Baptists

Liberty University and all those Pell Grants: Is this a topic for news or opinion?

Liberty University and all those Pell Grants: Is this a topic for news or opinion?

Over the years, your GetReligionistas have developed some logos to signal to readers that there are certain types of stories that we critique over and over and over. No, we haven't created a Kellerism logo yet, but who knows?

The "Got news?" logo us used when we see a really interesting news story in alternative media and, as veteran reporters, we think to ourselves, "Why the heck isn't anyone in the mainstream press covering that interesting (and in some cases major) story?"

Then there is the logo out front on this post, which says, "What is this?" If you read news online, you know that we are in an age in which the lines between hard news and commentary are getting thinner and thinner. Frequently, I see pieces marked "analysis" that contain far more clear attributions and sources than in "hard news" stories elsewhere. We regularly see "news" features that, a decade ago, would have been featured on op-ed pages.

Then there is the whole issue of hard-news reporters writing "objective" stories and then turning around and firing away on Twitter with edgy comments that would make an editorial-page editor blush. The goal, for many reporters, is to build an online "brand" and one way you do that is by telling readers what you really think.

Then there is that other nasty equation looming in the background during these financially troubled times in the journalism. You know the one: Opinion is cheep; information is expensive.

This brings me to a really interesting "Acts of Faith" piece at The Washington Post that ran under this headline: "Liberty University, a hub of conservative politics, owes rapid growth to federal student loans."

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AP poll: Downtick on support for same-sex marriage. Mainstream media: (shrug)

AP poll: Downtick on support for same-sex marriage. Mainstream media: (shrug)

To the surprise of few, the American public hasn't flocked to the gay marriage side just because the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. It may surprise some that public approval of same-sex marriage has actually retreated a bit, according to a new Associated Press poll.

A bigger surprise to me: Mainstream media show little curiosity about it.

Sure, they're reposting and reprinting the report, in varying lengths. But are they localizing reactions? Seeking explanations? Not as of this writing.

The poll results are attention-getting enough:

The Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.
The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.
Overall, if there’s a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it’s more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.

We'll note in passing the "frame game" phrasing, as tmatt calls it: religious "liberties" versus gay "rights." It's an unfortunately common pair of terms in mainstream media, although religious rights are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution and gay rights are not.

But in this story, the numbers are more interesting:

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Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

I've been in New York City the past day or so taking part in a conference focusing on Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli and Obergefell. Sort of.

I haven't really had time to dig into the whole Planned Parenthood video media storm, but have followed some of the debates (hello @MZHemingway, hello @spulliam). In a way, the entire affair has followed a very familiar pattern.

Stage 1: Activist group on the cultural right releases advocacy journalism piece making strong claims that clash with the views of most mainstream journalists and focus on charges that are almost impossible to verify in a matter of Internet minutes.

State 2: Mainstream press either (a) ignores the story or (b) says that the heart of the story is something like "right-wing group's video goes viral in conservative media, leading to outrage among sane people who support the abused liberal group." How many headlines did you see with that tone?

Stage 3 is where we are now. Many, but not all, elite publications are covering the story, in part because the offended group -- Planned Parenthood in this case -- has put out a press release and started returning calls from journalists. The story is now legit.

This leads to another formula that has been seen many times in the past: Short restatement of right-wing accusations, followed by lengthy coverage of the response from liberal group, followed by -- here is the key -- lots and lots of reactions from Republican lawmakers courting the religious- and values-voter base, which means this whole affair is simply a matter of politics.

Business. As. Usual. #MovingOn.

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Must read: Baltimore Sun explores rich world of ushers, in black church traditions

Must read: Baltimore Sun explores rich world of ushers, in black church traditions

During my two decades -- sort of -- teaching journalism in Washington, one of the sharpest and most talented journalists I got to know was Hamil Harris of The Washington Post.

Now, this ultra-energetic man -- a student once called him Hurricane Hamil -- is talented in so many ways. Name me another former Florida State University gridiron lineman who is a great multi-platform reporter, speaks Russian, is a talented Gospel musician, has worked as a tech aide (hope I got that right) in emergency room surgery and has a theology degree. Does he fly airplanes too? I forget.

I could tell so many Hamil stories. But the key for this post today is his constant emphasis, speaking to my students, on never losing sight of the human element in reporting. Journalism is about people, their voices, their stories, their pain, their joy and, yes, the information in their heads and at their fingertips. Journalism is often about famous people, but wise journalists know that everyone they meet knows something about some story, information that could be crucial in the future. Treat them right. Respect them. Listen to them.

That's Hamil talking. This brings me to his insights, through the years, into the role that ushers play in African-American church life. They are more than doorkeepers. Ushers are a crucial part of what these churches do, both in worship and in community building. They are the eyes and ears of the body of the church.

So I thought of Hamil when The Baltimore Sun ran a fine news feature the other day under the somewhat bland headline: "Ushers serve as 'doorkeepers' to worship." The opening anecdote captures the "eyes and ears" concept.

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Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

  Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

“Thumbsuckers” (think pieces) about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to nationalize same-sex marriage will be flowing forth for some time to come. In the early batch, one article from Religion News Service stands out. The writer is the invariably interesting Tobin Grant, a Southern Illinois University political scientist.

Thanks to the massive sample in the 2007 “Religious Landscape Survey” from  Pew Research, Grant could access detailed breakdowns on beliefs within  dozens of specific U.S. religious groups.

Note: Pew conducted a similar survey in 2014 and reporters should be alert for updated results on marriage attitudes that are likely to appear later this year. Also note: Perhaps Grant himself takes the liberal view on these matters since his RNS page posts a response to the conservative Gospel Coalition from Matthew Vines, whose recent book offers "the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships."

Grant’s analysis of the Pew data has two aspects.

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So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

Trust me on this. Headline writers in the great state of Texas, and sometimes even nationwide, cannot resist themselves when it comes to juicy news stories about sex and my alma mater, Baylor University. Consider this doozy of a headline from the alternative Dallas Observer:

GAY SEX A-OK FOR MARRIED BAYLOR STUDENTS! THAT'S HOW WE SEE IT, ANYWAY

Yes, no one expects traditional, American model of the press journalism from this kind of alternative paper handed out for free to sell personals ads, as well as ads for hip nightclubs and fast-food joints. In this case, however, it's handy to read what the Observer said because its story was based, as usual, on its editors reading the mainstream media coverage in Texas and then reacting. So here is a key passage:

Sure, the wording on Baylor's new sexual misconduct policy is incredibly vague. But reading between the lines here, we're pretty sure that Baylor's Board of Regents is tacitly saying that Baylor students are now allowed to have homosexual sex. As long as they're married. And that they perform their homosexual acts in accordance with the Bible. And they understand that their sexuality is a gift from God. How about you just read the full, revised policy below?
Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.

The problem, which you know if you clicked the "misconduct policy" link in that text (here it is again, leading you to the .pdf), is that this is not the "full" text. The policy also includes an "application" statement that says, in typical lawyer language:

This policy will be interpreted by the University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963. Under no circumstances may this policy be construed to waive any of the rights granted to Baylor University under the exemption issued to the University on September 26, 1985, by the U.S. Department of Education covering certain regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 or under the religious exemption Section 702 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now what in tarnation, you can hear editors saying, is the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963?

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Los Angeles Times tries to listen to African-American Christians on life after Obergefell

Los Angeles Times tries to listen to African-American Christians on life after Obergefell

First things first: The editors of The Los Angeles Times are to be commended for going where relatively few journalists have been willing to go in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 Obergefell ruling approving same-sex marriage. They published a lengthy and, at times, quite solid news feature on how doctrinally conservative African-American church leaders are reacting to the ruling.

The dramatic headline proclaimed: " 'Satan is subtle,' same-sex marriage foes warn as they prepare to fight court ruling."

The problem with this story is that it contains evidence that Times journalists failed to listen carefully to what these religious believers said or, at the very least, failed to accurately report what they said. Perhaps reporters and editors needed to think twice and then, as an act of journalistic humility, ask some follow-up questions?

At the center of many debates in this topic is an effort on the cultural left to make an iron-clad link between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a link that, when allowed to vote on this matter, African-Americans have consistently rejected. As you would expect, that issue came up in the Times piece, as well as discussions of how black church leaders feel about the actions of President Barack Obama.

Read the following passage carefully, since it yielded the key image in the headline. This chunk of the story was built on interviews during a Bible study at Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Houston. One participant -- Daryl Fisher -- is said to have "clutched a Bible in one hand as he spoke." Now, was he "clutching" it, or merely "holding" it?

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Got news? A pastor, the American flag and a change of church flagpole symbolism

Got news? A pastor, the American flag and a change of church flagpole symbolism

During a recent social event linked to the 4th of July, I heard another Orthodox convert tell an interesting -- at times hilarious -- story about what happened the first time she took her children into a Baptist service in which there was, shall we say, an excessive amount of red-white-and-blue liturgical material in the music, decorations and even preaching.

This got me to thinking like a reporter. I wondered if, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 5-4 Obergefell decision backing same-sex marriage coast to coast, the patriotic July 4th rubrics might have changed in some conservative congregations.

All newspapers had to do was send a few reporters out to megachurches and see what happened. This could have been a timely story.

In other words: Got news?

Lo and behold, this broad category of stories -- the chance that conservative Christians doubting their loyalties to American civil religion -- may have life after the 4th. Heed the top of this news report from Baptist Press, which indicates that some newsrooms are aware of this television-friendly story:

North Carolina pastor Rit Varriale wants to see churches fly the Christian flag above the American flag as a biblical statement, reversing flag etiquette that calls for the American flag to be flown in the prominent position.

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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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