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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Journalistic story baking? Via World magazine, Colorado man denies requesting 'God hates gays' cake

Journalistic story baking? Via World magazine, Colorado man denies requesting 'God hates gays' cake

"This Colorado baker refused to put an anti-gay message on cakes. Now she is facing a civil rights complaint," proclaimed a Washington Post headline.

"Complaint: Baker refused to write anti-gay words on cake," reported USA Today.

"Denver baker sued for refusing to write anti-gay slogans on cake," said The Christian Science Monitor.

In a post last week, I characterized The Associated Press' coverage of the latest skirmish in Colorado's cake/culture wars as "less than perfect."

Now comes Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of the evangelical Christian news magazine World, with questions mainstream media coverage of the dispute.

The top of Olaksy's report:

Bill Jack goes on the offensive today in the Colorado cake-baking story that’s received enormous media attention over the past week.
Jack is a founder of and frequent speaker at Worldview Academy summer camps that train students to think and live Christianly. The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other media powers have lambasted him for purportedly asking the owner of Azucar Bakery in Denver to decorate a cake with “anti-gay slogans,” particularly “God hates gays.”

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Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an event that -- to my surprise -- is getting very little coverage in the mainstream press on this side of the Atlantic.

Why is that? Any theories?

Perhaps the coverage will be tomorrow, focusing on news events linked to the anniversary. Maybe.

Anyway, this made me think about a piece of journalism-related material that I had hoped to post this past weekend in one of my usual "think piece" slots, but other news jumped ahead in my priorities.

While there is, let me stress, no direct connection between the issue of Holocaust coverage and current debates about coverage of Israel, I thought that this piece from The Forward was very interesting.

I don't know about you, but I often get tired of the usual left vs. right debates in politics, media, religion and culture. In this case, we have a liberal Jewish publication offering a serious critique of the newspaper -- The New York Times, of course -- that serves as holy writ for the cultural left. The headline: "The New York Times and its Israel Bias --The Gray Lady's Blind Spot."

This piece, in turn, opened with a Times hook -- a column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in response to waves of letters from readers about this topic.

The key is a topic that your GetReligionistas hear about all of the time from our readers: How are people supposed to believe that the EDITORIAL perspective shown in social media and columns is completely separated from the worldview that drives the hard-news coverage in the same publication?

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Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Mitt Romney is in the news again, which means it's time for people to argue about whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, well, you know, normal and safe and whatever.

This leads us to a really interesting question linked to a New York Times piece that ran the other day: Is it a mistake when journalists print a factually inaccurate statement about a religious believer, yet there is evidence that they were quoting -- without saying they were quoting -- the believer himself?

The discussion starts here:

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.
Three years ago, Mr. Romney’s tortured approach to his religion -- a strategy of awkward reluctance and studied avoidance that all but walled off a free-flowing discussion of his biography -- helped doom his campaign. (The subject is still so sensitive that many, including the prominent Republican, would only discuss it on condition that they not be identified.)

Veteran religion writers will spot the problem quickly: Mormons don't have "pastors," if that noun is a reference to ordained clergy who work for the church as their calling and vocation.

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'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

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