Politics

United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

Hello almost elderly GetReligion readers: How many of you out there remember the Ed Sullivan Show? Well, you may recall that his variety-show broadcasts always opened -- even if the top act consisted of people spinning plates on tall sticks -- when the host's pledge that he would be offering viewers a "really, really big show," with that final word sounding rather like "shoe."

In a strange way, that's kind of like the annual parade of summer meetings by America's various religious denominations. The agenda always looks like a big deal -- especially when arguments about sex are on the docket, as they have been for decades.

One way or another, religious leaders always manage to find a way to coat their actions in doctrinal fog, allowing the show to continue the following summer. This frustrates editors no end, especially in this age of tight travel budgets, a squeeze that for religion-beat pros began back in the mid-1980s. I'm not joking about that.

America's liberal Christian denominations have also been known to make headlines -- especially in The New York Times -- by taking prophetic actions on another hot-button issue. That would be economic or political sanctions against Israel.

One of the cutting-edge crews on this issue is the leadership of the United Church of Christ, the bleeding-edge liberal flock (remember those famous and very edgy television ads?) that includes, in its membership, President Barack Obama.

This brings us to another Times report about the ongoing debates about Israel. Read the top of this 850-word story carefully:

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

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New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

What was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney's ultimate goal in life? What drove him to do what he did?

One thing is clear, early on, in the recent New York Times news feature on the slain pastor of the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in the heart of Charleston, S.C. From the beginning, Pinckney was ambitious -- but saw his future through the lens of the church.

This figures into the simple, but touching, anecdote that opens the story. However, the story quickly takes this image and hides it behind a bigger vision -- Pinckney's work in politics showed that he was headed to "higher things."

Really now? Did the man himself see his calling in that way? Did he automatically assume that politics was a higher calling than the ordained ministry? Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

RIDGELAND, S.C. -- The morning worship had ended at St. John A.M.E. Church, and as Clementa Pinckney walked through the simple country sanctuary with its 10 rows of pews, he was startled to hear a disembodied voice. It was soft, almost whispery, and yet clearly audible. “Preach,” it said. “I have called you to preach the Gospel.”
He was only 13. But, in a story he often repeated, he discerned it to be the voice of God, and within months he stood before an audience of hundreds of African Methodist Episcopal pastors to present himself as a candidate for ministerial training. The bishop, the most powerful official in the state, asked what he hoped to become. The boy did not hesitate. “A humble bishop of the A.M.E. church,” he answered, with no hint of a smile.

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Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Earlier this week, I touted the strong coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church massacre by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

If you want one more reason to skip the national headlines and rely on the local coverage, compare how The Associated Press and The Post and Courier handled Thursday's first funerals for victims of the massacre.

This was the lede on the AP's national story:

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church.
The increased security comes amid a heated debate over the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy around the South and elsewhere. A monument to former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had the phrase "Black Lives Matter" spray-painted on it Thursday in Richmond, Virginia, the latest of several monuments to be defaced around the country.
The first funeral was for 70-year-old Ethel Lance, a Charleston native who had been a member of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for most of her life. Police say a gunman walked into the church during a Bible study June 17 and opened fire in a racially motived (sic) attack.

Yep, the national story is security. It's the Confederate flag controversy (which we discussed here at GetReligion yesterday). It really isn't the funeral or the victim, although if you keep reading, AP provides a few scarce details about each.

Meanwhile, this is the front page of today's Post and Courier:

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#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

I grew up in the South.

My dad's work with the Air Force and as a preacher kept us on the move, and my elementary school years were split among Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

As a boy, I don't know that I thought much about race. My best friend in the fourth grade was black. My parents were surprised (and proud) the first time I brought Tyra home from school because I'd talked incessantly about him but never mentioned his color.

Some of my earliest memories of my Papa and Grandma Ross — who lived in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel — involve a light blue church bus that drove all over the countryside, picking up children and taking them to worship. Only years later did I learn that not everyone had appreciated Papa and Grandma’s bus ministry. You start filling a white church’s pews with black children, especially in the 1970s, and people talk.

I trace my exposure to the Confederate flag to watching "The Dukes of Hazzard" on Friday nights and seeing General Lee — Bo and Luke Duke's red 1969 Dodge Charger with the flag emblem atop it — fly through the air.

But honestly, I've never really taken the time to confront or understand the emotions associated with the Confederate flag — on all sides. 

That is, until the issue burst into the news in the wake of last week's shooting massacre at the Emanuel  African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.:

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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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Tragedy in Charleston: Basic facts crucial in reporting on shooting deaths of nine at historic black church

Tragedy in Charleston: Basic facts crucial in reporting on shooting deaths of nine at historic black church

The headlines bombard us this morning as we — like you — try to make sense of what just happened in Charleston, S.C.

At the early stage of reporting on a tragedy such as this, it's always crucial that news reports focus on basic facts and avoid conjecture. 

The Wall Street Journal has this rundown of what's known so far:

Nine people were killed after a white man opened fire Wednesday night at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. in what police described as a “hate crime,” and police are still searching for the suspect.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said Thursday morning the suspect, a white male in his early 20s, is still at large. Local police are working with state and federal authorities to capture the suspect, who is thought to have sat for up to an hour in the church with those attending a prayer meeting before opening fire, Mr. Mullen said.
“This is a situation that is unacceptable in any society, and especially in our society, in our city,” Mr. Mullen said during a news conference. “We are committed to do whatever is needed to bring this individual to justice.”
Police are receiving tips but don’t have any solid leads about who the suspect is, Mr. Mullen said. He urged the public not to approach the suspect and to be vigilant, and if they see anything suspicious to immediately contact authorities. 

"Historic black church" is, of course, the terminology being used by most of the media to describe the location of the shooting — and that description certainly seems accurate and appropriate.

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Really? Sun says amazingly faith-free ministers visit the haunted streets in Baltimore

Really? Sun says amazingly faith-free ministers visit the haunted streets in Baltimore

Oh ye Baltimore Sun editors, what will I do without your tree-pulp product landing in my front yard every morning?

This morning I picked up the paper and, as I chomped on my bagel, I read a cutline under the A1 featured photograph that showed the Rev. Alveda King, with the Rev. C.L. Bryant of Louisiana looking on, singing as she met with some people gathered near the Billie Holiday Memorial statue here in Baltimore. The photo appeared with a story that ran with this headline: "After unrest, GOP looks to make inroads in Baltimore."

I, of course, wanted to know what the niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was singing. There is a chance that it was, "God Bless the Child," but I would think the odds are higher that she was singing some kind of hymn. Ministers have been known to do things like that, from time to time. However, the content of her song was apparently not worthy of inclusion in the cutline or the story.

Come to think of it, I would also liked to have known something about what Alveda King and Bryant had to say while they were in town. But, alas, almost everything that they said was not relevant to this news story, or, at least, the religious content of their visit was not relevant.

Why? You see, this visit was a political visit -- period. I do not deny that politics was involved, of course, because the story goes out of its way to stress the GOP ties of these two ministers and the political nature of their visit. However, might the significance of their visit have been linked to their ability to speak to African-Americans in pulpits and pews? Might the religious content of their visit have been newsworthy, even as political content?

Apparently not. Here is the top of the story:

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