Marriage & Family

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.

When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."

In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.

The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?

That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.

As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.

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Did The Tennessean mean to capture a key nuance in the post-Obergefell debates?

Did The Tennessean mean to capture a key nuance in the post-Obergefell debates?

If you set out to pick a state that was the opposite of my old state of Maryland, in terms of politics and culture, it would have to be Tennessee, where I live now.

Maryland is a historically Catholic state that has evolved -- other than in some rural corners and in most African-American church life -- into an archetypal Blue State.

Meanwhile, the political history of Tennessee has been rooted in a populist and often culturally conservative brand of Democratic Party politics, until the rise of the modern Republican Party. I mean, as a U.S. senator, Al Gore had an 84 percent National Right to Life approval rating. East Tennessee has always been heavily Republican, dating back to the Civil War in some parts of the mountains. But these are not, as a rule, Republicans who automatically hate the government. Can you say Tennessee Valley Authority?

This brings me to an interesting story that ran the other day in The Tennessean, the historically liberal Gannett newspaper in Nashville, the state capital. Whether the editors knew it or not, this story contains material that describes one of the key religious liberty debates taking place -- but rarely covered by journalists -- after the 5-4 Obergefell ruling backing same-sex marriage.

As you would expect, there are Republicans in Tennessee who pretty much want to blow up the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, the story notes early on:

Many Tennessee Republicans aren’t hiding their anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the country.
They're adamant they need to respond, either in a way they feel will champion states' rights or religious liberties. Some lawmakers want the state to consider allowing employees who object to same-sex marriage to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

There is that big idea yet again, that citizens who oppose same-sex marriage want the right to -- vaguely defined -- "refuse to serve same-sex couples." Hold that thought.

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Yes, we saw that rather stunning Gawker quote about God and the mainstream press

Yes, we saw that rather stunning Gawker quote about God and the mainstream press

For years, I have heard religious leaders -- yes, most of them conservative types -- ask reporters whether or not they go to church. It's not a nice question and, I would argue, it's not the right question to ask if the goal is to understand why the mainstream press struggles to cover religion news.

The goal of this question, essentially, is to show that an unusually high percentage of the scribes and editors in newsrooms are godless heathens who hate religious people. Now, I have met a few of those heathens in newsrooms, but not as many as you would think. I've met my share of "spiritual, but not religious" journalists and quite a few religious progressives. I once heard a colleague quip that the only place that the Episcopal Church's "Decade of Evangelism," in the 1990s, was a success was in newsrooms.

As I have said before on this blog, there are plenty of non-believers who do a fine job covering religion news. Then again, I have met believers who could not report their way out of a paper bag.

No, the question religious folks should be asking journalists -- when reporters are sent to cover religion events -- is this: How long have you covered religion news and what did you do,  professionally and/or academically, to prepare for this work? In other words, stop asking journalists religious questions and start asking them journalism questions.

If you want to see a "Do you go to church?" train wreck, then check out the following commentary (and then some) from Hamilton Nolan at Gawker that as been making the rounds.

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AP poll: Downtick on support for same-sex marriage. Mainstream media: (shrug)

AP poll: Downtick on support for same-sex marriage. Mainstream media: (shrug)

To the surprise of few, the American public hasn't flocked to the gay marriage side just because the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. It may surprise some that public approval of same-sex marriage has actually retreated a bit, according to a new Associated Press poll.

A bigger surprise to me: Mainstream media show little curiosity about it.

Sure, they're reposting and reprinting the report, in varying lengths. But are they localizing reactions? Seeking explanations? Not as of this writing.

The poll results are attention-getting enough:

The Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.
The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.
Overall, if there’s a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it’s more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.

We'll note in passing the "frame game" phrasing, as tmatt calls it: religious "liberties" versus gay "rights." It's an unfortunately common pair of terms in mainstream media, although religious rights are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution and gay rights are not.

But in this story, the numbers are more interesting:

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Did NPR shortchange the religious left during its Obergefell coverage? Uh, yes

Did NPR shortchange the religious left during its Obergefell coverage? Uh, yes

The other day, I had an interesting conversation with a reader, someone with a long history of reading my "On Religion" syndicated column (my column has run in The Knoxville News Sentinel for 26-plus years) and now this blog.

To be blunt, this person (Catholic, by the way) was a bit upset about my recent column that went out on the wires with this suggested headline: "Triumphant day for the Episcopal Church establishment." In particular, this reader was upset that -- in lengthy quotations -- I let the openly gay, noncelibate retired Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire essentially do a victory dance celebrating (a) the 5-4 Obergefell decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court backed same-sex marriage and (b) the Episcopal Church's decision to proceed with same-sex marriage rites in its churches.

Why did I do this in my column? I responded: Because that was the essence of the story. Robinson and the Episcopal left won and, for readers to understand that victory, they needed to know what that meant to one of the symbolic figures in that long and painful drama.

I bring this up because several readers have asked your GetReligionistas what we thought of the recent commentary at National Public Radio on a related issue, one that ran under this headline, "Ombudsman Mailbag: On Staffing, Missing Information, And Religious Viewpoints." Settling up the crucial discussion, Elizabeth Jensen wrote:

I've heard from some Christians who feel NPR's coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage left the impression that all Christians oppose it. There's quite a bit of social media chatter on this, as well.

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Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

  Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

“Thumbsuckers” (think pieces) about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to nationalize same-sex marriage will be flowing forth for some time to come. In the early batch, one article from Religion News Service stands out. The writer is the invariably interesting Tobin Grant, a Southern Illinois University political scientist.

Thanks to the massive sample in the 2007 “Religious Landscape Survey” from  Pew Research, Grant could access detailed breakdowns on beliefs within  dozens of specific U.S. religious groups.

Note: Pew conducted a similar survey in 2014 and reporters should be alert for updated results on marriage attitudes that are likely to appear later this year. Also note: Perhaps Grant himself takes the liberal view on these matters since his RNS page posts a response to the conservative Gospel Coalition from Matthew Vines, whose recent book offers "the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships."

Grant’s analysis of the Pew data has two aspects.

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New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

As you GetReligionistas have repeatedly stressed in recent years, the battles over the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate is not a simple story involving two levels of conflict, with churches and religious groups being granted an clear exemption and for-profit corporations over on the losing side of the religious-liberty equation.

As this battle has continued in the courts, things have only grown more complex -- both for the Obama White House and the journalists who cover it.

For starters, there was that whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the fine-tuning in the regulations that has taken place since then. Meanwhile, the really interesting legal wars have focused on doctrinally-defined schools, ministries and parachurch groups that are caught in the middle. This is where things get really complicated and, frankly, many journalists do not seem to understand what all of the fuss is about.

In news reports, journalists continue to describe a wave of court victories for the White House -- while having to admit that there are religious groups who don't see things that way. A new story in The New York Times offers a classic example of this struggle to frame the debate:

WASHINGTON -- Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception.
While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating.

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So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

Trust me on this. Headline writers in the great state of Texas, and sometimes even nationwide, cannot resist themselves when it comes to juicy news stories about sex and my alma mater, Baylor University. Consider this doozy of a headline from the alternative Dallas Observer:

GAY SEX A-OK FOR MARRIED BAYLOR STUDENTS! THAT'S HOW WE SEE IT, ANYWAY

Yes, no one expects traditional, American model of the press journalism from this kind of alternative paper handed out for free to sell personals ads, as well as ads for hip nightclubs and fast-food joints. In this case, however, it's handy to read what the Observer said because its story was based, as usual, on its editors reading the mainstream media coverage in Texas and then reacting. So here is a key passage:

Sure, the wording on Baylor's new sexual misconduct policy is incredibly vague. But reading between the lines here, we're pretty sure that Baylor's Board of Regents is tacitly saying that Baylor students are now allowed to have homosexual sex. As long as they're married. And that they perform their homosexual acts in accordance with the Bible. And they understand that their sexuality is a gift from God. How about you just read the full, revised policy below?
Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.

The problem, which you know if you clicked the "misconduct policy" link in that text (here it is again, leading you to the .pdf), is that this is not the "full" text. The policy also includes an "application" statement that says, in typical lawyer language:

This policy will be interpreted by the University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963. Under no circumstances may this policy be construed to waive any of the rights granted to Baylor University under the exemption issued to the University on September 26, 1985, by the U.S. Department of Education covering certain regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 or under the religious exemption Section 702 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now what in tarnation, you can hear editors saying, is the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963?

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Shocker! Press discovers that QB Russell Wilson is still a traditional Christian believer

Shocker! Press discovers that QB Russell Wilson is still a traditional Christian believer

Good grief. Have we really reached the point where journalists are shocked, shocked that traditional Christian believers strive to follow 2,000 years of doctrine asking them to hold off on sex until after they have taken their wedding vows?

Or, are the world-weary journalists who cover pop culture (that includes sports, most of the time) predestined to roll their eyes when really hot superstars -- in multiple senses of that word -- affirm traditional doctrines on sex when asked awkward questions in public?

Call it Tim Tebow syndrome, for obvious reasons.

In this case, the man on the hot spot is the unusually composed quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. I give you the elite journalistic work of professionals at People:

Russell Wilson ended months of speculation about whether he is dating Ciara during an interview with Pastor Miles McPherson at San Diego's Rock Church on Sunday. But the bigger surprise from the interview was the news that the couple is abstaining from sex for religious reasons.

"I said to her -- and she completely agreed -- 'Can we love each other without that?' " the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, 26, said in the interview. "If you can love somebody without that, then you can really love somebody."

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