Colorado

Friday Five: Dallas clergy abuse, God and abortion, Colorado hero, 'Whiskeypalians,' Tenn. execution

Friday Five: Dallas clergy abuse, God and abortion, Colorado hero, 'Whiskeypalians,' Tenn. execution

Here’s your periodic reminder that — from “Save Chick-fil-A” legislation to the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals — the Dallas Morning News sure could use a religion writer.

When police this week raided Diocese of Dallas offices related to allegations of sexual abuse by priests, the Texas newspaper — to which I subscribe — put a team of reporters on it and produced two front-page stories (here and here).

The team included a projects/enterprise writer, two police/crime reporters and a city hall writer/columnist. A Godbeat pro on the team? Sadly, the Dallas Morning News doesn’t have one, despite the importance of religion in that Bible Belt city. (There’s another Page 1 report today, again by a public safety reporter.)

Ironically, the paper’s initial coverage included an opinion piece (“Why it's good Dallas police ran out of patience with the Catholic Diocese on sex abuse”) by metro columnist Sharon Grigsby. Those of a certain age will recall that in the 1990s, Grigsby founded the Dallas Morning News’ award-winning religion section (now defunct) and oversaw a team of six religion writers and editors.

Those were the days!

Turning from the Big D, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Alabama’s passage of a law banning abortion in almost all cases tops the week’s headlines.

Since my post pointing out the holy ghosts in much of the news coverage, the religion angle has received major treatment from the New York Times (here and here) and showed up in The Associated Press’ headline on the state’s governor signing the anti-abortion bill into law.

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Holy ghosts haunt story of Colorado high school wrestler who wouldn't compete against girl

Holy ghosts haunt story of Colorado high school wrestler who wouldn't compete against girl

In reading about a Colorado high school wrestler who declined to compete against a girl, I couldn’t help but think that holy ghost — as we call them here at GetReligion — might be haunting the story.

I first caught this recent news via Yahoo! Sports, which made no reference at all to religion in writing about Brendan Johnson.

Curious, I clicked the Yahoo! link to the original source material from the Denver Post.

Here’s the deal: On one hand, the Denver Post piece is extremely compelling and readable.

Let’s start with a big chunk of the opening (more text than I usually copy and paste) because it really sets the scene:

Once the curveball leaves life’s fingertips, the swinging part is up to you. The way Judy Johnston tells it, she just happened to snatch the first open seat she saw near the floor of the gymnasium at Legend High School in Parker last month. What she didn’t know at the time was that the open seat just happened to be next to the one occupied by Angel Rios’ mother, Cher. Or that Angel, a junior 106-pound wrestler at Valley High in Gilcrest, just happened to draw a matchup against her son, Brendan, a senior wrestler from The Classical Academy.

Or how Cher was going to react once she heard Brendan wouldn’t wrestle a woman. Not now. Not ever.

“It was a fluke,” Johnston recalls from a stairwell inside the Pepsi Center during the 2019 Colorado High School Activities Association State Wrestling Tournament. “I had been told Angel is really good, she wants to go the Olympics, so we knew a little about her. And the (Valley) coach came by and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ And Angel came over to her mom and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ She was disappointed. Her mom was disappointed. And me not being able to turn away from a challenging conversation…”

With Cher fuming, Judy introduced herself.

“Well,” she said, words dancing carefully to avoid stepping on any toes, “my son happens to be the one that’s forfeiting.’”

“Why is he doing that?” Cher replied.

“She explained why she felt disrespected,” Johnston recalled. “I said, ‘I totally understand that.’ I said, ‘I know she’s worked hard, but he feels it’s not appropriate to interact with a woman that way, to be physical on or off the mat, at this stage in life.

“So I kind of explained my side. It took a while, but she was able to kind of say, ‘Yeah, I kind of see your point.’ I wished her well and wished Angel well. And that was the end of it.”

Only it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

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Another Masterpiece Cakeshop chapter closes, with a bland AP report that skips hot details

Another Masterpiece Cakeshop chapter closes, with a bland AP report that skips hot details

It’s another day and we have yet another chapter closing in the First Amendment drama of Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Is this the last chapter?

That’s hard to tell. It’s especially hard to tell in the bland Associated Press report that is being published by many mainstream newsrooms. While the story does mention that Phillips has won another partial victory, it misses several crucial details that point to the anger and animus that has been driving this case all along and could keep it going.

Animus” against Phillips and his traditional Christian faith was, of course, at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s sort-of decision on this matter, but, well, never mind. Why cover that part of the story?

So here is the latest from AP:

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on religious grounds — a stance partially upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — and state officials said Tuesday that they would end a separate legal fight over his refusal to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and attorneys representing Jack Phillips said they mutually agreed to end two legal actions, including a federal lawsuit Phillips filed accusing the state of waging a “crusade to crush” him by pursuing a civil rights complaint over the gender transition cake.

Phillips’ attorneys dubbed the agreement a victory for the baker. Weiser, a Democrat, said both sides “agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.”

So what about the future? Here is what readers are told:

The agreement resolves every ongoing legal dispute between the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the state. Weiser’s statement said it has no effect on the ability of the Denver attorney who filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to pursue her own legal action.

The attorney, Autumn Scardina, told the commission that Phillips refused last year to make a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside for a celebration of her transition from male to female. She asked for the cake on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would consider Phillips’ appeal of a previous commission ruling against him.

The lede for this story, as is the mainstream news norm, fails to note the key facts that were at the heart of the original case.

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Colorado's proposed sex ed curriculum: Which religious groups protested it?

Colorado's proposed sex ed curriculum: Which religious groups protested it?

Maybe I’ve been sleeping under a rock recently, but I didn’t realize that half the metro Denver area was abuzz with a proposed sex education curriculum for its public schools.

As I looked at various media accounts, only one religious group — Catholics — stood out as opposing the substantial changes in how Colorado kids would learn about sex. There’s no mention of organized resistance from other groups, even the evangelical behemoth, Focus on the Family, an hour south of Denver.

Here’s the big question: How far into the story do readers need to dig to find out the crucial question here is parental rights, in terms of having the ability to opt out of classes that violate their religious convictions?

We’ll start with the Denver Post’s coverage, then branch out.

After more than 10 hours of debate and the testimony — both written and spoken — of more than 300 people, Democrats on a Colorado House committee approved a sexual education bill shortly before midnight Wednesday.

If it passes the General Assembly, the bill would amend a 2013 law by removing a waiver for public charter schools that lets them pick other sex ed criteria. It would also fund a grant program for schools that lack the resources to teach human sexuality and expand upon the LGBT relationship portion of the curriculum requirements.

The new section on teaching about “healthy relationships” and the “different relationship models” students may encounter appeared to be the touchstone for most of the objections from parents, educators and faith leaders Wednesday. Dozens of speakers told the committee they worry that if the General Assembly passes the bill, school districts will be teaching kids about sexual acts and lifestyles their faith disagrees with.

“If you’re for House Bill 1032, then you’re for exposing 9-year-olds to sexually explicit techniques,” said James Rea, a father of four. “We don’t want to expose our children to this kind of forced sexual education.”

Who are the “faith leaders” involved? One, according to CruxNow, is the Catholic archbishop of Denver. Crux said:

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Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Good morning from blue America!

I mean, I guess Oklahoma — where I live — is still a red state. But my congressional district just flipped, electing a Democrat for the first time in 40 years in what The Oklahoman characterized as “a political upset for the history books” and FiveThirtyEight called “the biggest upset of the night” nationally.

(Neighboring Kansas turned a little blue, too, electing a Democratic governor.)

Religion angle? In advance of Tuesday’s midterms, we asked here at GetReligion if a post-Trump rise of the religious left was a real trend or wishful thinking.

Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, which Democrat Kendra Horn won in a nail-biter, was one of the places where a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good that toured the country brought its bus. The Oklahoman’s pre-election story noted:

If Horn, an Episcopalian and Democrat running for Congress, is to do what others claim cannot be done — namely, defeat Republican Rep. Steve Russell on Nov. 6 — she will need to make inroads with a voting bloc that has helped propel Russell's political career: evangelicals.

What role did religious voters played in Horn’s upset win in one of the reddest of the red states? I haven’t seen reporting on that angle yet. No doubt, changing demographics in the Oklahoma City area played a role, as did the rural-urban divide, but perhaps suburban evangelical women turned off by Trump did, too? Stay tuned.

As we begin to digest Tuesday’s outcomes across the U.S., here are a handful of religion angles making headlines or likely to do so:

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Let's be honest: Many voicing opinions about Colorado baker Jack Phillips don't know the facts

Let's be honest: Many voicing opinions about Colorado baker Jack Phillips don't know the facts

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion about Jack Phillips.

But not everybody — trust me on this — has taken the time to review the facts of Phillips' case.

Does the Colorado baker — in whose favor the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 this week — really "refuse service" to gays and lesbians as a matter of general business practice? 

Not according to him.

His position — one that resonated with the court's majority — is more complicated than that.

Yet headlines such as this one in USA Today serve only to fuel the misperception:

Poll: 51% of white evangelicals support business' refusal of service to LGBT customers

Here is the question that the survey covered by the national newspaper asked:

Do you support or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to LGBT individuals if doing so violates their religious beliefs?

I have the same concern with that question that I did one asked in a previous survey that I highlighted last year: I'm just not sure it's the right one. There are better questions to get closer to the real issue.

For example, why not ask something like this?: 

Do you support the government forcing a small business owner in your state to create messages that conflict with their religious beliefs if doing so advances the cause of LGBT individuals?

Might the responses to that question be different from the one covered by USA Today?

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In same-sex wedding cake case, Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker — but who wins in future?

In same-sex wedding cake case, Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker — but who wins in future?

News broke this morning that the U.S. Supreme Court had issued a "narrow" ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips in the long-awaited Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

Wait a minute: The vote was 7-2. How exactly is that "narrow?"

Thus began some of the early discussion as folks on all sides sought to analyze the ramifications of the high court ruling.

As the day progressed, The Associated Press offered more context on the initial description of a "narrow" ruling, using adjectives such as "modest" and "limited" to characterize the decision:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

The justices’ decision turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

The case had been eagerly anticipated as, variously, a potentially strong statement about the rights of LGBT people or the court’s first ruling carving out exceptions to an anti-discrimination law. In the end, the decision was modest enough to attract the votes of liberal and conservative justices on a subject that had the potential for sharp division.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn’t want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

The New York Times, meanwhile, referred to the "narrow grounds" of the ruling, which the Times said came in "a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom." 

On social media, advocates and experts scrambled to assess which side really won:

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With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

As California this year becomes the eighth state to legalize “recreational” marijuana (as opposed to “medical” uses), what do American religious groups have to say about this cultural lurch?

Not much, says an accurate complaint in The Christian Century’s Jan. 3 cover story “Talking About Marijuana -- in Church.” Author Adam Hearlson laments that churches are hesitant to openly discuss such a pertinent issue, and implies they should consider support for liberalization. 

It's past time for the news media to consult religious thinkers about this.

Church wariness is reflected in the fact that the “mainline” Protestant magazine itself identified Hearlson only vaguely as “a minister, writer, scholar.” In fact he teaches preaching and worship and directs the chapel at the nation’s oldest seminary, Andover Newton (which after years of decline is about to shut down and be absorbed by Yale Divinity School).

One obvious story peg is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned Obama Administration policy, giving federal prosecutors discretion to enforce anti-pot laws, even in states where it’s legal. Both parties in the U.S. Congress have kept such laws on the books, and Department of Justice concern did not originate with the Trump Administration (.pdf document here).

Leaving aside libertarians who insist government should simply leave us alone, proponents offer three key arguments for an open “recreational” market:

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ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

Way back in the late 1980s, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado needed to elect a new bishop.

This led to an interesting series of events, with the various candidates -- there were a bunch -- traveling across that large and diverse state to meet with the faithful and to take questions. As the religion-beat writer at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP), I went along.

It was during that tour that I came up with a set of three questions that I have used, ever since, when probing doctrinal fault lines inside Christian organizations, both large and small. Here at GetReligion, we call these questions the "tmatt trio." One of them is rather relevant to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) and my recent update post on the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org.

But first, here are the three questions, as stated in an "On Religion" column I wrote about the polling work of the late George Gallup, Jr. It opened with a reference to a speech he gave in 1990.

About that time, I shared a set of three questions with Gallup that I had begun asking, after our previous discussions. The key, he affirmed, was that these were doctrinal, not political, questions. ... The questions:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

It is interesting, sometimes, to observe the lengths to which Christian leaders, academics and others will go to avoid giving clear answers to these questions, even the one focusing on the resurrection. The key is to pay close attention to their answers, seeking insights into where they stand in the vast spectrum -- liberal to orthodox -- of Christian life.

Now, look again at the third question: "Is sex outside of marriage a sin?"

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