Oooo, an atheist pastor: Washington Post takes a wide-eyed yet manipulative look at a Canadian conflict

When I last looked at the Rev. Gretta Vosper, the famously atheistic pastor in Toronto, I praised Canadian media for their measured coverage. "In the United States," I wrote, "we'd be reading and hearing ferocious barrages of rhetoric."

Well, I take it back. Now that a national committee of the United Church of Canada has recommended Vosper's ouster, the report from at least one American publication -- the Washington Post -- isn’t quite that fierce. Just cartoonish. And inferior to the writeup in a Canadian newspaper.

Let's start with the good first. The National Post, that Canadian paper, starts with a straight account of the facts:

A United Church of Canada minister who is a self-professed atheist and has been the subject of an unprecedented probe into her theological beliefs is one step closer to being removed from the pulpit.
Sub-executive members of the church’s Toronto Conference announced Thursday they have asked the church’s general council, the most senior governance body, to hold a formal hearing to decide whether Rev. Gretta Vosper, who does not believe in God or the Bible, should be placed on the disciplinary "Discontinued Service List."
"Some will be disappointed and angry that this action has been taken, believing that the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity," it said in a statement.
"Others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith. There is no unanimity in the church about what to do."

This is what Terry Mattingly likes to call the "American model" -- fair, straight, honest. Sad that we had to look outside America to find it.

The National Post continues to say that the conference committee found Vosper "not suitable" as a UCC minister for deserting her beliefs. The 700-word article also allows space for some back-and-forth:

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Question for reporters, politicos and citizens: Is it dangerous to talk about religion?

Question for reporters, politicos and citizens: Is it dangerous to talk about religion?

Several years ago, I took what I thought was a liberal course of action on a day when Facebook users were signaling, or shouting, their political and cultural views at one another. I changed the banner photo on my page to a red, white and blue semi-flag image that contained the text of the First Amendment.

Trigger warning: Here is that text again.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

At that point something interesting happened. I received several emails and messages, including several from former students, accusing me of hate speech for waving, so to speak, the First Amendment flag. It was clear, they said, that I did this to promote religious liberty.

What they were saying was perfectly captured the other day in a "Peaceful Coexistence" document released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This document played a key role in my "On Religion" column this week, as well as the latest GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

The bottom line: The commission argued that "civil rights" now trump the First Amendment. As I noted in my column:

The commission stressed: "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."
In a quote that went viral online, commission chair Martin Castro added: "The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance."

Castro added:

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A corny Jewish joke, Japanese rent-a-monks and why context matters in journalism

A corny Jewish joke, Japanese rent-a-monks and why context matters in journalism

Indulge me.

Let's say that you're at a Jewish funeral home service. Some 75 mourners fidget in the pews as a rabbi -- a freelancer hired just to lead the service and a stranger to the deceased -- begins.

"At times like this it's customary to say something nice about the dearly departed," says the rabbi. "Since I didn't know Gantza Turis, I turn to you, his family and friends, to say some comforting words. Who will start?"

Silence, as all eyes avoid the rabbi's.

"I know it's hard to speak at a time like this, but please, someone, stand up and say something nice about Gantza," the rabbi implores. More uncomfortable silence follows. Twice more the rabbi urges the mourners to speak. Twice more no one does.

Finally, visibly upset, the rabbi says, "Look, I'm not going to continue until someone says something nice about Gantza. I'm serious!

At which point a short, elderly man with a hint of a Yiddish accent (picture Mel Brooks wearing a tan zippered windbreaker circa 1975) rises in the back row and blurts out, with a sweeping hand motion, "His brother? Worse!"

Get the old joke? No? Well, sorry; explaining it will just deepen my comedic hole. Ask a friend.

No matter. It's a favorite of mine; classic Borscht Belt stand-up.

Besides, it's punchline underscores the first serious point of this post. Which is ...

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From Crystal Cathedral to Christ Cathedral: It's a complicated story

From Crystal Cathedral to Christ Cathedral: It's a complicated story

In an enlightening piece about how one can transform a glassed-in megachurch into a Catholic worship space, the Los Angeles Times has presented us with an update on the church formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral.

When the original was completed in 1980 at the cost of $18 million, its most singular feature was its 12,000 panes of rectangular glass. It was quite the landmark in Orange County for many years.

However, the congregation inside the famous church went bankrupt in 2010 and was bought by the Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million in early 2012.  The church’s founder, Robert Schuller, died last year. The article picks up from there:

The Crystal Cathedral was for decades a powerful symbol of a certain kind of church.
The landmark church was built by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the famed pastor who brought the drive-in church to Orange County during the beginning of the postwar suburban boom and preached an upbeat, modern vision of Christianity.
The Philip Johnson-designed structure made of steel and more than 12,000 panes of glass became world famous and was a forerunner to other so-called mega churches.
But more than a year after Schuller’s death, the Crystal Cathedral is undergoing a major transformation in both design and ownership. The makeover will transform the building into Christ Cathedral as the Catholic Church takes it over. 

After discussing upcoming tours of the place, the article continues:

Estimated costs for the cathedral are about $72 million, according to the Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral who is leading the design project.

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Heaven and hell: (a) Evangelicals are weird, (b) Americans are confused, (c) both

Heaven and hell: (a) Evangelicals are weird, (b) Americans are confused, (c) both

How do you write a logical, coherent news report about a survey that offers evidence that Americans are not the most consistent pack of people in the world when it comes to matters of absolute truth and eternal life?

That's the challenge facing journalists writing about a new LifeWay Research survey probing the current status of several ancient Christian doctrines in postmodern America.

Based on two early reports, it appears that the crucial question is whether the survey is newsworthy because it shows that lots of Americans are out of step when it comes to holding on to core beliefs in traditional Christianity or because it shows that evangelical Protestants are out of step with ordinary Americans.

First, here is the top of a Religion News Service piece -- "On God and heaven, Americans are all over the map" -- on this subject. Spot the approach.

(RNS) Two-thirds of Americans believe God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The exception: Americans with evangelical Christian beliefs, according to LifeWay Research’s 2016 State of American Theology Study. Only 48 percent of evangelicals share the belief God accepts all worship.

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That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

This — 100 percent this. And about time.

Perhaps you saw the debate the other night. I caught an hour or so of it — about all I could take. 

For those concerned about culture-war issues, count how many times words such as "abortion," "marriage" and "religious liberty" were uttered in the showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (The answer, in each case, would be zero.)

Thus, tweets such as the ones below appeared in my timeline on debate night (yes, including one from our own tmatt).

Then on Wednesday, I noticed this tweet from James A. Smith Sr., a GetReligion reader, a Southern Baptist minister and vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters.

So back to "This," that link I shared earlier.

It's an in-depth story by Laurie Goodstein, the New York Times' veteran national religion correspondent who just won the Religion News Association's top prize for excellence in religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

Here is how an email sent to religion writers by a New York Times public relations guru (who knew newspapers had PR people?) describes today's story:

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Tampa football team sues to pray, but media still don’t score a touchdown

Tampa football team sues to pray, but media still don’t score a touchdown

The Lancers of Cambridge Christian School may have lost their championship game; but in court, they have just begun to fight. The Tampa school this week made good on its threat to sue for the right to lead public prayer before a game.

In January, the Florida High School Athletic Association denied them the mic and speakers at Orlando's Citrus Bowl, even though they were facing another Christian school -- University Christian of Jacksonville. Mainstream media coverage varied greatly, as I wrote in a January GR post.

Unfortunately, they did little better this time around.

The fracas turns on whether the FHSAA, as a "state actor" -- commissioned by the state legislature to regulate high school sports -- is responsible for speech flowing through public-address systems at stadiums like the Citrus Bowl (renamed Camping World Stadium). If so, they argue, they can't allow religious talk like prayer.

Cambridge Christian, as you can guess, is standing on the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion.  They argue also that the athletic association is doing the opposite of the First Amendment by opposing religious free speech.

In January, the Tampa Tribune did much better than the Tampa Bay Times. Now that the Times has bought the Trib, their better side seems to have taken over -- at least with this story:

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'Pitch' this: When boys and girls play on the same sports field, religion enters the mix

'Pitch' this: When boys and girls play on the same sports field, religion enters the mix

Big baseball fan that I am, I was drawn to last week's premiere of "Pitch."

Fox's new series features a fictional pitcher named Ginny Baker (played by Kylie Bunbury), who becomes the first woman to play in the major leagues.

I'm not a TV critic, but I really enjoyed the first episode — including the emotional twist at the end.

I'll admit that I didn't spot a potential religion angle — at the time.

But after reading a story included in today's Pew Research Center daily religion headlines, I'm wondering if there just might be one.

This is the headline, as presented by Pew, that caught my attention:

Arizona high school boys soccer team refuses to play team with two female players for religious reasons

Hmmmmm. Interesting. As I clicked the link, I wondered: Would the Arizona Republic explain those religious reasons?

However, the first thing I noticed was that Pew had tweaked the headline a bit for its audience. I'll copy the actual headline on the Republic website below. Notice any missing words?:

Arizona high school boys soccer team refuses to play team with two female players

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I pray thee, might this story on Lulu the therapy dog have needed 'scare quotes'?

I pray thee, might this story on Lulu the therapy dog have needed 'scare quotes'?

Well, what do you know?

Apparently there is a time and a place for just about everything and, in the field of news, that even includes the use of "scare quotes." Surf here for some discussions of the meaning of this hot-button term in modern semi-opinion journalism.

Now, anyone who has visited this blog more than two or three times probably knows that your GetReligionistas are not fond of "scare quotes" around religious terms that have perfectly fine, established meanings, thank you very much. Most of the battles right now, of course, are about religious liberty vs. "religious liberty." Oh, and "traditional marriage" is another one.

However, in this case I am going to argue (wait for it) that the Washington Post team probably needed to use scare quotes in the Health & Science feature that ran with this headline: "There’s a dog at this funeral home, ready to pray with you."

Come to think of it, I would have put some quote marks around a specific term in that headline. See if you can figure out which one, after looking at the overture:

“Lulu, say a prayer,’’ Matthew Fiorillo tells his 2½ -year-old goldendoodle. Hearing the command, Lulu, a therapy dog who comforts mourners at Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services in Westchester County, N.Y., puts her paws up onto the kneeler and tilts her head down.

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