Catholicism

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

Seattle University is one of those institutions that conservative Catholics love to hate.

Not only does the Jesuit school host an annual Lavender Celebration that has honors such as the “Sylvia Rivera Award for Queer Activism,” but it includes faculty who write books such as “A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion.” Alhough it's odd that a Muslim cleric might feel at home there,  what is interesting is that the story about this imam first ran in the Oregonian.

The premise of Abdullah Polovina's story sounds like the start of a bar joke:
A Muslim imam walks into a Catholic university...
Except it's true. Polovina, who leads a congregation of Bosnian Muslims in Portland, did walk into a Catholic university.
And in June, he'll walk out to "Pomp and Circumstance." The 41-year-old recently completed a master's degree at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, where he was the first Muslim to ever enroll.
"I was looking for a place to be accepted as myself and to be the true face of Islam, though I am not the best follower," Polovina said.

I first spotted this story in a Washington state newspaper, which had picked it up because there’s a reporter at “the Big O” who has reinvigorated the religion beat. Or the “faith and values” beat, as they call it. Whatever.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

JOSHUA’S QUESTION:

Ed Stetzer suggests the rise of the “nones” -- the religiously unaffiliated -- is a dual trend. On the one hand, the more nominal “cultural Christians” are no longer self-identifying as Christians, and on the other hand the more theologically conservative Christians are becoming more robust. What are the political consequences?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Following Joshua’s posting, the Pew Research Center issued an attention-getting “Religious Landscape Study” of the U.S. that appears to support such a scenario. Introductory notes: “Nones” is shorthand for folks who say “none” when pollsters ask about their religious self-identity. The Pew study calls them “unaffiliated,” whether agnostic, atheist, or the largest subgroup,  those whose religious identity is “nothing in particular.” Stetzer is a church planter turned LifeWay researcher and seminary teacher on mission analysis.

Pew has produced a mass of data that will be chewed on for years. A huge sample size of 35,071 U.S. adults made possible accurate and detailed breakdowns for religious groups. The respondents were interviewed in mid-2014 by phone in either English or Spanish. Unlike most polling with its crude categories, scholars helped Pew frame careful questions to separate out “mainline” Protestants (in 65 sub-categories) from the more conservative “evangelicals.” Keep in mind that there are also significant numbers of self-identified “evangelicals” in “mainline” groups, and in the third Protestant category of “historically black” churches. Since Pew posed these same questions to another large sample in 2007, it can offer timeline comparisons.

The two surveys show that, yes, the “unaffiliated” are increasing. They constituted 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 and jumped to 22.8 percent as of 2014 to become the nation’s second-largest religious category. Evangelical Protestants maintain first place with 25.4 percent of Americans versus the previous 26.3 percent.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

It's complicated.

Asking where religious communities stand on capital punishment is not a simple question.

But in the wake of the death sentence handed down Friday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, give the Boston Globe credit for recognizing the news value in that question.

The Globe's compelling lede captures the emotional nature of the faithful's reactions:

They are torn.
The congregation at St. Ann Church where the family of Martin Richard attends Mass is struggling with a federal jury’s decision Friday to sentence Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.
“You don’t want to see another life gone, but when you know the family, you’re sad,” said Kathy Costello, 54, a member of the Dorchester church and a teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, where Martin went to school.
The video showed he placed the bomb very close to the Richard family, she noted. “We’re torn.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Greater Boston’s churches, mosques, and temples Sunday as religious leaders and congregants largely condemned the sentence.

Keep reading, and the Globe quotes a half-dozen other sources, including more Catholics, Muslim leaders, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant pastors.

While I applaud the Boston newspaper pursuing this timely angle and reflecting a diversity of sources, the story itself presents a rather shallow view of this complicated subject. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Hurrah! New York Times spots a religion ghost in Nebraska drive to kill death penalty

Hurrah! New York Times spots a religion ghost in Nebraska drive to kill death penalty

I groaned when I saw the following New York Times headline on yet another story about a political battle -- one that some would call a "culture wars" skirmish -- out in middle America, the land of red zip codes.

The headline said: "Conservative Support Aids Bid in Nebraska to Ban Death Penalty."

I assumed, of course, that the story would focus on the fiscal and legal side of the term "conservative," ignoring the fact that there are conservative people (my hand is raised as a pro-life Democrat) who believe that all human life is sacred, from conception to natural death -- even when a jury assembled by the state approves the killing.

You see, some doctrinally conservative people -- but certainly not all -- don't want to give that kind of power to the state, fearing human error and injustice linked to race and social class. As St. John Paul II once noted:

"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made ... for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

This is, in other words, a story with strong religious themes it and that part of the debate must be covered. I kind of assumed the Times would miss that, but I was wrong. This may be evidence that the Times team does a better job covering this kind of moral, religious and cultural issue (a) when it does not involve the Sexual Revolution, (b) when the conservatives involved happen to agree with the Times editorial page and (c) well, I can't think of a good (c) option.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Bill O'Reilly sounds off, and mainstream media rev up the distortion machine

Bill O'Reilly sounds off, and mainstream media rev up the distortion machine

Want an object lesson on how not to mix reporting and opinion? Just look at media reaction to Bill O'Reilly's take on the new Pew Research survey.

The survey, released on Tuesday, finds that American Christians are dwindling, especially Catholics and mainline Protestants. It says also that the "nones," or unaffiliated, have increased, as have non-Christian religions.

Whenever such studies come out, the pundits usually cast about for the "why," and O'Reilly of Fox News was no exception. In his "Talking Points" segment, he says:

There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment. The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior, and that sinks into the minds of some young people -- the group that is most likely to reject religion. Also, many movies and TV shows promote non-traditional values. If you are a person of faith, then the media generally thinks you are a loon.

He then launches a standard jeremiad about the decline of America, with "corruption" in the Catholic Church and the push to legalize drugs like heroin and cocaine. He unoriginally compares modern America with the Roman empire, saying both declined because their citizens shunned sacrifice for self-gratification.

He ends with a couple of clichés: "But it can be fixed if the electorate wakes up ... That's why the upcoming election is perhaps the most important in our lifetime."

So his sermonette has much to criticize. But as I've said often on GetReligion, criticism is one thing and coverage is another. Tell me what's going on, then tell me your opinions -- but in different stories, please.

Unfortunately, a fair-size segment of the media tried to tell you what to think of O'Reilly's views. And many of the reports pounced on his complaints about rap. Billboard, Huffington Post and the much-quoted Washington Post all spent most of their stories rebutting that one sentence from O'Reilly's comments.

Philip Bump, the Washington Post's political writer, gives a mere three paragraphs to O'Reilly's remarks, then most of the other 11 arguing with them. He points out how rappers like Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar have cleaned up their acts.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Pew Forum survey reports show most media really happy to report on Christian 'decline'

Pew Forum survey reports show most media really happy to report on Christian 'decline'

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you’ve heard of this week’s biggest religion story:  "America’s Changing Religious Landscape," the Pew Research Center’s once-every-seven-years report. Click here for the full survey in .pdf form. And here is our own tmatt's first post on the topic.

Most mainstream reporters took their cue from the report’s headline: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow. They seemed unaware there’s been a ton of books out in the past seven years about increasing numbers of disaffected Christians -- especially the young -- who are leaving church. More on that old-news angle later.

To sum it up, the "nones" (2012 study found here) are still growing, other religions are up a bit or holding their own and mainline Protestants and Catholics are declining very, very fast. Evangelical Protestants, now the dominant stream of the nation's Protestants at 55 percent, went down by less than 1 percent, hardly a “sharp” decline. But it took some scribes awhile to arrive at that important distinction.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times looked at the survey through a political lense:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Vermont church bell dispute: AP chimes in but fails to produce 'joyful noise'

Vermont church bell dispute: AP chimes in but fails to produce 'joyful noise'

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) disputes don't often make national news.

But in Vermont, a tussle over church bells — or at least the sound of them — drew the attention of The Associated Press.

The lede of the AP story, published earlier this month:

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The sound system next door is making it hard for Olga Lopatina to love thy neighbor: Christ the King church.
Since last summer, the church has been broadcasting the sounds of bells and hymns to its Burlington neighborhood, a joyful noise unto the Lord that some here think is just an unholy racket.
It's not just the volume, but the timing and type of tune that irks Lopatina, who said she loves the natural sound of bells after growing up in Ukraine.
"It's not really music," she complained of the hymns as she stood in her backyard one recent evening after yet another unwelcome serenade. "This one, it sounds like a teenage iPhone recording, like the first generation ring tones that you pay 99 cents."
The dispute has fueled online jokes — some that posters felt were disrespectful of their faith —and complaints that the bells violate Burlington's noise ordinance. A meeting with a mediator was scheduled for March but was postponed until May 18.

From the start, it's difficult to tell whether this is a battle over noise or religion — or both.

Repeatedly, AP rings the religion bell — starting with the reference to online jokes deemed "disrespectful." But the story never quotes an actual person making that claim.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Way back in the early 1980s, when I was working at The Charlotte News (now gone, alas), I heard the Rev. Billy Graham make a very interesting statement about American religion. It was much easier, he said, to do an evangelistic crusade in a highly secular city like New York or Los Angeles than in a Bible Belt location such as Atlanta or Dallas.

Why? The problem with the Bible Belt, he said, was that most of the people like to think they are Christians, when they are actually nominal Christians who don't take the faith very seriously. It's like they have had an "inoculation of faith" that makes it harder for them to embrace the real thing. People In the big, secular cities were much more honest, he said, about what they believe or don't believe.

No, I don't think he used the word "nones" in that press session. But he could have.

I share this flashback, of course, because the Pew Research Center has released another blast of newsworthy information about one of the most important trends in the past quarter-century of so in American life -- the rising number of people openly identifying as atheists, agnostics or as "unaffiliated," when it comes to claiming a specific religious tradition. This new study -- click here for the full .pdf text -- follows the famous "Nones on the Rise" study in 2012 that generated a tsunami of headlines and coverage.

Once again, the big action in this study is on the doctrinal and cultural left, as well as in the muddy middle of American religious life, the sector I have long called "Oprah America."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Remembering Jim Jones: Star-Telegram does thoughtful obit on its longtime Godbeat writer

Remembering Jim Jones: Star-Telegram does thoughtful obit on its longtime Godbeat writer

"Absolute integrity."

"He brought no spin."

"Jim always tried to present both sides."

Every reporter would value those kinds of accolades in his obit. But especially, perhaps, in Jim Jones' specialty of religion news, a beat laced with minefields.

Jim served for 22 years on the godbeat at the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, then freelanced in the same specialty until his death last week at 79. Its obit on him is warm, thoughtful and instructive on the career of someone who did it right.

I didn't know Jim well, but I crossed paths with him now and then in my own job as religion editor for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.  He was a tall, lanky, mannerly Texan who would have fit well on the set of a 1950s western movie.

I saw him also as a friendly, moderate man with an extreme eye for detail. When we shared a media tour of Jordan in 2000, he wasn't content with writing that Pope John Paul II arrived with a military jet escort; he asked what kinds of jets they were.

And by the 11 quoted sources in the Star-Telegram obit -- family, sources, colleagues, longtime friends -- many others saw him the same way.

"He was a great, solid reporter and a prince of a guy to be around," says Toby Druin, the retired editor of the Texas-based Baptist Standard. "He brought no spin."

Says Russell Dilday, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention: "I think Jim always tried to keep his partiality out of his reporting. He had convictions. He had his own ideas, but he wanted to report fairly."

The obit runs an amazing 1,700 words -- amazing when many lede articles are shorter than that. And in the many details on Jim's life, it shows that it deserves the length.

Please respect our Commenting Policy