Judaism

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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Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear those same-sex marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Proponents of redefining marriage are confident they’ll win in June. If so, that will be a decisive -- and divisive -- juncture for organized religion in America and frame competing religious liberty claims the media will be covering in coming years.

A previous Religion Guy Memo advised journalists to examine  the “friend of the court” briefs in these historic cases. The religious arguments for traditional marriage are familiar,  perhaps especially for GetReligion readers. But now that all the briefs are filed, newswriters should consider the somewhat less publicized religious argument on the opposite side.

The key brief comes from the Episcopal Church’s bishops in these four states (.pdf here) with the president of the Episcopal House of Deputies, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Judaism’s three non-Orthodox branches, a dozen pro-gay caucuses and 1,900 individuals.

Though there’s strong religious support for marriage traditionalism, these gay-marriage proponents insist they’re also part of the religious “mainstream,” noting that the United Church and Unitarians stem directly from New England’s Puritans and Pilgrims. The Episcopalians likewise have colonial roots. The brief also cites recent ideological support from the large Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church (USA), though they didn’t join the brief.

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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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Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

I was just about to hand a bouquet to CNN for a sensitive video about the Indiana pizzeria that closed under a barrage of pro-gay hate. But I feel more like serving them bad anchovies after seeing the same kind of shallow, irresponsible coverage in Georgia.

In one video, CNN takes a close look at Memories Pizza in Indiana and interviews the owner, and looks into how this matter of individual rights mushroomed into verbal violence. In the other video (shared with us by a reader who calls herself TheAnchoress), a CNN reporter ambushes five florists in rural Georgia with a "gotcha" question: "If you had gay customers come in here to buy flowers, and they said, 'We want you to come do our commitment ceremony' -- marriages are not allowed in this state yet -- would you do it?"

But OK, the nice one first. CNN's follow-up tells some of the travails of the O'Connor family after they gave their opinion on catering gay weddings.

"Social media unloaded on the pizzeria ... many too vulgar to share," CNN says. The network also reports the tweet by one Jessica Dooley to burn the place down. Adds the network: "Detectives who investigated have recommended charges of harassment, intimidation and threats."

The story also highlights tweets and Facebook posts in support of the pizza parlor. One calls the harassment "cyber bullying" and a "lynch mob." Another says how ironic it is to threaten in the name of tolerance.

CNN then reports on a GoFundMe campaign to compensate the O'Connors for their loss: donations of $842,387 in three days.  The network also does an on-air interview with Lawrence Billy Jones II, a commentator on the Dana Loesch Show, who launched the fund drive.

In the accompanying video, CNN's Brooke Baldwin asks Jones if the O'Connors would, indeed, decline to cater a gay wedding. He says they would, but he's allowed to qualify that they would serve gays who sat down in their restaurant.

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