Can conversion therapy get a fair hearing in mainstream press? Short answer: No

Can conversion therapy get a fair hearing in mainstream press? Short answer: No

It wasn’t that long ago that people who wished not to be gay were involved in “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy.” Not everyone welcomed same-sex attraction and those who didn’t found therapists who tried to help them.

Very few people were trying to "pray the gay away," but many did believe that human sexuality is a spectrum (as in the Kinsey scale) of orientations and that it was possible to modify emotions and behaviors.

Quite a few churches –- which had no other ideas about how to handle the gay folks in their midst –- believed in this therapy and referred people to it. Back in the 1990s, I knew folks who either worked in this field or were allied with those who did. For most churches, it was the only way out for people who didn’t want to engage in behavior that traditional forms of the major world religions considered to be sinful.

That was then. The Barack Obama administration went to war against the therapy during its eight years in power and Democrats haven’t given up the ship, according to this Washington Post piece.

The big legal question: What happens with children and young adults? What role can parents play in this process?

Democratic lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would ban the practice of “conversion therapy,” treatments that historically have targeted the LGBT community and claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2017 was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), along with Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). About 70 other members of Congress, all Democrats, have said they support the bill, which would allow the Federal Trade Commission to classify conversion therapy and its practitioners as fraudulent.
“The bill is very simple,” Lieu told The Washington Post. “It says it is fraud if you treat someone for a condition that doesn’t exist and there’s no medical condition known as being gay. LGBTQ people were born perfect; there is nothing to treat them for. And by calling this what it should be, which is fraud, it would effectively shut down most of the organizations.”

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Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

One of the most challenging assignments in the world is stuffing 10 pounds of sugar into a five-pound sack.

Reporters face this all the time: A carload of details that must be crammed into a small shopping bag.

Such may well have been the lot of investigative reporter Laura Ungar of the Louisville Courier-Journal, a daily now noted as "part of the USA Today network." After six months of reporting, she delivered a devastating three-part series on the HIV epidemic that still plagues Austin, Indiana, a town less than 40 miles north of the paper's offices, in a region known as "Kentuckiana."

Let me be clear: This is important work touching on a vital topic of national interest, and it deserves a wide readership, I believe. How HIV gripped this town, how addictions to opioids opened the floodgates, how transmission the virus is being fought and what the human and policy consequences are should concern every American. After all, as noted in the two-year-old PBS NewsHour video above, one trucker hiring a prostitute in Austin could subsequently carry the infection hundreds of miles away.

The articles focus on the health care and policy issues, subjects well within the reporter's wheelhouse. But we also get glimpses of faith elements at both ends of the series.

The glimpses left me wanting more.

The first piece begins with a discussion of the Christian physician laboring to help save the town, and the final installment boldly proclaims Austin as "having faith" in the midst of the crisis, Ungar -- or her editors -- seem to hold back when discussing the exact nature of faith that's involved.

The final installment's headline, "Healing Austin: Faith lifts small town from depths of HIV plague," could lead a reader to expect a more detailed discussion of just what that faith is, how it is practiced, what it entails. The subhead is equally promising: "As the outside world moves on, [a] small city draws on faith to save itself from drugs and disease."

Everyone who imagines we're going to get a few tales of tent revivals and the old "sawdust trail," please raise your hand.

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No, Lester Holt didn't used to be the lead singer at his church. He used to lead SINGING

No, Lester Holt didn't used to be the lead singer at his church. He used to lead SINGING

On its website as I type this, celebrity magazine US Weekly features an "exclusive" profile of "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt.

Right under a report that "Kim Kardashian Says That Caitlyn Jenner's Book Is 'So Hurtful,'" Holt's first-person piece highlights "25 Things You Don't Know About Me."

Things such as Holt's fear of snakes, love of Mexican food and lack of prowess when it comes to mechanical things. ("I once installed a garage shelf that then collapsed, sending buckets of paint falling onto our babysitter's car," he says.)

But it's thing No. 11 that's interesting from a GetReligion perspective:

11. I used to be the lead singer in church.

The only problem: That's not actually true.

Holt, it appears, is the victim of an editing error — an error presumably made by someone who didn't grasp the intricacies of Holt's specific religious background. Does your inquiring mind want to know more?

I am familiar with Holt's Church of Christ ties because of my work as chief correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. In a visit to New York several years ago, I interviewed the newsman about faith and journalism. 

Here at GetReligion, we also have highlighted Holt's faith previously: 

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Washington Post asks: Will the tiny Christian flock in Taiwan defeat same-sex marriage?

Washington Post asks: Will the tiny Christian flock in Taiwan defeat same-sex marriage?

There is no question who LGBTQ activists in Taiwan blame for the fact that their drive to legalize same-sex marriage is having problems. It's the Christians.

Thus, there is no question who The Washington Post blames for the fact that same-sex marriage faces strong opposition in Taiwan, a nation that LGBTQ activists have been counting on to blaze a progressive trail for Asia. It's the Christians.

The result -- "A backlash against same-sex marriage tests Taiwan’s reputation for gay rights" -- is a classic example of what your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism," with a nod to those 2011 remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller. The basic idea is that there is no need for journalists to offer balanced, accurate coverage of people -- especially religious believers -- whose views you have already decided are wrong. Error has no rights in some newsrooms.

So what forces are undercutting Taiwan's multicultural legacy of tolerance?

... (The) groundswell of support that spurred hope for marriage equality has spurred a bitter backlash that has experts and advocates wondering when or whether the law will move ahead.
Over the past year, mostly Christian community groups have mobilized against the marriage-equality movement, warning, contrary to evidence, that same-sex partnerships are a threat to children and that giving LGBT families legal protection will hurt Taiwan.
They have also claimed -- again, contrary to evidence -- that protecting the rights of gender and sexual minorities is a Western idea, that being gay is somehow not “Chinese.”

So, how many Christian leaders are quoted in this lengthy Post feature? 

Well, there is one short quote from a secular politician, Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san, who was speaking in a public hearing. There is a second-hand quote of conservative arguments, care of an interview from a gay-rights activist. Actual quotes from interviews with Christian leaders? Zero.

Meanwhile, there are a minimum of seven voices speaking on the other side. This does not include paragraph after paragraph of paraphrased material backing the LGBTQ side of the argument, facts and arguments that -- in the new Post advocacy news style -- require no attribution to named sources.

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Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

So here is a story that is causing lots of traditional religious believers to shake their heads today. They are reacting to headlines, like this one at The Washington Post states: "Trump has yet to signal his approach to Obamacare birth-control mandate."

Once again let me stress that we are talking about head shaking in two different camps of religious conservatives. The best evidence is that they are pretty equal in size, as GetReligion has been noting since last summer (here is yet another hat tip pointing readers to this fine Christianity Today feature).

In one camp are the religious conservatives who enthusiastically embraced Citizen Donald Trump, pretty much from Day 1.

In the other camp are religious conservatives who never endorsed Trump, at any stage of the game, yet felt they had to vote for him in order to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Here is what I heard legions of folks in that camp say: "I do not know what Donald Trump will do, but I know what Hillary Clinton will do. I will have to risk voting for him."

So, what were they so concerned about, in terms of what the candidates "will do"?

We are, 99.9 percent of the time, talking about two crucial issues: The U.S. Supreme Court and/or battles over religious liberty. At this point in time -- as the world awaits votes by the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court -- most conservatives are pretty pleased with that first issue. But what about that second concern, in light of this overture at the Post?

President Trump had promised religious groups that he would reverse the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
But his Justice Department indicated Monday that it’s not yet giving up a fight with religious schools and nonprofits that are suing over the contraception mandate.
The department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.

To which some people, in this case Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher are saying, "WHAT'S THAT?!"

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Toronto Globe and Mail misses it on religious roots of sex-selective abortions

Toronto Globe and Mail misses it on religious roots of sex-selective abortions

Ten years ago, I wrote a four-part series about the horrific imbalance of boys and girls in India due to the rampant aborting of female fetuses. I spent three weeks in India tracking down doctors who were assisting in those abortions and activists who were trying to prevent them.

People kept on telling me that I needed to also check on whether female Indian immigrants to the United States were aborting their female children. I heard rumors that they were but I ran out of time and could not pursue that angle.

So I was glad to see that The Toronto Globe and Mail not only tackled the topic recently, but actually had some statistics to back it. However, the newspaper only told half of the story. As it said:

Fewer girls than boys are born to Indian women who immigrate to Canada, a skewed pattern driven by families whose mother tongue is Punjabi, according to a new study.
One of the most surprising findings of the study, to be published Monday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada, is that the preference for boys does not diminish, regardless of how long women from India have lived in Canada.
“It’s counterintuitive,” said Marcelo Urquia, a research scientist at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Health Policy and lead author of the study. “We know that the longer immigrants are in Canada, the more likely they are to align to the host country.”

The longer they are in Canada? So western feminist values haven’t rubbed off at all? Are we sure that there is no religion ghost in this subject?

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Russia pulls trigger on Jehovah's Witnesses and, this time, mainstream media take notice

Russia pulls trigger on Jehovah's Witnesses and, this time, mainstream media take notice

This will be no surprise to anyone who's paid attention, but President Vladimir Putin's Russia has officially lowered the boom on its Jehovah's Witnesses.

The government's plan is to obliterate the organization's ability to function as a viable religious movement within its borders, treating it as a dangerous, hostile movement from outside Russian culture. The key slur is "Western."

That's a growing trend in Russia, as you have not noticed.

Here's the meaty top of a New York Times piece that delivered the news last week:

MOSCOW -- Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.
The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.
Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the denomination, said Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the ruling. He said it had focused on the activities of the organization’s so-called administrative center, a complex of offices outside St. Petersburg, but also branded all of its nearly 400 regional branches as extremist.
“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. “We will, of course, appeal.”

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Politico should know better, part II: Dr. Ben Carson God-talk piece leaves out his church

Politico should know better, part II: Dr. Ben Carson God-talk piece leaves out his church

It was 92 years ago that a manufacturer of record players first trademarked the phrase "the gift that keeps on giving." 

Perhaps the folks at Politico could consider its use any time they publish stories about God and politics.

Last week, it was a ham-handed attempt at analyzing President Donald J. Trump's "God-talk" as POTUS. And its equally poor take on supposed links between Trump and Russia via the Chabad Lubavitch organization, as noted by my colleague Ira Rifkin.

This week, Dr. Ben Carson is in the crosshairs for daring to mention the Deity when talking about government work linked to his new line of work -- housing:

God is Ben Carson’s favorite subject. Brain surgery is a close second. Housing is somewhere further down the list.
“I was told that as a government leader, I really shouldn't talk about God. But I have to tell you, it's part of who I am,” Carson said last month, in one of his first speeches as Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Less than two months into the job, Carson still holds forth on God and neurosurgery, but his views on housing policy remain largely a mystery. While he's making good on a promised listening tour to learn about the $48 billion agency he now leads, he's done little public speaking about the urgent issue at hand -- a lack of affordable housing. ...
Carson told POLITICO that policy proposals are in the works, but in public appearances the one-time presidential candidate is sticking to his stump-speech staples. He prescribes “godly principles” as a cure for the country’s political division and praises housing advocates for “putting God’s love into action.”

Now, from a political/policy standpoint, I can understand why Carson's emphasis on "godly principles" and "putting God's love into action" might seem a bit, well, off-putting. We're more accustomed to hearing about bloc grants, subsidies, expansion plans, or reasons why there can't be any of those.

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Jailhouse religion and the case of the elite national newspaper that chose to ignore it

Jailhouse religion and the case of the elite national newspaper that chose to ignore it

Today's post falls under the general heading of "jailhouse religion."

Speaking of which, a story I wrote on a Texas woman who might have gotten away with murder — but became a Christian and turned herself in — was published this week.

GetReligion's own Mark Kellner described it "as an incredible true crime, confession, redemption story superbly told." I didn't even pay him to say that. So feel free to check it out.

End of shameless plug.

Back to our regularly scheduled analysis of religion — and holy ghosts — in the mainstream press: Today's focus is a Washington Post profile of a redeemed bank robber.

Catholic media professional Thomas Szyszkiewicz tipped us to this haunted story:

There's talk of "redemption" (it's even in the title of his book). His parents were pastors who founded some (unnamed, generic) church. He's teaching at a Catholic university (OK, we won't get into the discussion about how Catholic it is or isn't). There were moments of "grace," etc. What's missing? 

Um, could it be religion?

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