Politics

Washington Post looks at Kentucky same-sex marriage wars, sees only two armies

Washington Post looks at Kentucky same-sex marriage wars, sees only two armies

If you are following the mainstream media coverage of the case of Kim Davis, the elected clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, then you have basically been reading about a dispute with two sides.

On one side are the gay citizens who want to get married in this county. On the other side is an outspoken Christian who, as an act of Christian conscience, has stopped handing out marriage licenses to anyone, rather than be forced to hand them out to those planning same-sex unions.

The mainstream coverage has been very vivid and full of human details. However, there is an interesting void in the stories that I am seeing in elite media (and let's not even talk about television). 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?

Now, let's look at some of the Washington Post coverage, starting with an update filed late in yesterday's news cycle. The following passage gives readers both a status report in the standoff and a look at the drama on the scene:

U.S. District Judge David Bunning has set a hearing for 11 a.m. Thursday to determine whether to hold Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt, a charge that could carry with it a fine or jail time.
Davis’s decision came on a day of heated protests here. Dozens of supporters -- and critics -- of the county’s elected clerk gathered outside the courthouse, and at times inside the lobby, as gay couples tried, unsuccessfully, to get marriage licenses. After one couple was rebuffed, Davis emerged from a back office to explain that she would not be issuing any licenses.

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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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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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Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, I wrote a column reflecting on covering the "storm of the century" for The Christian Chronicle:

NEW ORLEANS — I see the faces, and the memories come rushing back.

Since Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, I’ve made repeated trips to report on the faith and resiliency of God’s people — both victims and volunteers. 

I’ve lost track of the exact number of times I’ve traveled to New Orleans. However, the faces — and experiences — remain fresh in my mind.

From my personal experience in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, I know the "faith-based FEMA" were a key piece of the recovery — in some cases, the key piece.

In Katrina's wake, thousands of volunteers motivated by faith in God housed, fed and clothed evacuees, cleaned up muck and debris, rebuilt homes and businesses and helped in a million other ways.

Given that, I am curious to see if God will show up at all in the anniversary coverage of Katrina making landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

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The Los Angeles Times presents the Rev. Al Sharpton, with zero signs of God or faith at all

The Los Angeles Times presents the Rev. Al Sharpton, with zero signs of God or faith at all

A few years ago, I got out a notepad and wrote a list of the "seven deadly sins" of religion writing in the modern mainstream press. 

Right near the top of the list is the tendency among reporters to assume that all religious issues are, in reality, political issues when push comes to shove. It's a kind of militant materialism that assumes the political life is the ultimate reality for all people, since that happens to be the case for legions of people (but not all) in elite newsrooms.

It is especially easy to see this principle at work in mainstream news coverage of the African-American church. Am I the only person that has noticed that major news organizations have started omitting the term "the Rev." when printing the names of many black clergy?

Of course, it must be noted that clergy have -- for generations -- provided crucial public leadership for the entire black community, including in politics. The fact that this is true does not, however, mean that the work these pastors do in the public square has nothing to do with their faith and their role as church leaders.

This brings us to the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Pentecostal preacher turned Baptist whose high-profile work in politics and mass-media career have made him a controversial figure, including among African-American clergy. It is common to hear his critics say that he doesn't deserve the title "the Rev." -- which, in my opinion, only makes it more important for journalists to provide basic facts about who this man is, what he believes and to whom he relates as a minister. The bottom line: He is ordained and he is making faith claims, as well as political claims, when he speaks and/or preaches.

The Los Angeles Times times recently offered up a lengthy news feature on Sharpton that is a perfect, five-star example of all of this. Click on this link and do some searching. Here are some words you will not find in this piece -- "God," "Jesus," "faith," "religion," "Bible" and "ordained." The only reason "church" appears is that there are descriptions of rallies held in churches.

Is this a comment about Sharpton, the Los Angeles Times or both?

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Does 'death with dignity' actually involve indignities for doctors and patients?

Does 'death with dignity' actually involve indignities for doctors and patients?

This notable and quotable line from William Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun” is a good slogan for religion newswriting: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The U.S. Supreme Court supposedly settled the abortion issue in 1973, but -- to the astonishment of many including the Religion Guy -- in 2015  it remains unsettled, all entangled with the presidential campaign, the U.S. Congress and several state legislatures. Will the court’s similar legalization of same-sex marriage be settled, or still unsettled, 42 years from now?

Another issue that’s stirring renewed media interest is physician-assisted suicide, a.k.a. “death with dignity.” Reasons for wariness about this growing practice are raised in two important recent articles that journalists interested in this topic should know about.

New Yorker staff writer Rachel Aviv offered “The Death Treatment: When should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?” Her even-handed 8,700-worder in the June 22 issue largely treated the experience in Belgium. Stateside, an August 18 Wall Street Journal opinion piece by William L. Toffler, professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, had  this strong headline: “A Doctor-Assisted Disaster for Medicine.”

Anticipate more of this. In the wake of the planned suicide in Oregon last Nov. 1 of young brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard, featured in People magazine and other media, legislators in 23 states have introduced new bills to let doctors help patients kill themselves.

Thus far, U.S. doctors have gained that power by legislation only in Oregon (in 1997), Washington state (2009), and Vermont (2013), while a 2009 court edict shields Montana physicians from prosecution.

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Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Days after former President Jimmy Carter shared details of his battle with cancer, reporters followed the nation's most famous Sunday school teacher to church Sunday.

As I clicked news story links, here's what I wanted to know: Would news reports reflect the actual biblical content of Carter's lesson?

CNN's Sunday story opens like this:

Plains, Georgia (CNN) They arrived at this sleepy Georgia town in droves, from places as far away as Africa. Some spent the night in line just to ensure a seat.
Ordinary fare, if it were a rock concert or major sporting event -- but not for a Sunday school Bible talk.
But this is no ordinary Sunday school: Its teacher has a Secret Service detail.
For decades, former President Jimmy Carter has been teaching Sunday school here at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
But this Sunday's lesson -- Carter's 689th, according to his grandson Jason -- commanded attention far beyond the worshippers who packed the pews and overflow rooms in the wake of the revelation that the 90-year-old Carter is battling cancer.

OK, that lede sets the scene.

But what was the lesson about?

There are 31,101 verses in the Bible. Surely Carter referenced at least one or two of them. But CNN mentions not a single passage — either directly or indirectly.

As tmatt noted here at GetReligion the other day, religion is key to who Carter is.

 

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Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

For several decades, one of the primary goals of those who run American newsrooms has been (and justifiably so, from my point of view) increasing the number of mainstream journalists who are African-American, Latino, Asian, Native Americans and part of other minority groups, defined by race.

At the same time, there have been less publicized debates -- mostly behind the scenes -- about the need to bring more intellectual and cultural diversity into our newsrooms. As one journalist friend of mine once put it, what's the use of bringing in more African-Americans, Latinos, etc., if they all basically went to the same schools as everyone else and have the same set of beliefs between their ears?

You can see these two issues collide in William McGowan's the much-debated 2003 book, "Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism." He argues that years of diversity training in American newsrooms has actually made them more elitist and narrow, purging many professionals who come from blue-collar and non-urban backgrounds.

Before you write that theory off as conservative whining, what was that statement near the end of the famous New York Times self-study entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust (.pdf)"?

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason -- to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.
The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.
We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). 

And also: 

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Jimmy Carter calmly faces death, for reasons that some scribes still find mysterious

Jimmy Carter calmly faces death, for reasons that some scribes still find mysterious

Whatever you think of the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the odds are good that those views have now blended into some kind of appreciation for some of the work accomplished during his long and complex ex-presidency. Note the double use of the word "some" in that sentence.

However, even the most negative evaluations of his work usually show some respect for what Carter has done with a Bible in one hand and a hammer in the other, working on countless projects at home and abroad to help the least of these.

Carter's Baptist beliefs have, of course, continued to evolve, moving him to the doctrinal left on most moral and cultural issues. But there are still times when you can hear him arguing with himself on these matters. Soon after he left the White House, I interviewed him and watched him interact with a group of Lutheran young people meeting in Denver. He began crying as he described the frustrations he felt trying to place any kinds of legal limits on abortion in America, but he kept trying because he knew what science said about when life begins, as well as what his faith told him to do.

Like him or not, Carter is the man who made history by pulling millions of evangelical Protestants into the political arena, either to support him or to oppose him.

This brings me to the mainstream media coverage of Carter's press conference dealing with his current battle with cancer, including small melanoma cancers in his brain. Watch the video at the top of this post and then think about this Twitter comment by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post (who, of course, used to write for GetReligion):

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