Jim Davis

More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

Fallout is still, well, falling out from the Supreme Court's declaration of gay marriage as a constitutional right. Most are also lagging behind the New York Times, which set the pace on Thursday with its advance story on conservative fears of the implications of the decision.

The Times lengthened its lead over the weekend, with a story on the flurry of efforts to carve out religious exemptions.

The Times gets right to the topic in the lede:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

The article then cites governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on their determination to fight gay marriage in their states. Jindal, of course, is also a candidate for president.

The Times then reviews the Supreme Court documents: first, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that religious groups may still teach their beliefs; a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., warning that the high court will likely start getting cases where religious and gay rights clash.

But the newspaper hits the nail in quoting Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore:

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Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

The New York Times was thinking ahead. On Thursday, before today's Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide, the Times ran a what-if story -- focusing on implications for conservative colleges that ban gay relationships.

The newspaper was less than sharp when the decision came out. But first, the good stuff.

In the Thursday story, the Times, which typically holds the towel for whoever is in the ring for liberalism, sounds almost sympathetic in citing conservative fears:

The religious schools are concerned that if they continue to bar gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service could take away their tax-exempt status as a violation of a "fundamental national public policy" under the reasoning of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allowed the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of schools that banned interracial relationships.
In a recent letter to congressional leaders, officials from more than 70 schools, from Catholic high schools to evangelical colleges, said that a Supreme Court ruling approving same-sex marriage would put at risk all schools "adhering to traditional religious and moral values."
"I am concerned, and I think I’d be remiss, if not naïve, to be otherwise," said Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in Bartlesville, Okla. "This is not alarmist thinking. This is rational listening."

The Times goes into considerable detail about the leaders' fears. A "yea" ruling on same-sex marriage by the high court, the newspaper says, could force colleges to change their policies on married housing, benefits to spouses, even sexual intimacy on campus. Flouting federal orders could cost their tax exemption.

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Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

If you want a friend, be a friend, the saying goes. In religion coverage, that might translate to, "If you want attention from faith groups, pay attention to them."

And when you don’t do that, they don't talk about major locla stories -- like the resignation of a prominent pastor after confessing to an affair.

The Washington Post broke the story Sunday night that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, stepped down from the pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The local newspapers, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, were caught off guard.

Why were they caught off guard? Because they'd lost their religion writers and didn't name successors. (Early disclosure: I was one of those writers, laid off by the Sun Sentinel in 2012.)

The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey must have been tipped on the scandal, because she got a lengthy statement from Tchividjian himself:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

Bailey, a GetReligion alumna, also got a counter-statement from Kim Tchividjian, his wife, saying Tullian's remarks "reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own." Rob Pacienza, executive pastor of Coral Ridge, produced another statement: "Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit."

Evidently, neither Kim nor Rob elaborated.

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After Charleston shooting, some mainstream media grasp spirituality of forgiveness

After Charleston shooting, some mainstream media grasp spirituality of forgiveness

Dylann Roof, the accused murderer of nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C., reportedly wanted to start a race war. Instead, the members wept, grieved, worshiped and forgave.

And this time, some of the mainstream media actually got it: They appeared to grasp the spiritual grace that enabled people to forgive the killer.

The Los Angeles Times pooled four reporters for a moving, evocative account at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, site of the Wednesday shooting. They reported church bells ringing at 10 a.m. across Charleston and note that the town is nicknamed the "Holy City." They report as do other media, that the church is known as Mother Emanuel for its long heritage.

The reporters note the many people weeping and embracing, black and white alike. And they quote an amazing 11 people, including a woman who rose before 5 a.m. to be first in line for the service.

The 1,600 words are also salted with religious references.  The story notes hymns like Total Praise and Amazing Grace.  It quotes the Rev. Norvel Goff, a presiding AME elder for South Carolina, opening the service with "This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice, rejoice and be glad in it!" -- and the story locates the passage in the Psalms.

And the article quotes a fervent prayer at length:

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With Rachel Dolezal's story, Huffpost fishtails all over the info-highway

With Rachel Dolezal's story, Huffpost fishtails all over the info-highway

Give Huffington Post credit for not driving the already-worn road on what a liar Rachel Dolezal is, claiming to be black when she's really white. Instead, at least in this story, Huffpost takes the road less traveled: the religious/spiritual facet.

Unfortunately, the story fishtails all over that road. In working the religion angle, Huffpost adds all kinds of things that don’t fit, however it tries.

For those who came in late, Dolezal is former president of the NAACP in Spokane, Wash. As Huffpost reports, her white parents publicly accused her last week of posing as a black woman in order to rise through the ranks of the civil rights organization.

My comments here are no defense of Dolezal's attempt to claim a different race than the one in which she was born. I'm frankly puzzled at her stated belief that she might have been less effective as a white NAACP officer; after all, most of the founding members were white. Furthermore, Donald Harris, president of its Maricopa County chapter, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he works his job just fine as a white man. And as Huffpost reports, regional NAACP leaders stated that "racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership."

No, my focus here is the classic GR fixation: how religion is treated in mainstream media coverage. Huffpost quickly identifies the parents as "deeply conservative evangelical Christians" who raised Rachel -- and their four adopted black children -- in the same beliefs.  Ruthanne and Larry tell the publication that Rachel's social justice advocacy is an extension of the values she learned at home.

Then the article awkwardly tries to link "fundamentalism" with Rachel Dolezal's drive for social justice:

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Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

You may have heard of a spinning storm like Tropical Storm Bill -- but have you ever seen the spin before the storm?

You have if you’ve read much about Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. It hasn't even come out yet -- it's scheduled to be released today -- but already, tongues are waggin' and tweets are twittering.

Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," is supposed to balance reflections on science, economics and compassion for the poor surrounding climate change. But the message is already in danger of being drowned out by spin doctors, both liberal and conservative -- and anger over media that leaked a version of the document.

Among the cheerleaders is the Los Angeles Times' breathless advance piece. The story throws a bone to conservatives who think the encyclical could "roil the American presidential race by injecting religion into the already contentious politics of global warming." But all the direct quotes go to liberals who applaud what they think Francis is about to say (remember, the letter hasn't even come out yet!).

And the newspaper's own attitude is evident from this:

Viewed by some as a bold act by the pope to sway opinion on a controversial issue, the encyclical in many ways reflects a movement that has been growing for decades, sometimes on the margins, with some Catholic and Christian academics and individual church leaders and congregations increasingly making “creation care” a theological pursuit and a central ministry. In some cases, the approach has helped churches reconnect with people who felt Catholicism and other denominations had become too concerned with divisive cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of those groups believe they have a formidable new ally.

Reuters chimes in, saying how "keenly awaited" has been the encyclical, which is "destined to become a signature document of his papacy."

Reuters puts Francis on the side of the angels, aka scientists:

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War on terrorism: U.S. soft-pedals the religion angle; so does the New York Times

War on terrorism: U.S. soft-pedals the religion angle; so does the New York Times

The New York Times, as I noted in February, has been running ahead of the pack on the international effort to fight terrorism on the digital front. But the newspaper has yet to call out the religious ghosts in its own reporting.

"ISIS is Winning the Social Media War," says the latest Times headline on the matter. "The Islamic State’s violent narrative — promulgated through thousands of messages each day — has effectively 'trumped' the efforts of some of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations," the article reports.

Based largely on a U.S. State Department memo, the story presents an image of an efficient, united online jihad outgunning a disjointed international counterattack. Says the Times:

A “messaging working group” of officials from the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, the memo says, “has not really come together.”
“The U.A.E. is reticent, the Brits are overeager, and the working group structure is confusing,” the memo says. “When we convened meetings with our counterparts, I am certain we all heard about various initiatives for the first time.”

As the article adds, the confusion has had real-world consequences, with the recent fall of Ramadi and ISIS' continuing occupation of Mosul and Falluja.

Apparently, only two new ideas have been floated since February, both by Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel, author of the memo. Stengel urges a conference of merchants to shun trafficking in the kind of antiques ISIS is selling from wrecking and looting historic sites in Iraq and Syria.

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Arizona Republic examines evil through the eyes of a victim

Arizona Republic examines evil through the eyes of a victim

The mystery of evil may be a religious concept, but it's still the focus of many anguished essays. The Arizona Republic brings the question horrifically home via an interview with a priest who was scheduled to say a requiem Mass last night for a fellow cleric.

Both men, fathers Joseph Terra and Kenneth Walker, were attacked a year ago -- in the ironically named Mother of Mercy Mission in Phoenix -- when Terra opened the door of their rectory. He was beaten suddenly and savagely with an iron rod, with the side of his face smashed and a finger mangled. His friend Walker (the subject of this tmatt column a year ago) was shot fatally.

The suspect, ex-convict Gary Michael Moran, is mentioned only briefly in this new article; he was picked up after he boasted about beating and robbing a priest, the Republic says. Nearly all the focus is on Terra: how he's healing, physically and emotionally, and how he carries on after what happened.

The brutal incident has, of course, sharpened for Terra some classic Christian themes like theodicy, forgiveness, redemption and grace. Still, the Republic says, he sat down for an interview only reluctantly, with spare sentences, carefully choosing words, "guarding his emotions." But he gradually opened up on his memories of that night and his thoughts about living the ideals he preaches.

The Republic cites Terra on forgiveness, but without the facile, high-minded way that many media treat the topic.

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Philadelphia Inquirer runs a charming profile on a papal visit organizer

Philadelphia Inquirer runs a charming profile on a papal visit organizer

"Stuff." It's so easy to get wrapped up in the "stuff." Issues, arguments, religious "ghosts." Easy to forget that when you talk religion, you're talking about people.

Well, the Philadelphia Inquirer remembered, with a delightful feature on Donna Crilley Farrell, who is pulling together preparations for Pope Francis' visit in September.

The Inquirer presents Farrell as executive director of the World Meeting of Families, responsible for 15,000 who will attend the meeting -- and 10 times that many who will see the pope at an outdoor Mass. It presents her also as a personable 51-year-old who takes time for her twin children and, among other footwear, owns a pair of pink sneakers.

Although this is a profile, the article doesn't forget to show the size of Farrell's job:

Farrell leads a 15-committee organization with staff members and a corps of consultants who are overseeing every logistical component of the World Meeting of Families, set for Sept. 22-25, and Pope Francis' visit. The pontiff is scheduled to attend a family festival Saturday, Sept. 26, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and lead Sunday Mass the next day outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The archdiocesan team is dealing with issues including transportation (5,000 buses may travel to the city), lodging (the team needs host families, one of Farrell's biggest concerns at the moment), communication (conference delegates from 150 nations are expected), the media (5,000 to 7,000 journalists are coming), and security (the Secret Service, in charge of security, meets daily with local, state, and federal government agencies).

Who is this live wire? Impressive professionally, as the story says: former TV reporter, former production assistant at NBC, with experience in corporate p.r. But it also teases out more personal details, like a "quick prayer and exercise in the morning," or continuing to speak smoothly after dropping a water bottle on camera.

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