Bobby Ross Jr.

A Catholic priest, an Anglican bishop and a Baptist mom walk into a North Carolina family home ...

A Catholic priest, an Anglican bishop and a Baptist mom walk into a North Carolina family home ...

In the late 1970s, my dad preached for a little Church of Christ in Elkin, N.C., a small town about 45 miles west of Winston-Salem.

We lived there for a year or two when I was in elementary school. I must have been 10 or 11 years old.

I remember that we lived in a church-provided home with a large basement where my brother Scott, sister Christy and I enjoyed playing hide-and-seek. I remember that a neighbor man owned a small store and always gave me a 5-cent-a-pack discount on baseball cards because my dad was a minister. I remember that we had a pet guinea pig named Snowball (she was white, as you might have guessed).

I remember that adults used to smoke cigarettes in the church parking lot after services, and nobody thought anything of it because we lived in tobacco country. I remember that the first time I experienced a shopping mall or a Chick-fil-A came on a trip to the big city of Winston-Salem. I remember that two Catholic popes died one right after the other in 1978 and kept interrupting my cartoons with news reports. 

My time in Elkin was 35-plus years ago, and I don't think about it much anymore.

But my memories came floating back this week when I came across Wall Street Journal story about two twin brothers raised in that same town. 

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Sorry, Southern Baptists: AP slants Alabama same-sex marriage coverage in favor of gay-rights advocates

Sorry, Southern Baptists: AP slants Alabama same-sex marriage coverage in favor of gay-rights advocates

The Associated Press' quick-hit, 800-word coverage Tuesday night concerning the Alabama Supreme Court halting same-sex marriage licenses in that state seemed relatively straightforward and factual. It read like an unbiased news report.

"Bias" is, of course, contrary to AP's stated news values and principles.

Alas, AP's second-day, 1,000-word coverage Wednesday had a different look and feel than the breaking news. It read like advocacy masquerading as straight news.

Let's start at the top of the Day 2 report:

Alabama's stand against same-sex marriage regained ground Wednesday after the state's highest court ruled that its ban remains legal, despite federal court pressure to begin issuing licenses to gays and lesbians. But advocates said they're not giving up either — and that the justices in Montgomery will find themselves on history's losing side.
The Alabama Supreme Court ordered county probate judges to uphold the state ban pending a final ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears arguments in April on whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.
Stuck between the state's highest court and a series of federal rulings, many probate judges were at a loss early Wednesday. Mobile County, one of the state's largest, initially announced that it wouldn't issue licenses to anyone, straight or gay.
By mid-day, gay rights advocates couldn't find a single county still granting licenses to same-sex couples.
Dean Lanton said he and his partner, Randy Wells, had planned to wed in Birmingham on Aug. 12, the anniversary of their first date, but now might have to get married out of state because of the decision.
"It was a punch in the gut. It was out of the blue," said Lanton, 54. "It's just Alabama politics, deja vu from the 1960s."

After (1) Lanton, AP proceeds to quote directly (2) a Democratic county probate judge skeptical about the ruling, (3) the chairman of an Alabama gay-rights group who pledges a continued fight, (4) an attorney for a lesbian couple who challenged the state's ban on gay marriage and (5) the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay-rights organization.

Anybody picking up a theme here?

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Front-page news in Indianapolis: 5-year-old survey data on 'animus' toward same-sex marriage

Front-page news in Indianapolis: 5-year-old survey data on 'animus' toward same-sex marriage

In a front-page story this week, the Indianapolis Star reported on "the real reason behind opposition to same-sex marriage."

Prepare to be shocked.

Religion plays a role:

Why do you oppose same-sex marriage?
Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell posed this question to hundreds of people across the nation as part of a research project.
He was curious to see if what people say actually matches the legal arguments being made to justify bans on same-sex marriage.
The legal arguments are rooted in public policy considerations. The public responses decidedly were not.
From his survey results, published recently in the sociological journal Social Currents, here's one response that reflected the majority of opposition to same-sex marriage: "Because I don't believe God intended them to be that way."
"It's beastly," said another. A third: "Well, they're sinners."

What the Star doesn't bother to mention: While Powell's paper was published recently, the survey itself was conducted in 2010 — five years ago.

As you might have noticed, there has been a little publicity on the issue since then — and rapidly changing attitudes, from the American public to the U.S. president. 

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In the New England forecast: Lots of snow, with a chance of coffers drying up at houses of worship

In the New England forecast: Lots of snow, with a chance of coffers drying up at houses of worship

New England's tough winter is starting to make headlines — on the religion beat.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

BOSTON (AP) -- Religious leaders in snowbound New England are beginning to ask themselves how on Earth their houses of worship will make ends meet after all these acts of God.
Churches, synagogues and mosques report attendance is down at services, as poorly timed winter storms have hit on or close to days of worship. And getting the faithful to come out is challenging, with limited parking and treacherously icy sidewalks plaguing the region.
For many places of worship, that has meant donations are drying up just as costs for snow removal, heating and maintenances are soaring.
"You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs," says Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England.

The AP lede's emphasis on "churches, synagogues and mosques" drew this response from Ira Rifkin, one of my fellow GetReligionistas:

Hmmm ... just the big three, once again. I believe the Boston area has more Buddhist centers than any other city in the nation (needs fact checking). But even if not, it's just the big three. America's more diverse than that.

Interesting point, and honestly, not one that would have struck me on my own. Alas, Massachusetts does have more Buddhists than Muslims, according to a 2010 demographic report by the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Still, give AP credit for a timely, enterprising religion angle on the weather.

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Godbeat news: A funding boost at USC's Knight Chair and a new religion writer posting in Louisville

Godbeat news: A funding boost at USC's Knight Chair and a new religion writer posting in Louisville

Mostly, GetReligion focuses on critiquing media coverage of religion.

Occasionally, we update readers on important developments on the Godbeat. The following news — which we are a bit behind in sharing — falls into that category.

Via a release from the University of Southern California:

Comprehensive reporting efforts on the changing landscape of American religious practice and theological thought will see significant expansion in 2015 as a result of $1.25 million in grants awarded to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Diane Winston, holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at USC Annenberg, will direct the effort.
The grants will fund a new editor and freelance-reporting budget for Religion Dispatches, the award-winning online journalism magazine based at USC Annenberg. The magazine is one element in the Knight Chair’s ongoing effort to advance specialized reporting.
Lilly Endowment awarded $1 million for a project titled “Remapping American Christianities” and the Henry Luce Foundation awarded $250,000 to pursue “Innovating Coverage of Theology.”
In addition to funding freelance reporting and a new editor, the grants will allow Winston to convene thought leaders who will help chart new directions to cover territory overlooked by other websites and print publications, she said.
The grants also will support greater collaboration between editors of Religion Dispatches and the Knight Chair with students at USC Annenberg.
“The next generation of reporters should understand the importance of religion in the daily lives of Americans and learn how ordinary people look for and find meaning, identity and purpose,” Winston said.

To Winston's comment, we offer a hearty "Amen!"

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What's faith got to do with it? An embattled homeless shelter takes in 'anyone and everyone,' but why?

What's faith got to do with it? An embattled homeless shelter takes in 'anyone and everyone,' but why?

Tina Turner asked: "What's love got to do with it?"

Here's my question for The New York Times: 

Holy ghosts — as we dub 'em here at GetReligion — haunt the Times' 1,300-word story on an embattled St. Louis homeless shelter. 

The top of the story:

ST. LOUIS — The thermometer is barely reaching the driving age on this late February evening, bringing the type of arctic bite to the air here that numbs fingers and toes within minutes, and a grim procession takes place downtown.

One by one, men and women, bundled in ragtag wear of varying thicknesses, shiver into an old, cocoa-brown brick building near a strip of hip bars, restaurants and boutiques. They raise their arms at the door to be patted down, show identification and sign their names on sheets of paper before grabbing flimsy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or dry pastries and having a seat on metal folding chairs. The air is a bit stale, the mood a bit weary. But it is warm. And for the dozens filing in, that seemed to be good enough.

“It’s livable,” said Anthony Lewis, 44, curled under a scarlet blanket on a cot in a spacious but chilly room with about 125 beds on the fifth floor. “It’s a blessing right now.”

This place, the New Life Evangelistic Center, has for decades been a safety net for hundreds of people without a place to lay their head at night. Around here, it is the shelter that is known to take in just about anyone and everyone. Even the police have dropped off the homeless at its front door, which leads into a century-old former YWCA building.

But now that this former garment district is transforming into a hub for urban renewal with new lofts and businesses attracting young, affluent residents, a war has broken out over the center’s future.

That's some nice description up high. It really paints a picture. And it provides the first hint of a religion angle.

 

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Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

If you're interested in social media's influence on 21st century political reporting, a scholarly paper by CNN's Peter Hamby contains excellent insight.

Published in 2013, the 95-page report is titled "Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?: Searching for a better way to cover a campaign."

Among the issues Hamby explores: the incessant snark — in 140 characters or less — that characterized media coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Speaking of snark, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard unloaded a big ole slab of cheese Tuesday on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential Republican presidential candidate.

Click the Onion-esque link, and Goddard makes light of Walker's inability to provide “a copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any other form of deity.”

Strangely, though, not everyone on Twitter shared Goddard's sense of humor.

Eventually, Goddard cried uncle.

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New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

Four months ago, I raised questions after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley made a sincere conversion from Catholicism to Islam during his captivity.

Given the circumstances, I asked whether Foley's "conversion" really should be presented as a fact.

At the time, the Times reporter who wrote the story defended the newspaper's characterization of Foley's conversion.

 

Rome bureau chief Jim Yardley's 1,500-word story tackles important questions concerning Foley's faith that the original Times story ignored.

Let's start at the top:

VATICAN CITY — The Islamic State’s beheading in August of the journalist James Foley stirred global outrage, fury and despair. But for many of his fellow Roman Catholics, Mr. Foley’s death in Syria transformed him into a symbol of faith under the most brutal of conditions.
One Catholic essayist compared him to St. Bartholomew, who died for his Christian faith. Others were drawn to Mr. Foley’s account of praying the rosary during an earlier captivity in Libya. Even Pope Francis, in a condolence call to Mr. Foley’s parents, described him as a martyr, according to the family.
Then came an unexpected twist: It turned out that Mr. Foley was among several hostages in Syria who had converted to Islam in captivity, according to some freed captives. What had been among some Catholics a theological discussion of faith and heroic resistance quickly shifted to a different set of questions:
Is any conversion under such duress a legitimate one? Why would a man who had spoken so openly about his Catholic faith turn to Islam? Given his circumstances, is it even surprising if he did?

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Surprise, a pretty bouquet! Los Angeles Times covers both sides of same-sex wedding flowers lawsuit

Surprise, a pretty bouquet! Los Angeles Times covers both sides of same-sex wedding flowers lawsuit

We've had our cake at GetReligion — or at least critiqued plenty of coverage of it. Here, here, here and here, for example.

Perhaps it's time we enjoyed some culture-war flowers, too.

The Los Angeles Times reported this week on a judge's ruling in yet another case pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom.

The top of the Times' story:

A Washington state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, citing religious reasons, violated consumer protection laws, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, centered on Arlene’s Flowers, a shop in eastern Washington that refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, with the owner telling a longtime customer that it was “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The attorney general argued that the business had violated state consumer protection laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Washington since 2012.
In a 60-page opinion, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom said Barronelle Stutzman’s actions became illegal the day voters passed a referendum legalizing gay marriage.
Stutzman had argued that the tenets of her "Southern Baptist tradition" precluded her from arranging flowers for same-sex weddings, or to allow any of her employees to do so.

 

Two weeks ago, I dinged the Los Angeles newspaper for the way it framed a story that asked — prepare for a loaded question — "Should religion give businesses an excuse to not serve gay couples?"

But I liked this latest story.

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