Marriage & Family

Do many reporters get why Kim Davis is in jail? Hint: Investigate Kentucky laws

Do many reporters get why Kim Davis is in jail? Hint: Investigate Kentucky laws

So Kim Davis is in jail, which is the only place -- under current Kentucky laws, apparently -- she can go without giving her signed consent (hold that thought) to same-sex marriages, which she believes she cannot do because of a theological conflict of interest.

So U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning has done the logical thing and locked her up, because -- under the current Kentucky laws -- there is no other way to obey five members of the U.S. Supreme Court and get marriage licenses to same-sex couples in that state.

Here is a crucial question to which I cannot find an answer: Does Kim Davis, under current Kentucky law, have to put her name on a license to make it valid. I ask because Davis is on record as supporting compromises in which gay citizens could receive marriage licenses without a signature from the local clerk or with the signature of another willing clerk appointed by a judge or the state. As I have stated in previous posts, she is willing for licenses to go out, only she refuses to give her consent. She does not want this taking place under her authority, but under the authority of someone else recognized by the state.

However, there is no law allowing that approach in Kentucky, as opposed to, let's say, North Carolina. Right? If Davis was in a different state, she would have other options. That's an important fact in this standoff.

Let's return to The Washington Post coverage, since that has where I have been following these events most closely. There is much to applaud in the story that went live last night, but there are familiar gaps -- even when compared with earlier Post coverage. Let's read and I'll add some comments:

Davis’s decision means the 49-year-old elected public servant will be kept in custody indefinitely as the legal wrangling over her case continues. It also suggests she is willing to martyr herself for her cause, which is the right of public officials to be guided by their personal religious beliefs.

"Suggests" is never a good word in hard-news coverage.

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Slut-shaming the Christian convert in Kentucky who is open to compromise?

Slut-shaming the Christian convert in Kentucky who is open to compromise?

So The Washington Post has another news report out about the woman of the day, which would be Rowan County clerk Kim Davis in the hills of Kentucky. And, once again, readers who dig into this news feature will find it hard to learn a crucial fact about this embattled Democrat, who converted to Christianity four years ago.

Sorry to repeat myself, but I am going to have to repeat a pair of questions that I asked in my earlier post on this topic. I'm seeing the same gap in the basic facts about Davis and the stand she is taking.

Let's flash back to that:

To spot this gap, ask yourself this question as you read the news coverage on this story in the next few days: Is Ms. Davis trying to stop gay citizens from getting married? Yes or no. In fact, is her primary goal to stop them from getting married in he county?

I have heard for some readers who are saying, "Yes, Davis is trying to stop gay marriages."

At that point I have asked: "Then why is she backing efforts to promote political compromises that would allow gay marriages in Kentucky and in her own county?" If you dig a bit deeper, you'll find out that her primary goal is not to prevent gay marriages, but to prevent these marriages from taking place with her signed consent, in violation of the traditional Christian doctrines on this subject that she embraced four years ago.

The Post piece does offer more information on this woman who is under the gun, but it was silent at crucial points. Here is a crucial passage:

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Here's your up-to-date roadmap of the so-called American 'culture wars'

Here's your up-to-date roadmap of the so-called American 'culture wars'

On August 20, what was billed as an “unprecedented” alliance of 130 national organizations wrote President Barack Obama asking an end to federal grants for  religious social-service agencies that hire only employees who share their beliefs. The petition denounced the Bush administration Department of Justice’s “erroneous and dangerous” 2007 argument allowing such discrimination.  Ninety such groups sent a similar protest to then-Attorney General Eric Holder last year.

This is an important church-state issue that has entangled the Salvation Army, among others, in local situations, and a change in federal policy would certainly be news. Such petitions are a routine  feature of interest group maneuvers in Washington, but this particular one gives reporters an up-to-date roadmap of America’s “culture wars.” Like so:

The petition signers’ unnamed opponent is Evangelical Protestantism. The DOJ’s 2007 legal blessing responded to complaints about a $1.5 million federal grant to World Vision for mentoring, tutoring, and job training with “at-risk” youths. Like many evangelical organizations, World Vision famously hires staff members who agree with its religious beliefs and values, including traditional heterosexual marriage. 

The endorsers have been regular antagonists of Evangelicalism and also of Catholicism on a variety of issues.

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There he goes again? Pope Francis sends 'apostolic blessing' to gay writer and her family

There he goes again? Pope Francis sends 'apostolic blessing' to gay writer and her family

At various times and in many different ways, priests bless things.

Most notably, at the end of a liturgy, the priest blesses the whole congregation -- pretty much no matter who is out there in the pews or what these people may or may not have done. Priests have been known to entire bless crowds at other public events.

It's a blessing. Priests give out lots of them. So does the pope, come to think of it..

Most importantly, it's not the moment at the end of Confession when, after hearing the penitent confess his or her sins, the priest extends his hand over the person's head and says:

ABSOLUTION
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
The penitent answers: Amen.

This brings us to yet another one of those moments when Pope Francis takes an action that shocks people in the mainstream media, even though it is not all that shocking to people who are active in the Catholic Church.

Wait, is The Daily Beast mainstream media? Well, this particular story is pretty straightforward news, so let's go for it since it has the key information in one chunk. We'll jump in at the summary material:

The latest in a long list of dust-ups came this week when Francis apparently gave his blessing to Francesca Pardi, a children’s book author who happens to be lesbian and who has a title on the list of banned books in the Venice school district that has sparked a feud between Venice mayor Luigi Bugnaro and the likes of Elton John. 

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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Reuters reports Ashley Madison hack, but shrugs off moral and biblical issues

Reuters reports Ashley Madison hack, but shrugs off moral and biblical issues

With its story on the hack attack on adultery website Ashley Madison, Reuters stumbles a couple of times onto biblical references. But no worries -- it jumps up, brushes itself off and hurries on.

Ashley Madison, as you may know by now, is for "discreet" hookups for married people -- i.e., Web-assisted affairs. On Tuesday, a shadowy group calling itself the Impact Team cracked the site and stole the info of perhaps 37 million customers -- "nude photos, sexual fantasies, real names and credit card information," Reuters says. Then it uploaded the data on the Internet.

The potential is explosive, if you consider the 37 million relationships that could be disrupted. It's even worse when you read that thousands of e-mail addresses belonged to "U.S. government officials, UK civil servants and high-level executives," plus academics at the likes of Yale and Harvard. The sheer bulk of the 43 million-plus news, blog and opinion pieces also testifies to the size of this religio-moral matter.

Unless you're Reuters, that is. The 900-word story quotes a paltry four sources, one of them unnamed, and none of them a minister, social ethicist or moral theologian. Instead, we get a divorce lawyer, two government folks and two therapists. I guess the latter are supposed to be the stand-ins for clergy.

Here's the first near-Bible experience in the Reuters article:

Prominent divorce lawyer Raoul Felder said the release is the best thing to happen to his profession since the seventh Commandment forbade adultery in the Bible.
"I've never had anything like this before," he said.

Even that bare mention was born as a gaffe. One of GR's readers told us the article originally said "Seventh Amendment," not "Seventh Commandment," then was corrected. Not the best evidence for the scriptural savvy of one of the world's largest news agencies.

Reuters misses another biblical reference in quoting a psychologist:

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This piece on Episcopal Bishop William Love of Albany contains a big, big, big hole

This piece on Episcopal Bishop William Love of Albany contains a big, big, big hole

Want to see some completely unbalanced reporting in what was, I assume, supposed to be a hard-news story in a mainstream newspaper? Friends and neighbors, this Times Union story -- "Episcopal bishop's opposition to same-sex marriage creates rift" -- about Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany may take the cake.

Right up front, let me note that (a) this was an important story that should have been covered and (b) liberal Episcopalians in this diocese had every right to be outraged by their bishop's rejection of his denomination's somewhat limited embrace of same-sex marriage rites. Their voices deserved to be heard.

Wait, "somewhat limited" embrace? 

Ah, there is the rub. This story completely misses a key element of what the Episcopal General Convention did and did not do on this hot-button issue, a fact that made the final action taken quite unpopular with some -- repeat SOME -- liberal Episcopalians.

The bottom line: There is no way to understand the story in Albany without crucial facts that were omitted from this Times Union report. 

So what's the story? Here is the overture:

Episcopal Bishop William Love's opposition to same-sex marriage in defiance of the recent 78th general convention of the Episcopal Church that affirmed marriage equality has roiled the Albany diocese and caused parishioners to quit the Cathedral of All Saints in protest.
In a July 18 pastoral letter in response to last month's convention and June's historic Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing nationwide rights for same-sex marriage, Love cited a Book of Common Prayer definition of marriage as a "solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman."
Love was among just seven out of more than 100 bishops across the United States who flouted the convention's stance and publicly opposed same-sex marriage.

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Campus ministry: Last shot at focusing on Catholic 'nones' before the exit door?

Campus ministry: Last shot at focusing on Catholic 'nones' before the exit door?

On one level, this week's GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast is about young Catholics, Confession and campus ministry, using my Universal Syndicate column from this past week as a starting point.

But "campus ministry," narrowly defined, is not what this podcast is about.

What host Todd Wilken and I ended up discussing (click here to tune that in) was a much broader topic. The key is that my column grew out of a very specific statistic that I saw in a blog post by Marcel LeJeune, who is assistant director of the massive campus ministry program at St. Mary's Catholic Center across from Texas A&M University. He wrote:

We know that of those that no longer identify as Catholic 79% do so by the age of 23 (Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, Page 33). So, young adults should be the focal point of our efforts and if we want to get even more narrow, then the best way to influence young people is to start with the most influential ones in their age group, the leaders. Most who end up becoming influential leaders will go to college. Finally, since 90% of Catholic college students go to non-Catholic schools, we MUST focus our energies on continued growth and dynamic evangelization in campus ministries at non-Catholic schools (mostly public).

Now, that reference to young Catholics leaving the church by age 23 made me, as a journalist, think -- yes, here we go again -- about one of the interesting wrinkles in that "Nones on the Rise" study back in 2012, by the Pew Research Center. Let's jump back in time to a column I wrote about that:

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