Jim Davis

Evangelical church angers a gay couple: In Knoxville, this is still a news story

Evangelical church angers a gay couple: In Knoxville, this is still a news story

The Knoxville News-Sentinel hasn't had a religion writer, at least in my memory, for some time. But it did manage to produce a church-dumps-gay-couple story in pretty short order after said couple started making the rounds of newspapers and TV stations. 

The setting is bucolic Blount County, a rural area south of Knoxville that sits in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I vacationed there in 2014 and found it refreshingly distant from an interstate highway.

Now, this is an area that's very conservative and it's full of churches, which is how our story begins.

MARYVILLE -- A Blount County gay couple say their hearts were broken but their Christian faith remains strong after they were denied full membership in a nondenominational church.
Now Courtney and Jessica Wright are cautious, even scared, about stepping in any church.
The Wrights were told in late January they couldn’t become full-fledged “core” members of Faith Promise Church because they're homosexual. One of the church's core beliefs is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The couple, married in August 2016, knew Faith Promise listed heterosexual-only marriage as a belief. But they say their homosexuality and marriage were never secret, and church members made them feel accepted and included for months.

Part of me wonders: Is this really a news story?

Maybe, because the newspaper had previously reported that Faith Promise is one of the country’s fastest-growing churches. But if an attendee had complained to the newspaper about being shut out of full membership for any other reason, would the newspaper have run it?

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Do Christians, Muslims, Jews all worship the same God? Is it a public school's role to say?

Do Christians, Muslims, Jews all worship the same God? Is it a public school's role to say?

"The same God? That's for a school to say?"

That comment atop a Facebook post by my friend Jim Davis, a former GetReligion contributor, caught my attention.

Davis linked to a story from The Courier-News, an Elgin, Ill., hometown newspaper that is a part of the Chicago Tribune family. The story concerned a protest by some Christians over an assignment at a local public school.

The lede:

Dozens of people spoke out Monday against a homework assignment made at an Elgin-area U46 school in which it was asserted Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths all believe in the same God.
One month after the assignment was criticized by U46 school board member Jeanette Ward, people who identified themselves as part of the Christian community attended the school board meeting Monday to add their opposition.
Several people attacked the assignment, quoting Bible and Quran verses to support their argument that Christians do not follow the same God as Muslims. Some of those who spoke live outside the U46 boundaries, including one person who came from Florida.
"To say that Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same is simply absurd," said Art Ellingsen, a church pastor from Arlington Heights.

Last month, the same school board heard from religious leaders with a different perspective, as the newspaper noted then:

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It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

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Castro's death: For a follow-up, Associated Press story misses big religious angles

Castro's death: For a follow-up, Associated Press story misses big religious angles

The banging pots and honking horns have faded on Miami's Calle Ocho, where Cuban-Americans noisily celebrated the death of Fidel Castro. Thus, it's time for some reflection on what it means for peace and freedom -- including freedom of religion.

So the Associated Press shows the right instinct in its Sunday story out of Miami on the aftermath of El Comandante's death. Yet it largely leaves ghostly trails in what could have offered some spiritual insights on the story.

We get early warnings of a scattershot story:

MIAMI (AP) -- Celebration turned to somber reflection and church services Sunday as Cuban-Americans in Miami largely stayed off the streets following a raucous daylong party in which thousands marked the death of Fidel Castro.
One Cuban exile car dealer, however, sought to turn the revolutionary socialist's death into a quintessential capitalist deal by offering $15,000 discounts on some models.
And on the airwaves, top aides to President-elect Donald Trump promised a hard look at the recent thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba.

Cuba, as you may or may not know, is on the watch list of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF's 2016 report tells of increased surveillance, harassment, closure and destruction of churches there -- on a level with the likes of Russia, Malaysia, Turkey and Afghanistan.

But here is AP's version of the religious facet in this story:

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'Cruxifiction': Numbing media reaction after a mayor renames Good Friday

'Cruxifiction': Numbing media reaction after a mayor renames Good Friday

Come with us now to Bloomington, Ind., where Mayor John Hamilton has announcement. He says the city's 700 employees will get two paid days off: Fall Holiday and Spring Holiday.

Don’t recognize those holy days? You may know them as Columbus Day and Good Friday. Hamilton wielded his mayoral power to rechristen them.

To be blunt about it, this is a story built for mainstream media. As usual, though, much of the mainstream news coverage is better at citing the secular side than the religious opposition.

You know, like the New York Daily News:

Hamilton espoused acceptance in a memo to city employees.
"We are terrifically proud of our diverse workforce at the city. That diversity makes us stronger and more representative of the public we proudly serve," he wrote. "These updated names for two days of well-merited time off is another way we can demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity."
Bloomington, home to Indiana University's largest campus, sits in predominantly liberal Monroe County.

Like other accounts, the newspaper also gives a rundown on the meaning behind Columbus Day and Good Friday.

That's nice, but how about some religious voices on the latter? How do church leaders feel about the safe, pastelized reference to Good Friday? It's not like journalists couldn't find local people of faith -- not with Google listing 20 congregations in several denominations in the Bloomington area. Can you say, "Google"?

The issue has even drawn attention abroad. The BBC's version sprouts so many partial quotes, it read almost like sarcasm:

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Fighting taxes: Just crazy religious antics to the Indianapolis Star

Fighting taxes: Just crazy religious antics to the Indianapolis Star

The religious crazies are at it again in Indiana, trying to use the state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for their aberrant behavior. This time, it's a guy who's trying to get out of paying taxes.

And once again, the Indianapolis Star has managed to run a religion story without talking to any religious people.

One Rodney Tyms-Bey says that "paying his state taxes is a burden on his religion," the newspaper says:

At trial, Tyms-Bey, 41, claimed the religious freedom law is a valid defense for tax evasion, an argument the court rejected.
A clause in Indiana's RFRA permits individuals to cite the law as a defense in criminal legal proceedings, unlike the federal RFRA law enacted in 1993.
"When this law was signed, it opened up a whole new world of legal defense," said Matthew Gerber, Tyms-Bey's defense attorney.
The state argues that Tyms-Bey cannot use the defense, as he failed to identify his religion and the state's imposition of income tax does not burden his religious practice — whatever it may be.

The case is two years old, but oral arguments were scheduled for appellate court today -- showing how tangled matters of church and state can get. We GR folk have scrutinized reports on RFRA and its state versions for a couple of decades -- from gay marriage in Mississippi to Santeria sacrifices in Florida -- but Tyms-Bey's case seems like an enormous reach.

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LaKira's twins: Does it matter that they were killed before they were born?

LaKira's twins: Does it matter that they were killed before they were born?

A woman is shot in the back, and her unborn twins die. She mourns them for months as her deceased babies, but local law says they weren't old enough to be considered alive.

What an anguishing clash of views of humanity: one religious/spiritual, the other rigidly legal. It's a topic ripe for exploring, yet the Washington Post manages to avoid doing so. The 1,500-word feature doesn't even include the words "faith" or "church."

LaKira Johnson's story -- with its implications for the public view of abortion and life in the womb -- has gained much media attention ever since she was caught in an apparent revenge shooting among thugs. And the Post has stayed on top of the case ever since it broke the story in September.

But its follow-up story, on Johnson's ordeal, leaves the spiritual dimensions as half-viewed ghosts.

The print headline offered enormous promise: "An enormous tragedy with the tiniest of victims." So did the subhead: "A woman is shot, and her unborn babies die. But is it homicide?"

So does some of this week's feature:

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Playoff or prayoff? Media still muddying matters over praying at a stadium

Playoff or prayoff? Media still muddying matters over praying at a stadium

Geez, the months-long fracas with Cambridge Christian School lends new meaning to the term "political football."

And like a hotly contested game, much of the coverage has moved the ball up and down the field, without a goal.

At least an NPR outlet in Florida has spelled out the basic constitutional conflict that could affect freedoms for the rest of us. With a few glaring omissions, which we'll get into later.

The immediate issue is over prayer. As a Christian school, the Tampa-based Cambridge does a lot of it. So does its football team, the Lancers, including over stadium sound systems.

That brought them toe to toe after regional playoffs in December. Just before the championship game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (aka the Citrus Bowl), the Lancers wanted their amplified prayer time. The Florida High School Athletic Association said no.  Now the matter is in court.
 
What's new in the NPR story is clarity: having an outside expert explain the clashing values in the nation's founding document:

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Red and Blue America: Does the New York Times give facts on ground or views from top?

Red and Blue America: Does the New York Times give facts on ground or views from top?

In yet another election postmortem, the New York Times team tried a novel idea -- a street-level view of the thoughts and fears that drove Red and Blue America. The simple goal was to report what ordinary people said.

Or at least readers got to hear what the Times people heard. Some of the 2,600-word piece reveals a viewpoint as skewed as some of those it reports.

The article is broken into segments, each by a different writer, and they vary widely in tone and balance. Some are genuinely sensitive.

There's an almost palpable anguish in Julie Turkewitz' section, on how many people isolate themselves from those who differ with their worldviews:

In some ways, the echo chamber was the winner of this election. Here we are, deeply connected. And yet red America is typing away to red America, and blue America is typing away to blue America. The day after the election, some people said the echo chamber had begun to feel like a prison.

Turkewitz notes that one of her two main sources truly wants to escape her bubble. The woman, who voted for Hillary Clinton for president, has only two or three friends -- both on Facebook -- who supported Trump. The other woman, a fellow Clinton supporter, seems happy to stay in her echo chamber.

Religion is seeded throughout the article, but only one section deals directly with it. Times veteran Laurie Goodstein draws from interviews on the Godbeat this year.

She sounds sympathetic to people on the Right, at first:

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