Baptists

Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

On the sexuality beat, much news involves the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 gay marriage mandate. In particular, should government should protect, or penalize, artists and merchants who want to avoid cooperating with same-sex wedding rites due to religious conscience?

Journalists need to understand that this is a mere skirmish compared with far more potent church-state fights that inevitably lie ahead.

Meanwhile, transgender conflicts are fast gaining media momentum. At issue: Should public lavatories and shower rooms be open to transgender individuals whose “gender identity” is the opposite of their birth genetics and anatomy? In other words, biological men using women’s rooms and vice versa. 

The national headlines cover federal and state actions, but the same problem will soon be coming to a public school near you -- if it hasn’t already.

What does this have to do with religion-news work? Well, religious groups and individuals are usually at the forefront of those favoring traditional toilet and shower access.

Frank Bruni, whose New York Times columns neatly define the Left’s cultural expectations, sees the wedding merchant and lavatory debates as one and the same. In both cases, he asserts, a ”divisive, “cynical” and “opportunistic” “freakout” by conservatives has “egregiously” violated LGBT equality. Thus the “T” for transgender and “B” for bisexual are fully fused with the victorious lesbian and gay causes.

Christian organizations judged to be “anti-LGBT” are on the list of “hate groups” from liberals’ influential Southern Poverty Law Center.

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What does she really believe? AP takes a shallow dive into Hillary Clinton's faith

What does she really believe? AP takes a shallow dive into Hillary Clinton's faith

The headline is nice.

The headline stirs my curiosity.

The headline entices me to click.

As I dive into this week's Associated Press story on Hillary Clinton's faith, I'm hopeful of learning more about what makes the Democratic presidential frontrunner tick — from a religious standpoint.

Here at GetReligion, of course, this topic has come up before.

In the latest story, the lede sets the scene:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Sunday mornings at Baptist churches fall right into Hillary Clinton's comfort zone.
"This is the day the Lord has made," Clinton said recently at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York, as sunshine streamed through the stained-glass windows and hit the packed pews. "Being here at this church with these beautiful people, knowing how grateful I am for this spring day. I feel blessed and grace is all around us."
Black Baptist churches may not seem like an obvious match for Clinton, a white Methodist from the Chicago suburbs. But the Democratic presidential candidate, who's been criticized for her tentative, even awkward political skills, often seems most at ease in houses of worship. It's where she's shared her faith for many years and earned a loyal following.
"One thing not a lot of people really understand about her is the central role of faith in her life," said Mo Elleithee, Clinton's spokesman in her 2008 White House campaign.

OK, you have my attention. Please tell me more.

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USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

If you didn't see this big-time sports story coming then you haven't been paying attention.

During a radio talk show a few months ago, I speculated that if Baylor (one of my two alma maters) had qualified for the final four in football, it was highly likely that gay-rights groups would petition the NCAA powers that be to have the Bears (and other private schools with doctrinally based lifestyle covenants) kicked out of the association.

Not yet. But the arguments are beginning, as evidenced in the new USA Today feature that ran under the headline, "When religion and the LGBT collegiate athlete collide."

Now, if you believe in old-school journalism ethics -- think "American Model" of the press -- then the goal of this story is to accurately represent the beliefs of representatives on both sides of this debate. Want to guess how that turns out?

Meanwhile, it's crucial to remember that the NCAA is not a government agency and, as a private body, is not limited by the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause. To further complicate matters, the NCAA includes both private and state schools. Thus, while there may be legal issues involved (television and conference contracts, for example) in this NCAA debate, this really shouldn't be called a religious-liberty debate. The NCAA rules.

This feature starts, of course, with a gay athlete -- swimmer Conner Griffin -- who attends Fordham University, a Catholic school that is clearly enlightened since it has chosen the spirit of the age over attempts to live out (some would say "enforce") Catholic doctrines on marriage and sex.

So right up top there is this exchange:

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On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

So we have another major document from Pope Francis, with yet another wave of coverage in which the pope's intentions -- just as much as his words -- are the focus of a tsunami of media coverage.

Of course, "Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family)" wasn't just another 60,000-word church document. This apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis followed tumultuous synods on issues linked to marriage, sex and family life. The stakes were higher.

After reading waves of the coverage, and commentaries by all kinds of Catholics, I was struck by the degree to which journalists continue to view the work of Pope Francis through a lens that was perfectly captured in the following Associated Press statement (note the lack of attribution) about an earlier papal media storm:

Francis has largely shied away from emphasizing church teaching on hot-button issues, saying the previous two popes made the teaching well-known and that he wants to focus on making the church a place of welcome, not rules.

The "Amoris Laetitia" coverage offered more of the same formula, which can be summed up as,"The pope didn't change any church documents, but it's clear that he's trying to change such and such (wink, wink)." Thus, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) returned to a familiar question: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever, stealth-mode liberal Machiavelli?

To be perfectly frank with you, I was intrigued by the degree to which traditional Catholics were divided on this issue, in their discussions of this document -- especially on the issue of Catholics receiving Communion after second, civil marriages. I am always intrigued when conservatives take stands that make other conservatives nervous and liberals take stands that make other liberals nervous.

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Washington Post follows trail of Donald Trump's charitable giving everywhere -- almost

Washington Post follows trail of Donald Trump's charitable giving everywhere -- almost

Frequent consumers of mainstream news may recall that Citizen Donald Trump traveled to Liberty University back in January to deliver one of his fire-from-the-hip speeches in his White House campaign. This was the Two Corinthians speech. It was all the rage in the news biz.

You may also recall that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., delivered a long, long, long introduction for Trump that left little if any doubt who he -- as opposed to his university -- would be endorsing in this race.

One of the major themes in this Falwell speech was that Trump the man is radically different than Trump the media figure. Falwell said this other Trump has hidden, even secret, virtues that would appeal to many Christian believers who might be turned off by his brash, super-confident, Playboy role model public image. In particular, Trump was reported to be a great family man who took his faith seriously and was quite generous to those in need.

One version of these Falwell's remarks -- as repeated on Fox News -- can be found at the end of a Washington Post essay -- "Missing from Trump’s list of charitable giving: His own personal cash" -- that is creating quite a bit of buzz.

“His limousine broke down one time, a couple stopped and helped him. He paid off their mortgage a few days later. These are all things that you never hear about Donald Trump,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said on Fox News’s “Hannity” in January. ...
In a telephone interview, Falwell, who has endorsed Trump, was asked: Did you ever ask Trump if that story was true?
“I never did,” Falwell said. “But, Trey, didn’t you search that on Google?”
“I didn’t,” his son Trey said. “But somebody did.”
“It was in some publication in 1995,” the elder Falwell concluded. “But I forget which publication.”

This is, in the Post piece, offered as another example of a popular American folk legend -- the tale of the "Grateful Millionaire."

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On evangelicals: 'We don’t plant bombs at abortion clinics, and we’re not all like your racist grandma'

On evangelicals: 'We don’t plant bombs at abortion clinics, and we’re not all like your racist grandma'

      Rather recently, someone sent me a story by Julie Lyons, the former editor of the Dallas Observer and the author of the 2009 book “Holy Roller: Finding Redemption and the Holy Ghost in a Forgotten Texas Church.” Lyons is one of the few journalists who gets the Pentecostal-charismatic world, so I trust whatever she comes out with on religion.

            Turns out she just penned a piece about evangelicals during this election season. If there’s anything that’s been overwritten about, it’s how the 25 percent of the populace who are evangelical are going to vote or why they all seem glued to Donald Trump.

            Lyons’ newest piece shows us that this group is anything but predictable.

            If we ever needed proof, we got it when Donald Trump opened his mouth at Liberty University and made his infamous reference to “2 Corinthians.” After wiping off the drool from laughing so hard, evangelicals knew with certainty that he was not one of us.
         Every American evangelical spanning the generations, whether raised on “flannel boards” (google it) or VeggieTales, knows you say “Second.” Good grief, Hillary Clinton — the antichrist herself, if you listen to some of my evangelical friends — had no problem navigating this basic biblical concept when she gave her victory speech in South Carolina and quoted First Corinthians. So no, evangelicals are not fooled by Donald Trump’s assertion that he’s a “good Christian.” Those who support him have generally made a hard-nosed calculation that he is their best chance of countering the Democratic Party’s liberal agenda. That’s all.

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Episcopal leader cleans house, while reporters ignore that whole 'bugging' thing

Episcopal leader cleans house, while reporters ignore that whole 'bugging' thing

It's time for an update on a "mirror image" post that I wrote a few months ago during the media dead zone that is the days just before Christmas.

That was, when you may recall, the new leader of the Episcopal Church -- Presiding Bishop Michael Curry -- sent out a very interesting letter (in the midst of a personal medical crisis, no less). In said letter he wrote the following, which I argued was very important news if the Episcopal Church remains a highly important institution in American religious life (and, thus, in the news).

The headline on my post was, I thought, pretty sexy: "Zero news coverage? Episcopal Church's new leader cleans house (including a possible spy."

Yes, "spy," as in a corporate spy, as opposed to the Rt. Rev. James Bond, or something. The Curry letter said, in part:

I need to inform you that on Wednesday I placed on administrative leave Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, Samuel McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission, and Alex Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement. This is a result of concerns that have been raised about possible misconduct in carrying out their duties as members of senior management of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

So what kind of mainstream news coverage did the more controversial elements of this bombshell receive?

(Cue: crickets)

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Why ask doctrinal questions? Well, do you want to cover debates about religion or not?

Why ask doctrinal questions? Well, do you want to cover debates about religion or not?

I realize this may sound like a rather obvious question. However, after 40 years of religion-beat work (in one form or another) I still think that it's relevant.

The question: To cover religion news events and trends, does it help if journalists know enough about religion to ask detailed questions about, well, "religion"? When I say "religion" I am thinking about details of doctrine, tradition and history.

In other words, when covering Iraq over the past decade or two, would it have helped to know the doctrinal differences between Sunni Muslims and the Shiites? If covering debates between members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traditional Christians, would it help to know something about the doctrine of God and the Holy Trinity? If covering debates about citizenship in Israel, do you need to know something -- doctrinally speaking -- about Reform Judaism and its emergence out of Orthodox Judaism in Europe?

This topic came up in this week's "Crossroads" podcast because of the recent GetReligion post about a nasty split inside a "Lutheran" megachurch in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, in the heart of what has long been known as the "Lutheran Belt." Click here to tune that in.

The problem was that a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press never got around to telling readers which brand of Lutheranism was found in this specific megachurch. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune report clarified this big denominational question in its lede and in a follow-up paragraph a few lines later.

Did this picky detail really matter? Only if readers wanted to know what the fighting was actually about.

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Sex (talk) scandal involving Alabama's Baptist governor brings out Old Gray Lady's snark

Sex (talk) scandal involving Alabama's Baptist governor brings out Old Gray Lady's snark

Apparently, Alabama's devoted Baptist governor, Robert Bentley, was all talk.

Come to think of it, he claims he still is.

Maybe I should back up a bit: As longtime GetReligion readers may recall, we wrote about the controversy that erupted after Bentley's election in 2010. That furor involved the Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher declaring — on the day of his January 2011 swearing-in — that non-Christians were not his brothers and sisters.

Here's what drew the media's attention:

"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said.
"But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister."
Bentley added, "Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

Fast-forward five years, and the governor — whose wife of 50 years filed for divorce last year — is making headlines for talk of a different kind.

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