In Atlanta newspaper story on fired Catholic music minister, the villain and bad doctrine are clear

In Atlanta newspaper story on fired Catholic music minister, the villain and bad doctrine are clear

A reader sent us a link to a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on a Catholic church music minister who was fired, presumably because he married another man.

The reader pointed out that the piece appears to be a personal column, which gives the writer some leeway in voicing opinions. At the same time, though, “the way it’s written is a real gray area.”

In other words, it looks and feels in a lot of ways like news reporting, not an op-ed. On the other hand, it’s clear from the beginning that the writer has chosen a hero and a villain in this scenario. The hero is the fired music minister. The villain is any church that would have a problem with two consenting adults of the same gender falling in love and exchanging wedding vows.

From a journalistic perspective, the question is: Does the writer — regardless of whether her article is opinion writing or news reporting or a hybrid combination of both — have any responsibility to demonstrate a basic understanding of Catholic theology?

More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let’s start with the top of the story. It gives a pretty clear idea of the writer’s point of view:

CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — If this were any other year, John Thomas McCecil would be busy prepping for another weekend service, planning Advent, the annual children’s program and Christmas Eve celebration near here at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church.

But after a decade as the minister of music at the church in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and in a sad turn of events a few months ago, John Thomas says he was forced to resign because, in church parlance, he was in a “questionable” relationship.

Let that simmer for a moment.

If you’re still wondering what that means exactly, here it is in more simple terms: John Thomas is happily married to a man. He’s gay.

That fact was known by church administrators at Our Lady, and as far as he could discern, no one really cared.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

ESPN writer explains what made Dale Murphy special, on and off field, and sort of avoids a ghost

ESPN writer explains what made Dale Murphy special, on and off field, and sort of avoids a ghost

For any baseball fan who remembers Dale Murphy, this is a fantastic read from ESPN the Magazine.

The in-depth piece by Wright Thompson — titled "Where Have You Gone, Dale Murphy?" — makes the case that the former two-time National League Most Valuable Player should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That induction would emphasize the fact that the retired Atlanta Braves star did not use performance-enhancing drugs, even though he ended his career in the steroids era.

Thompson writes:

If baseball wants to wash itself clean from steroids, the best way to do it isn't to keep [Barry] Bonds out of the Hall but to let Murphy in. Induct cheaters but also celebrate Dale Murphy for his 398 home runs and for the dozens he did not hit.

While the article is pegged on the Hall of Fame argument — noting that Murphy will be eligible again next year — it's the personal story that makes this such a captivating read.

That story revolves around what a good guy Murphy is. A moral guy. A family guy. Dare I say a religious guy?

ESPN hints that faith might be at play in Murphy's character, as the writer emotionally describes how a generation of boys who grew up within reach of the TBS cable station idolized the Braves' star:

Our letters arrived at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, 50 or more a day for a decade, as Murphy perennially battled Mike Schmidt for the NL home run title and won back-to-back MVP awards, one of four outfielders in baseball history to accomplish that. We read the stories about Murphy's kindness and charity, how he didn't drink or smoke or curse and how he signed every autograph. We imagined meeting him over big glasses of milk and talking about his moonshot home runs. 

A few paragraphs later, readers learn more about the Murphy of present day:

Generation Murph has grown into middle age. We are 35 years removed from his peak as a player. He lives mostly anonymously in Utah with his wife and eight grown children. 

Utah, huh?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big search

Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big search

One of the big themes through our years of work here at GetReligion is that reporters with experience and training on the religion beat do a better job of handling stories with strong religious themes than reporters with zero experience on this complicated beat.

I know, I know. #DUH

So why, I am asked all the time, do the editors that staff major newsrooms (a) fail to see the big religion hooks (we call them "ghosts" here at GetReligion) in so many stories and (b) fail to include religion-beat professionals in the teams covering these stories? Obviously, those two questions are connected. It's a big journalism mystery.

With all of that in mind, let's look at a major national story and then play a little news-coverage game. Let's call it, "Think like a Godbeat pro." In this case, we are talking about the much-ballyhooed process to select a home for a massive new headquarters, with thousands of jobs attached.

This story is everywhere, as you would expect, since the 20 "finalist" cities are spread across much of the map of North America. To save time and space, let's look at a new report on this topic by the team at Axios, with this punchy headline, "Jeff Bezos’s brilliant PR stunt." Here is the overture:

Elected officials across the country have spent the past three months falling all over themselves to show Amazon just how much their cities love the e-commerce giant and would do just about anything to house its new headquarters.

Bottom line: The real winner is Amazon, which has created a feedback loop of positive press and fawning politicians just as the company increasingly needs both.

Big picture: Amazon, the world’s largest Internet company by revenue and the fourth-largest company by market cap, is reshaping everything from industries to main streets to homes. But this omnipotence also has put Amazon in the bullseye of a burgeoning "tech-lash," alongside gilded peers like Facebook, Google and Apple.

Now, that "tech-lash" angle is interesting and it involves all kinds of issues, from the brutal side effects of economic libertarianism (must-read book here) to religious, moral and cultural battles linked to gender and sexuality.

Now, let's keep reading. This brings us to the religion hook for this little journalism game.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, Chick-fil-A opened on Sunday to help stranded fliers in Atlanta (This wasn't a first)

Yes, Chick-fil-A opened on Sunday to help stranded fliers in Atlanta (This wasn't a first)

Thanks to The Drudge Report, the Internet is buzzing with Chick-fil-A news linked to that massive power outage at the massive Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The hook for this blitz of cyber chatter? That would be the fact that the fire that shut down America's busiest airport took place on a Sunday. Thus, it was very symbolic that Chick-fil-A -- an omnipresent reality in Atlanta culture -- came to the rescue.

But most of the news coverage is missing a crucial fact about this Chick-fil-A on Sunday story. You see, this isn't the first time that this conservative company has done this. Can you remember the other emergency that inspired similar action? Think back a year or so ago and, yes, think "religion angle." Hold that thought.

Now, here is the report that, with lots of Twitter inserts, is getting all of that Drudge traffic:

Chick-fil-A, famed for never opening on Sundays and will likely never be, has made an exception.
The fast food chain is stepping in to feed passengers left affected by the Atlanta airport blackout, according to the City of Atlanta. They'll be served at the Georgia International Convention Center, where they are able to stay overnight, which is a pretty nice consolation given what some of these people have gone through. ...
It's a remarkable aberration from the company's policy on Sunday trading hours, rooted in founder Truett Cathy's devout Christian beliefs. The policy remains the same at the Chick-fil-A in the newly opened Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Its main tenant, the Atlanta Falcons, will only play one regular season game that doesn't fall on a Sunday. ...
See, this is how bad it has to get for Chick-Fil-A to open on a Sunday.

Actually, something is missing from that report and, well, the same angle is missing from most of the other online news reports about the not-on-Sunday angle in other reports.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Ask a few more questions? Vandals take some shots at Russian church here in USA

Ask a few more questions? Vandals take some shots at Russian church here in USA

I realize that this recent news report out of Georgia is probably not a big deal.

Journalists had little cause to ask a few questions that some might consider a bit paranoid. After all, we are talking about bullet holes in a church, not a mosque.

Plus, Georgia is way down in Bible Belt country. There are lots of people down there with guns, to be sure, but not many who are likely to be violently angry about the many, many negative news headlines (think Syria, wiretaps, Vladimir Putin, etc.) linked to Russia.

There is some chance that those crazy Southerners where just, you know, running around shooting guns in the air, because they do things like that. However, these maybe-random shots happened as Christmas -- using the Gregorian date, Dec. 25th -- was approaching, as opposed to taking place during the often wild festivities of New Year's Eve.

So here is what happened, to cut to the chase. This short, short story -- "Church finds bullet holes through building, welcome sign" -- comes from the Fox 5 channel:

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. -- Forsyth County deputies are searching for the vandals who shot a church’s sign and house of worship.
“I hope it’s teenagers. I don’t see it being something more than that, it would be more troubling,” said Father Eugene Antonov of the Joy of All Who Sorrow Russian Orthodox Church.
Church members discovered multiple bullet holes through walls of their house of worship under construction, the windows and the front welcome sign.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Flashback to Godbeat past: Several symbolic stories from front lines of the SBC wars

Flashback to Godbeat past: Several symbolic stories from front lines of the SBC wars

Here is an idea for the current leaders of the Religion Newswriters Association.

What if we held a reunion for the army of Godbeat pros who worked in the 1980s and '90s? You know, gather up the folks who used to trek from one annual denominational gathering to another -- two, three or, for reporters from big newsrooms, even more events -- each summer. Call up Bruce Buursma and let him organize the whole thing. Louis Moore and Virginia Culver can plan the program. Russ Chandler can handle the after-party (more on that in a minute).

Then everyone can get together and tells stories about what life was like back in the age of travel budgets. I promise you that, within 10 minutes, folks would start telling Southern Baptist Convention stories. Everybody who worked the beat during that era has several great SBC civil-war stories.

This is sort of what host Todd Wilken and I talked about during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

We started talking about the news from this year's SBC gathering in St. Louis -- click here and then here for GetReligion background. But we ended up focusing on how important it is for journalists who cover this kind of gathering to actually know something about the religious group's life, past and present. Try to imagine having a Super Bowl and newsrooms sending reporters who know little or nothing about football.

Of course, very few news organizations spent money to send reporters to this year's SBC gathering. In the 1980s there would be 30-plus religion-beat pros at SBC meetings, scribes with folders packed with background material and notebooks full of sources. This year? At best, some organizations asked religion-beat reporters to watch the video feeds. It's like being a hoops reporter and covering the NBA finals -- without being at the games.

Does this affect the coverage? You think?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'I believe I've seen an obit for a Chihuahua that was longer,' reader says of story on major church's closing

'I believe I've seen an obit for a Chihuahua that was longer,' reader says of story on major church's closing

So, according to a headline from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a "major Presbyterian church" closed.

Question: How much ink did the local church's closing merit in that major daily newspaper?

Answer: 233 words on Page 1D of the Living section. 

At least that's how the AJC handled the news, despite the hot social issue — think same-sex unions — involved in the story.

Let's start at the top:

On Sunday, after 66 years serving parishioners on Lawrenceville Highway, Rehoboth Presbyterian Church closed the doors to its sizable campus near Tucker, apparently a victim of changing social mores and a divided congregation.
The church recently voted to allow gay marriages to be performed there, following last year’s Supreme Court decision, and many influential members left, according to a GoFundMe page intended to help rescue Rehoboth.
This challenge was aggravated by the church’s financial difficulties, as it faced $160,000 in repairs, according to the same page.

Those three paragraphs amount to half the story. Let me rephrase: They amount to half of what the newspaper printed. They're nowhere near half the story of what actually happened. 

"I believe I've seen an obit for a Chihuahua that was longer," said the GetReligion reader who tipped us to this story. (For the record, I Googled for the Chihuahua obit but couldn't find it. So put that claim under the heading of "funny but unverified.")

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

AP's not-too-religious airport chaplain story

The entire long Thanksgiving weekend, it’s widely reported, is the busiest air-travel season in the United States. So, it’s not too difficult to imagine human interest stories about life in and around major airports, which The Associated Press rightly declares are “mini-cities” with a life and culture all their own, right down to a local church or, in most cases, an interfaith chapel.

Please respect our Commenting Policy