Sex

Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

So, Catholic GetReligion readers, is the Pope Francis glass half full today or half empty?

Well, some might say, that depends on whether the person answering is a liberal Catholic or from the conservative side of the church aisle. Is it really that simple? I don't think so.

Consider the stunning news out of Chicago, with the announcement that Pope Francis has selected a bishop admired by the left (which in media reports makes him a "moderate") to take the place of Cardinal Francis George, a hero of the doctrinal right. Is Catholic conservative Thomas Peters right when he claims, while discussing the moral theology of Bishop Blase Cupich:

Pope Francis’ choice of Bishop Cupich should actually pour cold water on liberal hopes of a leftward turn in the American episcopacy.
Yes, Bishop Cupich talks in a way that makes liberals feel comfortable, but the substance of what he says is almost always sound and orthodox. He told the New York Times “Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues”, but do liberals ever stop and realize that cuts both ways?

Peters goes on to note that Cupich has, while speaking with a consistently progressive tone, has acted (with the exception of his decision to discourage priests from praying outside Planned Parenthood facilities) in ways consistent with Catholic teachings -- even when defending marriage. And religious liberty? Yes.

And speaking of the Catholic left, Religious News Service columnist David Gibson has perfectly stated the opinions of those who are dancing with joy after the news from Chicago.

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NYTimes (surprise) covers Mormon sexual ethics, without talking to Mormons

NYTimes (surprise) covers Mormon sexual ethics, without talking to Mormons

There are people out there in cyberspace (and in our comments pages from time to time) who think that, here at GetReligion, "balance" on stories about moral and cultural issues is all about finding the right number of voices on the right to say nasty things about the views of people on the left side of things.

Well, I would prefer to say it this way: When journalists cover controversial moral, cultural and religious issues, the journalistic thing to do is to talk to informed, representative voices on both sides of these hot-button debates. Of course, this journalistic approach assumes that journalists are willing to concede that there are two sides in these debates worth covering with respect.

This brings us once again to the term "Kellerism," a GetReligionista nod to those famous remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller. The Times ran a story the other day -- "Social Worker Spreads a Message of Acceptance to Mormons With Gay Children" -- in which it was crucial for readers to understand the moral doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the view of those who disagree with them.

A GetReligion reader offered this critique:

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Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

When covering major events that are directly linked to the liturgical work and authority of the pope, it never hurts to spend some time reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this case, let's look at the material found at this reference point: Paragraph 2391 -- IV. Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage.

Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, “the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.” 184 Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate “trial marriages.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another. 185 (2364)

Now, with that in mind, let's look at some important -- yes, rather picky -- issues of verb tense in the mainstream news coverage of that remarkable wedding rite that took place at the Vatican.

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Doughnut holes: Story on Christians targeting Naughty Girls pastries is all sugar and no spice

Doughnut holes: Story on Christians targeting Naughty Girls pastries is all sugar and no spice

In the northwestern corner of Virginia — about 70 miles west of Washington, D.C. — the Naughty Girls Donut Shop is making headlines with accusations of harassment by conservative religious types.

Among other media outlets, Fox News 5 in the nation's capital picked up the tantalizing story.

Likewise, the Northern Virginia Daily ate up the story like a tasty pastry:

FRONT ROYAL -- Tiana Ramos, 17, said she opened Naughty Girls Donut Shop to give all outsiders a place to go. But not everyone is happy with her message.
Tiana and her mother, Natalie Ramos, have dealt with backlash from some members of the community claiming the business promotes promiscuous behavior.
Natalie Ramos issued a news release Tuesday in which she referred to Front Royal as "the Footloose town." The release stated "a strong Conservative Alliance group" in the community was protesting Naughty Girls' name, calling the shop a "bikini barista."
"I wanted the chance for Tiana to be able to defend herself," Natalie Ramos said Wednesday. "It's becoming too much. It's time for her to say, 'listen, this is what I'm doing, this is what I stand for, these are who we stand for, and we want your support."
Natalie Ramos said the harassment has been an ongoing issue.

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Taking gay-rights fight to Bible-Belt Mississippi? Round up the usual bad guys

Taking gay-rights fight to Bible-Belt Mississippi? Round up the usual bad guys

One of the most interesting parts of journalism, in my experience, is the never-ending search for new and unique voices to pull into familiar stories. It's like that famous scene in one of my all-time favorite movies: It's easy to run out and round up the usual suspects, but why should journalists settle for that?

So here is the story for today: Editors at The Washington Post national desk decided to do a profile of an emerging hero in the gay-rights fight in Mississippi, which is one of those states that, as the story stresses, "embodies the values of the Bible Belt."

The man in the spotlight is Rob Hill, who until recently was a secretly gay pastor serving at the altar of United Methodist congregation in a part of the country where most bishops defend the teachings of their global denomination. Now he has left the closet, left the ministry, rarely goes to church and is the face of the gay-rights movement in Mississippi, working as a representative of the Human Rights Campaign. This powerful network,  which is based in Washington, D.C., is pouring $9.5 million into a countercultural effort to promote gay rights in the Deep South. 

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Death of the Chick-fil-A patriarch: A classic religion-news story with two sides

Death of the Chick-fil-A patriarch: A classic religion-news story with two sides

It's safe to say that Chick-fil-A patriarch S. Truett Cathy was famous, or infamous, for two very different reasons with two radically different flocks of people. After his death, mainstream news organizations faced an obvious news question: What's the lede? What's the angle on this remarkable entrepreneur's life that deserved the spotlight at the top of the story?

You can see that struggle in the summary paragraphs near the top of The New York Times obituary:

Mr. Cathy, who died on Monday at 93, was by all appearances a humble Christian man from Georgia with little education who sold a simple sandwich: a breaded, boneless chicken breast on a soft, white, buttered bun with nothing more than a couple of pickles for garnish.
But as the founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire, he was also a billionaire several times over and, as a conservative Christian who ran his business according to his religious principles, he was at once a hero and a symbol of intolerance. Many admired him for closing his outlets on Sundays and speaking out against same-sex marriage. Others vilified his the chain as a symbol of hate.

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We have a confirmed sighting of an old-school (think liberal) church-state coalition

We have a confirmed sighting of an old-school (think liberal) church-state coalition

The history of church-state relations in the United States is a very complicated subject, the kind of intellectual terrain that you could spend several semesters exploring in a graduate degree (as I once did, late in the Vietnam War era). 

In recent decades, roughly the era defined by the rise of the Religious Right, there have been several distinct stages in church-state affairs. At one point, it was rare for thinkers on the left and right to communicate with one another. Then came the Clinton White House years when -- I know this will be hard for some readers to believe -- there was serious progress and constructive dialogue, primarily because conservatives began to enthusiastically embrace the First Amendment. Yes, even though the politics of abortion loomed in the background.

As I wrote in a post early in the Barack Obama administration:

You see, once upon a time there was a wide coalition -- roughly from the ACLU to Pat Robertson -- that was focused on another issue altogether, which was free speech, freedom of association and trying to find ways (think "equal access" laws) that treated religious believers and nonbelievers the same when it came time for them to express their beliefs. ...
It was crucial, you see, for believers and nonbelievers to have the maximum amount of freedom without the government getting entangled (the key word) in determining which doctrines were acceptable and which were not. If the chess team got to use a room after school, then so did Campus Crusade for Christ (or the young atheists circle). 

Can you imagine that kind of truly liberal (in the old sense of that word) coalition existing today, in an era defined by bitter battles about gay marriage and, in a strange healthcare flashback, birth control? I know, it's hard to imagine.

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Pod people: Sports and religion, Tim Tebow and ESPN, Michael Sam and the locker room

Pod people: Sports and religion, Tim Tebow and ESPN, Michael Sam and the locker room

It was a quiet little National Football League story, tucked away in the back headlines of the sports pages. Former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk -- yes, the guy from Harvard -- had been named to one of the quietest, but most influential, slots in pro sports.

The short ESPN report was typical, including the following summary statements:

Matt Birk was named the NFL's director of football development, the league announced Thursday. ...
In his new role, Birk will assist in developing the game at all levels, from players to coaches to front-office personnel. He will guide the evolution of the NFL scouting combine and regional combines as well as the all-star games for prospects, such as the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. Birk will also over see the career development symposium and the Bill Walsh minority coaching fellowship program. ...
Birk, 37, played his first 11 seasons in the league with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Ravens for the final four seasons of his career. He retired after he won his first Super Bowl following the 2012 season. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his excellence on and off the field.

Now, in light of the media tsunami surrounding gay defensive lineman Michael Sam, it showed remarkable restraint that ESPN leaders did not mention that this Matt Birk was also THAT OTHER Matt Birk, the husband of a crisis pregnancy center volunteer, the father of six children, the articulate Catholic whose beliefs on marriage had inspired so many headlines. 

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What is this? The Daily Beast rolls on with its 'bedroom' jihad updates

What is this? The Daily Beast rolls on with its 'bedroom' jihad updates

Here is a question that your GetReligionistas have often debated among ourselves in the past: When it comes to basic questions about journalism, what is The Daily Beast? Is it an openly progressive advocacy publication, something along the lines of Rolling Stone or Salon (or The New York Times on issues of moral theology)?

Part of the problem is a matter of labeling. There are advocacy sites, on the political right as well as the left, that do plenty of valid work when it comes to reporting news. But when readers call up these sites, it's hard to know what is what. Maybe editors should color code the graphics? Something like blue graphics for advocacy and red for news at liberal sites and the other way around at conservatives sites?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately because of the ongoing Beast coverage of the issue of Islamic State leaders openly recruiting women from the West to join in what some have called "bedroom radicalism" or even "bedroom jihad." The latest report along these lines is pretty straightforward, when it comes to describing the case of 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood of suburban Glasgow:

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