Judaism

Covering religion news events in foreign lands? Think location, location, location

Covering religion news events in foreign lands? Think location, location, location

Writing about events in a foreign land? Then keep in mind this retailing truism: Location, location, location. In journalese, that might read, what seems an obvious choice in one place can look illogical and even dangerous somewhere else.

When speaking religion journalese, that means Nigerian Anglicans are different from New York City Episcopalians, Baltimore Roman Catholics diverge from their co-religionists in Rio de Janeiro, and American-born Muslims do not think exactly like the Muslims of Saudi Arabia.

Likewise, the politics and beliefs of American Jews do not necessarily equate with the politics and beliefs of Israeli Jews. Assuming they do says more about the journalist than it does the subject.

Which brings me to last week's Israeli election that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reelected, and handily so.

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Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

According to that Gallup LGBT population survey that is getting so much news media attention right now, the population of that long stretch of concrete, sand and palm trees running from West Palm Beach to Miami is 4.2 percent gay. Thus, the greater South Florida area is America's 17th ranking urban zone in terms of percentage of gay population -- 10 slots lower than (who would have thunk it) Salt Lake City.

Is that percentage surprisingly low, in terms of the region's image and clout in gay culture? Quite frankly, speaking as a former resident of West Palm Beach, that No. 17 ranking did surprise me.

The region is also, of course, known as a rather secular region, even with it's large Jewish population. Still an older survey found -- back in 2002 or so -- that just a whisker under 40 percent of people in South Florida were affiliated with a religious congregation, with 61 percent of the affiliated Catholic, 14 percent Jewish and 9 percent Southern Baptist.

So, if you were a newspaper editor in the region's big city, would you be operating a special Gay South Florida news section to serve that slice of the population? Obviously the answer is "yes." But why would you -- in terms of image and clout -- be operating that news operation and not one about, oh, Jewish news? Or, statistically speaking, Latino Pentecostal (Catholic and Protestant) news?

And if you were Miami Herald editor, would you assign basic news coverage of a very hot-button religious-liberty issue linked to gay rights to the staff of Gay South Florida? As opposed to a mythical news section called, oh, Judeo-Christian South Florida?

Believe it or not, the answer appears to be "yes." And if you made this editorial decision, what would one expect the coverage to look like in terms of balance and fairness?

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RNS calls out United Methodists as same-sex marriage holdouts

RNS calls out United Methodists as same-sex marriage holdouts

"Looking at you, Methodists," says yesterday's "Slingshot," the newsletter of the Religion News Service -- about an event that isn't even about Methodism. It's about Tuesday's action of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships.

"With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support," RNS says after PCUSA's Tuesday decision. And right from the lede, the story turns up the heat on United Methodists:

(RNS) With the largest Presbyterian denomination’s official endorsement Tuesday (March 17), American mainline Protestants have solidified their support for gay marriage, leaving the largest mainline denomination — the United Methodist Church — outside the same-sex marriage fold.

The story acknowledges that the Methodists are unlikely to accept gay marriage, especially because their African brethren strongly oppose it. But then RNS tries to show how abnormal that's becoming:

But the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and now the Presbyterian Church (USA)  sanctify the marriage of two men or two women. The 3.8 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gives congregations the autonomy to decide for themselves.

The story piles it on, quoting a researcher for the Public Religion Research Institute saying that support for same-sex marriage among "white mainline Protestants" has grown drastically over the last decade -- 67 percent among U.S. Methodists, compared with 69 percent of Presbyterians. And it gets even more vehement:

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Two Jews, three opinions: Doctrine and the Netanyahu speech firestorm

Two Jews, three opinions: Doctrine and the Netanyahu speech firestorm

Is there a more desirable photo op for an Israeli politician (excluding Israel's Arab and some of its left-wing Jewish parliamentarians) than one taken at HaKotel, which is the short-hand Hebrew term for Jerusalem's Western Wall?

Oh, never mind; silly question. And ditto for visiting dignitaries who also flock to the mostly Herodian-era stone blocks, the exposed portion of which stands 62-feet high. The resulting image screams identification with Israel's binary raison d'être -- secular contemporary Zionism and traditional religious piety.

Which is why Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was there the Saturday night prior to his highly charged Washington address to Congress, when he implored President Barack Obama not to sign a deal with Iran that would allow the Islamic republic to retain its suspected nuclear weapon capabilities. The visit dominated the American news cycle for the better part of a week, a virtual eon in this time of 24/7 deadlines.

Yes, it was political theater of the highest order. But it was something more, because anything to do with Israel automatically takes on a religious tone. You know, Jews versus Muslims, the knee-jerk equating of all things Israeli with religious Judaism, the entire Holy Land gestalt.

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How does U.S. Islam fit into the intensely religious gay-rights debates?

How does U.S. Islam fit into the intensely religious gay-rights debates?

America’s two dominant religious blocs, conservative Protestantism and the Catholic Church, face increasing hostility over their longstanding opposition to same-sex behavior and marriages, shared with Eastern Orthodoxy, the Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”), Jewish traditionalists, and other faiths.

Mainstream news media have largely ignored that U.S. Islam agrees. Partly that’s because its leaders and organizations tend to shun the public debate, perhaps due to immigrant reticence, leaving adherents of the other faiths to pursue the politicking and legal
appeals.

In societies where Islam dominates, dictates of the holy Quran and Hadith (collected teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) often define civil law. The Washington Post reports homosexuality can be punishable by death in Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Iran’s Khomeini-ite theocracy has executed thousands of gays, and prison sentences ranging from 3 to 20 years are prescribed in other Muslim countries.

 American Muslim educator Taha Jabir Alalwani has declared that Sharia (religious law) calls for “painful worldly punishment before the severe punishment of the hereafter.”  But should that apply in the U.S., where Muslims are a small minority? How do imams and mosque attenders view the all-important gay marriage cases the Supreme Court will hear in late April? As liberalization proceeds, will devout Muslims become more isolated from mainstream America?

Reporters should ask.

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How should we understand the three 'Abrahamic' religions?

How should we understand the three 'Abrahamic' religions?

NIHAL ASKS:

Why aren’t the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) one main religion?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Nihal posted his query while preparing a 9th grade school report, and unfortunately this response comes too late to help. On the specific question of”why” these three faiths exist the way they are the best a mere journalist can say is “God only knows.” However the interrelationships, overlaps, and differences among these great religions are certainly worth pondering, and not just in schoolrooms.

Christianity and Islam are No. 1 and No. 2 in size among world faiths and together encompass a majority of the people on earth. They are major competitors today and their past political confrontations, raised recently by President Barack Obama, were often violent.

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OK, I'll ask The New York Times: Any faith issues lurking in firestorm about Netanyahu speech?

OK, I'll ask The New York Times: Any faith issues lurking in firestorm about Netanyahu speech?

Hang in there with me, because I am going to ask what I freely admit could be a very silly question.

As you may have noticed, people here in the land of the Beltways, and in New York City, of course, are melting down as they argue about Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to address Congress. How big an issue is this across the nation? I don't know, but it's a big deal here.

My question is about religion (#DUH) I am aware that doctrinally liberal, oh, Episcopalians are highly likely to be liberal politically, especially when compared with doctrinally conservative Anglicans. The same thing is true with, let's say, doctrinally liberal Lutherans and doctrinally orthodox Lutherans. Or Baptists. Or Methodists. You can see this perfectly obvious point.

Now, I know how to connect the doctrinal dots in these cases, how, for example, doctrines on sexual morality lead to political views that point left or right. What I'm struggling with is understanding the patterns in this case -- the Netanyahu wars. Consider this passage from a report in The Forward, on the Jewish left:

As the Israel lobby kicked off its meeting, Netanyahu jetted into town after proclaiming that he speaks “for the Jewish people” on Iran -- a claim that drew an unusually harsh critique from pro-Israel stalwart Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat.
“(Netanyahu) doesn’t speak for me on this,” Feinstein told CNN. “I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community, there are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”

Understood.

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Islam, media self-censorship, The New York Times and beyond

Islam, media self-censorship, The New York Times and beyond

Cowardice, political correctness, or social constraints? What lays behind the phenomena of self-censorship in the media these days?

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Tom Gross argues that the refusal by The New York Times to come clean on the targets of militant Islam is a congenital defect. Inconvenient facts simply do not appear in reports in The Times if they conflict with its worldview.

Commenting on the Gray Lady’s coverage of the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, Gross writes:

At the present time, over a dozen hours after other media (such as The Guardian) reported prominently on the specifically anti-Semitic nature of [the Feb. 14] attack in Copenhagen and on the fact there was a Bat Mitzvah going on in the synagogue while it was being attacked (with over 80 people including many children inside), the lengthy report on the New York Times website on the Copenhagen shootings doesn’t mention the word “anti-Semitism” once. Instead New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger writes in his piece “anti-Muslim sentiment is rising in Europe.”

Nor does The New York Times mention the bat mitzvah.

There are not so many Jews in Denmark and not many bat mitzvahs -- it seems the terrorist had done his research carefully. Yet the New York Times website home page says, at the time of writing, that the shooting was “near a synagogue.” No, it wasn’t near a synagogue. It was at a synagogue. The synagogue was the target. Which is why a Jew guarding the synagogue was shot dead.

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Washington Post delves deeper into whether Jews will flee France in wake of kosher market attack

Washington Post delves deeper into whether Jews will flee France in wake of kosher market attack

This is a rather huge story.

In a 1,300-word report, The Washington Post delves deeper into whether Jews will flee France in the wake of last month's kosher market attack:

SAINT-MANDÉ, France — For all her 30 years, Jennifer Sebag has lived in a community that embodies everything modern Europe is supposed to be.
Inclusive, integrated, peaceful and prosperous, the elegant city of Saint-Mandé — hard against Paris’s eastern fringe — has been a haven for Jews like Sebag whose parents and grandparents were driven from their native North Africa decades ago by anti-Semitism.
“I’ve always told everyone that here, we are very protected. It’s like a small village,” Sebag said.
But in an instant on the afternoon of Jan. 9, Sebag’s refuge became a target. A gunman who would later say he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State walked into her neighborhood’s kosher market and opened fire, launching a siege that would leave four hostages dead — all of them Jewish.
A month later, the Jews of Saint-Mandé are planning for a possible exodus from what had once appeared to be the promised land.

This piece provides additional insight in an ongoing story.

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