Spot a religion ghost? Paul Ryan is a busy father who wants to help raise his kids

Spot a religion ghost? Paul Ryan is a busy father who wants to help raise his kids

Here is an important "political" question for you (I say that in snark mode): When dealing with Catholics in the Republican Party, is their faith only worth mentioning when it is part of (a) references to their strange, culturally speaking, beliefs on issues of moral theology or (b) when they clash with good, progressive Catholics who are on the other side of the political aisle?

I certainly agree that it is fair game to ask GOP Catholics questions about how their faith influences their views on, let's say, the death penalty, immigration and health care. I say that because I think it's important -- for the same doctrinal reasons (see the Pope Francis address to the U.S. Congress) -- to keep asking Catholics in the Democratic Party obvious questions such as abortion, euthanasia and religious liberty. Oh, and the death penalty, as well.

It's a worldview thing, you see. Catholicism is a massive force in the lives of people who actually try to live it out and that would certainly be true when you are talking about the life of a political leader.

This would be true to ask faith questions if one was writing about a relatively young Catholic father who is trying to make a career choice that would almost certainly pull him away from his family more than the political post that he already holds.

Let's say, for example, that this young father is trying to decide whether to become Speaker of the House.

Now, run an online search for the terms "Paul Ryan" and "Catholic" and you will get all kinds of things.

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It's already time for Christmas Wars! So, journalists, who you gonna call?

It's already time for Christmas Wars! So, journalists, who you gonna call?

Here they come again -- the Christmas Wars.

No, I am not talking about Fox News specials on whether cashiers in megastores should be forced by their employers to say "Happy Holidays" to customers instead of "Merry Christmas." We have to wait until Halloween for those stories to start up. I'm talking about actual church-state battles about religion in the tax-dollar defined territory in the public square.

Public schools are back in session, so it's time for people to start planning (cue: Theme from "Jaws") holiday concerts. This Elkhart Truth story -- "Concord Community Schools sued in federal court over live Nativity scene in high school's Christmas Spectacular play" -- has all the basics (which in this case is not automatically a compliment). Here's the lede:

DUNLAP -- Two national organizations Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against the Concord Community Schools over a live Nativity scene that has been part of the high school’s Christmas Spectacular celebration for decades.

You can see the problem looming right there in the lede. It's that number -- two.

Anyone want to guess which two organizations we are talking about? I'll bet you can if you try.

The suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union alleges that the Christmas Spectacular -- which ends with a scriptural reading from the Bible as religious figures such as Mary, Joseph and the wise men act out the scene -- endorses religion in a manner that is illegal in a public school.
The complaint, filed on behalf of a Concord student and his father, asks the U.S. District Court to instruct school officials not to present the live Nativity scene in 2015 or  in the future. The complaint also seeks nominal damages of $1 and legal fees, as well as “other proper relief.”

Now, let me stress that the problem with this story is NOT that it quotes the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU.

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Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology -- and the lives of women

Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology  -- and the lives of women

No matter what else is going on in the world, the Islamic State is still out there attacking cities and seizing territory, constantly striving to create its new version of a heaven on earth, which in this case is called a "caliphate."

By definition, a caliphate is an Islamic state led by a "caliph." So what precisely is a "caliph"?

A typical definition offered by a Western dictionary defines this term as:

* an important Muslim political and religious leader
* a successor of Muhammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islam -- used as a title

So a caliph is both a political and religious leader, quite literally a man who is claiming to be a "successor of Muhammad."

Now, with that in mind let's look at a key passage in a new Washington Post story -- " 'Till Martyrdom Do Us Part" -- about the lives of woman inside the territory controlled by ISIS. This includes women who have volunteered to be part of the Islamic State, as well as those who have been kidnapped. This story is part of an ongoing Post series about life inside the caliphate.

Let me stress that this feature is quite well reported, which is amazing in light of the restraints under which reporters are working when attempting to cover the Islamic State. Much of the attributed information is based on ISIS social media and, I found this amazing, Skype conversations with people living inside the caliphate.

Then there is this summary material that serves as a kind of thesis statement:

In the Islamic State’s ideology, a woman’s place is in the home, tending to her husband and producing children.

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'Are you a Christian?': Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting

'Are you a Christian?': Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting

Major media went to church Sunday in Roseburg, Ore., to report on the faithful coming together after Thursday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

It's time for a "big news report card" on that coverage.

For this report card, I use three main criteria to grade the coverage, including:

• Actual religion content (does the story reflect real prayers, Scriptures, sermons, etc., or just reference generic assemblies?).

• Below-the-surface reporting (does the story rely on clichés or actually delve into the faith angle and spiritual matters?).

• Compelling overall story (beyond the religion questions, is this a solid piece of journalism?).

Read on to see my grades and brief comments:

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Tears or fears? The pope, the speaker, prayers and some amazing quotes in a notebook

Tears or fears? The pope, the speaker, prayers and some amazing quotes in a notebook

Just when you thought this was going to be a quiet week (and weekend) on the religion beat, there was an earthquake in Beltway land.

Anyone who has lived in Washington, D.C., knows that the job of Speaker of the House may be the single most overlooked piece in the puzzle that is the U.S. government, in terms of the public failing to understand how much power resides in that office.

So Speaker John A. Boehner, one of DC's most public Catholic voices, hit the exit door only hours after fulfilling his dream of seeing a pope address Congress. This also happened, of course, in the midst of fierce infighting over morality and money -- to be specific, the mountains of tax dollars going into the coffers of an institution at the heart of what St. John Paul II liked to call "The Culture of Death."

All of Washington muttered, at the same time, this question: So, what's the link between the pope's visit and Boehner's exit?

At the very least, the timing became linked -- on multiple levels -- with the emotions of the Francis visit. I don't know what surprised me more, in the elite media coverage: the word "prayer" showing up high in such a blockbuster political story or The Washington Post admitting, in print, that The New York Times broke the story. 

Oh, and the Post almost had the scoop -- on the spiritual level. We will come back to that.

The Times managed to keep the pope out of the lede, but -- after the political necessities -- wrote faith into the equation.

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Sweating a few fine (even fried) pope details in the wake of #PapalGoofs

Sweating a few fine (even fried) pope details in the wake of #PapalGoofs

Just the other day, Father James Martin started a Jesuit Twitter fest with #PapalGoofs, a hashtag dedicated to helping journalists who -- forced into religion-beat duty with the arrival of Hurricane (Pope) Francis -- could use a online Catholicism 101 course.

While the padre, who is best known outside of bookstores as the official chaplain to the old "Colbert Report," has yet to jump back into the Twitter fray, others have picked up #PapalGoofs and are using it as a hook for social-media discussions of fumbles and outright errors in coverage of events and trends linked to the arrival of Pope Francis.

For example, consider this a nomination for the most simplistic (folks, the competition is fierce) use of this pope's most famous out-of context soundbite. This comes to you care of The Memphis Commercial Appeal:

When Francis was asked whether homosexuality is a sin, he replied, "Who am I to judge?"

Not even close, as one can see with even a glancing look at the actual transcript of that off-the-cuff papal press conference. The actual question?

I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?

The pope was asked about rumors concerning a specific Vatican priest and, in his answer, stressed -- using the word "sin" over and over -- that those who confess their sins can be forgiven and those sins are gone, in the past.

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Pope Francis press watch: @JamesMartinSJ kicks off the week with #PapalGoofs

Pope Francis press watch: @JamesMartinSJ kicks off the week with #PapalGoofs

If you are interested in (a) the Jesuits, (b) old-school Catholic liberalism, (c) humor, (d) religion news or (e) all of the above, then you really need to be following Father James Martin on Twitter -- @JamesMartinSJ. You are really going to want to jump on board this week to get his take on the @Pontifex visit to America's elite media corridor between Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Father Martin is well known for his popular books (such as "Between Heaven and Mirth" and "Jesus: A Pilgrimage"), for his analysis work at America magazine and as the official chaplain of the old "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. He is also, as you would expect, a skilled observer of religion-beat work in the American press.

This weekend, he got an early jump on the papal-coverage tsunami by starting a lively hashtag noting some early mistakes made by print and broadcast journalists in their coverage of the Pope Francis stop in Cuba -- #PapalGoofs. He was very gentle in this series of corrections, providing no URLs pointing directly to examples of these media mistakes. Surely some of these helpful tips were offered as preemptive strikes? 

Obviously, #PapalGoofs refers to goofs that journalists may or may not make while covering the pope, as opposed to goofs that observers believe have been made by the pope. Francis critics will need to start their own hashtag.

We will jump into those tweets in a moment -- Bobby Ross, Jr., style -- but first I want to note that many, or even most, of the mistakes illustrated in the first (let's hope he continues) #PapalGoofs stream are addressed in the online stylebook of the Religion Newswriters Association. You may want to bookmark that right here at ReligionStylebook.com

Now, here we go. And the last shall be first:

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Here come your think pieces on Pope Francis: Media want a 'pope of our own making?'

Here come your think pieces on Pope Francis: Media want a 'pope of our own making?'

While working on Anglican matters earlier this week -- as in Canterbury's call for a crucial, but rather unofficial global gathering about the future of the Anglican Communion -- I bumped into a rather interesting commentary by a Canadian Anglican about the mainstream press and, you guessed it, Pope Francis.

Needless to say, I expect that we will be running quite a few posts this week about mainstream coverage of the pope's visit to the Acela media zone in the urban American Northeast. I will probably include several "think pieces" about religion-news issues in that mix, even though we normally only point readers toward essays of that kind on weekends. 

This piece by Father Tim Perry of Ontario -- "Francis: A Pope of Our Own Making?" -- was actually written fairly early in the Francis media storm, but it still makes timeless points worth pondering right now. He starts off with the immediate assumption that the CONTENT of the Francis era will be quite different from that of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Let us attend.

While it is certainly the case that Francis is, and will be, different, I notice in these claims a curious pattern which has little to do with the three Popes, and much more to do with their coverage in the Western media. In short, the media quickly (subconsciously, I expect) decide on the “papal narrative,” and then over-report the stuff that fits and under-report the stuff that doesn’t.

Note the stress on underreporting the parts of the work of Pope Francis that do not fit the chosen media narrative -- such as this pope's remarkably consistent discussions of Confession, the work of Satan in the modern world and the centrality of family life in God's creation.

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See? Washington Post shows that handling complex Anglican timeline isn't that hard

See? Washington Post shows that handling complex Anglican timeline isn't that hard

Faithful GetReligion readers will know that I moved from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area this past summer, returning to the hills of East Tennessee. It was a wonderful move on so many levels, yet it has raised a few challenges.

One of them is that I no longer see The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post in dead-tree-pulp form, which, frankly, made it much easier to cruise through them looking for stories relevant to our work here at GetReligion. Well, the Sun rarely took long to scan, since it is a ghost of its former self, but the Post was worth spending time with each day.

All of this is to say that I need to wrote a second Anglican timeline disease post today, for the simple reason that -- since I no longer see the actual newspaper -- I didn't bump into the Post coverage of that issue online until after I had written my early-morning offering that focused on The New York Times. If you missed that earlier piece, then please click here for context.

We need a second piece in this case, because the Post story demonstrates that it is possible -- with a few specific words and phrases -- to let readers know that the Anglican wars have been going on for a long time and didn't start in 2003 with the election of a noncelibate gay bishop in a tiny New England diocese. There's even a hint right there in the lede.

The world’s third-largest Christian denomination appears to be in serious reflection about how -- and whether -- to stay unified amid divisions about human sexuality and other issues.

Note (a) there are "other issues" and (b) that the fights concern "human sexuality" in general, as opposed to debates about the moral status of homosexual acts, alone.

A few lines later, readers learn more:

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