Cultural or doctrinal conflicts: What's the difference and does it matter to journalists?

Cultural or doctrinal conflicts: What's the difference and does it matter to journalists?

Here’s my question for the week. Which is the stronger glue -- tribal, meaning culturally reactive, religious expectations or religion rooted in deeply and thought-out transpersonal conviction?

I ask because it seems to me that these days, and maybe this has alway been the case, tribal religious affiliation is at the root of many, if not most, of the religiously-colored conflicts in the world today.

For journalists, the question becomes, how do you tell the difference between the two, and does it really matter if you're only trying to report body counts and similar traditional journalistic metrics for measuring conflict severity?

My take? I think it does matter because it can mean the difference between labeling the institution of religion itself as the cause of human conflict. Or, as I believe, recognizing that humanity's myriad shortcomings as a specie is the better explanation so many of our institutions, including religious one, become fatally corrupted over time.

Walt Kelly nailed it when his cartoon character Pogo famously exclaimed, slightly abbreviated here, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I can’t reword it any more succinctly.

I started considering these questions — again — while sloshing my way through yet another week of international, religion-linked, depressing news.

This is the initial story I hold responsible for my current state of mind.


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The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis

The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis

First we had the tsunami of clergy sexual-abuse news linked to the life and times of former cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick.

Now we have a second wave of digital ink following the devastating -- especially for those who had not followed this scandal for nearly four decades -- Pennsylvania grand-jury report (full .pdf here). 

After the report, there was an obvious story that had to be covered.

Priests from coast to coast had to face their people in Sunday Mass. What would they say? How would people react? This was one Sunday when it was clear that editors had to tell a reporter to go to church and take careful notes.

Ah, but which church? And, once again, journalists faced horrifying questions about which details to publish, drawn from this vision of clerical hell. After all, some of the crucial details were clearly X-rated. Others were sure to bring down the wrath of activists -- those inside and outside these newsrooms -- with axes to grind linked to this explosive topic (sex with children, teens and seminarians).

Thus, the world's most powerful newsroom, the one that editors nationwide look to for editorial guidance, did its own version of the "angry Catholics at Mass" story. We are talking about The New York Times, of course. Here is the overture. Please read carefully:

Some Catholic priests offered fiery homilies, telling parishioners their anger at the sex abuse detailed in last week’s grand jury report was justified, even necessary. Others asked the faithful to pray for the abusers. And some said nothing about the scandal on the first Sunday since the release of the report that detailed 70 years of child sex abuse by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania.

Regular worshipers at Sacred Heart Church in Lyndhurst, N.J., and visitors from around the globe at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue packed the pews and listened intently to what church leaders had to say about the sex abuse revelations that continue to pain Catholics and haunt the church.

Church leaders found themselves in a difficult but sadly familiar position, as they faced their congregations. Except this time they grappled with the unique breadth and horrific details outlined in a grand jury report that ran for nearly 900 pages. The report accused 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 victims and cataloged ghastly assaults, like that of a priest who raped a young girl in a hospital after she had her tonsils removed.

Now, flash back a few days to an earlier post: "A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes." This post focused on the very first Times article reacting to the grand-jury text.

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Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

I’ve been reporting for some time now on the legal woes that Trinity Western University has been having with its bid to be the first Christian law school in Canada. Like many other Christian colleges, it has a doctrinal covenant students must sign that includes a promise to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

LGBTQ rights folks decided that this doctrinal stand was rampant discrimination and were successful at dislodging TWU’s bid, even as the battle went to the country’s highest court.

Then Trinity moved the chairs around a bit this past week.  

The best-written article on this change was from the National Post with a head reading: “Still seeking law school, Trinity Western drops sexual ‘covenant’ for students." It ran along with a sympathetic YouTube video about TWU, which appears with this blog post.

A Christian university in British Columbia that lost a Supreme Court battle to create an evangelical law school has dropped its controversial requirement for all students to sign a contract that forbids any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Many observers, including some who intervened in the court case, saw this as a preliminary step toward a renewed push for an accredited law school. Trinity Western University, in Langley outside Vancouver, first announced plans to offer legal degrees in 2012, only to find itself locked in litigation with law societies in Ontario and B.C., which refused to accredit it.

The school’s new motion, passed last week but only released Tuesday, reads: “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”

The decision removes the primary problem considered by the Supreme Court in its June decision, which was the mandatory nature of the “Community Covenant.” 

Further down, you get the school’s denial that the change was done with ulterior motives.


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Monday Mix: Reeling Penn parish, un-Celebrity Jimmy Carter, Satan in Arkansas and more

Monday Mix: Reeling Penn parish, un-Celebrity Jimmy Carter, Satan in Arkansas and more

Welcome to the Monday Mix!

What's that? Well, nine months ago, we introduced Friday Five, an end-of-the-week feature highlighting important and interesting links from the world of religion news. Readers have responded positively to that approach.

So today, we add this feature as another avenue to offer quick information and insight, focused on headlines you might have missed from the previous weekend and late in the week. You see, lots and lots of religion news gets published on Saturday and Sunday, when readership of this blog tends to fade a bit (some people go to lots and lots of baseball games, for example).

Frankly, there are times when it's hard to keep up, pointing readers toward some of what comes out over a typical weekend. Thus, we're trying out this new feature.

Please note: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

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Editors: Try to imagine using 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' in all those headlines

Editors: Try to imagine using 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' in all those headlines

Any journalist who has ever worked on a newspaper copy desk knows the following to be true, when it comes to religion news.

It would be absolutely impossible to write headlines about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- especially dramatic, one-column headlines in big type -- without using the word "Mormon" or the abbreviation "LDS."

Well, we're about to find out if journalists are willing to develop some new "work around" to address that style issue. Here is last week's big news out of Utah, care of The Salt Lake City Tribune:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really, truly, absolutely wants to be known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not the LDS Church. Not the Mormon church.

It made that clear Thursday -- even though the last attempt to eradicate those nicknames for the Utah-based faith flopped. The new push came from God to President Russell M. Nelson, the church said in a news release Thursday.

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church,” Nelson is quoted as saying, “even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Attention members of the Associated Press Stylebook committee: Here is that new release from on high. You need to see this, before we get to an interesting think piece on the implications of this change, care of a thoughtful journalism professor at Brigham Young University.

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.

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Not all religions are the same, you know: Can a faith be good if it’s not true?

Not all religions are the same, you know: Can a faith be good if it’s not true?

THE QUESTION:

Are various religions good for individuals and for society even if, as skeptics contend, their beliefs are not really true?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Time for a skepticism update. Never before in history has there been such a concerted effort to question the value of religious faith like we now see across the West’s free societies (as distinct from artificially enforced atheism under Communist tyrannies).

For instance, the common conviction that religion is important for shaping youngsters’ morals is questioned in a recent qz.com article by Annabelle Timsit, a writer on early childhood. “Parents who decide to raise their kids without a religion shouldn’t worry,” she assures us. “Studies have shown that there is no moral difference between children who are raised as religious and those raised secular or non-believing. Moral intuitions arise on their own in children.”

Admittedly, terrorism by Muslim cults raises doubts about the moral credibility of religion in general. Yet even Timsit acknowledges there are “well-documented” potential benefits from religiosity, such as “less drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; lower rates of depression and suicide; better sleep quality; and greater hopefulness and life satisfaction.” Faith also provides a “buffer” against stress and trauma, she says, not to mention fostering “better test scores” for students.

Stephen T. Asma, philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago, takes a similar stance. The above question is The Religion Guy’s blunt distillation of the intriguing scenario in his new book “Why We Need Religion” (Oxford University Press). He summarized it in a June 3 nytimes.com opinion piece “What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t).”

Say that again: “We need religion.”


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This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

No doubt about it, there was a big, big religious-liberty story back on June 28 out in the often-overlooked Rocky Mountain Time Zone.

This was a story that had been cooking for some time and, yes, it involved Jack Phillips of Colorado, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

To understand the significance of this news story -- the goal of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) --  it helps to look at the following timeline:

* On June, 26, 2017 -- the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission -- a Colorado lawyer named Autumn Scardina called the bakery and made a rather simple request. Scardina requested a cake with blue icing that was baked with pink batter. The lawyer told a Cake Shop employee that the goal was to celebrate Scardina's birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day he came out as transgender she.

* On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown anti-religious animus during proceedings leading to its actions punishing Phillips for refusing to create one of his one-of-a-kind wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex couple's marriage. Phillips offered to sell the couple any of the other cakes or goods in his shop, but -- because of his faith -- refused to create a special cake to celebrate that rite.

* On June 28, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that there was evidence that Phillips had discriminated against Scardina because of anti-trans bias, as opposed to this action being another act of conscience by the Christian baker, protected by the First Amendment.

You can assemble those dates in your mind with a bit of editing as you read the Washington Post (or New York Times) coverage of this new chapter in the Masterpiece Cakeshop drama.

So why is the story breaking this week? You can see that in the overture to the Post story:

Add another layer to the legal drama surrounding the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple -- and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

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Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Nearly four months after the firing of Jerome Socolovsky, Religion News Service has hired a new editor in chief.

The name will be familiar to regular GetReligion readers: Bob Smietana.

Smietana, as a news release from RNS notes, is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has worked for The Tennessean, Christianity Today and, most recently, Facts & Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Smietana served as president of the Religion News Association from 2013 to 2015. He is extremely familiar with RNS, previously serving as a correspondent for the news organization and as a member of its board of managers.

From the release:

Smietana credits RNS with first launching his career, and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to now lead the organization, expand its footprint and mentor the next generation of religion journalists.

“The American religious landscape is being transformed before our eyes,” Smietana said. “For more than 80 years, RNS has covered religion with accuracy, insight, empathy and independence. As a result, RNS is perfectly positioned to document that transformation and to help our readers navigate this new world.”

Smietana’s appointment concludes a national search, which solicited more than 130 applicants, helmed by Nicole Neroulias Gupte, chair of the RNS Board of Managers.

“After considering many qualified candidates for this position, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of Bob Smietana’s religion journalism experience, his passion for this beat and commitment to our organization,” Gupte said. “We look forward to working with him as RNS grows its staff and coverage areas, including implementing our Global Religion Journalism Initiative and other exciting projects.”

Smietana is a friend of mine and a longtime reader of GetReligion. We appreciate his willingness to praise us when he agrees with our critiques and engage with us when he disagrees. We hope that continues in his new role.

Full disclosure: I occasionally write freelance stories for RNS.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

It’s certainly been a tortured Catholic summer here at GetReligion, what with our reporting on the scandals surrounding now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick –- that took up multiple news cycles from June 20 to mid-July -- and this week's explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that with some of the saddest news that religion beat reporters have had to cover in ages.

I’ve talked about how the secular media are treating this disaster but what about Catholic media? There’s a bunch of other publications out there but many are weeklies or even monthlies. What I found most helpful in several of them had insider observations that secular media reporters might not have.

The two largest Catholic publications are the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter. I’ll start with the latter.

The Register’s reporting was heavy on analysis and blogs -- such as this one asking why no one listened to McCarrick whistleblower Richard Sipe –- and it tended to defend the bishops more; at least the ones it felt had been unfairly treated. Its breaking news was supplied by the Catholic News Agency, a wire service affiliated with the Birmingham, Ala.-based Eternal Word TV Network. (A screen shot of EWTN host Lauren Ashburn reporting on the grand jury report is atop this blog.)

CNA’s reporting included a piece on retired Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who was excoriated in the grand jury report. Trautman said a great deal of details had been left out of the report; details that would have put him in a better light.

Bishop Trautman said that the report “does not fully or accurately discuss my record as Bishop for twenty-two years in dealing with clergy abuse. While unfortunate, these omissions are consistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s findings that the grand jury process that produced the Report suffered from 'limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities' and lacked 'fundamental fairness.'”

The news service had a similar article defending Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was also criticized by the grand jury.

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