Happy couple has 100 grandkids: Can you (as opposed to AP) spot the religion ghost?

Happy couple has 100 grandkids: Can you (as opposed to AP) spot the religion ghost?

This has to be one of the #DUH items to ever grace the cyber pages here at GetReligion. Let's see if you can spot the religion ghost in this one.

So let's say that you are reading a story about a nice elderly couple in Illinois named Leo and Ruth Zanger. The story appeared in the Quincy Herald-Whig that was picked up by the Associated Press, which is why several people (Hello M.Z. Hemingway!) saw it and sent me stunned, even incredulous notes.

Now, the key to this story is that Leo and Ruth Zanger recently celebrated the birth of their 100th grandchild. Thus, here is the top of the story:

It's a big deal when Leo and Ruth Zanger's family gets together. Seriously, it's a really big deal -- with added emphasis on the "big" part.
The Zangers recently welcomed their 100th grandchild, which makes family functions more than a get-together.
"We rent out a church hall," said Austin Zanger, a grandson of Leo and Ruth.
When Austin's wife, Ashleigh, gave birth to their second child, Jaxton Leo, on April 8, it became a historic moment. Jaxton was grandchild No. 100 for Leo and Ruth. For the numerically inclined, Jaxton was also No. 46 among the great-grandchildren. The Zangers also have 53 grandkids and one great-great-grandchild for a nice round 100.
"The good Lord has just kept sending them," Leo Zanger said of the grandkids. "We could start our own town."

Ah, but what kind of church hall? Seriously, as you read the top of this story didn't the following thought drift through your mind: "The Zangers must be really serious Catholics."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Orlando Sentinel on lesbian couple: Fair reporting, but is it fair enough?

Orlando Sentinel on lesbian couple: Fair reporting, but is it fair enough?

We at GetReligion talk a lot about fairness and balance, for reporting the pros and cons in a controversy. Yes, that's vital; but as in a story on a lesbian couple in Orlando, you need equivalent pros and cons. You also need to furnish background where needed.

And with the Orlando Sentinel's story on Jaclyn Pfeiffer and Kelly Bardier versus Aloma United Methodist Church, it was needed.

Basically, they were forced out from the church's daycare center. The couple said they were fired because they're gay. The church said they left voluntarily, and that they broke its rule for employees to be celibate outside marriage.

Bishop Ken Carter of the UMC Florida Conference sided with the couple, agreeing to pay $28,476 to them and their attorneys. Carter scolded the church and said he would remind the state's other Methodist pastors "reminding them of the church policy against violating a person's civil rights based on sexual orientation," the Sentinel says.

Some of the story is a "they said - they said" matter, and the Sentinel scrupulously logs the argument without trying to settle it:

Govatos also said the issue was not whether they were gay, but whether they were sexually intimate while unmarried — a violation of church employment policy that applied to straight as well as gay individuals.
"The [day-care] director asked them if they were involved in a sexual relationship. Each one on their own admitted that they were," Govatos said.
Meeks said they were never asked about whether they were sexually intimate — only whether they were in a relationship.
"My clients were never asked and never discussed that they were in a sexual relationship. They were never asked that question," Meeks said.

The newpsper quotes Pastor Jim Govatos of Aloma, as well as the couples' attorney. It also quotes a letter from the conference superintendent, the Rev. Annette Stiles Pendergrass. But I would have preferred a direct quote from Stiles or the bishop.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Buffalo paper posts intirguing piece on would-be nuns that omits a few questions

Buffalo paper posts intirguing piece on would-be nuns that omits a few questions

There’s been a lot of press in recent years about the newer more conservative type of American nun and how influxes of 20-something women joining fairly new religious communities.

That is, the new breed of nun isn't joining up with some of the traditional orders. They are inventing their own or joining communities that have taken old, old traditions and pulled them into the modern world, trusting that they are still relevant and will appeal to the young.

Here’s a story of a quintet of young women who are doing just that, care of the team at The Buffalo News

Nuns have long been the bedrock of the Catholic Church in Western New York. At the height of their numbers in the late 1960s, more than 3,500 sisters ministered in the region, teaching and healing hundreds of thousands of people in schools and hospitals. Hundreds of sisters remain active in the area today, but most are well into their 60s and 70s, and their communities have long passed the stage of being able to replenish themselves with fresh-faced recruits. Most communities of women religious in the area haven’t welcomed a new nun in decades. Some have given up on looking for candidates.
Yet, on the Lake Erie shoreline in Derby, a Catholic retreat house now teems with the youthful exuberance of Martin and four other women, all in their 20s and hoping to become nuns together in what could be the first religious community built from scratch in the Buffalo diocese.

That's a nice punch statement in a summary paragraph. Now, here are some additional details.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Religion angle? WWII vet united with his prayer book, long after it fell from 30,000 feet

Religion angle? WWII vet united with his prayer book, long after it fell from 30,000 feet

For a decade, starting in 1995, I led a month-long reporting "boot camp" here in Washington that always included Memorial Day. Year after year, I was amazed at the personal stories that would emerge as I helped young reporters cover these events for local newspapers across the land.

You want symbolic details in poignant stories? Cover Memorial Day in greater Washington, D.C. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Memorial Day stories.

This brings me to an amazing Baltimore Sun story -- "Towson WW II airman's prayer book returned from Europe after 70 years" -- timed for Memorial Day that, for some reason, the editors decided to play on A2 with timid art.

This story really got to me, and not in a good way, in part because of how it failed to take seriously it's strong and obvious religion angle. Let's start with the "probably" angle in a lede -- atop a story with a near miraculous fact that slid down a few paragraphs. 

By the time he was drafted and deployed to Italy in 1945, Larry Hilte was probably familiar with one of the most popular songs of the World War II era, "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer."
The lyrics of the song describe the plight of desperate airmen trying to find their way back from bombing runs over enemy territory in airplanes either shot full of holes, on fire or both.
Little did the Towson resident know then that 70 years later his prayer book, which fell from the Consolidated B-24 Liberator he rode on a mission over Europe in the final months of World War II, would find its own safe landing. Hilte does not know exactly when the prayer book fell from the plane, and, at this point, it doesn't really matter.

Right. The details of a pop song the veteran may or may not have known are more important than the personal details linked to his "Jesus Teach Me to Pray" prayer book that fell from the sky onto a house, where it was retrieved and ended up, decades later, in a flea market.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A killer and a theologian: Touching CNN story gets jailhouse religion — and journalism

A killer and a theologian: Touching CNN story gets jailhouse religion — and journalism

Last month, we critiqued a New York Post story on Jeffrey Dahmer's killer that totally failed to get religion.

Basically, the piece was journalistic trash.

Now, for something totally different: a touching CNN story that absolutely gets jailhouse religion — and journalism.

Really, this is an amazing, extremely well-told story.

The compelling lede:

Atlanta (CNN) A few months ago, Kelly Gissendaner wrote a letter to a pen pal across the Atlantic. She told him the state of Georgia was about to fix a date for her execution. One evening soon, she would be strapped to a gurney, needles would be inserted into her arm, and poison would course through her veins until she was dead.
The letter arrived a few days later at the home of an 88-year-old man in Tubingen, Germany. After reading it, he took one of his white handkerchiefs, folded it neatly and placed it in an envelope to mail to Georgia's death row.
"When the tears are coming," he wrote, "take my handkerchief."
The man in Germany was Jurgen Moltmann, an eminent theologian and author who met Gissendaner in prison in 2011. The two have kept in touch through letters ever since.
The circumstances of their lives are vastly different. And yet, they found commonality.

Keep reading, and the story delves into the faith journeys of both Moltmann, who at age 18 was recruited into Adolf Hitler's army, and Gissendaner, who was sentenced to die for recruiting her boyfriend to kill her husband.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

BBC pro visits 46 churches during Lent and shares what he saw, heard and felt

BBC pro visits 46 churches during Lent and shares what he saw, heard and felt

So here is a bonus think piece for this holiday, one of the most delicate and delightful pieces I have read in quite some time. Thank you to the folks (yes, hello GetReligion co-founder Douglas LeBlanc) who pointed it out.

The concept is rather simple and it's crucial to know that this was not an attempt to dig into religion NEWS, so much as religion CULTURE at the level of parishes and pews. So BBC broadcaster Adrian Chiles -- a convert to Catholicism -- decided to take on a unique Lenten discipline this spring, vowing to attend church for 46 days in a row.

The result: "What I learnt from 46 consecutive days in church." Let's let him pick up the narration near the top, as he explains the rules:

 I'm a Catholic, so it would be Mass every day for more than a month. It felt like it would be a real struggle -- a penance. It turned out to be anything but. It was a rich and enriching experience -- spiritually, obviously, but I was also enraptured by the churches themselves, the communities they serve, and the people with whom I shared all those Masses.
I made it extra hard for myself by undertaking to go to a different church every day, so by Easter Sunday I'd been before 46 different priests in 46 different churches in 46 days.

There is no way to summarize this piece, to be honest with you. His observations about art, people, preaching, etc., must be read in context.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Your holiday think piece: View from other side of an advocacy journalist's notebook

Your holiday think piece: View from other side of an advocacy journalist's notebook

It's a problem that your GetReligionistas face all the time: Many readers do not understand that columnists and opinion writers play by different rules than journalists who write hard news for traditional news organizations.

Yes, it doesn't help -- see this file on what we call "Kellerism" -- that many important mainstream journalists who should know better are blurring the lines between what many textbooks would call the "American model" of the press and the older "European model" which embraces advocacy journalism. This happens a lot when journalists cover debates about doctrine, sex and law.

As a rule, GetReligion focuses on mainstream, hard-news coverage of religion. However, from time to time we pass along "think pieces" that focus on subjects directly linked to religion-news coverage or topics that we think would interest our readers. Several readers sent us a link to a recent First Things piece that takes a critical look at a recent Huffington Post piece -- about same-sex marriage, of course -- that, according to a man interviewed for the HP piece, veered into creative fiction.

This raises a crucial question: What is the HP these days? It often contains serious news reported using a straight forward , hard-news approach, but it is also packed with opinion essays and advocacy pieces that reflect its liberal editorial point of view. So, can you criticize a liberal columnist for writing a liberal column? In this case, the First Things writer is alleging far more than mere bias.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post gets it: The Duggar TV empire made all kinds of people nervous

Washington Post gets it: The Duggar TV empire made all kinds of people nervous

In recent days, I have had quite a few emails asking what the GetReligionistas think of the fall of Josh Duggar of the Family Research Council and then the whole "19 Kids and Counting" TLC reality-television empire.

As always, people seemed to be asking what we thought of the story itself, as opposed to our reactions to the mainstream news media coverage of the story. That's two different issues.

As always, most of the coverage has looked at the story through a political lens, asking how this scandal among hypocrites on the Religious Right would impact public debates about same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage and same-sex marriage.

That's an interesting angle, since I never got the impression -- as someone who has never seen a complete episode of the show -- that the Duggars were the kinds of folks who were very effective as apologists, when it came time to changing many minds on the cultural left. They seemed, to me, to be the ultimate preaching-to-the-choir niche media product. For those who are interested, here is the family's public statement on the controversy.

It's safe to assume that folks on the cultural left pretty much hated these folks, with good cause. The more subtle point is that the Duggars were also very controversial among evangelicals, including among folks who are often accurately described as very traditional, or even patriarchal, on family issues. This television empire made all kinds of folks nervous, with good cause.

Here is the key, if you want to dig into the serious coverage. How early does the name "Bill Gothard" appear and to what degree does the coverage make it sound like Gothard and his disciples represent mainstream evangelicalism or even orthodox (let alone Orthodox or Catholic) Christianity?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

It’s important to know right from the start that Kirsten Powers is a cradle liberal who has never once voted for a Republican.

She was a Clinton-Gore operative in 1992, a Clinton administration appointee, press secretary for Andrew Cuomo’s first New York governor race and held other partisan posts. She then shifted into opinion journalism, currently as a USA Today columnist and token liberal commentator on Fox News.

Powers’s credentials as a card-carrying political liberal have helped create buzz about her iconoclastic new “The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech” (Regnery). It’s proclaimed “an important book” by no less than Ron Fournier, National Journal’s editorial director and former Washington bureau chief of The AP. More predictable praise comes from conservatives like Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Krauthammer and George Will, her fellow Fox pundits.

What possessed Powers to issue a broadside against what she calls “the illiberal left”?  Mainly two things.

Please respect our Commenting Policy