Julia Duin

NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

This Thanksgiving Day story by Julie Moreau for NBC News is about how some Christian ministries are preventing children from being adopted or fostered by homosexual couples. It quickly drew my attention for a rather obvious reason: As an adoptive mom, I am interested in the topic. However, this feature had way too many holes in it.

I am in favor of letting all parties adopt: Gay, straight, whatever, as long as folks pass all the background checks required with any home study. While searching for an agency to help me find a child, I was infuriated by certain Christian agencies that would not let single people use their services. (Did I sue them? No, I spent my money on a better agency.)

Their mentality was that singles were lesser beings and that kids deserved a two-parent family. Well, yes, in a perfect world, that’d be nice. But in an age of orphans and thousands of kids in state foster care systems, we need all hands on deck.

So, the premise that nasty religious folks are sending more kids onto the street is a gripping one. But some copy-desk errors plus the reporter’s tone deafness to the doctrinal concerns of Catholics and evangelical Christians led me to dismiss much of the piece. It starts thus:

Religious exemption laws allowing child placement agencies to deny LGBTQ prospective parents from fostering or adopting are exacerbating the current “child welfare crisis,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), Voice for Adoption and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

“Turning away LGBTQ prospective parents by asserting a religious exemption or taking advantage of a lack of state nondiscrimination law is a violation of this group’s rights,” the report states. “It also negatively affects the already strained child welfare system, ultimately harming the children in its care.”

Out of some 443,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system, the report says, some 50,000 are adopted each year, but another 20,000 age out before being adopted. That is, they turn 18.

Let’s keep reading.

“Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child and seven times more likely to be raising an adopted child than their different-sex counterparts,” the report states, citing data from the UCLA’s Williams Institute. “They are also more likely to adopt older children and children with special needs, who are statistically less likely to be adopted.”

I’ve heard the same thing, unofficially.

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The death of a U.S. missionary: Was John Allen Chau's effort mere imperialism?

The death of a U.S. missionary: Was John Allen Chau's effort mere imperialism?

A few days ago, when news was dribbling out about a hapless American Christian missionary speared to death on an Indian island, I figured the story would be just a blip in the daily news flow.

Since then, a geyser of coverage of enveloped this story; not only about the slain man himself, but on the justifications used for missionaries being there in the first place. For some journalists, this has turned into another opportunity to bash missionaries, especially evangelicals, with one-sided stories that feature major holes, in terms of content.

Being that the John Allen Chau was from the southern half of Washington state, the Seattle Times (my local paper) has been full of coverage from the Associated Press.

SEATTLE (AP) — John Allen Chau spent summers alone in a California cabin as a wilderness emergency responder, led backpacking expeditions in the Northwest’s Cascade Mountains, almost lost his leg to a rattlesnake bite, and coached soccer for poor children in Iraq and South Africa.

But kayaking to a remote Indian island, home to a tribe known for attacking outsiders with bows and arrows, proved an adventure too far for the avid outdoorsman and Christian missionary. Police said Wednesday that he had been killed, and authorities were working with anthropologists to try to recover his body from North Sentinel, in the Andaman Islands.

“Words cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report,” his family said in a statement posted on his Instagram account. “He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”

Since his Nov. 16 death, everyone has gotten in on this story either to editorialize on what those stupid missionaries are doing in parts of the world that clearly don’t want them or to puzzle out what drove a healthy 26-year-old to face certain death.

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Top Aussie wedding magazine forced out of business for not featuring gay couples

Top Aussie wedding magazine forced out of business for not featuring gay couples

You’ve heard of the fire chief in Atlanta who got fired because he wrote a book containing biblical references critical of homosexuality. And the couple in Oregon who refused to bake a wedding cake for two lesbians. And the Barronelle Stutzman case in Washington state, pitting religious liberty against floral arrangements for a gay wedding.

From Down Under, there’s the Australian version of all this, sort of. A major wedding magazine is closing because it won’t feature gay unions.

Now, the owners of the magazine said nothing to bring this on. But people got suspicious because the magazine wasn’t trotting out the requisite photo shoot of a happy gay couple. Then the advertisers revolted and that was that.

I heard about the magazine in a brief Washington Post piece:

An Australian bridal magazine is shutting down after standing by a controversial decision not to feature same-sex couples.

The founders of White magazine said in a statement Saturday that they have received “a flood of judgment” since making their decision during the same-sex marriage debate and legalization in 2017.

“Instead of allowing us the space to work through our thoughts and feelings, or being willing to engage in brave conversations to really hear each other’s stories, some have just blindly demanded that we pick a side. We’re not about sides, we’re about love, patience and kindness,” Luke and Carla Burrell wrote.

The couple said that magazine staffers, advertisers and even couples who had been featured in the magazine were suddenly “the subject of online abuse despite their individual beliefs.”

“The result has been that a number of advertisers withdrew their sponsorship out of fear of being judged, or in protest. We have had to recognise the reality that White Magazine is no longer economically viable,” their statement read.

We learn the owners are Christians but little else is revealed. The magazine was started 12 years ago and was doing well until the ground shifted under its feet when same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia a year ago.

I found some links in an Anglican publication and a story in the Sidney Morning Herald that shed some light. It was one of the magazine’s own photographers who blew the whistle.

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A journalist's newsletter offers a glimpse into how Muslim Millennials think

A journalist's newsletter offers a glimpse into how Muslim Millennials think

One interesting note that came out of a recent Religion News Association meeting two months ago was a prayer meeting of Muslim journos who belong to the group. There was also a group of Jewish reporters who met for a Shabbat dinner.

Signs of a big change? As a veteran of probably two dozen such conferences, I remember the days when folks took care not to mention their religious preferences at all, even in the company of like-minded reporters. Some thought it was a journalistic sin to do so.

You never knew if that information could be held against you plus there were some newsrooms that –- if they suspected you were partial to a certain religious group –- would pull you off any stories about said group. Such rules were never applied to reporters from black, Hispanic, gay, Native American or other subsets, but I learned early on the less said about my personal faith background, the better.

So it was with great interest that I read Boston freelancer Aysha Khan’s entry on her “Creeping Sharia” newsletter.

Salaam! Last weekend I was in Columbus, Ohio, where I joined religion reporters around the country for the annual Religion News Association conference. There, I got to meet fellow Muslim journalists Aymann Ismail (Slate), Hannah Allam (BuzzFeed News), Amber Khan (Interfaith Voices), Jaweed Kaleem (L.A. Times), Dalia Hatuqa (freelance) and Dilshad Ali (AltMuslim). Seriously, how exciting is this photo?

These folks are pictured in the photo atop this blog that I got from Khan’s site. I assume Khan herself is on the far right.

When I went to RNA in D.C. for the first time two years ago, Dilshad, Dina Zingaro (60 Minutes), Ruth Nasrullah (freelance) and I were probably the only Muslim journos there. Last year, in Nashville, I think there were even fewer of us. But this year we were actually able to pray Jummah together in the hotel. Just surreal.

All of this got me to reading Khan’s new twice-monthly newsletter.

I’m guessing “creeping Sharia” is a tongue-in-cheek rebuke to those who see the specter of sharia law in America’s near future. Here’s a curated list of articles about Islam you might not see anywhere else.

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Saved in El Salvador: Lots of media are flocking to cover gang members-turn-evangelical story

Saved in El Salvador: Lots of media are flocking to cover gang members-turn-evangelical story

Certain places in the world have problems that seem to be intractable. South Sudan. North Korea. And El Salvador.

The latter is the homicide capital of the world. Zillions of dollars have been poured into it. The U.S. government has declared war on its criminal elements. And nothing’s changed.

One institution, however, is dealing with the gangs. I was fascinated to see Molly O’Toole’s piece in The New Republic on how evangelical churches have the only solution that’s working.

Who would have thunk it?

At a small jail outside San Salvador, Brother David Borja lifted his sunglasses to talk a guard into letting us inside. The cell, originally intended for temporary holding, smelled of sweat and urine. In the center was a roughly ten-by-ten-foot cage, and inside it, a tangle of limbs and hammocks.

At the sight of Borja, a street preacher from the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” church, bare-chested, tattooed young men began crawling down from the hammocks and pulling on T-shirts.

As Borja started to pray, the men crossed themselves and bowed their heads. A few cried silently; others testified, “Truth.” … As the guard latched the thick steel behind us, we could still hear the men’s applause, and pleas for the pastor to pray for them to be saved.

Prisons are obviously fertile missionary grounds here.

Founded in 1977, the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” church, known as “Taber,” is now believed to be El Salvador’s largest church. Taber claims a congregation of more than 40,000, with millions of converts and more than 500 churches across the country. The megachurch also owns a handful of TV and radio stations and newspapers, extending its reach. In 1950, El Salvador was around 99 percent Catholic, but Protestantism has shot up since the 1970s, with 40 percent of adults today identifying as Protestant.

That makes Taber one of the most influential institutions in a country otherwise dominated by gangs.

The switch-over of Latin and Central Americans from Catholicism to Protestantism is still one of the more under-covered stories of modern religion reporting. It is a fait accompli one never thought would happen as recently as the 1970s. Here we read about an evangelical church that's taken on the gangs that rule the country.

According to experts, one of the gangs’ golden rules is that members can never leave with their lives. But in the past few years, there’s been a fascinating development: Gang bosses are increasingly granting those under their command desistance—a status change from “active” to “calmado,” meaning “calmed down”—if they convert to evangelicalism. At El Salvador’s San Francisco Gotera prison, about 1,000 ex-gang members have become evangelicals, nearly all of the overcrowded prison’s occupants.

The phenomenon can also be seen outside, at smaller Pentecostal parishes such as Ebenezer, whose ministry to gang members, The Final Trumpet, is known for speaking in tongues. Newfound-religious who stray from the righteous path, however—whether by drinking, doing drugs, beating their wives or girlfriends, or not attending church—can face deadly consequences from their former compatriots.

It’s an open, urgent question whether evangelical megachurches like Taber can use their influence to bring peace to El Salvador . . .

Actually, according to the link provided in the above paragraph, Ebenezer is simply a Pentecostal church and is known for a lot more than tongues-speaking. I am guessing the reporter is not too familiar with the doctrines of these various congregations.

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Finally: A decent mainstream news article about the Southern Poverty Law Center

Finally: A decent mainstream news article about the Southern Poverty Law Center

Well. Finally someone wrote a realistic, balanced piece about the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Washington Post Magazine staff writer David Montgomery put together a (roughly) 6,700-word piece that asks whether the SPLC is what it pretends to be — the ultimate (and accurate) judges of hate in America.

It gave ample voice to several of the SPLC’s most prominent critics, including one mainstream evangelical Christian organization that narrowly missed being in a bloodbath because of being labeled a hate organization.

See that speck there?” retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin says, directing my gaze to the ceiling of the Family Research Council’s lobby in Washington. I spy a belly-button-size opening in the plaster. “That’s a bullet hole.” … Fired on August 15th, 2012, by Floyd Lee Corkins.” …

Asked by an FBI agent how he came to single out the FRC, Corkins replied: “Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups.” The gunman, who was found to be mentally ill, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“He came in here to kill as many of us as possible because he found us listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website,” continues Boykin, FRC’s executive vice president, who is dressed today in a leather vest over a shirt and tie. “We and others like us who are on this ‘hate map’ believe that this is very reckless behavior. … The only thing that we have in common is that we are all conservative organizations. … You know, it would be okay if they just criticized us. … If they wrote op-eds about us and all that. But listing us as a hate group is just a step too far because they put us in the same category as the Ku Klux Klan. And who are they to have a hate-group list anyhow?”

The piece then switches venues to Montgomery, Ala., headquarters of the SPLC, which began in 1971 as a legal aid group, then expanded in the 1980s to monitor Klan groups.

Then the SPLC began widening its definition of hate and extremism.

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Lucy McBath's victory: Press still hasn't noticed this is a Democrat who believes in God

Lucy McBath's victory: Press still hasn't noticed this is a Democrat who believes in God

In early August, I wrote a post asking if Lucy McBath, the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s sixth House District, was the new religious star of the Democratic Party.

She had a compelling life story about losing her 17-year-old son, Jordan, to gun violence in 2012 and she used her grief to become a national spokeswoman for gun control. Then she decided to run for office against a heavily favored Republican incumbent, Rep. Karen Handel.

So I wrote about how McBath’s deeply Christian faith has been a guiding factor in her decision to run and how every media outlet except Mother Jones ignored that factor. When I went to bed Tuesday night, it appeared that McBath had lost.

When I woke up Wednesday, McBath had pulled ahead, finally winning in an election that took a day and one-half to decide. Handel finally conceded last Thursday morning after McBath bested her by less than 3,000 votes. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said:

The 6th District race was Georgia’s most high-profile upset in a year that drew near presidential-level turnout. Until a few weeks ago — and even leading into election night — many political handicappers did not list Handel among the lawmakers most in danger of losing their seats.

But sky-high turnout sparked by the state’s marquee gubernatorial race, simmering suburban dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and major outside assistance from groups linked to mega-donor Michael Bloomberg all helped McBath eke out a win over Handel, allies of the Democrat said in interviews this week.

But the McBath campaign and its allies also attribute the Democrat’s win to the candidate’s powerful personal story, which they say helped her cut through the political noise and connect with voters.

Her powerful story? That sounds like a potential opening to the faith factor in this story — if a journalist was willing to dig into that.

However, it is clear that gun control was the winning factor in this campaign.

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Hindu vs. Muslim in India: The Washington Post covers a battle that's getting worse

Hindu vs. Muslim in India: The Washington Post covers a battle that's getting worse

To listen to some Muslim activists around the world, one would think the only injustices are those happening in Palestine. There’s curiously little outcry about much worse stuff going on in China (as GetReligionista Ira Rifkin has written) and India.

India has 172 million Muslims; home to 10 percent of the world Muslim population and second only to Indonesia and Pakistan. But Indian Muslims –- as well as Sikhs, Christians and other minorities –- are vastly outnumbered by roughly 980 million Hindus. And in recent years, the trends in violence targeting Muslims in India — often fueled by smartphone messages sent through WhatsApp — haven’t been good.

Which is interesting in that India’s Muslims are growing and by 2050, India will surpass Indonesia as the world’s largest Muslim country. Which makes this recent story in the Washington Post about so-called cow vigilantes all the more timely.

Alimuddin Ansari, a van driver, knew the risks. Smuggling beef in India, where the slaughter of cows is illegal in some states, is dangerous work, and Ansari eventually attracted the notice of Hindu extremists in Jharkhand.

One hot day in June 2017, they tracked him to a crowded market. When he arrived with a van full of beef, the lynch mob was waiting.

Reports of religious-based hate-crime cases have spiked in India since the pro-Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, according to new data from IndiaSpend, which tracks reports of violence in English-language media. The data shows that Muslims are overwhelmingly the victims and Hindus the perpetrators of the cases reported.

Riots between religious groups have risen 28 percent between 2014-2017 and this year isn’t looking any better.

Some of the violence in the reported cases centers on cows because Hindus — nearly 80 percent of India’s population — believe the animals are sacred, and many states have laws that protect them from slaughter. Violent “cow vigilante” groups patrol the roads, beating and killing those suspected of smuggling beef.

Which means the unfortunate van driver was one of the victims.

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Goths, games and what seems to be faith: New York Times dives into vampire fantasy culture

Goths, games and what seems to be faith: New York Times dives into vampire fantasy culture

Before too much time goes by since Halloween, I wanted to spotlight an alternative religion -– no other word for it –- piece in the New York Times that talks about Goths and vampires.

I had no idea that Goths had a spirituality but freelancer Sam Kestenbaum, who has written on the occult and alternative traditions before for the Times, found a businesman-and-would-be-vampire who’s good at mining the Goth search for meaning, as it were.

It’s not a group I know anything about, so I gave it a read.

The big question, of course: Does the word “religion” apply to all of this? If the answer is “no,” then why is that?

In the dim corner of Halloween Adventure, a two-story costume store in Manhattan, a man called Father Sebastiaan sculpts vampire fangs by hand. A Ouija board hangs crooked on the wall, near a purple crystal and an uneven pile of occult books. His work stall, no larger than a broom closet, is barely visible behind pirate and cowboy masks.

A small gaggle had soon formed at the door, and Father Sebastiaan looked up. “The people who come to me are lost souls,” he said to a young assistant. “This is why I’m here. Fangs help them tap into their primal vampire nature. Fangs are magic.”

Two women squeezed in the stall to be fitted for fangs. “I’m a modern-day vampire who loves life,” said Christina Staib, a woman with leather boots and bat tattoos. Her friend Melanie Anderson had come for her first pair. “They give off an aura,” she said. “A spiritual vampire aura.”

Obviously the “Father” part of Sebastiaan’s title is faux.

Father Sebastiaan is just the man to help cultivate that aura. A 43-year-old with long hair, the fang maker once styled himself the king and spiritual guru of New York’s vibrant vampire scene in the 1990s. He hosted raucous parties, wrote books and launched product lines — jewelry, contact lenses and the fangs — with financial success. It was a good time to be a vampire in New York…

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