Marriage & Family

Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

For weeks, I have been hearing from readers asking me when GetReligion was going to address the Catholic News Agency report about the $120,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to the Religion Newswriters Foundation, which owns Religion News Service.

In one article, CNA noted that the grant listing said that its purpose was to "recruit and equip LGBT supportive leaders and advocates to counter rejection and antagonism within traditionally conservative Christian churches." When announcing the grant, Arcus officials said this grant would help foster a "culture of LGBT understanding through the media” by funding news reports and blogging posts “about religion and LGBT peoples of color.”

RNS Editor Kevin Eckstrom defended his wire service's editorial independence, stressing that this public relations represented "Arcus’ description of their funding, not ours.” It is also crucial to note that the funding connections between RNS and the Religion Newswriters Foundation are complex, to the degree that CNA needed to correct some fine details. Please read that whole report carefully.

In that story, Eckstrom also noted that GetReligion frequently criticizes RNS because its work does not meet our blog's "standard of theological orthodoxy.”

I did not respond, although there is much to be said on these matters. First of all, please note that GetReligion frequently praises the work of RNS and we certainly recognize its crucial role as the only mainstream news operation dedicated to covering the religion beat. Second, let me acknowledge that -- over the past decade -- RNS frequently took interns from the Washington Journalism Center (which is now being rebooted in New York City). Eckstrom and his team, frankly, did a fantastic and gracious job working with my program's students and I will always be grateful for that.

So what can I say about the "theological" issues involved in this discussion? Let's start with some background on journalism "theology."

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Happy couple has 100 grandkids: Can you (as opposed to AP) spot the religion ghost?

Happy couple has 100 grandkids: Can you (as opposed to AP) spot the religion ghost?

This has to be one of the #DUH items to ever grace the cyber pages here at GetReligion. Let's see if you can spot the religion ghost in this one.

So let's say that you are reading a story about a nice elderly couple in Illinois named Leo and Ruth Zanger. The story appeared in the Quincy Herald-Whig that was picked up by the Associated Press, which is why several people (Hello M.Z. Hemingway!) saw it and sent me stunned, even incredulous notes.

Now, the key to this story is that Leo and Ruth Zanger recently celebrated the birth of their 100th grandchild. Thus, here is the top of the story:

It's a big deal when Leo and Ruth Zanger's family gets together. Seriously, it's a really big deal -- with added emphasis on the "big" part.
The Zangers recently welcomed their 100th grandchild, which makes family functions more than a get-together.
"We rent out a church hall," said Austin Zanger, a grandson of Leo and Ruth.
When Austin's wife, Ashleigh, gave birth to their second child, Jaxton Leo, on April 8, it became a historic moment. Jaxton was grandchild No. 100 for Leo and Ruth. For the numerically inclined, Jaxton was also No. 46 among the great-grandchildren. The Zangers also have 53 grandkids and one great-great-grandchild for a nice round 100.
"The good Lord has just kept sending them," Leo Zanger said of the grandkids. "We could start our own town."

Ah, but what kind of church hall? Seriously, as you read the top of this story didn't the following thought drift through your mind: "The Zangers must be really serious Catholics."

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Your holiday think piece: View from other side of an advocacy journalist's notebook

Your holiday think piece: View from other side of an advocacy journalist's notebook

It's a problem that your GetReligionistas face all the time: Many readers do not understand that columnists and opinion writers play by different rules than journalists who write hard news for traditional news organizations.

Yes, it doesn't help -- see this file on what we call "Kellerism" -- that many important mainstream journalists who should know better are blurring the lines between what many textbooks would call the "American model" of the press and the older "European model" which embraces advocacy journalism. This happens a lot when journalists cover debates about doctrine, sex and law.

As a rule, GetReligion focuses on mainstream, hard-news coverage of religion. However, from time to time we pass along "think pieces" that focus on subjects directly linked to religion-news coverage or topics that we think would interest our readers. Several readers sent us a link to a recent First Things piece that takes a critical look at a recent Huffington Post piece -- about same-sex marriage, of course -- that, according to a man interviewed for the HP piece, veered into creative fiction.

This raises a crucial question: What is the HP these days? It often contains serious news reported using a straight forward , hard-news approach, but it is also packed with opinion essays and advocacy pieces that reflect its liberal editorial point of view. So, can you criticize a liberal columnist for writing a liberal column? In this case, the First Things writer is alleging far more than mere bias.

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Washington Post gets it: The Duggar TV empire made all kinds of people nervous

Washington Post gets it: The Duggar TV empire made all kinds of people nervous

In recent days, I have had quite a few emails asking what the GetReligionistas think of the fall of Josh Duggar of the Family Research Council and then the whole "19 Kids and Counting" TLC reality-television empire.

As always, people seemed to be asking what we thought of the story itself, as opposed to our reactions to the mainstream news media coverage of the story. That's two different issues.

As always, most of the coverage has looked at the story through a political lens, asking how this scandal among hypocrites on the Religious Right would impact public debates about same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage and same-sex marriage.

That's an interesting angle, since I never got the impression -- as someone who has never seen a complete episode of the show -- that the Duggars were the kinds of folks who were very effective as apologists, when it came time to changing many minds on the cultural left. They seemed, to me, to be the ultimate preaching-to-the-choir niche media product. For those who are interested, here is the family's public statement on the controversy.

It's safe to assume that folks on the cultural left pretty much hated these folks, with good cause. The more subtle point is that the Duggars were also very controversial among evangelicals, including among folks who are often accurately described as very traditional, or even patriarchal, on family issues. This television empire made all kinds of folks nervous, with good cause.

Here is the key, if you want to dig into the serious coverage. How early does the name "Bill Gothard" appear and to what degree does the coverage make it sound like Gothard and his disciples represent mainstream evangelicalism or even orthodox (let alone Orthodox or Catholic) Christianity?

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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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Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Trust me, your GetReligionistas understand that the timeline of the Anglican vs. Episcopal doctrine wars gets very, very complicated. Add to that the fact that the conflicts are taking place at the local, diocesan, national and global levels and you have very complicated stories on your hands, especially if you are a general-assignment reporter and not a Godbeat pro.

However, a recent story in The Orange County Register raises a completely different issue. When one of these battles ends, is it primarily a story about real estate or people? I mean, the dollars and cents of the church-property sale are important, but shouldn't journalists acknowledge that there are people out there -- perhaps even Register readers -- who care about what happens with these sacred spaces? Here is the top of the story:

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is nearing the end of negotiations to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to real estate developers.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the sale to congregants Sunday, Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said. The sale of the church could bring in roughly $15 million -- twice the appraised value of the site, Williams said.

Services at the church will likely continue into the fall, Williams said. No information on where congregants will be moved or whether the congregation may reopen at a different site was available on Monday, he said.

So the current occupants of the church are Episcopalians. Got it. But here is one of those "people" questions. How many of these Episcopalians are there and, well, why are they leaving such a prime location? How do they feel about this deal?

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Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

By now, many GetReligion readers will have already seen some or all of the video at the top of this post, the one in which Toya Graham of Baltimore offered some blunt guidance to her son as he was poised to throw rocks at police during the Baltimore riots.

In online coverage and commentaries, the 42-year-old Graham is often known as the "Hero Mom" and police and civic leaders have praised her for trying to control her child, while noting that they wish there were more parents around who would do the same.

The Baltimore Sun did a very interesting and complex profile of Graham and covered almost all of the bases relevant to this story, including some interesting material about her church ties. Still, by the end, I was left asking a familiar question: What would the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a giant of the Democratic Party in the late 20th Century say about this sad urban scene?

I suspect that, like many readers in commentary boxes on reports about this incident, he would ask a basic question linked to faith, family and culture -- Where is this young man's father? Moynihan, of course, is famous for producing a 1965 report (50th anniversary news feature alert) in which he argued that in the future the key factor in poverty in America would no longer be race, but whether children were raised in intact homes, with a father as well as a mother.

Is that a question with religious and moral overtones? I suspect that many, but perhaps not all, leaders in the black church would say that it is.

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Sad Mother's Day feature by RNS deals gingerly with spiritual issues

Sad Mother's Day feature by RNS deals gingerly with spiritual issues

For Mother's Day, the Religion News Service this week ran a remarkably sensitive piece on a memorial garden for mothers of deceased babies.

The feature poignantly tells of their grief and their need for closure. It looks also at religious and spiritual sensibilities, at least for Catholics.

An RNS reporter looks in on Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, near Albany, N.Y., built for mothers of miscarried, stillborn and short-lived infants. For some of the women -- like Dorothy Caruso, who lost her child back in 1968 -- it's the first time some of them get to mourn their children:

Most Holy Redeemer’s Remembrance Garden honors the youngest of lost lives, and comforts young, recently bereaved parents. But its creation two years ago was inspired by an earlier generation of mourners.
Like Caruso, these mothers never had an opportunity to grieve for their lost children; some never even had a say in what would happen to their remains. 

You may shake your head in disbelief when you read about the four mothers profiled in this story. They named their children; Caruso bought clothes and toys for hers. Then the children died as infants.

Worse was what happened after that. Caruso watched in shock as a nurse casually tossed her stillborn child in a garbage can. Another asked a nurse to take care of the baby's remains -- a decision she still regrets, seven decades later. Still another is troubled that she didn't name two of her three deceased sons, and doesn't know their final resting places.

Even worse, no one else seemed to want to remember the children. They assumed the mothers didn't want to dwell on the grief. Yet the grief stayed -- for decades.

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Hold on: Wasn't there more to that 'Reagan Democrats' thing than money?

Hold on: Wasn't there more to that 'Reagan Democrats' thing than money?

If you are into politics in the Culture War era, then you may be familiar with the Thomas Frank bestseller called "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America."

It's kind of dangerous to summarize a book in a few words, but here is what I took away from it: For the past decade or two, elite Republicans have been able to use social and moral issues to confuse middle class and working class Americans, convincing them that the GOP understands their "values." Once you understand this nasty trick, you know why ordinary Americans have been going to the polls and voting against their own economic interests. Or something like that.

Really old news consumers will remember that, once upon a time, these voters in middle America were called "Reagan Democrats," which was another way of saying blue-collar and Catholic Democrats who were turned off by some post-1960s elements of Democratic Party life. The crucial point for this post: Social issues and religion played a major role in this political drama.

This brings me to a very interesting, but very strange, political story that ran in The New York Times the other day under this headline: "G.O.P. Hopefuls Now Aiming to Woo the Middle Class." Here is the top of the story. See if you can spot The Big Idea:

WASHINGTON -- The last three men to win the Republican nomination have been the prosperous son of a president (George W. Bush), a senator who could not recall how many homes his family owned (John McCain of Arizona; it was seven) and a private equity executive worth an estimated $200 million (Mitt Romney).

The candidates hoping to be the party’s nominee in 2016 are trying to create a very different set of associations.

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