Salt Lake Tribune

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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Mercy, media! Stop the snark about the pope's Holy Year!

Mercy, media! Stop the snark about the pope's Holy Year!

I like puns and wordplay as much as anyone else (actually, more than anyone else, to hear some of my friends complain). But when a joke is a little too obvious -- as when headlines quote Pope Francis saying that mercy "trumps" judgment -- then it gets, well, a little too obvious.

Two of them did it yesterday, in announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Francis. It's supposed to be a year when the faithful gain forgiveness for sins and rededicate themselves to modeling Christian values. But at least two stories start with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink toward American politics:

"Opening the Holy Year, Francis says mercy always trumps judgment," says Crux, briefly forsaking its usual high road.

"Pope Francis: Mercy trumps moralizing as he launches Holy Year," echoes the Salt Lake Tribune, as the cap for a dismaying blend of fact and sarcasm.

Francis, of course, said nothing about presidential politics or the judgmental Donald Trump in launching the Year of Mercy. He merely reminded us to care about what he believes God cares about, and to act in accordance with our beliefs. And in grand papal imagery, he symbolized the opening of the year by pushing open a large bronze Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica, allowing clergy and pilgrims alike to enter and find mercy.

After Crux pushed past its little dig at Trump, it did provide a nice article. It also focuses on a quote used in many other media reports:

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Describing new Mormon policy against baptizing children of gay parents is tough sell for most media

Describing new Mormon policy against baptizing children of gay parents is tough sell for most media

It was a tough religion story to write. A major religious group decided it would not baptize the children of its gay adherents and their decision was slidden unannounced past the church's rank and file. It ended up on Facebook and cause such a ruckus late last week, that reporters had to scramble to put something together just before a weekend, with the hopes of adding to it later on.

Probably the best summation of the newest Latter-day Saints policy was best summed up by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune:

No part of the new LDS policy on same-sex couples has generated more controversy — and criticism — than its prohibition against Mormon rituals for their children.
Stories flooding social media tell of canceled baby blessings, postponed baptisms, aborted priesthood ordinations and withdrawn missionary applications. Even many devout Mormons — including congregational and regional leaders — report distress, despondence and despair over the upheaval.

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Mormon leader calls for balance, and Associated Press calls it 'transformation'

Mormon leader calls for balance, and Associated Press calls it 'transformation'

Mainstream media apparently are still hyperventilating over Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge?" remark, plugging it into other news stories. This week's version is a speech by Mormon Elder Dallin H. Oaks, who called yesterday for religious and secular people to respect each others' rights and beliefs.

"Compromise" and "balance" were the keywords in Oaks' speech at the Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference in California. Oaks, a member of the first-echelon the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, urged his listeners to tune out extremist voices on either side.

He preached a view not of an opaque wall between church and state, but a "curtain" that allows "the passage of light and love and mutual support." But he also said that county clerks -- all but saying Kim Davis' name -- need to put aside their own beliefs and perform their sworn duties.

Nice olive branch, don't ya think? But the Associated Press version makes it sound like a p.r. strategy, inserting commentary into what was supposed to be a news report:

The speech marked another landmark moment in the conservative religion's transformation from a faith that frowned on gays and lesbians to one becoming more welcoming and compassionate, albeit in small steps that may seem nominal to outsiders.
As with the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Francis, the conservative Mormons are trying to assert a softer position in society, while holding firm inside the church to its own doctrines against gay marriage and homosexual activity.

This story is almost like a candy store for media critics like myself. First, we have the LDS Church called "conservative" -- the word is used three times in this story -- without explaining what that means. Social? Cultural? Political? Theological?

The article also calls the talk a big sign of "transformation," as if the church is about to change its basic beliefs. It's odd that AP invokes Francis, who is likewise prodding the Catholic Church toward a gentler attitude without anything like a transformation.  

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