No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

It's a sin for Mormons to consume caffeine.

Everybody knows that, right?

Not so fast.

Given today's big headline involving Brigham Young University and Coca-Cola, it's probably not a bad time to remind readers of the actual facts.

But before we delve into specifics, let's catch up with the news, via this fantastic lede from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.
But yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.
Based upon what church officials recently declared a long-running misunderstanding of the Mormon faith’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, and other than caffeine-free soft drinks — since the mid-1950s.

The Associated Press took a more straightforward approach, befitting its role as a national wire service:

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Strange, uh, Times: Praise for on-the-record Catholic quotes about a clergy sex case!

Strange, uh, Times: Praise for on-the-record Catholic quotes about a clergy sex case!

What strange times we live in, in terms of mainstream journalism about religion.

It feels strange to praise a New York Times news story because it contains perfectly normal, clearly attributed response material from an organization like the Vatican and other officials -- at various levels -- in the Church of Rome.

In a way, my praise for this particular story -- "Amid Pornography Case, Vatican Recalls Priest From Washington Embassy" -- is a commentary on tensions that still exist in many Catholic offices about investigations of the sexual abuse of children and teens by clergy. At the same time, there are tensions between the Times and many Catholic leaders.

Nevertheless, this story doesn't contain the gaping holes we saw the other day in news coverage of another clergy sexual-abuse case. Click here for that post, which noted some mainstream news stories that lacked quotes -- any quotes, at all -- from:

* The Vatican.
* Legal representatives of the church, at any level.
* The local archdiocese in which this newsroom is located.
* Conservative Catholics who are highly critical of how many church officials have handled clergy-abuse cases.

I noted -- this was really bizarre -- that the stories didn't even include references that told readers reporters tried to reach church officials, as in: "Leaders of so-and-so group declined repeated requests for interviews."

So what did Times professionals -- and church leaders -- get right in this basic news story on what remains a hot-button, controversial subject?

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Apocalypse (almost) Now: Gullible media fall for clickbait from 'Christian Numerologist'

Apocalypse (almost) Now: Gullible media fall for clickbait from 'Christian Numerologist'

Yes, gentle reader, I guess I'm almost as guilty as the media outlets hyping this coming Saturday -- Sept. 23 -- as the date for the end of the world. After all, I'm hoping you will click on this blog post and read it. Share it with your friends via social media, too. #ClicksWanted

But I'm going to be as straight about this weekend's "apocalypse" as I can. The other media, including a story picked up by the Drudge Report? Not so much.

Here's what Drudge found fascinating. It's a story from the local CBS-TV affiliate in Philadelphia headlined, "Christian Numerologist Says World Will End On Sept. 23."

Key words? That would be "Christian numerologist." Focus on that adjective. Let's go:

If you had plans for the weekend, a Christian numerologist says you won’t get to them because the world is about to end.
David Meade, a self-proclaimed “researcher,” is predicting that a series of apocalyptic events will begin on Sept. 23 and, “a major part of the world will not be the same.”
According to Meade, the mysterious rogue planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, is on a collision course with Earth, which will bring world-ending tsunamis and earthquakes. The numerologist claims the dates of recent events like the Great American Solar Eclipse and Hurricane Harvey’s flooding of Texas were all marked in the Bible. Meade now says his “Planet X theory” lines up with more bible codes and ancient markers on the Egyptian pyramids.

Sigh. Where to begin? I've been consciously hanging around things Christian since Richard Nixon's first term as president of the United States -- in other words, a long time. I've also had an interest in journalism for that long, if not a bit longer.

But to see a supposedly respectable media outlet -- which a CBS-TV affiliate station surely must be -- fall for this flapdoodle is a little heartbreaking.

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Hold on! Tell me again why places of worship are playing a pivotal role in hurricane relief

Hold on! Tell me again why places of worship are playing a pivotal role in hurricane relief

The Associated Press reports out of Houston that many undocumented immigrant victims of Hurricane Harvey are turning to churches for help.

It's a timely, newsy angle and one that immediately drew my attention, especially since I've recently delved into both subjects myself: Harvey relief and Texas immigration.

However, AP's "nut graf" seems like a case of taking a solid story and trying to amp up the volume just a bit too much. I'd still recommend this story — but with a somewhat major caveat. I'll explain in a moment.

But first, the lede sets the scene:

HOUSTON (AP) — Immigrants came from across Houston to a Baptist church gymnasium and stacked dollies with boxes of cereal, orange juice and household necessities like cleaning bleach.
For many of them, the church was the safest place to seek relief after Harvey devastated Houston and left thousands of immigrants fearful of turning to the government for help amid fears they would get deported. A similar response was seen in immigrant-heavy sections of Florida after Irma swamped the state.
“We have to come together as churches to help the undocumented,” Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor Raul Hidalgo said while mingling with victims and volunteers on the church gymnasium’s parquet floor.

Good stuff.

But see if anything strikes you the wrong way — as it did me — in this next highly important sentence. This is where AP attempts to explain the big picture and boil down why this news matter:

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Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

When I was in Tennessee two weeks ago, one of the fun things my daughter and I did was wade among some cotton plants, which we had not seen since we'd moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago. You see them all the time in the Volunteer State this time of year. They’re kind of pretty, actually, if you don’t cut yourself on the sharp bracts that result when the boll has burst open and dried.

Even so, they can serve as an inexpensive table centerpiece were you trying to entertain a crowd, which is what drew me to the news about the president of a Christian college in Nashville who did just that.

But the black students who were his guests one night felt the cotton arrangements were a racist statement, according to the New York Daily News.

But note: If you look for any hints of the religious background of this Nashville college in this story, you will find none:

A dinner intended to give African-American students at a Tennessee university the opportunity to discuss their experience at the private liberal arts school left attendees shocked after tables were decorated with cotton stalk centerpieces.
Lipscomb University president Randy Lowry invited black students to his Nashville home Friday night for a dinner, but many of the students deemed the tableware and menu offensive.

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Swedish neo-Nazis plan march near synagogue on Yom Kippur: Is scant advance coverage a good thing?

Swedish neo-Nazis plan march near synagogue on Yom Kippur: Is scant advance coverage a good thing?

How’s this for a spiteful poke in the eye?

The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) is planning a march, with the approval of the local police, that will pass near the main synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. And when will they be doing that, you might wonder?

Why on Yom Kippur, of course, the holiest day on the Jewish liturgical calendar, which this year begins on Friday evening, Sept. 29, with the haunting Kol Nidre recitation. (Yom Kippur is part of the Jewish High Holy Days, also referred to as the High Holidays, which begin with this week’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah.)

Poke, poke, poke -- ouch!

Sweden is hardly the only Western European nation where anti-Semitism -- defined as hatred of Jews as a group or Judaism as a religion, for whatever the reason -- has become an increasing public issue of late.

The U.K.’s Mirror, for example, last month ran a piece saying one in three British Jews is considering leaving the nation because of anti-Semitism. Reporting survey results, the paper said only 59 percent of the nation’s 270,000 Jews still feel comfortable living in Britain.

In Germany, the head of the growing right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-European Union Alternative for Germany party said just the other day that rather than continuing to lament his nation's instigation of the Holocaust, Germans should instead be "proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars."

Additionally, the head of the European Jewish Congress earlier this year said anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly more openly expressed across Western Europe.

Dr [Moshe] Kantor said: “It is truly disturbing that in living memory of the Holocaust, today in Europe we have a situation where the far right in gaining popularity in every major country on the continent. It is once more becoming acceptable in polite circles to openly make anti-Semitic, xenophobic and bigoted remarks, all under the cloak of national patriotism. ...

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Chicago Tribune reporting on Wheaton College hazing incident seems solid, but pay close attention

Chicago Tribune reporting on Wheaton College hazing incident seems solid, but pay close attention

Infuriating.

That's the only way to describe the reported circumstances of a hazing incident involving football players at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical college in the Chicago area.

I say "reported circumstances" because we don't know all the facts at this point.

But what do know makes one's blood boil: Let's start at the top of the Chicago Tribune's front-page story, which seems extremely solid:

Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.
A DuPage County judge signed arrest warrants and set $50,000 bonds against the players — James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, Noah Spielman and Samuel TeBos — late Monday afternoon. Prosecutors charged the athletes with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.
They are expected to turn themselves in to authorities this week.

Keep reading, and here is the part that doesn't make sense to me: The accused are still playing — or have been playing — football for Wheaton:

The victim, who the Tribune is not naming, left the conservative Christian school shortly after the incident and now attends college in Indiana.
"This has had a devastating effect on my life," he said in a statement to the Tribune. "What was done to me should never occur in connection with a football program or any other activity. ... I am confident that the criminal prosecution will provide a fair and just punishment to the men who attacked me."
The college released a statement late Monday saying it was "deeply troubled" by the allegations because it strives to provide an educational environment free from hazing and reflective of the school's religious values. The school said it hired a third party to investigate the allegation last year and took "corrective actions," but officials declined to provide details on any punishment, citing federal privacy laws.
Sources told the Tribune that several players were required to perform 50 hours of community service and write an eight-page essay reflecting on their behavior.

Over at the American Conservative, Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher opines:

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So two female pastors get married, but The New York Times avoids deeper theological details

So two female pastors get married, but The New York Times avoids deeper theological details

When covering the wide divide between liberal Christians and Christian conservatives, is the status of same-sex marriage the only doctrinal issue that matters?

Of course not.

In fact, if you dig deep enough, you'll often find that other issues are much more important in these disputes, such as how different brands of believers view the authority of scripture (especially in low-church Protestant settings) and how much authority they grant ancient doctrines taught in the early church (especially in high-church, liturgical settings).

Yes, there are times when a person's experiences linked to sexuality leads him or her to seek a new ecclesiastical home. That is common. However, even then, this faith crisis almost always involves other doctrines, other theological issues.

But sexuality -- same-sex marriage, in particular -- is the hot issue right now and that is what mainstream reporters will write about, over and over, even when other issues are involved.

If you want to see this process at work, check out the recent New York Times "Weddings" feature that ran with this headline: "Two Pastors in Love, and Only God Knows." The basic structure of this story is seen in the overture:

Pastor Twanna Gause stepped out of a limousine amid the whir of cameras outside the New Vision Full Gospel Baptist Church in East Orange, N.J.
Dressed in an off-white wedding gown and veil that sparkled in the cascading sunshine, she carried a bouquet of white roses and lilies, hugged several guests, then parted a sea of well-wishers on the way to her best friend, Pastor Vanessa Brown, who stood waiting at the altar in a cream-colored long coat called a sherwani and gold Punjabi jutti shoes.
The church doors opened, allowing the faint strains of “You Are So Beautiful” to float on the hot August air.

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A church's long-dead founder and the KKK -- New York Times article raises a question of relevance

A church's long-dead founder and the KKK -- New York Times article raises a question of relevance

How far back must journalists dig into the history of a given denomination or congregation, and how might a given founder, dead more than seven decades, be viewed in light of today's mores?

Do we really have to know everything about the earliest leaders of a denomination or movement? Just ask biographers of Martin Luther, the complicated ex-Catholic who sparked the Protestant Reformation but who also has been accused of virulent anti-Semitism.

Or how about Baptist or Presbyterian leaders in pre-Civil War America who supported, or tolerated, slavery? Shall we hold modern-day Lutherans, Baptists or Presbyterians responsible for the sins of their spiritual forefathers?

The New York Times raises the general issue in a rather lengthy profile of the Zarephath Christian Church in New Jersey's rural Somerset County.

We start out in conventional territory. This passage is long, but it's important to sense the tone of this piece right up front.

Hundreds of people each weekend drive up the hill to a newly built $12 million church surrounded by soccer fields in a New Jersey community named Zarephath. They worship by singing along with rock-ballad style prayer songs, following lyrics projected on three overhead screens. They sway and lift their arms high overhead, or say the words quietly with their eyes closed.
Drums, several guitars, keyboards and backup singers accompany the prayers. Spotlights shift from purple to blue to red as the mood builds.
“O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide,” about 300 congregants sang during a recent Sunday service, in a sanctuary that resembles a warehouse-style concert hall, save for two small crosses near the stage. “Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”

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