Classic M.Z.: When it comes to Christianity 101, The New York Times flunks out -- again

Attention: Copy desk at The New York Times

Subject: Reading adult books

To whom it may concern:

I have a journalistic question, a question centering on basic facts about religion, that I would like to ask in light of the following statement that ran in a political report in The Times under the headline, "After Orlando, a Political Divide on Gay Rights Still Stands." Context is important, so here is the complete reference:

... The deep divide over gay rights remains one of the most contentious in American politics. And the murder of 49 people in an Orlando gay club has, in many cases, only exacerbated the anger from Democrats and supporters of gay causes, who are insisting that no amount of warm words or reassuring Twitter posts change the fact that Republicans continue to pursue policies that would limit legal protections for gays and lesbians.
In the weeks leading up to the killings, they pointed out, issues involving gays were boiling over in Congress and in Republican-controlled states around the country. More than 150 pieces of legislation were pending in state legislatures that would restrict rights or legal protections for sexual minorities. A Republican congressman read his colleagues a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays. Congress was considering a bill that would allow individuals and businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples.

My question: When it comes to the authoritative interpretation of Christian scripture, who has the highest level of authority for the Times, the leaders of Westboro Baptist Church or legions of Christian saints, hierarchs and theologians (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants) over 2,000 years of church history? Who do you trust more, Pope Francis or the Rev. Fred Phelps?

The answer, to my shock, appears to be -- Westboro Baptist. When it comes to St. Paul and the interpretation of his Epistle to the Romans, the Times leadership appears to believe that the tiny circle of Westboro activists represent all of Christendom.

How did the Times leadership reach this decision on such an important theological issue?

Sincerely, Terry Mattingly


My question is sincere.

If you have doubts about this, let me point you toward a work of classic M.Z. Hemingway media criticism over at The Federalist that is currently going viral in social media. The double-decker headline says it all, almost:

New York Times Claims ‘Romans’ Calls For ‘Execution Of Gays’
Religious illiteracy among journalists is reaching crisis levels.

Concerning the passage I quoted earlier, M.Z. has quite a bit to say, far too much for me to simply paste it all here. You must read the whole piece. It includes a really strong litany of previous Times mistakes linked to the Bible and Christian Theology 101.

But here is a key part of her work linked to the charges the Times team is making -- in this piece of news, not editorial, writing by By Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez -- about the work of St. Paul and Christianity through the ages. M.Z. addresses much of her criticism, in this piece and in the resulting Twitter storm, to Peters:

Come again? Wait, what? What? ... A “Bible verse” from “Romans” that calls for the “execution of gays”? Way to bury the lede, there Peters. You found something that no one else has ever found in two millenia! Though maybe you should go ahead and show your exegesis if you’re going to make such an amazing claim.
Instead he links to a Roll Call story that makes a similar claim. That one is written by one Jennifer Shutt and claims that “House Republicans at a conference meeting heard a Bible verse that calls for death for homosexuals” before a recent vote.
Another story by Shutt says it’s a verse “calling for the death of homosexuals.” The stories say that the passage “discusses what types of penalties the Bible says should be applied to those who are not heterosexual.”
If you have even a passing knowledge of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Christianity in general, heck, the Western cannon, or Western Civilization itself, you are probably confused. If you have met a Christian in your life, ditto.

To talk about what is happening in this case, M.Z. had to (trigger warning) actually talk about the content of the Bible and Christian tradition.

I'm sorry, but that's where one needs to go to find the facts in this matter -- unless one wants to say that the Westboro gang is the prevailing theological authority in charge of reading the Bible for the Times and leave it at that.

You see, St. Paul believes that sin, left on its own, leads to spiritual, eternal death. Now, to cut to the chase: Who is guilty of sin? That would be everyone. No exceptions. When it comes to separating a person from God, are some sins more sinful than others? Not in Christian theology. St. Paul talks about a whole lot of sins, yes, including homosexual acts and sex outside of marriage.

Back to M.Z., using classic Protestant language for much of this:

In Romans, Paul is defending Christianity and its mission. It has “law” themes and “gospel” themes. The “law” themes include believers’ struggles with sin, our hardened hearts, God’s wrath against sinners, death’s reign through sin, our submission to authorities, and the love we owe one another. But that’s not all! We also learn how God declares us righteous through faith in Christ, how we are made alive in baptism, how God bestows gifts such as the forgiveness of sins upon us, and how we are united in Christ. Those are the “gospel” themes.
It’s very much a 101 type book in that it’s a great introduction to Christianity, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It’s very challenging, for about a million different reasons.

And address in Shutt, urging the writer, if exegesis is the goal to:

...  maybe notice that the listing of sins indicts literally every single human on the planet. So if you’re thinking that Christianity calls for the execution of gays, you have to think, on the basis of the same passage, it calls for the execution of everyone. And if you’re thinking that, and you know anything at all about Christianity, maybe ponder whether everything you’ve written is embarrassingly wrong.
Instead, Shutt specifically said, falsely, that this passage “discusses what types of penalties the Bible says should be applied to those who are not heterosexual.” Wrong. Wrong. And wrong, wrong, wrong. It doesn’t discuss types of penalties. It doesn’t say penalties should be applied at all. And the passage applies to everyone.

There is much more to say, and M.Z. says it.

The question is whether the Times editors realize that they have insulted every Christian on Planet Earth, with the exception, of course, of their buddies at Westboro Baptist and those who believe their scriptural authority is absolute.

While you are catching up on M.Z. material, I suggest that you also read her take-down on Anderson Cooper's latest attack on traditional journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy and balance -- the whole ball of wax linked to the traditional American model of the press.

See the video above, in which he takes on Florida attorney general Pam Bondi. The bottom line:

Cooper believes very strongly that it’s hypocritical, in any way, to support the idea that marriage is ontologically the union of man and woman while also believing that gay people should not be murdered by Islamist terrorists. So he took issue with her advocacy of victims of the terrorism. Bondi repeatedly tried to return the interview to the subject of what was being done to help victims while Cooper said things like, “Well it is gay pride month; you’ve never tweeted about gay pride month.” (Really.) He further said that legal arguments about the “harm” of redefining marriage were actually claims that “gay people are harming” Florida. He said she’d “gone after” gays and sarcastically asked her if she really thought she was a champion of the gay community. Then he repeatedly suggested that this meant she had incited the terrorist in Orlando. He was belligerent and insulting and childish.
He ended by saying he’d gone ahead and checked on her Twitter history for a year (a real life version of Seinfeld’s Wear The Ribbon sketch) and had seen no indication that she had shown proper deference to gay rights. Cooper then suggested that, in the future, she better get into line and show proper fealty to gay rights. He spoke for most of the “interview,” turning it into a petulant lecture about the importance of conformity to media elites.
Instead of asking questions in search of truth, Cooper chose to bully and dominate. Instead of an exchange of ideas -- even if journalists aren’t supposed to be advocating their personal views -- he tried to impose his doctrines and shame the non-conformist.

Many journalists cheered this editorial stand, even at publications that are not on the record as being advocacy institutions. Here's a sample at The Washington Post. M.Z. also noted that Cooper:

As part of his post-grilling tour of triumph, he told a thankful New York Times with a straight face that “I’m not trying to push an agenda. I’m not here to be an advocate, railing at the top of my lungs at injustices; that’s the role other people have.” Yes, arguing repeatedly that you can’t oppose jihadist murdering of gays if you do so much as acknowledge the definition of marriage on which all societies have been based isn’t advocacy at all. Are you freaking kidding me?

Sigh. These are hard times for journalists who are committed to accurate, balanced, hard-news coverage of voices on both sides of complicated issues such as these. Is it possible, in this age, to find articulate, worthy voices on both sides and then treat these people with respect?

MAIN IMAGE: St. Paul, writing.

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