Journalism

Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

The long-smoldering struggle between Marquette University and a prickly professor made the Washington Post this week. But there's something funny about the headline:

A university moved to fire a professor after he defended a student’s right to debate gay marriage. Now he’s suing.

A little surprising, in itself, I guess. But what if I told you it's a Catholic university? A Jesuit one, at that? If criticizing gay marriage -- quoting, for example, the teachings of the Catholic church -- during a discussion in class is not allowed in a Catholic, Jesuit university …?

There is a good summary at the top of Post story, at least:

The conflict began in 2014: After a student complained after a philosophy class that he was disappointed that he and others who question gay marriage had not been allowed to express their views during the classroom discussion, the graduate-student instructor told him that opposition to gay marriage was homophobic and offensive and would not be tolerated in her theory of ethics class. John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette, blogged about it, writing that the instructor "was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up."
The story went viral, touching as it did on the heated debates over issues such as campus culture, gay rights, academic freedom, whether students should be protected from comments they find offensive or hurtful, and where the lines should be drawn in discussions of charged topics such as race and sexuality to ensure that people don’t feel stigmatized or unsafe. The instructor was targeted on social media by people angered by McAdams’s account of the incident and ultimately left the university.
McAdams was suspended without pay the following month and banned from campus, and in March of this year he was told by university president Michael Lovell he could not return to teaching unless he wrote a letter acknowledging that his behavior had been reckless and incompatible with Marquette values and that he feels deep regret for the harm he did to the instructor.
On Monday, McAdams and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, claiming breach of contract.

Now, Marquette would never be mistaken for Catholic University of America, in which faculty members are, to some degree, required to stick with traditional church teachings.

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In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

The Associated Press Stylebook — the bible of American journalists — has this entry on use of the term "so called":

so called 
(adv.) so-called (adj.) Use sparingly. Do not follow with quotation marks. Example: He is accused of trading so-called blood diamonds to finance the war.

After reading the AP's latest story on some consumers' boycott of Target over its transgender bathroom policy, I'm thinking the wire service might want to use "so called" a little more sparingly. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let me back up and remind readers of what I said about the editorialized nature of "so called" nearly a year ago.

Back in the present: GetReligion earlier highlighted media coverage of the #BoycottTarget petition that has — as of this moment — close to 1.2 million signatures.

In that post, I suggested:

Here's what I'd love to see: an actual person who signed the petition quoted and given a chance to explain why. (Or maybe even more than one!)

So let's check out the AP story, starting at the top:

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AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

I have met more than few students during my life -- which has included on-campus visits to at least 50 Christian colleges and universities -- who enrolled in a school without knowing much of anything about its doctrinal and denomination ties that bind.

In some cases, their parents did all of the homework and background reading and the student wasn't really part of the process. In other cases, it appeared that parents who were marginal believers or even secularists simply wanted to send their child to "a safe place."

Did they read the fine print when they signed on the bottom line? Did they sweat the details in the school's student handbook or the lifestyle-doctrinal covenant? Did they make an informed decision and truly commit themselves to the school's mission? In some cases -- not really.

I bring this up because clear, articulate, honest doctrinal statements are becoming more and more important, in an age in which the U.S. government seems determined to substitute "freedom of worship" for the Constitution's commitment to the "free exercise" of religious beliefs. For example, consider the lines drawn in the Health and Human Services mandate language between churches and other doctrinally defined ministries and schools.

This leads me to an important Associated Press story from the other day that religion-beat journalists (ditto for those covering politics) will want to read. This is the rare story that will please LGBT activists and, while AP writers may not have realized it, it will also (behind the scenes, maybe) please the leaders of some proudly conservative religious schools. Here's the overture:

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark is pushing legislation she says will help members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community make more informed decisions about college.

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Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Back in March, I critiqued a newspaper profile of the St. Louis Cardinals' team chaplain — a pastor named Darrin Patrick.

My review focused on the lack of details concerning Patrick's actual faith and church background.

Well, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed up that earlier feature with an in-depth story on Patrick today.

The new piece made the front page, but it's not positive news.

The lede:

ST. LOUIS — Shepherding a megachurch is tied in many ways to America’s celebrity culture. There’s a push for big-stage events and around-the-clock access through social media to a pastor’s life and thoughts.
It’s a formula that amplifies the message and multiplies the flock, in congregants who show up on Sunday for worship and in tens of thousands more followers online.
High visibility can also set pastors on a correction-course with humility that evangelical Christians call getting right with Jesus.
The Rev. Darrin Patrick, 45, of Webster Groves, is one of the latest on such a path. Elders at The Journey, a popular megachurch he founded with his wife in 2002, fired him a few weeks ago for what they viewed as pastoral misconduct.
Among the allegations:
• Lack of self-control.
• Manipulation.
• Misuse of power.
• History of building an identity through ministry and media platforms.
• Not adultery, but “inappropriate meetings, conversations and phone calls with two women.”
Reached by telephone, Patrick said he didn’t have more to say other than what The Journey outlined in a three-page letter to members, heavily footnoted in Scripture.
“I have four kids, little kids,” Patrick said, voice cracking. “I am trying to protect my family and figure this out.

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Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

The Atlanta Journal Constitution raises Deep South, Civil War-era caricatures in its weekend story on cultural stresses in Tennessee.  And it does so in almost a robotic, paint-by-the-numbers style.

The article strains mightily to contrast urbane, liberal city dwellers with backward, "ignorant" -- yes, one source uses that word -- country folk. It takes a patronizing attitude toward these yahoos and pits people on the street against scholars and think-tankers. It even compares so-called "bathroom bills" in some states with "White" and "Colored" signs from segregation days.

How else to read paragraphs like:

Across the country -- the South in particular -- a wave of bills, proposals and court fights in recent months are again ramping up the culture wars. The measures come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a decision many religious conservatives see as an assault on their beliefs.

And:

The South finds itself in the middle of that conflict. It’s a place where city folks may have a decidedly different take on social issues than their peers in the country, a region where progressive notions rub up against more traditional, conservative values.

For context, the article brings Georgia's"religious liberty" bill -- complete with sarcasm quotes -- vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. There's also Gov. Bill Haslam vetoing a bill to make the Bible the state book in Tennessee, then signing a bill to let counselors refer out people who conflict with their "sincerely held principles" -- yes, more sarcasm quotes -- to reject gay, lesbian, transgender and other clients. Would it be better for these religious counselors to handle these cases, even though they have a clear conflict of interest?

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Front-page profile of a hip youth pastor: Is it the journalism or the theology that's shallow?

Front-page profile of a hip youth pastor: Is it the journalism or the theology that's shallow?

Ah, the hip youth pastor.

He's got tattoos. He's got cool music. He's got a neat way of making old Bible stories new, such as referring to the woman who tried to seduce Joseph as "Hot-iphar."

And on Sunday, one such pastor made a splash on the front page of the Dallas Morning News.

Yes, the News — which no longer employs a full-time religion writer — devoted its Page 1 centerpiece and 1,500 total words to this profile:

With lines out the door and bouncers handing out wristbands, the Wednesday night gathering seemed more like a trendy nightclub opening than a church service.
Hundreds of students packed the youth center of River Pointe Church, about 30 miles southwest of Houston, for the weekly service of The Take. They sang along to high-energy songs about Jesus and pulled out their phones to take photos and send Snapchat messages.
“I’m at the take where ru”
“The take is lit!”
In a small green room backstage, 34-year-old Landon Pickering monitored the mood in the auditorium to make sure the focus was on faith, not just fun.
Pickering is a Keller-based youth leader who helps congregations like River Pointe develop programs that get young people flocking to church. He studies brands like Apple, Nike and Red Bull to learn how to attract young audiences. He keeps on top of the latest trends in fashion, music and social media to engage kids and bring them to Christ.
Pickering’s appearance — with ripped jeans, tattooed arms and slick hair — is more pop star than preacher. Last year he was a cover model for The Dallas Morning Newsfashion magazine FD and dubbed the “holy hunk.” His events give away the freshest Nikes as door prizes and play the hottest Drake beats in the vestibule before services.

By my sarcasm up top, you might surmise that I wasn't totally thrilled by the piece. You'd be exactly right.

But here's the thing: I'm not entirely sure whether it's the theology or the journalism that bothers me. Honestly, it's probably a combination of the two.

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It's Easter for the Orthodox: Chicago Tribune comes this close to facing a weeping icon

It's Easter for the Orthodox: Chicago Tribune comes this close to facing a weeping icon

Writing a news report about an event that lots of people believe is a miracle is a difficult task. This is especially true with reports of healing when, often for legal reasons, the medical professionals linked to the case are not anxious to be interviewed or to provide relevant documentation from tests.

However, it's much easier to write about a phenomenon -- an object for example -- that can be examined by the senses, including the senses of skeptical journalists. That's what I kept thinking about as I read the Chicago Tribune news feature that ran under the headline, "Thousands flock to 'miracle' icon at south suburban church."

First of all, I am glad that the Tribune ran a story hooked to this year's Eastern Orthodox celebration of Pascha (Easter). This May 1 date on the ancient Julian calendar is very late in the spring, in comparison with this year's March 27 Easter date in the modern West.

Second, I was thankful that voices of believers are given quite a bit of space in this piece. However, well, where are the unbelievers? And if the story is going to focus on claims of a miracle then why not talk to some experts, in terms of theology and science? After all, we are talking about a very familiar phenomenon -- an Orthodox icon exuding a mysterious substance. Information on this phenomenon is only a few mouse clicks away. We aren't dealing with a large flour tortilla in Cleveland that appears to contain an image of LeBron James.

OK, let's look at a few pieces of this report, beginning with the overture:

As millions of Orthodox Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday and the miracle of Jesus Christ's resurrection, thousands across the Chicago area are flocking to a southwest suburban parish to see what they believe to be a different miracle.

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Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Tennessee passed a law this week that allows counselors to refer out a patient based on a counselor's personal beliefs, and news media, of course, are all over it.

The law itself sounds pretty simple: "No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy."

But numerous accounts, like one by Reuters, have been raising alarms: "Tennessee's Republican governor on Wednesday signed a law allowing mental health counselors to refuse service to patients on 'sincerely held principles,' the latest in a string of U.S. state measures criticized as discriminatory against the gay community."

Reuters goes on to quote Gov. Bill Haslam's denial:  "The substance of this bill doesn't address a group, issue or belief system." He compares it to other professionals like doctors and lawyers who may refer a client to common else in case of a conflict of principles. But by then, Reuters has already planted its sarcasm quotes and framed the law as yet another attack on gays.

Lending force to the framing is the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the law assumes "that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate" -- although religious language has been stricken from the law.

Also instructive are two stories by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. The breaking story quotes Haslam extensively. Three hours later, the follow-up majors on gay objections.

The Washington Post attempts a broader story but fails, starting with the lede: "Tennessee’s Republican governor said Wednesday that he signed a bill into law that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist’s religious or personal beliefs." As you know, the law doesn't mention religious beliefs, although a previous version did.

The Post then throws in an unattributed "sources say" paragraph:

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Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

If you listen carefully to this week Crossroads podcast (click right here to do so), you can hear question after question passing by, questions that simply cannot be answered at this time -- yet questions that could be hooks for major news stories later on.

Here's the big question, one that I asked on a radio show several months ago and discussed again in a post this week: Will the principalities and powers at the NCAA choose (as is their right as leaders of a private, voluntary association) to eject religious private colleges and universities that (as currently is their right as private, voluntary associations) ask students, faculty and staff to live under lifestyle covenants that, among other doctrines, affirm that sex outside of traditional marriage is sin?

OK, let's back up and ask an important question that precedes that monster: Will major American businesses -- the economic giants that sponsor events like bowl games and the hoops Final Four -- hear the cries of LGBT activists and begin pressuring the NCAA to make this change?

Maybe there is a question in front of THAT one, such as: At what point will ESPN or some other force in the entertainment industrial complex begin what amounts to a "go to the mattresses" campaign to force this question on the NCAA?

So, the questions keep coming.

What will the leaders of the big religiously conservative private schools that are in the cross hairs on this issue -- think Baylor and Brigham Young -- do when forced to make a choice between the faiths that define them (and religious supporters with children and money) and the prestige and money connected with big-time athletics?

Yes, host Todd Wilken pressed me -- as a Baylor alum -- to offer an educated guess on what I thought Baylor leaders would do when push comes to shove.

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