Same-sex Marriage

Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Present Barack Obama's visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in the old Catonsville suburb, was an event that was both important and symbolic for a number of reasons.

For starters, violence linked to the rise of the Islamic State, as well as acts of terrorism inspired by radicalized forms of Islam, have become a bloody normality in world headlines during the years of the Obama presidency. President Obama has attempted to maintain what his supporters argue is a graceful, calm stance on these trends in an attempt to avoid pouring gasoline on the flames. His critics insist that he has chosen blindness, for motives that remain unclear.

Oh, and then there are those bizarre numbers that keep showing up in polls whenever Americans are asked if they believe Obama is, in fact, a Muslim (despite his adult conversion into a liberal, oldline Protestant band of faith).

Thus, the speech at the Baltimore-area mosque received major coverage, as it should. Most of the coverage did a good job of covering, in glowing terms, the content of the Obama message (full text here). What puzzled me, however, was the lack of attention focused on the location. This left me -- as usual -- puzzled about current trends in "liberal" and "conservative" journalism. Hold that thought.

This passage in The Washington Post report captured the mainstream media tone:

The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia ...

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Keeping up: Journalism word games, slogans, euphemisms and misdirections

Keeping up: Journalism word games, slogans, euphemisms and misdirections

Journalists’ need to nurture professional skepticism should apply to the latest partisan lingo.

Examples from showbiz and advertising are legion. Are drivers of cars other than Subarus unloving? If a TV drama announces that the events and characters are totally fictional, the viewer automatically thinks “this story must be about real events and characters. Otherwise why the disclaimer?”  

Public discourse on politics, morals and religion is full of such word games, slogans, euphemisms and carefully calculated misdirections. 

In politics, during the Great Depression conservatives coined a classic still with us, the “right to work law,” which actually means the “right to refuse union membership or dues-paying,” and in reality “the right to have a weak union.” Ask your Guild rep. The Jan. 17 New York Times Magazine ran down the ways different eras have proudly embraced or shunned “progressive” and “liberal.”  “Left-leaning” becomes cautious journalistic usage when “liberal” is a slur. Has “socialist” suddenly become benign now that 43 percent of Iowa Democrats accept that label? 

In other up-to-the-minute canons, oppressive-sounding “gun control” is now “gun safety.” Insurgent Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio is magically an “establishment” candidate. In current campaign speak, “amnesty” means whatever immigration policy the other guy wants -- or used to want.  Newswriters are now expected to replace “illegal” immigrant with “undocumented.” 

Turning to moral and sexual conflicts, the Stylebook from The Religion Guy’s former Associated Press colleagues has this stumble (unless it’s been corrected in the latest edition):  “Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.”

My take: "Anti" sounds negative while “rights” is positive for Americans. Better for journalists to use parallel terms that leaders on the two sides accept as their labels, “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice,” admitting that the latter skirts what action is being chosen. Meanwhile, conservatives borrow that helpful “choice” slogan when it comes to schools.

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Washington Post: Priests have complex views on gay life, but why seek diverse voices?

Washington Post: Priests have complex views on gay life, but why seek diverse voices?

The recent "Social Issues" feature in The Washington Post with the headline, "‘I’m gay and I’m a priest, period'," was pretty much what one would have expected it to be in the age of Kellerism (definition here and here). Still, this essay deserves careful reading.

You see, it does contain one very important and accurate statement of fact that needs to be discussed, if our goal is to read this feature as hard-news journalism about a crucial issue in the Roman Catholic Church, rather than as an advocacy piece or editorial published in support of a cause.

This crucial statement is as follows:

Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform.

That is certainly true and fleshing out that statement with interviews with priests from all over that spectrum of beliefs would have been a good map for producing a solid news story. But that is not what the Post team decided to do.

During my own work as a journalist, I have encountered several different stances among Catholic clergy on issues linked to sexual orientation and the moral status of sexual acts outside of the Sacrament of Marriage. Like what? I'll try to keep this short. I have encountered priests in the following camps.

There are Catholic priests who believe that the church's ancient teachings on sexuality:

* Are correct and that they should be defended. It is crucial to note, when considering this Post article, that there are gay priests (and other LGBT thinkers in the faith) who hold this stance.

* Are correct, but that the church is doing a terrible job of handling same-sex issues at the level of pastoral life and apologetics. Some would say that Catholics need to do a better job of addressing the lives and concerns of single people -- period.

* Are wrong and should be modernized to fit our evolving culture. They believe that this work should be done openly. Some would even be open about how they have embraced some rather loose definitions of "celibacy."

* Are wrong, but that they will have to work behind the scenes to gently push the church toward the modern world, since to do this work openly would be suicide in a homophobic church.

I could go on, but that's a start.

Now, as you read this Post feature -- here is that link again -- look for evidence that the journalists who worked on this piece have included material that demonstrates the truth contained in that crucial sentence: "Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform." Or, is the article dominated by one of these perspectives, or maybe two, with other points of view deliberately left out?

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On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

GetReligion readers: Please help me out on something. I am somewhat confused. Maybe.

Looking back in my email files from the past few days, I just reread a New York Times news story that ran under the headline, "Italy Divided Over Effort to Legalize Civil Unions for Gays." This story ran on Sunday, Jan. 24. Let's assume that this means the final edit was on the previous day (knowing that major weekend reports are usually planned days earlier).

OK, then I read a new analysis piece at Crux, written by the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., that ran under the headline, "Pope Francis sends mixed signals on civil unions for gay couples." This story ran on Jan. 27.

Both articles contain lots and lots of information about the complex cultural politics of Italy. I was, of course, primarily interested in what was said about the role of Pope Francis in the public debates about this hot-button issue in this highly symbolic land.

So let's take this in the order that I read these news material. Shall we?

The Times has this to say about papal moves on this issue:

In the past, the Catholic Church would probably have played a major role in opposing the legislation (as happened in France, where Catholic groups tried in vain to prevent passage of the country’s same-sex marriage law in 2013). But in promoting a more merciful, tolerant tone, Pope Francis has discouraged bishops around the world from diving into culture war issues that have alienated some faithful from the church.

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Sarah Pulliam Bailey dives deep into Wheaton wars and conflicts inside evangelicalism

Sarah Pulliam Bailey dives deep into Wheaton wars and conflicts inside evangelicalism

So have you been waiting for someone who knows "evangelical" stuff to write the "big picture" of what is going on in the Wheaton College wars?

That is precisely what veteran Washington Post religion-beat pro Michaelle Boorstein asked former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey to do the other day. I especially appreciated that this journalistic view from 5,000 feet (or higher) involved the angle that GetReligion has been talking about from Day 1 -- the "who gets to define what 'evangelical' means, especially when jobs are at stake?"

As always, it's hard to critique the work of a former colleague. Thus, I wrote Sarah and asked if she would write a short introduction, when I pointed our readers toward a few key parts of her long, long news feature. Here it is:

I was actually on vacation when the news first broke, so I came back to the story trying to sort out what actually happened, who said what when, why it had turned into such a nightmare for the college. I saw a lot of people posting really simplistic reactions, like the college is racist or the professor equates Islam with Christianity, so clearly people didn't understand the complexities.

And there was, of course, one other interesting question linked to Sarah reporting this story (a question longtime GetReligion readers will have already thought about):

I asked our higher education reporter if I should disclose that I went (to Wheaton College). She said no, unless I'm on some alumni association or something. We have UVA grads report on UVA, etc. It's pretty easy to find through Facebook or Linked In or pretty much anywhere that I went there, but we didn't feel like it was necessary to stamp on the story itself.

So what are the real issues in this doctrinal skirmish?

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Hey reporters: Donald Trump tries to woo Iowa evangelicals, by attending liberal church?

Hey reporters: Donald Trump tries to woo Iowa evangelicals, by attending liberal church?

So you are a billionaire Republican candidate from New York City and your goal is to demonstrate your conservative, man-of-the-people bona fides in the final days before the Iowa caucuses. You know that evangelical Christians are a crucial constituency in this contest, so on Sunday morning you visit a:

(a) Nondenominational megachurch, the kind with a praise band, an altar call at the end of the service, a history of sending people to the "March For Life" and backing centuries of church doctrine on marriage and family.

(b) Southern Baptist congregation that is putting down roots up in the rural, small-town soil of the north.

(c) Conservative Presbyterian Church in America flock, since you have been reminding doubters that you are very, very proud to be a Presbyterian.

(d) Solidly progressive church in the liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that represents almost everything that evangelical voters in Iowa consider dangerous.

The answer for reality-television superstar Donald Trump was (d).

However, perhaps there is another answer. Perhaps it doesn't matter where you go to church since elite reporters won't know the difference (or spend a few seconds online to learn)?

Consider the top of the Washington Post story that ran under this headline: "Trump goes to church in Iowa and hears a sermon about welcoming immigrants."

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Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

I had a strange flashback this week, as I was watching the long, long introduction by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., as he welcomed New York City billionaire and reality-television icon Donald Trump back to the campus of Liberty University.

This flashback took place when Falwell spoke the following words (as I framed them in my "On Religion" for the Universal syndicate):

Trump used blunt words crafted for populists angry about losing and tired of watching politicians break their promises. Claiming outsider status, Trump endorsed their anger.
Yes, Trump is not a Sunday school candidate, admitted Falwell. Then again, he said, "for decades, conservatives and evangelicals have chosen the political candidates who have told us what we wanted to hear on social, religious and political issues only to be betrayed by those same candidates after they were elected."

Read that quote again. Is this tense, even angry Falwell quote aimed at President Barack Obama?

No way. It is aimed at the GOP mainstream. This brings me to the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

That Falwell anger reminded me of what I heard long ago -- 1997 to be precise -- when I served as a commentator for MSNBC during the network's daylong coverage of the "Stand in the Gap" Promise Keepers rally that covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The mainstream journalists who covered that event, as a rule, framed it as a protest against the lifestyle left and President Bill Clinton (and, yes, they thought it may have had something to do with fathers, husbands, families and racial reconciliation).

Seriously? It was news that some cultural conservatives were upset with Clinton?

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New York Times goes looking for 'conservatives' in Big Apple, but ignores pews

New York Times goes looking for 'conservatives' in Big Apple, but ignores pews

To no one's surprise, The New York Times decided to follow up on the Sen. Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump row over "New York values" and the question of whether many "conservatives" come out of New York City.

But before we get to that story -- "Young Republicans in New York" -- let me make a few comments that are central to my take on this Times feature.

When if comes to "values" issues, not all Republicans are "conservatives." At the same time, not all values "conservatives" are Republicans. There are still a few cultural conservatives in the Democratic Party and many of them are people of color.

Meanwhile, not all religious believers are Republicans or "values" conservatives. It is quite easy, these days, to find young evangelicals who are not "values" conservatives, or at least not on every issue. It is very hard to fit pro-Catechism Catholics into either major political party these days.

To name one specific policy complication linked to this Times story: There are many conservative religious believers who support same-sex marriage, or same-sex civil unions, but also support efforts to protect the First Amendment and the free exercise of religious beliefs in settings outside the doors of religious sanctuaries.

So with all of that in mind, does it surprise you to know that the one and only place the Times team when to find New York City "conservatives" on "values" issues was a political gathering? This is especially tragic in light of the fact that New York City is, these days, a vibrant city in terms of religious congregations appealing to young believers.

But first, here is the overture:

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Los Angeles Times crowns Justice Roy Moore as American ayatollah

Los Angeles Times crowns Justice Roy Moore as American ayatollah

I wasn’t planning on writing about Alabama Supreme Court’s chief justice so soon after my Jan. 7 post, but the Los Angeles Times posted a news piece that was so awful, it deserves an Oscar nomination for "Most Biased Piece of U.S. Journalism in 2016 Thus Far." I am referring to Thursday’s article that came with the headline: “Gay marriage order puts spotlight again on the ‘Ayatollah of Alabama.' ” And yes, the article that followed was as bad as the headline.

Please keep in mind as you read this that Get Religion has a name -- “Kellerism” -- for this type of piece. That’s the practice, described here by tmatt and pioneered by the New York Times, of assuming that one side of the debate is dead wrong and, thus, doesn’t deserve fair representation.

Here we go:

When Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore issued his latest controversial order on gay marriage, urging probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, many considered it a brazen, last-ditch act of defiance against the U.S. Supreme Court.
The long-contentious chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court didn’t see it that way at all. Merely a humdrum matter of procedure, he explained. “At this point, I am not defying the United States Supreme Court,” the staunch 68-year-old Baptist and Republican said.
When it comes to Moore -- dubbed the “Ayatollah of Alabama” by a civil rights group and chided by the daughter of the late George Wallace as being more dangerous than the combative former governor -- little is ever just humdrum procedure.

An anonymous “ayatollah” label, huh?

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