Godbeat

Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Check out the byline on this Washington Post "Acts of Faith" analysis piece covering the long-expected Episcopal Church decision to approve same-sex marriage rites in its sanctuaries.

Well, actually, in some of its sanctuaries. Can you say "local option," as in a flashback to the early days of female priests? More on this angle in a moment, because this is a crucial element in this local, regional, national and global Anglican story.

The byline in question belongs to one George Conger, as in the Father George Conger who spent several years as the foreign-news analyst here at GetReligion and with the Global Media Project. The Post simply identifies him as a scribe who "reported on the Anglican/Episcopal world for almost 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in England, the United States and Australia. He also serves as an Episcopal priest in a parish in Florida."

Now, that note states that this piece is a work of "analysis," which is appropriate, I think, since George has tons of experience in publications and websites -- like GetReligion -- that openly mix news and commentary. His work is followed closely by conservative Anglicans around the world. He is part of this story.

Ah. But here where things get interesting. Let's contrast Conger's "analysis" with the omnipresent hard-news report from the Associated Press. Which story actually gives more attention to the concerns and words of leaders on the ruling Episcopal Church left? In other words, which story provided the most hard-news balance and context?

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Tablet explores the ethics of using hungry freelancers in risky war zones

Tablet explores the ethics of using hungry freelancers in risky war zones

As a young J-school student, my goal was to eventually land a job as a staff foreign correspondent for a prestigious newspaper. What could be more fun, more interesting, more exciting, more glamorous? 

I've had many great experiences as a journalist but that fantasy never happened, though I've worked overseas multiple times on an assignment basis or at a foreign publication.

Life takes its own course.

Given today's field tech advances and ease of travel, its arguably easier than ever today to call yourself a foreign correspondent. I don't mean as a full-time staffer, of course. That job is harder than ever to snag as news outlets have dramatically slashed their overseas bureaus and travel budgets to save their dwindling cash. Not to mention that every poll on the subject that I can remember makes clear that Americans, as a whole, prefer domestic to foreign news.

What is easier than ever, however, is to get as much high-tech equipment as you can carry and afford, buy an airline ticket to a news hotspot, call yourself a freelance foreign correspondent -- a stringer, by any other name -- and hustle to sell copy, audio, stills or video to anyone who will have them. 

Problem is, those news hotspots are generally the world's most dangerous locales in which to operate. Chief among them these days, is the chaotic, hyper-dangerous Muslim Middle East -- Yemen, Libya, Egypt, and above all, Iraq and Syria.

That's where Steven Sotloff headed, and he paid for it with his life.

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5Q+1 interview: Pulitzer winner Jennifer Berry Hawes on the Godbeat, the Charleston shooting and black church fires

5Q+1 interview: Pulitzer winner Jennifer Berry Hawes on the Godbeat, the Charleston shooting and black church fires

Just a few months ago, veteran religion writer Jennifer Berry Hawes celebrated winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Hawes, a projects writer for the The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., worked on the team that produced "Till Death Do Us Part," a project on domestic violence that earned journalism's top prize. (She discusses the Pulitzer in the video above.)

About 10 years ago, Hawes and her colleague Doug Pardue proposed creating the Post and Courier's Faith & Values section "because religion and values-based coverage was so important to our readership, yet we weren't writing about it as much as needed," she recalled.

"I covered religion on and off after that until joining our projects teams about six months ago," Hawes told GetReligion. "The beat was one of the most difficult and rewarding ones I have tackled because people care so much about it, yet for that reason I dealt with some extremely thin-skinned people who really struggled to understand why we would present faiths and views that weren't 'right' in their minds.

"It honestly made me question my own faith at times to see how human the church is with infighting and backstabbing," added Hawes, a former winner of the Religion Newswriters Association's Cornell Reporter of the Year Award and a finalist again this year. "On the other side, I also met the most incredibly inspirational people of faith in our community who demonstrated the beauty of the human spirit and the strength of what faith could achieve."

In a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion, Hawes reflected on her ongoing coverage of the June 17 shooting massacre that claimed nine lives at a historic black church in Charleston.

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Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Journalists who took the time to dig into the history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- all the way back into ancient times, as in the Clinton White House -- will have run into references to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case called Employment Division v. Smith.

That case focused on this question: Did Native Americans -- in this case workers at a private drug rehabilitation group -- have the right to take peyote as part of a religious ritual linked to similar rites in their heritage dating back centuries? The conservative side of the court said "no," while liberals dissented and said the decision denied Native Americans the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

Justice Antonin Scalia famously said that this kind of religious liberty appeal would "open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind."

A nearly unanimous U.S. Congress begged to differ and passed RFRA, backed by a stunningly broad church-state coalition -- basically everyone from Pat Robertson to the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a law inspired by some strange and messy legal cases, but as my graduate-school mentor at Baylor University's Church-State Studies program used to say: Your religious liberty has been purchased for you by people with whom you might not want to have dinner.

In other words, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause is very powerful and, unless you are dealing with fraud, profit or a clear threat to life and health, courts are not supposed to mess with religious doctrines and practice, even when dealing with messy cases.

If you are following the news right now, you know where I am headed: Bill Levin and his First Church of Cannabis in Indiana.

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United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

Hello almost elderly GetReligion readers: How many of you out there remember the Ed Sullivan Show? Well, you may recall that his variety-show broadcasts always opened -- even if the top act consisted of people spinning plates on tall sticks -- when the host's pledge that he would be offering viewers a "really, really big show," with that final word sounding rather like "shoe."

In a strange way, that's kind of like the annual parade of summer meetings by America's various religious denominations. The agenda always looks like a big deal -- especially when arguments about sex are on the docket, as they have been for decades.

One way or another, religious leaders always manage to find a way to coat their actions in doctrinal fog, allowing the show to continue the following summer. This frustrates editors no end, especially in this age of tight travel budgets, a squeeze that for religion-beat pros began back in the mid-1980s. I'm not joking about that.

America's liberal Christian denominations have also been known to make headlines -- especially in The New York Times -- by taking prophetic actions on another hot-button issue. That would be economic or political sanctions against Israel.

One of the cutting-edge crews on this issue is the leadership of the United Church of Christ, the bleeding-edge liberal flock (remember those famous and very edgy television ads?) that includes, in its membership, President Barack Obama.

This brings us to another Times report about the ongoing debates about Israel. Read the top of this 850-word story carefully:

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On same-sex marriage, 'Amen!' to what Poynter said about covering the battles ahead — with a few quibbles

On same-sex marriage, 'Amen!' to what Poynter said about covering the battles ahead — with a few quibbles

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage Friday, some media organizations couldn't resist celebrating.

Almost immediately, a Pennsylvania newspaper announced that it would no longer publish letters from those opposed to same-sex marriage — a decision that drew a backlash and prompted the paper to "further elaborate." Our own tmatt has more to say about that case.

Against such a backdrop ("Kellerism," anyone?), wouldn't it be really nice if a respected voice stepped in and preached a sermon on the need for fair, thoughtful journalism?

Enter Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute — the influential journalism think tank.

Tompkins delivered just such a message in a piece he wrote this week.

Some of what Topkins had to say:

Now that the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage has had time to sink in, journalists should wake up to the fact that a complicated and contentious debate lies ahead. Just as Brown v. The Board of Education didn’t end discrimination in schools and Roe v. Wade did not end the abortion debate,Obergefell v. Hodges will not end the opposition to same-sex marriage. The next battles may be in churches, where the Court’s decision cannot interfere. ...

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The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

Remember Joseph Stalin's nasty and dismissive line, one version of which goes, "The pope? How many divisions does he have?”? Or maybe he actually said, “How many divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Hard to say. Both versions are floating around the Internet.

No matter. The implication is clear in both instances. The Vatican long ago lost a considerable portion of its worldly power that once allowed it to impose its will not only on the preponderance of Roman Catholics, but on much of non-Catholic humanity.

This should be obvious to GetReligion readers. Should you require evidence, however, the recent vote legalizing same-sex marriage in once staunchly traditional, Catholic Ireland should serve as a clincher.

The Vatican's diminished influence is also obvious in much of the general media's coverage of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, Laudato Si -- notwithstanding all the headlines it generated. 

Francis emphasized the moral challenge he believes is key to slowing human-influenced climate change and to furthering a sustainable global environmental policy that fosters economic justice. His moral argument -- a harsh critique of rapacious capitalist practices and unbridled consumerism -- warned of the negative consequences of current policies for all the world, but, in particular, for the poor and powerless. 

But get past the lede of most renditions of the story -- most prominently in the follow up coverage -- and you find that the Vatican's message was not the dominate theme.

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Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

If you want a friend, be a friend, the saying goes. In religion coverage, that might translate to, "If you want attention from faith groups, pay attention to them."

And when you don’t do that, they don't talk about major locla stories -- like the resignation of a prominent pastor after confessing to an affair.

The Washington Post broke the story Sunday night that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, stepped down from the pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The local newspapers, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, were caught off guard.

Why were they caught off guard? Because they'd lost their religion writers and didn't name successors. (Early disclosure: I was one of those writers, laid off by the Sun Sentinel in 2012.)

The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey must have been tipped on the scandal, because she got a lengthy statement from Tchividjian himself:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

Bailey, a GetReligion alumna, also got a counter-statement from Kim Tchividjian, his wife, saying Tullian's remarks "reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own." Rob Pacienza, executive pastor of Coral Ridge, produced another statement: "Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit."

Evidently, neither Kim nor Rob elaborated.

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Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

The defining moment of my journalism career came 20 years ago when I stepped off The Oklahoman's eighth-floor newsroom elevator, heard a loud boom and saw smoke in the distance.

Suddenly, my Oklahoman colleagues and I found ourselves covering the biggest story of our lives, even as we joined our community in shedding tears over an unfathomable tragedy.

In all, 168 people lost their lives in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

I am reminded of the personal and professional turmoil of that time as I follow the exceptional local coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

Mother Jones suggests that Charleston's hometown newspaper is "putting awful cable news to shame." 

I can't vouch for that because I don't, as a rule, turn on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. I know you're jealous of me. (I do enjoy the excellent reporting and writing of CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke, as I've mentioned before.)

But this part of what Mother Jones says rings true to my experience:

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