Becket

Correction: Can a ministry require its leaders to be 'Christian'?

Correction: Can a ministry require its leaders to be 'Christian'?

Editor’s note: Please see the post correcting a crucial error in this post. Click here to go to that correction.

Yes, the headline for this post contains the word “Christian” inside “scare” quotes.

I did that on purpose, because it’s linked to the journalism point that I want to make about a recent Religion News Service story about a judge’s ruling on a clash between an evangelical campus ministry and the University of Iowa. The report contains lots of interesting and valid information, but I also think it contains a crucial error that RNS needs to correct.

This problem can be seen in the headline: “InterVarsity can require its leaders to be Christian, judge rules.”

Here’s my question: Did the judge say that it was OK for InterVarsity to require its leaders to be “Christians,” or that it was acceptable for the group require its leaders to affirm a specific set of traditional Christian beliefs on a number of topics, including marriage and sex?

My question: Would officials at the University of Iowa have been happy if some of the InterVarsity leaders were Episcopalians from parishes or dioceses that affirm gay marriage and embrace other doctrines that are consistent with a pro-LGBTQ stance? What if InterVarsity leaders came from other progressive flocks, such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the United Church of Christ?

I’m thinking that University of Iowa leaders would have accepted InterVarsity having “Christian” leaders, as long as they were liberal Christians whose doctrines were acceptable.

But look at the top of the RNS report (this is long, but essential):

Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached … in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

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Solid, if low key, coverage of Muslim inmate executed in Alabama -- without his imam present

Solid, if low key, coverage of Muslim inmate executed in Alabama -- without his imam present

It was the kind of outrageous story that grabbed the attention of GetReligion readers, as well as old-school First Amendment liberals who care deeply about protecting religious liberty.

Plenty of journalists saw the importance of this story last week, which tends to happen when a dispute ends up at the U.S. Supreme Court and creates a sharp 5-4 split among the justices.

The question, in this case, was whether journalists grasped some of the most symbolic, painful details in this execution case in Alabama. I looked at several stories and this USA Today report — “Alabama executes Muslim inmate Domineque Ray who asked for imam to be present“ — was better than the mainstream norm. Here is the overture:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama death row inmate Domineque Ray died by lethal injection Thursday evening with his imam present in an adjoining chamber. …

Ray was executed after an 11th-hour ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a stay of execution pending a religious rights claim. Ray, a Muslim, had argued Alabama's practice of including a Christian prison chaplain in the execution chamber was in violation of the First Amendment. Ray sought to have his imam present in the death chamber at the time of his death.

Imam Yusef Maisonet, Ray's spiritual adviser, witnessed Ray's execution from a chamber which held media and prison officials. Two lawyers accompanied Maisonet.

When the curtain opened at 9:44 p.m., Ray lifted his head from the gurney, looking into the witness room. With his right hand in a fist, he extended a pointer finger.

Maisonet appeared to mirror the gesture and murmured that it was an acknowledgement of the singular God of the Islamic faith. When asked if he had any final words, Ray gave a brief faith declaration in Arabic.

OK, I will ask: What did Ray say, in Arabic? Did he speak Arabic? If not, then the odds are very good that Ray’s final words were a memorized quote from the Koran. It would have been good to have known the specifics.

That’s an important missing detail, but not the key to this story. The big issue, in this case, was that Ray was executed without a spiritual leader from his own faith at his side. USA Today managed to get that detail — along with the crucial fact that state policy only allowed a Christian chaplain in the execution room — at the top of this report. That’s where those facts belonged.

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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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Toasting the Godbeat

Last night the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty honored Eric Marrapodi, manager of CNN’s Belief Blog, with its first Vine & Fig Tree Journalist Award. I had the pleasure of attending and had an absolutely fantastic time and enjoyed meeting or seeing again many folks on the Godbeat.

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