Hagia Sophia evolving into mosque? The Los Angeles Times omits crucial Christian voices

Hagia Sophia evolving into mosque? The Los Angeles Times omits crucial Christian voices

This past Sunday, I was at a lunch in Seattle that included someone who runs a retreat center in Turkey. She knew of only 4,000 evangelical Christians like her in the country, which under the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been encroaching on the religious freedom of non-Muslims for some time.

Evangelical Protestants are one of the smaller groups among Turkey’s 160,000 Christians, most of them Orthodox Christians linked to the city's history as a crossroads in the early church. The Christian community that was, in 1914, 19 percent of Turkey’s population is now a tiny group amidst 80 million Turkish Muslims.

So I was interested to read a Los Angeles Times story about the increasing pressure by Islamic activists to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. We've covered this before but the volume has been amped up.

So what is missing in this report on a topic that will be of special interest to Christians, as well as Muslims, around the world? Want to guess?

As the time for afternoon prayers approaches, Onder Soy puts on a white robe and cap and switches on the microphone in a small 19th century room adjoining the Hagia Sophia.
Soon, Soy’s melodic call to prayer rings out over a square filled with tourists hurrying to visit some of Turkey’s most famous historical sights before they close for the day.
The room Soy is in -- built as a resting place for the sultan and now officially called the Hagia Sophia mosque -- fills up with around 40 worshipers, drawn not by the modestly decorated space itself, but by the ancient building it shares a wall with.

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For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

Can I be honest?

My head is still spinning after all the big religion-related news from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

As you may have noticed, I did a post late Monday afternoon on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. And this morning, tmatt followed up that post with still more cake — I mean, still more reflection on the journalistic questions associated with that high-profile clash of religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But now I want to call attention to another of the major headlines from Monday: The lede from The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other nonreligious needs.
But the justices stopped short of saying whether the ruling applies to school voucher programs that use public funds to pay for private, religious schooling.
By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it "odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees."
The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church's application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

The most diehard GetReligion readers (I count at least three of you) may recall that we praised a Kansas City Star overview of this case way back in October:

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Slicing up Masterpiece Cakeshop stories (again): It may help to recall that earlier peyote case

Slicing up Masterpiece Cakeshop stories (again): It may help to recall that earlier peyote case

Here we go again, and again. From time to time, there are religion-news issues that create headlines day after day, for weeks or months at a time. This creates a problem for your GetReligionistas. Do we keep critiquing these stories, banging our heads on our keyboards as we see the same old mistakes and holes in the coverage?

One could argue that it's more important to note problems that keep showing up in the news than it is to note a mistake that happens once or twice. Surely it's significant when lighting keeps striking the same spot time after time?

Thus, here is an update to yesterday's Bobby Ross, Jr., post: "As Supreme Court bites into same-sex wedding cake dispute, how to tell good media coverage from bad." You may have noticed that Bobby's post was built on themes from previous GetReligion commentary about news coverage of various religious-liberty cases (linked to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

With the U.S. Supreme Court wading into the Masterpiece Cakeshop wars, I would like to flash back to a parable I wrote two years ago, in an attempt to help journalists think through several key issues linked to these stories. Here we go (again):

... There is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.
Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event -- the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Note, in particular that:

It's clear that the gay Christian businessman is not asking to discriminate against an entire class of Americans. He is asking that his consistently demonstrated religious convictions be honored in this case, one with obvious doctrinal implications.

OK, that's another sexuality case. Maybe it would help to think back to an earlier religious-liberty fight. Did Native Americans seek the right to use peyote (period) or did they seek the right to use peyote in a very specific situation, a rite that had existed in the traditions of their faith for centuries?

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Why are some journalists head-scratching over, well, a Catholic bishop's Catholicism?

Why are some journalists head-scratching over, well, a Catholic bishop's Catholicism?

If there's anything essential to being a leader in a religious organization, surely it is that with such leadership comes responsibility for promoting the doctrines of said organization.

Generally, if one does this, it's a sign of compliance with the house rules or, more properly, doctrines. But "generally," these days, doesn't seem to cover Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, who for seven years has led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, which city happens to be the state capitol.

While a supporter of Pope Francis, it appears that the bishop is not willing to embrace the media's interpretation of the "Who am I to judge" statement of the current pontiff that has commanded so much ink in recent years. Indeed, Paprocki, who offered prayers of exorcism when Illinois enacted legislation sanctioning same-sex marriage, must have known his most recent pronouncements on the subject of marriage would raise hackles.

They did, and in turn the reporting on Paprocki's statement raises some interesting journalism questions. For example, when reading these stories try to find two crucial words -- "Catechism" and "Confession."

The Washington Post, aggregating other reports, summarizes the issue:

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.
The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

Wading into the story is a Rome-based writer for The Daily Beast, who noted Paprocki's decree affects not only the adults in a given household, but also:

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As Supreme Court bites into same-sex wedding cake dispute, how to tell good media coverage from bad

As Supreme Court bites into same-sex wedding cake dispute, how to tell good media coverage from bad

What a busy day on the religion front for the U.S. Supreme Court!

Here's how Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post religion writer and former GetReligionista, put it in a public post on her Facebook page:

In case you missed it, the high court sided with a church in an important religious liberty case, it allowed Donald J. Trump's travel ban to take effect, and it will hear a case involving a wedding cake baker.

Oh, is that all?

Seriously, I won't attempt to cover all three of those major stories in one post. I'll save the Trinity Lutheran case and the refugee travel decision for another day. But I will take a quick bite of wedding cake and hit a few high points on media coverage of Colorado baker Jack Phillips.

Actually, on second thought, why don't I just keep it simple and stick to one high point? Because it's one that so many news organizations have such a difficult time grasping. And yes, it's one that will be extremely familiar to regular readers of GetReligion.

I'm talking about the specific way that journalists choose to frame the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (and similar religious liberty disputes, such as the one involving Barronelle Stutzman, the sole owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash.).

See if you notice a difference — however subtle — between the following two ledes today.

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Who is Karen Handel, winner of that big Georgia race? Surprise! Press ignored a key angle

Who is Karen Handel, winner of that big Georgia race? Surprise! Press ignored a key angle

When you consider the oceans of ink poured out in coverage of a certain U.S. House of Representatives race down in Georgia, it's interesting how little attention was devoted to a powerful component in the life of winner Karen Handel.

Want to guess what was missing in the mainstream coverage? Hang on, because we will get to that (sssssshhhhhh, she's a Roman Catholic) shortly.

But first, I want to flashback a few weeks to a related controversy. You might recall that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez made news when he proclaimed that

"Every Democrat, like every American," he said, "should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. This is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state." In fact, he added, "every candidate who runs as a Democrat" should affirm abortion rights.

As you would imagine, Kristen Day was not amused. She serves as executive director for the Democrats for Life of America network. Neither were Catholics from all over the political and theological spectrum -- from Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Father James "Colbert Report chaplain" Martin. Day noted:

"Tom Perez needs to know that what he is saying isn't what lots of Democrats are thinking. It's not what Democrats are thinking in places like Nebraska -- places between the coasts where Democrats are trying to find candidates who are the right fit for their congressional districts or people to run for governor who fit their states."

Wait, she had more to say:

"The Democratic Party is pretty weak in large parts of America," said Day. "Can we really afford to push people away right now? I'm not sure that New York City and West Coast values are going to work with lots of voters in the heartland and down South."

Maybe this issue is relevant to the Georgia race? To be blunt, would Handel have had a tougher time winning if her opponent was a married, pro-life Democrat (or one interested in centrist compromises on that issue) from her district who could answer a question or two about his religious convictions in non-Nones language?

So, how much attention did mainstream news outlets devote to Handel's faith and moral convictions? The answer, of course, is zero, zip, nada, nul, niches, niente.

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Can InterVarsity leaders seek doctrinal unity with staff and volunteers? On sex, CBC says 'no'

Can InterVarsity leaders seek doctrinal unity with staff and volunteers? On sex, CBC says 'no'

It’s summer time, which means that its camp time for many children and the adults who run zillions of camps around the United States and Canada.

Many such camps are run by Christian denominations and parachurch ministries, not the least of which is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), which has always focused on reaching out to college students.

It turns out that the huge sex debate that has embroiled InterVarsity here in the States has reached up into Canada where IVCF runs a string of summer camps for youth.

Although this piece by CBC Radio-Canada ran two months ago, it pertains to how culture wars on human sexuality are very much being fought this summer.

A group of alumni from one of Ontario's largest Christian summer camps is fighting to end an anti-gay policy that requires staff to condemn "homosexual and lesbian sexual conduct" if a camper asks them about it.
Volunteer and paid staff at Ontario Pioneer Camp in Port Sydney, Ont., must sign a code of conduct that says "homosexual and lesbian sexual conducts are not to be practised" and staff "should not in any way espouse, endorse or imply acceptance" of what the policy says "should be avoided." 

So there are several words that are missing in this news report so far. Can you guess what they might be? 

"This very narrow, firm stance on homosexuality is wrong," argues Michelle Dowling, a former camper and staff member.
She helped start OnePioneer, the group pushing for LGBT inclusion at the camp they otherwise love.
"It really held me back for a number of years in accepting myself," Dowling told CBC Toronto. The 28-year-old was wrestling with her own sexuality the last time she signed the contract in 2011.

It’s 14 paragraphs into the story when we get a quote from an InterVarsity official.

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Joe Carter takes closer look at that New York Times coverage of partisan pastors

Joe Carter takes closer look at that New York Times coverage of partisan pastors

Every now and then, GetReligion readers send us URLs pointing to commentary pieces -- weekend "think piece" type stuff -- with a recommendation that sounds something like this: "You guys ought to run this. It reads like it was written for GetReligion."

What they mean, of course, is that it is a piece of media criticism written about something that ran in the mainstream press, a piece noting what this or that news organization did really right or really wrong while covering a religion event or trend.

It's especially nice when people sent us something addressing a news piece that we sort of intended to get around to dealing with ourselves, but ran out of time because of all the other stuff various GetReligionistas wanted to write about. This is the kind of article that gets filed in a "GetReligion guilt folder" in someone's email program.

As you probably guessed, this happened the other day with a piece that ran at the Acton Institute "Powerblog" site with this headline: "Are pastors particularly partisan?" This short piece asked some interesting questions about a recent New York Times piece that ran with this interesting headline: "Your Rabbi? Probably a Democrat. Your Baptist Pastor? Probably a Republican. Your Priest? Who Knows."

In this case, when I looked at the byline on the Acton piece, it was easy to see why this item resembled a GetReligion piece. It was written by former GetReligionista Joe Carter, who wears various hats right now in cyberspace.

So, before we get to a chunk of Carter's work, let's look at the top of the Times piece:

America’s pastors -- the men and women a majority of Americans look to for help in finding meaning and purpose in their lives -- are even more politically divided than the rest of us, according to a new data set representing the largest compilation of American religious leaders ever assembled.

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Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Does anyone remember the days, a decade or two ago, when the official boogeyman of religious conservatism was a cultural tsunami called "secular humanism"?

I sure do. That nasty label was being pinned on people all over the place.

The only problem was, when I went out to do my religion-beat reporting work, I never seemed to run into many people whose personal beliefs actually fit under the dictionary definition of "secular," which looks something like this:

secular (adjective)
1. of or relating to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music.

I hardly ever met culture warriors who didn't have religious beliefs of some kind. Oh, there were some atheists and agnostics in these dramas. But what what I kept running into were packs of evolving, progressive, liberal religious believers who rejected the beliefs of traditional religious believers, almost always on issues linked to sexuality and salvation.

Yes, there were also some "spiritual but not religious" folks, but when you talked to them you discovered that they would be perfectly happy in a Unitarian folding chair or an Episcopal pew -- if they wanted to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. And if you probe those Pew Research Center "Nones" numbers, you'll discover that most religiously unaffiliated people are rather spiritual, on their own "Sheilaism" terms. You can toss the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism trend in there, too.

Variations on all of these themes popped up this week when Todd Wilken and recorded the new "Crossroads"podcast (click here to tune that in). We discussed my new "On Religion" column about the recent U.S. Senate hearing showdown between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, the White House nominee to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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