Of midwives and Mennonites: It pays for journalists to dig deeper when faith is involved

Of midwives and Mennonites:  It pays for journalists to dig deeper when faith is involved

When I lived in Maryland in a Catholic community that took seriously their church’s prohibition against artificial birth control, I knew a lot of women who had babies. Frequent babies. And a number of them were fervent advocates of home births.

They all had their favorite midwives as most had been to a hospital for their first delivery, then swore to never again step foot in an obstetrics ward.

The New York Times and other media have been covering an embattled midwife for a large Mennonite community in New York state’s Finger Lakes region. It’s pretty clear that lots of issues are involved in this story — including religion, clearly including the faith of the woman doing the delivering.

But that topic is strangely absent in the Times story, which starts here:

PENN YAN, N.Y. — For a generation of Mennonite women, Elizabeth Catlin was integral to the most joyous occasions of their lives: the births of their children.

Ms. Catlin was a second mother, they said, a birthing attendant who helped them with prenatal care and then caught their babies during hundreds of natural childbirth deliveries at their homes.

So it was incomprehensible to them that on a recent winter day they were in a courtroom to support Ms. Catlin, who in December had been arrested and charged with four felonies for practicing midwifery in a county about an hour southeast of Rochester.

It was Ms. Catlin’s second arrest: She had been charged the month before in a neighboring county, where the State Police wereinvestigating her possible role in a newborn’s death.

Police said she misrepresented herself as a licensed midwife — a status that requires a master’s degree and completion of an accredited midwifery program. She does, however, have a credential from the Northern American Registry of Midwives, which New York state doesn’t accept.

Ms. Catlin maintains that she served only as a birth attendant because New York does not recognize her midwifery certification. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“My life is ground to a halt,” Ms. Catlin said. “My passion has been taken away.”

Her clients also reject the charge that she distorted her training, and they are making rare public overtures of support, like the courtroom appearance.

“Normally the Mennonites do not speak out — and especially the women don’t — because we’re kind of taught the men are the leaders,” said Kathleen Zimmerman, a 37-year-old mother of eight children, four of whom Ms. Catlin helped to deliver.

Next comes the article’s one nod to religion.

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Here we go again: Has anyone at Newsweek (or Yahoo) heard of that whole 'Easter' thing?

Here we go again: Has anyone at Newsweek (or Yahoo) heard of that whole 'Easter' thing?

OK, this is going to be a rather short post. Here is the big news, in the words of a faithful GetReligion reader: "Oh no. They did it again."

Who is "they" in that sentence? Basically, "they" are one or more Internet journalists somewhere who wrote and approved a headline without stopping and thinking about it.

What is the "it" in that sentence? Pay attention as I dig into this a bit. Then we'll get to the use of the word "again."

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is a one-of-a-kind holy site, with various ancient Christian churches in control of this large and complex sanctuary. At the moment, there is a big story unfolding there. Here is the top of a Newsweek report, as run at a Yahoo news site:

Christian leaders have closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, said to be built on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, in a protest at Israeli tax policy which they say unfairly targets Christians.
In a rare move, leaders from the Greek, Armenian and Catholic denominations said they were indefinitely closing the church because of a “systematic campaign” by Israeli authorities.

Well, yes, that's one way to say it. The church does contain a shrine built over the tomb of Jesus. However, if you know  anything about Christianity -- anything AT ALL -- you probably remember something very important about that tomb. It's the whole Easter thing.

Thus, the reader sent me this headline -- which is the "it" n this sad tale. Here we go:

Jerusalem Church Where Jesus Is Said to be Buried Closed After Tax Dispute With Israeli Government

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The Marine, the Muslims and the school: a tale of spinning news

The Marine, the Muslims and the school: a tale of spinning news

Some news stories are like Rorschach inkblot tests, with various people seeing them through different lenses. Unfortunately, some of those people are editors and reporters -- especially on hot-button issues like Islam, education and patriotism.

A major example this week is a row in La Plata, Md., where Marine veteran Kevin Wood angry over a history lesson about Islam. Wood asked for an alternative assignment for his daughter; the school said no, they argued, he got insulting, then he was banned from the campus.

This all got tangled, of course, in other issues: academic freedom, separation of church (or mosque) and state, equal treatment for all religions, etc. The right-tilt might have been predictably filled by Fox News. But in fact, the network didn't hyperventilate:

Kevin Wood told that he went to La Plata High School in La Plata, a town about 30 miles southeast of Washington, and challenged a history assignment requiring students to list the benefits of Islam. He said the meeting with the vice principal got heated; the school said he made a threat and banned the Iraq veteran from school property.
"[Wood] was threatening to cause a disruption or possible disruption at the school," a district spokesperson said.
Wood did not deny getting worked up over the issue, but said he was standing up for the Constitution and is against any religion being taught at the public school.

One Fox coup: citing a copy of the homework assignment asking, "How did Muslim conquerors treat those they conquered?" The "correct" answer, the station says, is, "With tolerance, kindness and respect." You can see how a Marine who'd fought in Iraq would get upset over that.

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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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IRS scandal and 'easy' religion ghosts

On a recent Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken remarked with interest on how many of the year’s major news stories have to do with religion. A cursory glance at the headlines proves it, year after year. But even the non-religion news stories frequently have religion angles.

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