Religion

Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Mitt Romney is in the news again, which means it's time for people to argue about whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, well, you know, normal and safe and whatever.

This leads us to a really interesting question linked to a New York Times piece that ran the other day: Is it a mistake when journalists print a factually inaccurate statement about a religious believer, yet there is evidence that they were quoting -- without saying they were quoting -- the believer himself?

The discussion starts here:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.
Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.
Three years ago, Mr. Romney’s tortured approach to his religion -- a strategy of awkward reluctance and studied avoidance that all but walled off a free-flowing discussion of his biography -- helped doom his campaign. (The subject is still so sensitive that many, including the prominent Republican, would only discuss it on condition that they not be identified.)

Veteran religion writers will spot the problem quickly: Mormons don't have "pastors," if that noun is a reference to ordained clergy who work for the church as their calling and vocation.

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Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Now here is an interesting thing to ponder. What we have here is a Baltimore Sun story about a controversy in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland that does not appear, at first glance to have anything to do with evolving sexual ethics or alcohol. The latter, of course, is a reference to the various charges brought against Bishop Heather Cook, including multiple charges of drunken driving, after the car that she was driving veered into a popular bike lane and hit a cyclist, killing a 41-year-old father of two.

No, this story has to do with a shrinking parish and conflict about the sale of a valuable piece of property that includes a church sanctuary. Thus, what we have here is a Baltimore-area story linked to a much larger national and even global trend about what religious leaders can do with properties held by flocks that are, to be blunt, not producing their fair share of converts and/or babies.

The issue, of course, is whether the Sun editors know about this demographics-is-destiny connection and whether they want to cover it. It is clear, however, that they know their local diocese has major financial problems (even before the DUI bishop case) and that the parishioners at the tiny Church of the Ascension allege that their property is being sold, against their will, because of that. Thus, readers are told:

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Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Seems like everyone is into mergers; why not Catholics? A new Washington Post story surveys the Catholic pro-life movement and concludes that it's merging with other social movements, like homelessness and immigration reform.

The story says the merging is a response to Pope Francis' admonition to stop "obsessing" about abortion. Whether that's true, though, is questionable. More on that later.

For now, some of the good stuff. The article catalogs a buoyant mood among Catholic pro-lifers during the recent March for Life: cataloguing a "belief that U.S. culture is turning in their favor."

Among the perceptive facets are an observation that "the March for Life participants were overwhelmingly young and religious." The article also reports on a separate pro-life march in Southern California, "highlighting not only abortion but also homelessness, foster care and elderly rights."

And here are a nice two "nut" paragraphs:

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Frame game returns: Yes, yet another blast of biased language on abortion and politics

Frame game returns: Yes, yet another blast of biased language on abortion and politics

This past week, on the day of the annual March For Life, I wrote a post that raised a few questions about how The Washington Post team framed debate about the GOP retreat (surprise, surprise) on a bill that would have protected unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy, right on the front door of viability if born prematurely.

Yes, I just used that wording again, to help underline the obvious.

... You saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.
That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate. ...
Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate?

That post was noted and, for the most part applauded, by the online site for the National Right to Life News -- which wasn't so sure that words such as "protect" and "expanded" were, as I put it, "loaded."

Yes, that is loaded language, in mainstream media. Thus, let me note that my point was not that I wanted mainstream reporters to replace biased pro-abortion-rights language with language that favored those who oppose  abortion and/or favor expanded restrictions on late-term abortions. No, I wanted journalists to stop and think about the language that they were using and to think strategically about how they could frame this issue in a way that was accurate, fair and balanced for believers on both sides of this hot-button issue.

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What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

A hearty "Amen!" in this corner for the key points in Mark Silk's Religion News Service take down of a really, really strange Time magazine interpretation of a poll on the Bible and religion.

Let's let the man preach:

This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.
OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?

Silk, with justification, notes that this interpretation slants everything away from cultural Catholicism and in the Bible-driven direction of Protestantism and, especially, evangelical Protestantism. That's accurate. However, I would argue that Time missed at least two other crucial points in this tone-deaf piece.

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Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Marcus Borg, by all accounts, blended a nice-guy approach with blunt denials of nearly every historic belief about Jesus. That often drove conservative believers to distraction, of course. But not mainstream media, which helped the Bible scholar spread his ideas for decades.

Much of that enthusiasm also marked the obits on Borg, who died Wednesday at 72. Among the most-republished obits is the detailed, 860-word obit from the Religion News Service.

RNS notes that Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which "helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament." The story correctly calls Borg a "liberal theologian and Bible scholar."

But it appears subtly to take sides in the debates:

Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called 'quest for the historical Jesus,' the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.

Assuming that there is, in fact, myth in the Gospels puts a spin on the term. In another narrative tilt, RNS later says Borg was a "hero to Christian progressives and a target for conservatives." Borg's opponents, then, are against progress.

And although the obit quotes a couple of scholars saying they disagreed with Borg, it doesn't give the what or why of the disagreements. The article mentions Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, who often lectured with Borg and even co-authored a book with him. A live quote would have been a good idea. Otherwise, it's like recapping a horse race by talking mainly about one horse.

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Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs? (Plus, the Religion Guy visits 'Crossroads')

Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs? (Plus, the Religion Guy visits 'Crossroads')

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out Richard Ostling's first "Crossroads" podcast, focusing on coverage of Islam and violence. Listen in right here, or subscribe to the podcasts at iTunes.

TOM SAYS:

I am confused when the Bible talks about God creating the world in seven days but there is no evidence of humans living with dinosaurs.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This problem arises if “creationism” controls Bible interpretation. That term has come to identify those Protestants whose strictly literal reading of the Bible’s Book of Genesis requires a “young earth.” That is, if God created the cosmos and all species 10,000 years ago at most, then humanity and dinosaurs must have lived at the same time.

“Creationism” is a common but simplistic, misleading label because multitudes who worship God as the creator of all nature also accept standard geology’s vastly longer time frame, based on radiometric and other dating techniques of the past two centuries. By this reckoning, dinosaurs first inhabited Earth some 230 million years ago and became extinct 65.5 million years ago, eons before humanity appeared. The most recent report last November said a dinosaur find in southwestern Alberta, Canada, may be 80 million years old.

“Old earth creationists” believe scientists’ long chronology readily fits with faithfulness to the Bible’s account of origins, but criticize Darwin’s theory of evolution. A third camp of self-identified Bible believers embraces both an old earth and “theistic evolution,” seeing Darwin’s scenario as God’s method of forming species while opposing contentions that evolution was random and without purpose or a Creator.

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Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

In a fascinating story, the Tampa Bay Times explores former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who died a decade ago after the feeding tube that sustained her for 15 years was removed.

The front-page report published Sunday focuses on Bush's decision to "err on the side of life" in a messy conflict over the fate of Schiavo, whom medical experts described as in a "persistent vegetative state."

The lede:

Tricia Rivas had never written to an elected official, but gripped with emotion, she composed an urgent email to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "Please save Terri Schiavo!" she wrote from her home in Tucson, Ariz., on March 20, 2005. "Do something before it is too late … please! Every parent is watching this drama unfold … and will remember the outcome in future elections." Schiavo would be dead by the end of the month at a hospice near St. Petersburg, but not before Bush took a series of actions that, looking back a decade later, are stunning for their breadth and audacity.
A governor who was known for his my-way-or-the-highway approach — and who rarely was challenged by fellow Republicans controlling the legislative branch — stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis in order to overrule the judicial branch for which he often showed contempt. Bush used his administration to battle in court after court, in Congress, in his brother's White House, and, even after Schiavo's death, to press a state attorney for an investigation into her husband, Michael Schiavo.
While many Republicans espouse a limited role for government in personal lives, Bush, now a leading contender for president in 2016, went all in on Schiavo.

Brief glimpses of faith and religion appear throughout the 2,200-word story. Unfortunately, those glimpses function more as flashing lights — as buzzwords — than real spotlights illuminating any kind of spiritual insight or depth.

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Washington Post's angle on crash survivor: Cue the laugh track

Washington Post's angle on crash survivor: Cue the laugh track

It's one thing when mainstream media miss a religious "ghost," a religious or spiritual angle in a news story. It's quite another when they spot a ghost, then ridicule it.

It happened when the Washington Post wrote up the story of Kaleb Whitby, the driver in eastern Oregon whose SUV was wedged between two semis in a 26-car pileup.

Whitby's vehicle crumpled like tinfoil, yet he walked away with only scratches. He told reporters that he'd prayed as the crash happened, and he thanked God for his survival.

A very normal reaction, whatever the theological issues. But the Post's writer, or his editor, rolled his eyes:

“Thank God that I’m still alive,” Whitby told the Oregonian. “Now I’ve got to go figure out why.”
Divine sources did not immediately respond to this reporter’s repeated requests for comment, so for now we’ll just have to attribute Whitby’s improbable survival to good old-fashioned luck — and no small amount of it, either.

This cynicism, thank God (if you'll pardon the expression), wasn’t the rule in the crash coverage. The report by KTVK-3TV in Arizona actually went the other way: One of the anchors said she posted the crash video on her Facebook page, adding, "This guy definitely had an angel looking over him at this moment."

The Oregonian, where the Post got much of its material, simply quoted Whitby -- "Thank God that I'm still alive. Now I've got to go figure out why" -- without a snide comment.

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