Terry Mattingly

Let's play 'Spot the religious test' in some big news stories -- on left and the right

Let's play 'Spot the religious test' in some big news stories -- on left and the right

I realize (trigger warning!) that the U.S. Constitution is a rather controversial subject right now, with all the talk about U.S. Senate “majority votes” and tiny little red flyover states getting to have two senators, just like blue powerhouse states on the coasts.

Still, it’s a good thing for journalists in mainstream newsrooms to know a thing or two about this document, especially when covering the religion beat. I’m not just talking about the free press and freedom of religion stuff, either.

Yet another wild story in the White House has raised an issue that, #ALAS, I think we will be seeing more of in the near future. The key issue: Candidates for public service facing “religious tests” served up by their critics.

First things first: Ladies and gentlemen, here is Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

This leads us to several relatively recent news stories that raised questions about “religious tests.”

The key question: Can journalists recognize “religious tests” when they take place on the political left and the right?

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Vatican shocks U.S. bishops, while some journalists keep tight focus on child abuse -- alone

Vatican shocks U.S. bishops, while some journalists keep tight focus on child abuse -- alone

It seems like an easy question: What are the sex scandals in the Catholic church all about?

If you look at the coverage, week after week, it’s clear that many journalists covering the latest wave of news about the scandals are still wrestling with this issue.

Obviously, the scandals center on acts of sexual abuse and harassment by Catholic clergy. The question, apparently, is this: Who are the victims? Reporters have to answer that question in order to get to the next big question: What sacred and secular laws are being broken?

After decades of following this story, and talking to activists on the Catholic left and right, the basic facts are pretty clear.

The vast majority of the victims are young males between the ages of 11 and 18. Then there are significant numbers of prepubescent victims, male and female, being abused by criminals who can accurately be called “pedophiles.” Also, there are many adult men (many are seminarians) and women involved in sexual relationships with priests and bishops, some consenting and some not. The size of this last group is assumed to be large, but there are few facts available.

With this in mind, pay close attention to the lede of the latest New York Times update on the Vatican’s shocking move to stop U.S. Catholic bishops from taking actions to discipline bishops accused of various sins and crimes.

BALTIMORE — Facing a reignited crisis of credibility over child sexual abuse, the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States came to a meeting in Baltimore on Monday prepared to show that they could hold themselves accountable.

But in a last-minute surprise, the Vatican instructed the bishops to delay voting on a package of corrective measures until next year, when Pope Francis plans to hold a summit in Rome on the sexual abuse crisis for bishops from around the world.

Many of the more than 350 American bishops gathered in Baltimore appeared stunned when they learned of the change of plans in the first few minutes of the meeting. They had come to Baltimore wanting to prove that they had heard their parishioners’ cries of despair and calls for change. Suddenly, the Vatican appeared to be standing in the way, dealing the bishops another public relations nightmare.

What is the crisis all about? The answer, throughout this article, is “child abuse,” and that’s that.

It’s interesting to note that the article does not include references to two crucial words in this latest wave of scandal ink — “McCarrick,” as in ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick — and “seminaries” or “seminarians.”

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'Geographic solution' for predators? Hide bad priests in parishes with lots of immigrants

'Geographic solution' for predators? Hide bad priests in parishes with lots of immigrants

Back in my Denver days in the late 1980s, I started work on a large project that, at first, was viewed with great favor by my editors at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP).

The starting point: The city included several growing Protestant churches, evangelical and Pentecostal, that were attracting many, many Hispanic believers. As you would expect, it didn’t take long to realize that most of them were former Roman Catholics or were the children of former Roman Catholics.

The goal was to report (a) why this was happening and (b) how this affected life inside large, extended families of Hispanics who now worshipped in radically different sanctuaries.

After a week or two of work, we dropped that first goal — because one of the most common answers was raising lots of questions that made editors uncomfortable.

Yes, many people were leaving the Catholic church for predictable reasons, from their point of view. They thought the preaching in evangelical/Pentecostal churches was stronger and “more biblical.” They liked the thriving Sunday schools for their children and youth programs for teens. They liked the contemporary church music, blending folk, pop and Latino themes.

But I kept hearing one more thing in many interviews: They wanted married pastors.

I would ask: “Married? Why was this so important?” Some were reluctant to discuss the details, but some were blunt: Their parishes were being sent too many gay priests. There were rumors and tensions. People were not sure they could trust the church. I kept hearing: Pastors should have wives and children of their own.

I wrote the divided-families story, but editors shied away from the “married” pastors angle.

I thought of that story when I heard about this strong National Public Radio report: “Immigrant Communities Were the ‘Geographic Solution’ to Predator Priests.”

Let me stress again (see this recent post) that there is fierce debate among Catholics over whether these two hot-button topics — large numbers of gay priests and decades of scandals linked to the abuse of teens and also prepubescent children — are connected. Many activists on the Catholic left and right salute the work of priests who wrestle with same-sex orientation, while living celibate lives and defending church doctrines on sexuality.

Here is the NPR overture:

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What are the odds of this Catholic clergy abuse study receiving some elite ink?

What are the odds of this Catholic clergy abuse study receiving some elite ink?

The next gathering of the U.S. Catholic bishops is only days away.

Obviously, the topic of clergy sexual abuse of teens and children is going to get lots and lots of attention from the press. There is the outside chance that the bishops may also talk — thinking about Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick about the abuse of seminarians and young priests by those who have power over them.

Thus, reporters are looking for stories right now — new information about these issues to serve as background for what is ahead.

So, the other day I sent a URL to some Catholics in journalism. The massive double-decker headline proclaims:

Is Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Related to Homosexual Priests?

An interview with sociologist Father Paul Sullins, whose new study documents a strong linkage between the incidence of abuse and homosexuality in the priesthood and in seminaries.

One reporter’s reply went something like this: I predict this study will not be covered by The New York Times.

That’s a #DUH comment. For starters, check out this conservative priest’s mini-bio at The Ruth Institute. Spot any landmines?

Dr. Paul Sullins has a Ph.D. in sociology and is recently retired from teaching at the Catholic University of America. He is a married Catholic priest, and has written a book on that subject, Keeping the Vow: The Untold Story of Married Catholic Priests.

My question here is not whether this sociologist’s study — combining material from several different sources — is beyond debate. I am well aware that many Catholics will debate his conclusions.

That’s my point. The question is whether this study deserves mainstream press overage AND DEBATE.

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Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:

ANOTHER PRO-LIFE DEMOCRAT

A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

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Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

If journalists really want to grasp the importance of the splits that the Donald Trump era is causing among religious conservatives, there are some logical places to look.

Obviously, they can look at the world of evangelicalism and, yes, even inside the complex world of white evangelicalism. Please start here.

Then they can narrow that down by looking at the generational and gender tensions inside the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock.

Journalists can also look at what is happening in Utah — starting with Trump’s astonishing — well, maybe not — personal shot at Rev. Mia Love, the GOP’s only black woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here is the top of a report from The Salt Lake Tribune:

President Donald Trump praised Republicans for expanding their majority in the Senate on Wednesday, while offering harsh criticism to GOP House members — including Utah’s Rep. Mia Love — who failed to wholeheartedly embrace his agenda.

Trump said Love had called him “all the time” asking for help freeing Utahn Josh Holt, who had been imprisoned in Venezuela. But her re-election campaign distanced itself from his administration, the president said, which led to her poor performance in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

“Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” Trump said. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Part of what is going on in that Utah vote is the increasingly important rural vs. urban divide in American life (check out the voting pattens in that district). Also, see this recent New York Times feature about some of the nuances in this particular Congressional race.

By the way, Trump served up his political kill shot on Love while votes are still being counted in Utah’s fourth district.

So, back to the Utah context. This president is even less popular in the urban Salt Lake City area than he is in the rest of deep red, Republican Utah — where politics are soaked in the conservative, but more gentle, style of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

The day after election day is, of course, a day for political chatter. Let’s face it: In Twitter America, every day is a day for political chatter.

This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to see a few religion ghosts in all of this media fog — hints at the religion/politics stories that will soon return to the headlines. Let me start with a few observations, as a Bible Belt guy who just spent his second straight national election night in New York City.

* I didn’t think that it would be possible for the U.S. Supreme Court to play a larger and more divisive role in American political life than it has post-Roe v. Wade. I was wrong. Do you see big, important compromises coming out of the new U.S. House and Senate?

* Maybe you have doubts about the importance of SCOTUS in politics right now. If so, take a look at the U.S. Senate races in which Democrats sought reelection in culturally “red” states. Ask those Democrats about the heat surrounding Supreme Court slots.

* So right now, leaders of the religious left are praying BIG TIME for the health of 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, to a lesser degree, 80-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer. After two battles with cancer, activists inside the Beltway watch Ginsburg’s every move for signs of trouble. What will conservative religious leaders pray for?

* If Ginsburg or Breyer exit, one way or the other, what will be the central issues that will surround hearings for the next nominee? Do we really need to ask that? It will be abortion and religious liberty — again.

* If the next nominee is Judge Amy Coney Barrett (a likely choice with GOP gains in the U.S. Senate), does anyone doubt that her Catholic faith (“The dogma lives loudly in you”) will be at the heart of the media warfare that results?

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Election day drinking game? Maybe. But here's another evangelical politics stat for news stories

Election day drinking game? Maybe. But here's another evangelical politics stat for news stories

Hey, it’s election day.

Want to have a drinking game? Most evangelicals and Baptists can use Dr Pepper or some other appropriate beverage.

Take a drink tonight when, during cable-news gabfests, you hear a reference to white evangelical voters and their love of Donald Trump.

You can take a DOUBLE SHOT if someone quotes the magic “81 percent” number from 2016.

Oh, wait. I am making an assumption here. So let me say this: You have heard, I assume, that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and that they still just love that man more than life itself?

The reality, of course, is more complex than that.

Thus, those who love nuanced, accurate journalism can only hope that editors and producers will hand out copies of the recent Christianity Today essay by Ed Stetzer, director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, that ran with this headline: “Why Evangelicals Voted Trump: Debunking the 81%.” The survey info in that essay is important.

Here is some additional information to toss into the mix, care of the National Association of Evangelicals and Baptist Press. The big numbers are right at the top:

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Most leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals identified as independents in an NAE poll preceding the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. …

Two-thirds of those surveyed, 66 percent, described themselves as independents rather than a member of a major political party in the NAE poll of its 106-member board of directors, the NAE said. While the sampling is narrow and not scientific, the NAE said the results "track with" those of a 2017 Gallup poll of the general U.S. population.

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Election day thoughts: New York Times visits Utah, includes crucial faith details in a tragic war story

Election day thoughts: New York Times visits Utah, includes crucial faith details in a tragic war story

The mayor of North Odgen, Utah, was a soldier on yet another deployment — returning to Afghanistan.

Brent Taylor was married and had a large family, although it was not unusually large by Utah standards. He was a Republican who was popular with many Democrats in his town.

No, this is not going to be a post about whether professionals in the mainstream media — The New York Times, in this case — did or did not replace the term “Mormon” with the full name of that religious institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a major story.

No, I want to say that the journalists behind this Times story made a sincere attempt to grasp the ties that bind in the piece that ran with this headline: “Brent Taylor, Utah Mayor Killed in Afghanistan, Was on 4th Deployment.”

I had some doubts, at first, when the faith element did not show up in the overture:

NORTH OGDEN, Utah — The call had come again. Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden and a major in the Utah National Guard, would be going to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment.

He told his constituents about it on Facebook in January, leaning into the camera to explain that he had been called to serve his country “whenever and however I can” and that he would be gone for a year, as part of a team helping to train an Afghan Army commando battalion. “Service is really what leadership is all about,” he told them.

He said goodbye to his wife, Jennie, and their seven children, and turned over his municipal duties to his friend Brent Chugg. “You need to keep safe,” Mr. Chugg told him. “I will,” Major Taylor replied.

He did not make it home.

However, the faith details emerged — I think this was the right call — when the story shifted into details about family and community. I also think it was appropriate, as a radically divided nation heads into midterm elections, for the Times team to include some of this painful political atmosphere (without mentioning You Know Who). In my experience (including two recent invitations to speak at religious-liberty events at Brigham Young University), many LDS leaders and laypeople are very unsettled by current trends in America’s political life.

But back to the head of the story — the mayor and his family, and its community.

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