Jim Davis

New York Times finds the usual suspects behind Anglican division

New York Times finds the usual suspects behind Anglican division

We have a positive ID on those shadowy villains who are wreaking havoc.

No, not the guys who hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. Someone much worse: those who are dividing the Church of England over female bishops.

It's ... Dun-dun-DUNN! ... the Evangelicals!

Yep, those perennial bad guys popped up in a  New York Times' news article this week as the hardshell opponents against making the Rev. Libby Lane the first female Anglican bishop.

Much of the story is a bland, benign repackage of an announcement on the church's own website. It says Lane will be an "assistant" to Bishop Peter Forster of Chester. (The actual title is "suffragan," as the church release says.) It has a statement from Lane and tells of her interests in saxophone and crossword puzzles.

Then it morphs into the treasured Times tradition of conflict journalism:

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Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Celibate gay Christians -- those who feel the pull of same-sex attraction, yet abstain in order to stay faithful to their faith -- get a sensitive, nuanced look in the Washington Post. Though with a couple of flaws.

This gentle 1,600-word feature examines quiet emergence of gays like Eve Tushnet in Catholic and evangelical circles. Ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein explores their feelings toward churches, right or wrong. And the feelings of church folk toward them.

Here's an excellent "nut graph," actually two paragraphs:

Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
Celibacy “allows you to give yourself more freely to God,” said Tushnet (rhymes with RUSH-net), a 36-year-old writer and resident of Petworth in the District. The focus of celibacy, she says, should be not on the absence of sex but on deepening friendships and other relationships, a lesson valuable even for people in heterosexual marriages.

The Post article is timely enough. World magazine, a Christian news journal, on Dec. 11 posted an in-depth story on issues surrounding Julie Rodgers, a gay celibate counselor for students at Wheaton College.

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The real 'Exodus': media coverage that goes beyond the dollar signs

The real 'Exodus': media coverage that goes beyond the dollar signs

Ridley Scott mustered $140 million for Exodus, his epic on the biblical Passover story, only to see it reap a mediocre $24.5 million last weekend. But the real-life plagues struck media reports: plagues of blindness and deafness to the religious and spiritual causes for the tepid opening receipts.

But we'll start with the two bright spots I saw.

To my surprise, the best report appears in Variety, not your typically spiritual journal. Its 500-word story reads like an indepth, but refreshingly without blatant opinion or obvious attempts to steer our viewpoint. Its three expert sources prove the points of the article.

Noting that this was supposed to be "the year that Hollywood found religion," writer Brent Lang traces the uneven record for faith-based films in 2014. Big-budget spectacles, like Exodus and Noah, have stumbled, while smaller films like God's Not Dead and Heaven is for Real have triumphed. And Lang asks his sources why:

With 77% of Americans identifying as Christians, Hollywood sees a big audience for these kind of films.
“The Bible is a hot commodity,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “The secret is to start small, keep the budget manageable and get into grassroots marketing.”

Nor is this a new trend. Variety notes that The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's 2004 film, grossed $612 million on a $30 million budget. And its opening weekend reaped $83.8 million.

Again, an expert source explains:

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Obama's new Bible bobble gets media notice -- and a few defenders

Obama's new Bible bobble gets media notice -- and a few defenders

Remember the mashup by the Biblicist-in-Chief to support his new immigration policy? On Nov. 20, President Obama said the Bible tells us that "we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger –- we were strangers once, too."

Well, he's at it again -- while arguing immigration reform again -- and the varying reactions of news outlets are instructive.

"I think the Good Book says, you know, don't throw stones in glass houses, or make sure we're looking at the log in our eye before we're pointing out the mote in other folks' eyes," Obama said Tuesday at an "Immigration Town Hall" in Nashville. "And I think that's as true in politics as it is in life."

He was partly right. Jesus did say something like it in Matthew 7:3-4, although Obama apparently mixed translations. Here it is in the commonly quoted King James Version:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

The New Revised Standard Version, used by mainline Protestants, substitutes "speck" for "mote" and "log" for "beam." So Obama wasn't wrong, just patching together different versions.

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AP's coverage of Obamacare and sisters' court case: It's a tall 'order'

AP's coverage of Obamacare and sisters' court case:  It's a tall 'order'

Bishops and Hobby Lobby got sneers in mainstream media for fighting Obamacare, but a knot of nuns seems to be drawing more respectful coverage. Even in its flawed story this week, the Associated Press tries to give the sisters a fair hearing.

How successful is the question here.

The story is about the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order that has been in the U.S. since 1868, specializing in care for the elderly. The nuns and their attorneys, from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, were in Denver on Monday, arguing their case in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Most of the Sisters are elderly, but they have younger employees -- and the Obama administration wants the order, like other organizations, to provide contraceptives. As Catholics, of course, the sisters say that would violate their beliefs.

After a few high-profile lawsuits with other groups, the Obama administration has rewritten the regulations to allow exemptions to churches. But the newest rewrite is still a problem, AP says:

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New York Times examines secular campaign, but from only one side

New York Times examines secular campaign, but from only one side

Atheists have lately been taking a page from the playbook of some Christians, who cry persecution when they face antagonism or discrimination. The newest chapter in this avowed liberation movement is the subject of a New York Times newsfeature: a drive to strike anti-atheism clauses from state constitutions.

The 1,150-word Times article is satisfyingly long, in an era when many newspapers are reluctant to keep religion specialists, let alone give much space to religion coverage. But the has a few limitations, which we'll look at a bit later.

It starts with the landmark 1961 case of Roy Torcaso, the Maryland bookkeeper who was denied a job because he was an atheist. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Torcaso, of course.

The Times continues:

But 53 years later, Maryland and six other states still have articles in their constitutions saying people who do not believe in God are not eligible to hold public office. Maryland’s Constitution still says belief in God is a requirement even for jurors and witnesses.
Now a coalition of nonbelievers says it is time to get rid of the atheist bans because they are discriminatory, offensive and unconstitutional. The bans are unenforceable dead letters, legal experts say, and state and local governments have rarely invoked them in recent years. But for some secular Americans, who are increasingly visible and organized, removing the bans is not only a just cause, but a test of their growing movement’s political clout.

Rather like the anti-Christmas billboard campaign by American Atheists, the coalition -- called Openly Secular -- is targeting southeastern states, although Maryland and Pennsylvania are also in their crosshairs. And the Times article has some truly surprising facts on how firmly theistic some state constitutions sound, requiring belief in God for public office holders.

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A Christmas gift for The Telegraph: Atheist content to copy and paste

A Christmas gift for The Telegraph: Atheist content to copy and paste

'Tis the season to attack the season, at least in American Atheist country. So here they go with the newest round of billboards sneering at Christmas, this time in the Bible Belt.

The atheists knew it would get a sleighful of media coverage, though with varying degrees of friendliness. But some media, likeThe Telegraph, settled for copy & paste of the atheists' release material.

The summary lede is conventional enough:

Atheist activists are taking their campaigns to the Bible Belt this Christmas with a provocative billboard campaign that is expected to stir controversy in America's religious heartlands.
The giant advertising hoardings in the Tennessee cities of Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Fort Smith, Arkansas show a mischievous-looking young girl writing her letter to Father Christmas: "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I'm too old for fairy tales," she writes.

Then the story starts lifting content, with almost no rewriting, from the American Atheists. Here's a paragraph from the atheist's webpage:

“Even children know churches spew absurdity, which is why they don’t want to attend services. Enjoy the time with your family and friends instead,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed.  It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth.”

Now here's one from the Telegraph:

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The pope and the Parliament: Perceptive piece by The New York Times

The pope and the Parliament: Perceptive piece by The New York Times

Maybe I'm getting soft. Or maybe I'm just easily satisfied these days when an article shows any depth. But I'm really impressed with the blend of range, focus and perceptiveness of the New York Times in its coverage of Pope Francis' recent address to the European Parliament.

Francis was gentle but unsparing, as the article reports:

Europe, he declared, has lost its way, its energies sapped by economic crisis and a remote, technocratic bureaucracy. It is increasingly a bystander in a world that has become “less and less Eurocentric,” and that frequently looks at the Continent “with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion.”
Gently delivered, it was nevertheless a failing grade.
“In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant,” the pope, an Argentine, told the Parliament, where speeches usually trade in platitudes or mind-numbing technicalities.

How far has Europe fallen in the Vatican's eyes? Pretty far, as Times writer Andrew Higgins says. By comparison, he says, the last pope to address the European Parliament, John Paul II, rejoiced in the "special moment" in 1988 as Western Europe was triumphing over communism. And in an unusual technique, the Times puts that background in the lede, forming something like a verbal cliff to illustrate Europe's fall.

He also specifies a few ways Francis believes the continent has veered from its heritage. One, he said, is neglect of decent wages and "proper working conditions." Another is a withering of charity, leaving many to beg for food in the streets. Still another is lack of respect and compassion for migrants, noting that many Africans have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe.

More generally, as the Times says, Francis said the European Parliament is producing the opposite of the unity for which it was created:

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Do evangelicals mistreat gay children? AP weighs viewpoints, but not evenly

Do evangelicals mistreat gay children? AP weighs viewpoints, but not evenly

Small but increasingly connected knots of conservative Christians are advocating a new approach to homosexuality, says a well-done feature from the Associated Press.

Well done, as in more than 10 quoted sources and nearly 1,400 words. Well done, as in talking to educators and institutional leaders, not just aggrieved activists. And well done, as in showing a variety of approaches to church leadership, and the variety of responses from gay activists.

The article, by veteran religion writer Rachel Zoll, is less confrontational than suggested by the headline: "Evangelicals with gay children speaking out against how churches treat their sons & daughters." You could get that impression if you stopped after the first four paragraphs. If you continued with the other 22 paragraphs, you'd get a different view.

It does start by retelling the case of a 12-year-old dying of a drug overdose when so-called "reparative therapy" failed to quell his gay impulses. But it adds some qualifiers, starting with the parents of the suicidal boy:

"Parents don't have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child," said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. "They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child."
It's not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents have only recently started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.

The article shows a lot of research in piecing together the various trends and incidents related to gays and evangelicals. It does include the headliners like the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who won his case in a Methodist church court case. Also Alan Chambers, who closed his Exodus International and apologized for pushing reparative therapy, a psychological process that claims to cure homosexuality.

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