Catholicism

Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

A constant commandment for journalists is to “assess thy sources.”

The running debate on “what is an evangelical,” so pertinent for newswriters during this presidential campaign, involves “who speaks for evangelicals” and consequently “who speaks for the Southern Baptist Convention”? The sprawling SBC is by far this category’s  largest U.S. denomination, with 15.5 million members, 46,000 congregations, and $11 billion in annual receipts.

As noted by Jonathan Merritt in Religion News Service, the issue has been pursued with a vengeance by Will Hall, the new editor of the state Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana. Hall targets as unrepresentative the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and its president since 2013, the Rev. Russell D. Moore, 44, who’s the Southern Baptists’ prime spokesman on moral and social issues in the public sphere.

An editorial by Hall charged that Moore’s dislike for presidential candidate Donald Trump in particular “goes beyond the pale, translating into disrespect and even contempt for any Christian who might weigh these considerations differently” while Moore otherwise “has shown apparent disdain for traditional Southern Baptists.”

Moore is certainly outspoken about Trump. In a New York Times op-ed last Sept. 17, he said evangelicals and other social conservatives who back the billionaire “must repudiate everything they believe.”  He joined the 22 essayists in the “Against Trump” package in the Feb. 15National Review. Moore said with Trump, “sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power” that religious conservatives should view as “decadent and deviant.”

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Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

First things first: Click play on the above YouTube. Now begin reading.

As you would expect, I have received quite a bit of email during the past 24 hours linked to my GetReligion post -- "What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq" -- about the mainstream media coverage of the stunning announcement of a Feb. 12 meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church of All Russia.

As you would expect, much of the press coverage has stressed what this all means, from a Roman Catholic and Western perspective.

This is understandable, since there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and Francis is the brightest star in the religion-news firmament at the moment. People who know their history, however, know that this meeting is also rooted in the life and work of Saint Pope John Paul II, who grew up in a Polish Catholic culture that shares so much with the churches of the East, spiritually and culturally.

I updated my piece yesterday to point readers toward a fine Crux think piece by the omnipresent (yes, I'll keep using that word) John L. Allen, Jr. Let me do that once again. Read it all, please. Near the end, there is this interesting comment concerning Pope Francis:

... His foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.

This morning, my email contained another essay by a Catholic scribe that I stress is essential reading for those starting a research folder to prepare to cover the meeting in Havana. This is from Inside the Vatican and it is another eLetter from commentator Robert Moynihan.

This piece is simply packed with amazing details about events -- some completely overlooked by the mainstream media -- that have almost certainly, one after another, contributed to the logic of the Cuba meeting between Francis and Kirill.

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Facing the Sexual Revolution's impact, even among 'active' members of red-pew flocks

Facing the Sexual Revolution's impact, even among 'active' members of red-pew flocks

It happens to journalists every now and then. You are interviewing a source and suddenly this person says something strange and specific that completely changes how you see an issue that you are covering.

That happened to me back in the early 1990s when I was covering the very first events linked to the "True Love Waits" movement to support young people who wanted help in "saving sex for marriage." This happened so long ago that I don't have a digital copy of my "On Religion" column on this topic stored anywhere on line.

Anyway, I realize that for many people the whole "True Love Waits" thing was either a joke or an idealistic attempt to ask young people to do the impossible in modern American culture. But put that issue aside for a moment, because that isn't the angle of this issue that knocked me out in that interview long ago. (Yes, I have written about this before here at GetReligion.)

If you want to understand the background for this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I want you to think about something else.

What fascinated me was that, according to key "True Love Waits" leaders, they didn't struggle to find young people who wanted to take vows and join the program. What surprised them was that many church leaders were hesitating to get on board because of behind-the-scenes opposition from ADULTS in their congregations.

The problem was that pastors were afraid to offend a few, or even many, adults in their churches -- even deacons -- because of the sexual complications in many lives and marriages, including sins that shattered marriages and homes. Key parents didn't want to stand beside their teens and take the program's vows.

It was the old plank-in-the-eye issue.

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Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Like mosquitos that carry the disease, a story by the Religion News Service buzzes with Catholic concerns over how to address the Zika outbreak currently coursing through Latin America. The article strains mightily to provide a many-sided view of the matter, but not always successfully, and not always originally.

The headliner is a warning this week by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras not to use abortion in the fight against the virus.   As RNS says, Zika is a prime suspect in microcephaly, in which children are born with small heads and brains. If a pregnant woman is bitten by a mosquito that's carrying the virus, children may be born with the defect.

Apparently, Maradiaga read someone recommending so-called "therapeutic abortion," or terminating a pregnancy for risk of abnormalities like microcephaly. That freaked him, according to RNS:

"We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion," the cardinal said in his homily, according to Honduran media reports.
"Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist," he said. "Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives."

It hasn't come to that yet, but RNS notes that the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency. And some Latin American officials have recommended women there to delay pregnancy for up to two years.

RNS is right to highlight his words; as it says, he is a top adviser to Pope Francis as well as chief shepherd of Honduras. It could have added that Maradiaga was also considered a papabile, or papal candidate, in 2005 and 2013. That's especially rarefied atmosphere.

But the cardinal'ss comments were just the first few paragraphs of this article -- what we in journalism call a shirttail lede -- for a more indepth treatment:

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What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

It is certainly the most important story of the day for the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yes, even bigger than the announcement -- with the lengthy fast (no meat, no dairy) of Great Lent approaching -- that Ben & Jerry's is poised to begin selling vegan ice cream.

I am referring to the announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Any meeting between the pope and the patriarch of all Russia would be historic, simply because the shepherds of Rome and Moscow have never met before. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

The big question, of course, is: Why are they meeting? What finally pushed the button to ease the tensions enough between these two churches for their leaders to meet?

In terms of the early news coverage, the answer depends on whether you are one of the few news consumers who will have a chance to read the Reuters report, being circulated by Religion News Service, or one of the many who see the Associated Press story that is, I believe, deeply flawed. Alas, the majority of news consumers will probably see a shortened version of the AP report and will be totally in the dark about the primary purpose of this historic meeting.

So here is the top of the Reuters report:

MOSCOW -- The patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church will take part in an historic first meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff on Feb. 12 because of the need for a joint response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine. But he said these differences were being put aside so that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could come together over persecution of Christians.

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Washington Post: Priests have complex views on gay life, but why seek diverse voices?

Washington Post: Priests have complex views on gay life, but why seek diverse voices?

The recent "Social Issues" feature in The Washington Post with the headline, "‘I’m gay and I’m a priest, period'," was pretty much what one would have expected it to be in the age of Kellerism (definition here and here). Still, this essay deserves careful reading.

You see, it does contain one very important and accurate statement of fact that needs to be discussed, if our goal is to read this feature as hard-news journalism about a crucial issue in the Roman Catholic Church, rather than as an advocacy piece or editorial published in support of a cause.

This crucial statement is as follows:

Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform.

That is certainly true and fleshing out that statement with interviews with priests from all over that spectrum of beliefs would have been a good map for producing a solid news story. But that is not what the Post team decided to do.

During my own work as a journalist, I have encountered several different stances among Catholic clergy on issues linked to sexual orientation and the moral status of sexual acts outside of the Sacrament of Marriage. Like what? I'll try to keep this short. I have encountered priests in the following camps.

There are Catholic priests who believe that the church's ancient teachings on sexuality:

* Are correct and that they should be defended. It is crucial to note, when considering this Post article, that there are gay priests (and other LGBT thinkers in the faith) who hold this stance.

* Are correct, but that the church is doing a terrible job of handling same-sex issues at the level of pastoral life and apologetics. Some would say that Catholics need to do a better job of addressing the lives and concerns of single people -- period.

* Are wrong and should be modernized to fit our evolving culture. They believe that this work should be done openly. Some would even be open about how they have embraced some rather loose definitions of "celibacy."

* Are wrong, but that they will have to work behind the scenes to gently push the church toward the modern world, since to do this work openly would be suicide in a homophobic church.

I could go on, but that's a start.

Now, as you read this Post feature -- here is that link again -- look for evidence that the journalists who worked on this piece have included material that demonstrates the truth contained in that crucial sentence: "Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform." Or, is the article dominated by one of these perspectives, or maybe two, with other points of view deliberately left out?

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Pope Francis gently tiptoes into the dangerous territory of those digital trolls

Pope Francis gently tiptoes into the dangerous territory of those digital trolls

Long ago, during one of the Key West, Fla., "Faith Angle" conferences run by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (click here for amazing transcripts), journalist and digital maven Steven Waldman made an interesting comment about online trolls. The goal of those gatherings was to inspire dialogues between scholars and mainstream reporters about religion and the news. Needless to say, changes caused by the Internet were a big part of that.

Waldman is best known for his work as senior advisor to the chair of the Federal Communications Commission and, before that, as the co-founder and CEO of Beliefnet.com. Especially in its early years, Beliefnet was precisely the kind of place where journalists were, for better or for worse, banging their heads on the emerging realities of Internet life.

Everyone learned pretty fast that things could get really hairy (troll image, of course) when you threw open the comments pages on sites focusing on religion, media, politics, social issues, etc. Clearly there had to be some rules. One of the rules Waldman described to me that night in Key West came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast chat with host Todd Wilken. Click here to check that out.

Anyway, Waldman said that one of the key rules Beliefnet staffers used when encountering fierce opinions in the comments pages went something like this. You could leave a comment that said something like: "According to the beliefs of my faith, I think that what you are saying is wrong and, thus, you could end up going to hell." That was strong stuff, but acceptable. Otherwise, the site's editors would have been saying that believers in traditional forms of some major religions -- Islam and Christianity, for starters -- would be banned from talking about core elements of their faith.

But here is what believers were NOT allowed to say in the comments pages:

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On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

GetReligion readers: Please help me out on something. I am somewhat confused. Maybe.

Looking back in my email files from the past few days, I just reread a New York Times news story that ran under the headline, "Italy Divided Over Effort to Legalize Civil Unions for Gays." This story ran on Sunday, Jan. 24. Let's assume that this means the final edit was on the previous day (knowing that major weekend reports are usually planned days earlier).

OK, then I read a new analysis piece at Crux, written by the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., that ran under the headline, "Pope Francis sends mixed signals on civil unions for gay couples." This story ran on Jan. 27.

Both articles contain lots and lots of information about the complex cultural politics of Italy. I was, of course, primarily interested in what was said about the role of Pope Francis in the public debates about this hot-button issue in this highly symbolic land.

So let's take this in the order that I read these news material. Shall we?

The Times has this to say about papal moves on this issue:

In the past, the Catholic Church would probably have played a major role in opposing the legislation (as happened in France, where Catholic groups tried in vain to prevent passage of the country’s same-sex marriage law in 2013). But in promoting a more merciful, tolerant tone, Pope Francis has discouraged bishops around the world from diving into culture war issues that have alienated some faithful from the church.

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14 years after the Globe: Minneapolis Star Tribune doggedly pursues local sex-abuse saga

14 years after the Globe: Minneapolis Star Tribune doggedly pursues local sex-abuse saga

I had been at the Washington Times for more than seven years editing the pop-culture page, when I was tapped to become the paper’s religion editor in 2003. I’d been doing a fair amount of religion reporting before that, but I hadn’t covered the beat full-time since my stint at the Houston Chronicle in the late 1980s.

One thing that had changed in the intervening years was how the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was all over the news, and had been since early 2002. That was the year that religion reporters around the country had to grind out piece after piece on all the revelations first pouring out of Boston and then in dioceses around the country.

That was the part of the beat I didn’t want to take on, as it entailed a return to my days as a police reporter -- although this time the criminals were erring clergy. Many of the other facets of the police beat: interviews with traumatized victims, poring over court records, showing up at hearings, were there, all with the added monstrosity that those responsible were acting in the name of God while the faith of many were destroyed. I quailed from volunteering to do stories no one else in the newsroom wanted to touch. So did other reporters, as GetReligion has reported in the past.

However, I did take on the beat and ended up doing many clergy abuse stories, as it turned out, which is why I have so much respect for reporters who continue to plug away at all the ripples the scandal continues to have.

It was 14 years ago this month that Boston Globe’s first stories ran. One newspaper I want to give a shout out to is the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose religion-beat reporter Jean Hopfensperger continues to report on an issue that refuses to go away.

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