Knoxville News Sentinel

After the Cakeshop decision: Celebrations, cynicism and sobering insights from pros

After the Cakeshop decision: Celebrations, cynicism and sobering insights from pros

So I was at the gym last week (old people with arthritis do things like that) and I fell into a conversation with another old-timer about the 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (.pdf here). She wanted to know what I thought of the decision.

These kinds of conversations happen all the time here in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in part because my column has run for three decades in the nearby Knoxville News Sentinel, a newsroom that played a key role in the birth of "On Religion." I'm that religion guy.

Anyway, I said that it appeared America's one true king -- Justice Anthony Kennedy -- couldn't decide how to settle this clash between the First Amendment and LGBTQ rights, two issues at the heart of his high-court legacy. So he punted and wrote a narrow opinion, focusing on the anti-religious bias exhibited by Colorado officials. Who knows what will happen next?

I didn't take notes, but this Oak Ridger replied: "Well, I just don't think that guy could refuse to do business with a gay couple like that."

I asked if she knew that baker Jack Phillips offered to sell them anything in his store for their wedding, including cookies, brownies or basic wedding cakes. What he said he couldn't do -- because of his traditional Christian beliefs -- was make one of his special, handcrafted designer cakes that included themes and details linked to their same-sex union rite.

Well, I don't think it's right for him to single out gays like that, said the woman.

Actually, I noted, Phillips has turned down lots of jobs because of his evangelical beliefs, including making Halloween cakes, cakes containing alcohol, risqué bachelor-party cakes, atheist event cakes and, yes, cakes with slogans attacking gay people. He doesn't reject classes of people, but he does reject delivering specific messages he believes are linked to religion.

This Oak Ridger was silent for a moment, then said: "Well, I haven't heard any of that on CNN."

Maybe I should have told that story in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), because it's a perfect example of how simplistic press coverage has helped shape -- "twist" might be the right word -- grassroots discussions of religious-liberty issues.

Ever since the ruling was handed down, there has been an amazing barrage of opinions from activists on both sides.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

If the following USA Today story wasn't real, then some journalist would have had to have made it up.

You see, coverage of shootings in churches almost always lead to mini-waves of reports about a tricky and controversial subject -- efforts to keep churches safe and secure. Yes, we talked about church security during this week's podcast, so click here to tune that in.

The overused word "controversial" applies in this whole subject because of the tension between increased calls for gun control (which I support, especially when we're talking about military-grade weapons) and people discussing the use of off-duty police and trained volunteers to protect churches.

In news media coverage, this can turn into left-leaning calls for gun control vs. people in large, almost always conservative churches packing concealed weapons. In other words, the whole thing turns into another discussion of guns, guns, guns and more guns.

Thus, the headline on that aforementioned USA Today story: "Two accidentally shot in church while discussing church shootings." And here's the heart of that story:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A man accidentally shot himself and his wife at an east Tennessee church on Thursday while he was showing off his gun during a discussion on recent church shootings, police said.
Elder members of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were cleaning up about 1 p.m. after enjoying a luncheon held to celebrate Thanksgiving. They began talking about guns in churches, according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.
A man in his 80s pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and said, "I carry my handgun everywhere," according to Parks. He removed the magazine, cleared the chamber, and showed the gun to some of the men in the church. He put the magazine back in, apparently loaded a round in the chamber, and returned the gun to its holster, Parks said.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Divine intervention: Survivor of motorcycle crash points to God, but questions remain

Divine intervention: Survivor of motorcycle crash points to God, but questions remain

The Knoxville News Sentinel has a gripping interview with a man who survived a motorcycle crash that killed his friend.

The East Tennessee newspaper's lede sets the scene:

Mice and chipmunks scurried across Kevin Diepenbrock's body as he lay immobile on the earth beneath "The Dragon." As a seasoned outdoorsman, he listened to the sounds of the night and knew something bigger lurked in the darkness – he feared a bear.
The day before, Diepenbrock and Phillip Polito, his riding companion and co-worker at a natural gas plant near Philadelphia, Pa., tumbled more than 100 feet down a rocky embankment after their motorcycles collided on a notorious stretch of U.S. Highway 129 near mile marker 4 called "The Dragon."
Polito, 29, of Perryville, Mo., was killed in the Oct. 15 crash, and the 41-year-old Diepenbrock — with two punctured lungs, 17 breaks in 12 ribs, and multiple spinal fractures — could barely move.
"Phil reminded me of me, a younger version of me," Diepenbrock said on Monday, sitting up in a chair at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. He was doing much better, he said: he had managed to walk a couple laps around the room that morning.
"There wasn't a whole lot of seriousness between us," he continued. "We'd always joke around and clown around and stuff like that. Phil could bring people together. He was just a character."
Due to the steepness of the embankment, Diepenbrock, Polito and the two motorcycles were flung out of sight, hidden from the many motorists who get a thrill from the road's sharp curves and scenic views. Every time Diepenbrock heard the exhaust of a passing motorcycle, he called out in desperation, but no one could hear his voice.

Go ahead and read the whole story, and the News Sentinel shares more harrowing details about the 30 hours that Diepenbrock spent beneath the embankment — with no cell phone signal and afraid he'd die before anyone found him. He recorded videos on his cell phone to say goodbye to his wife and parents.

What's religion got to do with it?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism

The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism

During the 20-plus years that I taught a basic journalism class, I asked my students what I thought was a simple question during my lecture on strategies in beat reporting, including sports. The goal was to get them to think about the impact of one of the high commandments of the news business: All news is local.

In other words, you don't just cover news stories. You strive to cover stories with unique hooks into the lives and interests of your own, local readers. Thus, I would ask: If you were a reporter who wanted to specialize in covering women's basketball, where would you rather work -- Atlanta (or some other big market) or Knoxville, Tenn.?

For decades the answer was obvious. You needed to work in Knoxville, because of two words -- Pat Summitt.

As you would imagine, the media here in East Tennessee have been offering wall-to-wall coverage in the wake of the Tuesday morning death of the 64-year-old Summitt, who many consider the greatest basketball coach of all time, male or female. At the very least, the czarina of the Lady Vols was to the women's game what the great John Wooden of UCLA was to men's college hoops. Truth is, Summitt changed the whole world of women's sports.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Summitt and the challenges of her amazing life. Then a saw the tribute story at Baptist Press. Yes, Baptist Press.

It included a timely detail from her life that I had not seen in the local and national coverage. It's especially stunning that this detail -- yes, it's a religion ghost -- was not included in Knoxville coverage.

All news is local, you know, and just a few years ago Knoxville was named No. 1 in a poll of "Bible-minded cities" in the United States (and it's currently No. 11).

The key passage, starting with a quote just before she died:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Blest be the strong, but vague, ties that bind in remarkable Knoxville neighborhood

Blest be the strong, but vague, ties that bind in remarkable Knoxville neighborhood

What is the boomerang art about? We will get to that in a moment.

One of the nice things about being back in the Hills of East Tennessee is that I am living in a part of the world in which newspapers devote quite a bit of ink to the lives of ordinary people, often when they are doing rather ordinary things that still have great meaning.

Yes, part of me misses the daily snark of The Washington Post Style section. I am also struggling to get used to living in a zip code in which SEC football is pretty much all that matters in sports. There is a rumor that an NFL franchise exists in Tennessee, but you have to dig into the back pages to find that out. Oh, but the Lady Vols are a big deal in the hoops world, which is good.

I have lived in East Tennessee before -- teaching for six years at Milligan College up near the Virginia line -- and I get the rhythms of all of this. I have also read The Knoxville News Sentinel for a long, long time, since that is the newspaper that first asked the old Scripps Howard New Service to start a weekly religion news column. So 26 years later, it's nice that the News Sentinel is the newspaper that lands in my driveway each morning.

So the other day, the editors in the Life section there ran a very interesting and touching story about something that used to be normal, but is very unusual today -- members of several generations of a family going out of their way to live right next to each other, right there in a normal neighborhood.

This story is actually downright countercultural. Here is how it starts:

Boomerang kids move back home because they have to. But in a small neighborhood off Emory Road, kids move back because they want to.
One at a time, about half the kids who grew up in Imperial Estates have moved back from places like San Francisco, Australia, Kenya and New York City. They decided that life along Beaver Creek couldn't be beat. They bought houses just down the street from their parents. They want to raise their children as happily as they were raised.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Close to home: Those Godbeat changes hit tmatt

“I’m glad to hear that Scripps Howard still as a religion writer on its staff. Seriously, I mean it’s a nice thing that, you know, that still exists in the media.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy