Marriage & Family

#LoveWins #JournalismFails -- Some old media-bias battles (think Kellerism) go public

#LoveWins #JournalismFails -- Some old media-bias battles (think Kellerism) go public

This was the rare week that my column for the Universal Syndicate grew directly out of what was happening online here at GetReligion. It doesn't take a doctorate in journalism history to figure out the topic for all of the chatter. Correct?

That discussion led to this week's "Crossroads" podcast with the team at Issues, etc. Click here to tune that in.

The whole thing felt kind of hall-of-mirrors meta, with host Todd Wilken and I discussing figures in the mainstream media discussing whether many mainstream journalists had proven their critics right by waving all of those cyber rainbow flags in the heady hours after the 5-4 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

That decision, no surprise, led to a blitz of posts and debates all over cyberspace, including here, here, here, here, here and, especially, here at GetReligion. But the key to podcast was this post -- "From old Kellerism to new BuzzFeed: The accuracy and fairness debate rolls on" -- in which I noted that this new debate about the new news was actual linked to old debates that have been going on for some time.

So have we seen a historic change in American journalism? I still need some help from GetReligion readers trying to parse the following quote from BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, as he defended (click here for transcript) his news site's open celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court decision during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt:

BS: I don’t really think there, I mean, I guess I don’t really think there was much of a controversy, or at least I didn’t see. There were like, I’ve been tweeting with three people today -- Tim Carney and a guy named, just, I mean, but I’m not sure like three or four people make a controversy. But I think we have, we drafted and published a Standards Guide and an Ethics Guide several months ago, and I think we’ve been wrestling with something I’m sure you think about a lot, which is, although I think I probably come down somewhere a bit differently from you, which is you know, is it possible to, look, what is the tradition that used to be called kind of objective journalism, mainstream media journalism, the tradition the New York Times and the Washington Post come out of, which is the tradition I come out of?

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

Fallout is still, well, falling out from the Supreme Court's declaration of gay marriage as a constitutional right. Most are also lagging behind the New York Times, which set the pace on Thursday with its advance story on conservative fears of the implications of the decision.

The Times lengthened its lead over the weekend, with a story on the flurry of efforts to carve out religious exemptions.

The Times gets right to the topic in the lede:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

The article then cites governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on their determination to fight gay marriage in their states. Jindal, of course, is also a candidate for president.

The Times then reviews the Supreme Court documents: first, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that religious groups may still teach their beliefs; a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., warning that the high court will likely start getting cases where religious and gay rights clash.

But the newspaper hits the nail in quoting Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore:

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Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

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Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

OK, so you're a religion reporter, and it's Friday morning the 26th, and you're glued to your desk awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. 

Word starts to seep out at 11 a.m. Eastern. 

Since many of the justices took special care to mention the concerns of religious groups, it's your job to do the sidebar. What do you write? 

As I scanned various papers large and small, ranging from the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger to Utah's Deseret News, it seemed that most punted by simply getting reacts from local religious and political leaders. Or they took the compendium from Religion News Service. I've had to write zillions of similar react pieces and it's harder than it looks, so I'm not knocking these folks. 

But I am going to credit the outlets that went the extra mile.

The Wall Street Journal didn't just react to the ruling but looked ahead to coming battles on religious freedom. It had some of the best quotes I saw all day, including one from Richard Land, the former culture wars czar for the Southern Baptists who's been a bit of a pariah in recent years after he was edged out of his position in 2012. However, the Journal remembered Land and gave him a call:

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That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?

Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing? 

Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?

Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?

People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.

For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted:

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BBC: Confused about the difference between a bishop and a book writer

BBC: Confused about the difference between a bishop and a book writer

It seemed like a dream interview: BBC wanted to quiz our GetReligionista-on-leave Dawn Eden on a revised version of her 2006 book The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On

The pre-recorded interview was cut to a five-minute segment, then spliced onto a discussion with several British panelists who were to react to Dawn’s words and chat about whether people could realistically be expected to be sexually abstinent in this day and age. 

And everything was going just right until the voiceover by host Audrey Carville that identified Dawn as “a former rock journalist hoping to be a bishop.”

Problem is: Dawn, a very doctrinally traditional, observant Catholic woman, has no plans to become a bishop. That would be, you know, an act of rebellion against the church.

What she had explained to Audrey is that she’d privately consecrated herself to lead a celibate life and that she hoped to formalize her vow in a future ceremony with a bishop. I’m assuming what she has in mind is something similar to the consecration of virgins ceremony recently explained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dawn has made it very clear she is no virgin, so a different rite would be called for. 

Anyway, BBC got it completely wrong as you’ll see from the following Twitter feed:

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Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Think of them as the three laws of spiritual physics when it comes to the demographics of faith. The bottom line is that religious groups thrive when:

* Believers have children.

* Believers pass their faith on to their children, the children retain that faith and some of these children even embrace vocations as clergy or workers with the faith.

* Believers reach out to others and spread the faith in service and evangelism.

As we like to say here at GetReligion: Demographics is destiny, and so is doctrine.

You could certainly see these factors at play in the recent "Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts"(.pdf copy here) conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

The bottom line: Catholicism is on ice in Europe and on fire in Africa and Asia. You can read some of the details in my "On Religion" column this week, but here's the bottom line: It's hard for a faith to survive, let alone thrive, when it isn't producing children, clergy and new believers. Heed these thoughts from CARA's Mark Gray:

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Really? Sun says amazingly faith-free ministers visit the haunted streets in Baltimore

Really? Sun says amazingly faith-free ministers visit the haunted streets in Baltimore

Oh ye Baltimore Sun editors, what will I do without your tree-pulp product landing in my front yard every morning?

This morning I picked up the paper and, as I chomped on my bagel, I read a cutline under the A1 featured photograph that showed the Rev. Alveda King, with the Rev. C.L. Bryant of Louisiana looking on, singing as she met with some people gathered near the Billie Holiday Memorial statue here in Baltimore. The photo appeared with a story that ran with this headline: "After unrest, GOP looks to make inroads in Baltimore."

I, of course, wanted to know what the niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was singing. There is a chance that it was, "God Bless the Child," but I would think the odds are higher that she was singing some kind of hymn. Ministers have been known to do things like that, from time to time. However, the content of her song was apparently not worthy of inclusion in the cutline or the story.

Come to think of it, I would also liked to have known something about what Alveda King and Bryant had to say while they were in town. But, alas, almost everything that they said was not relevant to this news story, or, at least, the religious content of their visit was not relevant.

Why? You see, this visit was a political visit -- period. I do not deny that politics was involved, of course, because the story goes out of its way to stress the GOP ties of these two ministers and the political nature of their visit. However, might the significance of their visit have been linked to their ability to speak to African-Americans in pulpits and pews? Might the religious content of their visit have been newsworthy, even as political content?

Apparently not. Here is the top of the story:

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