LDS Church

Salt Lake Tribune has best take when covering LDS shift on status of gay members' children

Salt Lake Tribune has best take when covering LDS shift on status of gay members' children

Well, that was weird.

Just over three years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its policy of refusing to baptize children of gay church members until said children are 18, the church’s leaders reversed themselves.

Left hanging amidst all the news coverage yesterday was an answer to why the church leaders changed course so quickly. The big question: Was this a matter of doctrine or changing political realities?

The Deseret News, which is as close as one can get to an official voice of the church, said the following:

SALT LAKE CITY — Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender may now be blessed as infants and later baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to updates announced Thursday to November 2015 church policies intended at the time to maintain family harmony but perceived as painful by some supporters of the LGBT community.

The church also will update its handbook of instructions for leaders to remove the label of apostasy for homosexual behavior that was applied beginning in November 2015, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who announced the changes on behalf of the First Presidency on Thursday morning during the leadership session of the church’s 189th Annual General Conference…

In a news release, the First Presidency said the changes were the result of extended counseling with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and "fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters."

The article added that the switch was a change in church policies, not in church doctrine, but then added that “current revelation overtakes past teachings.”

So, maybe someone had a revelation about this? You see, “revelation” is not a word typically associated with policy decisions. That’s a doctrine word.

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Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?

Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?

What are the countries with the highest amount of kids with Down syndrome? If you look here, they are the United States, followed by Brazil and Mexico, all of which have highly religious populations.

So you'd think that any article dealing with the syndrome and abortion in highly churched Utah might have something to do with religion.

You might think that. But the topic is not mentioned in this otherwise informative piece by the Washington Post. Once again, it might have helped to consult the religion-desk staff during the reporting process.

At stake is a piece of legislation outlawing abortion -- when Down syndrome is the overriding reason for terminating the pregnancy. 

Karianne Lisonbee stepped up to the lectern to talk about what she called “a terrible form of discrimination.”
The Republican state representative in Utah had just introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is seeking one “solely” because the fetus has Down syndrome. “In recent years, there has been a shocking increase in abortions performed for no other reason than because a prenatal test identified the potential for a trait a parent didn’t like,” she said at the news conference last month.

At this point, most articles would follow up her assertion with some factchecking.

As it turns out, the abortion rate with parents who learn their kid has Down syndrome goes as high as 90 percent internationally and 67 percent in the United States. Instead, this piece quoted the legislator, then added:

The highly controversial legislation -- and similar bills passed in North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana -- has put Down syndrome front and center in the abortion debate when the condition is becoming more widely understood and accepted in the United States. In many neighborhoods today, children with Down syndrome participate in mainstream classrooms and on sports teams. Companies including Safeway, Walgreens and Home Depot have created programs to train and employ adults with the condition (along with adults with other disabilities). This year, Gerber, the maker of baby food, lit up social media with expressions of delight when it announced that it had chosen Lucas Warren -- who has Down syndrome -- as its newest “spokesbaby.”

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Pew 'state religion' survey: Putting data in context is crucial, something The Guardian forgot

Pew 'state religion' survey: Putting data in context is crucial, something The Guardian forgot

While I'm not an expert on Transcendental Meditation, it's my understanding that having a personal mantra assigned to you by an instructor is essential to the practice of TM. Thus, if I were to select a mantra for meditating on the press and religion, it'd be "Con-text, con-text, con-text." (You know, I'm feeling better already.)

Bad meditation jokes aside, careful readers of this blog might sense that calling for context is, in fact, my mantra, or pretty close to it. A good example of why it's important -- as well as what's missing when journalism omits this -- comes courtesy of the Pew Research Center, the Washington, D.C.-based group which this week released a study on life in nations which have an official state religion.

In this country, such a choice is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States, specifically by the Bill of Rights ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, etc."). However, that sanction doesn't exist in other nations, such as the United Kingdom.

Let's begin with Britain's The Guardian, which sticks to the bare facts in its report:

More than one in five countries has an official state religion, with the majority being Muslim states, and a further 20% of countries have a preferred or favoured religion. A slim majority (53%) of counties has no official or preferred religion, and 10 (5%) are hostile to religion, according to a report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
Most of the 43 countries with state religions are in the Middle East and North Africa, with a cluster in northern Europe. Islam is the official religion in 27 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as well North Africa and the Middle East.
Thirteen countries -- including nine in Europe -- are officially Christian, two (Bhutan and Cambodia) have Buddhism as their state religion, and one (Israel) is officially a Jewish state. No country has Hinduism as its state religion.

Now, as you can see from the 2013 RT television clip atop this page, having a state religion doesn't always guarantee prosperous times for the faith in question. If anything, the Church of England's fortunes are less secure now than they were four years ago, but that's a story for another time.

What is germane to the Guardian report -- but also is absent there -- is any information providing context about how having a state-sanctioned religion affects the people who live in these states.

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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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