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Look for a story here: Catholic parents may be worrying about 'religious formation' classes

Look for a story here: Catholic parents may be worrying about 'religious formation' classes

This is the time of year when Catholic children who go to public schools also have to attend classes on Sundays.

What most Christians call “Sunday school,” Catholics refer to as “religious formation.” It is required of all Catholics — baptized children and adults who have converted or returned to the faith — in order to prepare for the receiving of sacraments such as Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Many Catholic parents have been concerned, obviously, after the revelations of this past summer involving ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the hundreds of Pennsylvania priests accused of molesting children and teens dating back decades made public in a grand jury report. The abuse of minors and sexual harassment of adults in the church has triggered plenty of doubt among the faithful regarding the church’s hierarchy.

This can impact church life in many ways. Here is one Sunday-morning angle that reporters need to think about.

The conversations in the pews and outside churches in the past few weeks have revolved around their child’s safety, revealing a crisis of faith that is very real. Should their son or daughter attend religious formation this year? Can they trust a priest or church volunteer to be alone with their child? Have any safety procedures been put into place?

There are 17,156 local parishes in the United States with an estimated 70 million Catholics. A much smaller number, however, remains active in the church. For example, only 42 percent of families send their children to religious formation, according to research in 2015 (click here for .pdf) by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Indeed, the habits of American Catholics have vastly changed over the past few decades, and the events of this past summer will certainly impact the church (including attendance and donations) going forward. How much and to what extent remains to be seen. Two-thirds of Catholic millennials, for example, attend Mass only “a few times a year or less often.” That’s compared to 55 percent of pre-Vatican II Catholics, who go at least once a week, according to that same Georgetown University study.

Nonetheless, we are still talking about millions of people affected here.

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Bee advised: Amid religious and political tumult, readers may welcome a good chuckle

Bee advised: Amid religious and political tumult, readers may welcome a good chuckle

Behold this recent "news" item:

DALLAS, TX -- Pastor Robert Jeffress, longtime supporter of President Donald Trump, has publicly accused Jesus of Nazareth of having "Trump Derangement Syndrome" after reading that the Christ condemned adultery in the Sermon on the Mount.

A baffled Jeffress read Jesus's words condemning not only adultery but looking at a woman lustfully and immediately concluded the Rabbi was simply exhibiting symptoms of deranged, unfair hatred of Donald Trump. ...

Here's another one:

WASHINGTON -- In an alarming show of religious extremism and complete disregard for the separation of church and state, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was spotted by news reporters serving food to the homeless.

Kavanaugh performed the frightening display of religious devotion alongside an organized group of radicalized Catholics, whose extremist mission appears to be helping the needy. Local news crews leaped out of the bushes and caught him in the act, asking him, "What do you have to say for yourself, BIGOT?" 

As you surely perceived, this is not real fake news but fake real news, that is to say fictional satire, posted by The Babylon Bee

Hey, in times of political and religious tumult, everyone can use a good chuckle. 

The online Bee, which first hit an unready readership two years ago, is religion’s equivalent of the devoutly secular The Onion, whose recent gibes include an item headlined “Sessions Vows To Protect All Deeply Held Religious Bigotry.”

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Bias flashback: Should religious leaders risk talking to reporters? (A tmatt response)

Bias flashback: Should religious leaders risk talking to reporters? (A tmatt response)

The other day, our own Bobby Ross Jr. wrote a post that included a very strong dose of opinion from a reader. The headline on that post: "Why ignoring a reporter's call probably isn't the best media relations strategy for a religious leader."

As you can tell, this is a topic linked to an assumption, and a safe one at that: Many religious leaders are scared to talk to journalists.

Now, why might that be? Why the fear? Here's that reader comment, once again:

It boggles this Catholic’s mind that you are surprised that any of these pastors would talk to the reporter.

This blog has existed on the premise that the media, by and large, are hostile to any kind of religion. The hero of these pastors, President Trump, paints the press as the enemy rather than a guardian of the people’s right to know. And then you are surprised when that actually manifests itself in the real world.

Ah, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

You see, no one here thinks that the vast majority of news-media pros are "hostile to any kind of religion." To be blunt about it, many journalists don't care enough about religion to work up a decent case of hostility about the subject. Some journalists love some forms of religion and, well, aren't fond of others.

Also, apathy is not hostility. Ignorance is not hostility, either. Some editors are scared to try to cover religion. That isn't hostility, either.

Well, Bobby told readers that I might want to respond at some point. This is rather ironic, since I am currently in Prague, lecturing at the European Journalism Institute at the historic Charles University. My third and final lecture is relevant to this discussion: "The Four Biases that Shape Religion News Coverage."

The quickest way for me to share my thoughts on this complicated topic is to cut and paste a section of an essay that I wrote long, long, long ago for The Quill, published by the Society of Professional Journalists. So here goes.

After nearly two decades of studying this issue, in academic settings and while working in the media, I am convinced four different forms of bias are to blame for this media blind spot.

Update! Make that four-plus decades of studying this issue!

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Think piece: Some 'news' about a stunning lack of intellectual diversity in liberal arts, religion faculties

Think piece: Some 'news' about a stunning lack of intellectual diversity in liberal arts, religion faculties

When you think of centers for right-wing thought, you usually don't think of Brooklyn, as in New York City.

However, a Brooklyn College (that's part of CUNY) faculty member -- Mitchell Langbert -- recently posted an academic paper at the National Association of Scholars website with this title: "Homogeneous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty."

Now, the results of this study are stunning, but not all that surprising. By definition, the contents of this academic paper is "conservative news," even though it's from Brooklyn, which is about as hip-left as a zip code can get. You can tell this is conservative news simply by doing a logical search for this study in Google News. Click here to check that out.

Thus, this weekend's religion-news "think piece" is from a conservative source, as in PJMedia.com. Here's the overture:

There are more than ten Democrats for every one Republican among elite professors at America's top liberal arts colleges, a new study found.

Worse, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 70 to 1 in religion departments, and that wasn't the worst disparity.

Yes, we will return to that religion angle. Hold that thought, and read on:

Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business management at Brooklyn College, examined the party affiliations of 8,688 tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors at 51 of the top 60 liberal arts colleges in U.S. News and World Report's 2017 rankings, and found that there were 10.4 times as many Democrats as Republicans.

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Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Faithful GetReligion readers are familiar with our "folder of guilt" concept. If you live online, you have one, too.

It's the large stack of emails that you know you need to deal with, but more urgent (or less complex) emails keep arriving, day after day, week after week. The digital layers between you and the "guilt" emails get bigger and bigger.

The difference here at GetReligion is that some of us have -- literally -- created "guilt" folders in our email software to protect certain stories or op-eds or online discussions that we know we should deal with, somehow, someday. Like today.

This brings me to a 5-star "guilt" discussion that took place recently among the GetReligionistas. This one was important because it cut to the heart of what we do here and, to be blunt, what we may or may not be doing in the future.

The basics: GetReligion has, for 14-plus years, attempted to critique the good and the bad in mainstream coverage of religion. We have deliberately tried to avoid writing about opinion and analysis journalism, other than making references to add depth or perspective to posts about hard-news coverage. We also have the weekend "think piece" feature that points readers to all kinds of journalism about issues linked to religion and, thus, religion news.

Meanwhile, trends in the Internet age have weakened the wall between straight news and advocacy news (#DUH). We know that and we have struggled to cope with that.

But we also know that many of our culture's most important discussions of religious issues and events are taking place OUTSIDE of the journalism world -- in entertainment. That's one of the reasons I left a newsroom in 1991 to teach mass-media studies at a seminary.

So what is GetReligion supposed to do with debates about "news" topics that take place, to cite one example, in a show like HBO's "Silicon Valley"?

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Editor and publisher news at Religion News Service: Note strategic silences on Twitter, right now

Editor and publisher news at Religion News Service: Note strategic silences on Twitter, right now

If you care about religion news in America and around the world, then your business-day dose of email probably includes a copy of The Slingshot, the digital newsletter produced by the Religion News Service that summarizes the newsroom's latest offerings.

The typical edition includes a few hard-news pieces by the wire service's small, but in most cases highly experienced staff, as well as lots of links to RNS opinion columns and blog posts. The Slingshot also includes short, helpful notes pointing readers to religion features produced elsewhere.

In many ways, The Slingshot shows where American journalism is at the moment -- since opinion is cheap and hard-news information is expensive. The professionals at RNS are not alone in wrestling with that brutal equation.

Today's edition of The Slingshot leads with aggregation blurbs pointing to articles at The Orange Country Register, Religion Dispatches, NBC News and an RNS news piece from yesterday.

What the newsletter does not include is any information about the primary question that is currently being asked on Twitter. That would be: What is going on at Religion News Service?

At this point, it's best to back up and follow the shards of information that have been put on the record in social media.

Let's start with this announcement from the wire service's now-former editor, Jerome Socolovsky. Concerned readers will want to read the whole thread and keep checking back for updates.

However, journalists will certainly note this phrase -- "and that's about all I can say."

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Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

It sounds like a simple question: Who is the AUDIENCE for the annual Academy Awards show? "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken opened this week's podcast host with that puzzler (click here to tune that in).

Ah, but are we talking about the audience for the program itself, as in the audience in the glitzy auditorium, or the audience for television broadcast that, once upon a time, was must-see TV in pretty much all American zip codes?

You see, you really have to think your way through that two-part equation in order to understand the post that I wrote the other day about the collapse in television ratings for this year's Academy Awards telecast. That post is right here: "Kudos to Washington Post for accidentally revealing diverse forms of Oscar hate/apathy?"

You see, I praised the Post -- gently -- for kind-of noticing that many Americans may have tuned out this year's Oscars show for reasons other than a desire not to see President Donald Trump bashed over and over. Late in that piece, they quoted some religious conservatives, one of whom sounded disappointed that stars hadn't dedicated more time to #MeToo issues during the Oscars.

Then there was this quip by host Jimmy "Man Show" Kimmel, which was aimed at the current administration -- but also had the beliefs of millions of traditional Christians, Jews and Muslims.

“We don’t make movies like ‘Call Me by Your Name’ for money. … We make them to upset Mike Pence,” Kimmel also said, referring to the same-sex romance film nominated for best picture.

So why did gazillions of Americans in flyover country tune out Oscars 2018, giving this cultural touchstone its lowest ratings, ever?

Obviously, it has something to do with the bitter divisions in American life that are cultural and moral, as well as political. At the same time, there is an schism between Americans who like the edgy niche-market movies that are dear to modern Hollywood's heart, and those who show up for mass-market superflicks that are not as preachy (or preach in a different style).

Do the power players in Hollywood know about this schism? Of course they do.

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Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Several years ago, there was a mini-wave of mainstream media coverage when a variety of Christian ministries and institutions of higher learning took risky stands against the Health and Human Services mandate that required most religious institutions to offer their employees, and often students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after pills."

The problem, of course, is that members of most of these religious communities had accepted, and in most cases signed, covenants defending centuries of doctrines on marriage and sexuality. To varying degrees, some or all of these HHS demands violated doctrines that leaders of these institutions had promised to defend.

One high-profile case involved Wheaton College, a famous evangelical Protestant school near Chicago. Wheaton leaders refused to buckle under government pressure and kept fighting in the courts -- a process that drew coverage in news outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post and, logically enough, the nearby Chicago Tribune (check out this Google News search for examples).

So what happened -- in terms of news coverage -- when Wheaton won a crucial district-court victory upholding the college's First Amendment rights?

To find out, click on the video at the top of this post (or just click here).

Ever since that ruling, your GetReligionistas have been watching to see what kind of mainstream coverage there would be about this story. Activists at the conservative NewsBusters website were doing the same thing and published this summary: "Not News: Wheaton College Wins Permanent Injunction Against ObamaCare Contraception Mandate." It noted:

During the past several days, the press mentioned Wheaton College in Illinois when a former student was arrested for multiple burglaries, and when there were new developments relating to a football team hazing incident. On the positive side, the college's partnership with a school for children with disabilities got coverage, as of course did Wheaton's most famous graduate, the just-passed Rev. Billy Graham. But there hasn't been a word in the national establishment press about the Christian college's victory over the Obamacare contraception mandate -- a victory which should ripple though all remaining related cases.

Of course, this crucial update in a national-level case did receive all kinds of attention in alternative "conservative" news outlets.

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How can scribes capture Billy Graham's giant, complex life in newsprint? This will take time

How can scribes capture Billy Graham's giant, complex life in newsprint? This will take time

Back in the early 1980s, I sat in a meeting at The Charlotte Observer in which we discussed how the Rev. Billy Graham's hometown newspaper would handle his death. After all, he wasn't that far from the time when ordinary people start talking about retirement.

Graham, however, wasn't "ordinary people" especially in a town with a major road called the Billy Graham Parkway. The Observer team needed a plan. 

How do you sum up Graham's giant, complex, sprawling life in a few paragraphs? Try to imagine being the Associated Press pro who had to come up with the first bulletin that moved when the world's most famous evangelist died early Wednesday morning. Here is that story in its entirety:

The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died.
Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday morning. He was 99.
Graham reached more than 200 million through his appearances and millions more through his pioneering use of television and radio. Unlike many traditional evangelists, he abandoned narrow fundamentalism to engage broader society.

The priorities there seem solid, to me. The AP, of course, quickly released a full-length obituary.

As you would expect, there were stumbles in other newsrooms -- some of them almost Freudian. Consider the opening of the Graham obituary at The Daily Beast:

The Rev. Billy Graham, an evangelist preacher who changed American politics, has died at the age of 99. ...

Uh, no.

There were also some struggles to grasp the precise meanings of key religious words. For example, Graham was often called "America's pastor," but he spent very, very little time as a pastor, in terms of leading a congregation. There were some struggles, as always, with variations on words such as "evangelist," "evangelical" and "evangelizing." Was Graham a "fundamentalist"? The true fundamentalists would certainly say "no."

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