Kansas City Star

The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

Some of you may remember how, in late July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was appointed to a U.S. State Department post that champions religious freedom.

Five months later, he’s still in Kansas.

On Monday, the White House renominated him for the post after Democrats refused to allow his -– and other failed nominations -– to roll over into the New Year. The White House’s action also gave politicians a wake-up call that this is an issue the Trump administration cares about.

Weirdly, a New York Times story blamed the governor for the impasse.

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was giving a tender goodbye.
Speaking to a roomful of fellow Republicans over lunch at the Wichita Pachyderm Club last month, he mused about his next act, a post in the Trump administration as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which was announced in July.
“As I pass from the stage here in Kansas, I leave with a warm thought and good feelings of all the good-hearted people in this wonderful state of Kansas,” said a smiling Mr. Brownback, whose seven years at the helm have been punctuated by a firm turn to the right and a revolt from some in his own party.

The governor had a replacement: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon.

It has been nearly six months since Mr. Brownback, 61, announced that he would be leaving for a new job during his second term as governor. The holdup appears to be in Washington: A Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination and narrowly endorsed him in October, but he did not receive a vote in the full Senate.
A new year has brought new complications. Though Mr. Brownback has been renominated to the post, a relatively low-profile appointment, he will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

The story goes on to talk about how awkward things are in Kansas because Brownback is like the perennial guest who won’t leave. It mentions a Kansas City Star editorial that tells Brownback he should resign for the good of the state, even though it doesn’t say how the governor is supposed to pay his bills during the interim.

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Bring in the Millennials, Kansas City Star says of churches (But what about old timers?)

Bring in the Millennials, Kansas City Star says of churches (But what about old timers?)

Props are due to the Kansas City Star for noticing that some churches in its area are attracting, and not, apparently, repelling, the young cohort of worshipers that could be grouped under the banner of "millennial."

Indeed, the message is up front in the story's headline: "Bucking a trend, these churches figured out how to bring millennials back to worship."

Once a reader gets past a nice setup anecdote about one of the newly booming congregations, we get these salient points:

In 2015, a wide-ranging Pew Research Center study concluded that America was becoming less religious due in part to millennials distancing themselves from organized religion. Only 27 percent of Americans born between 1981 and 1996, the study found, regularly attend weekly services.
As a result, some area churches and synagogues have created special programs that cater to younger members.
But a handful, most notably, perhaps, City of Truth on the East Side and The Cause on the West Plaza, now cater almost exclusively to millennials.

This is a solid, well-reported story in which I can find few flaws to note. The Star is to be congratulated for this kind of coverage. Hence, you won't find any "big" journalism problems highlighted in this blog post.

So why write this post? As tmatt would say, "Hold that thought."

As readers find out from the story, City of Truth serves a largely African-American congregation, while The Cause's members are mostly white. The services times on Sundays may differ, but they apparently remain one of the most segregated hours in America, as the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed.

Such changes did not come without a price for City of Truth, as the story explains:

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What ever happened to that Presbyterian church that split over gay clergy? Paper offers half the answer

What ever happened to that Presbyterian church that split over gay clergy? Paper offers half the answer

The Kansas City Star tries hard — really hard — to tell an inspiring story about a Presbyterian church that split.

The problem: The facts make the positive spin a little difficult to compute.

Basically, turmoil engulfed a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). When the national denomination approved ordaining gay clergy, a big chunk of an Overland Park, Kan., congregation decided to join a more conservative denomination. Members voted 350-100 for the switch, according to the Star.

But the change to the new denomination — A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) — sparked a legal fight:

Heartland Presbytery, the regional body that represents Presbyterian Church USA, filed a lawsuit in Johnson County District Court against the 350 disaffiliated members. Heartland argued that Presbyterian Church USA owned the church, its pews, its Bibles and all other property. But the ECO faction believed the church and its contents belonged to the congregation, the entity that holds title to the building.
Based on Kansas’ adherence to denominational rules, the judge found that Heartland Presbytery, represented by the remaining 100 members, was the true owner of the church property.
The division and the lawsuit created a perfect storm between the two groups that caused about 600 people to leave the church entirely.

These kind of legal fights are, of course, not limited to Presbyterians. Just today, a major ruling in a case involving Episcopal churches was issued in South Carolina. Look for GetReligion analysis of media coverage there soon.

But back to the Star: What is the news angle?

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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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America is 26 percent atheist these days? Kansas City Star's uncritical report on shock stat

America is 26 percent atheist these days? Kansas City Star's uncritical report on shock stat

"Everything's up to date in Kansas City," the musical Oklahoma once told us, and if Oscar Hammerstein said it, it must be true. They had a building "seven stories tall, about as high as one should go," after all.

Kansas City, and its flagship daily newspaper have received recurring attention here in GetReligion-land. Earlier this week, my colleague Julia Duin examined a Kansas City Star piece about the local Catholic archdiocese and the Girl Scouts that left readers hunting for details

Last August, the Star was found wanting in its coverage of a gay clergy issue within the United Methodist Church -- again, crucial facts were missing. 

So the, ahem, "revelation" that a stunning 26 percent of all Americans are atheists, in the same Kansas City Star merits close attention. Particularly when -- surprise! -- elements that would make for a fully orbed report are M-I-A.

Let's get to the news element of the article:

A recently published study based on 2,000 interviews suggested that a quarter of Americans or more are atheist — multiples of what other surveys have found.
[University of Kentucky psychologist Will] Gervais and fellow University of Kentucky psychologist Maxine Najle posed a list of innocuous statements — “I own a dog,” “I enjoy modern art” — and asked how many of the declarations applied to a respondent. Then they put the same statements to another group but added the statement, “I believe in God.”
By comparing the results, they concluded that 26 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t believe in God. Previous surveys in 2015 by Pew and Gallup asked directly about the belief in God and found the number of atheists at between 3 and 11 percent.
“Obtaining accurate atheist prevalence estimates may help promote trust and tolerance of atheists — potentially 80 million people in the USA and well over a billion worldwide,” the study said.

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MVP! Cubs' Ben Zobrist - 'a missionary in the big leagues' -- wins World Series again

MVP! Cubs' Ben Zobrist - 'a missionary in the big leagues' -- wins World Series again

A holy ghost in the story of Ben Zobrist, the Chicago Cubs' World Series MVP?

You bet!

On Twitter last night (or was it early this morning?), CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke offered insight on the Cubs' righteous dude:

Ben Zobrist almost followed his father into the ministry but decided to try out for some @Mlb scouts.
How's that for a curse-breaker?

Of course, Zobrist's devoted Christian background is not news to faithful GetReligion readers or — presumably — Kansas City Royals fans.

We wrote about this last year when Zobrist helped lead another team to baseball's Promised Land.

A year later, the Kansas City Star's terrific piece on Zobrist the baseball player — and the man of faith — still makes for great reading. 

Some of the crucial background from that story:

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Faith of Kansas City Royals' Ben Zobrist: 'a missionary in the big leagues'

Faith of Kansas City Royals' Ben Zobrist: 'a missionary in the big leagues'

I first became aware of major-leaguer Ben Zobrist's Christian faith when I watched the movie "Ring the Bell" on Netflix a while back.

It's one of those cheesy, relatively predictable faith-based films that I enjoy (much to the chagrin of my wife, Tamie, who cringes at the less-than-Oscar-worthy dialogue and storyline).

In this case, a high-powered sports agent finds God and redemption while attempting to sign a top prospect in a small town. Zobrist, a two-time All-Star, appears as himself in the movie, along with retired major-leaguers John Kruk and Rick Sutcliffe.

Zobrist and his wife, Julianna, a Christian singer, also wrote a 2014 book, "Double Play:  Faith and Family First."

In tonight's opening game of the World Series, the super-utility-man is playing second base and batting second for the American League champion Kansas City Royals.

As part of its postseason coverage, a Kansas City Star writer traveled to Eureka, Ill., and interviewed Zobrist's parents:

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Pass the coffee & donuts, hold the faith: KC Star looks at a non-church

Pass the coffee & donuts, hold the faith: KC Star looks at a non-church

GetReligion has occasionally looked at stories about "church" for the unchurched, as tmatt did last February. But the Kansas City Star takes a close, detailed, 2,100-word look at the so-called Oasis movement, especially in the newspaper's hometown.

These "self-described freethinkers, humanists, secularists, atheists and agnostics" chat, nosh, listen to music and hear engaging messages. All without God or Bible or prayers or doctrines or other stuff that made them leave church. But with a lot of what they really value -- community:

A half-hour before everyone takes a seat, the Sunday morning coffee and doughnuts are producing their desired effect.
Fellowship: Hearty greetings, handshakes and hugs. The chatter gets boisterous as the gathering space fills.
Coffee and doughnuts are a classic element at many a house of worship. This isn’t a church, though. That’s about the last place most of these people want to be. But it’s not anti-church, either.

It's a thought-provoking story,  posing the question -- without even asking -- of the nature of the "fellowship" offered in regular congregations. But as we'll see, the story doesn't quite get to the nugget of the "community" offered at the Oasis.

Although the topic has been done and done -- invariably pegged off the Pew study on the "Nones" in October 2012 -- the Star at least featurizes the topic for its magazine. And you can't fault the story on sourcing, not with 12 quoted sources.

They include:

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Kansas City Star story on woman who wants to be Roman Catholic priest needs less advocacy, more reporting

Kansas City Star story on woman who wants to be Roman Catholic priest needs less advocacy, more reporting

The Kansas City Star recently profiled a woman who — according to the newspaper's headline — "intends to be Kansas City's first female Catholic priest."

Only one small problem: The Roman Catholic Church doesn't ordain female priests.

The top of the Star's story:

In a few days Georgia Walker, at age 67, intends to become a priest,
at which point she will be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic
Church.

That doesn’t faze her.

“I don’t accept the legitimacy of that excommunication,” said Walker, who will be the first woman in Kansas City to defy the church and be ordained a priest.

The church in turn will not accept the legitimacy of her ordination because, under canon law, only men can be priests.

“That’s their problem,” Walker said of the church.

That steadfastness is a trait of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a growing movement of people who see the church as too authoritarian and unwilling to be inclusive. But instead of leaving the church, they hope to change it from within.

As faithful readers know, GetReligion advocates the traditional American model of the press.

That model relies on journalists presenting facts — attributed to named sources — in a fair, unbiased manner. That's opposed, of course, to the one-sided, advocacy, European-styled approach to reporting the news.

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