Media coverage on Boy Scouts ranges from excellent to inexcusably biased

Media coverage on Boy Scouts ranges from excellent to inexcusably biased

Thursday’s announcement by Robert Gates, president of Boy Scouts of America, that the group may need to change its policy on gay leaders drew a predictable avalanche of coverage, some of it very good and some of it a mess.

Some background: The Scouts have been fighting this battle for at least two decades. Some of you may remember the Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Boy Scouts of America vs. James Dale that allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude gay leaders. That was 15 years ago.

As for the latest news, we’ll start off with today's Los Angeles Times Page 1 story:

Robert M. Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, urged the group on Thursday during its annual meeting in Atlanta to end its ban on gay leaders, saying the prohibition “cannot be sustained.”
“I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement,” said Gates, former CIA director and secretary of Defense.
He recommended that local Scouting groups be allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow gay leaders.
Advocates of gays in Scouting cheered in celebration.
“He's made it clear that if the Boy Scouts don't make the change on their terms, the courts will change it on their terms,” said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and executive director of the advocacy group Scouts for Equality.
“Now we need to make sure not only does that ban come to an end, but that it's enforced across the country,” Wahls said, adding, “There needs to be full inclusion for gay adults.”
Others had a more mixed reaction.
“It's one of those things I was hoping I wouldn't have to think about for years to come,” said David Barton, an Orange County Cubmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, Eagle Scout and the father of two boys in Scouting.

The reporter did a very thorough job of calling around to every religious group possible: Southern Baptists, Mormons, a Texas-based values group, Catholics, as well as a gay Scoutmaster who was forced to leave his troop. It was a lengthy, comprehensive piece.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Church planting in Boston: Brilliant Alternet satire or, well, something else?

Church planting in Boston: Brilliant Alternet satire or, well, something else?

When I was a lad back in the early 1960s, my father left his work as a Southern Baptist pastor in inner-city Dallas and took a position in North Texas, near the base of the Panhandle, that was often referred to as an "associational missionary." It helps to know that Southern Baptists have regional "associations," as opposed to conferences, presbyteries or dioceses.

One of the primary duties of this associational leader, in addition to serving as a pastor or consultant to the region's pastors, was to direct efforts in what has long been called "church planting." The goal was to figure out logical places to "plant" effective new churches and then help people do precisely that. Click here for a rather mainstream take on this topic, from a middle-of-the-road Protestant flock up in Canada.

There was nothing sneaky or threatening about this work, at least not in Texas a half century ago.

It seems that times have changed, at least in some blue zip codes. Either that, or some journalists simply have zero familiarity with how church leaders think and talk? Yeah, that could be what we are dealing with here.

But maybe not! As several people have noted in emails to me -- including a former GetReligionista known as a wit -- the following Alternet piece may not, as it appears, be a stunningly tone-deaf look at a perfectly normal church topic.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

Seattle University is one of those institutions that conservative Catholics love to hate.

Not only does the Jesuit school host an annual Lavender Celebration that has honors such as the “Sylvia Rivera Award for Queer Activism,” but it includes faculty who write books such as “A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion.” Alhough it's odd that a Muslim cleric might feel at home there,  what is interesting is that the story about this imam first ran in the Oregonian.

The premise of Abdullah Polovina's story sounds like the start of a bar joke:
A Muslim imam walks into a Catholic university...
Except it's true. Polovina, who leads a congregation of Bosnian Muslims in Portland, did walk into a Catholic university.
And in June, he'll walk out to "Pomp and Circumstance." The 41-year-old recently completed a master's degree at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, where he was the first Muslim to ever enroll.
"I was looking for a place to be accepted as myself and to be the true face of Islam, though I am not the best follower," Polovina said.

I first spotted this story in a Washington state newspaper, which had picked it up because there’s a reporter at “the Big O” who has reinvigorated the religion beat. Or the “faith and values” beat, as they call it. Whatever.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

In Illinois, gay conversion therapy bill passes, and front-page Chicago Tribune story misses the mark

In Illinois, gay conversion therapy bill passes, and front-page Chicago Tribune story misses the mark

Here we go again.

At GetReligion, we repeatedly have highlighted the media misconception that Christian therapists believe they can "pray the gay away."

Tmatt tackled the subject again just last month.

The latest news on this front comes from Page 1 of Wednesday's Chicago Tribune.

Here's the lede:

Following a series of big wins during the past decade that culminated in the approval of same-sex marriage in Illinois, the new cause for gay rights supporters at the Capitol is banning conversion therapy on minors — a controversial practice aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight.
The effort gained momentum Tuesday as the Illinois House voted to approve the measure 68-43 after the bill failed in the chamber last year. The bill now goes to the Senate, which tends to be more liberal.

Under the proposal, mental health providers would be barred from engaging in treatment aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors. Psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors caught doing so could be deemed as engaging in unprofessional conduct by state regulators and face disciplinary action ranging from monetary fines, probation, or temporary or permanent license revocation.

See any problem with that?

To that question, a fellow GetReligionista replied:

You mean other than the lede misstating the goals of most people who do this work, focusing on behavior rather than the mystery of orientation? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

JOSHUA’S QUESTION:

Ed Stetzer suggests the rise of the “nones” -- the religiously unaffiliated -- is a dual trend. On the one hand, the more nominal “cultural Christians” are no longer self-identifying as Christians, and on the other hand the more theologically conservative Christians are becoming more robust. What are the political consequences?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Following Joshua’s posting, the Pew Research Center issued an attention-getting “Religious Landscape Study” of the U.S. that appears to support such a scenario. Introductory notes: “Nones” is shorthand for folks who say “none” when pollsters ask about their religious self-identity. The Pew study calls them “unaffiliated,” whether agnostic, atheist, or the largest subgroup,  those whose religious identity is “nothing in particular.” Stetzer is a church planter turned LifeWay researcher and seminary teacher on mission analysis.

Pew has produced a mass of data that will be chewed on for years. A huge sample size of 35,071 U.S. adults made possible accurate and detailed breakdowns for religious groups. The respondents were interviewed in mid-2014 by phone in either English or Spanish. Unlike most polling with its crude categories, scholars helped Pew frame careful questions to separate out “mainline” Protestants (in 65 sub-categories) from the more conservative “evangelicals.” Keep in mind that there are also significant numbers of self-identified “evangelicals” in “mainline” groups, and in the third Protestant category of “historically black” churches. Since Pew posed these same questions to another large sample in 2007, it can offer timeline comparisons.

The two surveys show that, yes, the “unaffiliated” are increasing. They constituted 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 and jumped to 22.8 percent as of 2014 to become the nation’s second-largest religious category. Evangelical Protestants maintain first place with 25.4 percent of Americans versus the previous 26.3 percent.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

Let's talk scare quotes for a moment.

Regular GetReligion readers know what we mean when we use that term.

But in case you're new to this nerdy journalism site focused on mass media coverage of religion news, click here to review past examples.

I bring up this topic again today because of a note I received from a regular reader, who opined:

Notice how whenever the Left invents a new phrase, the media adopt it immediately and uncritically, while well-known, long-understood and uncontroversial words and phrases get scare quotes? Oh, of course you do.
"Aid-in-dying" gets no scare quotes, while "religious freedom" always does? 

The reader included a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story.

Actually, the Chronicle lede does include scare quotes — just not around the phrase 'aid-in-dying":

SACRAMENTO — The California Medical Association has become the first state medical association in the nation to drop opposition to what has long been known as “physician-assisted suicide,” it said, acknowledging a shift in doctor and patient attitudes about end-of-life and aid-in-dying options.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Trust me, your GetReligionistas understand that the timeline of the Anglican vs. Episcopal doctrine wars gets very, very complicated. Add to that the fact that the conflicts are taking place at the local, diocesan, national and global levels and you have very complicated stories on your hands, especially if you are a general-assignment reporter and not a Godbeat pro.

However, a recent story in The Orange County Register raises a completely different issue. When one of these battles ends, is it primarily a story about real estate or people? I mean, the dollars and cents of the church-property sale are important, but shouldn't journalists acknowledge that there are people out there -- perhaps even Register readers -- who care about what happens with these sacred spaces? Here is the top of the story:

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is nearing the end of negotiations to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to real estate developers.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the sale to congregants Sunday, Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said. The sale of the church could bring in roughly $15 million -- twice the appraised value of the site, Williams said.

Services at the church will likely continue into the fall, Williams said. No information on where congregants will be moved or whether the congregation may reopen at a different site was available on Monday, he said.

So the current occupants of the church are Episcopalians. Got it. But here is one of those "people" questions. How many of these Episcopalians are there and, well, why are they leaving such a prime location? How do they feel about this deal?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Prayer, Franklin Graham, gay marriage: Washington Post runs a decent piece

Prayer, Franklin Graham, gay marriage: Washington Post runs a decent piece

However the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage, your rights -- a reader's rights to fair, untainted information -- are respected in a new Washington Post story.

The Post tells about on Franklin Graham urging prayer to change the minds of Supreme Court justices -- and it shows no obvious scorn and little slant:

During the same weekend that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over the wedding of a same-sex couple, evangelist Franklin Graham was writing a prayer to change her mind on same-sex marriage.
“As the Supreme Court continues to deliberate over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage,” Graham wrote in a Facebook message, “let’s pray that Justice Ginsburg’s eyes would be opened to the truth of Scripture and that she would not be deceived by the arguments of those who seek to impose their ‘new morality’ on our nation.”

The time peg, course, is the pair of cases about same-sex marriage being considered by the high court. One case asks whether gay marriage is a constitutional right. If they decide no, they’ll then judge the other case, on whether such marriages performed in one state must be recognized in every other state.

As the newspaper notes, the campaign shows that the conservative side still has some fight left in it:

As many conservative evangelical leaders work to anticipate the potential fallout from any decision from the court that would be unfavorable to their stance on the issue, Franklin Graham’s popular Facebook prayers are evidence that others believe the fight is hardly over, even as the case sits in the hands of the justices. A spokesman for Franklin Graham could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Post explains that Ginsburg is just one of several left-leaning judges for whom Graham is recommending prayers. She was singled out because she presided over that wedding in Washington on Sunday, specifying "the powers vested in her by the Constitution." That's according to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, cited by the Post.

But Graham is asking also for prayers for Justice Elana Kagan, who also seems to favor same-sex marriage. He asks for prayers for Justice Samuel Alito, who appears to oppose the practice, to "stand strong for what we know is God's unchanging truth." And he recommends praying that Justice Anthony Kennedy will "realize the folly" in changing the traditional definition of marriage.

Please respect our Commenting Policy