Lutherans

Not enough questions asked about bisexual student's ouster from Lutheran worship team

Not enough questions asked about bisexual student's ouster from Lutheran worship team

December is a season where Lutherans shine: Advent hymns on Lutheran Public Radio, Julfests and St. Lucia Day celebrations on Dec. 13.

None of this Ikea “winter holidays” stuff. Lutherans who stick with their traditions know how to keep watch until Christmas.

And so, in keeping with this solemn and thoughtful season, we have a piece from the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press about a bisexual student at Concordia University. When it comes to journalism issues, this story also includes a very crucial hole in the reporting.

A student at Concordia University in St. Paul is demanding protections for gays and lesbians after she said her relationship with another woman cost her a leadership role with a prominent student-led worship group.
Nikki Hagan, 19, of Woodbury said the student president of Concordia's 908 student ministry asked her to resign her informal post as the group's message coordinator soon after she posted on Facebook in November that she is bisexual and dating a woman.
"He asked me if I knew what the stance of the (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) church is against homosexuality," Hagan, a second-year student, said Friday.

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Crucial religion info still missing in updates on holiday wars at University of Tennessee

Crucial religion info still missing in updates on holiday wars at University of Tennessee

We have some interesting news here in East Tennessee about the University of Tennessee holiday wars. I call them "holiday wars," as opposed to "Christmas wars," because it appears to be very hard to fight Christmas here in the valley framed by the Cumberland and Great Smoky Mountains.

As I mentioned the other day, UT's Office for Diversity and Inclusion posted very specific guidelines on how to make sure that official "holiday" party held on campus did not turn into, as the memo put it, a "Christmas party in disguise." The memo also instructed UT folks to use "non-denominational" holiday cards and said those attending holiday parties "should not play games with religious and cultural themes -- for example, 'Dreidel' or 'Secret Santa.' "

The news is that the memo that ticked off Tennessee Republicans -- the dominant party here in the hills -- is gone. Also, the diversity office's leader, Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, now has a UT communications officer screening his website. The new memo -- text here -- contains zero instructions about how to edit Christmas out of campus parties. Here is a large chunk of the "new" memo, which apparently is a memo that was used in the past:

Recognizing a wide variety of cultures and beliefs, we should note that people choose to celebrate in different ways and on varying days of the year.
While there are many joyous occasions and special opportunities to gather, employee participation in any celebration should always be voluntary. While it is inevitable that differences will appear in how people celebrate, everyone is encouraged to have an open mind and to approach every situation with sensitivity.

Alas, there are all kinds of facts we still don't know about this drama, almost all of them linked to religion.

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Lutherans and Catholics: Some major, major overlooked news to pursue

Lutherans and Catholics: Some major, major overlooked news to pursue

Pope Francis continues to confound conservative Catholics. A notable incident Nov. 15 got little attention in the mainstream press as the globe was transfixed by Islamist terrorism. This is an incident worth a second look from reporters.

During a Rome meeting with Lutherans, a wife asked the pontiff when she could receive Catholic communion alongside her Catholic husband. Francis responded:

“... You believe that the Lord is present. And what’s the difference? There are explanations, interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism – ‘one faith, one baptism, one Lord,’ this Paul tells us; and then consequences come later. I would never dare to give permission to do this because it’s not my own competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord, and then go forward. [Pause] And I wouldn’t dare, I don’t dare say anything more.”

Leaving aside the pope’s “competence,” his “go forward” is reasonably interpreted as “go ahead” if your own conscience says "go." Francis has roused similar debate over Communion for  remarried Catholics without the required annulments of first marriages.

Catholicism’s Catechism is explicit that Protestants shouldn’t receive at Mass until the whole tangle of doctrinal disagreements is resolved:

“Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic ministry in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders’ [quoting the Second Vatican Council’s 1964 decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio]. It is for this reason that Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible for the Catholic Church” (#1400).  

The Religion Guy learned about the pope’s words from Rod Dreher’s comments on his blog at theamericanconservative.com.

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Syrian refugees, redux: This time, AP remembers to ask religious leaders

Syrian refugees, redux: This time, AP remembers to ask religious leaders

Last week I criticized the Associated Press for writing about Syrian Christian refugees without talking to any Christians. (Thinking back, I don’t think they talked to Syrians either.) Well, AP finally got around to asking not only Christians but those of a range of faiths. And they did a beautiful job. Especially compared to some stories I could mention.

The background, of course, is the public anxiety over President Barack Obama's plans to bring in 10,000 or more refugees from the Syrian civil war over the next year. In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris, and reports that cells of terrorists are dotted all over Europe, many Americans worry that some of the killers may enter the country posing as refugees.

This is a story on which religious groups have clear viewpoints, and Godbeat pro Rachel Zoll of AP rounds up those perspectives. She samples views of Protestants, Catholics, Jews and even an American Muslim group. Her thorough report shows a remarkable consensus among them.

The top of the story could hardly be better:

In rare agreement across faith and ideological lines, leaders of major American religious groups have condemned proposed bans on Syrian refugees, contending a legitimate debate over security has been overtaken by irrational fear and prejudice.
Top organizations representing evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and liberal Protestants say close vetting of asylum seekers is a critical part of forming policy on refugees. But these religious leaders say such concerns, heightened after the Paris attacks a week ago, do not warrant blocking those fleeing violence in the Middle East.

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On Syrian refugees, AP finds it easier to talk about Christians than to them

On Syrian refugees, AP finds it easier to talk about Christians than to them

Ever hear people talk about you while you're standing right there? It comes close to that in an Associated Press story on whether to accept Syrian refugees into the United States.

"Should the U.S. admit Syrians only if they are Christian?" the headline says in Crux, the Catholic newsmagazine of the Boston Globe. AP talks to politicians. They quote government officials all the way up to President Obama. And they major, of course, on presidential candidates who brought up the issue in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.

Who don’t they ask? That's right. Christians. For AP, the religious angle is just a front for politics:

The debate, which cuts straight to the American identity as a refuge, on Monday ranged from whether to only admit Syrians who are Christian to whether to close some mosques. But across the political landscape, caution intensified about vetting Syrian refugees and whether to allow them into the country at all.
GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump suggested in a MSNBC interview that he would “strongly consider” closing some mosques if elected. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the United States should focus on admitting Christians. And GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio for the first time said the United States should no longer accept Syrian refugees because it’s impossible to know whether they have links to Islamic militants — an apparent shift from earlier statements in which he left open the prospects of migrants being admitted with proper vetting.

Oh yeah, something else must annoy you as much as me: when the gossip is vague and inaccurate. What does closing mosques have to do with Christian refugees? Does it sharpen focus to talk about turning away all refugees, Christian or not? And does Bush really want to admit only Syrians who are Christians?

Because that ain't what Bush said, according to AP -- even though the story has Obama saying he did:

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NPR trips on 'evangelical,' while covering big story on converts in Germany

NPR trips on 'evangelical,' while covering big story on converts in Germany

If you were going to pick a major news outlet that was high on the distrust/hate list of cultural conservative in America, it would have to be National Public Radio.

You know the old saying: How can you can tell when a Republican in Washington, D.C., has lost his soul? When the first button on his car radio is set to NPR. Or how about this one: What is the Episcopal Church? It's National Public Radio at prayer.

This is all quite sad, because a decade or so ago NPR's religion-beat work (as opposed to religion-linked coverage by political or cultural pros) was actually very good. If you know the history of the Godbeat there, you'll get my drift.

Anyway, it's interesting to get an email from a GetReligion reader that starts out like this, discussing an NPR feature about Muslims converting to Christianity in Germany:

As someone who tends to listen less and less to NPR, disillusioned with what I perceive as an absurdly left-wing bias in much of their reporting, I was pleasantly surprised by their attempt to cover several sides of the issues.

We will come back to this reader in a bit. But let me start off by saying that I was also impressed at the kinds of voices that were featured in this piece. This is a very complicated and emotional subject, as I stressed in a recent post about this topic that ran with the headline: "Muslims fleeing to Europe: Yes, press can find religion angles in this ongoing tragedy." This NPR report is way better than the norm.

Here is the start of the NPR piece, setting up the major themes:

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5Q+1 interview: Ken Chitwood on teaching ‘Religion and the News’ at University of Florida

5Q+1 interview: Ken Chitwood on teaching ‘Religion and the News’ at University of Florida

Godbeat 101.

That’s not the name of the course Ken Chitwood will teach at the University of Florida next semester. But it’s close.

Chitwood is a religion scholar and Ph.D. student, studying Religion in the Americas and Global Islam (with the Center for Global Islamic Studies).

His writings — both academic and popular — cover topics such as religion in the U.S., Islam in the Americas, glocalization, transnationalism and Christian-Muslim relations (and many more).

“I am also fascinated by the intersection of religion and popular culture and write and speak on this topic as both an academic and a journalist covering 'the Godbeat,’” said Chitwood, who characterizes himself on his personal website as a “forward-thinking Lutheran theologian.”

In a 5Q+1 interview with GetReligion, he discussed his plans for the “Religion and the News” course that he’s developing.

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Do all liberal Protestants in Germany think Christians are wrong to convert Muslims?

Do all liberal Protestants in Germany think Christians are wrong to convert Muslims?

There are times when I am tempted to believe that many journalists are so convinced that the religious left is right that they don't even pause to listen to what folks on the doctrinal left are actually saying.

This media cheerleader stance is -- gasp! -- not always in the interests of folks in the world of progressive religion, who are -- gasp again! -- not always of the same mind when it comes to some controversial, and rather basic, issues. Some of these doctrinal differences are rather subtle and it helps to actually be paying attention when they talk.

Consider this basic question: Does everyone on the religious left oppose evangelism?

After all, the New Testament and centuries of church doctrine insist that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Does that mean that those who reject Christianity are, to be blunt, not going to heaven? Or, are there doctrinal liberals who are "Universalists" when it comes to salvation, but others who merely oppose what they believe are unethical and shallow forms of proselytism?

Now, what happens when you take complicated issues of this kind and stick them right in the tense and maybe even violent territory at the heart of one of the biggest news stories in the world? I am talking about the flood of immigrants -- about a million seeking asylum in Germany alone -- reaching Europe after fleeing the bloody hellstorm in Syria and Iraq. Here is what that looks like at the top of of an important story from Religion News Service:

(RNS) One of Germany’s largest Protestant regional churches has come under fire from other Christians for speaking out against efforts to convert Muslims just as tens of thousands of refugees from the Islamic world are streaming into the country.
In a new position paper, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland says the passage in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission -- “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” -- does not mean Christians must try to convert others to their faith.

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Here is a new federal data base reporters can mine for religion angles

Here is a new federal data base reporters can mine for religion angles

On September 12th, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled its revamped College Scorecard (click here to see it), a trove of online data to guide parents and students on where to enroll that can also be a source of religion angles. The Obama Administration wisely scrapped its controversial plan for a college rating system, something of a mission impossible, and instead compiled hard numbers that citizens can judge for themselves.

The broad economic context was analyzed that same weekend by National Public Radio’s Adam Davidson, writing in The New York Times Magazine. For example, median income adjusted for inflation has remained nearly flat since 1974 while tuition at private universities has roughly tripled, and has quadrupled at public universities. Meanwhile those pricey college degrees have increased in importance for many careers. As the new Web site proclaims, “On average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates.”

Much of this information was already available in those ubiquitous college guidebooks or the College Navigator site from the government’s National Center for Education Statistics. But the new site crunches Internal Revenue Service data to report graduates’ earnings 10 years out and how many are managing to repay student loans.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the field’s journalistic bible, notes an important gap: Those newly added numbers cover only students who received federal loans or grants. Also, they lump together all students at an institution while earnings vary wildly depending on academic subject. The American Council on Education complains that the feds produced this setup without any review by outside experts.

No religious campuses are among the feds’ list of 23 schools commended for low cost leading to high incomes.

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