Baptists

Louisville Courier-Journal offers a case study in biased media coverage of same-sex marriage

Louisville Courier-Journal offers a case study in biased media coverage of same-sex marriage

Here at GetReligion, we advocate a traditional American model of journalism — one that relies on a fair, impartial reporting of news.

Last week, I highlighted the difficulty that some media organizations experienced applying that concept to the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in favor of same-sex marriage:

After I wrote that post, I came across a Louisville Courier-Journal story that epitomizes the biased nature of many reports on this subject.

Let's start at the top of this puffy profile of a Baptist pastor who supports same-sex marriage:

The Rev. Jason Crosby, a controversial local Baptist gay rights advocate whose church was kicked out of the Kentucky Southern Baptist Convention last year for agreeing to officiate same-sex marriages, spent the weekend celebrating.
"This has been more of an emotional journey for me than I'd ever have imagined," said the Rev. Jason Crosby, the pastor of Crescent Hill Baptist Church, one hour after the Supreme Court ruled Friday in the favor of allowing same-sex couples to legally marry across the country. "I can't even begin to imagine how elated people must be feeling today, after the grueling times they've endured."
Crosby said four couples got in touch with him — within minutes of the historic ruling Friday — to ask if they could marry in the church, 2800 Frankfort Ave. "I'm thrilled we've opened the door to more joy. We've opened the floodgates to celebrate the love that people find in different ways."
Crescent Hill is one of two Baptist churches in Louisville that were dismissed from the Southern Baptist Convention for their welcoming position on homosexuals last year. Constant in his position despite the rejection and hatred from his own churchmen, Crosby started conducting gay marriages last November.

Did you catch that last sentence?: Constant in his position despite the rejection and hatred from his own churchmen ...

Hatred? 

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Weekend think piece: Probing post-Obergefell fault lines in Christian higher education

Weekend think piece: Probing post-Obergefell fault lines in Christian higher education

The vast majority of the time, GetReligion features critiques -- positive and negative -- of mainstream press coverage of religion news. However, in recent years we have started adding some other features by veteran religion-beat specialists Richard Ostling and Ira Rifkin that address Godbeat work in short features that we think will be of interest to people who care about domestic and international trends in religion -- period -- or who are professionals on the beat.

In the "Religion Guy Memo," for example, I have asked Ostling to serve as kind of Metro desk sage, a veteran editor talking about issues related to the beat the way an editor might chat with a religion-beat scribe over a cup of coffee. As any reporter knows, a good editor helps you discern what stories "have legs" and what stories may be just over the horizon.

That is what Rifkin is doing in "Global Wire," as well, focusing on questions raised by recent events around the world or, on occasion, trying to spot slow developing stories that may be on the rise, or those that are about to pop into the open.

On weekends, I also like to share what I call "think pieces" -- links to pieces about developments on the beat or essays by religion insiders who are clearly trying to discern what will happen in the news in the near or distant future. All reporters have writers and thinkers that they follow online, seeking clues about future stories. Think Pew Forum folks. Think John C. Green of the University of Akron. For decades, Martin Marty of the University of Chicago was THE go-to brain for religion-beat pros. I mean, the man answered his own telephone!

You don't have to agree with this kind of insider in order to draw information from them. The key is that they have some unique insight into developments within specific religious communities. They can read the spiritual weather forecasts, in other words. It also helps if they speak common English, instead of inside-baseball jargon.

So with that in mind, please consider this new essay about a topic that -- for obvious reasons -- is of great interest to me as a writer and as a teacher. That would be trends in Christian higher education in the wake of the recent 5-4 Obergefell decision on gay marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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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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#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

I grew up in the South.

My dad's work with the Air Force and as a preacher kept us on the move, and my elementary school years were split among Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

As a boy, I don't know that I thought much about race. My best friend in the fourth grade was black. My parents were surprised (and proud) the first time I brought Tyra home from school because I'd talked incessantly about him but never mentioned his color.

Some of my earliest memories of my Papa and Grandma Ross — who lived in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel — involve a light blue church bus that drove all over the countryside, picking up children and taking them to worship. Only years later did I learn that not everyone had appreciated Papa and Grandma’s bus ministry. You start filling a white church’s pews with black children, especially in the 1970s, and people talk.

I trace my exposure to the Confederate flag to watching "The Dukes of Hazzard" on Friday nights and seeing General Lee — Bo and Luke Duke's red 1969 Dodge Charger with the flag emblem atop it — fly through the air.

But honestly, I've never really taken the time to confront or understand the emotions associated with the Confederate flag — on all sides. 

That is, until the issue burst into the news in the wake of last week's shooting massacre at the Emanuel  African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.:

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That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?

Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing? 

Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?

Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?

People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.

For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted:

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Jihad journalism: Did Southern Baptists really just declare 'spiritual warfare' on same-sex marriage?

Jihad journalism: Did Southern Baptists really just declare 'spiritual warfare' on same-sex marriage?

Them's fighting words.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Southern Baptist Convention has declared "spiritual warfare" on gay marriage.

The Journal-Constitution's inflammatory lede:

Columbus, Ohio — Declaring “spiritual warfare” on gay marriage, thousands gathered here Tuesday for the annual Southern Baptist Convention and vowed that, no matter what the Supreme Court rules this month, they will never yield on the issue.
The Baptists acknowledged that the court seems likely to legalize same-sex marriage when it rules in the next two weeks, but leaders urged the faithful to stand fast and, indeed, lead the nation in opposition.
“We are in spiritual warfare,” said convention president Rev. Ronnie Floyd. “This is not a time for Southern Baptists to stand back.”
Floyd echoed a generally defiant tone among attendees, many of them pastors, who have faced increasing criticism for their belief that the Bible declares homosexuality a sin and limits marriage to a man and a woman. At a time when society is increasingly tolerant of same-sex unions, he said, Southern Baptists must stand by their views.
“This is not the time to retreat,” said Floyd, who leads Cross Church in Arkansas. “The alarm clock is going off around the world. Now is not the time to hit the snooze button.”

A reader who shared the Atlanta newspaper's story with GetReligion said:

I'm not a Southern Baptist. In fact, I'm an ex-Southern Baptist, but even still the title and lede struck me evidencing a very basic lack of understanding about the use of the phrase "spiritual warfare" by American evangelical Christians. A little digging on the internet will find that the exact statement from the convention's president was "We are in a spiritual warfare." Twisting that into "We declare war" shows a basic unfamiliarity with the terminology.

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What can experts tell us about growing 'nondenominational' churches? (Also, new podcast alert)

What can experts tell us about growing 'nondenominational' churches? (Also, new podcast alert)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out Richard Ostling's update on the next wave of mainstream media coverage of trends in atheism, in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

In the recent Pew survey showing America’s religious changes, how were nondenominational churches categorized?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Rachael asked previously what America’s biggest Christian groups are, and now has another demographic item about the Pew Research Center’s important “Religious Landscape Study,” which continues to spur discussion. (.pdf here) This blog scanned key findings May 20).

Pew’s 2014 polling tells us how 35,071 U.S. adults identify themselves on religion, with important new fundings about these independent (a.k.a. “nondenominational” or “interdenominational”) local congregations without national affiliations. The huge sample size provides accurate breakdowns for groups, and Pew’s similar survey in 2007 shows trends over time.

The 2014 survey establishes independent congregations as a growing factor in American life and American religious life. By definition, they’re Protestant (neither Catholic nor Orthodox).

U.S. Protestantism gets more complicated by the year and, because they’re nearly impossible to track, the independents are often neglected in religious analyses. Now, thanks to Pew, there’s solid current data.

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Really? Sun says amazingly faith-free ministers visit the haunted streets in Baltimore

Really? Sun says amazingly faith-free ministers visit the haunted streets in Baltimore

Oh ye Baltimore Sun editors, what will I do without your tree-pulp product landing in my front yard every morning?

This morning I picked up the paper and, as I chomped on my bagel, I read a cutline under the A1 featured photograph that showed the Rev. Alveda King, with the Rev. C.L. Bryant of Louisiana looking on, singing as she met with some people gathered near the Billie Holiday Memorial statue here in Baltimore. The photo appeared with a story that ran with this headline: "After unrest, GOP looks to make inroads in Baltimore."

I, of course, wanted to know what the niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was singing. There is a chance that it was, "God Bless the Child," but I would think the odds are higher that she was singing some kind of hymn. Ministers have been known to do things like that, from time to time. However, the content of her song was apparently not worthy of inclusion in the cutline or the story.

Come to think of it, I would also liked to have known something about what Alveda King and Bryant had to say while they were in town. But, alas, almost everything that they said was not relevant to this news story, or, at least, the religious content of their visit was not relevant.

Why? You see, this visit was a political visit -- period. I do not deny that politics was involved, of course, because the story goes out of its way to stress the GOP ties of these two ministers and the political nature of their visit. However, might the significance of their visit have been linked to their ability to speak to African-Americans in pulpits and pews? Might the religious content of their visit have been newsworthy, even as political content?

Apparently not. Here is the top of the story:

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