The theology behind Oprah's 'stirring, spiritual call to arms' at Golden Globes? Time magazine nails it

The theology behind Oprah's 'stirring, spiritual call to arms' at Golden Globes? Time magazine nails it

Unless you live in a cave with no television, social media feeds or electricity, you know about Oprah Winfrey's "stirring, spiritual call to arms" at the Golden Globes.

Winfrey's speech — tied to the #MeToo movement — "has fans dreaming" of a presidential run by the talk-show icon and Democrats from Hollywood to Iowa "captivated" by the possibility.

Here at GetReligion, editor Terry Mattingly suggested months ago: "Yes, the religious left exists: Can you think of a logical person (Oprah) to serve as its leader?"

Oh, her.

But speaking of religion, have the breathless news reports since Sunday night acknowledged — or mostly ignored — Oprah's Gospel-meets-New Age religious maven role? 

Take a wild guess.

However, a leading Godbeat pro has an extremely insightful story on the surprising theology shared by Oprah and, believe it or not, her potential 2020 adversary, President Donald Trump.

I'm talking about Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias, who notes that Trump and Winfrey both "preach a gospel of American prosperity, the popular cultural movement that helped put Trump in the White House in 2016."

More insight from Dias' highly relevant piece:

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Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants

Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants

It is, without a doubt, the question that I hear most often when I have a chance to meet -- face to face -- with GetReligion readers. It's one of the questions I keep seeing in reader emails.

This question: Do we ever get tired of having to address the same journalism issues over and over, writing posts that include links back to previous posts, which then link back to earlier posts and on and on?

That's right: Same as it ever was. It's kind of a deja vu all over again thing.

Yes, we do get rather tired of doing this. However, we keep hoping that at some point journalists will, you know, take an interest in basic facts about how religious institutions -- on the left and right -- do their work as voluntary associations. Why avoid relevant doctrinal and even legal information in stories about controversial issues?

So, before we get to the Inside Higher Ed coverage of the North Park University campus minister who was suspended after performing a same-sex marriage rite, let's do that flashback think that we have to do every now and then. The headline on this earlier post: "Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case." Here is the echo-chamber overture:

I know. I know. Trust me, I know that your GetReligionistas keep making the same point over and over when digging into mainstream news coverage of LGBTQ teachers (or people in other staff positions) who, after making public declarations of their beliefs on sex and marriage, lose their jobs in doctrinally defined private schools.
We keep making the point over and over because it's a crucial question when covering these stories. When are reporters and editors going to start asking the crucial question?
The question, of course, is this: Had the person who was fired voluntarily signed an employee lifestyle (or doctrinal) covenant in which they promised to support (or at least not openly oppose) the teachings at the heart of the religious school's work?

That brings us to the Rev. Judy Peterson at North Park and this headline: "Gay Wedding Costs College Pastor Her Job."

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Media watchdog catches a whopper in New York Times feature on gay life in Lebanon

Media watchdog catches a whopper in New York Times feature on gay life in Lebanon

Sometimes you just have to wonder whether someone’s simply asleep at the wheel.

Yes, even at The New York Times, which I consider journalism's preeminent global-news operation.

I say that, despite the Times many imperfections. To which I'd add this ambitious but seriously flawed story about gays, lesbians and transsexuals trying to survive in Lebanon. Here’s its opening paragraphs.

Throughout the Middle East, gay, lesbian and transgender people face formidable obstacles to living a life of openness and acceptance in conservative societies.
Although Jordan decriminalized same-sex behavior in 1951, the gay community remains marginalized. Qatar, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen all outlaw same-sex relations. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by flogging or death.
In Egypt, at least 76 people have been arrested in a crackdown since September, when a fan waved a rainbow flag during a concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay singer.
If there is one exception, it has been Lebanon. While the law can still penalize homosexual acts, Lebanese society has slowly grown more tolerant as activists have worked for more rights and visibility.

What’s that, you say? You clicked on the link to the story provided above and that’s not how the lede actually reads? Instead of “Middle East,” the story now refers to the “Arab world”?

Well, you're correct. Let me explain.

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Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

The fact that there are major theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians isn't exactly breaking news.

In fact, the Religion News Association stylebook entry on Mormons notes, "Because of their extra-biblical scriptures and beliefs about God and Jesus (they reject the Nicene Creed, for example), Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches do not regard Mormons as Christian."

But last week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, put those differences back into the spotlight.

In a 700-word news report headlined "Evangelicals And Mormons Are Political Allies, But Theological Rivals," NPR contrasted President Trump's warm statement after Monson's death with leading evangelicals' negative words concerning the Mormon leader's LDS faith:

Trump's own faith is not a centerpiece of his political identity. But those two faith communities — Mormons and evangelicals — have historically been the religious groups most closely identified with the Republican Party, and they have long aligned on such culture war issues as same-sex marriage, gender roles, transgender rights and abortion.
However, those shared political views do not translate to a theological alliance. In contrast to Trump's warm remembrance, many evangelical leaders responded to Monson's death with unsparing criticism of the LDS teachings he represented.
"False religion is a judgment from God, and Monson's life is a testimony to the enslavement that false religion brings," wrote James White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix and the author of 24 books on evangelical theology.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was similarly harsh, using the occasion of Monson's death to highlight what he called "the great distinction between biblical Christianity and Mormonism."
"Should we consider the Mormon Church ... as a Christian denomination?" Mohler asked in his daily podcast. "No, we should not. It simply fails every major test of historic Christian orthodoxy."

Overall, NPR did a nice job — particularly for a quick-hit daily news report — of hitting a few high points of why Mormons and evangelicals often align politically but not theologically,

I do wish NPR had noted more clearly this big theological distinction: Mormons' contention that "all authentic Christianity vanished by the 2d Century and God needed to restore the authentic faith and church authority uniquely through American founder Joseph Smith Jr."

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ChurchClarity.org is back, but Newsweek offers only one side of this crucial LGBTQ story

ChurchClarity.org is back, but Newsweek offers only one side of this crucial LGBTQ story

The activists at ChurchClarity.org are back, with another narrow, but important, set of numbers detailing what some strategic American churches are, and are not, saying about LGBTQ issues and other causes that are crucial to the Christian left.

Anyone who cares about the development of an open, candid, evangelical left has to be paying close attention to this project. That means bookmarking two essential websites -- ChurchClarity.org itself and the Religion News Service columns of Jonathan Merritt, the scribe who has done the most to provoke and define debates on the evangelical left on these topics.

The goal of the project, simply stated, is to examine the public statements of various churches -- symbolized by doctrinal documents on websites -- in order to determine where the leaders of these congregations stand on LGBTQ issues.

While some may see the project as hostile to Christian orthodoxy, the bottom line is that it's offering newsworthy material that reporters need to know about. It is also providing links to its source materials. Journalists can respect that (as demonstrated by this Rod Dreher post reacting to these surveys). 

The bottom line: Reporters can use ChurchClarity.org as a key voice in an important debate.

That is, journalists can choose to do that. It appears that some will settle for a public-relations approach. For example, see the Newsweek piece with this headline: "AMERICA’S LARGEST CHURCHES ARE ALL ANTI-LGBT AND LED BY MOSTLY WHITE MEN." Yes, the all-caps thing appears to be Newsweek style. Here is the overture:

None of America’s 100 largest churches are LGBT-affirming and almost all of them are led by white men, according to ChurchClarity.org, an organization that reports churches’ LGBT policies and rates congregations based on their level of clarity.

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It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

Everyone loves cleverly written stories and August Brown’s recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the new breed of Satanists is most certainly that.

We learn the cool stuff about the edgy folks who are into this movement, but none of the inconvenient truths. In other words, there are complex religion ghosts hiding in this story. Surprise.

So yes, it is entertaining.

In November, in the candlelit basement of a house just above the Silver Lake Reservoir, Alexandra James walked over to an altar where her husband, Zachary, waited near a bleached human skull, teeth locked in eternal rictus. From the altar, she lifted a sword and drew points across his chest while a circle of onlookers watched solemnly (well, a few giggled too). An organist played eerie minor key chords and Alexandra turned to face the group.
"On this altar we consecrate swords to direct the fire of our unholy will," she said. "A human skull, symbol of death. The great mother Lilith created us all, and will destroy us all."
"Hail Satan! Hail Satan! Hail Satan!" The group chanted back.

The story describes how the attendees are mainly artists, writers and musicians who fling around words like “Satan,” “coven” and “witches” without really knowing their meanings.

But a bigger moment came a few hours later when word circulated that Charles Manson had died. Far from mourning a man whose crimes burned satanic imagery into the American mainstream, everyone cracked beers in celebration and jammed on psych rock tunes. ... It was a great night for a heterodox generation of new self-described Satanists who are upending old "Rosemary's Baby" and "Helter Skelter" stereotypes in service of radical politics, feminist aesthetics and community unity in the divisive time of Trump.

Alas, there is no mention, of the gruesome way the Satan-influenced Manson and his companions killed nine people in 1969.

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Pope Francis and the ongoing fallibility of (quite a few members of) the mainstream media

Pope Francis and the ongoing fallibility of (quite a few members of) the mainstream media

Here is a rather simple test for reporters with experience on the religion beat.

In terms of Catholic tradition, which of the following two forms of communication by Pope Francis has the greater level of authority?

* A formal papal encyclical distributed by the Vatican.

* A comment made during an informal airplane press conference, as Shepherd One flies back to Rome after an overseas trip.

Like I said, it isn't a tough question if one knows anything about the papacy.

Ah, but how about the content of an off-the-cuff Pope Francis one-liner about abortion, "culture wars" and politics? Do those words have more authority, less authority or the same level of authority as a a papal address, using a carefully prepared manuscript, delivered to an Italian conference for Catholic doctors focusing on the sanctity of human life?

That's a tougher one. I would argue that the papal address had more authority than the one-liner. However, if one uses an online search engine to explore press coverage of these kinds of issues -- in terms of gallons of digital ink -- you'll quickly learn that I am part of a small minority on that matter.

Now, I was talking about religion-beat pros. What happens when political editors and reporters try to handle issues of papal authority, when covering tensions and changes in today's Catholic church? Frankly, I think things get screwed up more often than not under those circumstances. But, well, who am I to judge?

If consistent, logical, dare I say "accurate" answers to these kinds of journalistic questions are important to you, then you need to read a new essay -- "Pope Francis and the media’s ongoing fallibility" -- posted by The Media Project. The author is veteran New York City journalist Clemente Lisi, who is now my colleague on the journalism faculty at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

Here's some material gathered from the top of this piece:

Did you hear what Pope Francis said about (fill in the blank)? ...

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A floating podcast: Are evangelicals more confused than usual, these days? #REALLY

A floating podcast: Are evangelicals more confused than usual, these days? #REALLY

This week's "Crossroads" podcast is a bit different, for several reasons.

In the headline, I called this a "floating" podcast because, well, I phoned into the Lutheran Public Radio studio from a cruise boat in the Bahamas (the final stage of some wonderful 40th wedding anniversary celebrations). So I was "floating," at the time. Also, the podcast isn't going to be posted on the GetReligion website right away because our tech person is (continuing the wedding theme) on his honeymoon. So click here to access the Issues, Etc., version of this show.

Now, to the topic. Host Todd Wilken asked me to take a look at an NPR essay that ran with this headline: "2017 Has Been A Rough Year For Evangelicals."

Yes, we are talking about yet ANOTHER elite-media look into the identity crisis among many evangelical leaders in the era of Donald Trump. But before we get into the heart of that essay, check out the lede:

As 2017 ends, evangelical Christians in the United States are suffering one of their periodic identity crises. Unlike other religious groups, the evangelical movement comprises a variety of perspectives and tendencies and is therefore especially prone to splintering and disagreement.

Yes, the first half of that is basically fine -- since anyone with any exposure to the American brand of evangelicalism knows that debates about doctrine and identity have been common through the decades. But what's going on with the statement that evangelical churches and institutions contain a "variety of perspectives and tendencies" and, thus, are somehow uniquely prone to divisions, debates and disagreements?

I laughed out loud the first time I read that.

So American Catholicism is a fortress of cultural conformity? Ditto for Lutherans and Anglicans?

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Friday Five: American-style Islam, Christmas in Bethlehem, $29.95 ordination, Hooters and more

Friday Five: American-style Islam, Christmas in Bethlehem, $29.95 ordination, Hooters and more

Here's something I betcha didn't know: I'm an ordained pastor, and it only cost me $29.95. (Apparently, I paid too much.)

More on that — and my strange clerical connection to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law — in a moment.

First, though, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly mentioned Emma Green's important contributions to 2017 religion reporting in a post earlier this week.

Here's another shout-out for Green, who ended the year with an in-depth piece on "How America Is Transforming Islam."

The article didn't please everyone, but like Rod Dreher — who praised Green's story on his American Conservative blog — I thought it made for compelling and thought-provoking reading.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: The No. 1 spot this week belongs to tmatt's post on the timing of Christmas in the ancient city of Bethlehem. The post's title: "Once again in Royal David's City: Journalists still confused about Christmas who, what, when, where ..."

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