Marriage & Family

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

As he so often does, Deacon Greg Kandra looked at a news story about the Catholic church and summed it up in a crisp one-liner, a skill honed to a fine edge during his quarter of a century with CBS News. At his "The Deacon's Bench" blog (must reading for journalists on the Godbeat) he proclaimed: "BREAKING: The pope is still Catholic."

Pope Francis is Catholic? As opposed to what?

That's a big issue in the mainstream press, these days. Kandra's ironic headline pointed readers toward this Associated Press report from the recent papal stop in the Philippines, which began like this:

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception, using a Friday rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.

The "sanctuaries" quote led into a very interesting passage that deserves close attention. You see, it is one of those doctrine-affirming statements that Francis often makes, yet these affirmations tend to draw minimal mainstream media coverage, especially in comparison with the waves of coverage that have followed some papal remarks that, when edited, seem to undercut orthodoxy.

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Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s April hearing and June ruling on same-sex marriage will be historic for the nation’s religions as well as for partisan politics, law, and society. There’s sharp division in this case among faith groups, and sometimes within them, so reporters will want to carefully monitor the inflow of religious and moral arguments as “friend of the court” briefs are filed in coming weeks.

The court defines two issues: Does the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause require that all states issue same-sex marriage licenses? Does the same clause require that a state recognize all marriages lawfully licensed by other states?

An implicit issue: whether judges or state legislatures and voters have power over contested social policies.

Religious proponents of marriage change are confident of Supreme Court victory and likely to file briefs. They include liberal Jews, Unitarian Universalists, and the Metropolitan Community Churches (whose primary ministry is with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered), along with organizations of atheists and humanists.  Defending traditional marriage  are the the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, evangelical and conservative Protestants, some African-American Protestants, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

But what about the so-called “Mainline” Protestants who’ve lately been shifting -- especially at the level of pulpits and church boards -- in favor of gay couples?

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U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage: Baltimore Sun offers a very, very, simplistic report

U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage: Baltimore Sun offers a very, very, simplistic report

As so often happens here in Beltway land, our nation's principalities and powers -- when dealing with subjects that are both momentous and highly divisive -- strategically drop major news stories into the fading hours of Friday afternoons, as journalists and other chattering-class folks exit their offices.

Saturday newspapers and broadcasts are, of course, the thinnest of the typical news week. Even the Sunday newspapers are dominated by major stories and packages submitted by reporters earlier in the week.

Thus, elderly GetReligion readers who pay money for analog news (thus providing most of the funding for independently reported news and information in this land) ventured into their front yards this morning and retrieved bundles of ink and dead-tree pulp that led with wire-service or bureau reports about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to address the national legal status of same-sex marriage.

If you live in New York or Washington, D.C., and truly elite news markets, your front page may feature a staff-written story. But I live in Baltimore and thus, like most of the nation, the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- the ever-shrinking Baltimore Sun -- first ran wire reports and, later, a story from the Tribune chain's Washington, D.C., bureau.

We are going to carefully walk through that bureau report and, as we do, let's look for the views of three major groups of believers who should be represented in the material gathered for this story.

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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Baltimore Sun plugs God-shaped hole in its earlier feature on Justin Forsett of the Ravens

Baltimore Sun plugs God-shaped hole in its earlier feature on Justin Forsett of the Ravens

I realize that the Baltimore Ravens lost to Tom Brady last night in the National Football League playoffs. Nevertheless, I want to salute The Baltimore Sun for its A1 pregame profile of Justin Forsett, the who-is-that-guy tailback whose Pro Bowl-level season was one of the best feel-good stories in football this year. Period.

Salute? Yes, because there is some history to the praise in this post.

Back in October, I jumped on the Sun team when it cranked out a generic feature on Forsett, a 5-foot-8, 195-pound (maybe) journeyman running back who had never really been a starter in pro football, let alone a star. Then he turned around this year and ran for 1,266 yards -- twice his career best -- and became a leader for the Ravens in the painful weeks in which the Ray Rice domestic-abuse soap opera unfolded.

That earlier Forsett feature included all kinds of hints that Christian faith is a key element of this man's life and work. There were hints, but no real reporting. You had to read between the lines in the quotes from coaches and friends on the squad. As I wrote at that time:

So we have "great faith" and "tremendous character," resulting in the team being "very blessed" to have him around. The Raven's head coach -- a Super Bowl winner year before last -- is a frequent user of God talk, which has never been explored to any meaningful degree by the local newspaper.

So what happened this time around?

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Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Here is a question for reporters covering the big story down in Atlanta, where Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Rescue Department Chief Kevin Cochran after he published a book in which it appears that he affirmed centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine on sex and marriage.

There are several issues to examine in some of the main reports, but let's start with the headline in The New York Times: "Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views."

This raises a crucial question linked to the labeling of religious believers in this day and age. For example: Is Pope Francis "antigay"? This is, of course, the leader of a church that affirms, in its most bulletproof volume of doctrine:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. ... Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Is that statement officially "antigay," which would make those who affirm the Catechism officially "antigay"? Ditto for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others who embrace traditional, orthodox versions of their faiths.

In other words, at the level of headlines, when are believers being "anti" one thing, as opposed to being "pro" something else?

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Attention editors: Concerning a seriously neglected church-state drama in the District of Columbia

Attention editors: Concerning a seriously neglected church-state drama in the District of Columbia

An important church-state story in the nation’s capital has largely been ignored in the news media except for an op-ed and online articles from the conservative Catholics at the Cardinal Newman Society.

On Dec. 2, the District of Columbia Council unanimously amended the city's Human Rights Act in order to end exemptions that aided religions opposed to same-sex relationships.

That's big news. Then on Dec. 17 the  Council unanimously amended that same act to forbid discrimination against employees’ “reproductive health decisions” to choose abortion, sterilization and contraception.

The D.C. votes create conscience-clause problems -- especially for those associated with Washington’s Catholic school system and for the Catholic University of America. The university’s unique status turns this from a mere local fuss into a nationally significant challenge to the institution of the Catholic Church.

Why is that?

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Looking ahead: From 'Cuomo Catholicism' to questions about Jeb Bush

Looking ahead: From 'Cuomo Catholicism' to questions about Jeb Bush

It's time for reporters to start preparing themselves for a new “religious issue” if, as expected, Jeb Bush runs for U.S. president.

Bush, a former Episcopalian who converted to wife Columba’s church in 1995, could become the first Roman Catholic to win the Republican nomination. In fact, his party has only chosen two Catholics for vice president and neither won that office (William Miller and Paul Ryan).
By contrast, the Democrats have named three for president (Al Smith, the sole Catholic president John F. Kennedy, and John Kerry) and four for vice president (Edmund Muskie, Sargent Shriver, Geraldine Ferraro, and the only one to serve, incumbent Joseph Biden).

Conservative writer Ira Stoll is right on top of things, pondering on Dec. 29 over at the libertarian reason.com site how Bush would handle the “Catholic question." 

For example, a 2013 Bush speech quoted in The Miami Herald said his views on immigration reflect “what my church teaches me.” That puts him to the left of the GOP field on the issue, and such remarks may trouble citizens who agree with President John F. Kennedy’s wariness toward any religious influences in public policy.

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Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Anyone who knows their religion-beat history knows this byline -- George W. Cornell of the Associated Press.

When he died in 1994, the national obituaries called him the "dean of American religion writers" and that was precisely the role that he played for decades, especially for those of us who broke into the religion-news business back in the 1970s and '80s.

However, when I did a series of interviews with him in 1981, for my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ("The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets") he simply described himself as the AP's religion writer for all of planet earth. How would you like to try to handle that job? (The Vatican bureau didn't count, he explained, because editors tended to view that as a political and international-news bureau.)

George had a private tradition in which, every year, he analyzed the Associated Press list of the world's top 10 stories and counted the ones that -- seen through his veteran eyes -- were built on facts and history rooted in religion. He never saw a year with fewer than five of these stories, he told me, and frequently there would be more than that.

Ah, he explained, but were the religion facts and angles in these stories (a) covered accurately, (b) presented in a way that could be understood by the general public or (c) covered AT ALL?

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