Godbeat

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

A hearty "Amen!" in this corner for the key points in Mark Silk's Religion News Service take down of a really, really strange Time magazine interpretation of a poll on the Bible and religion.

Let's let the man preach:

This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.
OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?

Silk, with justification, notes that this interpretation slants everything away from cultural Catholicism and in the Bible-driven direction of Protestantism and, especially, evangelical Protestantism. That's accurate. However, I would argue that Time missed at least two other crucial points in this tone-deaf piece.

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Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

As he so often does, Deacon Greg Kandra looked at a news story about the Catholic church and summed it up in a crisp one-liner, a skill honed to a fine edge during his quarter of a century with CBS News. At his "The Deacon's Bench" blog (must reading for journalists on the Godbeat) he proclaimed: "BREAKING: The pope is still Catholic."

Pope Francis is Catholic? As opposed to what?

That's a big issue in the mainstream press, these days. Kandra's ironic headline pointed readers toward this Associated Press report from the recent papal stop in the Philippines, which began like this:

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception, using a Friday rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.

The "sanctuaries" quote led into a very interesting passage that deserves close attention. You see, it is one of those doctrine-affirming statements that Francis often makes, yet these affirmations tend to draw minimal mainstream media coverage, especially in comparison with the waves of coverage that have followed some papal remarks that, when edited, seem to undercut orthodoxy.

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Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s April hearing and June ruling on same-sex marriage will be historic for the nation’s religions as well as for partisan politics, law, and society. There’s sharp division in this case among faith groups, and sometimes within them, so reporters will want to carefully monitor the inflow of religious and moral arguments as “friend of the court” briefs are filed in coming weeks.

The court defines two issues: Does the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause require that all states issue same-sex marriage licenses? Does the same clause require that a state recognize all marriages lawfully licensed by other states?

An implicit issue: whether judges or state legislatures and voters have power over contested social policies.

Religious proponents of marriage change are confident of Supreme Court victory and likely to file briefs. They include liberal Jews, Unitarian Universalists, and the Metropolitan Community Churches (whose primary ministry is with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered), along with organizations of atheists and humanists.  Defending traditional marriage  are the the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, evangelical and conservative Protestants, some African-American Protestants, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

But what about the so-called “Mainline” Protestants who’ve lately been shifting -- especially at the level of pulpits and church boards -- in favor of gay couples?

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Part-time Godbeat: The Tennessean reports — briefly — on a local PCUSA vote on same-sex marriage

Part-time Godbeat: The Tennessean reports — briefly — on a local PCUSA vote on same-sex marriage

Since the departure of Bob Smietana in August 2013, The Tennessean — the major daily in Nashville — no longer has a full-time Godbeat pro.

The newspaper relies on a talented freelancer to provide some religion news reporting, but I miss the award-winning coverage with which Smietana — now a senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine and still president of the Religion Newswriters Association — spoiled Tennessean readers.

(The Tennessean does have an award-winning religion writer — Holly Meyer — on it staff, but she's covering crime and breaking news. Perhaps we could start a petition effort to transfer her to matters of faith? But I digress.)

I was reminded of The Tennessean's lack of a full-time religion writer when reading the newspaper's seven-paragraph coverage of a vote by local Presbyterians on the definition of marriage.

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How can this seeker manage to find the 'right church' in this day and age?

How can this seeker manage to find the 'right church' in this day and age?

KEVIN ASKS:

I have been struggling for some time now searching for the right church for myself and family. . . . Please help me sort my understanding of truth and find a place to congregate and worship. I feel as though I have been absent too long.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This request characterizes the church-shopping by many would-be returnees and is worth some attention. Kevin says family members share his ideas as discussed below. The Religion Guy e-mailed for further information but Kevin didn’t respond, so the following combines his original posting with some guesswork.

The family is obviously Protestant in sensibility, and one point greatly helps the process of elimination. Though Kevin has “strayed” from a Baptist boyhood he still believes children who “don’t understand both good and evil” should not be baptized, and that the ceremony is “a symbol only, as a public display of your choice to accept salvation.” So he needs a baptistic kind of church, whether or not it carries a “Baptist” label.

Further narrowing the field, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches mostly agree with Kevin about baptism but they’re out because, though he thinks speaking in tongues is “possible,” he dislikes “the way it is displayed today.” He didn’t mention any interest in African-American solidarity and culture so we’ll assume the National Baptist denominations wouldn’t be his preference.

Now, not this: The posting didn’t say whether he cares about a church’s “worship style,” socio-political involvements, or policy on U.S. Protestants’ troublesome gay issue.

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Correction? Associated Press misses a key detail in story about canonization of Joseph Vaz of Sri Lanka

Correction? Associated Press misses a key detail in story about canonization of Joseph Vaz of Sri Lanka

Papal tours are, in many ways, the Olympics of the religion-news beat and, in each and every one, there are complicated stories that require even the most experienced of reporters to improve the quality of their research folders.

And so it is with the Associated Press team that cranked out a "Pope Watch" feature the other day on some of the colorful details of the Pope Francis visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. This version ran in The New York Times.

In one case, the editors got a bit too eager to find yet another example of this charismatic, superstar pope being willing to push traditions aside and do his own thing. This led to a mistake that I hope they correct.

The subject is the canonization of the Blessed Joseph Vaz as Sri Lanka's first saint. The background on Vaz notes that:

... He was actually born an Indian in 1651 in what was then the Portuguese colony of Goa. Vaz spent 23 years ministering to the Catholic community in Sri Lanka, sometimes working in secret because of the threat of persecution by the island's Dutch rulers, who were die-hard Calvinists.

Note the persecution reference.

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Big question in the background: What is terrorism’s long-term impact on world Islam?

Big question in the background: What is terrorism’s long-term impact on world Islam?

The news media are understandably consumed with Muslim terrorists’ deadly attacks on a satirical weekly’s office and a Jewish grocery in Paris. Europeans are soul-searching over national security, anti-Semitism, and outrage against Muslims, with no evident enthusiasm for restoring any Christian vitality. Tough coverage logistics meant there was scant notice that in the same week Boko Haram destroyed a town in Nigeria and slaughtered hundreds, even as many as 2,000, inhabitants.  

There’s the usual journalistic confusion here over how to characterize the religious aspect. Just before these latest atrocities,  the journal First Things published an article on “Challenging Radical Islam” that’s must reading for reporters. Author John Azumah, a Christian expert on Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, carefully balances the ideological complexities. Contra the left, he says “key aspects of the ideology of radical violent Muslim groups are indeed rooted in Islamic texts and history.” Yet he criticizes the right, contending that in principle Islam or the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad aren’t the real problem.
            
Azumah notes that “Muslim leaders around the world have repeatedly and publicly denounced” al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Islamic State (ISIS). The Religion Guy addressed this last September 27 in “Who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?”

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RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

If you were to ask me the easiest part of writing for GetReligion, I would say it is coming up with items for "What is this?" --  the label we give to stories that are presented as hard news, but are so biased as to be indistinguishable from commentary. 

Religion News Service, which lately has unfortunately become a reliable source for "What is this?" items, presents another example of the genre with "Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘Feminized’ church and altar girls caused priest shortage." The story's facts are straight, but the language is charged in such a way that it manipulates the reader into making negative conclusions about the cardinal. 

Understand, I am not denying that many readers could take offense at the cardinal's comments. Personally, I'm with Madeleine Teahan of the U.K. Catholic Herald, who notes the disconnect between his identifying discipline and strength as "manly" qualities while painting men as passive victims of feminists. But if I wanted a commentary on Burke's interview, I would read a story in the "commentary" section of the news outlet (as is Teahan's). RNS, however, markets its piece under the news label (though it did in fact run a commentary on Burke's interview as well; more on that in a moment). 

The first two paragraphs of the story are factual, though there are the little digs that Catholics have grown accustomed to seeing in stories about Burke:

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis’ push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”
Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

Right away, Burke is set in opposition to Pope Francis, who has "demoted" him. Readers are prepared to dislike him before they even read his comments.

 Then the comments come:

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For journalists, grammar is always important: Episcopal vs. Episcopalian in Breitbart

For journalists, grammar is always important: Episcopal vs. Episcopalian in Breitbart

I am a great fan of the Breitbart website. It is a fresh and vibrant addition to the stable of online news portals.

Also, Breitbart London is one of my daily reads, and I am a fan of the site's editor James Delingpole -- one of the sharpest minds with one of the sharpest pens writing today.

The brand has grown in recent years, branching out from its base of political and media reporting. Over the past year it has made a strong showing in religion reporting and commentary. Delingpole’s Dec. 30 opinion piece entitled “Pope embraces the Green Religion” is wicked (and fun).

However, the venture into religion reporting does produce the occasional misstep. A piece entitled “Maryland Diocese admits female bishop ran over and killed cyclist” makes some beginner's mistakes in its report on Bishop Heather Cook (pictured).

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