Judaism

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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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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Yes, it's often dangerous for reporters to dance with polls

Yes, it's often dangerous for reporters to dance with polls

Be wary. Be very wary when reporting survey results, those microwave-ready story hooks -- perfect for slow news days -- that purport to provide objective data revealing, well, sometimes nothing. That goes double for polls that claim to measure religious beliefs and practices.

That's because all but the very best crafted ones fail to get anywhere close to the subtleties that turn generalized numbers into accurate snapshots of how beliefs and practices truly play out in individual lives.

Case in point: A recent WIN/Gallup International survey claiming to measure religious belief around the world. One of the nations surveyed was Israel, where religion is as politicized as it is anywhere, making it particularly difficult to label individual religious choices.

Take, for example, my Israeli-born wife's cousin, Ayala. She's a leader in her Jerusalem synagogue but would probably physically recoil if you called her religious because of the divisive social and political connotations the term carries in Israel.

Ayala speaks contemptuously of those theologically ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews who consider themselves the only true practitioners of Judaism in Israel. Nor does she speak well of the politically right wing Orthodox Zionist hardliners who are the backbone of the West Bank settler movement.

Want to get into a sure fire argument in Israel?

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Sign that marriage license? Ancient sacraments vs. battles over civil contracts

Sign that marriage license? Ancient sacraments vs. battles over civil contracts

This week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen in) grew out of my latest "On Religion" column, rather than a GetReligion post, so here is a bit of background on the subject -- which is the growing debate about whether clergy in traditional faiths should continue to sign marriage licenses from the state.

If you want to know more, a good place to start is with "The Marriage Pledge," a document posted by the conservative, interfaith journal First Things. The key statement therein: "Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage."

At that point, move over and scan some of the short essays included in the journal's forum called "The Church and Civil Marriage," in which eight scholars and popular writers -- Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic -- debate the merits of religious congregations cutting the ties that bind their marriage rites to the current legal debates about marriage and sex.

As you do so, I hope you notice something interesting, which is that some people who are normally stuck under the simplistic "conservative" umbrella do not agree with one another on this issue. I will go further and say that there are progressive reasons, as well as conservative reasons, to separate civil unions and holy matrimony. This is -- no matter that the newspapers say -- not an issue that is simply left vs. right.

To demonstrate, let's play a game. The following quotations are from two Southern Baptist leaders. One is a progressive position and the other conservative. Which is which?

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Are tattoos OK for Jews and Christians? What does the Bible say?

Are tattoos OK for Jews and Christians? What does the Bible say?

JACOB’S QUESTION:

Christians and Jews -- Is it OK for them to get tattoos?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Quick summary: Many if not most Jews say no (as do Muslims). With Christians, it’s complicated.

There are obvious pros and cons with getting a tattoo because it’s a social signifier and permanently so, unlike hair styles, attire, and other expressions of individuality. But as a religious matter the issue is whether to observe the Bible’s commandment in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead, or tattoo any marks upon you. I am the LORD” (New Revised Standard Version).

The Hebrew verb here is ambiguous but New York University’s Baruch Levine says it’s “clear in context” that it means tattooing.

Indeed, as Charles Erdman of Princeton Theological Seminary observed, tattooing was common “among all the nations of antiquity” so the ban clearly set apart worshippers of the Bible’s one God against surrounding “pagans.” Note the adjacent biblical laws against flesh-gashing rituals, witchcraft, wizards, and mediums seeking contact with the dead.

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Whoa! Is 'brunch' an urban sacrament for child-free hipsters, 'nones' and Jews?

Whoa! Is 'brunch' an urban sacrament for child-free hipsters, 'nones' and Jews?

So a reader sent me this URL the other day that took me to a typically hip Washington Post feature about the lives of the shiny elect in this newspaper's prime demographic -- the young, mostly white, single people in the power elites that run the nation's capital.

The note said this was prime GetReligion territory. The headline: "How brunch became the most delicious -- and divisive -- meal in America."

Say what? I read a few paragraphs into this long feature and then set it aside. I just didn't "get" it, I guess.

But the second time through it I started seeing the key points in the piece. The bottom line: Brunch is, in a mild sort of way, a culture wars thing. It's a near-religious rite on Sunday mornings that stresses where you are and what you are doing, as well as where you are NOT and what you are NOT doing.

Brunch is a secular sacrament? Read carefully:

... Interest isn't universal. A review of Google search data ... shows how heavily talk about brunch is concentrated around the coasts -- and how barren the Midwest brunch scene is. Any Midwesterner who tells you otherwise is likely an outlier, an urban transplant.
"Cultural trends tend to go from the coasts to the center," said Farha Ternikar, the author of Brunch: A History. "The Midwest is slower on food trends with the exception of Chicago."

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Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

The British tabloids are not known for nuance and this Daily Mail piece on Turkey's continued denial that "genocide" accurately describes what happened to its Armenian population in the early 20th century -- an event officially commemorated this week -- is no exception.

"Genocide of the Christians: The blood-soaked depravity exceeded even today's atrocities by Islamic State -- now, 100 years on Turkey faces global disgust at its refusal to admit butchering over a MILLION Armenians," screamed the Mail's wordy online headline.

No beating around the bush here, is there? American-style journalistic even-handedness? Forget about it. Hyperbole? For sure.

"Global disgust" is a bit much when the criticism appears limited to Western sources. Worse than the Islamic State? Pardon me if I decline to compare an historical atrocity with an ongoing one. (Though I will say that the Daily Mail piece fails to note that while Armenians are of course Christians, they're generally Orthodox Christians. That detail hints at historical context you can't expect all readers to know.)

You could argue that citing a story's sensationalist tabloid treatment is manipulative. I'll cede that. But then there's Pope Francis and the European Union. Both also found it necessary in recent days to speak out on what they unequivocally view to be a clear case of genocide -- the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, the precursors to today's Turkish republic. Germany, home to a Turkish immigrant population estimated at more than 3 million, has signaled it, too -- in addition to its stand within the EU -- will begin to apply the term "genocide" to this historical tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reacted strongly to all this.

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'Sordid' quotes by Charles Stanley? RNS doesn't get it sordid out

'Sordid' quotes by Charles Stanley? RNS doesn't get it sordid out

No award for Charles Stanley from the Jewish National Fund tomorrow. Not because he doesn't want it, or because they changed their minds. But because a gay Jewish group pressured them to rescind it.

That's one thing. It's another when a news outfit favors the accuser.

At issue is the Jewish National Fund's Atlanta chapter, which had announced that it would present Baptist pastor Stanley with its Tree of Life Award for his longtime support for Israel. Says the Religion News Service this week:

Amid a heated debate over his vocal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley will decline an award he planned to accept from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta on Thursday (April 23.)
News that the longtime pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention would be honored by the JNF angered many Jews who pointed to his history of vitriolic anti-gay comments.
Stanley said the award was causing too much strife within the Jewish community, and for the sake of his love for Israel, he would not accept it, according to the JNF, a nonprofit that sponsors environmental and educational programs in the Jewish state.

About a third of the story is copied fairly closely from the breaking story on April 7. In that one RNS reported that another Atlanta-based group -- the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) -- had drawn up a letter condemning Stanley for opposing same-sex marriage and such.

Between the articles, RNS allows SOJOURN to let fly with punch after punch. The group's letter says Stanley “has publicly called AIDS God’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality and called homosexuality ‘destructive behavior.’ ” The group also cites Stanley "saying that 'God does not agree with the lifestyle of the homosexual' and that accepting gay people is 'an act of disobedience to God.' " Oh, and let's not forget Stanley’s "sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions."  

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Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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