Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

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Native Hawaiian protesters get a pass in NPR story about Mauna Kea fracas

Native Hawaiian protesters get a pass in NPR story about Mauna Kea fracas

Every so often, there are articles that cause a sense of journalism whiplash and this is certainly one of those.

Here is an NPR story on a group of Hawaiians who are camped out atop Mauna Kea, the dominant volcano on the island of Hawaii. Claiming an allegiance to the pagan gods and goddesses said to inhabit the area, the leaders of this group do not understand why there has to be a 14th astronomical observatory on this peak.

Although there’s been local media reports about this controversy -- which has erupted six years after construction was approved by the Office for Hawaiian Affairs -- National Public Radio appears to have been the only national medium that has reported on the fracas.

The bottom line: Notice the lack of snark here and the respect paid to the beliefs of the devotees.

In Hawaii, a battle is going on over the future of a mountaintop. Native Hawaiians say it's sacred ground, while astronomers say it's the best place in the world to build a massive, 18-story telescope.
This is not simply a story of religion versus science. Activists consider the construction of a giant telescope on the island of Hawaii to be a desecration of their sacred land.

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Washington Post on GOP speeches: Sharp on spotting holes, weak on filling them

Washington Post on GOP speeches: Sharp on spotting holes, weak on filling them

Gotta hand it to the Washington Post. They got it right, right in the headline: "Lots of prayer but not many specifics at GOP summit in Iowa."

A dozen Republican presidential hopefuls came under the Post's microscope in its coverage of the GOP's Iowa blitz. They talked vaguely about social values and how their faiths sustain them. But seldom did they connect the two as public policy. And the Post, unfortunately, didn't press them.

Too bad, because the lede was pretty promising:

WAUKEE, IOWA — Religious liberty came up again and again as potential Republican presidential candidates gave stump speeches in a packed suburban mega-church on Saturday night. Many in the crowded field have struggled to find just the right way to discuss controversial social issues -- like immigration, abortion and income inequality -- without hurting their chances of becoming the next president.
Looming over the broad proclamations of the need to protect religious views is the national debate about the balance between reducing discrimination and upholding religious freedom, sparked by a controversial Indiana law signed this spring. But, as with other issues, most politicians did not get into specifics on how to strike that balance.
Doing justice to everyone in the crowded field, as the article aptly calls it, is a tough job for less than 900 words. But the Post manages by nimbly picking representative quotes from the candidates.

Mike Huckabee says the nation is "criminalizing Christianity." Ted Cruz decries "religious liberty under assault at an unprecedented level." Both Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal say they'd attend a same-sex wedding of a loved one, even though they oppose the practice themselves. Scott Walker reads a favorite devotion, and Rick Perry tells what his Christian faith means to him.

Whether it's true or not that the Indiana law spawned the religious campaign talk, that law is one of three current events the Post works into the story. The others are President Obama's negotiations with Iran and the Supreme Court's plans to start deliberating tomorrow (Tuesday) whether same-sex marriage is a matter of constitutional right or state law.

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Sign that marriage license? Ancient sacraments vs. battles over civil contracts

Sign that marriage license? Ancient sacraments vs. battles over civil contracts

This week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen in) grew out of my latest "On Religion" column, rather than a GetReligion post, so here is a bit of background on the subject -- which is the growing debate about whether clergy in traditional faiths should continue to sign marriage licenses from the state.

If you want to know more, a good place to start is with "The Marriage Pledge," a document posted by the conservative, interfaith journal First Things. The key statement therein: "Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage."

At that point, move over and scan some of the short essays included in the journal's forum called "The Church and Civil Marriage," in which eight scholars and popular writers -- Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic -- debate the merits of religious congregations cutting the ties that bind their marriage rites to the current legal debates about marriage and sex.

As you do so, I hope you notice something interesting, which is that some people who are normally stuck under the simplistic "conservative" umbrella do not agree with one another on this issue. I will go further and say that there are progressive reasons, as well as conservative reasons, to separate civil unions and holy matrimony. This is -- no matter that the newspapers say -- not an issue that is simply left vs. right.

To demonstrate, let's play a game. The following quotations are from two Southern Baptist leaders. One is a progressive position and the other conservative. Which is which?

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San Francisco Chronicle needed more info on nuns who walked out on pro-gay leafletting

San Francisco Chronicle needed more info on nuns who walked out on pro-gay leafletting

The theological tug-of-war between the Archdiocese of San Francisco and gay advocates shows no sign of ending soon, which means there will continue to be news coverage to dig into, naturally.

The latest soldiers in this battle are a group of nuns who staged a walkout when students passed out gay-rights materials at their school. But the nuns engaged in this battle are not old fogeys. They’re savvy 20- and 30-somethings who know what to do with an iPhone and who understand the cultural wars that are unfolding on their turf. Did this crucial information make it into the story?

Listen to how the San Francisco Chronicle described what happened a week ago:

The divisions within the Bay Area’s Catholic community over gay rights hit Marin Catholic High School full force the other day, when a group of nuns walked out of their classes to protest the sponsors of a program intended to protect gay and lesbian teens from bullying.
The five members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary order exited their classrooms Friday as students began handing out flyers at the Kentfield school promoting a nationwide Day of Silence.
Their walkout came one day after 100 prominent local Catholics attracted national attention by taking out a full-page ad in The Chronicle calling on the pope to oust Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, in part for trying to get teachers at Catholic schools to sign off on a morality clause that characterizes homosexual relations as “gravely evil.”

Let's keep reading, because it takes a while to get to these nuns.

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Traditional marriage champion gets respectful profile in Washington Post

Traditional marriage champion gets respectful profile in Washington Post

Champagne glasses might well have been clinking at the Heritage Foundation on April 15. That's when the Washington Post ran a massive, 2,250-word profile on the foundation's rising young star, Ryan T. Anderson -- in largely favorable terms.

Anderson, a research fellow at Heritage, cuts against the stereotype of a white-haired conservative repeating stale arguments. The 33-year-old scholar is making a bright, deep mark in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. And the Post is unsparing in its compliments:

His appeal in part owes something to counter-programming. A Princeton graduate with a doctorate in economic policy from Notre Dame, his views are at odds with other elite academics with whom he has so much in common. They are the opposite of those in his demographic. A devout Catholic, he nonetheless believes it a losing argument to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds.
Also in his favor: He’s telegenic, an enthusiastic debater, and he can talk for hours.

Brisk-reading despite its length, the article follows Anderson to a debate at the University of Colorado’s law school. It tells how Piers Morgan and Suze Orman ganged up on him. And it reports how MSNBC's Ed Schultz had Anderson's mike cut off in frustration.

WaPo also scans Anderson's arguments for traditional marriage: some of them garden-variety conservative, such as "sexual complementarity" and the state's interest in caring for children; some of them more novel, such as the assertion that "my definition of marriage is allowed in the Constitution":

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Stephen Curry can do all things? Public-service note for scribes covering NBA playoffs

Stephen Curry can do all things? Public-service note for scribes covering NBA playoffs

Hey, old people who read GetReligion and know rock 'n' roll history (Hello Ira): Do you remember the days when people would write "Eric Clapton is God" on walls in London?

I think we are just about to hit that point with the so-hot-he-might-hurt-your-eyes hoops comet named Stephen Curry. Yes, I saw "The Move" against the Clippers (video above). Yes, I have seen the social media tsunami linked to "The Shot" last night to send that playoff game against New Orleans into overtime.

The press coverage of young master Curry is ramping up and, at some point, the mainstream news scribes are going to have to talk about his Christian faith. If you know the history of Curry and his NBA elite family, you know that this will at some point lead to his shoes and things written on his shoes. Think of it as the sequel to the black paint First Amendment Zones underneath Tim Tebow's eyes.

As a public-service announcement for journalists, I would like to flash back to some earlier GetReligion commentary about the press commentary about the biblical commentary on Curry's shoes -- starting when he was in college at Davidson. Does anyone remember this? A reporter wrote:

On the red trim at the bottom of his shoes, Stephen Curry has written in black marker, “I can do all things.”
Yes, yes he can. And because of him, Davidson is marching on.

Ah, but should that have been "Him" instead of "him"?

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New York Times goes to the zoo and reports on those strange Southern animals who oppose same-sex marriage

New York Times goes to the zoo and reports on those strange Southern animals who oppose same-sex marriage

It's Homer Simpson vs. The Professor as The New York Times this week pretends to provide a balanced report on opponents of same-sex marriage in North Carolina.

The online headline of the Times story that appeared on the newspaper's front page Thursday proclaims:

Opponents of Gay Marriage Ponder Strategy as Issue Reaches Supreme Court

But don't let the headline fool you. 

Supporters of a traditional biblical view of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman actually play only bit parts in this slanted report (Kellerism, anyone?) in which backwoods simpletons square off against sophisticated experts from elite universities. (Too bad there aren't any smart people to interview on the traditional marriage side.)

No, the top quote isn't a hick declaring that "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," but it's close:

EDEN, N.C. — John G. Kallam Jr., 67, carries a worn black Bible and another copy on his iPad, and believes Scripture is unequivocal.

“Sodom and Gomorrah, that story alone tells you what God thinks of same-sex marriage,” he said. “God said that homosexual behavior is a sin and that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Like three-quarters of the voters in rural Rockingham County, he checked “yes” in the 2012 plebiscite when North Carolina joined some 30 other states in adopting constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. “I breathed a sigh of relief,” he recalled.

But last October, Mr. Kallam was stunned when a federal judge overturned the ban.

An appointed county magistrate, Mr. Kallam was obligated to perform civil marriages. So he resigned, one of six in the state who stepped down to avoid violating their faith.

Keep reading, and opponents of same-sex marriage — including Kallam — are presented as angry and resentful, although the newspaper provides no quotes or evidence to back up its usage of those terms.

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Are tattoos OK for Jews and Christians? What does the Bible say?

Are tattoos OK for Jews and Christians? What does the Bible say?

JACOB’S QUESTION:

Christians and Jews -- Is it OK for them to get tattoos?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Quick summary: Many if not most Jews say no (as do Muslims). With Christians, it’s complicated.

There are obvious pros and cons with getting a tattoo because it’s a social signifier and permanently so, unlike hair styles, attire, and other expressions of individuality. But as a religious matter the issue is whether to observe the Bible’s commandment in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead, or tattoo any marks upon you. I am the LORD” (New Revised Standard Version).

The Hebrew verb here is ambiguous but New York University’s Baruch Levine says it’s “clear in context” that it means tattooing.

Indeed, as Charles Erdman of Princeton Theological Seminary observed, tattooing was common “among all the nations of antiquity” so the ban clearly set apart worshippers of the Bible’s one God against surrounding “pagans.” Note the adjacent biblical laws against flesh-gashing rituals, witchcraft, wizards, and mediums seeking contact with the dead.

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