The Baltimore Sun covers most of the voices in a controversial non-controversial art exhibit about Mary

The current exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts is, as described in a weekend Baltimore Sun feature, certainly sounds like an "embarrassment of riches," featuring works by Michelangelo, Durer, Botticelli and Titian. Some of the art has never been in an American exhibit before. As the museum's website notes:

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea explores the concept of womanhood represented by the Virgin Mary as well as the social and sacred functions her image has served through time. This landmark exhibition organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts brings together more than 60 Renaissance- and Baroque-era masterworks from the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery, and other museums, churches, and private collections in Europe and the United States.
Divided into six thematic sections, the exhibition presents images of Mary as a daughter, cousin, and wife; the mother of an infant; a bereaved parent; the protagonist in a rich life story developed through the centuries; a link between heaven and earth; and an active participant in the lives of those who revere her.

However, there is a problem.

Since the exhibit takes a rather conventional approach and focuses on a specific period of time in art history, it suffers from an shocking lack of elephant dung.

In other words, this exhibit has -- among a elite art critics -- become controversial because it is not causing controversy among (wait for it) religious believers who are, by definition, opposed to modern art. As the Sun report notes:

The resulting kerfuffle underscores a dilemma facing museum administrators: It's impossible to mount a religiously themed exhibit in America in 2014 without becoming enmeshed in politics — no matter how strenuously organizers seek to avoid that pitfall.
"Museums are terrified of tackling any show having to do with religion," says Melissa Katz, the former museum curator who wrote an essay for the "Picturing Mary" exhibition catalog.
"They fear that if you open up that conversation, people are going to come with fixed ideas. Protests and picketers generate press, but they close down the discussion. You get two sides that already have their own point of view, and then nobody looks at the art."

Please hear me stress that this story does a very fine job of allowing the exhibit's creators to defend themselves. The story, as is should, devotes lots of ink to the views of those who believe the exhibit -- because Mary is such a controversial figure to feminists and others -- should have focused on a wider period of time and, thus, included some controversial modern works.

Instead, museum officials settled for an exhibit that would merely please the masses, which means pleasing traditional Christians, apparently.

"I think Washington is still smarting from the culture wars," says Tey Marianna Nunn, director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum in Albuquerque, N.M.
She was referring to the period in the 1980s and 1990s when religious leaders and right-wing politicians attacked the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting programs perceived as promoting anti-Christian values.
"The ground beneath museums is shifting," Nunn says, "and there are a lot of different stakeholders. Self-censorship shouldn't happen, but it does."

So what we have here, again, is a story about a debate, a debate with more than two sides, in this case.

The story makes it clear, for example, that this astonishingly deep exhibit could not have taken place if its planners had decided to include modern art about Mary that would have offended the very churches and museums that controlled some of these priceless masterpieces. Why?

... "Picturing Mary" provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience certain paintings and sculptures that rarely leave Europe. The exhibit was three years in the making and is being shown only in Washington.
In addition, some pieces on view were lent by the Vatican, by individual churches and by private collectors for whom the paintings and statues aren't just works of art, but an expression of faith. Katz says it's not unusual for potential benefactors to inquire about the context in which their works will be shown before agreeing to ship them overseas.

So who is missing in this story? Well, three groups of folks, at the very least.

First, the anti-modern art religious believers loom over this piece like demons, yet the Sun team never bothers to talk to one. Why not just quote one sentence from a website? That's so much easier than allowing these people to speak for themselves and answer real questions.

Readers also never hear from the shallow, anti-intellectual people who, apparently, are flocking to this exhibit. What do they think? Do they have minds as well as souls?

Most of all, I missed hearing from religious believers -- intellectuals, artists, critics, collectors and others -- who genuinely love art. Period. How would they defend or criticize this exhibit?

You see, when covering a debate about a controversy, it does help to talk to the people are on both sides of the controversy. Can we agree on that?

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Violence against Christians in India: Washington Post reports undercovered story

Violence against Christians in India: Washington Post reports undercovered story

You just might stop complaining about the Christmas rush after reading a horrendous Washington Post story about persecution of Christians in India.

The story goes in depth, but it also carries a fierce, urgent note. I don’t usually paste at length, but this passage is worth it:

ALIGARH, India — The trouble started a few months ago, when Hindu nationalists swept into a small village where several families had converted to Christianity more than a decade earlier. They held a fire purification ceremony with the villagers, tore a cross off the local church and put up a poster of the god Shiva. The space was now a temple, they declared.
Then right-wing Hindu groups announced a Christmas Day ceremony where they planned to welcome hundreds of Christians and Muslims back to Hinduism. A fundraising flier solicited donations for volunteers to do the conversions — about $3,200 for each Christian and about $8,000 for each Muslim.
After a nationwide furor, organizers postponed the ceremony on Tuesday. But one of them, Rajeshwar Singh Solanki, said in an interview Thursday they will demonstrate against any church baptisms performed on the holiday. He said his group’s ultimate aim is to ensure that Islam and Christianity “cease to exist” in India.
Christians in Aligarh say they are afraid of what might happen on their holiest of days.
“We just want security from the government, particularly on Christmas,” said Ajay Joseph, 39, a lab technician.

The sweeping article musters three reporters who quote seven sources, including church and political leaders. It also draws from Indian outlets, Scroll and New Delhi Television. And it gets background from three articles in the Post's own deep database.

The story also gives some numbers. It notes, for instance, that Christians comprise just a little more than 2 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. It doesn't have to drop the other shoe: "Militants are getting upset over a group this small?"

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Your weekend think piece(s): Listening in as conservative Catholics cheer for Pope Francis

Your weekend think piece(s): Listening in as conservative Catholics cheer for Pope Francis

Yes, this is an op-ed piece by George Weigel who is a Catholic conservative. But every now and then, it really helps to read advocacy pieces by thinkers on the right and the left, especially when they bring up interesting facts that cut against then grain of normal coverage in the mainstream press.

In this case, Weigel is noting what many doctrinally conservative Catholics have noted, as of late, which is that the contents of remarks made by Pope Francis the media superstar are often more complex when viewed in context. This is the latest piece noting that, yes, this pope is in fact Catholic. Here is how this piece was framed in the morning memo from Religion News Service:

... Catholic theologian George Weigel says the Francis Effect is overdrawn. The pope is pretty conventional on a bunch of Catholic issues. That may be true, but he did just buy 400 Roman homeless sleeping bags as part of his birthday celebration. So maybe another way to look at it is that he’s a doer, not just a talker.

Uh, what is unconventional -- in terms of basic Christian doctrine -- about a shepherd providing aid for the poor?

Meanwhile, back to Weigel's "Francis filtered" piece. The metaphor here is that once journalists decided that Francis was learning to the left on doctrine, that narrative spread like bamboo. Here's a key chunk of his pro-Francis piece:

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Sports Illustrated surfs past an interesting fact in its Sportsman 'legacy' salute to Magic Johnson

Sports Illustrated surfs past an interesting fact in its Sportsman 'legacy' salute to Magic Johnson

I don't know about you, but every now and then I get into conversations (often on commuter trains, in my case) with other sports fans in which someone will ask, "So who are your top three sports heroes?" Well, that's pretty easy for me because -- as an old guy -- mine have been carved in stone for quite some time.

No. 1? That's the greatest professional basketball player ever -- Bill "How many rings do you have?" Russell. How does a Baptist preacher's kid in Texas end up as a fanatic fan of the greatest Boston Celtic of all time? His original autobiography was at the local library.

No. 2? I was in Texas, so Roger Staubach has to be near the top. And I've been a golfer since childhood, so then you have Jack Nicklaus. Right? Feel free to put your top three in the comments pages.

Anyway, I started with this overture because Earvin "Magic" Johnson is near the top of my top 10 and, honestly, I have him No. 2 on my hoops list. Yes, above Michael Jordan and Oscar Robinson may top Jordan, as well. I tend to favor guys who made every man on their teams better.

So I know quite a bit about Magic and his story. I've read most of the major long-reads and watched most of the documentaries. I know that he lived a very, very wild life that fueled all kinds of rumors when the HIV bomb hit. Where were you when you heard that news? I was in a parking lot at Denver Seminary, trying to find tissues in my car.

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New York Times finds the usual suspects behind Anglican division

New York Times finds the usual suspects behind Anglican division

We have a positive ID on those shadowy villains who are wreaking havoc.

No, not the guys who hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. Someone much worse: those who are dividing the Church of England over female bishops.

It's ... Dun-dun-DUNN! ... the Evangelicals!

Yep, those perennial bad guys popped up in a  New York Times' news article this week as the hardshell opponents against making the Rev. Libby Lane the first female Anglican bishop.

Much of the story is a bland, benign repackage of an announcement on the church's own website. It says Lane will be an "assistant" to Bishop Peter Forster of Chester. (The actual title is "suffragan," as the church release says.) It has a statement from Lane and tells of her interests in saxophone and crossword puzzles.

Then it morphs into the treasured Times tradition of conflict journalism:

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An old ghost hidden in details of that New York Times story on shuttered Catholic churches

An old ghost hidden in details of that New York Times story on shuttered Catholic churches

Here is a comment that I hear every now and then, either in private emails or when I meet veteran GetReligion readers out in the wilds of daily life: Why do you make some of the same comments over and over, when critiquing religion news in the mainstream press?

Whenever I hear that I think about one of my favorite college professors back in my days as a history major, who used to note how often the same mistakes happen over and over and over again in history. Are we supposed to stop studying them? And then he would note that he also applied this concept to grading our blue-book tests.

So, yes, here we go again with yet another look at a news report about Catholic church closings.

Right now, the wave of closings and mergers in the Archdiocese of New York are in the headlines and with good cause. For starters, think of this as a real estate story. Can you imagine what the land and the space above some of these properties are worth in the midst of an insane building spree in Manhattan?

Here is a key chunk of this very interesting and detailed story:

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Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Have your cake and read both sides of the story, too

Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Have your cake and read both sides of the story, too

Jack Phillips — the Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding (see past GetReligion critiques of media coverage here, here and here) — is back in the news.

The story by Godbeat pro Michael Paulson prompted an email to GetReligion from an evangelical advocate sensitive to the Colorado baker's refusal to violate his religious beliefs.

"This is how it's done," the advocate said.

I don't think he was talking about Phillips' cakes — but rather the balanced nature of the journalism by a publication ("Kellerism," anyone?) criticized by this website for too often leaning to the left its coverage of social issues.

From the start, Paulson's story fairly and accurately portrays Phillips.

Not just back in the news, but he landed on the front page of the New York Times this week.

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Was Holy Communion really celebrated on the moon?

Was Holy Communion really celebrated on the moon?


Do you know if it’s true Christian Communion was celebrated during the first moon landing?


Yes. And that Apollo 11 Communion followed a related event on Christmas Eve of 1968 during Apollo 8′s first manned flight to the moon. The earlier flight didn’t attempt a lunar landing but the astronauts transmitted a breathtaking live telecast of moon photographs while in orbit.

Then William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman took turns reading the familiar account of God’s creation of the universe and planet Earth from Genesis 1:1-10 in the august King James translation. Commander Borman concluded, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you -- all of you on the good Earth,” with the last phrase referring back to Scripture’s verse 10. Last year, the 85-year-old Lovell joined a Yuletide re-enactment of the lunar Bible reading at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

There’s something about such momentous events that makes mere mortals reach for transcendent themes. Think FDR’s D-day radio prayer for God to bless the invading Allied soldiers in their “struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization.”

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5Q+1 interview, part 2: RNS writer David Gibson on what GetReligion doesn't 'get' about religion news coverage

5Q+1 interview, part 2: RNS writer David Gibson on what GetReligion doesn't 'get' about religion news coverage

In case you missed it, we ran the first — and my favorite — part of our interview with award-winning Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson on Wednesday.

As part of my e-mail discussion with Gibson, I asked:

Is there anything GetReligion doesn't "get" about religion coverage in the mainstream media? Any tips or suggestions to help us improve what we do?

Gibson's reply:

In his answers in this space, Bob Smietana made good points about diversifying your stable of bloggers and also adopting a more charitable — let’s just say fair — attitude toward other journalists.
I would second those suggestions. I also think that GetReligion writers need to practice the journalistic customs that they preach — accuracy, fairness, balance and such. Too often those are cast aside. Perhaps hiring more writers with journalistic experience would help.
The site could also be open about its biases and its agenda. Not being transparent undermines your credibility and winds up limiting your audience, and you wind up preaching to a small choir of like-minded conservatives. That in turn undermines the wider goal (and greater good, I’d say) of highlighting religion coverage in the media and encouraging more and better coverage.
But would such changes mean that GetReligion wouldn’t be GetReligion any more? I don’t know the answer to that one.

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