Kentucky

Why do many Bible Belt Democrats oppose abortion? Truth is, that's a religion-beat story

Why do many Bible Belt Democrats oppose abortion? Truth is, that's a religion-beat story

Democrats who, to one degree or another, oppose abortion are currently having another fleeting moment of mainstream media attention.

If you have been around for several decades (and you spent those decades as a pro-life Democrat) you have seen this happen before. Basically, this happens whenever the leadership of the Democratic Party and, thus, editors in some elite newsrooms, are tempted to believe that it’s in their political interest to win back conservative Democrats in parts of the Midwest, South and Southwest.

Right now, there are some Democrats who want to nominate a candidate that Donald Trump cannot, somehow, defeat in a few heartland states. But is that worth compromising on abortion, backing restrictions favored by a majority of centrist Americans and even large numbers of Democrats who do not live in the Acela Zone between Washington, D.C., and Boston?

Yesterday, my colleague Julia Duin wrote about a New York Times piece focusing on these issues — sort of. The headline noted a familiar hole in the coverage: “New York Times finally profiles pro-life Democrats but forgets to add what religion they might be.” Why did Times editors publish this story? Duin writes:

I’m guessing it is a follow-up on their April 9 story that had poll data showing how the Democrat Party’s hard-left activists don’t represent most of the party faithful.

So they sent a reporter not to the South, where a lot of conservative Democrats live, but to western Pennsylvania. Having lived four years in the county just north of Pittsburgh, I know that it’s the Bible Belt of the Rust Belt. But as far as I could tell, the reporter didn’t go near a house of worship. That’s a big journalism problem, in this case.

This brings me to a new piece in the New York Post that ran with this headline: “Why many Dems in the South back the new anti-abortion laws.

This is not a hard-news piece. It’s an opinion essay by Salena Zito, but it includes lots of information gathered while reporting in Bible Belt-flyover country. GetReligion (other than weekend think pieces) normally doesn’t focus on opinion material, but I thought readers might want to see some this essay — since it directly addresses facts the Times team avoided in that recent A1 story.

Those two crucial subjects linked to the lives of pro-life Democrats? That would be race and religion.

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Kick 'em out? Southern Baptists seek ways to fight sexual abuse in autonomous local churches

Kick 'em out? Southern Baptists seek ways to fight sexual abuse in autonomous local churches

Before we take a look at what appears to have been the key development at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, let’s pause and discuss a few matters linked to how America’s largest non-Catholic flock does business.

One of the first things reporters learn (.pdf here), when they show up at national SBC gathering, is that the people attending are not “delegates” — they are “messengers” from local churches. Again, this is a sign of the degree to which Baptist identity is built on church authority residing in autonomous local congregations. The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention that exists when it is in session. It can vote to create a publishing house, or mission boards or an “executive committee” to do specific tasks in between conventions.

But SBC folks get testy when reporters assume that Southern Baptists are supposed to be organized like Presbyterians, Methodists or, heaven forbid, Episcopalians. What makes SBC meetings so wild is that all kinds of people in that big room can grab a floor microphone. With that in mind, let’s look at a crucial part of a New York Times story, focusing on efforts to handle sexual-abuse issues:

Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.

The pastors voted to create a centralized committee that would evaluate allegations against churches accused of mishandling abuse. They also approved an amendment to their constitution that would allow such churches to be expelled from the convention if the allegations were substantiated.

“Protecting God’s children is the mission of the church,” the denomination’s president, J.D. Greear, said on Tuesday morning as he addressed the gathering. “We have to deal with this definitively and decisively.”

Wait a minute. SBC “pastors” voted to take these steps? Since when are all of the SBC “messengers” pastors?

The Times should correct that error immediately. It appears that the same mistake showed up in a 2018 Times story and I missed it at that time. As in:

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Homosexuality is 'amoral?' Dear newspaper, I don't think that word means what you think it does

Homosexuality is 'amoral?' Dear newspaper, I don't think that word means what you think it does

James A. Smith Sr., a Southern Baptist known to frequent this journalism-focused website, had a GetReligion-like response to a sentence he saw in a Louisville Courier-Journal story.

To set the scene, the news article involves the Kentucky Baptist Convention — “the powerful Kentucky Baptist Convention,” as the Courier-Journal likes referring to it — disassociating itself from congregations dually aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Yes, these cut ties resulted from a dispute between a Baptist convention upholding traditional doctrinal beliefs and one taking more progressive stands. That’s certainly newsworthy, particular in a state where the Southern Baptist-aligned Kentucky convention reportedly has over 2,400 affiliated churches with more than 750,000 members.

But these type of reports in the Courier-Journal always seem to be slanted toward one side of the debate — the progressive one. (See past examples here and here.)

In the case of the latest story, the language again seems overly loaded, depicting the Kentucky Baptist Convention as “booting” and “targeting” and “kicking out” churches as opposed to standing by its beliefs. And of course, the first quote comes from a critic of the decision:

The Kentucky Baptist Convention on Tuesday cut ties with more than a dozen churches, including at least one in Louisville, for supporting a Baptist religious organization that earlier this year lifted a ban on hiring LGBTQ employees.

The Louisville-based Kentucky Baptist Convention, which has long opposed same-sex marriage, ordaining gay ministers and believes homosexuality is sinful, voted to end its relationship with KBC-affiliated churches that also made financial contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at its annual meeting in Pikeville, Kentucky.

The KBC targeted several local churches, including the 1,600-member St. Matthews Baptist, where leaders called the decision ending a 90-year relationship "historic and disheartening."

But I’ve seen worse, less balanced coverage of such decisions: To its credit, the Courier-Journal does quote a few supporters of the move, including the convention’s president:

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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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'Is your church van a death trap?': Kentucky paper shines a bright light on important safety question

'Is your church van a death trap?': Kentucky paper shines a bright light on important safety question

Louisville Courier-Journal print subscribers woke up to this question Sunday morning: "Is your church van a death trap?"

Or, as the headline atop the online version of the Kentucky newspaper's in-depth investigative report put it, "Churches are putting their faith in these old vans that could kill."

This is important journalism, based on the Courier-Journal's analysis of millions of crash records from six states between 2004 and 2017.

Readers — particularly those with a 15-passenger van in their church parking lot — would do well to pay attention to it.

I'll share a longer chunk of the opening paragraphs than normal, but these details are both powerful and crucial:

A Ford Motor Company employee test-driving a 15-passenger van flipped it while swerving through a series of cones in 1990.

He didn’t report it. He blamed himself, not the van — and his superiors agreed. That vehicle, the E350, dominated the large-van market for years.

But a Florida jury in March blamed that same make and model van for a woman’s death, granting her four children and husband nearly $20 million in damages.

The left-rear tire on the 2002 E350 had shredded. The van flipped, and passenger Michalanne Salliotte, 44, was tossed from the vehicle and crushed on Feb. 21, 2014.

Salliotte and the driver, who also died, were among five people thrown out as the van tumbled. One was a teenager who had to repeat a year of school because of brain damage. Seven others were injured.

The jury also found the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey negligent for not keeping seat belts in the van within reach.

Transportation safety officials have known since 2001 that 15-passenger vans like the E350 are prone to roll in a crash when loaded with people. Federal officials have issued repeated safety warnings to carmakers and the public. Some insurance companies refuse to cover them. A major religious denomination advises member churches to avoid them. And at least 28 states prohibit public schools from using them to transport students.

Yet many churches around the country still use the old vans to haul kids to swimming pools, take parishioners to services or deliver members to conferences and revival meetings.

And people still die.

Of course, safety questions about 15-passenger vans are not new.

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CNN visits eastern Kentucky women, but ignores how majority feels about abortion, etc.

CNN visits eastern Kentucky women, but ignores how majority feels about abortion, etc.

Not long ago, when I was doing research in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee for my new book on young Pentecostal serpent handlers, some of us -- by which I mean people involved in local churches and local life -- grew to despise what I call journalistic carpetbaggers.

Those are the folks from the big city who show up in Fly-Over Land to get at the real truth about those denizens of America’s hinterlands they believe no other journalist has uncovered. They wouldn’t dream of leaving their enclaves inside the Beltway or –- in this case the Outer Perimeter of Atlanta -- to actually live among the unwashed, but they do like jetting in every so often to report on the Truth That Is Out There Among The Simple People.

You can probably guess where I’m going with CNN’s latest: “Forget Abortion: What women in Appalachian Kentucky really want.”

I’ll tell you up front what that is: They want birth control and lots of it. Oh, and there's no need to talk to Kentucky women who oppose abortion. They don't exist.

The story begins here:

Pikeville, Kentucky (CNN) Perhaps it was the abstinence pledge she felt forced to sign or the promise ring she was told to slip on her finger. But from the moment Cheryl became sexually active, she felt dirty.
Then, three boys raped her, reducing her self-image to mud.
She didn't dare tell anyone or seek help. Growing up in rural eastern Kentucky, she'd been raised by drug addicts who'd lost the family home and lived in a place, she says, where there was "nothing left to do but do each other."

I’ll agree that rural eastern Kentucky (I also biked through the area -– places like Elkhorn City, Pippa Passes and Hazard -- many years ago during a trip from Washington DC to Lexington, Ky.), is often closer to being Meth Alley rather than a garden spot. That region of the country appears atop all the bad lists: joblessness, poverty, absenteeism, life expectancy and female smoking during pregnancy.

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Hey Lexington Herald-Leader: This one phrase makes me question your impartiality on Kim Davis

Hey Lexington Herald-Leader: This one phrase makes me question your impartiality on Kim Davis

You remember Kim Davis, right?

As a self-described "foul-mouthed moderate" put it on Twitter, "She's that lady who refused to issue gay couples marriage licenses in Kentucky."

More precisely, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly notes, "Davis didn’t try to deny license. She just wanted to avoid being the person who had to sign it." 

If somehow her name doesn't ring a bell, we have a post or two — or 3 million — in our archive.

I bring her up because, well, she's back in the headlines again.

The news peg is simple: A gay man who unsuccessfully sought a marriage license from Davis has filed to run against her for Rowan County clerk. 

This is the headline — cue the clickbait — atop the Lexington Herald-Leader's story:

Kim Davis denied him a marriage license. Now he wants to take her job

Eventually, the Herald-Leader story will turn into what approaches an unpaid political advertisement for Davis' challenger, the fourth Democrat so far to enter the race. But up top, the report is straightforward and factual (albeit less than precise on how Davis phrased her position, as tmatt noted):

MOREHEAD — David Ermold, one of the men denied a same-sex marriage license by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in 2015, hopes to challenge her for the clerk’s seat next year, he announced Wednesday.
Davis set off an international furor when she denied a marriage license to Ermold and his partner, David Moore, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right for same-sex couples to marry.
Davis, who said providing the license violated her religious beliefs, continued to withhold the license, even after a federal judge ordered her to issue it, and was jailed briefly. The issue was solved when one of her deputies, Brian Mason, agreed to issue licenses, and in 2016 the Kentucky General Assembly established an alternate license.
Mason is still issuing same-sex marriage licenses, he said Wednesday.
“I am running to restore the confidence of the people in our clerk’s office and because I believe that the leaders of our community should act with integrity and fairness, and they should put the needs of their constituents first,” said Ermold, 43, who teaches English at the University of Pikeville and directs Morehead Pride, a local gay rights organization. “My commitment to Rowan County is to restore professional leadership, fairness, and responsibility to the clerk’s office. I will build upon the successes of the past, and I will seek solutions for the challenges we may still face.”

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Courier-Journal pins F-word (fundamentalist) on Southern Baptists, but thinks better of it

Courier-Journal pins F-word (fundamentalist) on Southern Baptists, but thinks better of it

Words have meanings.

For example, for journalists the word "fundamentalist" has a specific meaning. The Associated Press Stylebook -- the journalist's bible -- notes that "fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

"In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself," the stylebook advises.

Those pejorative connotations are why I was surprised to see the Louisville Courier-Journal characterize ordinary Southern Baptists as fundamentalists in a story today. I was prepared to question this original lede in the Courier-Journal:

Fundamentalist Southern Baptists have long opposed same-sex marriage and ordaining gay ministers, arguing that the Bible unequivocally rejects homosexuality as sinful and perverted.
The Louisville-based Kentucky Baptist Convention hasn't left that position to interpretation. The powerful Southern Baptist group, which has 2,400 churches and 750,000 members across the state, has ousted congregations that bless gay unions and welcome people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender as pastors and missionaries.
That's why discussions on dropping a ban against hiring gay and transgender people by a more liberal group of affiliated churches, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has threatened to trigger an even larger rift.

Why, I wondered, did the Courier-Journal choose to use that adjective in this story?

I was not alone in asking that question:

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Faith on both sides of abortion? Yes, according to AP — but this is why debate falls short

Faith on both sides of abortion? Yes, according to AP — but this is why debate falls short

Over the weekend, an Associated Press national story highlighting the abortion battle in Kentucky got a bunch of play by major news organizations.

In general, this coverage impresses me as more balanced than most mainstream news reports on abortion. 

And the piece even delves — a little bit — into the religious beliefs of sources on both sides of the abortion debate. More on that in a moment.

But first, let's start at the top with AP's lede:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Both sides in the abortion fight raging in Kentucky agree on one thing: The stakes are as high as ever in a state that could become the first in the nation without an abortion clinic.
Political pressure has intensified since the Kentucky GOP took control of state government and moved quickly to pass new restrictions on abortions. And Republican Gov. Matt Bevin makes no apologies for waging a licensing fight against a Louisville clinic that is the last remaining facility performing abortions in the state.
Another battle-tested participant joins the fight this weekend. Operation Save America, a Christian fundamentalist group, plans to mobilize hundreds of activists to protest against EMW Women’s Surgical Center.
The group’s leaders state their purpose unequivocally: to rid Kentucky of its last abortion clinic. Some of the group’s followers were arrested during a protest outside EMW in the spring. The group has said it won’t use those same tactics in the coming days, but a federal judge on Friday ordered the creation of a “buffer zone” to keep protesters out of an area in front of the clinic. The pre-emptive move was requested by federal prosecutors to prevent protesters from blocking access to the surgical center.

A quick aside before I get to the real point of this post: You probably noticed that AP characterizes Operation Save America as "a Christian fundamentalist group." That's also how Wikipedia defines the group, previously known as Operation Rescue National. Is that proper usage of "fundamentalist," according to AP's own stylebook?

Here's what the stylebook says under its "religious movements" entry:

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