Godbeat

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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Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'

Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'

There is this old-school saying in journalism that I have, on occasion, been known to quote to the editors of The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that currently lands in my front yard: "All news is local."

In other words, when major news is happening somewhere in the world, it is perfectly normal for journalists to seek out ways in which this news is affecting people in the community and region covered by their newsroom. If a tsunami hits Southeast Asia, journalists in Baltimore need to find out if anyone from their city was killed or if anyone local is gearing up to take part in relief efforts for the survivors.

All news is local. Thus, I was not surprised when the Sun team produced a story focusing on local relief agencies that are active in the regions being affected by the brutal rise of the Islamic State.

Alas, I was also not surprised when the Sun newsroom -- as it has done in the past -- missed a major local angle in the story, and a very intense, emotional angle at that. Hold that thought.

The story starts off with the giant relief agency that simply must be covered:

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The Deseret News' amped-up faith coverage is a year old

The Deseret News' amped-up faith coverage is a year old

A year ago this week, the Deseret News started an online national section with religion news as a major component. As explained by the Nieman Lab, the national edition was targeting all faiths with the idea that there’s a huge group of believers out there who want some intelligent coverage of their faith. The News, by the way, is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Rocky Mountain West is not a huge reservoir of religion news, which is why the work of Utah-based staff both at the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune provides an oasis.

The News’ new section was a refreshing addition to the news scene, in that many of the newer kids on the block on online religion content are blogs or columns: On Faith, Patheos and BeliefNet are just some of what’s out there in Opinion Land.

This not the first time that a newspaper owned by a church has ventured into such territory. I worked 14 years for The Washington Times, which was founded and owned by corporations affiliated with the Unification Church, and we had a national section that included religion news, although not to the extent that the Deseret News does. That was when the Times wanted to own the faith and family beat. Nowadays, it’s more focused on politics, leaving a clear path for the Deseret News to take up the baton.

The paper re-tooled its mission a few years ago, deciding to focus on the family, faith in the community, excellence in education, values in the media, financial responsibility and care for the poor.

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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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How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016? For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016?  For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

With an unusually scrambled Republican presidential campaign heating up, and with so many pious candidates, the usual media thumbsuckers about evangelical Protestants and 2016 are already appearing.

Yes, again.

Somehow, political reporters remain more fascinated with this predictably Republican bloc than non-Hispanic Catholics who will be the biggest religious “swing vote” (as usual),  or Jews, whose lockstep loyalty to the Democrats could be eroded by President Obama’s foreign policy.

Jason Horowitz of The New York Times portrayed evangelical clout in the person of David Lane  of the American Renewal Project. Among other efforts, Lane hopes to recruit 1,000 clergy to run for office in 2016. (How would that impact the quality of sermons and pastoral work in their 1,000 churches?) Horowitz says instead of top-down, publicity-seeking groups like the onetime Moral Majority, Lane is building a “ground-level” network of believers, working “mostly behind the scenes.” 

But are politicized evangelicals a big deal or a blip? The recent feuds over gay marriage and “religious freedom restoration” bills suggest the latter.

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What in (pardon me) Hell is Salon talking about? Missing the story of Holy Saturday

What in (pardon me) Hell is Salon talking about? Missing the story of Holy Saturday

Permit me a few moments here to talk about liturgy and doctrine, a bit. In a moment I will link this to a rather bizarre Salon.com that someone called to my attention.

Since I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I spent several hours this morning at church taking parts in the rites of Holy Saturday. If you want to know what Holy Saturday is about, look at the icon at the top of this post. Tomorrow, of course, is Pascha (Easter) on the older Julian calendar.

This is the Orthodox icon that most people think of as the icon of Pascha (Easter) and the Resurrection of Christ. But look carefully. In this icon, Jesus is standing on gates that he has just broken, gates that are surrounded by bones and even a body in a shroud. Also, he is grasping the hands of a woman and a man -- it's Adam and Eve -- and pulling them out of their tombs.

What is happening here? Well, this image is actually of Christ breaking the gates of hell on Holy Saturday. The Resurrection is already a reality, but he has other work to do. It is perfectly normal to hear Orthodox priests preach on this point in Holy Week and, of course, on Holy Saturday.

In the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, which was used this morning, here is the relevant language in the consecration prayers:

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Pew Forum does its thing again: Gazing into a global crystal ball of religion stats

Pew Forum does its thing again: Gazing into a global crystal ball of religion stats

Pew has spoken. And the world of religious affiliation will be forever changed.

I refer, of course, to last week's blockbuster report from the Pew Forum's Religion and Public Life project on what global religious affiliation might look like in 2050, and, in at least one key indicator, by this century's end (more on this below). I say blockbuster not because of its immediate impact but because of the many interesting projections it contained.

The report's projected changes in religious affiliation harbor potentially monumental geopolitical ramifications. That's why I found it at least mildly surprising that most of the media attention so far has been restricted to first-day stories. Two such examples are here, at Religion News Service, and here, at The New York Times.

But perhaps I should not have been surprised. As a specie we're far more reactive than proactive -- as are the preponderance of our mainstream news providers, trapped as most are in the 24/7 rat race. Excuse me. I meant news cycle. Though I bet think tanks, security agencies, religion watchers, multinational corporations and entrepreneurs, and even some savvy novelists will pore over this report for some time to come.

The report was careful to limit its political projections -- a wise choice, I think, given how iffy this all is -- about the possible consequences of its numerical projections.

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Baltimore Sun editors handed major Easter story: They choose to ignore it

Baltimore Sun editors handed major Easter story: They choose to ignore it

Anyone who has covered religion news knows that one of the greatest challenges on this beat is finding valid, A1-level stories season after season, year after year, for all of those major religious holidays. It is hard, in particular, to find a news hook several days before the holiday -- with A1 art, no less -- that can be produced to run on the morning of the big day.

Christmas is hard, but -- let's face it -- Americans do Christmas stuff early and often. Some churches have even surrendered on that front.

So, on the Christian side of things, Easter is the big challenge since the solemn mood and content of Holy Week, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are so radically different. The whole point is that the universe turns upside down at midnight, which is a little bit late to be shooting color art and writing a story for A1 on Easter.

This year, the editors at The Baltimore Sun (the newspaper that lands in my front yard, for two more months) were handed something extraordinary, precisely on schedule for Easter. The most high-profile religious leader in their circulation zone -- that would be Archbishop William E. Lori, leader of the historic Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore -- was a key player in a new development in one of the hottest stories in America at this moment in time.

The story: The holy war in Indiana and nationwide about religious liberty and First Amendment rights. Was this linked to Holy Week and Easter? In the eyes of the archbishop the answer was a loud and serious "yes."

So how did the Sun team handle this? Did they put this story on the front page on Easter?

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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.

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