same-sex marriage

Evangelical church angers a gay couple: In Knoxville, this is still a news story

Evangelical church angers a gay couple: In Knoxville, this is still a news story

The Knoxville News-Sentinel hasn't had a religion writer, at least in my memory, for some time. But it did manage to produce a church-dumps-gay-couple story in pretty short order after said couple started making the rounds of newspapers and TV stations. 

The setting is bucolic Blount County, a rural area south of Knoxville that sits in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I vacationed there in 2014 and found it refreshingly distant from an interstate highway.

Now, this is an area that's very conservative and it's full of churches, which is how our story begins.

MARYVILLE -- A Blount County gay couple say their hearts were broken but their Christian faith remains strong after they were denied full membership in a nondenominational church.
Now Courtney and Jessica Wright are cautious, even scared, about stepping in any church.
The Wrights were told in late January they couldn’t become full-fledged “core” members of Faith Promise Church because they're homosexual. One of the church's core beliefs is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The couple, married in August 2016, knew Faith Promise listed heterosexual-only marriage as a belief. But they say their homosexuality and marriage were never secret, and church members made them feel accepted and included for months.

Part of me wonders: Is this really a news story?

Maybe, because the newspaper had previously reported that Faith Promise is one of the country’s fastest-growing churches. But if an attendee had complained to the newspaper about being shut out of full membership for any other reason, would the newspaper have run it?

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RNS produces good but flawed update on gay controversy in United Methodism

RNS produces good but flawed update on gay controversy in United Methodism

"Defiant clergy are refusing to abide by what they regard as unjust prohibitions."

Whoaaa, strong language -- perhaps even pejorative -- for a mainstream media story on gays and the old mainline Protestantism. Usually, gay activists are portrayed as freedom fighters, and those who hold out for the traditional moral stance are seen as restrictive and prejudiced.

Not so in this story from the Religion News Service on a new alliance to oppose mainstreaming homosexuality in the United Methodist Church.

At an organizational meeting today, the Wesleyan Covenant Association plans to "outline their expectations for a soon-to-be-appointed denominational commission to discuss the conflict over sexuality," RNS says.

The article does a good job of introducing us to the controversy and the traditionalist pushback, but it doesn't get reaction from more liberal church members. It also doesn't answer a couple of questions about the movement's prospects. Apparently, it doesn't even ask them.

The fast-moving narrative opens on a note of urgency:

(RNS) Undoing the election of the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church will be a primary goal when 1,500 Methodist evangelicals gather this week in Chicago to found a new renewal group, according to organizers.

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Powder-puff press: Tutu's daughter marries a woman, and media hand her the mic

Powder-puff press: Tutu's daughter marries a woman, and media hand her the mic

"Tell us how the bad men hurt you": As she often does, M.Z. Hemingway adroitly blends humor and precision in finding the nugget of a story.  Her suggestion for a GR post on the daughter of Desmond Tutu was devastatingly accurate, not only for the BBC but for the Guardian.

The Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth recently married a woman -- an atheist, at that -- and now she's complaining that the church yanked her preaching license. And the BBC and the Guardian help her complain. Not just by reporting her quotes, but enshrining every word as gospel.

Here we go with the BBC:

Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth followed her father into a life in the Anglican church, but when she decided to marry the woman she loved, she had to leave.
She married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands at the end of last year, but they went public last month when they had a wedding celebration in Cape Town.
"My marriage sounds like a coming out party," explains Ms Tutu van Furth.
"Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else," she tells me.

At least the BBC quotes church law: "Holy matrimony is the lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman." So why is Tutu van Furth making an issue of it? To advance what she calls a "very important conversation'" about same-sex marriage:

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Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

The long-smoldering struggle between Marquette University and a prickly professor made the Washington Post this week. But there's something funny about the headline:

A university moved to fire a professor after he defended a student’s right to debate gay marriage. Now he’s suing.

A little surprising, in itself, I guess. But what if I told you it's a Catholic university? A Jesuit one, at that? If criticizing gay marriage -- quoting, for example, the teachings of the Catholic church -- during a discussion in class is not allowed in a Catholic, Jesuit university …?

There is a good summary at the top of Post story, at least:

The conflict began in 2014: After a student complained after a philosophy class that he was disappointed that he and others who question gay marriage had not been allowed to express their views during the classroom discussion, the graduate-student instructor told him that opposition to gay marriage was homophobic and offensive and would not be tolerated in her theory of ethics class. John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette, blogged about it, writing that the instructor "was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up."
The story went viral, touching as it did on the heated debates over issues such as campus culture, gay rights, academic freedom, whether students should be protected from comments they find offensive or hurtful, and where the lines should be drawn in discussions of charged topics such as race and sexuality to ensure that people don’t feel stigmatized or unsafe. The instructor was targeted on social media by people angered by McAdams’s account of the incident and ultimately left the university.
McAdams was suspended without pay the following month and banned from campus, and in March of this year he was told by university president Michael Lovell he could not return to teaching unless he wrote a letter acknowledging that his behavior had been reckless and incompatible with Marquette values and that he feels deep regret for the harm he did to the instructor.
On Monday, McAdams and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, claiming breach of contract.

Now, Marquette would never be mistaken for Catholic University of America, in which faculty members are, to some degree, required to stick with traditional church teachings.

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Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

The Atlanta Journal Constitution raises Deep South, Civil War-era caricatures in its weekend story on cultural stresses in Tennessee.  And it does so in almost a robotic, paint-by-the-numbers style.

The article strains mightily to contrast urbane, liberal city dwellers with backward, "ignorant" -- yes, one source uses that word -- country folk. It takes a patronizing attitude toward these yahoos and pits people on the street against scholars and think-tankers. It even compares so-called "bathroom bills" in some states with "White" and "Colored" signs from segregation days.

How else to read paragraphs like:

Across the country -- the South in particular -- a wave of bills, proposals and court fights in recent months are again ramping up the culture wars. The measures come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a decision many religious conservatives see as an assault on their beliefs.

And:

The South finds itself in the middle of that conflict. It’s a place where city folks may have a decidedly different take on social issues than their peers in the country, a region where progressive notions rub up against more traditional, conservative values.

For context, the article brings Georgia's"religious liberty" bill -- complete with sarcasm quotes -- vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. There's also Gov. Bill Haslam vetoing a bill to make the Bible the state book in Tennessee, then signing a bill to let counselors refer out people who conflict with their "sincerely held principles" -- yes, more sarcasm quotes -- to reject gay, lesbian, transgender and other clients. Would it be better for these religious counselors to handle these cases, even though they have a clear conflict of interest?

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Baby steps: AP shows improvement in reporting religious-objections bill in Missouri

Baby steps: AP shows improvement in reporting religious-objections bill in Missouri

Well, it appears that a mainstream journalist went out and found one minister to quote in religious liberty story.

They usually don’t quote any in news articles like these. So an Associated Press article on a new religious-exemption bill in Missouri is a tiny step in the right direction.

The piece, carried by the Charlotte Observer, reports the new storm a-brewing over a religious objections bill in that state. The top of story focuses on a business-heavy backlash:

More than 60 businesses including some of Missouri's biggest corporate names joined a coalition opposed to state legislation that would protect businesses objecting on religious grounds to same-sex marriages, the latest sign of a backlash against such proposals across the country.
Agricultural giant Monsanto, prescription drug benefits manager Express Scripts, and pet food maker Nestle Purina are among employers to join the recently formed Missouri Competes, according to gay rights advocacy group PROMO, which released the list just hours before a House committee heard testimony from business, sports and religious groups. Dozens crammed in the Capitol basement for the late-night hearing.
The formation of the coalition comes amid business pushback to legislation in other states protecting those opposed to gay marriage.

The article has much to recommend it. AP quotes an equal number of sources on each side. It uses terms like religious-objections legislation instead of the usual "religious freedom," in sarcasm quotes.  

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That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

Wow, they didn’t rely on clichés.  Major media scrambled today after Pope Francis pulled off a Friday surprise, releasing his eagerly awaited statement on the family. And they didn’t fall back on the tried-and-untrue "Who am I to judge?" and "Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition, saying that …"

Well, most didn’t. More on that later.

The book-length, 256-page Amoris Laetitia makes for hefty weekend reading, and church officials are calling for careful consideration. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said today:

Amoris Laetitia is unusual for its size – more than 250 pages – and the Holy Father himself cautions us to read it with patience and attention.  This is sound guidance, especially in the scramble that always takes place to stamp a particular interpretation on important papal interventions.  My own more developed thoughts will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, we can be thankful for the Holy Father’s thoughts on an issue of real gravity.  Nothing is more essential to any society than the health of marriage and the family.

In the letter, Francis strikes balance between law and grace, restating both church doctrine and an understanding of what contemporary families go through. In turn, media seem to take a sympathetic view of the document -- for now, at least.

Despite a tight deadline, the Washington Post produced an almost feature treatment:

He called for divorced and remarried Catholics to participate more fully in church life. But he closed the door on gay marriage. He quotes Jorge Luis Borges and Jesus Christ. There is an entire chapter on love.
But more than anything, Pope Francis’s long-awaited document on family life, released Friday by the Vatican, amounts to an exultation of traditional marriage while recognizing that life, in his own words, isn’t always “perfect.” Yet rather than judging, he commanded, the church should be a pillar of support.

WaPo sees an ambiguity in Francis' words on divorced and remarried Catholics. It says he maintains that some are living in an “objective situation of sin,” but " he seemed to suggest that such cases should be studied and ruled on one by one."

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The Los Angeles Times does a number on Chief Justice Moore of Alabama

The Los Angeles Times does a number on Chief Justice Moore of Alabama

I first met Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore back in 1997 on a drive through Gadsden, a sleepy southern burg 56 miles north of Birmingham. Moore was only a circuit judge back then but he’d already gotten famous for refusing to take down a plaque from his courtroom walls that listed the Ten Commandments. I expected some hayseed country judge; what I found was a very sharp guy who could recite lengthy passages of law by heart and was obviously meant for greater things. Eighteen years later, he’s at the heart of a battle over whether state judges should grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the state constitution forbids it.

The Los Angeles Times recently weighed in on the debate through the eyes of a probate judge caught in the middle of the federal-state tussle. Its take on the situation was so one-sided, it fell over about halfway through. It starts:

About 9 o'clock the night of Feb. 8, Judge Tim Russell felt his phone vibrate, which seemed strange at that hour. It was his work phone.
He and his wife, Sandy, had just finished the long drive from Birmingham, Ala., where they visited family, back home to Baldwin County, on the Gulf of Mexico. While she readied for bed, he stood reading an email from Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court.
In less than 12 hours, Russell and other county judges were to start granting marriage licenses to all couples, whether gay or straight.
Russell finished reading the message and held it out to his wife.
"My God," he said.
Russell lives with one foot in the past and one in the present, and talks as easily about either.
Driving to lunch recently, he casually recalled his maternal grandmother of 13 generations ago, Rebecca Nurse. She was hanged in 1692 for practicing witchcraft, and became a central character in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible."
The modern relevance of that story isn't lost on Russell. "I think a great deal about our freedoms," he said.
Religious freedoms, he said. And also equality under the law.

So here we have the Salem witch trials brought up as a hint of the direction where religious belief can go.

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Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

While working on a story on Christians and immigration a few years ago, I witnessed a mother's tearful farewell to her son, who was being deported.

CHICAGO — On a dark street, a mother weeps. 
At 4:45 a.m., she stands outside a two-story brick building surrounded by razor wire, her sobs drowning out the drum of machinery at a nearby factory. 
The Spanish-speaking woman just said goodbye — through a glass panel at a federal deportation center west of Chicago — to her son Miguel, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. 

Recalling that emotional scene, my interest was piqued by a front-page Chicago Tribune story on Roman Catholic Archbishop-Designate Blase Cupich making immigration reform a top priority.

The top of the Tribune's meaty, 1,300-word report:

Immigrant rights activists are hailing Chicago's next Roman Catholic archbishop, hoping that Blase Cupich's outspoken advocacy for their cause translates to meaningful changes to local and state laws that would make Illinois the friendliest state for immigrants.
"It's always very encouraging to hear your faith leader calling on what you believe is a human rights issue," said Erendira Rendon, a lead organizer for the Resurrection Project, a Pilsen-based community development organization. "We've been grateful for Cardinal (Francis) George's support of immigration reform, but it's exciting to see the new archbishop is going to make it a priority."

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