Jana Riess

Mormon style update: AP changes rules on referring to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Mormon style update: AP changes rules on referring to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Earlier this month, I wrote a post titled “Associated Press coverage of post-Mormon Latter-day Saints full of irony — or is it mockery?”

That post addressed the irony of an Associated Press story that reported on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moving away from using the nickname “Mormon” while still emphasizing that term in the headline and lede.

“Is there any chance it was mockery?” I asked about the AP approach, linking to a related tweet by Joel Campbell, a Brigham Young University journalism professor.

Right after writing that post, I joined a group of U.S. religion journalists on a trip to Israel. So I haven’t had a chance until now to mention that soon after that story was published — and after my critique of it ran at GetReligion — AP updated its style on Mormons.

Campbell tweeted that he was “grateful” for the update.

Both the Salt Lake Tribune and the church-owned Deseret News reported on the change — and the significance of it.

The Tribune noted:

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Are standard theories about the decline of religion in United States crumbling? 

Are standard theories about the decline of religion in United States crumbling? 

The Religion News Service column “Flunking Sainthood,” as the title indicates, expresses the outlook of liberal Latter-day Saints. But author Jana Riess, who comes armed with a Columbia University doctorate in U.S. religious history, is also interesting when writing about broader matters.

Her latest opus contends that two standard theories about big trends in American religion are too simple and therefore misleading. Her focus is the rise of religiously unaffiliated “nones” to constitute 39 percent of “millennials” from ages 18 to 29. The Religion Guy more or less agrees with her points but adds certain elements to the argument.

So, theory No. 1: Though Riess doesn’t note this, this concept was pretty much the creation of the inimitable Dean M. Kelley (1927–1997) in “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.” This 1972 book was electrifying because Kelley was a “mainline” United Methodist and prominent executive with the certifiably liberal National Council of Churches. (His expertise on religious liberty gave the NCC of that era a major role on such issues.) 

Under this “strict churches” theory, religious bodies that expect strong commitments on doctrine and lifestyle from their adherents will prosper because this shows they take their faith seriously, and  they carefully tend to individual members’ spiritual needs. By contrast, losses characterize more latitudinarian (Don’t you love that word?) denominations such as those that dominated in the NCC.

Kelley’s scenario proved keenly prescient, since white “mainline” and liberal Protestant groups were then just beginning decades of unprecedented and inexorable declines in active membership and over-all vitality. The Episcopal Church, for one example, reported 3,217,365 members in 1971 compared with 1,951,907 as of 2010. So much for left-wing Bishop Jack Spong’s 1999 book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Statistics have been even more devastating with groups like the United Church of Christ and the Church of Christ (Disciples).

Now comes Riess to announce that scenario is “crumbling” because some strict conservative groups like the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have also begun declining in recent years while others, e.g. her own Latter-day Saints (LDS) or Mormon Church, still grow but at more sluggish rates.

That’s accurate, important, and yes it tells us factors other than strictness are at play.

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What's big news? Major Mormon event showcases varying views on what's a big story

What's big news? Major Mormon event showcases varying views on what's a big story

In a 2,000-word news wrap-up about Mormonism’s semi-annual General Conference that concluded Easter Sunday (note unusual scheduling), the lede reported that attendees ”made history” by voting to “sustain” Russell Nelson as the new president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That was the news judgment of the church-run daily Deseret News. From the standpoint of LDS believers, affirmation of Nelson deserved pride of place because he’s regarded as God’s unique spokesman.

But for non-church media that ritual was yawnsville, worth a sentence or two.

Why? There was no choice of other names and conference attendees always affirm a new president without dissent. Moreover, Nelson’s colleagues had already installed him weeks beforehand. Beyond that, Nelson’s ascent was predestined years beforehand because the new LDS president is automatically the man with the earliest appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

That means newswriters can already put in the bank their advance articles announcing the next president, assuming that Dallin Oaks, 85, outlives Nelson, who is 93.

The Deseret’s secondary theme was the lede for other media: Nelson’s choice of the first LDS apostle with Asian ancestry, America’s Gerrit Gong, and the first apostle from Latin America, Brazil’s Ulisses Soares. It’s intriguing to think Gong, 64, or Soares, 59, could head this heavily Americanized religion someday. (Germany’s Dieter Uchtdorf is also a current apostle. In its early history, the church elevated apostles from England, Denmark and Ireland.)

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Mormon Church practices discipline; news reports missed key transparency question

Mormon Church practices discipline; news reports missed key transparency question

Usually when an organization has bad or embarrassing news, it'll release the details on a Friday, perhaps in the afternoon, realizing that Saturday's newspaper is (or was) perhaps the least-read edition of the week.

In the fictional White House of TV's "The West Wing," this was referred to as "taking out the trash day."

In the real world, however, some organizations will release bad news when it happens, which explains the wide media coverage of Tuesday's announcement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more popularly known as the Mormon Church. Elder James J. Hamula, a general authority of the 15 million-member denomination, was "released" from his church administrative position as well as removed from the church membership rolls.

The Salt Lake Tribune gave us the facts:

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Mormon church has excommunicated one of its top leaders.
On Tuesday morning, James J. Hamula was released from his position in the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after disciplinary action.
LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins provided no details about the removal. But the church did confirm Hamula was no longer a member of the church and that his ouster was not for apostasy or disillusionment.
In cases involving members of Mormonism’s presiding quorums -- rare as they are -- the faith’s governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles form a disciplinary council to consider such actions.

There was no gloating of any sort by the Tribune and certainly none at the Deseret News, the general-interest daily owned by the LDS Church. (Disclosure: I served as a national reporter for the DNews in 2014 and 2015.) And as you might expect, the "hometown" newspapers provided solid coverage of the dismissal.

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When the Latter-day Saints dump the Boy Scouts, might there be a back story here?

When the Latter-day Saints dump the Boy Scouts, might there be a back story here?

Probably one of the more intriguing religion stories last week was that of a decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to partially break with the Boy Scouts of America.

The decision didn’t shock a whole lot of people, as Mormons and the Boy Scouts have been on a collision course for some time, as getreligion.org has previously noted.

Nevertheless, the former has long been a major force undergirding the national BSA and its departure is bound to have an effect.

We’ll start with the Associated Press just to get the bare details. As you read this, keep asking yourself this question: Might there be a back story in here somewhere?

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon church, the biggest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United States, announced Thursday it is pulling as many as 185,000 older youths from the organization as part of an effort to start its own scouting-like program.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the move wasn’t triggered by the Boy Scouts’ decision in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders, since Mormon-sponsored troops have remained free to exclude such adults on religious grounds.
But at least one leading Mormon scholar said that the Boy Scouts and the church have been diverging on values in recent years and that the policy on gays was probably a contributing factor in the split.
Saying it wants a new, simplified program of its own that is more closely tailored to Mormon teenagers, the church announced that boys ages 14 to 18 will no longer participate in the Boy Scouts starting next year.

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Pod people: More on Mormon church founder Joseph Smith's 40 wives and the media's delayed bandwagon

Pod people: More on Mormon church founder Joseph Smith's 40 wives and the media's delayed bandwagon

My "big news report card" this week on media coverage of the Mormon church acknowledging that founder Joseph Smith had up to 40 wives drew a humorous response from Daniel Burke, editor of CNN's "Belief Blog".

"Is there a curve?" Burke asked on Twitter, joking that it wasn't fair to "compare hacks" like him to The New York Times' Laurie Goodstein and the Salt Lake Tribune's Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Stack replied that it bugged her that the Mormon essay wasn't seen as big news until the Times reported on it, but she said Goodstein did a good job.

As my post noted, Stack reported on Smith's multiple wives three weeks ago, followed quickly by The Associated Press. 

But most news organizations jumped on the story only after The New York Times published the story on its front page earlier this week.

Over at Religion News Service, the delayed media bandwagon also perplexed Mormon blogger Jana Riess, who wrote a very GetReligion-esque post about it (there's a lot of that going around this week).

 

 

 

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