In the air with the LA Times

WindowViewI know that I have said this before, but every time that I head out to Southern California, I pick up the Los Angeles Times and I'm reminded of how much news there is in the dead-tree-pulp edition, compared with what I usually see reading the same newspaper online. I always see extra religion stories and religion-haunted stories on paper that I don't see in the digital world. Why is that? Anyway, I have already mentioned that mysterious Robert Shullers (plural) story that was in the Sunday metro pages. As it turns out, that was just the start of the religion stuff in that one section of the Times.

* There was, for starters, a column that could have been given this headline: "So an agnostic journalist and a gay Roman Catholic priest walk into a bar. ..." Instead, the headline on this Steve Lopez piece read: "Gay priest is true to his faith, at odds with his church." This was, of course, a follow-up column about a controversy that I wrote about earlier, focusing on Father Geoffrey Farrow and his divided flock at the St. Paul Newman Center near Cal State Fresno University.

This is one of those cases where, in a way, the journalist is cheering for the brave oppressed priest, while also criticizing him -- from the left. But the key thing that pro-Vatican Catholic readers need to know did make it into the column, which is that Farrow's view of the Church is rather, well, not to mince words, Protestant. He has a promising future in some (but not all) United Church of Christ congregations or in some Episcopal dioceses. Here's the key slice of the story:

Farrow conceded that he has considered church teachings "monstrous," especially given the history of violence and suicide victimizing gays. But he said he has always believed in the church, if not in the men who led it. It's like loving a family member despite a falling out, or loving your country even as you doubt its leaders.

"I'm not happy with the current administration," Farrow said, "but I haven't shredded my passport." ...

Among the critics in his own parish and beyond, there are those who quote the Bible to condemn homosexuality and gay marriage.

"The Bible is not a book, it's a library written over 15 centuries," Farrow told me, suggesting that Christianity has and should continue to evolve. "People who approach scripture in a literal fashion are attempting to manipulate God himself."

* To no one's surprise, the Times is also doing a lot of writing about Proposition 8, the effort to define marriage as between a man and a woman. I noticed the following reference hear the top of an obvious story -- "Clergy on both sides of Proposition 8 speak out" -- that would cause the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway to go into shock.

With the Nov. 4 election fast approaching, rabbis, priests and ministers across California are ratcheting up their public appeals over Proposition 8 -- using their religious platforms to alternately highlight the perils of passing or rejecting the same-sex marriage amendment.

More than a dozen Lutheran ministers are to appear after services today at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in North Hollywood to urge a "No" vote on the measure, which would define marriage in the state Constitution as between only a man and a woman.

On Tuesday, Presbyterian ministers are to issue a similar verdict during simultaneous gatherings in Los Angeles and San Francisco, arguing that Proposition 8 would rob same-sex couples of their civil rights.

Yo! Reporter Duke Helfand (or your copy desk people)! There's more than one brand of Lutheran in this land of ours. You were dealing with some -- repeat some -- people in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a flock that is not to be confused with the traditionalists and evangelicals over at the Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church.

It helps to get specific about these kinds of things when throwing ink around. And, in the next paragraph, you might want to note that there are more than few different brands of Presbyterians out there, too.

94Next?

* You know what? There are evangelicals out there who are voting for Sen. Barack Obama. Honest! You may have heard about that. As it turns out, there are even young evangelicals over at Biola University who are thinking about taking the plunge. The Times story notes:

Biola University has long been a Republican citadel, helping its La Mirada precinct deliver 93% of the vote in each of the last two elections to George W. Bush, the president's best showing in any Los Angeles County polling area that cast more than 20 ballots. But change has come this year to the 95-acre campus on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties, and not without turmoil.

For the first time in memory, a Biola College Democrats club has formed, marking campus walls with slogans such as "You are the change you hope for" and "If you want peace in the Middle East, you're a Democrat." After GOP groups protested that the content was "offensive," the posters came down. Joint debate-watching parties with the Republicans were nixed after some political invective was aimed at Democrats at an early gathering.

The story does contain it's share of stereotypes, as you would expect. Take, for example, that laugh to keep from crying reference to the fact that "Biola today is an accredited university," as if the school has made the jump into real academic life in the past year or two. The article also talks about issues brought on by racial diversity, which is fitting. Still, it would also be good to note that on doctrinal and moral issues, students of color are often among the most conservative. Ask professors at the University of California at Berkeley about that.

You know where the pre-election story has to end up, don't you? These quotes come from a discussion at Biola about Proposition 8.

"Civil unions are still allowed to exist; [the proposition] just has to do with the title," said Zach Hartley, 19, a mass communications, film and television major. No one spoke in opposition, although students later said there was a range of opinion on campus about the measure.

"Biola is not a one-issue school," Alica Stevans, 19, said as the meeting broke up. "We are interested in ethical issues, but they include social justice issues, gay marriage and abortion. Rwanda genocide is a big issue here."

Once again, there is a hint at the broader news story.

Some young evangelicals are actually question ancient church traditions on some crucial issues, like the definition of "marriage." But many more are involved in a different kind of change. They are trying to apply ancient church teachings to a wider spectrum of issues. I am still not sure that the Los Angeles Times understands the difference between these two pursuits.

ILLUSTRATIONS: No, these are not from my flight headed east.

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