ordination of women

When covering the Lutheran left, Minneapolis daily kindly omits sobering journalistic questions

When covering the Lutheran left, Minneapolis daily kindly omits sobering journalistic questions

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is an amalgamation of three other Lutheran denominations, formed 29 years ago. When mainstream American journalists talk about "Lutherans," this is usually the crowd they are talking about.

The ELCA is also, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, a church confronting changing times. In other words, this body is part of the ever-evolving world of liberal Protestantism, the "Seven Sisters" of the old mainline.

The paper's story begins with a typical journalistic scene-setter, at least the kind that is used when journalists are fond of the group that is being profiled:

Redeemer Lutheran Church is not your typical Lutheran outpost. Summer means the bike store and coffee shop are humming, kids camp and Zumba classes are in gear, and the young adults renting its apartments are mentoring children in this north Minneapolis neighborhood.
It represents a new model for the Lutheran Church, which is transforming itself to attract younger and diverse members, be more relevant to neighbors below its steeples and shake its image as a Scandinavian bastion best known for hot dish, Jell-O and Ole and Lena.

Anyone who regularly listened to Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" stemwinders about life in and around Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, will recognize the stereotype, even if Keillor was actually raised in a Plymouth Brethren congregation.

The Minneapolis paper continues explaining, however, There is a dark cloud on the horizon:

Minnesota, with the largest number of Lutherans in the nation, will be instrumental in shaping the future of the faith. Time is of the essence: 37 percent of the churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- the largest denomination in Minnesota and the U.S. -- now have fewer than 50 Sunday worshipers. ...
Membership at the ELCA plunged from 5.2 million in 1988 to about 3.7 million today. In Minnesota, numbers fell from 782,000 to about 679,000.

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Major news events among Episcopalians and American Anglicans: Still worth covering?

Major news events among Episcopalians and American Anglicans: Still worth covering?

It’s been more than 10 years since the conservative portions of various Episcopal dioceses began the Great Split-Off. That is, they left dioceses -- some of which had been around since the 18th century -- to form a new entity, the Anglican Church in North America, that billed itself as the truest representation of Anglicanism on the North American continent.

This didn’t go over too well with The Episcopal Church (TEC), as you may imagine, and many were the lawsuits filed by TEC leaders to keep their property, most of which they won. I covered churches in northern Virginia that lost everything in this battle. One church lost property they had already bought on which to build a new sanctuary. Another church lost millions of dollars in property that dated back to colonial times.

This was a big, big story year after year -- receiving major coverage from many major newspapers and wire services.

Take, 2007 for example. I was able to cover one of the ACNA’s formative sessions in Pittsburgh in 2008 and their inaugural assembly in 2009 in Bedford, Texas. As the two sides have drifted further apart and the Episcopal Church has continued losing membership, the secular media has almost stopped covering this story. Religion News Service is the one exception.

This is a shame, in that there’s still news going on.

The conservative Anglican journalist David Virtue, who has followed this story since the beginning, chronicled what happened at a recent gathering at Wheaton College near Chicago.

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is planting one new church a week, Archbishop Foley Beach told delegates to the triennial gathering of some 1400 Anglicans, at Wheaton College, in the heartland of America's Bible belt. The ACNA also officially received The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina as the newest diocese with some 9,000 members -- the largest of 31 dioceses in the orthodox Anglican body. The diocese broke away from the Episcopal Church over the authority of Scripture and TEC's embrace of homosexuality and gay marriage in defiance of Lambeth resolution 1.10. ...

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That familiar game: Pope Francis, on a plane, with reporters and a female-priests question

That familiar game: Pope Francis, on a plane, with reporters and a female-priests question

It's a familiar news equation by now: Pope Francis, plus an airplane, plus reporters, plus a valid question equals what? The answer, of course, is "bold headlines."

The headlines come first -- in this WiFi age -- often before the wheels of Shepherd One touch the ground. The headlines then frame the discussions of what the pope did or did not say. Then the transcript comes out and it's possible to read what this off-the-cuff pontiff actually said.

Let me stress this: In most cases -- repeat "most" -- the issue isn't what the pope was quoted is saying, in this or that sound bite. The problem is usually that reporters are not given the space to quote what ELSE the pope said, the larger context that often defines to the sound bite.

Of course, it's possible that some reporters only want to quote the sound bite, which they -- backed by scholars and theologians in the semi-official mainstream media handbook of Catholic sources -- can then shape into a headline that lives forever. Is this good or bad? Well, who am I to judge?

So now we have the pope flying back from a celebration of the Reformation in Sweden. He was asked, once again, about the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Here is the headline from the conservative Catholic News Agency: "Pope Francis reiterates a strong 'no' to women priests."

Here is the headline from the mainstream Washington Post: "Pope Francis says the Catholic Church will probably never have female priests."

Ah, where did that "probably" come from? Let's go to the transcript and read the whole exchange that produced the headlines:

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Historical facts rock solid on female deacons? RNS story makes it seem that they are

Historical facts rock solid on female deacons? RNS story makes it seem that they are

As he promised, Pope Francis has set up a commission to study whether or not the Church of Rome should ordain women as permanent deacons.

A previous Vatican study of the issue but a spotlight on a key question. Yes, there were female deacons, or deaconesses, in the New Testament. However, did they serve as ordained clergy at the altar -- in a clearly liturgical role -- or did their duties center elsewhere, especially in work with the poor and other women?

Let's flashback for a second to an earlier post -- "Deaconesses or female deacons? Journalists do you know the history of these terms?" -- before taking a look at a new Religion News Service report.

Everyone involved in this debate knows that the word used in Romans 16:1 to describe the woman named Phoebe is diakonos. However, some translations render this as "servant," while others use "deacon. The New International Version, beloved by Protestants, says: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae."

In an earlier news report, the Crux team noted that the earlier Vatican study of women deacons offered "two points for reflection."

First, the document says that deaconesses in the ancient Christian church “cannot purely and simply be compared to the sacramental diaconate” that exists today, since there is no clarity about the rite of institution that was used or what functions they exercised.
Second, the document asserts that “the unity of the sacrament of orders” is “strongly imprinted by ecclesiastical tradition, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the post-councilor magisterium,” despite clear differences between the episcopacy and priesthood on the one hand and the diaconate on the other.

Let me note, speaking as an Eastern Orthodox layman, that this is pretty much what I have heard in similar discussions of this issue in the churches of the East.

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For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

Look at it this way: When it comes to the death penalty, The New York Times is to the left of Sen. Tim Kaine. That appears to have been the key factor in producing a rather nuanced news feature on Kaine that, for many liberal Democrats, may be a sobering read.

Then again, maybe not. The message of the Times story("On Death Penalty Cases, Tim Kaine Revealed Inner Conflict") appears to be that Kaine is a strong Catholic, but when push comes to shove he gives voters what they want. That may comfort Democrats on the left, since the nation (or the courts at least) appear to be swing their way on moral and social issues.

The key -- according to the contents of this story -- is that Kaine's Catholic faith is right where the Times editorial page would want it (other than on the death penalty). It's in his heart and in his campaign ads.

That whole "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" thing? Not so much.

Before we move on, let me confess (once again) that I am a pro-life Democrat who -- believing that life is sacred from conception to natural death -- is opposed to the death penalty. Kaine is, or was, the kind of Democrat who once gave me hope that there might be ways to at least compromise on the hot-button moral issues that have dominated American politics most of my life.

The point of that Times piece is that Kaine remains that guy -- in appearance. That's why Hillary Clinton picked him. But read carefully:

For Mr. Kaine, now a senator and Hillary Clinton’s newly named running mate, no issue has been as fraught politically or personally as the death penalty. His handling of capital punishment reveals a central truth about Mr. Kaine: He is both a man of conviction and very much a politician, a man of unshakable faith who nonetheless recognizes -- and expediently bends to, his critics suggest -- the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represents.
He opposes both abortion and the death penalty, he has said, because “my faith teaches life is sacred.” Yet he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. And Mr. Kaine presided over 11 executions as governor, delaying some but granting clemency only once.

Note that 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Now read on:

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Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Attention all supporters of strong, accurate religion-beat reporting: What is the first question a journalist needs to answer for readers when covering a "Lutheran church" story, especially when it is linked to controversy?

Let me raise the stakes a bit higher. This question is especially true when dealing with a flock located in Minnesota or elsewhere in the upper Midwest, which is often called the Lutheran Belt in American life because there are so many Lutheran congregations in that region.

The question: So what kind of Lutherans are we talking about?

Are we dealing with a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which, despite the presence of the E-word in the name, is a liberal flock on key issues of doctrine and moral theology? Or how about the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, located on the right side of the mainline Protestant world? Or how about the smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is also more doctrinally conservative than the ELCA?

So check out the top of this major story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this month. Yes, you'll have to look for clues in this long passage:

North Heights Lutheran, the one-time megachurch of Arden Hills, has run out of prayers.
The church is shutting down, the apparent victim of a civil war that has split it apart. After 70 years of weekly worship, the church’s last service will be Sunday.
“This took me by surprise,” 20-year member Zelda Erickson said Monday after learning of the closing at an announcement during Sunday’s church service. “I feel terrible about this.”

North Heights once had Sunday attendance of 3,400 at two church locations. But attendance has fallen recently to several hundred -- not enough to keep the church afloat.

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Women and men and the Bible and the church

What are the major scriptural passages [and interpretations] relative to a complementarian and egalitarian approach to gender roles in the church? “Egalitarians” say the Bible teaches across-the-board equality without regard to gender. Period. Nevertheless, this supposedly “liberal” view is held by many people who are commonly called “conservatives.”

“Complementarians” — note that it’s “complement,” not “compliment” — say the Bible establishes different roles for men and women in the church and, most add, in the home. For instance, no female pastors. Obviously not a politically-correct stance but in conscience they believe the Bible is clear about this.

These two terms are used almost exclusively in the ongoing debate among U.S. Evangelical Protestants. Though some Evangelical denominations have ordained women since the 19th Century, influential theologians like the Rev. J.I. Packer, an Anglican, say the Bible rules out female clergy. Meanwhile, there’s no dispute in U.S. “Mainline” Protestant churches that began ordaining women in the 1950s through the 1970s. Of course, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have always barred women from the priesthood (with parallels among non-Christian faiths).

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Hey WPost: What did Pope Francis say about abortion?

It is a serious understatement to note that Pope Francis has made more than his share of news during the honeymoon months of his papacy. Mainstream reporters have rushed to cover almost everything this charismatic leader has had to say.

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