Gays and Mormons: Times headline chooses the frame, then paints the picture

Gays and Mormons: Times headline chooses the frame, then paints the picture

When my "rights" clash with your "beliefs," who should win? Right. That's how the Frame Game is played.

That's why the headline for a New York Times story on gays and Mormons is manipulative in the extreme. "Mormons Seek Golden Mean Between Gay Rights and Religious Beliefs," it says.

"The Frame Game" is tmatt's term for framing the conversation to shape your opinion, perhaps without even realizing it. Fortunately, the Times article itself is better, with the lede framing the issue as "gay rights and religious freedom." Although it could still be construed as rights trumping freedom.

At least the hed is accurate in reporting the balancing act of Mormon leaders: trying to oppose anti-gay discrimination while preserving the right to disagree with gays. In states like Utah -- where pro-gay legislation has stalled for years -- that could make a big difference, the Times says:

But they also called for these same laws, or others, to protect the rights of people who say their beliefs compel them to oppose homosexuality or to refuse service to gay couples. They cited examples of religious opponents of same-sex marriage who have been sanctioned or sued or have lost their jobs.
“Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of a group of church leaders known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for L.G.B.T. rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.”

This gets points just for balance. It brings up the conscience issue without belittling it or hinting that it's a cover for bigotry. It directly quotes a church leader, not just a static statement from LDS offices. And it allows Oaks to bring up the irony that many conservatives have cited: gay activists demanding rights for themselves, then denying rights to others.

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Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Readers may recall that, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I put up a quick post lamenting that I wasn't seeing much mainstream-media coverage of this haunting event. I also noted that hoped we would see more coverage -- logically -- on the day after, with news stories focusing on the content of the anniversary events.

I hoped that would happen and that was, at quite a few publications, precisely what happened.

As you would expect, The Washington Post -- in the same city as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published a local-angle story, hooked on the events in the Hall of Remembrance.

The newspaper's foreign desk also contributed a stunning story -- "A Nightmare Revisited" -- reported from Auschwitz, where 300 survivors returned to what it called the "bloodiest site of the Holocaust." And there was a sidebar listening to the voices of Auschwitz survivors.

I recommend these stories highly. Yet, I do so even as I note that the news stories failed to dig into the impact of this singular event, this singular vision of evil, on the lives of post-Holocaust Jews as religious believers and on the Jewish faith in general.

The timeless theodicy question, of course: Where was God?

OK, I will ask: Where were the God issues in these otherwise fine news reports?

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Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

It's been a while since I quoted "Shrek." 

But every now and then, I like to recount one of my favorite scenes in the original movie. It's the one in which the title character explains that "there's a lot more to ogres than people think."

"Example?" Donkey responds.

“Example … uh … ogres are like onions,” Shrek says, holding up an onion that Donkey sniffs.

More of the dialogue:

Donkey: “They stink?”
Shrek: “Yes. ... No!”
Donkey: “Oh, they make you cry?”
Shrek: “No!”
Donkey: “Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.”
Shrek (peeling an onion): “No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.”

I've used this analogy before, but too many news stories lack layers.

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Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

JOHN ASKS:

When did circumcision start and how was God involved? How did its use evolve to today’s practice?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

In the Jewish faith, ritual circumcision of males (bris) to remove the foreskin of the penis has been a requirement ever since God designated it as a “sign of the covenant” with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). So God has been “involved” for some 4,000 years now.

Anthropologists tell us that circumcision was practiced long before Abraham, across the globe from pharaonic Egypt to aboriginal Australia. It was often a tribal “rite of passage” at puberty, and not the Bible’s sign of commitment to God performed on eight-day-old newborns. The “why” of circumcision prior to biblical times is uncertain. Macmillan’s “Encyclopedia of Religion” says contemporary experts dismiss the theories that it originated to mark captives, attract women, enhance sexual pleasure, aid hygiene, test bravery, or symbolize submission to elders or the cutting of bonds with mothers.

Jewish surgery and ceremonial are commonly the work of a specialist known as a mohel. The operation is traditionally required for adult converts as well as infants born in the faith. Though liberal Reform Judaism dropped that mandate in 1893, some of its rabbis continue the tradition. Note that any male born of a Jewish mother is deemed a Jew, even if he is not circumcised.

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Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Back in the 1980s, when I was working at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP, maybe) in Denver, I was in regular contact with press officials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both locally, especially during the building of the Colorado temple, and those working in the big white tower in Salt Lake City, Utah.

We frequently discussed issues of newspaper style and how the church's unique beliefs were handled in the mainstream press. We didn't always agree, of course, but I knew where they were coming from. We had many discussions, for example, about what to call the leaders of local and regional Mormon flocks. The key: Mormons don't have professional, full-time clergy in the same sense as other churches. The word "ordain" isn't used in the same way.

Thus, it has been interesting to follow the many interesting comments on my recent post about the New York Times story covering the ongoing political and religious pilgrimage of Mitt Romney. The key reference was right near the top:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.
Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.

It seems clear to me that Mormons have, in recent years, continued in their efforts to find ways to talk about their lives in language that is less foreign to other Americans. Thus, rather than saying that a local LDS leader was the "bishop" of his "ward," it is becoming more likely that -- when talking to outsiders -- Mormons are more likely to say that some is the "pastor"  of their local "church" and THEN go on to explain the differences.

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Is the American Family Association really a hate group? AP needs to tell both sides of the story

Is the American Family Association really a hate group? AP needs to tell both sides of the story

The Associated Press highlighted a weekend prayer rally hosted by Louisiana Gov. — and potential Republican presidential candidate — Bobby Jindal:

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Gov. Bobby Jindal continued to court Christian conservatives for a possible presidential campaign with a headlining appearance Saturday at an all-day prayer rally described as a "global prayer gathering for a nation in crisis."
The rally attracted thousands to the basketball arena on LSU's campus but drew controversy both because of the group hosting it, the American Family Association, and Jindal's well-advertised appearance.
Holding his Bible, the two-term Republican governor opened the event by urging a spiritual revival to "begin right here, right here in our hearts." He was scheduled to speak again later Saturday afternoon.
While people sang, raised their hands in prayer and gave their personal testimonies inside the arena, hundreds more protested the event outside.

The American Family Association figures heavily — and negatively — in the AP report.

There's this reference:

Outside the prayer event, critics held a protest, saying the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group, promotes discrimination against people who are gay or of non-Christian faiths.

And this one:

Jindal hasn't commented directly on the views of the American Family Association, which has linked same-sex marriage and abortion to disasters such as tornadoes and Hurricane Katrina.

How does the American Family Association respond?

The AP story doesn't say, although that information is readily available on the association's website.

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How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

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Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

I am in the middle or writing a pair of "On Religion" columns about the recent "Getting Religion" conference in Westminster, England, led by the Open University and the Lapido Media network that promotes religious literacy in the press and in diplomatic circles. Click here to read the first of those Universal syndicate columns, if you wish:

However, the main thing that I wanted to share with GetReligion readers -- especially working journalists -- is this video that was shown as part of the conference. No, I wasn't there (my final semester here at the Washington Journalism Center was starting right about that time), but I certainly wish that I could have gone.

What was the general thrust of this event? Here are some crucial background quotes, the first drawn from published remarks (.pdf here) by Richard Porritt, a former top editor at The London Evening Standard and the British Press Association wire service.

Let this soak in, as a statement about UK media (and elsewhere):

A journalist who is not confident about the facts is dangerous. And with a specialism like religion mis-reporting can lead to widespread misunderstanding. For too long religious affairs -- as editors deem fit to call the specialism -- has been a job palmed off on reporters. It is a role that has traditionally been dodged by the cream of the newsroom for specialisms thought to be more glamorous or hard-hitting. But there is no more vital role in a modern society cluttered with half-truths and myth surrounding religion.

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Washington Post story on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is long on emotion, short on religious insight

Washington Post story on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is long on emotion, short on religious insight

Since I live in Oklahoma, this Washington Post headline caught my attention:

Deeply conservative Oklahoma adjusts to sudden arrival of same-sex marriage

I'm not sure what I expected when I clicked the link. 

I guess I hoped the Post would go below the surface and not rely on easy stereotypes to characterize the beliefs and attitudes of my fellow Oklahomans.

To a certain extent, this in-depth piece — produced by a Style section writer — does that, focusing on one lesbian couple's decision to marry and the reactions they receive from friends and family.

A top newspaper reporter here in Oklahoma tweeted the link and called it a "great story." My reaction is more mixed. On the one hand, the Post does a pretty nice job of highlighting the emotional experience of the couple featured. On the other hand, the newspaper avoids any meaty exploration of religion, an obviously key factor at play in this state — and in this story — but one that the Post relegates to a cameo role.

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