Terry Mattingly

Deja vu all over again: BBC does another fun cathedrals story that skips somber facts (again)

Deja vu all over again: BBC does another fun cathedrals story that skips somber facts (again)

So here is the journalism question for today: Is the implosion of the Church of England, especially in terms of worship attendance, so common knowledge that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned in a news story linked to this topic?

It was news when attendance slid under 1 million, earlier this decade. Then the numbers kept falling. Here’s a Guardian report from a year or so ago. The big statistic reported in 2018 was that Sunday attendance was down to “722,000 — 18,000 fewer than in 2016.”

The story I want to look at did not run on a small website or in a niche-market newspaper. It was produced by the BBC, one of the top two or three most important news organizations on the planet.

Maybe this subject is too bleak to be mentioned in what is clearly meant to be a fun story? Here’s the headline on this long feature: “Why are cathedrals hosting helter-skelters and golf courses?” And the overture:

From giant models of Earth and the Moon to a helter-skelter and crazy golf course, cathedrals are increasingly playing host to large artworks and attractions. Why are buildings built for worship being used in the pursuit of fun?

Cathedrals might traditionally be viewed as hallowed places meant for sombre reflection and hushed reverence.

Vast, vaulted ceilings soar high over whispering huddles of wide-eyed tourists as robed wardens patrol the pews to silence anything that could detract from the sanctity of worship.

But cathedral chiefs across the country have been keen to shake free from the shushing stereotype.

Let’s see. There is a glimpse of the “why?” in this story. Why are these Anglican leaders so intent on opening the doors to let people have some fun of this kind?

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Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

First things first: I made a major error the other day in my post about a Religion News Service report about an Iowa judge’s ruling in a legal clash between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and leaders at the University of Iowa.

This wasn’t a typo or a misspelling.

My main point in the post was wrong and I want to correct that and also thank the experts at BecketLaw.org for alerting me to my mistake.

Here is the top of the original RNS report. This is long, but essential. After that, I’ll show the section of the RNS story that led to my error:

(RNS) — Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached last week in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

Those groups also included Muslims, Sikhs and Latter-day Saints, according to a statement from InterVarsity.

“We must have leaders who share our faith,” InterVarsity Director of External Relations Greg Jao said in the written statement. “No group — religious or secular — could survive with leaders who reject its values. We’re grateful the court has stopped the University’s religious discrimination, and we look forward to continuing our ministry on campus for years to come.”

At least three University of Iowa leaders are being held personally accountable to cover the costs of any damages awarded later to InterVarsity, according to U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose’s Friday (Sept. 27) ruling, provided by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented InterVarsity.

A paragraph later there was this:

Rose’s decision comes on the heels of a ruling she made earlier this year in a similar case involving the university and a student group called Business Leaders in Christ. Because she felt university leaders should have understood after that case how to treat the groups fairly, the judge is holding them personally accountable. …

The lawsuit came in August 2018 after the University of Iowa claimed InterVarsity was violating the university’s human rights policy by requiring leaders to affirm the organization’s statement of faith. That policy prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other attributes.

Here’s where I erred. I thought, when I read this section of the RNS story, that the two decisions pivoted on the same section of that University of Iowa policy.

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Everybody sing: Why can't a Southern Baptist be more like a Methodist? Or a Lutheran? Or ...

Everybody sing: Why can't a Southern Baptist be more like a Methodist? Or a Lutheran? Or ...

Long ago, a leader in the “moderate” wing of the Southern Baptists used an interesting image as he described how the national convention carried out it’s work.

The Southern Baptist Convention, he told me, really wasn’t a “denomination” in the same sense as United Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans are part of national denominations. Southern Baptists — including those on the doctrinal left on a few issues — really do believe in the autonomy of the local church.

Then there are the ties that bind at the regional level, in Southern Baptist “associations.” Then there are the state conventions (in a few cases, there are more than one — as is the case in Texas Baptist life— because of doctrinal differences). Then, finally, there is the national Southern Baptist Convention that meets once a year to do its business, including selecting boards for the giant agencies and programs built on donations to the Cooperative Program.

Note that word “cooperative.” Hear the Baptist, congregational, “free church” sound of that?

In the end, this Baptist moderate said, the whole SBC idea is like a hummingbird. On paper, it should not be able to fly — but it does.

This is the subject at the heart of this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) about sexual abuse in America’s largest non-Catholic flock. Why can’t the SBC just create a national institution of some kind to ordain clergy, or approve and register ordinations done by churches, and then force local churches to hire and fire clergy and staff with the mandatory guidance of this national agency?

This new institution would then be responsible for tracking and shutting down clergy accused of sexual abuse. Somehow. It would warn churches about predators , if there is legal reason to do so. Somehow.

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Non-analysis analysis: The New York Times convinced #NeverTrump team has sold its soul

Non-analysis analysis: The New York Times convinced #NeverTrump team has sold its soul

First things first: I confess that I frequently hang out with #NeverTrump believers and folks who are at least sympathetic to that cause.

This happens all the time in cyberspace and in analog life as well, including church. As GetReligion readers probably know, I had been a Bible Belt Democrat all my life (part of the endangered pro-life tribe) until the 2016 election shoved me through the #NeverHillary door and into Third Party land (but that’s another story and not the subject of this post).

All of this is to say that the following double-decker New York Times headline caught my eye:

The ‘Never Trump’ Coalition That Decided Eh, Never Mind, He’s Fine

They signed open letters, dedicated a special magazine issue to criticism of him and swore he would tear at the fabric of this nation. Now they have become the president’s strongest defenders.

Wait a minute. So the whole #NeverTrump world has veered into Make America Great Again territory? How did I miss that?

Actually, this is one of those thumbsucker pieces that is dominated by hard-news language (add sarcasm font) like “some,” “many” and “largely.” A phrase such as “at least half” is a rare concession to complexity.

This piece also assumes that anyone who is scared as Hades about trends in the Democratic Party’s woke candidate pool — on First Amendment issues, for example — has concluded that embracing Trump is the best choice available on Election Day. By the way, in this political feature making “supportive statements” about one or more actions taken by anyone in the Trump White House equals enthusiastic support for the president’s 2020 dreams.

Let’s dive into the thesis section of this analysis piece that is not labeled an analysis piece:

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Supreme Court hears major LGBT case; USA Today listens to one side of debate -- period

Supreme Court hears major LGBT case; USA Today listens to one side of debate -- period

While the impeachment circus roars on, the U.S. Supreme Court drew another throng of demonstrators the other day as it heard arguments on another crucial LGBT-rights case.

The big news here, in case you had not heard, is that Justice Anthony Kennedy is now a retired justice. Do the math.

If you read the New York Times report on the oral arguments before the court, it was pretty obvious that this was yet another case in which religious liberty issues appear to be clashing with the Sexual Revolution. Check that out here, if you want to hear quite a bit of information from lawyers on both sides of the debate.

Then again, if only want to hear the LGBT side of the arguments, you can read USA Today. Here is the top of the story that ran there (and in many Gannett newspapers across the nation):

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared deeply divided Tuesday on a major civil rights question: whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex.

The court's rulings in three cases, which are not expected until next year, seemed to hinge on President Donald Trump's two nominees. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch called the dispute over transgender rights "close" but more likely an issue for Congress to address. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh directed his only question to a lawyer for two employers that fired gay workers, leaving his position in doubt.

The court's four liberal justices forcefully denounced the firings of two gay men and a transgender woman from Georgia, New York and Michigan and made clear they believe all three should be protected by the statutory ban on sex discrimination.

"We can't deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons, not because they are performing their jobs poorly," Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, calling it "invidious behavior."

Ah, “religious reasons.” Might that be a reference to “religious liberty”?

It’s hard to know, since the USA Today report never addresses that side of the equation in any way whatsoever — until the final paragraph of the story.

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Correction: Can a ministry require its leaders to be 'Christian'?

Correction: Can a ministry require its leaders to be 'Christian'?

Editor’s note: Please see the post correcting a crucial error in this post. Click here to go to that correction.

Yes, the headline for this post contains the word “Christian” inside “scare” quotes.

I did that on purpose, because it’s linked to the journalism point that I want to make about a recent Religion News Service story about a judge’s ruling on a clash between an evangelical campus ministry and the University of Iowa. The report contains lots of interesting and valid information, but I also think it contains a crucial error that RNS needs to correct.

This problem can be seen in the headline: “InterVarsity can require its leaders to be Christian, judge rules.”

Here’s my question: Did the judge say that it was OK for InterVarsity to require its leaders to be “Christians,” or that it was acceptable for the group require its leaders to affirm a specific set of traditional Christian beliefs on a number of topics, including marriage and sex?

My question: Would officials at the University of Iowa have been happy if some of the InterVarsity leaders were Episcopalians from parishes or dioceses that affirm gay marriage and embrace other doctrines that are consistent with a pro-LGBTQ stance? What if InterVarsity leaders came from other progressive flocks, such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the United Church of Christ?

I’m thinking that University of Iowa leaders would have accepted InterVarsity having “Christian” leaders, as long as they were liberal Christians whose doctrines were acceptable.

But look at the top of the RNS report (this is long, but essential):

Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached … in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

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Grand unified theory in Acela zone: Selfish Jesusland yokels just don't know what's good for them

Grand unified theory in Acela zone: Selfish Jesusland yokels just don't know what's good for them

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, a few newsroom managers sent reporters into the backward lands between America’s coastal super-cities in an attempt to understand what was bugging the yokels in flyover country.

Every now and then one of the big newspapers runs another National Geographic-style feature of this kind — since the odds are good that Jesusland voters will reject the 2020 candidate chosen by the Democratic National Committee and the Acela Zone chattering classes. It’s important to know what the great unwashed multitudes are thinking, since that’s an important source of material for late-night comics.

From a GetReligion point of view, these pieces almost always yield edgy examples of how many journalists see little or no difference between “political” beliefs and convictions that are rooted in ancient or modern forms of religious faith. Repeat after me: All things “political” are real. “Religion” is sort of real, or it is real to the degree that it affects “real” life, as in politics or economics.

This brings me a perfect example of this equation, a New York Times opinion essay by Monica Potts, who is currently doing research for a book about low-income women in Arkansas. This piece zoomed into the weekend must-read lists in many progressive corners of cyberspace. Here’s the double-decker headline:

In the Land of Self-Defeat

What a fight over the local library in my hometown in rural Arkansas taught me about my neighbors’ go-it-alone mythology — and Donald Trump’s unbeatable appeal.

As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not critique opinion pieces of this kind. So why mention this one?

To make a long story short, I could not resist noting a specific passage in this essay that serves as a kind of grand unified theory of how many journalists view the American heartland and the truly despicable — or at the very least lost and sad — people who live out there.

This long essay includes next to nothing, when it comes to reporting and writing about religion.

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Pulpits vs. pews: Thinking about choices that mainline Protestants make on Election Day

Pulpits vs. pews: Thinking about choices that mainline Protestants make on Election Day

Anyone listing turning points in American politics would have to include that day in 1980 when candidate Ronald Reagan went to Dallas and faced a crowd of 15,000 evangelical, Pentecostal and fundamentalist Christian leaders.

Reagan told them, “I know you can’t endorse me. But ... I want you to know that I endorse you.”

The mainstream press grasped the importance of that declaration.

However, a recent symbolic move by leaders on the left didn’t get anywhere near as much ink (analog or digital). I am referring to that resolution (.pdf here) by the Democratic National Committee stating, in part:

WHEREAS, religiously unaffiliated Americans overwhelmingly share the Democratic Party’svalues, with 70% voting for Democrats in 2018, 80% supporting same-sex marriage, and 61% saying immigrants make American society stronger; and

WHEREAS, the religiously unaffiliated demographic represents the largest religious group within the Democratic Party, growing from 19% in 2007 to one in three today. …

Therefore, the party saluted “religiously unaffiliated Americans” because of their advocacy for “rational public policy based on sound science and universal humanistic values. …”

This really isn’t news, for religion-beat pros who have been paying attention. After all political scientist John C. Green of the University of Akron connected these dots in 2012, when the Pew Forum released its “Nones on the Rise” report. Here is a chunk of an “On Religion” column that I wrote at that time:

The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters — with 75 percent supporting Barack Obama in 2008. The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

"It may very well be that in the future the unaffiliated vote will be as important to the Democrats as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party,” said Green, addressing the religion reporters. "If these trends continue, we are likely to see even sharper divisions between the political parties."

At that time, Green noted that a party led by atheists, agnostics and Nones might have trouble making peace with several key flocks in the Democratic Part’s historic base — such as African-American Protestants, Latino Catholics and blue-collar believers in the American heartland.

This brings me to this weekend’s “think piece” by progressive Baptist pastor and scholar Ryan Burge, whose work with @Religion_Public has made him a must-follow voice in Twitter (@ryanburge).

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Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

In many ways, it was the perfect “white evangelical” horror story.

So you had an African-American sixth-grader who reported that she was bullied by three boys who taunted her with racial insults and cut off some of her dreadlocks. This took place at a “Christian” school where Karen Pence, as in the wife of Donald Trump’s loyal vice president, has taught off and on for more than a decade.

It’s a story that, in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I explored on three levels, as in the three parts of a click-bait equation.

First, there is the story of the accusations of an alleged assault, which turned out not to be true, according to the girl’s family.

That was a tragic local story. What made it a national story?

That’s the second level of this story — the key click-bait link to Trump World. That was especially true in a rather snarky NBC News online report (which even worked in an LGBTQ angle, due to the school’s doctrinal statement on marriage and sex).

But that wasn’t the angle that interested me the most. No, I was interested in the school itself. I imagine that lots of readers much have thought to themselves (I will paraphrase): What in the world is a black girl doing enrolled at the kind of white evangelical Trump-loving alleged Christian school that would Mrs. Mike Pence would be teach at for a dozen years or so?

Thus, I was interested in the following paragraph of factual material that was included in two Washington Post stories about this case:

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