Same-sex Marriage

Culture war of cakes: Associated Press story on gay rights, religious freedom less than perfect

Culture war of cakes: Associated Press story on gay rights, religious freedom less than perfect

There's a new twist on the ongoing story of Colorado bakers caught in the middle of the culture war.

The Associated Press boils down the latest development this way:

DENVER (AP) — A dispute over a cake in Colorado raises a new question about gay rights and religious freedom: If bakers can be fined for refusing to serve married gay couples, can they also be punished for declining to make a cake with anti-gay statements?
A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.
But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.
Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver's Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.
According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.
She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn't want that.

Overall, the AP story is pretty straightforward and makes an effort to present a range of viewpoints on the cake — er, culture — war.

But the opening sentence bothers me. 

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U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage: Baltimore Sun offers a very, very, simplistic report

U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage: Baltimore Sun offers a very, very, simplistic report

As so often happens here in Beltway land, our nation's principalities and powers -- when dealing with subjects that are both momentous and highly divisive -- strategically drop major news stories into the fading hours of Friday afternoons, as journalists and other chattering-class folks exit their offices.

Saturday newspapers and broadcasts are, of course, the thinnest of the typical news week. Even the Sunday newspapers are dominated by major stories and packages submitted by reporters earlier in the week.

Thus, elderly GetReligion readers who pay money for analog news (thus providing most of the funding for independently reported news and information in this land) ventured into their front yards this morning and retrieved bundles of ink and dead-tree pulp that led with wire-service or bureau reports about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to address the national legal status of same-sex marriage.

If you live in New York or Washington, D.C., and truly elite news markets, your front page may feature a staff-written story. But I live in Baltimore and thus, like most of the nation, the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- the ever-shrinking Baltimore Sun -- first ran wire reports and, later, a story from the Tribune chain's Washington, D.C., bureau.

We are going to carefully walk through that bureau report and, as we do, let's look for the views of three major groups of believers who should be represented in the material gathered for this story.

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Part-time Godbeat: The Tennessean reports — briefly — on a local PCUSA vote on same-sex marriage

Part-time Godbeat: The Tennessean reports — briefly — on a local PCUSA vote on same-sex marriage

Since the departure of Bob Smietana in August 2013, The Tennessean — the major daily in Nashville — no longer has a full-time Godbeat pro.

The newspaper relies on a talented freelancer to provide some religion news reporting, but I miss the award-winning coverage with which Smietana — now a senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine and still president of the Religion Newswriters Association — spoiled Tennessean readers.

(The Tennessean does have an award-winning religion writer — Holly Meyer — on it staff, but she's covering crime and breaking news. Perhaps we could start a petition effort to transfer her to matters of faith? But I digress.)

I was reminded of The Tennessean's lack of a full-time religion writer when reading the newspaper's seven-paragraph coverage of a vote by local Presbyterians on the definition of marriage.

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Damage already done? Charlotte Observer replaces slanted report on gay substitute teacher let go by Catholic high school

Damage already done? Charlotte Observer replaces slanted report on gay substitute teacher let go by Catholic high school

The Charlotte Observer posted a "news story" on its local news page this week concerning Lonnie Billiard, a substitute teacher at a Catholic high school, who lost his job after revealing on Facebook that he plans to marry his same-sex partner later this year.

The Pew Research Center highlighted the story on its daily email roundup of U.S. religion headlines Tuesday.

This was the link:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2015/01/12/5443494/charlotte-catholic-fires-gay-teacher.html#.VLWWRWTF8YK

Over at "The Deacon's Bench," blogger Greg Kandra — a Roman Catholic deacon who spent three decades as a writer and producer for CBS News — criticized the piece:

Editorial note: the rest of the Observer piece is a weepy, hand-wringing, breast-beating portrait of a wronged employee who expresses anxiety for all the gay students who fear expulsion simply because they’re gay. It’s a sustained exercise in victim journalism, with fully half of it devoted to quotes by the teacher talking about how this hurt his feelings and that he “never expected to be treated so badly by the diocese.” (Did it ever occur to him that he had violated the terms of his employment? That question never comes up.) It’s a biased, unbalanced journalistic shambles, beginning with the lead sentence: “The local Roman Catholic diocese is in hot water again for anti-LGBT discrimination…”

For readers who looked closely, the story identified the writer not as an Observer staff member but as someone with QNotes. The Observer link did not explain what it QNotes is — perhaps Charlotte readers are expected to know — but a Google search reveals that it's "the Charlotte-based LGBT community newspaper of North Carolina." 

Thus, the story published on the Observer local news page fell squarely into what GetReligion calls "What is this?" As in, is this news? Is it a column? Is it advocacy? 

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Anyone who knows their religion-beat history knows this byline -- George W. Cornell of the Associated Press.

When he died in 1994, the national obituaries called him the "dean of American religion writers" and that was precisely the role that he played for decades, especially for those of us who broke into the religion-news business back in the 1970s and '80s.

However, when I did a series of interviews with him in 1981, for my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ("The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets") he simply described himself as the AP's religion writer for all of planet earth. How would you like to try to handle that job? (The Vatican bureau didn't count, he explained, because editors tended to view that as a political and international-news bureau.)

George had a private tradition in which, every year, he analyzed the Associated Press list of the world's top 10 stories and counted the ones that -- seen through his veteran eyes -- were built on facts and history rooted in religion. He never saw a year with fewer than five of these stories, he told me, and frequently there would be more than that.

Ah, he explained, but were the religion facts and angles in these stories (a) covered accurately, (b) presented in a way that could be understood by the general public or (c) covered AT ALL?

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Your weekend think piece(s): Listening in as conservative Catholics cheer for Pope Francis

Your weekend think piece(s): Listening in as conservative Catholics cheer for Pope Francis

Yes, this is an op-ed piece by George Weigel who is a Catholic conservative. But every now and then, it really helps to read advocacy pieces by thinkers on the right and the left, especially when they bring up interesting facts that cut against then grain of normal coverage in the mainstream press.

In this case, Weigel is noting what many doctrinally conservative Catholics have noted, as of late, which is that the contents of remarks made by Pope Francis the media superstar are often more complex when viewed in context. This is the latest piece noting that, yes, this pope is in fact Catholic. Here is how this piece was framed in the morning memo from Religion News Service:

... Catholic theologian George Weigel says the Francis Effect is overdrawn. The pope is pretty conventional on a bunch of Catholic issues. That may be true, but he did just buy 400 Roman homeless sleeping bags as part of his birthday celebration. So maybe another way to look at it is that he’s a doer, not just a talker.

Uh, what is unconventional -- in terms of basic Christian doctrine -- about a shepherd providing aid for the poor?

Meanwhile, back to Weigel's "Francis filtered" piece. The metaphor here is that once journalists decided that Francis was learning to the left on doctrine, that narrative spread like bamboo. Here's a key chunk of his pro-Francis piece:

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Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Have your cake and read both sides of the story, too

Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Have your cake and read both sides of the story, too

Jack Phillips — the Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding (see past GetReligion critiques of media coverage here, here and here) — is back in the news.

The story by Godbeat pro Michael Paulson prompted an email to GetReligion from an evangelical advocate sensitive to the Colorado baker's refusal to violate his religious beliefs.

"This is how it's done," the advocate said.

I don't think he was talking about Phillips' cakes — but rather the balanced nature of the journalism by a publication ("Kellerism," anyone?) criticized by this website for too often leaning to the left its coverage of social issues.

From the start, Paulson's story fairly and accurately portrays Phillips.

Not just back in the news, but he landed on the front page of the New York Times this week.

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A pastor reports death threats for performing same-sex marriages, and guess who a Kansas newspaper decided to quote?

A pastor reports death threats for performing same-sex marriages, and guess who a Kansas newspaper decided to quote?

This is basic Journalism 101 stuff.

A news story should give all the relevant parties an opportunity to speak and — if accused of wrongdoing — a chance to defend themselves.

So what happened when The Wichita Eagle reported on a pastor who reported death threats against her for performing same-sex marriages?

Of course, the Kansas newspaper quoted the pastor:

A Wichita minister says she has received death threats for performing same-sex weddings after the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge last month.
The Rev. Jackie Carter, pastor of the First Metropolitan Community Church, said the church has been getting at least one phone call a day threatening to kill her or to perform acts of violence against her congregation. The church belongs to a denomination that embraces the gay and lesbian community.
Carter said she had received threats before the ruling, but they have escalated since she performed a wedding ceremony for 15 same-sex couples on the steps of the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Nov. 17.
“Monday was probably the most scary time for me,” Carter said. “The phone rang and I went to answer the phone and it was just somebody heavy breathing on it. Then somebody rang the door bell and then somebody started throwing rocks at the windows.”

The Eagle also contacted the police (who declined to comment) as well as Wichita's mayor.

But what about opponents of same-sex marriage? Don't they deserve a voice in the story since — ostensibly — their side is being accused of a crime?

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