Carla Hinton

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

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When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

I don’t believe I’ve ever met the Rev. Bob Long, even though my time as religion editor for The Oklahoman overlapped with his tenure as pastor of a large United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.

But I know his voice.

For years, I’ve heard Long on the radio, often while driving to work. Long is a mini-celebrity here in Oklahoma, known for inspirational radio messages that include cheerful music and a quick life lesson from the pastor.

“That’s something to think about,” he concludes each 60-second segment. “I’m Bob Long with St. Luke’s Methodist Church.”

This week, Long has gained notoriety for a different reason — for a sermon in which he put the face of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his church’s big screens.

As The Oklahoman’s Carla Hinton (who succeeded me as religion editor in 2002) reported on Wednesday’s front page, a social media storm erupted with a tweet from a churchgoer who was not pleased with Long’s choice of optics.

The church posted both written and video messages from Long apologizing for the hurt feelings his sermon caused.

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Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Here at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly and Julia Duin have done a fantastic job analyzing national and international media coverage of the recent barrage of Catholic clergy sex abuse news.

I'm referring to the headlines that have followed the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Here in the Southwest, I've noticed, too, that the world events have helped bring attention to previously unknown cases on the local level, specifically in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

These are cases that perhaps would have remained under the radar if not for the attention on the larger issue.

In Oklahoma City, for example, the Pennsylvania report drew attention to the fact that a defrocked priest who had been accused of abuse years earlier was volunteering at a local church.

Carla Hinton, religion editor for The Oklahoman, reported that news on her paper's Aug. 25 front page.

The basics:

Local Catholic leaders will publicize a list of names of priests who are credibly accused of abuse, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said Friday.

With such a list posted on the archdiocese's website, a defrocked priest like Benjamin Zoeller likely would have been prevented from volunteering at a local parish.

That is the hope of archdiocese leaders who learned that Zoeller was volunteering at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel, when a staff member at the church called on Thursday to tell them about it.

"As soon as we received the call, we contacted the pastor and others to make them aware of his background and that he is not to volunteer or work at a parish or any archdiocesan entity," archdiocese spokeswoman Diane Clay said.

Clay said Zoeller was removed as a priest with the archdiocese in 2002 because "credible accusations of abuse" were made against him. She said he was laicized or formally relieved of his priestly rights and duties in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley asked for a review of Zoeller's file after receiving an Aug. 17 letter from a Minnesota man who said he had been sexually molested by Zoeller in the 1980s when Zoeller was a priest at an Oklahoma City parish. Clay said Coakley also called for an independent investigation into the matter.

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Friday Five: Capital Gazette journalists, SCOTUS news, an unsung hero's passing and more

Friday Five: Capital Gazette journalists, SCOTUS news, an unsung hero's passing and more

"I’m just undone by what happened at the Capital Gazette," said my friend Carla Hinton, religion editor at The Oklahoman. "These are strange and heartbreaking times we are living in. Praying for my fellow journalists and their families."

"It's especially traumatic because so many of us started our careers at newspapers like the Capital Gazette," responded my friend Steve Lackmeyer, a longtime business reporter at The Oklahoman. "We know these people, we know these newsrooms..."

Amen and amen.

No, the senseless slaying of journalists isn't any more tragic than the mass shootings — at schools, churches and other businesses — that keep making headlines in America.

But for those of us in this profession, the Capital Gazette tragedy hits especially close to home.

Want to understand the heart and passion that make many journalists tick? Read this Twitter thread by Nyssa Kruse, an intern at the Hartford Courant.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

So the most newsworthy Southern Baptist Convention in years is history.

Rather than try to analyze all the coverage -- even a fraction of it -- I'm going to offer up a tweetstorm of links and analysis. After all, your GetReligionistas have been all over the coverage of big SBC events for weeks. To catch up with recent events (and some history), click here, here, here and then here. For starters. And there's a podcast on the way, too.

But before today's tweetstorm begins, I want to nitpick a specific word choice by a respected Godbeat pro: Tom Gjelten of NPR.

In this headline, see if you can spot the word I'm talking about:

Pence Speech Riles Some As Southern Baptists' Moderates Gain Strength

A veteran religion writer emailed me the link to that story with this comment: "I don't think moderate means what Tom thinks it means." I hope Gjelten sees this post and responds with a comment on what he thinks it means. I'd welcome that.

Here's how NPR used the term in the context of the story:

In general the meeting showed moderates within the denomination in ascendancy, particularly on immigration issues. Resolutions were passed that called for more acceptance of immigrants, criticized the separation of families at the border and urged more generous treatment of refugees.

The question: Are those pushing for immigration reform accurately characterized as "moderates" in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention?

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Friday Five: Award-winning religion story, Down syndrome advocate, free cars at church and more

Friday Five: Award-winning religion story, Down syndrome advocate, free cars at church and more

I'm going to bury the lede and do a bit of foreshadowing before we get to the big, happy news in this week's Friday Five.

Previously, GetReligion's own Julia Duin has won two Wilbur Awards, the national honors given by the Religion Communicators Council. The annual prizes celebrate excellence by individuals in secular media in communicating religious issues, values and themes.

Duin's first Wilbur Award came in 2002 and recognized a Washington Times series she co-wrote with Larry Witham on the future of America’s clergy.

In 2015, Duin earned her second Wilbur Award for her "From Rebel to Reverend" piece about Nadia Bolz-Weber for More Magazine.

The 2018 Wilbur Award winners were announced this week. Might Duin claim a third? Stay tuned as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Los Angeles-based freelance writer Heather Adams had an extremely interesting piece this week on an anti-abortion activist who has Down syndrome.

Adams wrote the story for Religion News Service (full disclosure: I also do occasional writing for RNS, including a spot news piece this week on creationist Ken Ham speaking at a public university in Oklahoma).

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How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

For those in Godbeat circles, many of the bylines splashed across today's front pages are extremely familiar.

I'm talking about names such as William Lobdell and Russell Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, Gayle White of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today.

All of those veteran religion writers — just to name a few — wrote their respective papers' major obituaries marking Wednesday's death of the Rev. Billy Graham at age 99.

But here's what might surprise many ordinary readers: None of them has worked for those papers in years. 

"I must have written and updated a whole suite of advance obit stories on Graham at least three times over 15 years," Grossman said. "I last polished up the package in 2013, in the week before I left the paper on a buyout. However, I stayed in touch with USAT editors (and) emailed them where fixes/changes might be needed over the years."

Welcome to the concept of the "prepared obit."

Here's what that means: News organizations put together obits in advance for certain prominent people, such as presidents, movie stars and — in the case of Graham — world-famous preachers. That way, they're prepared (at least somewhat) if the person dies 10 minutes before deadline.

A New York Times obituary writer explained it this way in a 2014 piece:

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Beyond sex carnivals and drag queens: Facts appreciated in furor over disinvited campus speaker

Beyond sex carnivals and drag queens: Facts appreciated in furor over disinvited campus speaker

Since I live in Oklahoma and write about religion, friends started asking me yesterday about a controversy brewing at the University of Central Oklahoma.

"Know anything about this?" said one GetReligion reader, sharing a link to an item on the Answers in Genesis website. The headline: "University Denies Free Speech to Ken Ham and Boots Him from Speaking."

Nope, I replied.

That was the first I was hearing about it.

I Googled to see if I could find any mainstream news coverage. I couldn't. But my search did turn up a column by Todd Starnes, a conservative commentator at Fox News. The headline: "Sex carnivals, drag queens are welcome, Ken Ham and other creationists are not, university says."

Starnes' take:

The University of Central Oklahoma has opened its arms to drag queen shows and safe sex carnivals but they draw the line at Christians who believe God created the Heavens and the Earth in six days.
The university apparently has no problem with students tossing dildos through cardboard vaginas, but they draw the line at exposing impressionable young minds to the teachings of a creationist.
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and founder of the popular Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, was disinvited from speaking on the public university campus after an ugly campaign of bullying by LGBT activists.

Alrighty then.

"Well, if Starnes is reporting it :-) ..." said a friend who, like me, was hoping for a more impartial source.

Suffice it to say I was pleased when I woke up this morning and found the story at top of The Oklahoman's front page:

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In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

The devil is in the details.

Pardon the cliche, but that old bit of wisdom seems appropriate for this post.

Three years ago, a Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City made headlines and sparked a few here at GetReligion.

Now, one of the figures at the center of that controversy is back in the news. As we sometimes — OK, often — do at this journalism-focused website, I want to go old-school Journalism 101 and ask a simple question.

In the nitty-gritty of journalism, what difference do you notice between these two headlines?

The first one:

Devil worshiper files lawsuit against Putnam City Schools

And the second one:

Metro School District Sued By Known Devil Worshiper

I see a lot of you raising your hands, especially those of you who have been reading GetReligion for a while.

The distinction is simple: The first one (from The Oklahoman) simply states a fact. The second one (from an Oklahoma City-area television station) adds a value judgment.

For a journalist seeking to be fair and impartial — yes, even to a "known devil worshiper" — the first headline is better. It's neutral. It raises no eyebrows with the use of an adjective such as "known." Right?

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