Sex

Saith The Economist: The Church of England is (all together now) not dead yet

Saith The Economist: The Church of England is (all together now) not dead yet

There was a time in my youth when no party was complete without someone reciting lines from the 1975 film comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

For my generation, that movie's catchphrase “Bring out your dead!” is the verbal equivalent of Proust’s madeleine, evoking powerful memories of things past. I once even heard Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, obliquely refer to that classic line in a press conference.

The “Bring out your dead!” movie scene begins with John Cleese carrying over his shoulder an old man dressed in a nightshirt. He starts to place the old man into a cart carrying victims of the plague. Eric Idle is the driver.

All together now.

Cleese: Here's one.
Idle: Ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!

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How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

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Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

As he so often does, Deacon Greg Kandra looked at a news story about the Catholic church and summed it up in a crisp one-liner, a skill honed to a fine edge during his quarter of a century with CBS News. At his "The Deacon's Bench" blog (must reading for journalists on the Godbeat) he proclaimed: "BREAKING: The pope is still Catholic."

Pope Francis is Catholic? As opposed to what?

That's a big issue in the mainstream press, these days. Kandra's ironic headline pointed readers toward this Associated Press report from the recent papal stop in the Philippines, which began like this:

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception, using a Friday rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.

The "sanctuaries" quote led into a very interesting passage that deserves close attention. You see, it is one of those doctrine-affirming statements that Francis often makes, yet these affirmations tend to draw minimal mainstream media coverage, especially in comparison with the waves of coverage that have followed some papal remarks that, when edited, seem to undercut orthodoxy.

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Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Here is a question for reporters covering the big story down in Atlanta, where Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Rescue Department Chief Kevin Cochran after he published a book in which it appears that he affirmed centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine on sex and marriage.

There are several issues to examine in some of the main reports, but let's start with the headline in The New York Times: "Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views."

This raises a crucial question linked to the labeling of religious believers in this day and age. For example: Is Pope Francis "antigay"? This is, of course, the leader of a church that affirms, in its most bulletproof volume of doctrine:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. ... Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Is that statement officially "antigay," which would make those who affirm the Catechism officially "antigay"? Ditto for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others who embrace traditional, orthodox versions of their faiths.

In other words, at the level of headlines, when are believers being "anti" one thing, as opposed to being "pro" something else?

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Attention editors: Concerning a seriously neglected church-state drama in the District of Columbia

Attention editors: Concerning a seriously neglected church-state drama in the District of Columbia

An important church-state story in the nation’s capital has largely been ignored in the news media except for an op-ed and online articles from the conservative Catholics at the Cardinal Newman Society.

On Dec. 2, the District of Columbia Council unanimously amended the city's Human Rights Act in order to end exemptions that aided religions opposed to same-sex relationships.

That's big news. Then on Dec. 17 the  Council unanimously amended that same act to forbid discrimination against employees’ “reproductive health decisions” to choose abortion, sterilization and contraception.

The D.C. votes create conscience-clause problems -- especially for those associated with Washington’s Catholic school system and for the Catholic University of America. The university’s unique status turns this from a mere local fuss into a nationally significant challenge to the institution of the Catholic Church.

Why is that?

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Transgender teen's suicide: New tragedy, old advocacy script for media

Transgender teen's suicide: New tragedy, old advocacy script for media

"My death needs to mean something," the teen who self-identified as Leelah Alcorn wrote in a suicide note before stepping in front of a tractor-trailer in Ohio. Whatever else the death of the troubled transgender youth means, one is clear: how easily mainstream media fall into groupthink.

Most outlets reporting this story use "Leelah," his preferred name, and call him a her. Some even seem reluctant to say "Joshua," the name on his birth certificate. Most quote friends but don’t try to reach his parents or clergy. Then they quote a transgender advocate or two who predictably call for some sort of change.

It's a familiar script from years of gay and lesbian advocacy, thinly disguised as reporting.

The Boston Globe's story is a prime example:

Early Sunday, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn died after being hit by a tractor-trailer while walking along a stretch of Interstate 71 near her Ohio hometown.
The death was eventually ruled a suicide after a pair of social media posts, which the Kings Mill woman posted on the blogging site Tumblr, garnered notice and served as a flashpoint for transgender progress in 2014.

Only about a third of the way down does the story acknowledge that Alcorn’s mother, Carla, "posted a short note to Facebook identifying Alcorn as 'Joshua' (her name at birth) and with male pronouns." That's the only place the Globe uses his actual teen name, or a male pronoun.

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Ignatius, what happened? The Atlantic looks at 'rebranding' of Jesuit colleges

Ignatius, what happened? The Atlantic looks at 'rebranding' of Jesuit colleges

A new article in The Atlantic looks at how many Jesuit colleges are rebranding themselves to project an image of fidelity to so-called "Catholic values" without proclaiming fidelity to actual Catholic teachings.

There is a lot to chew on in Autumn Jones' "The New Brand of Catholic Universities," and more than a few religion ghosts -- that is, hints of valuable religion angles that are left unexplored. Key words? Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Two points especially call out for clarification. The first is that of what happened to the Jesuits. Jones writes:

A fourth of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities currently have lay presidents, and the number of Jesuit priests who are active in everyday operations at the schools isn’t nearly as high as it once was.

That is putting it mildly. Here's how the Washington Post reported the decline in local Jesuit vocations in 2011, which reflects a global trend:

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Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Celibate gay Christians -- those who feel the pull of same-sex attraction, yet abstain in order to stay faithful to their faith -- get a sensitive, nuanced look in the Washington Post. Though with a couple of flaws.

This gentle 1,600-word feature examines quiet emergence of gays like Eve Tushnet in Catholic and evangelical circles. Ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein explores their feelings toward churches, right or wrong. And the feelings of church folk toward them.

Here's an excellent "nut graph," actually two paragraphs:

Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
Celibacy “allows you to give yourself more freely to God,” said Tushnet (rhymes with RUSH-net), a 36-year-old writer and resident of Petworth in the District. The focus of celibacy, she says, should be not on the absence of sex but on deepening friendships and other relationships, a lesson valuable even for people in heterosexual marriages.

The Post article is timely enough. World magazine, a Christian news journal, on Dec. 11 posted an in-depth story on issues surrounding Julie Rodgers, a gay celibate counselor for students at Wheaton College.

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The Huffington Post offers a surprisingly nuanced look at a celibate priesthood

The Huffington Post offers a surprisingly nuanced look at a celibate priesthood

Without looking -- who would you suppose would do a better job in reporting on the gay subculture among Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland? The Belfast Telegraph or The Huffington Post?

One was named the Best Regional Newspaper of the Year in 2012 by the Society of Editors and has print run of approximately 100,000. The other is an online news aggregator and blog that also runs additional news content. One is steeped in the traditions of Anglo-American journalism while the other pursues an advocacy approach to news – with the dividing line between opinion and reporting sometimes blurred.

An observer of the Ulster newspaper scene might hesitate before awarding the prize to the Belfast Telegraph, for it along with the News Letter are “Unionist” newspapers, while the third daily, the Irish News, is a “Nationalist” newspaper. Perhaps a residual anti-Catholic sentiment might creep into the Belfast Telegraph’s reporting?

The two outlets treatment of the same story may surprise some, for in its coverage of a recent book on clerical celibacy in the Irish Catholic Church, the Huffington Post is less shrill, more nuanced, and finely balanced.  No, really.

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