Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

Associated Press story on Wyoming judge is fair enough, but about that 'anti-gay' headline ...

Associated Press story on Wyoming judge is fair enough, but about that 'anti-gay' headline ...

Pretty nice story, Associated Press.

But the headline? It's less than perfect.

That's my quick assessment of the wire service's coverage of a decision concerning a Wyoming judge who refuses to perform same-sex marriages.

The news report itself is clear and concise. The 740-word piece simply reports the facts. It avoids loaded (read: biased) language.

A big chunk of the opening:

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A small-town judge who says her religious beliefs prevent her from presiding over same-sex marriages was publicly censured by the Wyoming Supreme Court on Tuesday.
But while the court said her conduct undermines the integrity of the judicial system, it does not warrant removal from the bench. In a 3-2 decision, Justice Kate Fox wrote that Judge Ruth Neely violated judicial conduct code but removing Neely would "unnecessarily circumscribe protected expression."
"Judge Neely shall either perform no marriage ceremonies or she shall perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple's sexual orientation," Fox wrote.
Neely has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage, and Fox said that the case was not about same-sex marriage or the reasonableness of religious beliefs. ...
Neely's case has similarities to legal action against a Kentucky clerk of court jailed briefly in 2015 after refusing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The case against clerk Kim Davis, a conservative Christian, sparked a national debate over the religious freedom of civil servants versus the civil rights of same-sex couples. Davis ultimately agreed to alter the licenses to remove her name and title. ...
(T)he dissenting justices argued that Neely didn't violate any judicial conduct code. "Wyoming law does not require any judge or magistrate to perform any particular marriage, and couples seeking to be married have no right to insist on a particular official as the officiant of their wedding," Justice Keith Kautz wrote in the dissent that was joined by Justice Michael K. Davis.

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From Muslim to Christian: The Atlantic offers sensitive look at Berlin community

From Muslim to Christian: The Atlantic offers sensitive look at Berlin community

When you share lentils and rice pilaf with people; when you attend church with them and talk to their pastor; when you pay a follow-up visit weeks later; you naturally convey a more intimate feel for your topic.  This traditional wisdom of journalism is used to great effect in The Atlantic's feature on Muslim converts to Christianity in Germany.

The writer, Laura Kasinof, talks to three Iranian refugees in Berlin. She gets an overview with their pastor, a Lutheran minister, as well as an interchurch leader. She conveys the jubilant mood at a worship service. And she attempts to hint at the size of the trend of conversion, although she doesn't get comprehensive figures.

Kasinof did the story on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Whatever the sum, it was well spent. Her article is sensitive and thoughtful, and vastly superior to a similar piece in the Daily Beast this spring. As my colleague Julia Duin said then, the Beast somehow managed to link the trend to the U.S. presidential elections. Almost like clicking a nation-level selfie.

Astonishingly, the Daily Beast article has no quotes from any actual refugees, except those it borrowed from a newspaper. The Atlantic article doesn't neglect that vital facet:

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Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Attention all supporters of strong, accurate religion-beat reporting: What is the first question a journalist needs to answer for readers when covering a "Lutheran church" story, especially when it is linked to controversy?

Let me raise the stakes a bit higher. This question is especially true when dealing with a flock located in Minnesota or elsewhere in the upper Midwest, which is often called the Lutheran Belt in American life because there are so many Lutheran congregations in that region.

The question: So what kind of Lutherans are we talking about?

Are we dealing with a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which, despite the presence of the E-word in the name, is a liberal flock on key issues of doctrine and moral theology? Or how about the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, located on the right side of the mainline Protestant world? Or how about the smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is also more doctrinally conservative than the ELCA?

So check out the top of this major story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this month. Yes, you'll have to look for clues in this long passage:

North Heights Lutheran, the one-time megachurch of Arden Hills, has run out of prayers.
The church is shutting down, the apparent victim of a civil war that has split it apart. After 70 years of weekly worship, the church’s last service will be Sunday.
“This took me by surprise,” 20-year member Zelda Erickson said Monday after learning of the closing at an announcement during Sunday’s church service. “I feel terrible about this.”

North Heights once had Sunday attendance of 3,400 at two church locations. But attendance has fallen recently to several hundred -- not enough to keep the church afloat.

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Not enough questions asked about bisexual student's ouster from Lutheran worship team

Not enough questions asked about bisexual student's ouster from Lutheran worship team

December is a season where Lutherans shine: Advent hymns on Lutheran Public Radio, Julfests and St. Lucia Day celebrations on Dec. 13.

None of this Ikea “winter holidays” stuff. Lutherans who stick with their traditions know how to keep watch until Christmas.

And so, in keeping with this solemn and thoughtful season, we have a piece from the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press about a bisexual student at Concordia University. When it comes to journalism issues, this story also includes a very crucial hole in the reporting.

A student at Concordia University in St. Paul is demanding protections for gays and lesbians after she said her relationship with another woman cost her a leadership role with a prominent student-led worship group.
Nikki Hagan, 19, of Woodbury said the student president of Concordia's 908 student ministry asked her to resign her informal post as the group's message coordinator soon after she posted on Facebook in November that she is bisexual and dating a woman.
"He asked me if I knew what the stance of the (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) church is against homosexuality," Hagan, a second-year student, said Friday.

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Religion ghosts in media coverage of 7-year-old who survived plane crash that killed her family? Pastor says yes

Religion ghosts in media coverage of 7-year-old who survived plane crash that killed her family? Pastor says yes

Was there a religion angle in the Sailor Gutzler story — and did the media ignore it?

Right after the start of the new year, 7-year-old Sailor made national headlines when she survived a plane crash that killed her family.

The lede of The Associated Press' riveting account:

KUTTAWA, Ky. (AP) — Bleeding and alone, 7-year-old Sailor Gutzler had just survived a plane crash that killed her family. She walked through about a mile of woods and thick briar patches, wearing a short-sleeve shirt, shorts and no shoes in near-freezing temperatures when she saw a light in the distance.
The beacon led her to Larry Wilkins' home, police said, and she knocked on the door. Wilkins answered to find a thin, black-haired girl, whimpering and trembling.
"I come to the door and there's a little girl, 7 years old, bloody nose, bloody arms, bloody legs, one sock, no shoes, crying," Wilkins, 71, told The Associated Press on Saturday. "She told me that her mom and dad were dead, and she had been in a plane crash, and the plane was upside down."
Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived at the crash scene Saturday to try to determine why the small Piper PA-34 crashed on Friday evening, killing four people, including the girl's parents, Marty Gutzler, 48, and his wife, Kimberly Gutzler, 46, authorities said.
Also killed were Sailor's sister Piper Gutzler, 9; and cousin Sierra Wilder, 14. All were from Nashville, Illinois. The bodies have been sent to Louisville for autopsies.
The plane reported engine trouble and lost contact with air traffic controllers around 5:55 p.m. CST, authorities said. Controllers had been trying to direct the pilot to an airport about 5 to 7 miles from the crash scene, authorities said.
About 40 minutes later, 911 dispatchers received a call from Wilkins, who reported that a girl who had been involved in a plane crash had walked to his home.

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Getting faith into SI story of patient D-League hoops star

Once again, I realize that the world of GetReligion readers seems to contain a stunningly low percentage of sports fans, especially in comparison with the American public as a whole. Nevertheless, I follow sports quite closely and I have always been fascinated by the unusually high percentage of sports stories that include faith angles. Most of the time — take the whole Baltimore Sun ignoring Ravens religion-angles thrend — my GetReligion posts on sports have been rather negative. You know the kind of story I’m talking about. A sports star plays the God card or offers a highly specific comment about the role of faith in his or her life and a journalists never looks into the details or offers any context for these words.

The negative tone is so common, in fact, that people drop me notes from time to time wanting to know if anyone covering sports ever gets one of these stories right. Well, remember that amazing Sports Illustrated story about the great UCLA hoops patriarch John Wooden and the challenge he faced, and met, learning to embrace the great center Lew Alcindor as he made his pilgrimage into Islam and became Kareem Abdul Jabbar?

Well, now a member of the SI staff — one Lee Jenkins — has provided another wonderful example of getting the faith-angle right. This time around, we’re talking about a back-of-the-book feature about a player who is just as obscure as Jabbar is famous. The man’s name is Ron Howard of the Fort Wayne, Ind., Mad Ants franchise in the NBA’s Development League and he recently broke the career scoring record for a player in this minor-league circuit.

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Jews and Jesus: A 'Spiritual Incursion' in St. Louis

The breaking news — only 2,000 years old — that Christians and Jews have vastly different views of Jesus made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the weekend (and was picked up nationally by Religion News Service this week). To be more specific, the Post-Dispatch featured a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation that seeks to convert Jews.

The newspaper’s main headline immediately cast the effort in a negative light:

Now, according to my online dictionary, incursion implies “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory.” Perhaps the headline is a major reason that the story upset so many folks in the LCMS. That, and the fact that the piece used phrases such as “targeted for conversion” to describe evangelism efforts by the Lutheran congregation.

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Generic 'God talk' or something more?

Well here’s a pretty good example of what appears to be the failure to get religion details into a story. Here’s the top of the story from Yahoo! sports:

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The ghost in Bud Day's obituary

Of the many wonderful parts of the New York Times, my favorite is the obituary section. Perhaps it’s being a pastor’s daughter, perhaps it’s that my mother’s side of the family were morticians, but I love reading a good obituary. Let’s look at one headlined “Col. Bud Day, Vietnam War Hero, Dies at 88.”

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