Lost opportunity: What the Philly Voice puff piece on Leah Daughtry could have been

Lost opportunity: What the Philly Voice puff piece on Leah Daughtry could have been

It must be getting close to election time, as fawning articles about Democratic politicians and God are getting more numerous.

Not so with GOP candidates. Their religious practices, whether it be Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ted Cruz, are always treated as worthy of a wacko-meter. But the Democrats get treated with respect, whether it’s Bernie Sanders’ Judaism or Hillary Clinton’s United Methodist beliefs. They are mainstream.

Recently, the Philly Voice decided to scrutinize the Pentecostal beliefs of one such official; someone we’ve written about in the past because of the anemic reporting on her.  Sadly, this most recent piece doesn’t fail to disappoint:

The Rev. Leah Daughtry, the woman tapped to oversee the Democratic National Convention, first scrutinized her Pentecostal upbringing while a student at Dartmouth College. The act was not unlike many young adults who weigh the lessons of their youth.
Far from her childhood home of Brooklyn, New York, Daughtry posed herself a couple of questions: Is there a God and, if so, what is her relationship to the divine?

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Biased framing: Here's why 'religious freedom' automatically means 'anti-LGBT' to this newspaper

Biased framing: Here's why 'religious freedom' automatically means 'anti-LGBT' to this newspaper

Dallas Morning News writer Robert Wilonksy is no fan of Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

No fan at all.

In fact, Wilonsky wrote a scathing column last week in which he declared that "Robert Jeffress belongs in Dallas' past, not our future":

It’s appalling but never particularly surprising when First Baptist Dallas senior pastor Robert Jeffress says something about how the Catholics and the gays and the Muslims and the Mormons are ruining America and stripping Christians of their religious liberties. It’s who he is. It’s what he does. It’s how he makes his mammon.
Dallas has become a city that considers itself progressive and tolerant, where “gender identity and expression” are part of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. We’re supposed to be enlightened now, no longer The City of Hate.
But Jeffress is the vestigial tail that forgot to fall off.
And usually, when Jeffress says things like President Barack Obama’s clearing the path for the Antichrist or that he agrees with Donald Trump that women who get abortions should be punishedor that “a competent Christian is better than a competent non-Christian,” his remarks rev up the Internet Comment Machine for a day or two and then fade away until the next time he says something you can’t believe someone would say in a major metropolitan city in 2016.
But not this time.
This time, activists are demanding city officials do something, say something.

Extremely strong words. And certainly appropriate ones for an editorial writer. We at GetReligion highlight slanted reporting and apparent bias in news coverage, not opinion content.

But what if the same writer who bashed Jeffress above also purported to produce impartial news coverage on the same subject matter?

Might anyone at the Dallas Morning News see a problem with that? A journalistic problem?

Mind-blowingly, the answer appears to be no.

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Your weekend think piece: Is it time to allow governments to define 'real' religion?

Your weekend think piece: Is it time to allow governments to define 'real' religion?

Back when I was doing my master's degree in church-state studies -- during an earlier era at Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute -- one of the hot questions was this: Legally speaking, what is a "religion" and who gets to define what is and what is not a religion?

It's an old question and there are no signs that it's going away. Take, for example, those online services that will ordain you as a minister. Does a piece of paper from such an operation mean that you have the legal protections provided to clergy? How about your tax status?

You can see related questions surface in debates about, oh, the First Church of Cannabis. Is smoking weed and seeking enlightenment a tax-exempt, protected faith activity? Well, what if the people making this drug-related claim are Native Americans and the tradition goes back for centuries?

More? How about the status of Scientology in Germany?

So how do you know you are dealing with a fake or warped religious group? What was drummed into us, in our texts and lectures, was a threefold test stating that governments have every right to investigate religious groups that appear to be linked to (a) fraud, (b) profit or (c) clear threat the life and health.

But state tax officials are going to do what tax officials are going to do, which is look for more revenue.

Back in the 1980s a Colorado official decided that church-based day-care centers were not "religious." What about a non-profit organization that existed to produce books and audio-video materials for use by missionaries? That wasn't "religious," either.

It seemed like old times reading a recent piece at The Atlantic that ran under this epic double-stack headline:

Should Courts Get to Define Religion?

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Was Hitch a man of 'faith'? Some scribes are arguing about a book they have not read

Was Hitch a man of 'faith'? Some scribes are arguing about a book they have not read

Christopher Hitchens was a very complex man, but one thing was clear. He was not a man who was kind to scribes and debate opponents who did not do their homework.

If someone wanted to talk to Hitchens -- especially in a professional setting -- about a topic upon which he had opined, then he or she had better be ready to answer this question, delivered in that famous whiskey-and-cigarettes British baritone: "Well, you HAVE read my book, haven't you?"

Woe unto those who could not answer in the affirmative or who tried to fake their way around the question.

This brings me to the current mini-media storm, on both sides of the Atlantic, inspired by Christian apologist Larry Taunton's new book "The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist."

If you watch the BBC interview attached to this post, you can see that -- even when dealing with newsrooms at the top of the global information food chain -- it's clear that many journalists simply are not reading this book before they start arguing about it.

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#ThunderUp: Jumping on O-K-C bandwagon and exploring religion ghosts on sports page

#ThunderUp: Jumping on O-K-C bandwagon and exploring religion ghosts on sports page

I'm not a huge basketball fan. Baseball is my sport.

But I live in Oklahoma City, and my sons, Brady and Keaton, are Thunder fanatics. The team's surprisingly strong playoff run against historic powerhouses San Antonio and Golden State has the Thunder one win from the NBA Finals. 

With Loud City — OKC's earsplitting fandom — in a frenzy, I've jumped on the bandwagon. 

Thunder up,  y'all!

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you already know there's a Godbeat angle with the Warriors — the Thunder's Western Conference finals opponent and the team that won an NBA-record 73 games this season.

Think Stephen Curry, the first unanimous NBA MVP.

But what about Oklahoma City? Any potential religion angles here? Ya think?

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Transgender wars: Associated Press shows surprising fairness -- considering

Transgender wars: Associated Press shows surprising fairness -- considering

The states struck back this week, with 11 joining in a lawsuit against the Obama administration's directive to open public school bathrooms to transgender students. But in a surprise, some mainstream media aren’t sliding into the usual cheerleader mode. The Associated Press, for one, is actually producing (gasp) fair coverage.

Let's look closer.

AP starts with the fact that, rather than enlightened North versus backward South, the suit includes states far outside Dixie:  

The lawsuit announced Wednesday includes Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia. It asks a North Texas federal court to declare the directive unlawful in what ranks among the most coordinated and visible legal challenges by states over the socially divisive issue of bathroom rights for transgender persons.
The Obama administration has "conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," the lawsuit reads.

Pretty forceful language, and livelier than many news articles. They typically quote a liberal or two live, rendering a nice, flowing comment -- then match it with a stiff-sounding posture from a conservative website.

AP gives valuable background in pinpointing the origins of the federal directive: a duel of lawsuits between the U.S. Justice Department and North Carolina over that state's laws requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms of their biological sex, rather than the one they identify with. When several states band together in court, it's easy to forget how they got there.

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The double whammy facing Baylor (with good cause) in the sexual-assault scandal

The double whammy facing Baylor (with good cause) in the sexual-assault scandal

As you would expect, I heard from quite a few people this week about the events unfolding at Baylor University, where I did my undergraduate degree in journalism and American history and a master's in church-state studies back in the 1970s.

Baylor is one of those subjects that I know too much about and the emotions are quite complex. My family's ties to the school are deep and I am well aware of the debt that I owe many Baylor people -- my journalism mentor David McHam, historian (and political gadfly) Ralph Lynn and the late choirmaster and composer Robert H. Young head that list.

Then again, the Baylor administration (camped on the "moderate" side of Baptist life at the time) turned the journalism program upside down midway through my undergraduate years after efforts to control the coverage of controversial subjects such as, you got it, sexual assaults on or near campus. I was one of a dozen or so student journalists caught up in that. When I left, I pretty much avoided coming back to the campus for several decades.

So when Michelle Boorstein called from The Washington Post -- "The Ken Starr-Baylor story shows how religious schools struggle to deal with sex assault" -- I am afraid that my comments were rather dense and complex. She was very patient and professional as we tried to figure out the heart of what I was trying to say. She ended up with this:

For such religious schools, the question is how to balance the country’s encouragement of sexual assault victims to come forward with campus rules that restrict sexual behavior and, as a result, often inhibit open discussion. Baylor’s sexual conduct policy says it expects students to express sexual intimacy “in the context of marital fidelity.”
“This raises questions about whether serious religious universities can take part in sports at the highest levels,” said Terry Mattingly, a columnist who is part of a prominent family of Baylor graduates and who founded a journalism center at the Council for Christian Colleges and University. “It could make it harder to talk about it.”

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Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Church-and-state disputes are a hot beat and it's getting hotter all the time.

We have religious objections over the government’s transgender bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, the Supreme Court’s bounce back of the Little Sisters’ “Obamacare” contraception case, states’ debates over whether merchants can decline gay wedding services on religious grounds, and much else.

Media coverage to date shows little interest in how church-state policy might be affected by a President Clinton, or a President Trump, or the jurists on Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court list, or a Justice Merrick Garland. Will this be raised at a big June 9-11 “religious right” confab in D.C.? Speakers will include Trump and former challengers Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Meanwhile, interest groups are ardently lobbying the Obama Administration to change religious hiring policies during its waning days. At issue is application of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) under the 2007 “World Vision memorandum” (click for .pdf) from the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice.

World Vision, a major evangelical organization, had landed a $1.5 million grant to provide mentoring for at-risk youths. The memo ruled that it’s legal for such religious agencies fulfilling service programs through  federal grants to consider religious faith in their hiring. The Obama White House has thus far resisted pressure to abolish that policy, most recently in a Feb. 22 letter from ranking Democrats in the U.S. House.

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Floods of Muslim converts to Christianity? The Daily Beast scratches the surface

Floods of Muslim converts to Christianity? The Daily Beast scratches the surface

It’s not the first article out there about Muslim immigrants to German converting to Christianity but it’s almost certainly the most recent. But the Daily Beast, in reporting on the trend, predictably managed to link this trend to the U.S. presidential elections.

Which was unfortunate, in that the story of thousands of Muslims jettisoning their faith to become Christian is a continuing saga and a decent story in its own right.

Lots of outlets, ranging from the Daily Mail and the Times of Israel to Catholic World Report and NPR (click here for previous GetReligion posts) have reported on Muslims converting by the thousands, especially those from countries like Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan where conversions from Islam into another religion means an automatic death sentence. This is the first time these folks have been able to choose their own religion or no religion.

We’re talking statistics like 600 Persian converts descending on one church in Hamburg. So, the Daily Beast has waded in with the inevitable political angle:

AMSTERDAM -- Hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans have been lining up at a local swimming pool in Hamburg, Germany, to be baptized as Christians. In the Netherlands and Denmark, as well, many are converting from Islam to Christianity, and the trend appears to be growing. Indeed, converts are filling up some European churches largely forsaken by their old Christian flocks.
All of which raises a question, not least, for the United States: If American presidential candidate Donald Trump gets elected and bars Muslims from entering the country, as he says he will, would the ban apply to Christians who used to be Muslims? How would one judge the quality of their faith?

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