Reuters

'God is my gun,' says woman quoted in superficial Reuters story on church security

'God is my gun,' says woman quoted in superficial Reuters story on church security

This was the headline on a recent Reuters story on church security in America, post-Charleston:

In some U.S. churches, guns are the answer to a prayer

But are guns really an answer to a prayer?

Or does that title foreshadow a superficial, cliché treatment of the subject? 

You decide:

JACKSON, Mich. —The Sunday service was winding down, but before it ended, Bishop Ira Combs led the congregation of 300 at the Greater Bible Way Temple in prayer. The shootings that killed nine people in a Charleston church could not happen here, he reassured his flock.
"If they had security, the assailant would not have been able to reload," Combs declared. "All of us here are not going to turn the other cheek while you shoot us."
As he preached, Combs was flanked by a man on each side of the pulpit, each armed with handguns beneath their suit coats. Other members of the church's security team were scattered among the crowd. Congregants did not know who was armed and who was not — an undercover approach that is part of the security plan.
"We aren't looking to engage people in violence, but we are going to practice law enforcement," Combs told Reuters before the service. "And we are going to interdict if someone comes in with a weapon."

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Pope Francis travels to South America to talk climate change (and, maybe, Jesus)

Pope Francis travels to South America to talk climate change (and, maybe, Jesus)

Once again, the pope is travelling. This means that, once again, readers get to observe one of the iron-clad laws that govern religion-news coverage at work.

This chunk of the mainstream journalism Grand Unified Theory states that, no matter what the pope cites as his reasons for visiting a land or region, he is actually there for political reasons. He is there in an attempt to impact the lives of real people through political ideas or actions (as opposed to through sacraments, biblical truth, etc.) Then again, he might be there because of something that is going on in church politics. Reporters are allowed to consider that option.

In this case, Pope Francis is back home in South America where, in a welcoming ceremony at Ecuador’s Quito International airport. he offered the following reasons for this trip:

Pope Francis ... spoke to a delegation which included Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, government authorities, and his fellow bishops. The Pope told the delegation that his reason for coming to Ecuador was to be “a witness of God’s mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ.”

Wait. That isn't the reason for the journey quoted in your main news source?

Oh, right. That quote is from the Catholic News Agency report, which actually used a lede that combined both the sacred and the secular language from the Pope Francis arrival rite.

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Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

The New York Times was thinking ahead. On Thursday, before today's Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide, the Times ran a what-if story -- focusing on implications for conservative colleges that ban gay relationships.

The newspaper was less than sharp when the decision came out. But first, the good stuff.

In the Thursday story, the Times, which typically holds the towel for whoever is in the ring for liberalism, sounds almost sympathetic in citing conservative fears:

The religious schools are concerned that if they continue to bar gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service could take away their tax-exempt status as a violation of a "fundamental national public policy" under the reasoning of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allowed the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of schools that banned interracial relationships.
In a recent letter to congressional leaders, officials from more than 70 schools, from Catholic high schools to evangelical colleges, said that a Supreme Court ruling approving same-sex marriage would put at risk all schools "adhering to traditional religious and moral values."
"I am concerned, and I think I’d be remiss, if not naïve, to be otherwise," said Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in Bartlesville, Okla. "This is not alarmist thinking. This is rational listening."

The Times goes into considerable detail about the leaders' fears. A "yea" ruling on same-sex marriage by the high court, the newspaper says, could force colleges to change their policies on married housing, benefits to spouses, even sexual intimacy on campus. Flouting federal orders could cost their tax exemption.

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Muslims in northern latitudes get their day in the sun

Muslims in northern latitudes get their day in the sun

Earlier this week, Religion News Service ran an intriguing story by a Reuters reporter about Muslims who live in far northern latitudes and their struggles to keep the Ramadan fast when daylight stretches for nearly 24 hours. 

Personal note: For the past year, I’ve lived in Alaska, where daylight is as little as two hours in the winter and is now at 22 hours. From my perch in Fairbanks, the sun sets at 12:45 a.m. and rises at 2:58 a.m. It’s a tad hard to sleep when you get a blast of sunshine (even through closed blinds) at 3 a.m. Last week, I visited Prudhoe Bay, where at 70º latitude, the sun never sets from May 20 to July 22. It’s beyond weird to go to bed there in broad daylight.

So here you have a religion founded in latitudes close to the equator where huge swings in hours of daylight aren’t an issue. But what happens when that religion expands to the north and south? As the story says:

(RNS) When the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins later this week, some Muslims around the world will face bigger challenges than others. The Quran is clear that the fast should last from before dawn to after dusk but says nothing about how many hours that might be.
Since Islam has spread from its Arabian heartland to the far reaches of the Earth, Muslims who live farther north must fast several hours longer than those in Mecca. On the year’s longest day, June 21, some could end up fasting for as long as 20 hours.
Usama Hasan, a British Islamic scholar, thinks this makes Ramadan fasting unbearable for many Muslims living in Northern Europe and Canada, especially the old and children just beginning to observe the practice. It also prompts many Muslims to give up fasting altogether during the summer, he said, or sneak a secret snack to help them get through the long days.

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Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

You may have heard of a spinning storm like Tropical Storm Bill -- but have you ever seen the spin before the storm?

You have if you’ve read much about Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. It hasn't even come out yet -- it's scheduled to be released today -- but already, tongues are waggin' and tweets are twittering.

Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," is supposed to balance reflections on science, economics and compassion for the poor surrounding climate change. But the message is already in danger of being drowned out by spin doctors, both liberal and conservative -- and anger over media that leaked a version of the document.

Among the cheerleaders is the Los Angeles Times' breathless advance piece. The story throws a bone to conservatives who think the encyclical could "roil the American presidential race by injecting religion into the already contentious politics of global warming." But all the direct quotes go to liberals who applaud what they think Francis is about to say (remember, the letter hasn't even come out yet!).

And the newspaper's own attitude is evident from this:

Viewed by some as a bold act by the pope to sway opinion on a controversial issue, the encyclical in many ways reflects a movement that has been growing for decades, sometimes on the margins, with some Catholic and Christian academics and individual church leaders and congregations increasingly making “creation care” a theological pursuit and a central ministry. In some cases, the approach has helped churches reconnect with people who felt Catholicism and other denominations had become too concerned with divisive cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of those groups believe they have a formidable new ally.

Reuters chimes in, saying how "keenly awaited" has been the encyclical, which is "destined to become a signature document of his papacy."

Reuters puts Francis on the side of the angels, aka scientists:

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Hey New York Times: Is North Carolina law really about 'curtailing same-sex unions,' or is religious freedom the issue?

Hey New York Times: Is North Carolina law really about 'curtailing same-sex unions,' or is religious freedom the issue?

The New York Times reports that North Carolina lawmakers passed a measure Thursday "aimed at curtailing same-sex unions."

Here's my pesky question for the Times: Can you provide any facts — any facts at all — to back up that claim?

Or is this new state law — as the supporters claim — about protecting religious freedom?

To give a little background, you'll recall that the Times previously ventured down to North Carolina and provided mediocre coverage on what it labeled "so-called religious freedom bills."

This is the lede on the latest story:

DURHAM, N.C. — Defying the governor, lawmakers on Thursday enacted a law that allows state court officials to refuse to perform a marriage if they have a “sincerely held religious objection,” a measure aimed at curtailing same-sex unions.

 

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Reuters does sweeping report on Jerusalem tensions, yet misses some things

Reuters does sweeping report on Jerusalem tensions, yet misses some things

Politics, gay marriage, entertainment news, separation of church and state -- sure, these things get our attention. But the continual clash of faiths in Jerusalem --  a conflict that may yet overwhelm us all -- gets comparatively little coverage.

Except for a searching, savvy story by Reuters on who gets to pray on the Temple Mount -- and what happens if they can't have it for themselves.

What happens, as Reuters reports, is a series of tense incidents as religious Jews climb the stairs to the mountain -- called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims -- and attempt to pray. Worst cases have included the five-year riot known as the Second Intifada, which sent 4,000 people to their deaths.

Even between riots, a Jewish terrorist group some years back tried to blow up the Dome of the Rock. And last October, Reuters says, a spokesman for Temple Mount groups was shot four times and spent 10 days in a coma.

Although this story is in labeled as a blog item, it's written as a sophisticated newsfeature, with a clear attempt at balance. But even in 2,300 words, it misses or discolors a few points. We'll get to that in a few.

"There are few patches of land more contested than this 35 acres," Reuters says, and truer words were never written. The article paints a vivid picture of being there on a near-confrontation: a visit of "religious-nationalist Jews" to the mountain, shadowed closely by Israeli police and guards of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that runs the area:

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More strange word games: Mormon leader dies, and Reuters fixates on same-sex marriage

More strange word games: Mormon leader dies, and Reuters fixates on same-sex marriage

L. Tom Perry died on Saturday. He opposed gay marriage.

And oh, yeah, he was a very important Mormon leader, as in for many decades.

OK, maybe that's a touch too harsh. But dang, look at the Reuters headline on Saturday: "Mormon leader L. Tom Perry dies at 92, opposed same-sex marriage."

What about Perry's rank as one of the top 15 leaders in a church of 15 million members? Or his leadership style, or his service as a U.S. Marine? All that seems less important to the astonishingly brief, seven-paragraph obit.

The overloaded lede throws in a lot of stuff, wire style: "Mormon leader L. Tom Perry, the oldest member of the faith's highest governing body and who spoke against same-sex marriage, died from cancer on Saturday at age 92, the church said." Reuters adds other li'l details: that Perry served a top Mormon spot for four decades, met President Obama in April, and was widowed and married again.

But then the story narrows to this:

Perry was present when Utah lawmakers and Mormon leaders introduced a landmark bill in March barring discrimination against gays and transgender people while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.
But he drew criticism from gay rights advocates in April when he told a church gathering in Salt Lake City that he opposed "counterfeit and alternative lifestyles."

Eh? "Counterfeit and alternative lifestyles"?

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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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