes, there she goes again"?

Obviously, you can (sadly) take the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion, but you cannot take the GetReligion DNA out of her (thank goodness) in her work with The Federalist

Case in point: If you get religion-beat pros together, we often end up sharing hilarious (laugh to keep from crying, actually) examples of mistakes that news organizations make when attempting to cover religion news. Click here for a USA Today op-ed piece that I wrote on this topic long ago.

Mollie likes to play this game, too, and specializes in hunting for the most prestigious prey -- mistakes in The New York Times. You'd be amazed how often basic mistakes on Christian history and doctrine show up in those holy pages.

Take, for example that travel story that ran last week under the headline, "Hoping War-Weary Tourists Will Return to Israel."

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Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

So, Catholic GetReligion readers, is the Pope Francis glass half full today or half empty?

Well, some might say, that depends on whether the person answering is a liberal Catholic or from the conservative side of the church aisle. Is it really that simple? I don't think so.

Consider the stunning news out of Chicago, with the announcement that Pope Francis has selected a bishop admired by the left (which in media reports makes him a "moderate") to take the place of Cardinal Francis George, a hero of the doctrinal right. Is Catholic conservative Thomas Peters right when he claims, while discussing the moral theology of Bishop Blase Cupich:

Pope Francis’ choice of Bishop Cupich should actually pour cold water on liberal hopes of a leftward turn in the American episcopacy.
Yes, Bishop Cupich talks in a way that makes liberals feel comfortable, but the substance of what he says is almost always sound and orthodox. He told the New York Times “Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues”, but do liberals ever stop and realize that cuts both ways?

Peters goes on to note that Cupich has, while speaking with a consistently progressive tone, has acted (with the exception of his decision to discourage priests from praying outside Planned Parenthood facilities) in ways consistent with Catholic teachings -- even when defending marriage. And religious liberty? Yes.

And speaking of the Catholic left, Religious News Service columnist David Gibson has perfectly stated the opinions of those who are dancing with joy after the news from Chicago.

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