Catholicism

Churches into condos: Great story, but where did the people in the pews go?

Churches into condos: Great story, but where did the people in the pews go?

Location, location, location.

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed a news trend -- stories about urban churches being closed and going up for sale? Try to imagine the property values involved in that wave of change that's hitting the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. How many angels live in the air-rights space over some of those prime addresses?

These stories tend to focus either (a) on church politics involving which churches will close and which will stay open or (b) the business deals involved in redevelopment. Both are logical angles for news, yet I have often wondered why journalists are not all that interested in the often painful, poignant and significant stories linked to WHY the churches are closing.

Not all urban churches struggle and die. What are the forces that are at play in these structures, which often have played historic roles in their communities. GetReligion readers will know that, in particular, I am intrigued with the interesting mix of doctrine and demographics that affect many fading Catholic parishes. Demographics is destiny? Ditto for doctrine. You see this in the death of many oldline Protestant churches, as well.

So where are the faithful going? What happened to the families and children in many of these flocks? Among Catholics, what happened to the priests and nuns? Are the families leaving? Shrinking? Non-existent? All of the above?

Look at this new Boston Globe story (a very interesting one, methinks) about some historic churches that are going condo.

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Revving Motor City's front-page engines with a pistol-packing priest and concealed-carry Catholics

Revving Motor City's front-page engines with a pistol-packing priest and concealed-carry Catholics

When a Catholic priest urges parishioners to pack heat and asks a woman afraid of guns, "Well, how do you feel about rape?" it's probably no surprise when he makes the front page.

Such is the case with the Rev. Edward Fride, a Michigan clergyman featured on Page 1 of the Detroit Free Press the last two days.

The lede on the Detroit newspaper's original story:

An Ann Arbor Catholic priest has urged his parishioners to arm themselves and attend classes at Christ the King parish to earn a concealed pistol license (CPL).
In a letter sent to Christ the King parishioners recently, the Rev. Edward Fride explained why he believed it was necessary to get concealed pistol licenses because of recent crime in the area. During a Palm Sunday mass last month, Fride announced that the parish would be holding the CPL class.
When some parishioners questioned the decision, Fride sent out a pro-gun letter titled "We're not in Mayberry Anymore, Toto" – a reference to the 1960s-era Andy Griffith Show and its portrayal of a fictional North Carolina town, as well as Dorothy's dog from the Wizard of Oz.
"It is very common for Christians to simply assume that they live in Mayberry, trusting that because they know the Lord Jesus, everything will always be fine and nothing bad can happen to them and their families," Fride wrote.
"How to balance faith, reality, prudence, and trust is one of those critical questions that we struggle with all our lives. Pretending we are in Mayberry, while we are clearly not, can have very negative consequences for ourselves and those we love, especially those we have a responsibility to protect. If we are not in Mayberry, is there a real threat?"

News of the gun classes did not please Fride's bishop.

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Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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Peace with the aging prog-nuns: Who gets to correct them and about what?

Peace with the aging prog-nuns: Who gets to correct them and about what?

So one of the big stories of the day is this: Did the progressive nuns on the buses win or not?

I would argue that the key to reading the coverage today is linked to two other questions. The key, looking at the stories in the elite publications, is whether these other questions are even asked.

First, what was the dispute actually about? Do the stories contain any reference to the doctrinal issues involved and, especially, was any attempt made to describe them?

Second, did the discussions about what to do with women religious actually move back into the shadows of Vatican and episcopal oversight life, rather than being out in the glare of mass-media who were openly cheering for the progressives? In other words, do the stories mention the small hints in the Vatican actions -- aside from the glowing Pope Francis photo-op -- that this story is not over?

OK, third question: Did some Vatican officials simply decide that these religious orders are aging and dying anyway, so why have a war when demographics will settle the issue?

The Los Angeles Times story is a good place to start, in that it signals its bias right up front, ignores the doctrinal substance, yet also -- by quoting candid liberals -- signals that some prog-nuns are still worried. What does that look like? In the lede, note that the investigation was "controversial" while the content of the orders' theological innovations were not.

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Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear those same-sex marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Proponents of redefining marriage are confident they’ll win in June. If so, that will be a decisive -- and divisive -- juncture for organized religion in America and frame competing religious liberty claims the media will be covering in coming years.

A previous Religion Guy Memo advised journalists to examine  the “friend of the court” briefs in these historic cases. The religious arguments for traditional marriage are familiar,  perhaps especially for GetReligion readers. But now that all the briefs are filed, newswriters should consider the somewhat less publicized religious argument on the opposite side.

The key brief comes from the Episcopal Church’s bishops in these four states (.pdf here) with the president of the Episcopal House of Deputies, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Judaism’s three non-Orthodox branches, a dozen pro-gay caucuses and 1,900 individuals.

Though there’s strong religious support for marriage traditionalism, these gay-marriage proponents insist they’re also part of the religious “mainstream,” noting that the United Church and Unitarians stem directly from New England’s Puritans and Pilgrims. The Episcopalians likewise have colonial roots. The brief also cites recent ideological support from the large Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church (USA), though they didn’t join the brief.

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News about 'conversion' therapies for gays? As usual, one side gets to offer its views

News about 'conversion' therapies for gays? As usual, one side gets to offer its views

Several readers have written to ask me what I thought of the recent news stories linked to President Barack Obama's endorsement of government bans on so-called "conversion" therapies for various sexual orientation and behavior issues.

I guess I didn't write about these reports because I assumed, accurately, that the mainstream coverage would be rooted in the new journalism doctrines of "Kellerism," with few if any attempts to explore the views of advocates for secular and religious counselors who support the rights of people to seek out this kind of help.

You may have noticed that, even in these first few lines, I have described these counselors and their work in ways that many readers will consider sympathetic, because I included distinctions that represent the views of some of the people on that side of the issue. In other words, these are subtleties that rarely show up in the news, because mainstream stories rarely explore the views of people on both sides of this fight.

Consider, for example, the lede on the main Washington Post report:

The Obama administration late Wednesday called for a ban on so-called “conversion” therapies that promise to cure gay and transgender people.

What? They forgot to use the phrase "pray away the gay." The key words in that lede are "promise" and "cure." Hang on to that thought.

When it came time to represent the views of these counselors, the Post team used the increasingly familiar tactic of representing the "other side" with a quote from a print source. While story -- as it should -- featured interviews with many experts and activists that backed Obama's action, the "other side" was granted this:

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Connecting dots between Santo Daime and blurring lines between religions

Connecting dots between Santo Daime and blurring lines between religions

I attended a Bob Dylan concert in Baltimore some years back where I fell into conversation about Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman and his music with a high-schooler sitting next to me. Suddenly, it hits this kid: "Wow! You're from the '60s!" I smiled. But the kid had it right. I felt like an archeological artifact.

Yes, I lived as a college student and as a working journalist, when I wasn't just hanging out, in New York's East Village and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. I covered Jerry Rubin's Yippies and Berkeley's People's Park. And despite the cliche, I remember that period of my life quite clearly. I know what I did.

By which I mean that in addition to a lot of brown rice and mung beans, I consumed a fair quantity of psychedelic drugs, natural and synthetic, in, shall we say, non-clinical settings. I do not recommend that anyone follow my example. But I was fortunate and avoided trouble. Moreover, I experienced altered states of consciousness that provided my first hint that there was more to life than the every-day material world, and that spirituality and religious tradition would be profoundly real and important to me.

Why this confessional now? To grab your reading attention, of course. It's called a lede.

Now that I apparently have it, let's discuss a recent story in The New York Times about an experimental Brazilian prison program that provides select maximum-security convicts with a plant-based psychedelic brew in the hope it will mitigate their anti-social behaviors. In short, it's meant as psycho-spiritual therapy.

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New York Times team attends one of the first funerals in Kenya, with eyes open

New York Times team attends one of the first funerals in Kenya, with eyes open

The massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya is now fading into media memory, which is not the case for those of us who continue to be haunted by photos and stories that circulate on Twitter and Facebook among human-rights activists who are growing increasingly concerned about the persecution of the church in Africa and the Middle East.

For the most part, journalists around the world spotted the religious themes in this hellish drama -- with stunning exceptions like the early coverage in The Washington Post.

I was left asking one question: Would this story have received more coverage in television news if someone, early on, had accurately called this the "Holy Week massacre"? There was, after all, evidence that the al-Shabaab gunmen specifically targeted a pre-Easter worship service that had been announced on campus. The bloodbath took place on Maundy Thursday, for Catholics and Protestants in the churches of the West.

Sometimes, all reporters have to do to cover the religion angles in this kind of story is open their eyes and ears and take notes.

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Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

He did it: Pope Francis used the "G" word -- genocide -- in a centennial Mass yesterday mourning the Turkish killings of nearly 1.5 million Armenians toward the end of World War I.

If only the news reports were as free with two other words: Christianity and religion.

Speculation had grown in stories like this one from the Los Angeles Times, after Pope Francis announced he would say a Mass for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian deaths. Turkey, a pro-western Muslim country, has long denied charges that it committed genocide.

And when Francis used the word in the Mass yesterday, it bore immediate consequences, news media reported -- as in a Reuters story via Al Jazeera.

"Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations in an escalating diplomatic row over Pope Francis' use of the word "genocide" to describe the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I," the lede says. A longer, earlier version of the story says Turkey also called the Vatican ambassador to Turkey for a scolding.

But most mainstream media seem timid in admitting the religious facet of a Muslim empire killing a Christian minority. And when they do get around to that aspect, most bury it in the article.

One of the best backgrounders on the matter is a video by an outfit called Newsy. The brisk, 90-second video touches on the killings, Francis' record on statements about the genocide, and the centuries-old relationship of the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.

Many articles point out that Francis made the Armenian killings the first of three major genocides of the 20th century. The other two, he said, were the Nazi Holocaust and Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union. Turkey objected to the "genocide" label, even though it was used by Pope John Paul II in 2001. The former Ottoman Empire has agreed that thousands of Armenians died in the war, but said that so did thousands of Muslims. Turkey also denies that the deaths were as high as 1.5 million.

But the Reuters articles add the religion angle only through a statement by President Serzh Sarksyan of Armenia:

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