Podcasts

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

If you listen carefully to this week Crossroads podcast (click right here to do so), you can hear question after question passing by, questions that simply cannot be answered at this time -- yet questions that could be hooks for major news stories later on.

Here's the big question, one that I asked on a radio show several months ago and discussed again in a post this week: Will the principalities and powers at the NCAA choose (as is their right as leaders of a private, voluntary association) to eject religious private colleges and universities that (as currently is their right as private, voluntary associations) ask students, faculty and staff to live under lifestyle covenants that, among other doctrines, affirm that sex outside of traditional marriage is sin?

OK, let's back up and ask an important question that precedes that monster: Will major American businesses -- the economic giants that sponsor events like bowl games and the hoops Final Four -- hear the cries of LGBT activists and begin pressuring the NCAA to make this change?

Maybe there is a question in front of THAT one, such as: At what point will ESPN or some other force in the entertainment industrial complex begin what amounts to a "go to the mattresses" campaign to force this question on the NCAA?

So, the questions keep coming.

What will the leaders of the big religiously conservative private schools that are in the cross hairs on this issue -- think Baylor and Brigham Young -- do when forced to make a choice between the faiths that define them (and religious supporters with children and money) and the prestige and money connected with big-time athletics?

Yes, host Todd Wilken pressed me -- as a Baylor alum -- to offer an educated guess on what I thought Baylor leaders would do when push comes to shove.

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On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

So we have another major document from Pope Francis, with yet another wave of coverage in which the pope's intentions -- just as much as his words -- are the focus of a tsunami of media coverage.

Of course, "Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family)" wasn't just another 60,000-word church document. This apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis followed tumultuous synods on issues linked to marriage, sex and family life. The stakes were higher.

After reading waves of the coverage, and commentaries by all kinds of Catholics, I was struck by the degree to which journalists continue to view the work of Pope Francis through a lens that was perfectly captured in the following Associated Press statement (note the lack of attribution) about an earlier papal media storm:

Francis has largely shied away from emphasizing church teaching on hot-button issues, saying the previous two popes made the teaching well-known and that he wants to focus on making the church a place of welcome, not rules.

The "Amoris Laetitia" coverage offered more of the same formula, which can be summed up as,"The pope didn't change any church documents, but it's clear that he's trying to change such and such (wink, wink)." Thus, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) returned to a familiar question: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever, stealth-mode liberal Machiavelli?

To be perfectly frank with you, I was intrigued by the degree to which traditional Catholics were divided on this issue, in their discussions of this document -- especially on the issue of Catholics receiving Communion after second, civil marriages. I am always intrigued when conservatives take stands that make other conservatives nervous and liberals take stands that make other liberals nervous.

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The crux of the religion-news business in the age of the World Wide Web

The crux of the religion-news business in the age of the World Wide Web

Four years ago, I traveled to Kiev to take part in a gathering of journalists from across Europe, especially Eastern Europe. The reason we made the trip (I went because of my role in The Media Project) to Ukraine was to talk about faith and journalism -- especially the lives of believers who work in mainstream media.

That really wasn't the topic that dominated conversations, both in the hallways and in our formal discussion groups.

Reporter after reporter, editor after editor, talked about the growing number of attempts in their nations to carry on with independent journalism despite the failure of digital advertising programs to deliver the financial goods. The readers were there. The ad-based business model was failing. Everyone was seeking some kind of compromise with the new digital realities.

What was the alternative? People were trying to find ways to hook journalists up to support from non-profit groups, even religious groups, to provide critical financial support for these online projects -- but with few, if any, editorial ties that would bind.

You can probably tell where I am going with this. Every year, I write a column in early April linked to some kind of religion-news centered event or topic. I do this as close as possible to the anniversary of the creation of my weekly "On Religion" syndicated column, which began 28 years ago, this week, with Scripps Howard and then switched to the Universal syndicate.

This year, I wrote about the symbolic and practical importance of the Crux project in online Catholic news, which began with The Boston Globe and just -- after the Globe cut the financial lifelines -- now continues in a partnership with the Knights of Columbus. This was also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

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Why ask doctrinal questions? Well, do you want to cover debates about religion or not?

Why ask doctrinal questions? Well, do you want to cover debates about religion or not?

I realize this may sound like a rather obvious question. However, after 40 years of religion-beat work (in one form or another) I still think that it's relevant.

The question: To cover religion news events and trends, does it help if journalists know enough about religion to ask detailed questions about, well, "religion"? When I say "religion" I am thinking about details of doctrine, tradition and history.

In other words, when covering Iraq over the past decade or two, would it have helped to know the doctrinal differences between Sunni Muslims and the Shiites? If covering debates between members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traditional Christians, would it help to know something about the doctrine of God and the Holy Trinity? If covering debates about citizenship in Israel, do you need to know something -- doctrinally speaking -- about Reform Judaism and its emergence out of Orthodox Judaism in Europe?

This topic came up in this week's "Crossroads" podcast because of the recent GetReligion post about a nasty split inside a "Lutheran" megachurch in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, in the heart of what has long been known as the "Lutheran Belt." Click here to tune that in.

The problem was that a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press never got around to telling readers which brand of Lutheranism was found in this specific megachurch. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune report clarified this big denominational question in its lede and in a follow-up paragraph a few lines later.

Did this picky detail really matter? Only if readers wanted to know what the fighting was actually about.

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Did a familiar religion-news 'Blind Spot' shape coverage of ISIS genocide declaration?

Did a familiar religion-news 'Blind Spot' shape coverage of ISIS genocide declaration?

Back in 2008, I was part of the editorial team that produced a book called "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" for Oxford University Press. The whole idea was to look at a number of big national and international news stories and demonstrate that journalists could not do an accurate, informed, balanced job covering them without taking religion seriously.

I know. That wasn't a shocking thesis for a project linked to this website. What is shocking, nearly a decade later, is that most of the book's case studies remain amazingly relevant.

Hang in there with me on this. I'm providing background on the discussion that host Todd Wilken and I had during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in). This was recorded soon after the declaration by Secretary of State John Kerry that, yes, the Islamic State was committing "genocide" in its slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious minority groups. This followed a 393-0 vote on a U.S. House of Representatives resolution on this topic.

As you would expect, mainstream news coverage focused on the politics that framed this issue. This story was all about Republicans trying to hurt Democrats in an election year, "conservative" religious groups trying to embarrass the White House, etc., etc.

Same old, same old. Politics is real, while religion is not all that important. For example, why not talk to the leaders -- here in America -- of churches that are directly linked to the flocks being massacred in Iraq and Syria? For Christians from the Middle East, there is more to this tragedy than election-year politics.

As I noted in a GetReligion post on this topic -- " 'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians" -- the Kerry announcement received very low-key coverage, which is probably what the U.S. State Department wanted. The story then vanished from the mainstream press, while coverage in religious-market outlets continued.

This is, you see, a "conservative" news story that gets covered at places like Fox News. But why is that? Human rights used to be a liberal cause. Correct?

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Private religion? It's time for reporters to ask factual questions about candidates' faith

Private religion? It's time for reporters to ask factual questions about candidates' faith

When I was working my way into journalism, soon after the cooling of the earth's crust, the primary argument editors used when justifying thin coverage of trends and events linked to religion was that this faith was a private matter and, thus, not news.

Then Jimmy Carter started talking about being "born again" and the Religious Right emerged and things changed. Everyone knew that politics was real. Thus, it follows that religion must be real to the same degree that it affects politics.

When I was doing my University of Illinois graduate project (click here for The Quill cover story) I talked to scores of editors and asked why journalists tended to avoid covering religion news. I heard two answers over and over: (1) Religion is too boring and (2) religion is too controversial.

There's the rub, I have said ever since: There are just too many boring, controversial religion-news stories out there and they don't seem to want to go away.

In this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), Todd Wilken and I talked about that old "private religion" argument and how it faded over the years. These days, however, political-beat reporters face another question: If major figures in the public square keep talking about their faith and their religious convictions, to what degree should journalists investigate those claims?

In other words, to be blunt, why not ask politicians who keep talking about their faith some specific questions? Such as: "Where do you worship?" "Who is your minister?" "How often do you attend?" "Can we see tax records about your charitable giving?" "Who are the religious authors and thinkers who have most influenced your beliefs and actions?" I could go on.

In other words, if a public figure often says that he/she is an evangelical, or a Catholic, or whatever, can reporters ask for some journalistic material to support that statement?

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An old GetReligion question: Why doesn't the press offer more coverage of liberal faith?

An old GetReligion question: Why doesn't the press offer more coverage of liberal faith?

From Day 1, your GetReligionistas have argued that the mainstream press in American doesn't do a very good job of covering the religious beliefs of people in doctrinally liberal faith traditions.

Every now and then I hear from people who think I am joking whenever I say this (and I made this point once again during this week's Crossroads podcast, with host Todd Wilken).

I'm serious. First, let's do the obvious and look at this in political terms. Run an online search for "Religious Right," inside quote marks, and you get something like 680,000 hits. Run the same search in Google News and, at the moment, you get 57,100 hits.

Now do the same with "religious left" and you get 91,900 in the general search and 4,500 in the "news" search. Now, surf through that "news" file and you'll find that very, very few of these references are in the news pages of mainstream publications. Most are in commentary pieces.

Why this massive gap in information and coverage?

Part of the problem, of course, is that the "Religious Right" is viewed as a political movement -- thus the uppercase "R" style. We're talking about something unique and dangerous and part of the real world, which is politics, of course.

There really isn't a "religious left" in the eyes of most reporters because liberal, or progressive, oldline churches are not new and unique. They are normal, "mainline" churches and, on their own (especially the Episcopalians), make lots of news -- especially when changing their doctrines and practices to move to the doctrinal and cultural left. Glance through this list of the annual Religion Newswriters Association poll to pick the year's Top 10 news stories and you will see what I mean.

So news consumers are hearing about the Religious Right all the time, creating a feedback loop that keeps producing news coverage.

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Media struggle to grasp what friends (including females) meant to St. John Paul II

Media struggle to grasp what friends (including females) meant to St. John Paul II

If you know much about the young Polish actor and philosopher Karol Wojtyla, then you know that his path to the Catholic priesthood was quite unusual, surrounded as we was by the horrors of the Nazi occupation and then the chains of a puppet regime marching to a Soviet drummer.

In his massive authorized biography of the St. Pope John Paul II, "Witness to Hope," George Weigel argued that a key to understanding Wojtyla is to grasp the degree to which his faith and spiritual disciplines were shaped by the lives of strong laypeople and his many friends -- male and female -- who surrounded him in academia, the underground theater and similar settings.

Once he became a priest, he spent years as a campus minister working with young adults during his graduate studies and beyond.

In other words, if you want to picture the life and times of the future Pope John Paul II (and you want to understand the material covered in this week's "Crossroads" podcast) then it's wrong to picture him in some kind of pre-seminary ecclesiastical assembly line, surrounded by other young men headed to holy orders and, yes, celibacy.

Instead, picture him trying to explain his priestly vocation to his girlfriend. Picture him carrying a canoe on a camping trip, explaining Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality to college students of both genders (creating friendships that in many cases lasted his whole life) and holding Mass as far as possible from Communist police. Check out this sprawling made-for-TV bio-pic starring John Voight and Cary Elwes.

In other words, the more you know about Karol Wojtyla, then the less likely you are to be stunned by the wink-wink BBC reports about his years of "secret letters" to a female philosopher friend.

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Alabama Muslims: Feature on converts doesn't ask many (or any) follow-up questions

Alabama Muslims: Feature on converts doesn't ask many (or any) follow-up questions

Confession time: I used to write stories almost as wide-eyed as yesterday's feature on Muslim converts in Alabama.

I wrote up Muslim criticisms of Christianity. I retold their feelings about baleful attitudes from other Americans. I did, however, try to look critically at their claims of up to seven million believers in the U.S.

But see, it's two decades later, and mainstream media should have moved on. And I suggest that the Alabama Media Group, with seven regional editions, carries a heavy responsibility for perceptive reporting, not just writing up notes.

This particular article starts as a sensitive, detail-rich feature of the Alabaman Muslims: how they live, how they view presidential candidates, how they think other Americans view them. Al.com even finds a counter-intuitive lede:

Allie Larbi sounds like a Donald Trump supporter.
The Mobile resident supports building a giant wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and scrapping birthright citizenship. Syrian refugees, in her own words, should either be blocked from entering the United States or let in only to be housed in isolated refugee camps.
"I have what I like to turn around and call American views," said Larbi. "This is a great country and it needs to stay that way."

Larbi naturally takes offense at some of Trump's other statements, like "mandatory registration for Muslims, a ban on Muslim travel to the United States, or shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood."  We'll get back to her in a moment.

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