Worship

'Magic underwear' is offensive term, but AP uncritically accepts church's PR spin on Mormon undergarments

'Magic underwear' is offensive term, but AP uncritically accepts church's PR spin on Mormon undergarments

On the positive side, an Associated Press story this week on Mormon underclothing — sacred attire derided by critics as "magic underwear" — handles the subject matter with discretion and respect.

On the negative side, the widely distributed wire service report uncritically accepts the church's public relations spin.

Let's start at the top:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon church is addressing the mystery that has long surrounded undergarments worn by its faithful with a new video explaining the practice in-depth while admonishing ridicule from outsiders about what it considers a symbol of Latter-day Saints' devotion to God.
The four-minute video on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' website compares the white, two-piece cotton "temple garments" to holy vestments worn in other religious faiths such as a Catholic nun's habit or a Muslim skullcap.
The footage is part of a recent effort by the Salt Lake City-based religion to explain, expand or clarify on some of the faith's more sensitive beliefs. Articles posted on the church's website in the past two years have addressed the faith's past ban on black men in the lay clergy; its early history of polygamy; and the misconception that members are taught they'll get their own planet in the afterlife.
The latest video dispels the notion that Latter-day Saints believe temple garments have special protective powers, a stereotype perpetuated on the Internet and in popular culture by those who refer to the sacred clothing as "magical Mormon underwear."

The video contains 90 seconds of explanation about the underclothing and does not address the markings on the garments. I'm not certain I would characterize that as "explaining the practice in-depth." 

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And in the end, some Vatican synod news reports hint that 'sin' exists after all

And in the end, some Vatican synod news reports hint that 'sin' exists after all

I promise -- honest -- that the following post is not a covert Sunday school lesson. You see, I have a journalistic reason for taking us into the Gospel of St. John, chapter 8.

As you read the following passage, journalists, try to figure out who might be who, in terms of interpreting the Vatican synod that has dominated the Godbeat this week. The story begins with Jesus arriving at the Jewish Temple in the morning:

... (All) the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. 
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 
Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

Now, the reason I brought this up was because a reference to this passage showed up -- imagine that -- in the New York Times story about the end of the synod.

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WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

When you hear or read the words "Orthodox rabbi," what is the image that immediately pops into your mind's eye?

Right. That would be this one (mandatory click).

The problem is that, in this day and age, there are many different brands of "Orthodox rabbis," running from progressive Orthodox rabbis to, well, orthodox and ultra-orthodox Orthodox rabbis. The public may or may not know all of that, however.

Thus, when covering a story about a rather sleazy sex scandal linked to an Orthodox rabbi, it is very important -- especially in Washington, D.C., for reasons we will discuss -- for journalists to provide enough factual information to erase the Woody Allen movie stereotypes and let readers know what brand of Orthodox Judaism is involved, this time around.

This is precisely what Godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein did in her first Washington Post story about what could be called mikvah-gate.

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Why the press silence about persecution by radical Islamists in the West?

Why the press silence about persecution by radical Islamists in the West?

The harassment of Christians of Middle Eastern extraction in the West by immigrant Muslim extremists appears to be one of the unexplored angles in the unfolding Islamist story.

While the press is quick to run stories warning of a backlash against Muslims in the West in response to the actions of their coreligionists here and abroad, we seldom see serious reporting on incidents that are happening in Europe, America and Australia.

A wire service story from the AAP (Australian Associated Press) run by the Guardian last week left me frustrated by its lack of detail. The story entitled "Two teens charged after death threats allegedly screamed at Christian school" reported:

Two teenagers have been charged after death threats were allegedly screamed at a Christian school in Sydney’s west. A 14-year-old was in the front passenger seat of a red hatchback when he allegedly began yelling abuse outside the Maronite College of the Holy Family in Harris Park on 16 September. Onlookers said the boy and the car’s driver threatened to "kill the Christians" and slaughter their children while brandishing an Islamic State flag out the window.

The article goes on to say the two were arrested, but offers no further details. What is the Maronite College of the Holy Family? Who attends this school? Who made these remarks? 

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Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

I have said this many times, but I have nothing but admiration for the reporters who work in war zones and in lands ravaged by disasters of all kinds.

It's hard enough for reporters, when covering complex issues, to do adequate background research and keep their facts straight -- even under the best of circumstances. My church-state issue file folder (yes, materials on dead tree pulp) is almost 40 years old. I have hundreds of similar files and I need them.

So imagine that you are in Liberia and trying to cover the Ebola outbreak, with all of its scientific, political, medical, ethical and legal implications. Yes, and issues of racial equality and economic justice. Yes, and there are religion ghosts, as well. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of face-to-face reporting at scenes in the heart of the crisis?

Thus, the first thing I want to say about a recent Washington Post report (headline: "Liberia already had only a few dozen of its own doctors. Then came Ebola") is that it is stunning and a must-read look at the lives of those with the courage to walk the halls of hospitals and treat the sick and dying in Monrovia, Liberia. How, exactly, does one take careful interview notes when wearing a full-protection hazmat suit?

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'Mass mobs': NYT and NPR report new trend with a bit of flash

'Mass mobs': NYT and NPR report new trend with a bit of flash

Churches are getting hit by "mobs" in several states -- and that's good, as NPR and the New York Times report. So-called Mass mobs -- takeoffs on flash mobs and cash mobs -- are being organized to flood old, historic churches with worshipers and rekindle interest in Catholic heritage.

The Times and NPR work in rich color and emotion, with an eye toward both emotion and architectural beauty. Here's a sample from the NPR piece on a Mass mob at St. Florian Church in Hamtramck, Mich.:

Kinney says there's something special about coming to Mass with so many other people. "To be in attendance when it's full, as opposed to just the sparse. There's an electricity that's amazing," he says.
People trickle in, looking for seats, and then the traditional Roman Catholic Mass begins. There are Polish hymns. The priest, the Rev. Mirek Frankowski — who also doubles as music director — says the crowd nearly brought him to tears.
"Because, I mean, such a big crowd, it's impossible to see these days in any of the churches. But thanks to the mob Mass we have this feeling of what it was so many years ago, when the churches were filled with people," he says.

The Times story goes east, so to speak -- centering on Holy Ghost Church, a Byzantine Catholic church in Cleveland that survives only as a cultural center. The article sets an evocative scene on preserving the sacred in the face of the secular. It even offers a bit of the colors and textures of Eastern liturgy:

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Generic god urges son of first U.S. Ebola victim to rush to Dallas hospital

Generic god urges son of first U.S. Ebola victim to rush to Dallas hospital

What we have here is another case of what we could call "generic-god syndrome." That's when claims of divine guidance or deliverance are important enough to feature in a mainstream news story, but not important enough to define with facts -- perhaps with a single clause in a single sentence.

Most of the time we see generic-god syndrome in sports coverage, or stories about the Grammy Awards. The stakes are much higher in a news story about Ebola.

As a former GetReligionista put it in an email: "Did the dallas ebola patient have faith? ... Looks like his son did ... maybe that offers a clue?" In this case, our former scribe was talking about material strong enough (yet it still needed to be vague) to provide the human-interest hook for a CBS News story.

Here's a large chunk of the story -- about the death of Thomas Eric Duncan -- to provide context. This comes right after the lede:

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Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Can you hear the clock ticking as our culture veers toward open warfare?

Can you hear the shopping malls preparing their displays, the lawyers preparing for combat, the atheists preparing their posters for protests, the spin-zone Fox opinion writers preparing their scripts?

Here comes the War on Christmas 2015.

The Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway –GetReligionista emeritus – knows what is coming and jumped into the fray early, but not on the subject of Christmas alone.

Right up front, let me stress that I realize that her recent piece at The Federalist, "Forget The War On Christmas, The War On Advent Is Worse" was not a journalism piece. However, it was an essay with implications for how journalists can (I would plead "should") think about one angle of the Christmas coverage that is to come. Thus, I thought I would share a piece or two of it.

There are some potential angles in this piece for journalists thinking about Christmas Wars coverage.

Angle No. 1: When does Christmas actually begin? In the culture? In the Christian tradition, as opposed to the "American" tradition, the shopping mall tradition?

Angle No. 2: At what point are ordinary Americans already swamped with stuff that is allegedly linked to Christmas?

Angle No. 3: Does any of this have anything to do with religious faith and practice?

Here is M.Z. getting rolling:

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Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

For some reason, I got a bit fired up during the recording of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in). The subject wasn't all that controversial, but it really got under my skin. We were talking about my recent post on the topic of the spiritual wanderers called the Baby Boomers (talkin' 'bout my generation) and the trend toward "green funerals." 

Now, that is a topic that has interested me for several decades -- dating back to when I taught as "Communicator on Culture" at Denver Theological Seminary (right after my exit from full-time religion-beat reporting at The Rocky "RIP" Mountain News).

At that time, 1991-93, America was still in the (a) New Age religion era, while also (b) experiencing a wave of death-and-dying movies at the local multiplex (biggest hit, of course, was "Ghost"). Thus, I led a seminar on "The Good Death" and how traditional Christian views on the subject were not what was being sold at the local shopping mall (or most funeral homes).

The main takeaway from the seminar was that the spiritual adventures of the 1960s era were leading Americans in all kinds of different directions, from Eastern religions to traditional forms of Christianity and Judaism, from Oprah spirituality to damned-if-I-don't secularism. There was, in other words, no one trend dominating the death-and-dying landscape.

That was true then and I would argue it's still true today, which is why the recent Washington Post report on "green funerals" bugged me so much.

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