Godbeat

Scandal! Sikh man removes his turban in order to follow teachings of his faith!

Scandal! Sikh man removes his turban in order to follow teachings of his faith!

As we all know, religious doctrines are bad. Thus, breaking them is good. That seems to be the implication of a bizarre AOL.com news item -- a piece of aggregation, actually -- sent to your GetReligionistas the other day.

The key, as in many mistakes involving aggregated news, is that the writer appears to have spent zero time or energy investigating the facts of the story. In fact, it appears that the AOL desk didn't even pay that much attention to the New Zealand Herald story it was slicing and dicing. The goal was a conflict-driven click-friendly headline: "Sikh man breaks religious rules, removes his turban to help an injured boy." As a reader noted:

The title and the bulk of the article attempt to create a conflict between the "rules" of religion and real compassion. On the plus side, the article does note that "the Sikh religion makes exceptions for taking off a turban in emergencies," yet it still plays up the phony conflict.

Let's look at two pieces of this short item:

A New Zealand Sikh put religion aside and took off his turban to help an injured child.
The New Zealand Herald reports 22-year-old Harman Singh saw a 5-year-old boy had been struck by a car outside of his home Friday. Despite religious beliefs not permitting him to remove his turban and show his hair in public, Singh didn't hesitate to take off his headdress and cushion the bleeding child's head.

You have to love the "put religion aside" reference and the reference to "religious beliefs not permitting him to remove his turban." The key word is "permitting."

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Church planting in Boston: Brilliant Alternet satire or, well, something else?

Church planting in Boston: Brilliant Alternet satire or, well, something else?

When I was a lad back in the early 1960s, my father left his work as a Southern Baptist pastor in inner-city Dallas and took a position in North Texas, near the base of the Panhandle, that was often referred to as an "associational missionary." It helps to know that Southern Baptists have regional "associations," as opposed to conferences, presbyteries or dioceses.

One of the primary duties of this associational leader, in addition to serving as a pastor or consultant to the region's pastors, was to direct efforts in what has long been called "church planting." The goal was to figure out logical places to "plant" effective new churches and then help people do precisely that. Click here for a rather mainstream take on this topic, from a middle-of-the-road Protestant flock up in Canada.

There was nothing sneaky or threatening about this work, at least not in Texas a half century ago.

It seems that times have changed, at least in some blue zip codes. Either that, or some journalists simply have zero familiarity with how church leaders think and talk? Yeah, that could be what we are dealing with here.

But maybe not! As several people have noted in emails to me -- including a former GetReligionista known as a wit -- the following Alternet piece may not, as it appears, be a stunningly tone-deaf look at a perfectly normal church topic.

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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.

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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.

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Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Trust me, your GetReligionistas understand that the timeline of the Anglican vs. Episcopal doctrine wars gets very, very complicated. Add to that the fact that the conflicts are taking place at the local, diocesan, national and global levels and you have very complicated stories on your hands, especially if you are a general-assignment reporter and not a Godbeat pro.

However, a recent story in The Orange County Register raises a completely different issue. When one of these battles ends, is it primarily a story about real estate or people? I mean, the dollars and cents of the church-property sale are important, but shouldn't journalists acknowledge that there are people out there -- perhaps even Register readers -- who care about what happens with these sacred spaces? Here is the top of the story:

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is nearing the end of negotiations to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to real estate developers.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the sale to congregants Sunday, Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said. The sale of the church could bring in roughly $15 million -- twice the appraised value of the site, Williams said.

Services at the church will likely continue into the fall, Williams said. No information on where congregants will be moved or whether the congregation may reopen at a different site was available on Monday, he said.

So the current occupants of the church are Episcopalians. Got it. But here is one of those "people" questions. How many of these Episcopalians are there and, well, why are they leaving such a prime location? How do they feel about this deal?

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Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Like many of our readers, I have been digging into tons of coverage of the new Pew Forum study (full .pdf document here) offering an update on the growth of the "nones" and the cultural-left coalition of religious liberals, agnostics, atheists, "spiritual but not religious" believers and simple unaffiliated people.

As our own Julia Duin noted the other day, the basic theme in the mainstream coverage is that the number of self-proclaimed "Christians" in America is falling, quickly. That's a totally valid, if a rather old and much-reported story.

Also, I noted another old story, which is the fact that the number of religious believers who say they are actively PRACTICING their faith seems to be rather stable. The numbers are level in some pews, slightly down in some (think Southern Baptists), way down in others (think liberal Protestantism and cultural Catholics) and actually rising in a few (think Pentecostalism). The importance of growing ministries to Latinos, African-Americans and Asians is another news story, at the moment.

This was, as you would imagine, the subject of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. However, after host Todd Wilken and I talked -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that there is another way to frame this debate. In part, Christian leaders are arguing over whether churches grow when they are (a) culturally modernized and less doctrinally demanding or (b) when they hold firm to ancient doctrinal standards and, in many ways, reject trends in the modern world. Then, after that, it hit me that many modern churches -- think evangelical megachurches -- seem to be striving to look and sound modern, while claiming to stay orthodox at the level of morality and doctrine. So that is, kind of, a (c) approach, in their eyes.

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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."

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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.

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Crux leaves out crucial details in story on gay activists, Catholic education

Crux leaves out crucial details in story on gay activists, Catholic education

Crux is the Boston Globe site that covers “all things Catholic” with a staff of six. They got everyone’s attention in 2014 when they snared famed Vatican scribe (formerly with the National Catholic Reporter) John L. Allen, Jr., to be their omnipresent front-line reporter, as well as a columnist and blogger.

Many of us who watch this beat were grateful that a large newspaper put time and money into covering a flock that is so dominant in their circulation area. And Boston is a very Catholic place, in many ways the heart of progressive Catholic life in this land.

Anyway, the Crux team just ran a piece about a council of war by five organizations that are concerned that crackdowns by bishops - specifically in San Francisco -- on who may or may not teach in Catholic schools will result in employees being fired.

CHICAGO -- A group of Catholic activists gathered in Chicago over the weekend for a brainstorming session aimed at stopping the firings of gay employees, Crux has learned.
The “Church Worker Justice Strategy Session” was held at the Catholic Theological Union Friday through Sunday.
Representatives from several organizations — Catholics for Choice, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA, and Call to Action — attended the meeting, along with workers from Catholic parishes, dioceses, and schools. About 30 people participated.
Participants discussed “discrimination, at-will employment, morality clauses, and how we might build some power to push for just employment practices in the workplace,” said Ellen Euclide, program director at Call to Action.

First, I think it’d be only fair to mention near the top of this piece that most if not the groups mentioned are not exactly considered Catholic by the leaders of the Catholic church itself. That factoid gives the story a lot less weight -- since the Catholic church remains, to say the least, a hierarchical church.

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