Same-sex Marriage

Hard-hitting journalism on Baptist church's acceptance of same-sex marriage? Not exactly

Hard-hitting journalism on Baptist church's acceptance of same-sex marriage? Not exactly

"Hard-hitting religion journalism," said the subject line on an email from a GetReligion reader.

Methinks that reader enjoys the fine art of sarcasm.

The friendly correspondent shared a link to a front-page story in today's Greenville News in South Carolina.

The story concerns a Baptist church — which disassociated itself from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999 — deciding to embrace same-sex marriage.

At 1,900 words, the Gannett newspaper's report on "One church's journey" is long enough to be considered in-depth. But hard-hitting journalism it most definitely is not.

If newspapers wrote love songs instead of news articles, this is how one might go — complete with the reporter tweeting unabashedly about the church's "amazing transformation."

Here's the first verse:

The conversation at First Baptist Church Greenville took place well before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to legalize same-sex marriages.
The dialogue was bold — particularly for one of downtown Greenville’s influential legacy churches that in its earliest years served as a birthplace for revered Southern Baptist institutions.
Would the congregation be willing to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church?
To ordain gay ministers?

 

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Indianapolis Star tries to listen, but misses BIG question: What was the florist really saying?

Indianapolis Star tries to listen, but misses BIG question: What was the florist really saying?

So the First Amendment battles in Indiana roll on.

Apparently, someone at the Indianapolis Star decided that it was time to listen to one or two people on the pro-religious liberty side of this debate, allowing them to tell their stories in their own words. The symbolic hook for this news story was the town of Goshen, a small community containing a number of plot lines.

However, before we get to one of the key voices in this piece -- florist Sally Stutsman -- let's look at one or two crucial pieces of framing material. As always, it is crucial who gets to define the terms of the debate and who, well, gets to use the scare quotes. Another key player is a conservative activist named Eric Miller of Advance America, who at a crucial point in the story declined to be interviewed. Now, read the following carefully:

Advocates are gearing up to push for statewide inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes -- what they see as a next step in the LGBT rights fight -- to ensure those characteristics cannot be reasons for firing people from their jobs, denying housing or education opportunities, or refusing services.
Others, including Miller, contend that would give LGBT Hoosiers “special rights” at the expense of the devoutly religious who oppose same-sex marriages.

Ah, "special rights." What might that term mean? Truth be told, we don't know what the term means in this case because the Star team did not ask anyone on the moral and cultural right to define it. We just know, because of the scare quotes, that this is a bad thing.

In my experience, the term "special rights" is usually used by conservatives to say that they do not believe that homosexuality is the same as race, gender, age, disability or religion, defining characteristics that have always defined protected, or "special," classes of citizens.

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Did GOP candidates really avoid moral and religious talk when courting black voters?

Did GOP candidates really avoid moral and religious talk when courting black voters?

If you follow trends among African-American voters, you know that they tend to be more conservative on moral and social issues than other key players in the modern Democratic Party coalition. There have been some small shifts among younger African-Americans on issues such as abortion and gay rights, but the basic trends can still be seen.

So, African-American voters are more culturally conservative than most other Democrats, but they have remained very loyal when venturing into the voting booths -- especially in the Barack Obama era.

But one other factor should be mentioned. If Republicans are going to find any black voters that are willing to cross over and ACT on their more conservative values, it is highly likely that those voters will be found among those who frequent church pews. That isn't surprising, is it?

Thus, I would like GetReligion readers to dig into the following Washington Post story that focuses on attempts by GOP candidates -- including Dr. Ben Carson -- to recruit some additional black voters to their cause. The headline gives zero clue as to what this very long political story is about: "Clinton takes a swipe at Jeb Bush’s ‘Right to Rise.' "

What are readers looking for?

Well, personally, I find it interesting that the story contains, as best I can tell, zero references to religious, moral and cultural issues. Even in the material from Jeb Bush. Even in the references to the remarks of Carson, who is, of course, an African-American religious conservative who rarely gives a speech without talking about social issues.

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Next in the Sexual Revolution news: movement to legalize polygamy and 'polyamory'

Next in the Sexual Revolution news: movement to legalize polygamy and 'polyamory'

It didn’t take long. 

Four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s epochal 5-4 decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, a Montana threesome applied for a polygamous marriage license. If denied, the trio intends to file suit to topple the law against bigamy. Husband Nathan Collier was featured on “Sister Wives,” so “reality TV” now meets legal and political reality.

More significant was a July 21 op-ed piece in The New York Times, that influential arbiter of acceptable discourse and the future agenda for America's cultural left. University of Chicago law professor William Baude, a “contributing opinion writer” for the paper, wrote, “If there is no magic power in opposite sexes when it comes to marriage, is there any magic power in the number two?” To him, “there is a very good argument” that “polyamorous relationships should be next.”

Baude was a former clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, who warned against precisely that possibility in his opinion for the court’s four dissenters. Baude observes that tacticians needed to downplay the polygamy aspect that could have harmed the same-sex marriage cause, but with the Supreme Court victory this next step can be proposed candidly.

The savvy Washington Post had a solid polygamy analysis soon after the Court’s ruling.

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Mormons, Southern Baptists and the new math facing the Boy Scouts of America

Mormons, Southern Baptists and the new math facing the Boy Scouts of America

When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist kid in Texas, it was almost unheard of for a healthy Southern Baptist congregation not to have a Boy Scouts troop for boys in its neighborhood. At the same time, almost all of these churches had a Royal Ambassadors program, a Southern Baptist-sponsored project built completely on biblical themes and promoting national and international missions work.

In other words, while the RAs were covering openly Christian material, the Boy Scouts were viewed as a semi-secular, but faith-friendly, organization that would not conflict with what the church was teaching.

That was a long, long time ago. I was shocked -- as the gay Boy Scouts coverage began to rise two or three years ago -- to discover that only 4,000 or so Southern Baptist Churches in America still had Boy Scout troops.

I thought of those numbers when reading a very interesting comment, by a long-time reader who is a Mormon, on Bobby's recent survey of coverage of the Boy Scouts vote to allow noncelibate gays to hold leadership roles in local troops, while also allowing religious groups to opt out of that change. John Lambert wrote:

In this article we learn that one of the LDS Church's issues is that outside of the US there are very few places it has managed to set up a working relationship with the boy scouts.
On the other hand, journalists have to bear in mind that the LDS relationship to the boy scouts is different than some groups. The LDs Church uses the boy scouts as the activity arm for the Aaronic priesthood. It is intertwined with the religious mission of the Church very deeply.

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European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

One would think that a major gathering of progressive Catholic leaders, a choir of voices seeking major changes in ancient church doctrines on marriage and sexuality, would draw lots of coverage from the mainstream press.

Yes, readers will obviously need to keep their eyes on the work of some of the official journalistic voices of the Catholic left. And it might pay to set a Google News alert for the following terms -- "Pontifical Gregorian University," "German," "French," "Swiss," "family" and "divorce." Including the loaded search term "shadow council" is optional.

So, what's up? Flash back to the news about the strangely under-covered May 25  gathering of progressive European Catholic bishops and insiders (including journalists) to discuss proposed changes in doctrines linked to marriage, family and sexuality. What happened? It's hard to say, since many of the journalists did not report about the event that they attended.

Now, Andrea Gagliarducci of the conservative Catholic News Agency, has a report online based on the texts of some of the "interventions" presented behind those closed doors.

This sounds like news to me. Yes, it's one take on these materials and the lede is pushy. However, this is why it's important for the mainstream press to dive in and -- trigger warning -- do some basic journalism, talking to articulate, qualified voices on both sides of the current doctrinal warfare over sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Read on.

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LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.

When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."

In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.

The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?

That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.

As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.

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Did The Tennessean mean to capture a key nuance in the post-Obergefell debates?

Did The Tennessean mean to capture a key nuance in the post-Obergefell debates?

If you set out to pick a state that was the opposite of my old state of Maryland, in terms of politics and culture, it would have to be Tennessee, where I live now.

Maryland is a historically Catholic state that has evolved -- other than in some rural corners and in most African-American church life -- into an archetypal Blue State.

Meanwhile, the political history of Tennessee has been rooted in a populist and often culturally conservative brand of Democratic Party politics, until the rise of the modern Republican Party. I mean, as a U.S. senator, Al Gore had an 84 percent National Right to Life approval rating. East Tennessee has always been heavily Republican, dating back to the Civil War in some parts of the mountains. But these are not, as a rule, Republicans who automatically hate the government. Can you say Tennessee Valley Authority?

This brings me to an interesting story that ran the other day in The Tennessean, the historically liberal Gannett newspaper in Nashville, the state capital. Whether the editors knew it or not, this story contains material that describes one of the key religious liberty debates taking place -- but rarely covered by journalists -- after the 5-4 Obergefell ruling backing same-sex marriage.

As you would expect, there are Republicans in Tennessee who pretty much want to blow up the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, the story notes early on:

Many Tennessee Republicans aren’t hiding their anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the country.
They're adamant they need to respond, either in a way they feel will champion states' rights or religious liberties. Some lawmakers want the state to consider allowing employees who object to same-sex marriage to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

There is that big idea yet again, that citizens who oppose same-sex marriage want the right to -- vaguely defined -- "refuse to serve same-sex couples." Hold that thought.

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Liberty University and all those Pell Grants: Is this a topic for news or opinion?

Liberty University and all those Pell Grants: Is this a topic for news or opinion?

Over the years, your GetReligionistas have developed some logos to signal to readers that there are certain types of stories that we critique over and over and over. No, we haven't created a Kellerism logo yet, but who knows?

The "Got news?" logo us used when we see a really interesting news story in alternative media and, as veteran reporters, we think to ourselves, "Why the heck isn't anyone in the mainstream press covering that interesting (and in some cases major) story?"

Then there is the logo out front on this post, which says, "What is this?" If you read news online, you know that we are in an age in which the lines between hard news and commentary are getting thinner and thinner. Frequently, I see pieces marked "analysis" that contain far more clear attributions and sources than in "hard news" stories elsewhere. We regularly see "news" features that, a decade ago, would have been featured on op-ed pages.

Then there is the whole issue of hard-news reporters writing "objective" stories and then turning around and firing away on Twitter with edgy comments that would make an editorial-page editor blush. The goal, for many reporters, is to build an online "brand" and one way you do that is by telling readers what you really think.

Then there is that other nasty equation looming in the background during these financially troubled times in the journalism. You know the one: Opinion is cheep; information is expensive.

This brings me to a really interesting "Acts of Faith" piece at The Washington Post that ran under this headline: "Liberty University, a hub of conservative politics, owes rapid growth to federal student loans."

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