Human Rights Campaign

Don't give us those old time religions: New York Times asks what it means to be a Democrat

Don't give us those old time religions: New York Times asks what it means to be a Democrat

Hey, news consumers: Does anyone remember that "Nones on the Rise" study from the Pew Research Center?

Of course you do. It was in all the newspapers, over and over. It even soaked into network and cable television news -- where stories about religion is rare.

The big news, of course, was the rapid rise in "Nones" -- the "religiously unaffiliated" -- in the American population, especially among the young. Does this sound familiar? One-fifth of all Americans -- a third of those under 30 -- are "Nones," to one degree or another.

Traditional forms of religious faith were holding their own, while lots of vaguely religious people in the mushy middle were being more candid about their lack of ties to organized religion. More than 70 percent of "Nones" called themselves "nothing in particular," as opposed to being either atheists or agnostics.

When the study came out, a key researcher -- John C. Green of the University of Akron -- said it was crucial to note the issues that united these semi-believers, as well as atheists, agnostics and faithful religious liberals, into a growing voter block on the cultural left. My "On Religion" column ended with this:

The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters. ... The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.
"It may very well be that in the future the unaffiliated vote will be as important to the Democrats as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party,” said Green. ... "If these trends continue, we are likely to see even sharper divisions between the political parties."

These sharp divisions are also being seen INSIDE the major political parties. If you want to see that process at work, check out the fascinating New York Times report that ran the other day under this headline: "As Primaries Begin, Divided Voters Weigh What It Means to Be a Democrat." It isn't hard to spot the religion "ghost" in this blunt overture:

PALOS HILLS, Ill. -- When Representative Daniel Lipinski, a conservative-leaning Democrat and scion of Chicago’s political machine, agreed to one joint appearance last month with his liberal primary challenger, the divide in the Democratic Party was evident in the audience that showed up.

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Brownback has critics and supporters: All these voices matter when covering religious freedom debates

Brownback has critics and supporters: All these voices matter when covering religious freedom debates

If you have followed news about the many, many clashes between the emerging doctrines of sexual liberty and the First Amendment's "free exercise" of religion clause, you know this isn't a tidy, simple story with two sides and that's that.

Coverage of Sam Brownback's nomination to a key global religious freedom post is the latest fight.

Yes, there are LGBTQ activists in these debates and there are cultural conservatives. But there are also economic and libertarian conservatives who embrace gay-rights arguments and old-style liberals (Andrew Sullivan leaps to mind) who back gay rights and the defense of religious liberty, free speech and the freedom of association. There are Catholics on both sides. There are self-identified evangelicals on both sides.

In the mainstream press, this conflict has put extra pressure on journalists, with some striving to accurately and fairly cover voices on all sides, while others have thrown in the editorial towel and embraced open advocacy in their coverage. BuzzFeed remains the most candid newsroom on this front, with its "News Standards and Ethics Guide" that states:

We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women's rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.

Leaders at the New York Times have not been that candid, at least while in power. There was, of course, that 2011 talk by former editor Bill Keller (days after he retired) in which he said America's most powerful newsroom never slants its news coverage "aside from" issues -- such as gay rights -- that were part of the "liberal values, sort of social values thing" that went with the Times being a "tolerant, urban" institution.

Is this "Kellerism" ethic, or doctrine, still being used? Let's take a look at a key chunk of a recent Times news story that ran with this headline: "In One Day, Trump Administration Lands 3 Punches Against Gay Rights." The overture paints the big picture:

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration abruptly waded into the culture wars over gay rights this week, signaling in three separate actions that it will use the powers of the federal government to roll back civil rights for gay and transgender people.

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Washington Post Catholics vs. trans rights story summons up whopping sense of, yep, Deja Vu

Washington Post Catholics vs. trans rights story summons up whopping sense of, yep, Deja Vu

One of the benefits of having been among the first wave of Monty Python fans when the BBC comedy first hit these shores is that some of their skits, such as the one about Déjà Vu, hang around in the dim recesses of one's memory.

Then, a modern-day news article pops up to bring this to the forefront.

My thanks, then to the Washington Post for reminding me of a funny bit of comedic brilliance. Sad to say, brilliance is not the word that comes to mind when reading their recent report on a group of Roman Catholic business owners suing to block an Obama administration rule it claims would force Catholic doctors and hospitals to perform "gender reassignment" surgery in contravention of church teachings.

From the article:

Gay and transgender rights groups said the health rule offers critical protections for transgender people because they often struggle to receive appropriate care from physicians and hospitals.
“What the rule says is if you provide a particular service to anybody, you can’t refuse to provide it to anyone,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign. That means a transgender person who shows up at an emergency room with something as basic as a twisted ankle cannot be denied care, as sometimes happens, Warbelow said. That also means if a doctor provides breast reconstruction surgery or hormone therapy, those services cannot be denied to transgender patients seeking them for gender dysphoria, she said.

To its credit, the Post doesn't introduce the pro-directive side until the fifth paragraph, but the HRC attorney gets to share their viewpoint before the Catholic side gets its spokesman heard.

Couple that with a photo of trans-rights protestors leading the online version, and it's not difficult to imagine a soupçon of "Kellerism" (click here for more on this GetReligion term) had jumped on the Amtrak Acela express train from the Manhattan quarters of The New York Times to drop in on the Post's offices.

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Based on Trump's win, it looks like religious liberty really is a thing -- with no scare quotes

Based on Trump's win, it looks like religious liberty really is a thing -- with no scare quotes

Time flies.

More than five years ago, I wrote a piece for Christianity Today that posed this question: "Should the Marriage Battleground Shift to Religious Freedom?"

Hang with me for just a bit here, and I'll make a point — an important one, I believe — about current media coverage. But first, some background might be helpful for most readers.

The main ideas of the 2011 story that I mentioned were:

1. States increasingly were passing same-sex marriage and civil union laws.

2. Given that trend, Christians advocating for traditional marriage might be better served by shifting their resources to fight for their religious freedom.

By the time U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage last year, conscience claims by religious people who view marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman already were making frequent national headlines. 

Of course, in most media reports on those claims — before and after the high court's 5-4 ruling — the word "conscience" never appeared. Rather, news organizations such as the Los Angeles Times framed the issue as a matter of Christians wanting to "deny service" or "refuse service." Often, news stories on the subject carried scare quotes around terms such as "religious liberty" and "religious freedom" — a journalistic eyebrow raising, if you will.

In many cases, news organizations didn't even bother quoting any religious people or attempting to understand their perspective. If you were a Christian baker who didn't want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding — or if you were a Christian photographer who had a problem taking pictures of a same-sex couple — you were a bigot until proven otherwise. And usually, not much opportunity was given for someone to prove otherwise. The media elite already had decided who was right and who was wrong.

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Devout Catholic™ Kaine breaks with his church on gay marriage, with media blessing

Devout Catholic™ Kaine breaks with his church on gay marriage, with media blessing

Tim Kaine has officially joined the ranks of Devout Catholic™.

How do we know? Because he says he's Catholic, yet criticizes the Church.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee played weekend prophet and theologian when he told the Human Rights Campaign that the Catholic Church will eventually change its teachings against same-sex marriage. 

But that wasn't the cardinal sin of the day. The worst was the unthinking, habit-bound, codeword-laced coverage by mainstream media -- especially calling Kaine yet another Devout Catholic™.

Count the Chicago Tribune among the worst offenders:

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine is predicting that the Roman Catholic Church may eventually change its opposition to gay marriage.
Kaine is a devout Roman Catholic as well as a U.S. senator from Virginia and a former governor of that state. He told the Human Rights Campaign during its national dinner Saturday in Washington that he had changed his mind about gay marriage and that his church may follow suit one day.
"I think it's going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator who, in the first chapter of Genesis, surveyed the entire world, including mankind, and said, 'It is very good,'" Kaine said. He then recalled Pope Francis' remark that "who am I to judge?" in reference to gay priests.
"I want to add: Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we're supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it," Kaine said.

We've done a fair amount of dissection on media who toss around the Devout Catholic™ term too freely.  As I wrote two years ago, many reporters seem to use Devout Catholic™ in two ways: (1) “Doing more Catholic things than I do”; (2) “Claiming to be good Catholics while breaking with the Church over major doctrines.”

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Looking for other sources? Christian physicians join the emerging transgender debate

Looking for other sources? Christian physicians join the emerging transgender debate

Suddenly transgender rights  is the hot “culture wars” topic. Religious folks with traditional convictions about such matters have been largely silent, or else many newswriters haven’t yet figured how to locate them in order to report the other side of this crucial debate.

Thus, there’s useful sourcing in the strongly-worded “Transgender Identification Ethics Statement” issued by the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

This group is made up of 16,000-plus professionals who affirm “the divine inspiration and final authority of the Bible as the Word of God.” CMDA had Big 10 origins at the University of Illinois and Northwestern and went national in 1941. It’s one of many such U.S. fellowships for vocational and academic specialists.  Most of these were launched by Evangelical-type Protestants but have long since welcomed Catholic and Orthodox participants.

The transgender statement,  approved at a CMDA conference April 21 but publicized only recently, urges doctors to treat these patients with understanding and grace. On the other hand, CMDA champions professionals’ right to freedom of conscience, asserting that it is not “unjust discrimination” if a physician in conscience declines treatment that is considered “harmful or is not medically indicated.”

On the religious aspect, CMDA contrasts the Old and New Testament belief that “God created humanity as male and female” with current “confusion of gender identity.” “Gender complementarity and fixity are both good and a part of the natural order,” it says. The “objective biological fact” is that sex “is determined genetically at conception” and is “not a social construct arbitrarily assigned at birth or changed at will.”

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Lone wolf pastor of tiny 'Baptist' church in California scores national PR win for ... What?

Lone wolf pastor of tiny 'Baptist' church in California scores national PR win for ... What?

It's time to head back into the confusing world of nondenominational and totally independent churches. There are thousands of them, many of which can accurately be called "fundamentalist." Most are very small and they are often dominated by the personality of a founding pastor. However, in this rather post-denominational age, there are more than a few independent megachurches with several thousand members.

Journalists, please consider this question: In terms of news value, which matters more, a statement by the pastor of an independent flock (with no connection to a larger regional or national body) with 200 or so members or a statement by leaders in a denomination with, let's say, 15 million members?

Let's think about that dynamic in light of a story that has received major news attention in the wake of the hellish massacre in the Pulse gay bar in Orlando.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that there were a few self-proclaimed fundamentalist leaders out there who said some wild and truly hateful (and heretical) things about the massacre.

Let me stress: It is perfectly valid to cover these statements. However, our earlier question remains: How important are these leaders and their churches, how representative are their voices, in comparison with the leaders of major denominations, seminaries and parachurch ministries? Also, it is crucial that readers be given information that places these wild statements in context, that lets them know that these voices are small and isolated.

In other words, the goal is to avoid doing what USA Today editors did with their story that ran with this headline: "California Baptist pastor praises Orlando massacre."

Now, is this "California Baptist" as in a reference to a Baptist pastor who happens to be in California or is it to a pastor linked to a major body of California Baptists, such as the California Southern Baptist Convention?

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AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

I have met more than few students during my life -- which has included on-campus visits to at least 50 Christian colleges and universities -- who enrolled in a school without knowing much of anything about its doctrinal and denomination ties that bind.

In some cases, their parents did all of the homework and background reading and the student wasn't really part of the process. In other cases, it appeared that parents who were marginal believers or even secularists simply wanted to send their child to "a safe place."

Did they read the fine print when they signed on the bottom line? Did they sweat the details in the school's student handbook or the lifestyle-doctrinal covenant? Did they make an informed decision and truly commit themselves to the school's mission? In some cases -- not really.

I bring this up because clear, articulate, honest doctrinal statements are becoming more and more important, in an age in which the U.S. government seems determined to substitute "freedom of worship" for the Constitution's commitment to the "free exercise" of religious beliefs. For example, consider the lines drawn in the Health and Human Services mandate language between churches and other doctrinally defined ministries and schools.

This leads me to an important Associated Press story from the other day that religion-beat journalists (ditto for those covering politics) will want to read. This is the rare story that will please LGBT activists and, while AP writers may not have realized it, it will also (behind the scenes, maybe) please the leaders of some proudly conservative religious schools. Here's the overture:

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark is pushing legislation she says will help members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community make more informed decisions about college.

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Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

OK, so you're a religion reporter, and it's Friday morning the 26th, and you're glued to your desk awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. 

Word starts to seep out at 11 a.m. Eastern. 

Since many of the justices took special care to mention the concerns of religious groups, it's your job to do the sidebar. What do you write? 

As I scanned various papers large and small, ranging from the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger to Utah's Deseret News, it seemed that most punted by simply getting reacts from local religious and political leaders. Or they took the compendium from Religion News Service. I've had to write zillions of similar react pieces and it's harder than it looks, so I'm not knocking these folks. 

But I am going to credit the outlets that went the extra mile.

The Wall Street Journal didn't just react to the ruling but looked ahead to coming battles on religious freedom. It had some of the best quotes I saw all day, including one from Richard Land, the former culture wars czar for the Southern Baptists who's been a bit of a pariah in recent years after he was edged out of his position in 2012. However, the Journal remembered Land and gave him a call:

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