Salt Lake Tribune

A big news story: Scouting was a mainstream thing, embracing a vague faith. What now?

A big news story: Scouting was a mainstream thing, embracing a vague faith. What now?

If you grew up male in the 1950s and ‘60s — especially in the American heartland and the Bible Belt — the odds were good that you knew the following by memory: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

If you grew up as a Texas Baptist, as I did, then Scouting was another one of those church things, but it wasn’t totally a church thing.

You knew that the Boy Scout oath mentioned “God,” but not “Jesus,” and you knew that this meant Scouting was interfaith. You knew that when you went to big Scouting events you would meet boys from other flocks — Methodist, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, Catholic, etc. This was one of the first settings in which you met guys active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Scouting was an “American” thing, a perfect example of what scholars would call “civil religion,” with a lowest-common-denominator creed that united as many people as possible. That was back when you could say “morally straight” without people flinching.

So Scouting was a religious thing — but not too religious. That’s the paradox at the heart of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), which grew out of my recent post: “Do generic Scouts have a future? (Wait! What was that about Latter-day Saints cutting ties?).” Here’s a key chunk of that post, focusing on basic Scouting math, religious groups and the movement’s attempts to survive the Sexual Revolution:

So, 71 percent of all Scout units were, at that time, linked to faith-based groups, with the LDS ranked No. 1 and the United Methodists No. 2. And what about the Baptists? As of two years ago — when the Boy Scouts decided to accept girls who identify as boys — the Association of Baptists for Scouting (ABS) reported that it had nearly 2.3 million members. At that time, about 60 percent of the association’s members were Southern Baptists.

It would appear that it is hard to ponder Scouting’s future without considering the impact of the movement’s policies on sex and gender and its standing among religious groups — especially the United Methodists and various kinds of Baptists. And the believers formerly known as Mormons?

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One of journalism's oddest assignments: 'Polygamy beat' at Salt Lake Tribune

One of journalism's oddest assignments: 'Polygamy beat' at Salt Lake Tribune

Mormon polygamists are notoriously tough to interview and photograph unless there’s some sort of prior trust relationship. That’s why I was amazed to see photos in the High Country News of an annual polygamist gathering in southeast Utah.

The photos by Shannon Mullane, which unfortunately are copyrighted and can’t be reproduced here, are really good. They are also very human; polygamists giving each other back rubs and hugs; going on rafting trips and having picnics. Access like that comes from hanging out with people and showing up year after year as they get to know you. (I had to do a lot of that while researching my book on Appalachian Pentecostal serpent handlers.)

What’s different about this piece is that the families portrayed here are dressed like normal people, not like the women wearing long, flowered dresses and braided hair swept up into puffy coifs who get shown on TV.

On a Saturday in July, the sun shone on the red-rock cliffs of southeastern Utah. Heidi Foster sat on the banks of the Colorado River, handing out fruit snacks to kids from polygamous families.

Foster, a plural wife from the suburbs of Salt Lake City, was among about 130 people on a river trip. Foster, who brought five of her own children, saw it as part of an important weekend where her kids could drop their guard and be themselves. “If someone asks, ‘How many moms do you have?’ you can tell them,” Foster said.

The rafting was one of the highlights of the annual Rock Rally, a five-day polygamous jamboree at Rockland Ranch, a polygamous community about 40 minutes south of Moab. The rally included hiking, zip-lining, rafting and a dance with a country music band from a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona line.

I looked at the byline, did some digging and realized that the writer, Nate Carlisle, has something called the polygamy beat with the Salt Lake Tribune. Never knew there was such an animal, but the Tribune has had the beat for years. Carlisle took it on in 2006.

It’s a very complex assignment with the need for deep sources.

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Salt Lake Tribune's hit piece on Catholic priest departs from newspaper's typically evenhanded coverage

Salt Lake Tribune's hit piece on Catholic priest departs from newspaper's typically evenhanded coverage

I’m used to good journalism coming from the Salt Lake Tribune, including news on the religion beat.

That’s why a recent story posted about a Catholic priest’s new parish assignment has me wondering if reporters ever leave their desks these days to do actual shoe-leather reporting.

The piece I’m singling out could have been — and probably was — done exclusively over the phone.

I’ve left out the first few paragraphs about the mother of one local Catholic family, preferring to focus on the priest in question.

Over the past year in her parish in the foothills of Salt Lake City — which includes St. Ambrose Church and J.E. Cosgriff Memorial Catholic School — problems with priests have riled the small faith community and prompted some, like the Donnellys, to step away.

The previous priest there was charged last fall with patronizing a prostitute. The new priest starting this fall has a history of posting profane things online.

Previous priest Andrzej Skrzypiec, who pleaded no contest, is now being sent to another school. The Rev. Erik Richtsteig, who will replace him at this church, was counseled about his online posts that promote hate of LGBTQ groups and mock women, and will lead weekly Mass for children from 4 years old to 15.

More than 150 parents have signed a petition hoping to block Richtsteig’s move to their parish and school; he’s scheduled to start Thursday.

Various parents have documented Richtsteig’s social media posts.

In one image on his blog, Richtsteig edited an assault rifle into his hands. In a post on Facebook, he said that images shared by LGBTQ individuals in June (which is Pride month) look “like a gnome vomited” and promised he wouldn’t accept a friend request from those with a rainbow filter in their picture.

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Salt Lake Tribune has best take when covering LDS shift on status of gay members' children

Salt Lake Tribune has best take when covering LDS shift on status of gay members' children

Well, that was weird.

Just over three years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its policy of refusing to baptize children of gay church members until said children are 18, the church’s leaders reversed themselves.

Left hanging amidst all the news coverage yesterday was an answer to why the church leaders changed course so quickly. The big question: Was this a matter of doctrine or changing political realities?

The Deseret News, which is as close as one can get to an official voice of the church, said the following:

SALT LAKE CITY — Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender may now be blessed as infants and later baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to updates announced Thursday to November 2015 church policies intended at the time to maintain family harmony but perceived as painful by some supporters of the LGBT community.

The church also will update its handbook of instructions for leaders to remove the label of apostasy for homosexual behavior that was applied beginning in November 2015, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who announced the changes on behalf of the First Presidency on Thursday morning during the leadership session of the church’s 189th Annual General Conference…

In a news release, the First Presidency said the changes were the result of extended counseling with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and "fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters."

The article added that the switch was a change in church policies, not in church doctrine, but then added that “current revelation overtakes past teachings.”

So, maybe someone had a revelation about this? You see, “revelation” is not a word typically associated with policy decisions. That’s a doctrine word.

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Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning up my back yard in the Seattle suburb where I live when two Mormon missionaries walked up. Of course they wanted to talk.

I didn’t agree with their theology, nor did I want start a discussion of the Mother God and other doctrinal clashes between Trinitarian Christianity and their faith.

How could I, I wondered, engage them as human beings? It was getting on in the evening and they were clearly tired.

An idea occurred to me. I mentioned how the Pentecostal and charismatic movement is the world’s fastest-growing kind of Christianity and how it shares something in common with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prophecy, I explained, is a current reality with both groups. The missionaries clearly perked up and we had a good talk.

Now, what would this look like in the news?

It was unusual to see Tuesday’s story in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the prophetic gift actually works. Veteran religion reporter Peggy Stack began the piece this way:

By his own account, Russell M. Nelson speaks often to God, or, rather, God speaks often to him.

Nelson, the 94-year-old president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently that he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a distinct impression that he should go to the Dominican Republic.

Within days, the Church News reported, the energetic nonagenarian was on a plane to that Caribbean nation.

This is an “era of unprecedented revelation,” Nelson told the missionaries gathered to hear him there Sept. 1.

Indeed, in his first nearly nine months as the Utah-based faith’s top “prophet, seer and revelator," Nelson has used the term “revelation” again and again to describe his motivation for initiatives and changes.

Few of his predecessors were so open –- or blatant –- about claiming that God personally revealed truths to them as Nelson has been ever since he took over headship of the church in January.

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How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

GetReligion readers: Allow me to offer my own mea culpa. It’s not for something as juicy -- or as damaging to our  national conversation -- as anything said by Roseanne Barr or Samantha Bee. But given what I do here at GetReligion, it's worth noting.

Before you start reading all my past "Global Wire" posts -- go ahead; I dare you -- it’s not for anything I've posted on this website. Though I’m sure more than a few of you think I should be apologizing for just about everything I’ve posted here over the past three-plus years.

Rather, it's for a story on anti-Semitism in Western Europe produced by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service that I reposted on my personal Facebook page. It violated whatever advice I repeat here ad infinitum.

Some respected Facebook friends called me out on the post, and rightly so. Hence, my mea culpa. (More on this below.)

What advice do I refer to: Approach the journalism you consume from a place of media literacy.

Consider what’s missing from a story. Is it meant to play to your fears and biases? Was important context left out? How about alternative viewpoints? Do not let emotions overwhelm your intellect.

Above all, perhaps, don’t further circulate a story that fails the smell test by impulsively reposting it on social media, where the echo chamber is sure to run with it as if it was unquestionable gospel.

I’m a presumed expert on all this -- or so I've convinced my GR bosses. So if only for the sake of this post, please accept that I actually am I, despite this mea culpa.

So just what am I apologizing for?


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And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

In a week that’s been a continuous wave of #ChurchToo revelations –- including a massive investigation of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and yesterday’s news about Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page –- I wanted to draw your attention to a related debate and quasi-scandal occurring in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Long-time Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Stack, along with education reporter Benjamin Wood, came out with a story Monday about a church decision to allow a second adult in the room while bishops question teenagers about their sexual sins.

Say what? This is a fascinating look at Latter-day Saints’ lives that one wouldn’t know unless you were in a culture where your bishop can ask you pointed questions about whether you’ve been chaste.

It's not easy writing about sexual matters in a PG-rated fashion fit for a daily newspaper, but these reporters did a pretty good job at it. The key: The reporters have provide enough background to help outsiders, but not overstate the obvious for regular readers in Mormon country.

For more, read here:

Amid a grass-roots outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former Mormon mission leader, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency unveiled revised guidelines Monday for one-on-one meetings between members and local lay leaders while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”
In a document titled “Preventing and Responding to Abuse,” congregational leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to invite a parent or other adult to sit in an adjoining room when meeting with women and children.

The Deseret News also had a piece on the document here

Those of you who’ve been following the various accusations leveled at evangelical Protestant ministers in recent weeks may have missed a bombshell that broke last week in Utah.

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BYU, the Big 12 and the LGBT attack on the university's honor code: what's really at issue

BYU, the Big 12 and the LGBT attack on the university's honor code: what's really at issue

In a story for The Christian Chronicle earlier this summer, I wrote about the intensifying clash between faith-based universities and gay-rights warriors:

Revoke Christian universities’ eligibility for federal student financial aid.
Strip their membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
That’s what major gay-rights groups would like to do with higher education schools that espouse traditional biblical beliefs on sexuality and gender identity.

“Some voices are calling for Christian schools to be expelled from the NCAA, and others are calling for Pell Grants to be denied to students who attend our universities,” said Bruce McLarty, president of 6,000-student Harding University in Searcy, Ark. “These attacks seem to be coming from every direction these days.”

Against that backdrop, this week's news that LGBT forces are pushing to keep Mormon-owned Brigham Young University out of the Big 12 Conference is really no surprise.

This is how a column on the Sports cover of today's Dallas Morning News boils down the issue:

In the last 36 hours or so, Big 12 expansion has turned into a public debate on social issues.
Forget TV network preferences, or markets or academics or alumni bases or athletic programs or anything else that might be on the table when Big 12 presidents finally get around to a decision. The current front-burner issue involves BYU’s Honor Code and the LGBT community.
As it applies to BYU’s hopes of joining the Big 12, it’s now a significant factor, multiple industry and Big 12 school sources confirmed Tuesday. Suddenly, BYU’s strong football tradition, national following and 63,000-capacity stadium may not be enough to secure Big 12 membership.
“It is a serious issue,” said an industry source familiar with the Big 12 discussions. “Whether it keeps them out or not, it is a serious issue.”

Recent troubles at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University, of course, play into the BYU question. Here's some helpful context from our own tmatt — from his nationally syndicated religion column back in June:

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Young, gay Mormons and suicide: The Salt Lake Tribune tries to do the real numbers

Young, gay Mormons and suicide: The Salt Lake Tribune tries to do the real numbers

It was one of the odder headlines I’ve seen lately: "Suicide fears, if not actual suicides, rise in wake of Mormon same-sex policy."

Underneath is a narrative of how last fall’s announcement of a revised policy on membership requirements for gay Mormons may have vastly increased Utah suicides.

After seven paragraphs came the whopper: The premise behind the story has no basis in fact. But it sounded true. It may still be true. Lots of observers think it's true.

We've heard this before: Truthiness strikes again. We can debate the facts later.

It’s not the way I would have written such a piece, but it does draw you in. You almost have to read the entire overture up to the clincher paragraph to see how it is done. Here’s how it starts:

The fears were there right from the start -- that the LDS Church's new policy on same-sex couples would make gay Mormons feel more judged, more marginalized, more misunderstood and that more of them would take their own lives.
Since early November -- when the edict labeling gay LDS couples as "apostates" and denying their children baptism until age 18 took hold -- social media sites have been buzzing with tales of loss, depression and death. Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts. Activists have been bombarded with grief-stricken family members seeking comfort and counsel.
Wendy Williams Montgomery, an Arizona-based Mormon mom with a gay son, says she began receiving email or Facebook messages from bereaved families nearly daily, mourning a loved one's suicide.

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