Two conservative manifestos say something about Protestant dynamics, news values

Two conservative manifestos say something about Protestant dynamics, news values

Conservative U.S. Protestants are particularly active in issuing manifestoes. That could reflect their feeling of increased defensiveness over against the broader culture, or their perception that Christian liberals provide mushy or erroneous messages so definitions are needed, or other factors.

Two recent pronouncements that have won support from hundreds of endorsers tell us something about news judgment on religious issues and about internal dynamics within U.S. Protestantism as churches prepare to mark the Reformation 500th anniversary on October 31:

(1) The August “Nashville Statement,” narrow in both agenda and in organizational backing, consists of a preamble and 14 articles in a “we affirm” and “we deny” format. It proclaims U.S. traditionalist responses to the moral debates over same-sex couples and transgenderism.

(2) The September “Reforming Catholic Confession” defines in 11 sections and a related “explanation” what a wide swath of U.S. evangelical thinkers view as the essence of Protestant belief and how to approach Catholicism after these 500 years.

As of this writing, media discussion of #2 has been limited to parochial outlets and a few social conservative Web sites, while by contrast #1 has won coverage and heated reactions across the spectrum of “mainstream media” newspapers, broadcasts and Web sites.

Alongside the old local TV news cliche “if it bleeds, it leads,” The Guy sees two other maxims: “Who cares about doctrine any longer?” and “If it’s sex, it’s sexy.”

While cultural liberals accuse the conservatives of being obsessed about sex,  it’s equally the case that they feel forced to actively confront new challenges, like it or not. Such statements are less about changing minds of outsiders than shoring up beliefs within the  in-group.

Commentators think the Nashville group’s most dramatic assertion is that it’s sinful “to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism” and this “constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” Strong stuff, and obviously controversial -- and thus newsworthy.

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Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

When it comes to lesbians and gays in the ministry, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America speaks with a clear voice. So that doctrinal stance really isn't news anymore.

When it comes to ecclesiastical approval for same-sex marriage liturgies, the ELCA -- at this point -- leaves that decision up to local leaders. So it really isn't news when an ELCA congregation backs same-sex marriage.

When it comes to ordaining a trans candidate for the ministry, some folks in the ELCA have crossed that bridge, as well. So an ELCA church embracing trans rights isn't really news.

So what would members of this liberal mainline denomination need to do to make news, when releasing a manifesto on issues of sex, gender and marriage? That was the question raised by the recent "Denver Statement" that was released by (and I quote the document):

... some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married image-bearering Christians at House for All Sinners & Saints (Denver, Co).

That was also the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I addressed in this week's podcast. So click here to tune that in.

Now, in terms of news appeal, it helps to know that this relatively small, but media-friendly, Denver congregation was founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a 6-foot-1, tattooed, witty, weight-lifting, frequently profane ELCA pastor who has graced the bestseller lists at The New York Times. She's like a superhero who walked out of liberal Christian graphic novel.

So the Denver Statement made some news because it was released -- at Bolz-Weber's "Sarcastic Lutheran" blog -- in reaction to the Nashville Statement that created a mini-media storm with its rather ordinary restatement of some ancient Christian doctrines on sexuality.

So if the Nashville Statement was news, then it made sense that -- for a few reporters and columnists (including me) -- that the Denver Statement was also news. (Oddly enough, a previous statement on sexuality by the Orthodox Church in America -- strikingly similar to the Nashville Statement -- made zero news.)

But here's another journalism issue: Was the Denver document news merely because it openly rejected what the Nashville Statement had to say?

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An abortionist and his faith? The Atlantic leaves us wondering what kind of faith

An abortionist and his faith? The Atlantic leaves us wondering what kind of faith

When I saw that The Atlantic had interviewed someone about abortions in the South, naturally I was interested. Here was an African-American doctor talking about why he makes huge sacrifices to make sure southern states have access to abortions.

Being that 35 percent of all aborted babies are black even though black women are only 6 percent of the U.S. population, that says something about the large numbers of black babies who will never see the light of day. And since this doctor is in Birmingham, Ala., in the rural South, which is heavily black, I thought he might have something to say about why that clientele has such high abortion rates out of proportion to their share of the population.

One more thing: Since the kicker above the article says he would be discussing his Christian faith, I was even more interested. Would the reporter know enough, I wondered, to challenge this doctor with theological questions about this topic? Or would this be one of a zillion sympathetic profiles of abortion providers out there? Also, there is another obvious question: What is this man's church tradition?

The story begins:

Willie Parker is an imposing ob-gyn who has been traveling across the deep South providing abortions since 2012. At times, he has been one of the few providers in the only abortion clinic for hundreds of miles. Though he had been flying down from his home in Chicago twice a month to provide abortions in Mississippi and elsewhere, he recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama -- closer to the center of the abortion wars.
He is also a practicing Christian, and he frequently refers to his faith as being the reason why he does what he does. It’s the argument he lays out in his recently published book, Life’s Work, and in his new position as board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a prominent pro-choice advocacy group.

The link after the words ‘his faith’ is to an enormously sympathetic 2014 profile of the same doctor done by Esquire. By now I already know where this article is heading.

Still, the writer, Olga Khazan, does ask the question:

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No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

It's a sin for Mormons to consume caffeine.

Everybody knows that, right?

Not so fast.

Given today's big headline involving Brigham Young University and Coca-Cola, it's probably not a bad time to remind readers of the actual facts.

But before we delve into specifics, let's catch up with the news, via this fantastic lede from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.
But yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.
Based upon what church officials recently declared a long-running misunderstanding of the Mormon faith’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, and other than caffeine-free soft drinks — since the mid-1950s.

The Associated Press took a more straightforward approach, befitting its role as a national wire service:

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Strange, uh, Times: Praise for on-the-record Catholic quotes about a clergy sex case!

Strange, uh, Times: Praise for on-the-record Catholic quotes about a clergy sex case!

What strange times we live in, in terms of mainstream journalism about religion.

It feels strange to praise a New York Times news story because it contains perfectly normal, clearly attributed response material from an organization like the Vatican and other officials -- at various levels -- in the Church of Rome.

In a way, my praise for this particular story -- "Amid Pornography Case, Vatican Recalls Priest From Washington Embassy" -- is a commentary on tensions that still exist in many Catholic offices about investigations of the sexual abuse of children and teens by clergy. At the same time, there are tensions between the Times and many Catholic leaders.

Nevertheless, this story doesn't contain the gaping holes we saw the other day in news coverage of another clergy sexual-abuse case. Click here for that post, which noted some mainstream news stories that lacked quotes -- any quotes, at all -- from:

* The Vatican.
* Legal representatives of the church, at any level.
* The local archdiocese in which this newsroom is located.
* Conservative Catholics who are highly critical of how many church officials have handled clergy-abuse cases.

I noted -- this was really bizarre -- that the stories didn't even include references that told readers reporters tried to reach church officials, as in: "Leaders of so-and-so group declined repeated requests for interviews."

So what did Times professionals -- and church leaders -- get right in this basic news story on what remains a hot-button, controversial subject?

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Apocalypse (almost) Now: Gullible media fall for clickbait from 'Christian Numerologist'

Apocalypse (almost) Now: Gullible media fall for clickbait from 'Christian Numerologist'

Yes, gentle reader, I guess I'm almost as guilty as the media outlets hyping this coming Saturday -- Sept. 23 -- as the date for the end of the world. After all, I'm hoping you will click on this blog post and read it. Share it with your friends via social media, too. #ClicksWanted

But I'm going to be as straight about this weekend's "apocalypse" as I can. The other media, including a story picked up by the Drudge Report? Not so much.

Here's what Drudge found fascinating. It's a story from the local CBS-TV affiliate in Philadelphia headlined, "Christian Numerologist Says World Will End On Sept. 23."

Key words? That would be "Christian numerologist." Focus on that adjective. Let's go:

If you had plans for the weekend, a Christian numerologist says you won’t get to them because the world is about to end.
David Meade, a self-proclaimed “researcher,” is predicting that a series of apocalyptic events will begin on Sept. 23 and, “a major part of the world will not be the same.”
According to Meade, the mysterious rogue planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, is on a collision course with Earth, which will bring world-ending tsunamis and earthquakes. The numerologist claims the dates of recent events like the Great American Solar Eclipse and Hurricane Harvey’s flooding of Texas were all marked in the Bible. Meade now says his “Planet X theory” lines up with more bible codes and ancient markers on the Egyptian pyramids.

Sigh. Where to begin? I've been consciously hanging around things Christian since Richard Nixon's first term as president of the United States -- in other words, a long time. I've also had an interest in journalism for that long, if not a bit longer.

But to see a supposedly respectable media outlet -- which a CBS-TV affiliate station surely must be -- fall for this flapdoodle is a little heartbreaking.

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Hold on! Tell me again why places of worship are playing a pivotal role in hurricane relief

Hold on! Tell me again why places of worship are playing a pivotal role in hurricane relief

The Associated Press reports out of Houston that many undocumented immigrant victims of Hurricane Harvey are turning to churches for help.

It's a timely, newsy angle and one that immediately drew my attention, especially since I've recently delved into both subjects myself: Harvey relief and Texas immigration.

However, AP's "nut graf" seems like a case of taking a solid story and trying to amp up the volume just a bit too much. I'd still recommend this story — but with a somewhat major caveat. I'll explain in a moment.

But first, the lede sets the scene:

HOUSTON (AP) — Immigrants came from across Houston to a Baptist church gymnasium and stacked dollies with boxes of cereal, orange juice and household necessities like cleaning bleach.
For many of them, the church was the safest place to seek relief after Harvey devastated Houston and left thousands of immigrants fearful of turning to the government for help amid fears they would get deported. A similar response was seen in immigrant-heavy sections of Florida after Irma swamped the state.
“We have to come together as churches to help the undocumented,” Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor Raul Hidalgo said while mingling with victims and volunteers on the church gymnasium’s parquet floor.

Good stuff.

But see if anything strikes you the wrong way — as it did me — in this next highly important sentence. This is where AP attempts to explain the big picture and boil down why this news matter:

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Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

When I was in Tennessee two weeks ago, one of the fun things my daughter and I did was wade among some cotton plants, which we had not seen since we'd moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago. You see them all the time in the Volunteer State this time of year. They’re kind of pretty, actually, if you don’t cut yourself on the sharp bracts that result when the boll has burst open and dried.

Even so, they can serve as an inexpensive table centerpiece were you trying to entertain a crowd, which is what drew me to the news about the president of a Christian college in Nashville who did just that.

But the black students who were his guests one night felt the cotton arrangements were a racist statement, according to the New York Daily News.

But note: If you look for any hints of the religious background of this Nashville college in this story, you will find none:

A dinner intended to give African-American students at a Tennessee university the opportunity to discuss their experience at the private liberal arts school left attendees shocked after tables were decorated with cotton stalk centerpieces.
Lipscomb University president Randy Lowry invited black students to his Nashville home Friday night for a dinner, but many of the students deemed the tableware and menu offensive.

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Swedish neo-Nazis plan march near synagogue on Yom Kippur: Is scant advance coverage a good thing?

Swedish neo-Nazis plan march near synagogue on Yom Kippur: Is scant advance coverage a good thing?

How’s this for a spiteful poke in the eye?

The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) is planning a march, with the approval of the local police, that will pass near the main synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. And when will they be doing that, you might wonder?

Why on Yom Kippur, of course, the holiest day on the Jewish liturgical calendar, which this year begins on Friday evening, Sept. 29, with the haunting Kol Nidre recitation. (Yom Kippur is part of the Jewish High Holy Days, also referred to as the High Holidays, which begin with this week’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah.)

Poke, poke, poke -- ouch!

Sweden is hardly the only Western European nation where anti-Semitism -- defined as hatred of Jews as a group or Judaism as a religion, for whatever the reason -- has become an increasing public issue of late.

The U.K.’s Mirror, for example, last month ran a piece saying one in three British Jews is considering leaving the nation because of anti-Semitism. Reporting survey results, the paper said only 59 percent of the nation’s 270,000 Jews still feel comfortable living in Britain.

In Germany, the head of the growing right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-European Union Alternative for Germany party said just the other day that rather than continuing to lament his nation's instigation of the Holocaust, Germans should instead be "proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars."

Additionally, the head of the European Jewish Congress earlier this year said anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly more openly expressed across Western Europe.

Dr [Moshe] Kantor said: “It is truly disturbing that in living memory of the Holocaust, today in Europe we have a situation where the far right in gaining popularity in every major country on the continent. It is once more becoming acceptable in polite circles to openly make anti-Semitic, xenophobic and bigoted remarks, all under the cloak of national patriotism. ...

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