World Vision

LGBTQ redux: Seattle Times leans left while covering church struggles over the issue

LGBTQ redux: Seattle Times leans left while covering church struggles over the issue

On Sunday morning, the Seattle Times ran this story: “ ‘I am a gay Christian’: Debates about LGBTQ acceptance roil Seattle-area non-profits, churches.”

It was an even-handed headline, in the online version.

But in the print version, which was just above the fold on A1, the headline was: “When religion discriminates: LGBTQ debate roils faith groups.”

Reporters have no control over headlines, so this one inadvertently let us know what direction the story was going: Traditional religious groups are inherently discriminatory.

I am glad the Times tackled this, as it is a real issue here in the Pacific Northwest (even though as of Sunday night it only ranked third in reader viewership, after stories about an alleged remnant of an alien civilization and the burst water pipes that will happen if Seattle has an earthquake like Anchorage did last week).

But one does tire of the black/white view some reporters adopt. Which is: Liberal religious folks are good. Conservative believers are jerks.

Let me point readers to a multi-faceted story on the Christian music scene in Seattle that appeared three years ago this month in the Stranger, not a publication that is pro-faith by any means. Both sides were represented accurately and sympathetically.

So it is possible, but I can’t say the Times reporter did the same. Her article begins:

As board president of World Concern, Jun Young was a believer.

He felt called to the Christian development agency’s mission, spoke about it to donors, traveled to Sri Lanka to see the work up close and donated tens of thousands of dollars through his public relations company, Zum Communications.

“You are beloved.” That’s the message he said Shoreline-based World Concern imparts to marginalized people around the world. “I so believe in that. And I still do. It pains me that I can’t be part of that.”

This summer, parent organization CRISTA Ministries — a more than $100-million operation that runs schools, retirement communities and radio stations in addition to its international relief work — told Young he would not be invited to serve a second, 3-year term on its board or World Concern’s.

At 45, he had just unearthed a secret he had kept even from himself: He was gay.

The story then introduces us to two local Christian organizations who’ve been struggling with the issue.

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Old questions about the headline you did not see: Why didn't press spot royal 'fetus bump'?

Old questions about the headline you did not see: Why didn't press spot royal 'fetus bump'?

For years, it was one of the most painful, divisive journalism questions faced by reporters and editors, a question that they couldn’t look up in the Associated Press Stylebook — the bible of most mainstream newsrooms.

The question: When is an unborn child an “unborn child” or a “baby”? When should reporters use the supposedly neutral term “fetus”?

Here is the top of a recent news story that serves as a perfect, and tragic, example of this journalism issue:

A grieving widower has revealed why he shared photos of his dead wife and unborn daughter after they were killed by an allegedly drunk driver.

Krystil Kincaid was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Alvalynn, when their car was struck on a California highway on Sept. 9. Her heartbroken husband, Zach, who lives in San Jacinto, Calif., decided he wanted the world to see the unsettling images of the 29-year-old mother and their little girl lying in a coffin together at their wake.

That’s a tragic example of this journalism issue.

Here is another new case study, drawn from current celebrity clickbait news. After all, it’s hard for journalists to ignore a royal baby bump.

In this case, the New York Times headline proclaims: “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Announce She’s Pregnant.” The lede is where we see the “problem.”

LONDON — Another royal baby is on the way.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are expecting a child in the spring, Kensington Palace announced.

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Saying goodbye to 'The Middle,' a rare Middle Class comedy (and we know what that means)

Saying goodbye to 'The Middle,' a rare Middle Class comedy (and we know what that means)

Anyone who has been alive and watching American television in recent months (or reading mainstream media sources that provide entertainment news), knows that Roseanne Barr has made a spectacular return to the air, with the rebirth of the classic "Roseanne" sitcom.

Whether this is a spectacularly good thing or a spectacularly bad thing depends on how you view the fact that Barr has included some material in the show linked to her belief that Donald Trump is not the Antichrist.

However, some journalists and critics who have attempted to view this phenomenon with a wee bit of objectivity have observed that "Roseanne," the show, is once again offering glimpses of ordinary, Middle and even lower Middle Class American life -- a topic usually ignored by elite Hollywood.

Now, the season finale of "Roseanne" took place about the same time as the farewell episode of "The Middle" after nine years as a successful series that was rarely noticed by critics -- as opposed to millions of American viewers. Variety noticed the timing of these events.

Also, a fine review/essay by Robert Lloyd in The Los Angeles Times dug deep enough to notice that these two shows shared cultural DNA. The headline: "Before 'Roseanne's' revival, 'The Middle' carried the torch for America's heartland." Here is a chunk of that piece:

Set in the middle of the country, or near it, with characters on an economic middle rung, or just below it -- the other "middle" is middle age -- the series stars Patricia Heaton, who had spent an earlier nine years married to Ray Romano on "Everybody Loves Raymond," as Frankie Heck, wife, mother, daughter, dental assistant.

Premiering in September 2009, when the shocks of the Great Recession were still reverberating and the subprime housing crisis was still having its way with the economy, "The Middle" is the sort of show that were it to debut in 2018, would be taken as a network responding to the Trump election. (The series had in fact been in development since 2006.)

The "middle" also refers, of course, to the middle of this nation, as well as the Middle Class.

When you start talking about "Middle-Class values" this is often code language for You Know What. See if you can spot the GetReligion angle in this next passage.

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Royal wedding quiz: Must a 'Protestant' be baptized in order to become an Anglican?

Royal wedding quiz: Must a 'Protestant' be baptized in order to become an Anglican?

If you hang out much with Anglicans, you know that many are not fond of references to King Henry VIII, and especially the role that his private affairs played in the history of their church. I have, as a reporter, heard my share of complaints about that -- especially during the decade when I was an Episcopalian.

However, it is kind of hard to talk about the history of the English Reformation without mentioning the guy.

In the end, the Church of England split off from the Church of Rome. For most people, especially low-church Anglicans, this (a) makes it part of the wider world of Protestantism. However, it should be noted that some people argue that (b) the Anglican via media -- a "middle way" between Protestantism and Catholicism -- is its own unique form of faith. The odds are good that some Anglican readers will be offended by my description of (a), (b) or (a) and (b). This is complicated stuff.

This brings us, of course, to the love life of Prince Harry and faith identification of his live-in significant other turned fiance Meghan Markle.

We will start with an Evening Standard piece that caused a bit of Twitter buzz. The double-decker headline proclaimed: 

This is why Meghan Markle will need to be baptised before she marries Prince Harry
Kensington Palace has confirmed that Meghan Markle will be baptised before her wedding next May

It appears that this report has been removed from the newspaper's website, but here is a cached version, allowing readers to know what all the buzz was about. The crucial section said:

Meghan will begin the process of becoming a UK citizen and will also need to be baptised and confirmed before the ceremony as she is currently a Protestant.

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Will team Trump come through for Christians in Middle East? Will press cover this story?

Will team Trump come through for Christians in Middle East? Will press cover this story?

Two decades ago, my family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy -- becoming part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church that is based on Damascus, located on the street called Straight (as in Acts 9:11).

From 2001-2004 we were members of a West Palm Beach, Fla., congregation in which most of the members had deep family roots into Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. Needless to say, they had stories to tell about the struggles of Christians in the Middle East.

Here in America, we tend to focus on the present. At the moment, that means talking about atrocities linked to the Islamic State. When you talk to Christians from the Middle East, the events of the present are always tied to centuries of oppression in the past. It's all one story.

Right now, the issue -- for many Christians, and members of other oppressed religious minorities -- is how to survive in refugee camps. After that they face the ultimate questions of whether to flee the region or attempt, once again, to return to their battered homes and churches and start over.

Thus, I noticed a story last week that received very little attention in the American mainstream press. Once again, we are dealing with a story that I first saw in an online analysis at The Atlantic. When I went looking for mainstream, hard-news coverage, I saw this short CNN report, and that was pretty much it. Here's the heart of that CNN story:

Washington (CNN) Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday night that the Trump administration will no longer fund "ineffective" programs run by the United Nations to help persecuted communities and will instead send money to such groups directly through the US Agency for International Development.
"President (Donald) Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations, ... and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID," Pence declared to extended applause while speaking in Washington to the group In Defense of Christians, which advocates for greater protection of Christians in the Middle East.
"While faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in the region are more than willing to assist, the United Nations continues to deny their funding requests," Pence said.
The vice president, who is deeply religious, urged his "fellow Christians" to support faith-based groups and private organizations.

    Note the strange, vague little phrase that Pence is "deeply religious," backed by the scare-quote "fellow Christians" reference. In other words, this move is just another attempt to play to the GOP base. Thus, this isn't really a story that matters.

     

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    Following up on World Vision's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in Gaza

    Following up on World Vision's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in Gaza

    In 2014, World Vision (WV) noted with pride on its website that Mohammed Khalil El Halabi had been named a United Nations humanitarian hero for his work leading the international evangelical Christian mega-charity in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory.

    A year later, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), a right-leaning Israeli think tank, produced a lengthy white paper on WV's work in Gaza. It asserted that WV promoted "an anti-Israel narrative in order to obscure the role of Hamas in creating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. By serving as a conduit of misinformation about the Arab-Israel conflict, World Vision increases its income as it assists Hamas in its propaganda war against the Jewish state."

    Neither the WV web post or the JPPA report received meaningful news media attention. That's as you might expect. In-house employee praise or white papers by groups with an obvious dog in the fight -- particularly those right-of-center on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- tend to gain little traction with mainstream journalistic professionals.

    Here's what does receive attention: Last week, Halabi was charged by Israel with being a Hamas agent who diverted significant WV funds to the Sunni Islamist Palestinian group that the United States and other nations have labeled a terrorist group.

    Click here to read how the New York Times handled the story. Click here to see how The Guardian played it.

    WV is based in the Seattle area, so let's also see what the hometown newspaper did. Lacking its own international resources, the Seattle Times fell back on the time-honored journalistic slight-of-hand of having a staffer add a local veneer to a rewrite of wire reports. Been there, done that.

    There are several journalistic points to be made here. But first a bit more on WV's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week (thanks, Disney.)

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    Compassion vs. conversion: surprising insight on why these evangelicals welcome refugees

    Compassion vs. conversion: surprising insight on why these evangelicals welcome refugees

    I traveled to the Toronto area earlier this year to write about two Canadian churches that partnered to adopt a family of Syrian refugees:

    BEAMSVILLE, Ontario — As war ravaged their homeland, a Syrian family of eight fled for their lives.
    The Muslim father, mother and six children — among 4 million Syrians who have escaped to neighboring countries — ended up in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

    There, they lived in a barn for four years.
    Conditions became so dire that the family — including a daughter with cerebral palsy — contemplated returning home, despite the 5-year-old civil war that has claimed an estimated 470,000 lives.

    “Inhumane” is the single word that an Arabic interpreter used to translate the Syrians’ lengthy description of the camp.

    Enter two Churches of Christ south of Toronto — their hearts touched by the plight of strangers abroad and resolved to show the love of Jesus to a suffering family.

    In reporting that story for The Christian Chronicle, I was interested in the "delicate balance between serving and evangelizing," as national reporter Adelle Banks characterizes the dichotomy in a new feature for Religion News Service (more on her excellent piece in just a moment).

    My story quoted church member Marcia Cramp and Noel Walker on that topic:

    The church members hope to introduce the family to the Gospel of Jesus.

    For now, they’re content to build the relationship slowly and learn more about the Syrians’ own faith.

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    Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

    Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

    Church-and-state disputes are a hot beat and it's getting hotter all the time.

    We have religious objections over the government’s transgender bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, the Supreme Court’s bounce back of the Little Sisters’ “Obamacare” contraception case, states’ debates over whether merchants can decline gay wedding services on religious grounds, and much else.

    Media coverage to date shows little interest in how church-state policy might be affected by a President Clinton, or a President Trump, or the jurists on Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court list, or a Justice Merrick Garland. Will this be raised at a big June 9-11 “religious right” confab in D.C.? Speakers will include Trump and former challengers Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    Meanwhile, interest groups are ardently lobbying the Obama Administration to change religious hiring policies during its waning days. At issue is application of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) under the 2007 “World Vision memorandum” (click for .pdf) from the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice.

    World Vision, a major evangelical organization, had landed a $1.5 million grant to provide mentoring for at-risk youths. The memo ruled that it’s legal for such religious agencies fulfilling service programs through  federal grants to consider religious faith in their hiring. The Obama White House has thus far resisted pressure to abolish that policy, most recently in a Feb. 22 letter from ranking Democrats in the U.S. House.

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    About those evangelical whispers on same-sex marriage

    As you would imagine, your GetReligionistas are never eager to critique the work of previous members of our team who have found their way back into the world of mainstream religion-news work. However, that professional courtesy doesn’t mean that we can’t point our readers toward stories by our former colleagues that we think everyone needs to read. Right now, Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a fine report out for Religion News Service that openly explores the doctrinal question that is currently being debated behind closed doors (including most faculty lounges) just about everywhere in the messy postmodern world that is American evangelicalism.

    Wait a minute. That’s not quite right. Truth is, progressive evangelicals are debating this question and ordinary, run-of-the-mill evangelicals are debating what to do about the fact that lots of progressive evangelicals are about to make mainstream-news headlines by debating this question out in the open. Did you follow that?

    In other words, Sarah has herself an important story here and I would imagine she will keep chasing it. Here’s some material from the top of her report. The key, of course, was the World Vision explosion, before and after it’s decision to reverse its decision to hire Christians openly living in same-sex marriages.

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