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Los Angeles Times updates Scouting abuse: Religion angles? What religion angles?

Los Angeles Times updates Scouting abuse: Religion angles? What religion angles?

Journalists who have covered decades worth of stories linked to the sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic clergy know that there are church leaders and laity who believe all or most discussions of this topic are fueled by some form of anti-Catholicism.

Yes, these in-denial Catholics are out there. Editors will hear from them.

But, in my experience, most Catholics who complain about news coverage of this hellish subject do not attempt to deny the size or the severe nature of this crisis and, especially, they want more digging into topics linked to the sinful and illegal cover-ups of these crimes.

So what angers these Catholics?

Truth is, they want to know why so much of the news coverage seems to assume that this is a CATHOLIC problem — period. They want to know why there isn’t more ink spilled (and legislation passed) that addresses these scandals in a wider context that includes at least three other groups — public schools, other religious bodies and the organization previously known as the Boy Scouts of America.

This brings us to a giant Los Angeles Times update on documents linked to the Scouts and years fog and confusion surrounding adults abusing Scouts. As this story makes clear, the Times has played a large role in dragging lots of this information out into the open. It’s strong stuff.

When I saw this story (behind the usual firewall), I wondered: Is this story going to offer some kind of perspective on how the Scouting scandal, and even public-school cases, compare with the Catholic scandal. Also, will it get into the religious implications of the Scouting scandals, in terms of how religious groups — hosts for many, many Scouting operations — have responded?

The answer to that: No.

We will come back to that. First, here is the overture:

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Background for journalists: Will the Catholic church excommunicate Cuomo over abortion law?

Background for journalists: Will the Catholic church excommunicate Cuomo over abortion law?

Politics and religion have come into conflict once again after Roman Catholic conservatives called for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be excommunicated, splitting the church’s hierarchy on how to deal with politicians who further an agenda contrary to the Vatican’s teachings.

The call came after Cuomo signed into state law a measure that expanded abortion rights across the state. After passing the Senate, a chamber newly-controlled by Democrats after this past November’s elections, on Jan. 22, Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act. The law codifies the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling to allow abortion in the event the Supreme Court were to overturn it in the future – something Democrats fear could occur in the next few years.

The law takes the Supreme Court ruling to new levels. It allows an abortion to take place up to the day of birth. The law also says that if a baby survives an abortion, a doctor is not required to save the baby’s life. In addition, a doctor’s assistant can perform a surgical abortions.

Within hours of its signing, Cuomo, also a Democrat, ordered that One World Trade Center be lit in pink in celebration. Anti-aboriton advocates across the country were swift in their condemnation. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan — along with the Catholic bishops across the state — signed a letter condemning the bill, adding that “our beloved state has become a more dangerous one for women and their unborn babies.”

Days later, he backed off the excommunication word (Cuomo is a Catholic who is divorced and lives with his longtime girlfriend), while many voices on the right called the new law “infanticide.”

Dolan joined the excommunication fray, saying a week later during an appearance on Fox News Channel that such a move “would be counterproductive.”

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Friday Five: #ExposeChristianSchools, Trump's Bible, buried lede, tmatt's future, Mariano Rivera

Friday Five: #ExposeChristianSchools, Trump's Bible, buried lede, tmatt's future, Mariano Rivera

“Reporter Trolls Christian Schools” was the headline on a recent Wall Street Journal column after a New York Times reporter asked for feedback from people who had attended Christian schools.

A lot of conservatives saw the request — tied to the viral hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools that emerged after headlines over Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, teaching at an evangelical school — as a pretense for a looming hit piece.

In fact, the actual New York Times article published drew praise from some, including a Southern Baptist minister who called it “insightful reporting and not one-sided negative.”

Me? I didn’t find the piece terribly insightful, enlightening or revealing of Christian school experiences that I know about.

This will give you an idea of the tone: The Times starts with quotes from those who “struggled with bullying and depression” at Christian schools, moves to quotes from those who “experienced lasting pain and confusion” at Christian schools and finishes with — this must be the “not one-sided negative” part — those who “shared stories of love and acceptance of others” at Christian schools.

Got a different view of the article? Feel free to comment below.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is one of those weeks when a single story or issue didn’t really stand out. So let’s go with President Donald Trump’s tweet supporting Bible literacy courses in public schools.

I wrote an entire post about this subject earlier this week, and since I see our analytics, I know many of you missed reading it.

So here’s another chance to check it out.

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Big news on New York's child sexual abuse law -- buried in 22nd paragraph of Gray Lady's story

Big news on New York's child sexual abuse law -- buried in 22nd paragraph of Gray Lady's story

There is an important story — a change many years in the making — found in the reporting way down under this recent headline in The New York Times: “They Were Sexually Abused Long Ago as Children. Now They Can Sue in N.Y.”

As often happens with headlines, there’s a world of content hidden in that undefined pronoun — “they.” Who is included in that “they”?

Now here me say this. There are crucial facts are in this Times report. Readers just have to dig way, way down into the body of the story to find them.

But let’s start with this question: If legislators in New York have been struggling for years to pass the Child Victims Act, why did it suddenly pass with next to zero opposition? Also, in the final stages of this legal war, who were the final opponents to this bill and why, in the end, did some of them change their minds?

The answer is there — way down in the 22nd paragraph.

Let’s start with the overture:

ALBANY — For more than a decade, victims of childhood sexual abuse in New York have asked lawmakers here for the chance to seek justice — only to be blocked by powerful interests including insurance companies, private schools and leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish communities.

Boo Catholics and private schools! So what changed? Keep reading.

As activists and Democratic officials pushed to strengthen protections for child abuse victims, those opposing interests — wealthy and closely tied to members of the then Republican-controlled State Senate — warned that permitting victims to revive decades-old claims could lead churches, schools and community organizations into bankruptcy. For 13 years, the so-called Child Victims Act foundered.

But in November, Democrats won control of the Senate. And on Monday, both the Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Child Victims Act, ending a bitter, protracted battle with some of the most powerful groups in the state. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has promised to sign the bill into law.

Every senator, Republican and Democrat, voted for the bill — even though it never even came to the Senate floor for a vote under the Republican majority. The bill passed the Assembly 130-3.

So what changed?

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Andrew Sullivan: You want to see hate? Why did media Twitter-verse want to punch out some kids?

Andrew Sullivan: You want to see hate? Why did media Twitter-verse want to punch out some kids?

Your GetReligionistas could have run nothing the past week except for news and commentary about the Covington Catholic High School teens and we still would not have looked at half of the worthy stuff that was out there.

I could run 10 think pieces today on this topic and they all would be worthy of your attention.

The bottom line: This disaster is turning into a watershed moment in media-bias studies, one that — for people of good will in the middle of American public discourse — is increasingly being seen as a parable involving more than read MAGA hats.

Then again, debates about the Covington Catholics would be snuffed out like a candle if Ruth Bader Ginsberg announced that she was retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court. At that point, screams about Loud Dogma would drown out everything else.

Back to the Covington teens. At this point, there’s no reason to read people on the far left or the far right. The ruts there have been dug pretty deep by this point.

Thus, I would urge readers who care about the mainstream press, and religion-beat news in particular, to seek out voices toward the unpredictable middle of American public discourse. For example, see the Caitlin Flanagan piece in The Atlantic that ran with this headline: “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story — And the damage to their credibility will be lasting.”

The must-read essay that journalists really need to ponder, however, is by Andrew Sullivan, a political and cultural commentator whose voice is hard to label — other than the fact that he is an old-school liberal on First Amendment issues. The New York magazine headline: “The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate.”

On one level, Sullivan’s piece focuses on the same question that I put at the center of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast: “Why did Covington Catholic boys instantly become the bad guys?” As opposed to what? As opposed to the Black Hebrew Israelite protesters whose verbal attacks on the Catholic teens lit the fuse on this entire media exposition.

How did elite media handle the stunning direct quotes — they’re on videotape — packed with hate that these bullhorn screamers aimed at the Catholic boys?

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Chaos in Trump White House! But it has nothing to do with fights over culture and religion!

Chaos in Trump White House! But it has nothing to do with fights over culture and religion!

The big news in The Washington Post this weekend? The headline! "Inside Trump’s White House, New York moderates spark infighting and suspicion."

This was a shocker built on two stunning revelations.

First, did you know that Donald Trump -- who has surrounded himself with chaos at every stage of his public life -- has created a White House staff that appears to exist in a constant state of chaos? Shocking! As many has noted, Trump has always said that he enjoys hearing a wide range of viewpoints, even if that creates conflict, knowing that he gets to make the final decision.

Then there was shocker No. 2: Did you know that the style, priorities and values of "moderate" (a label that in elite media-speak means, "good guys in this context") New Yorkers are often different kinds of people than the populist and cultural conservatives who live in red-zip-code America? Can you imagine?!

Now, when you look at this buzz-producing Post political thriller from a GetReligion perspective it contains one more stunning revelation: Apparently these chaotic clashes are rooted in personalities and pure political gamesmanship and have nothing to do with hot-button issues linked to culture and religion!

At least, that is how things play out when the script is written by the pros at the Post political desk. Here is the overture and how-we-did-it summary for this feature:

Inside the White House, they are dismissed by their rivals as “the Democrats.”
Outspoken, worldly and polished, this coterie of ascendant Manhattan business figures-turned-presidential advisers is scrambling the still-evolving power centers swirling around President Trump.

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Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Why write a long intro?

Let's just get to the preachy lede of a story in the Religion News Service on the capture of a bombing suspect:

(RNS) The man who led police to the bombing suspect in New York and New Jersey was none other than another Asian immigrant.
Harinder Singh Bains, a native of India who practices the Sikh faith,  said he saw Ahmad Khan Rahami "right in front of my face" and made a call to the police after matching the man’s image with the one Bains saw on TV.
Rahami, who is accused of placing the bombs that exploded Saturday (Sept. 17) in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and in Seaside Park, N.J., was sleeping in the doorway of Bains’ bar in Linden, N.J., when Bains spotted him.

It's too bad RNS chose to put its preacher foot forward, because the article does have some virtues. It plugs Bains' action into presidential politics, or tries to. It narrates the police takedown of Rahami. And it tells a little about the Sikh faith -- though, in my opinion, too little.

The RNS article quotes Bains saying that he himself could have mistaken for the perpetrator: "After an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent."

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When searching for 'evangelical' voters, maybe journalists should start with folks in pews?

When searching for 'evangelical' voters, maybe journalists should start with folks in pews?

Anyone who has lived in Texas knows that, in some communities, it seems like there are more Baptists than there are people. For every 100 folks who say they are Baptists, about 20-30 are going to be seen in a pew on a regular basis.

Anyone who has lived in, oh, Maryland knows that the state has a rich Catholic heritage. But what is the percentage of "Catholics" in the state who actually attend Mass on a regular basis, let alone practice the teachings of the faith?

Anyone who has lived in New York knows there is a wide gap between the people who are identified as Jews (the Bernie Sanders non-Jewish Jews niche is in here) and the number of people who practice any version of the Jewish faith, either on the doctrinal left or right.

Let's do one more. Anyone who has lived in or near Utah knows that when people talk about the Mormon population, that includes many "Jack Mormons" who are part of this flock on the cultural level, sort of, but are not active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What's my point? If you ask Americans if they are "born-again Christians," you are going to get totals that are way, way higher than the number of people who frequent church pews.

Clearly, if journalists (and pollsters) are actually interested in what is happening in this year's bizarre Republican race for the White House, someone is going to have to come up with questions that probe the gap between people who self-identify as "evangelicals" (or who say they are part of evangelical churches) and those whose beliefs and lifestyles have anything to do with mainstream evangelicalism.

The bottom line: What does it mean to say that Citizen Donald Trump is winning the "evangelical" vote with 30-plus percent of that vague, undefined total?

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Angels and religion ghosts in American Bible Society's flight from New York City

Angels and religion ghosts in American Bible Society's flight from New York City

Let us now praise the fact that The New York Times offered a story about the departure of the American Bible Society from the Big Apple, even if that story was labeled as a "Building Blocks" feature that focused on the architecture of the building at 1865 Broadway, rather than covering some of the cultural implications of this symbolic evangelical group's flight to a less demanding location.

As the old saying goes: New York, New York. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere. Well, what about the opposite?

There are moments when this piece hints at the larger dramas behind the architectural lede. Still, let's let the Times team start where it wanted to start:

“Behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
Angels have never been especially conspicuous around Columbus Circle in Manhattan. But it is hard to look at 1865 Broadway, the former headquarters of theAmerican Bible Society, and not think for a moment about the ladder of Jacob’s dream, as described in Genesis 28:12.
If the bold, Brutalist rungs of the main facade do not persuade you of a biblical provenance, you are also free to read symbolism into the 12 deep recesses at each floor. Might they represent the 12 tribes of Israel? Or the Twelve Apostles?

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