Education

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

In a poignant New York Times Book Review piece, Leon Wieseltier said our hyper-networked culture creates journalism "in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability." And yet the Religion Guy insists that those covering our complex field must write on reflective, bookish themes, and thus passes along three tips that helped his career: obtaining a master's degree in religion (slogging through night classes while working full-time), trying to read a book per week, and investing in key reference works not available in newsrooms.
 
On the third point, note the valuable second edition of "The Jewish Study Bible" from Oxford University Press, which is about all you need to know given that publisher's reputation.

Why did a rewrite seem necessary a mere 10 years after the acclaimed first edition? The preface explains that Bible scholarship is "ever-changing." All 24 essays on Bible interpretation are new or revised, as are many annotations printed alongside the Jewish Publication Society's 1999 Bible text.
 
Chief editors Adele Berlin (University of Maryland) and Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University) report that "Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship" with its "critical approaches" only really took off in the 1960s. They say even during this past decade Jews have become more sophisticated about "how the Bible came to be," the "many voices reflected (or suppressed)" in Scripture, and what later editors "imposed on" prior biblical materials.

The new edition shows journalists the ways liberal Protestant and secular thought is reshaping Judaism.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Ain't-A That Good News? Historic African-American sanctuary now museum — period

Ain't-A That Good News? Historic African-American sanctuary now museum — period

It's kind of hard to write a story about a people restoring a church without talking much about religion, but the editors at the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- for a few more days -- managed to pull it off.

Of course, the whole idea of this Baltimore Sun report is that this particular historic church is now being turned into a museum, yet the story makes it clear that the worship space is being restored to his previous state, or close to it. So this raises -- at least for me -- a question: Will this be enforced as a secular space or, from time to time, might people in African-American churches (or anyone else, come to think of it) be able to use it for rites that link them to, well, the cloud of witnesses in this place?

The overture makes at least two references to this facility as a worship space, using terms linked to church life:

Summer sun streaming through large windows into the small chapel illuminates panel walls lined with black-and-white, poster-sized photographs of African-American life over the years.
The small, airy room is empty of pews for now, but there's a podium from which to preach God's word.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The atonement debates: Why did Jesus Christ 'die for our sins'?

The atonement debates: Why did Jesus Christ 'die for our sins'?

JOHN’S QUESTION:

I understand there is currently a debate between orthodox and progressive theologians on the doctrine of the atonement. I always considered this a cornerstone of Christian theology. Can you encapsulate the arguments?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A tough one, and this mere journalist has long pondered how to reply. Tough because the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion stands right at the heart of the Christian faith -- indeed the cross is its universal symbol -- and so is vitally important, sensitive,  a highly complex concern of many great minds the past 2,000 years, and ultimately beyond human comprehension. But here’s a rough attempt at an answer.

Like many people, Christians see the reality of good and evil, believe this awareness tells us God is holy, seek to live morally, yet admit they fall short due to an inherent sinfulness in themselves and humanity in general. Theologians call this “original sin.” Finally, they believe  Jesus’ agonizing death by crucifixion somehow overcame humanity’s sin problem and offers salvation.

That belief originated with the Bible. Jesus himself said the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28), and that the Christ should suffer and “repentance and forgiveness should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Billings, Mont., Gazette needs to pose more questions about dinosaur museum imbroglio

Billings, Mont., Gazette needs to pose more questions about dinosaur museum imbroglio

There’s a lot of religion out in America’s rural precincts, far from the big news zip codes that really matter, but sometimes it's hard to get decent coverage.

Here’s a piece about public school children in northeast Montana who’ve had an annual field trip for several years to a museum that espouses a creationist perspective. Then someone anonymously complains -- apparently not to the school itself but to an out-of-state group that has the legal chops to make things unpleasant if it so wants to -- and said group threatens the local school district. Judging from the tone of this piece, the local reporter is not familiar with Americans United for Separation of Church and State but those of us who’ve covered religion out of Washington DC know them quite well. They have a nice suite of offices on Capitol Hill and they can be intimidating.

Here’s what happened:

Glendive third-graders will no longer visit their town's creationist museum amid concerns that the annual school trip to learn about dinosaurs violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
School district administrators had authorized this year's field trip to the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum but reversed course last week after receiving a letter from a Washington, D.C., advocacy group calling the school-sponsored event illegal. Their decision dashed the hopes of many of the children, some parents said.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Oklahoman writes up a successful coach, but edges away from his beliefs

The Oklahoman writes up a successful coach, but edges away from his beliefs

As a sports profile, The Oklahoman's story on softball coach Phil McSpadden is seasoned and smoothly written. But in GetReligion terms of religious "ghosts," the story is as spectral as they come.

McSpadden, a coach at Oklahoma City University, has turned the tame sport of girls' softball into a hard-hitting, competitive sport -- and with more than 1,475 games, has become the "all-time winningest coach in the history of college softball," The Oklahoman says.

The newspaper chronicles his rise: a degree from Oral Roberts University, a string of baseball jobs at high schools, his philosophy of coaching, his hard-nosed transformation of the girls' team at OCU -- a shift that shocked other teams in the 1990s, but is now widely emulated.

The Oklahoman has all that covered. But along the way, it drops a few hints about a deeper level to McSpadden -- hints that it never develops.

Here are some clues:

* McSpadden turns down OCU's first offer, but they ask again a week later. "Maybe God’s trying to tell me something," he says.

* After winning four consecutive titles, McSpadden considers leaving coaching: "By man’s standard, I’m successful," he thought, "but am I doing anything significant?"

* He stays in coaching after hearing from the father of one of his former players. "I just want to tell you," he told the coach, "my daughter wouldn’t be a Christian if not for you."

* When panhandlers approach, says The Oklahoman, "Chances are good, he will give them money."

* McSpadden admits he may "cuss." However, "The Lord’s name won’t be taken in vain or anything like that."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

San Francisco Chronicle needed more info on nuns who walked out on pro-gay leafletting

San Francisco Chronicle needed more info on nuns who walked out on pro-gay leafletting

The theological tug-of-war between the Archdiocese of San Francisco and gay advocates shows no sign of ending soon, which means there will continue to be news coverage to dig into, naturally.

The latest soldiers in this battle are a group of nuns who staged a walkout when students passed out gay-rights materials at their school. But the nuns engaged in this battle are not old fogeys. They’re savvy 20- and 30-somethings who know what to do with an iPhone and who understand the cultural wars that are unfolding on their turf. Did this crucial information make it into the story?

Listen to how the San Francisco Chronicle described what happened a week ago:

The divisions within the Bay Area’s Catholic community over gay rights hit Marin Catholic High School full force the other day, when a group of nuns walked out of their classes to protest the sponsors of a program intended to protect gay and lesbian teens from bullying.
The five members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary order exited their classrooms Friday as students began handing out flyers at the Kentfield school promoting a nationwide Day of Silence.
Their walkout came one day after 100 prominent local Catholics attracted national attention by taking out a full-page ad in The Chronicle calling on the pope to oust Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, in part for trying to get teachers at Catholic schools to sign off on a morality clause that characterizes homosexual relations as “gravely evil.”

Let's keep reading, because it takes a while to get to these nuns.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Beating a Dead Sea horse: Seeking intellectual diversity at The New York Times

Beating a Dead Sea horse: Seeking intellectual diversity at The New York Times

Once again, let's return to the pages of that famous -- some would say infamous -- 2005 self-study done of The New York Times entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust," which followed one of that newsroom's most spectacular series of editorial disasters, ever.

Toward the end of its report, the "Credibility Group" tip-toed into a crucial minefield, asking if the world's most prestigious newsroom had focused on many different kinds of diversity -- except for intellectual and cultural diversity (which are rather crucial forms of diversity, if you stop and think about it).

What does this have to do with Moses? Wait for it.

People who care about what happens at The New York Times -- which mean anyone who cares about journalism and public discourse in America -- will remember some of the following summary quotes, including this one with obvious relevance to GetReligion:

Our news coverage needs to embrace unorthodox views and contrarian opinions and to portray lives both more radical and more conservative than those most of us experience. We need to listen carefully to colleagues who are at home in realms that are not familiar to most of us.
We should increase our coverage of religion in America and focus on new ways to give it greater attention, such as expanding the Saturday report beyond the religion column.

In other words, cultural diversity matters and can affect crucial news beats -- with religion being the most obvious.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

Here at the Washington Journalism Center, the full-semester program I lead at the DC center for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, we have a number of sayings that are repeated over and over that they turn into journalism mantras. I imagine that will be true when we reboot the program next year in New York City at The King's College.

One of these sayings goes like this: Everybody in this city knows more stories than you do. I also like to stress this: The most important skill in journalism is the ability to accurately state the views of someone with whom you disagree. And then there's one that is discussed here frequently, in this Keller-istic, Twitter-driven age in which the digital line between newswriting and editorializing is often quite faded and hard to spot: Opinion is cheap; information is expensive.

Then there is another WJC mantra that moves us closer to some news sure to intrigue those interesting in religion-beat coverage in the mainstream press. This one isn't very snappy, but it's a concept that is crucial for young journalists to grasp. Here it is: In the future there will be no one dominant business model (think newspaper chains built on advertising, mixed with the sale of dead-tree pulp) for mainstream journalism, but multiple approaches to funding the creation of information and news.

I warned you that it wasn't short and snappy.

Obviously, one of the crucial emerging models right now is the growing world of non-profit and foundation-driven journalism.

Please respect our Commenting Policy