Manya Brachear Pashman

Friday Five: Minister tax break, Mormon death, The Crown's religion, Trump's dirty words and more

Friday Five: Minister tax break, Mormon death, The Crown's religion, Trump's dirty words and more

I watched the first season of "The Crown" on Netflix with my wife, Tamie.

I enjoyed it, although I wouldn't say I was goo-goo over it. When the second season came out, we caught an episode or two. Then my bride binged on the rest of it one day while I was busy with something more important (probably playing Words With Friends on my iPad). 

Suffice it to say that I haven't made it to the part featuring Queen Elizabeth II and the Rev. Billy Graham. (Right now, Tamie and I are in the middle of "Greenleaf," an Oprah Winfrey-produced drama featuring a black megachurch in Memphis, Tenn. That series reminds me of "Dallas," but with religion, not oil, as the family business. But I digress.)

Back to "The Crown": The Washington Post published an excellent Godbeat piece on it this week. More on that in a moment.

First, thought, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

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Tax-free housing for ministers unconstitutional? Chicago Tribune has the newsy scoop

Tax-free housing for ministers unconstitutional? Chicago Tribune has the newsy scoop

If you're like me, you may not be real familiar with the clergy housing allowance.

However, my minister friends assure me the allowance — a U.S. tax break — is a big, big deal.

Elimination of it would "significantly increase the tax burden, and hence, diminish the spendable income, of ministers everywhere," Dallas preacher Gordon Dabbs told me. "If and when it goes away, I would expect to see staff cuts at some churches and, almost certainly, some choosing to leave full-time (paid) ministry as it will no longer be financially viable for their families."

Why do I bring this up now? Because the housing allowance is facing a federal court challenge, as Chicago Tribune religion writer Manya Brachear Pashman highlighted in a meaty story earlier this week:

Chicago clergy are fighting a federal judge’s recent ruling that tax-free housing allowances for clergy violate the separation of church and state.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago will be asked to weigh in on the challenge to the so-called parsonage allowance — an Internal Revenue Service benefit that allows clergy to exclude from their tax returns the compensation earmarked for mortgage payments, rent, utility bills or maintenance costs.
The ministerial tax break has been on the books for more than 60 years and is cited by many houses of worship, particularly smaller, independent ones, as an important financial underpinning to carrying out their mission.
But it has become the latest target of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a self-proclaimed guardian of church-state separation based in Madison, Wis., that challenged the tax break, and won, in a Wisconsin court.
“This is a huge privilege and benefit for churches because tax-free dollars go further,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “They have been allowed to pay lower salaries when it’s all taxpayer subsidies. Clergy pay less, and everyone else pays more.”
Chicago-area clergy say an end to the tax-free housing allowance would drastically reduce their take-home pay, limit how close they can live to their houses of worship and impede their ministries, which often offer safety nets for the communities they serve.
“The housing allowance makes all the sense in the world,” said the Rev. Chris Butler, pastor of Chicago Embassy Church, a small Pentecostal congregation on the South Side, who plans to appeal. “If I’m looking to be God’s pastor to this community and be available to folks inside and outside the congregation, in a city like Chicago, whether I’m doing that as a pastor or an imam or the head of a nonprofit organization, it makes all the sense in the world that I live in that community. In a lot of these kinds of organizations, my church included, we’re not making the world’s biggest salary. This allowance is so important.”

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Are you kidding me!? Some Muslims actually support Donald Trump for president

Are you kidding me!? Some Muslims actually support Donald Trump for president

Hey, remember that time Donald Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.?"

It's kind of hard to forget (but if you need refreshment, click here, here, here, here and here).

To read most news reports, Trump is the King of Islamophobia. So it's obvious that no serious, clear-thinking follower of Islam would deign to support Trump for president. Right?

Well, actually ...

There are some interesting stories in the mainstream press this week that quote Muslim supporters of Trump. Reuters, for example, has a story on a campaign to register a million Muslim voters against Trump. But near the end of that piece, the wire service quotes the Muslim who offered a brief benediction Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention:

U.S. Muslim backers of Trump said they were trying to build their own coalitions in swing states.
Baltimore businessman Sajid Tarar said he launched American Muslims for Trump because he favored Trump's stance on combating radical Islam.
"ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State), al Qaeda, Taliban, they have killed more Muslims than anything else, and that's a message Muslims need to hear and understand," he said, referring to various militant groups.

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An accused priest, a long-suffering victim: The hero in this sad tale is ... a journalist

An accused priest, a long-suffering victim: The hero in this sad tale is ... a journalist

We've said it before: Negative posts about media coverage of religion are so much easier to write than positive ones.

When critiquing a less-than-perfect story, there are flaws to point out. Unanswered questions to raise. Bias to criticize.

But when a story hits all the right notes — compelling subject matter, fair treatment of all sides, no sign of where the reporter stands — it's tempting to say, simply, "Hey, read this!" and move along.

That's the case with Godbeat pro Manya Brachear Pashman's in-depth report on whether a Chicago priest should return to ministry after revelations of teen misconduct:

Should a priest's sexual misconduct as a youth bar him from ministry? That's the question facing Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich.
For decades, the Rev. Bruce Wellems, a Roman Catholic priest with the Claretian Missionaries, has served as a father figure for young men in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood.
But when revelations of his sexual misconduct as a teenager resurfaced in 2014 shortly after his religious order transferred him to California, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez removed him from ministry immediately. He returned to his former neighborhood to resume work as a youth advocate and community organizer.
Now Cupich must decide whether the popular priest can wear a collar, celebrate Mass and officially return to active ministry. Wellems, 58, admits to the abuse, though his recollection of the details and how long it lasted differs from the victim's.
"These allegations had nothing to do with who I was as a person," Wellems said in an interview with the Tribune. "In my adult life I've done nothing against children. There's nothing that's ever come up."
The contrast between the actions in Los Angeles and Chicago highlights a gray area in the church's policies on clerical sexual abuse of children and a stark difference in how two archdioceses have handled the issue. Rules adopted by America's Catholic bishops in 2002 apply to priests and deacons who commit even a single incident of abuse, but they give dioceses considerable discretion on how to apply the church's zero-tolerance policy.

Another temptation with a story like this is to copy and paste every word. But at 2,800 words, that would make for a long post. And I'd get myself into copyright trouble.

So I'll try to explain what I like about this story. It's not the subject matter per se. Sexual abuse doesn't make for cheerful reading. 

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What got that Wheaton professor suspended — her headscarf or her views on Islam?

What got that Wheaton professor suspended — her headscarf or her views on Islam?

As news broke concerning the suspension of a Wheaton College professor who voiced solidarity with Muslim women, I cranked out a quick post yesterday.

With a couple of minor quibbles, I praised the early work by the Chicago Tribune and its star religion writer, Manya Brachhear Pashman.

But a few readers took issue with the Tribune's original lede, which I had quoted in my post:

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.

Reader Paul Smith complained:

(T)he issue was not the hijab, but the statement that the professor made that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Not to worry: The Tribune story got better — and more precise — as the day went on.

Imagine that: Even in this age of 24/7 information overload, it still takes journalists (who are real humans, not robots) time to report, edit and fine-tune the kind of high-quality reports that show up on the front page the next morning. Even if media critics like myself occasionally jump the gun and analyze a developing story in real time.

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Case of the Wheaton professor who wore a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims

Case of the Wheaton professor who wore a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims

"We know the real God," a Christian minister told me when I interviewed him after the San Bernardino massacre. "God is not Allah."

“My job is to take a Muslim and turn him away from Muhammad, who is still dead, and turn him to Jesus Christ, who rose and sits at the right hand of God," another minister told me on that same reporting trip for The Christian Chronicle.

I thought about those comments as I read a developing story from the Chicago area.

Manya Brachear Pashman, the talented Godbeat pro for the Chicago Tribune (and the new president of the Religion Newswriters Association), reported the news this morning.

The top of her story:

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.
Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the private evangelical Christian college in Chicago's west suburbs, announced last week that she would wear the veil to show support for Muslims who have been under greater scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
"I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book," she posted on Facebook.
But it was that explanation of her gesture that concerned some evangelical Christians, who read her statement as a conflation of Christian and Muslim theology.
"While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God's revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer," Wheaton College said in a statement.

That's a nice, evenhanded summary that, it seems to me, fairly quotes both sides.

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