Sex

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

This was certainly the strangest URL anyone sent me this week.

When I saw that an Episcopal bishop had called the president a sodomite I assumed that the problem in this story was that we were dealing with an "Episcopal" bishop -- a leader in some kind of fringe, buy-yourself-a-mitre church -- rather than a real, live leader in the liberal Episcopal Church establishment. As it turned out, the WLRN website was actually writing about a mainstream, and thus culturally liberal, Episcopalian.

So what the heck?

Eventually, this story or essay gets to the point, underneath the headline: "What Bishop Frade May Have Meant When He Called President Obama A Sodomite." But first, the story had to explain that this bishop was actually a good guy.

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Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

It's logical, if you stop and think about it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, your GetReligionistas focus our time and efforts on news that is published in the mainstream press.

Note: This is news that is PUBLISHED in newspapers, wire services, websites, etc. As opposed to what? News that is NOT published? Precisely.

We do have our "Got news?" thing, which is when we note that something really interesting is happening somewhere in America or the world and the big, elite media (as opposed to, let's say, specialty websites) haven't noticed it yet. Readers send us notes about that kind of thing all the time.

That helps. But let's face it: It's hard to critique coverage that doesn't exist.

With that in mind, let's consider this week's Baltimore Sun coverage of the meetings -- in Baltimore, of course -- of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

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U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews

U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews

The U.S. Catholic bishops just heard a major -- terrifying is a better word -- presentation on the doctrinal state of life in their pews, especially among the young. I realize that arguments about Pope Francis and politics are fun, and all that, but this new survey offered some really crucial stuff, folks, if you care about the future of the church (and the news that it makes).

Good luck trying to find this in the news today. Am I missing something? What are the magic search terms?

Meanwhile, sink your journalistic teeth into the Catholic News Agency story, which ran with this headline: "Agree to disagree: Why young Catholics pose a unique challenge for the Church."

For more than three years, a working group at the bishops’ conference has conducted research aimed at finding ways to more effectively communicate the Catholic faith.  The research examined “Catholics in the pew,” looking at why they accept or disregard Church teaching on various subjects.  ...

Many engaged parishioners, regular Mass attendees involved in parish life, demonstrate great pride in their faith and are deeply tied to their community, the study showed. However, they have a tendency to set aside rules that they do not understand, complain about the Church being involved in politics, and avoid causes that they see as “judgmental.”

And among the young? 

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Pod people: That 'mushy middle' in American religion and an old mystery on the religious left

Pod people: That 'mushy middle' in American religion and an old mystery on the religious left

For several decades now, I have been hearing pollsters -- with organizations on the left, right and in the middle -- asking some very similar questions about trends on the left side of the marketplace of ideas that is American religion. In fact, they have often, been asking precisely the same question.

That doesn't happen very often. So when it does, I think that it behooves those of us who report and write about religion to pay attention.

Here's the key question: If more and more Americans are moving toward liberalism on questions of faith and morality, then why are the membership statistics continuing to spiral down in doctrinally liberal churches?

That question came up again this week in our "Crossroads" podcast, when host Todd Wilken and I talked about the heritage of research done by the late George Gallup, Jr., and how it related to a new LifeWay Research survey -- the "Theological Awareness Benchmark Study" conducted for Ligonier Ministries of Orlando, Fla. Click here to listen in.

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Religion News Service's LGBT blogger omits a needed Q(& A)

Religion News Service's LGBT blogger omits a needed Q(& A)

Religion News Service has a new blog on being "Faithfully LGBT," and the first item by blogger Eliel Cruz (other than his introductory post) is a report on the "Gay in Christ" conference held last weekend at the University of Notre Dame.

Besides offering his opinions of what went on at the conference -- which is fine, that's his job -- Cruz attempts to give a report of what went on. In the course of doing so, he makes an observation about an audience member:

Courage, a familiar Catholic organization that claims to help people with same-sex attraction or “homosexual desire,” was not officially involved with the conference. Some tension arose when a member of Courage—who seemed to only attend the very first night specifically for Ron Belgau’s presentation—vocally pushed back at the idea that Courage’s twelve step program to help overcome homosexual desires was not effective or even “Catholic enough.” 

My eyebrows went up when I read Cruz's comment that "a member of Courage...seemed to only attend the very first night specifically for Ron Belgau's presentation. I knew that was wrong -- because the member in question, Daniel Mattson, is a personal friend of mine. In fact, I was seated next to him as he "pushed back" during the Q&A after Belgau's talk. 

When I alerted him to Cruz's odd inferral, Mattson, who lives more than two hours' drive from Notre Dame's South Bend, Indiana, campus, responded in an e-mail:

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Flashback to George Gallup, Jr., and very early roots of the tmatt trio

Flashback to George Gallup, Jr., and very early roots of the tmatt trio

It's an experience that most journalists have had, at one time or another. You have just interviewed someone who is really interesting and, perhaps, an important leader in their field. The interview eventually turns into a conversation, usually about the topics linked to the topic being discussed or the details of the person's work.

I had several chances -- over the space of a decade or two -- to talk to the late pollster George Gallup, Jr. It is not surprising that he enjoyed talking about trends in American religion. Me too. He enjoyed talking about interesting questions linked to religious issues. Me too.

This brings us, of course, to the "tmatt trio" -- the three basic doctrinal questions I have long used to probe fault lines among Christian leaders and their followers. The goal is to ask the questions and then listen to the content of the answers, which are almost always highly nuanced and are often revealing.

Gallup and I discussed these questions on several occasions.

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USA Today recycles that out-of-context Chaput quote and other pope riffs

USA Today recycles that out-of-context Chaput quote and other pope riffs

Oh great. Here we go again, back into the media debates about whether the archbishop of Philadelphia really said, during a speech in New York City (full video here), that Pope Francis was working with Satan to destroy the Catholic Church.

So, once again, what did Archbishop Charles Chaput actually say? Back to the transcript:

Audience member: I would be very grateful for your comments on the recent Synod on the Family in Rome.
Chaput: Well, first of all, I wasn’t there. That’s very significant, because to claim you know what really happened when you weren’t there is foolish. To get your information from the press is a mistake because they don’t know well enough how to understand it so they can tell people what happened. I don’t think the press deliberately distorts, they just don’t have any background to be able to evaluate things. In some cases they’re certainly the enemy and they want to distort the Church.
Now, having said all that, I was very disturbed by what happened. I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.

So, who did he say caused the confusion in the "public image" of the synod and its work?

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Yo, demographics: About that solid New York Times advance story on church closings

Yo, demographics: About that solid New York Times advance story on church closings

GetReligion readers may have noticed in recent months that I have been praising quite a bit of the metro-desk religion coverage at The New York Times

Something is clearly going on there, when it comes to basic news about religion trends that are not linked to gay rights and other Sexual Revolution issues that lead to the application of "Kellerism" principles (as in former editor Bill Keller) that negate the need for balance, fairness and sometimes even accuracy.

Take, for example, the recent advance story about a church-closings announcement that will shake New York City's Catholic community this Sunday. Here is the top of the story, which does a fantastic job of offering an overview of a complex and emotional topic.

List the hot-button issues in your mind as they flow past.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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