Revenge of the tmatt trio (again)

Christ PantocratorJust what I needed -- more GetReligion guilt. Last weekend, I was out in Southern California (just as the winds started to pick up) and had a chance to read the Los Angeles Times every day on dead tree pulp, rather than trying to find my way through the digital version online. That means you have a chance to pick through all of the pages of the physical newspaper and look for ghosts. Sure enough, there are lots of them. Feel those guilt pangs?

This time, there was a story back in the local news section that offered a perfect example of the dreaded tmatt trio. Let's see if you can spot the "trio" issue that shows up.

The story by reporter K. Connie Kang focused on a meeting in Los Angeles in which a collection of scholars and clergy -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- met to wrestle with the "dark side" of their traditions, those "problematic" scripture passages that appear to teach that some things are true and other things are not true.

Wait, that isn't how the story puts it. It says the discussion focused on scriptures that appear to "assert the superiority of one belief system over others."

Like what, you ask?

... (The) Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligous official of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, quoted from the Gospel of Mark: "Go into the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."

Rabbi Reuven Firestone, director of the Institute for the Study of Jewish-Muslim Interrelations at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, mentioned a series of texts, including a verse from Deuteronomy: "For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God: of all the peoples of the earth the Lord your God chose you to be His treasured people."

And Muzammil H. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh (Islamic Law) Council of North America, quoted from the Koran: "You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies: they are allies only to each other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them -- God does not guide such wrongdoers."

Mohammed s 01Now, rest assured that none of these scriptures actually mean what they appear to mean, according to the scholars. And rest assured that the Los Angeles Times does not quote anyone who disagrees with the scholars on this particular panel, which I would assume is composed of "moderates."

The whole story left me with some questions:

• When quoting strong statements of religious doctrine, journalists usually soften these statements by noting that this is the viewpoint of the person speaking.

For example, a person may be quoted as saying that he -- singular -- believes the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin when what the person was saying is that the Catholic or Orthodox churches have taught that doctrine for 2,000 years. There are very few of these cushy statements in this article. These scholars are allowed to speak in absolutes. Why?

• Does the Roman Catholic Church officially teach that salvation is possible outside of the grace of Jesus Christ? That would appear to be the case, based on this article. Is something missing here?

• Late, late, late in the story we learn that one of the other speakers at the forum was the Rev. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. If I am not mistaken, Fuller is an evangelical Protestant seminary with Reformed theological roots. Did Mouw agree with the other scholars who were quoted by the Times? Was Mouw so out of line that he could not be quoted? If he was in step with the others, that would be a big story in and of itself.

Now, check your scorecard. And here are the three questions in the tmatt trio once again. These are, of course, the questions that I have found -- as a journalist -- highly useful in finding out where Christian leaders fit into a spectrum of belief between left and right. These questions always yield interesting information.

1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

26733However, at this event it was a rabbi who was allowed to make the final statement that summed up the day and, thus, the unchallenged big idea of the Times report.

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which co-sponsored the event with Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., said all people of faith need to "take ownership of their most difficult texts, wrestle with them -- not run away from them -- but confront them, where appropriate, set them in their proper historical context. ...

In some instances, he continued, people of faith need to say to themselves, "This is part of my sacred tradition, but I reject it. I find this text offensive. It goes against my own morality, and it goes against what I believe God expects of me in the world today."

Many people would say "amen." Many would not. Does the Los Angeles Times realize that?

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