John L. Allen

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:

ANOTHER PRO-LIFE DEMOCRAT

A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

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Documents, documents, documents: It's time to get back to the McCarrick scandal

Documents, documents, documents: It's time to get back to the McCarrick scandal

(Sound effect: A loud sigh.)

I wasn't going to write about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter again today. 

Honest. I hit the wall yesterday, trying to read another 24 hours worth of coverage of this story.

What's frustrating, of course, is that most of the coverage is about Vigano and the letter, as opposed to what the letter is about -- as in the strange story of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and who -- in the global Catholic hierarchy -- knew or did not know about his love of sleeping with seminarians.

But people keep asking me this question: What is this story really about?

Well, I think I have found two passages that kind of sum things up.

First, there is a story from Reuters: "Defenders rally around pope, fear conservatives escalating war." The true story, you see, is not McCarrick and his network of supporters. No, the REAL STORY is that McCarrick had truly evil enemies and, now, those enemies want the head of Pope Francis?

Why, precisely? The top of this story is very concise:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Supporters of Pope Francis have rushed to his defense after a former top Vatican official launched an unprecedented attack on him, a move they say dangerously escalates a campaign to weaken his papacy by conservatives who condemn him as too liberal.

Francis’ supporters say the accusations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s 11-page public statement aim to pave the way for a conservative pope to succeed him who would reverse his openings to divorced and homosexual Catholics.

Oh my, that's perfect.

The Reuters story is built on the views of the Catholic left, but it opens with several variations on exactly what I continue to hear from some -- repeat SOME -- conservative Catholics who are chanting, basically, "It's gay priests! It's gay bishops! It's gay cardinals!"

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Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

First things first: Yes, your GetReligionistas received your messages and saw your many tweets about National Public Radio's amazing Easter correction. 

However, it's important to see the larger picture.

In terms of strange news and social-media -- Twitter in particular -- was this an amazing (Western) Holy Week  and Easter or what? Is the pope Catholic?

I'll deal with some of the tweets first, but it's important to know where we are going -- which is the larger story linked to what Pope Francis did or didn't say about hell, in his latest sit-down with his 93-year-old atheist friend, and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica.

Hold that thought, because we have quite a distance to go before we get there. In my opinion, the most amazing part of that Holy Week story was the Vatican's sort-of denial that was issued to straighten out this latest Scalfari drama.

The now famous NPR correction was attached to a story about this Francis statement, under the headline: "Pope To World: Hell Does Exist." 

The Washington Post actually published an analysis piece about this correction, placing it in the context of decades of debate about media bias linked to religion. Here is the top of that piece:

An NPR report on Good Friday described Easter inaccurately and, in doing so, practically begged Christians to renew charges that the media is biased against them.
“Easter -- the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere like that, but rather arose into heaven -- is on Sunday,” read an article on NPR’s website.
Easter, in fact, is the day when Christians celebrate their belief in the earthly resurrection of Jesus.

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Covering Cardinal Law's death: Is it possible for reporters to be even-handed?

Covering Cardinal Law's death: Is it possible for reporters to be even-handed?

When it comes to obituaries of famous conservative religious figures, the question often is how far one should stick the knife in. This blog saw examples of sheer spite on the part of several media when Phyllis Schlafly died. Ditto for Tim LaHay.

Early coverage of the death of Cardinal Law on Tuesday shows a lot of knife activity on the part of the Boston Globe and New York Times and gentler judgment in some other quarters.

We’ll start with how the Globe covered it:

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, whose 19-year tenure as head of the Archdiocese of Boston ended in his resignation after it was revealed he had failed to remove sexually abusive priests from the ministry, setting off a scandal that reached around the world, died Tuesday, according to an official with the Catholic Church. He was 86.
Boston’s eighth bishop and fourth archbishop, Cardinal Law was the highest-ranking official in the history of the US church to leave office in public disgrace. Although he had not broken any laws in the Commonwealth — clergy were not required to report child sex abuse until 2002 — his actions led to a sense of betrayal among many Boston Catholics that the church is still dealing with today…
In 2004, after Cardinal Law’s resignation, Pope John Paul II appointed him archpriest of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major, and he moved to Rome. The controversial appointment was a reminder of the regard in which the Vatican held Cardinal Law.

It’s a well-rounded obit, but it seems to be a pastiche of previous articles on the cardinal, who got massive coverage from the Globe.

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New York Times trips on pope's 'Lord's Prayer' story, but Houston Chronicle recovers

New York Times trips on pope's 'Lord's Prayer' story, but Houston Chronicle recovers

If it is possible to be simultaneously perceptive and as dense as odium, which I believe is the most dense material on the planet, then The New York Times is our winner.

Someone decided to head a report on something Pope Francis is thinking about in this manner: "Lost in Translation? Pope Ponders an Update to Lord’s Prayer." Yes, the word "update" appears in the first paragraph, too, but I wonder if it's the right word to use.

More on that in just a moment. Meanwhile, take in the opening of this story:

ROME -- It has been a question of theological debate and liturgical interpretation for years, and now Pope Francis has joined the discussion: Does the Lord’s Prayer, Christendom’s resonant petition to the Almighty, need an update?
In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer -- “lead us not into temptation” -- was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.
“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”
In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

My first journalism problem is that word "update." We are, after all, talking about the meaning of words taken from scripture, words ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth, no less. I'm not at all certain the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church is into "updating" Scripture.

It may seem like a minor point, but words do matter. What I believe the pope is suggesting is perhaps a revised translation, but that's not an update, is it? Is the actual issue a matter of translation?

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Will team Trump come through for Christians in Middle East? Will press cover this story?

Will team Trump come through for Christians in Middle East? Will press cover this story?

Two decades ago, my family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy -- becoming part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church that is based on Damascus, located on the street called Straight (as in Acts 9:11).

From 2001-2004 we were members of a West Palm Beach, Fla., congregation in which most of the members had deep family roots into Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. Needless to say, they had stories to tell about the struggles of Christians in the Middle East.

Here in America, we tend to focus on the present. At the moment, that means talking about atrocities linked to the Islamic State. When you talk to Christians from the Middle East, the events of the present are always tied to centuries of oppression in the past. It's all one story.

Right now, the issue -- for many Christians, and members of other oppressed religious minorities -- is how to survive in refugee camps. After that they face the ultimate questions of whether to flee the region or attempt, once again, to return to their battered homes and churches and start over.

Thus, I noticed a story last week that received very little attention in the American mainstream press. Once again, we are dealing with a story that I first saw in an online analysis at The Atlantic. When I went looking for mainstream, hard-news coverage, I saw this short CNN report, and that was pretty much it. Here's the heart of that CNN story:

Washington (CNN) Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday night that the Trump administration will no longer fund "ineffective" programs run by the United Nations to help persecuted communities and will instead send money to such groups directly through the US Agency for International Development.
"President (Donald) Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations, ... and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID," Pence declared to extended applause while speaking in Washington to the group In Defense of Christians, which advocates for greater protection of Christians in the Middle East.
"While faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in the region are more than willing to assist, the United Nations continues to deny their funding requests," Pence said.
The vice president, who is deeply religious, urged his "fellow Christians" to support faith-based groups and private organizations.

    Note the strange, vague little phrase that Pence is "deeply religious," backed by the scare-quote "fellow Christians" reference. In other words, this move is just another attempt to play to the GOP base. Thus, this isn't really a story that matters.

     

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    Crux reports from Lebanon-Syria border, where Western ideals clash with deadly local realities

    Crux reports from Lebanon-Syria border, where Western ideals clash with deadly local realities

    One of the greatest gifts I’ve derived from being a journalist has been to repeatedly face situations in which what seemed obvious to me made no sense to someone else. This helped me understand that's it's an enormously complicated world that requires empathy toward others to comprehend it at any depth.

    This can happen when you're fortunate enough to mix with people who have a world view that’s quite different than you're own. You learn that preconceived notions about “the facts” of a story can be a barrier to grokking the heart of the story.

    Crux, the online Roman Catholic journal, reminded me of this last week via a series of stories it published about besieged Christian villages in the Lebanese-Syrian border region.

    That's a pretty tough neighborhood. In such places, simple survival -- particularly for religious and ethnic minorities -- can mean assuming positions that seem morally unthinkable for those of us fortunate enough to live in far gentler environs.

    Take the case of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for example. Who of us thinks him to be anything less than a brutal murderer with little -- “none” might be the better word -- regard for anything but his own survival? Who of us would be willing to live under his leadership?

    As part of the series, Crux editor John L. Allen, Jr., in a piece labeled analysis, wrote that what seems apparent about Assad to most of us in the West holds little sway for Christians living in Lebanon and Syrian. His piece ran under the following headline: “Meeting Middle East Christians is where Western stereotypes go to die.”

     

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    Big question looming over Catholic news: What would it take to pop this pope's media bubble?

    Big question looming over Catholic news: What would it take to pop this pope's media bubble?

    As a rule, I post "think pieces" -- posts pointing readers toward essays about trends on the religion beat -- on the weekend. I'm going to make an exception because I can't imagine waiting a few more days for readers to see this one.

    I mean, we're talking about a John L. Allen, Jr., analysis piece at Crux with this headline: "Can anything burst Pope’s media bubble? Nah, probably not."

    Prepare to chat away.

    The piece starts off with a complicated drama in the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria, where -- as Allen puts it -- Pope Francis has "thrown down one of the most authoritarian gauntlets we’ve seen any pope fling in a long time."

    It's the kind of move, literally threatening the status of every priest of the diocese, that would freak out mainstream reporters if attempted by any other recent pope. But it's not the kind of thing that sticks to Pope Francis, because everyone knows what he is a friendly, populist kind of man who is gentle and kind, etc., etc. As Allen kicks things into gear, he writes:

    What all this got me thinking about is the following: Had any other recent pope done such a thing, howls about abuse of power and over-centralization probably would have been deafening, especially from the press, where the rebel priests likely would have become folk heroes. Francis, however, gets more or less a free pass. ...
    Yes, some coverage has been more critical of late, especially Francis’s handling of the sexual abuse scandals in the wake of the criminal indictment of one of his top aides, Cardinal George Pell, in Australia. Even then, however, the tone tends to be, “Francis is such a great guy, so why is this area lagging behind?”

    The heart of the essay is a bit of speculation about what it would take to pop this amazing papal media bubble.

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    About that Mike Pence speech: Are solid facts available on global persecution of Christians?

    About that Mike Pence speech: Are solid facts available on global persecution of Christians?

    From time to time, your GetReligionistas pause to remind readers that they should not blame reporters for the headlines that appear with their stories.

    Sad, but true: There is nothing unusual about seeing a solid news report that gets messed up, for readers, by an inaccurate or misleading headline.

    But what should we say when a story has a solid, focused headline, but the story's actual contents leave much to be desired?

    Consider the Washington Post report about the speech last week by Vice President Mike Pence at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. I have no problems with the simple headline here: "Pence: America will prioritize protecting Christians abroad."

    The key word is "abroad." And the top of the story -- obviously the source of the headline -- gets straight to some of the basics.

    Vice President Pence sought on Thursday to reassure Christian leaders looking for the White House to focus more on the plight of persecuted Christians abroad.
    “Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration,” the vice president said during a morning address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians being held this week in Washington. Pence spoke to an audience who are grateful for the Trump administration’s statements of support for that cause but who are starting to question when the administration will take more concrete action.
    Advocacy on behalf of people persecuted for being Christian is a topic “of enormous importance to this administration,” Pence said. Turning to speakers at the conference who were there to share their personal stories of persecution abroad, he said: “You have the prayers of the president of the United States. The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred Americans to action, and it brings me here today.”

    So far, so good. But if you read the rest of this story its pretty apparent that the Post team thinks that the American political angles in this story are way more important than the evidence that lots of Christians are dying around the world.

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