Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Minnesota media mull over whether Christian video company can refuse to film gay weddingss

Minnesota media mull over whether Christian video company can refuse to film gay weddingss

We’ve been writing about the news coverage of the wedding-cake wars for some time, by which I mean lawsuits filed by gay couples against bakers, photographers, wedding venue owners and anyone else whose religious beliefs clash with same-sex marriage.

A few years ago, one of these vendors –- a St. Cloud, Minn., couple that does wedding videos -– saw the Masterpiece Cakeshop U.S. Supreme Court case involving Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and read the tea leaves. Phillips could be them. They did a preemptive lawsuit asking for the right to not have to film events that were against their religious beliefs.

The courts kept on rejecting them until very recently. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says what happened next.

A three-judge federal appeals court panel cleared the way Friday for a St. Cloud couple suing Minnesota over the right to refuse to film same-sex weddings, arguing that the videos are a form of speech subject to First Amendment protections.

Carl and Angel Larsen, who run a Christian videography business called Telescope Media Group, filed a federal suit in 2016 against Minnesota's human rights commissioner, saying the state's public accommodation law could hit them with steep fines or jail time if they offered services promoting only their vision of marriage.

Writing for the panel's 2-1 majority, Judge David Stras, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, found A the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say, and that their free speech rights would be violated should their business be penalized under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The Associated Press also covered this story:

Judge Jane Kelly issued a dissenting opinion.

“That the service the Larsens want to make available to the public is expressive does not transform Minnesota’s law into a content-based regulation, nor should it empower the Larsens to discriminate against prospective customers based on sexual orientation,” Kelly wrote.

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Church flipper: Why this pastor has a passion for finding the new faithful for old houses of worship

Church flipper: Why this pastor has a passion for finding the new faithful for old houses of worship

All too often, shuttered houses of worship are converted into nightclubs, restaurants and even condominiums, as former GetReligion contributor Mark Kellner noted in a Religion News Service story back in September.

Kellner’s report highlighted “a growing desire to keep houses of worship within the tradition in which they were originally established, even if the founding congregation has diminished.”

A few months earlier, our own tmatt commented on a New York Times article from Quebec with this provocative headline: “Where Churches Have Become Temples of Cheese, Fitness and Eroticism.”

Now, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, comes a feature on a “church flipper.” Pastor Paul Marzahn, it seems, is the “Fixer Upper” of houses of worship.

The Star-Tribune’s lede:

Pastor Paul Marzahn is best known as the founder of several south suburban churches. But he’s gaining a new reputation for an unusual side job he’s juggling — as a church flipper.

The Methodist minister scouts for “For Sale” signs on churches with an eye toward rehabbing the buildings and selling them back to new faith-filled owners. He’s also a consultant to clergy looking to sell or buy.

Marzahn’s nonprofit, for example, purchased the historic Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis and last year turned it over to a fresh congregation. His own Lakeville church bought an aging Inver Grove Heights church, rehabbed it, and made it an auxiliary campus.

He’s now helping a ministry serving the homeless revamp a former Catholic Charities building.

“I drive by these church buildings for sale and think, ‘Who do I know who would be a good fit into this building?’ ” said Marzahn, senior pastor at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Lakeville. “That’s my calling. To see churches or nonprofits save some of these great buildings.”

It’s a really fascinating piece.

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Friday Five: Fading way of life, 'Submarine Churches,' Chick-fil-A flash mob and more

Friday Five: Fading way of life, 'Submarine Churches,' Chick-fil-A flash mob and more

This week in Friday Five, we've got closing churches. We've got "Submarine Churches." We've got serpent-handler churches.

We've even got a church — flash mob style — at a Chick-fil-A.

I bet you just can't wait!

So let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a fascinating piece this week on how a way of life is fading as churches close.

The "first in an occasional series written by Jean Hopfensperger" explores how "Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations face unprecedented declines, altering communities and traditions celebrated for generations." 

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Editor Terry Mattingly's post titled "New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?" occupies the No. 1 spot this week.

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Religion ghost? Ethiopian refugee thrives with strong values, family and maybe something else

Religion ghost? Ethiopian refugee thrives with strong values, family and maybe something else

Every now and then, I get a letter from a reader that is rather poignant. It's like this person is reading a good story in the local newspaper and then there is a passage that produces a kind of melancholy feeling, a sense of curiosity and loss.

Was there a religion ghost hiding somewhere in the story? Would anyone else read this news report and feel the same way? Would other readers have the same suspicion that there was crucial religious material missing?

So the reader sends me the URL to the story, often with a note that reads something like this:

Numerous media outlets have published stories about Oromo Ethiopian refugee Tashitaa Tufaa's success in the US. ... As a Greek Orthodox when I read the article I was curious as to whether his religion -- Christian or Islam -- had any effect on him. I reviewed many of similar articles. Religion was never mentioned.

In this case we are dealing with a story from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The double-decker headline proclaims, success-story style:

Minneapolis/St. Paul transit entrepreneur Tashitaa Tufaa is Entrepreneur of the Year
Tashitaa Tufaa, who built a $12 million school bus service in just a decade, is the Metropolitan Economic Development Association's 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year

Simply stated, this is a business story about -- from all accounts -- a remarkable man:

Tashitaa Tufaa, whose walk to school in his native Ethiopia was a 10-mile round trip in bare feet, now sees to the safe transit of thousands of schoolchildren daily as president and CEO of Fridley-based Metropolitan Transportation Network Inc.

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When covering the Lutheran left, Minneapolis daily kindly omits sobering journalistic questions

When covering the Lutheran left, Minneapolis daily kindly omits sobering journalistic questions

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is an amalgamation of three other Lutheran denominations, formed 29 years ago. When mainstream American journalists talk about "Lutherans," this is usually the crowd they are talking about.

The ELCA is also, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, a church confronting changing times. In other words, this body is part of the ever-evolving world of liberal Protestantism, the "Seven Sisters" of the old mainline.

The paper's story begins with a typical journalistic scene-setter, at least the kind that is used when journalists are fond of the group that is being profiled:

Redeemer Lutheran Church is not your typical Lutheran outpost. Summer means the bike store and coffee shop are humming, kids camp and Zumba classes are in gear, and the young adults renting its apartments are mentoring children in this north Minneapolis neighborhood.
It represents a new model for the Lutheran Church, which is transforming itself to attract younger and diverse members, be more relevant to neighbors below its steeples and shake its image as a Scandinavian bastion best known for hot dish, Jell-O and Ole and Lena.

Anyone who regularly listened to Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" stemwinders about life in and around Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, will recognize the stereotype, even if Keillor was actually raised in a Plymouth Brethren congregation.

The Minneapolis paper continues explaining, however, There is a dark cloud on the horizon:

Minnesota, with the largest number of Lutherans in the nation, will be instrumental in shaping the future of the faith. Time is of the essence: 37 percent of the churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- the largest denomination in Minnesota and the U.S. -- now have fewer than 50 Sunday worshipers. ...
Membership at the ELCA plunged from 5.2 million in 1988 to about 3.7 million today. In Minnesota, numbers fell from 782,000 to about 679,000.

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Wednesday is the new Sunday, a major paper reports, but are there any theological implications to that?

Wednesday is the new Sunday, a major paper reports, but are there any theological implications to that?

Our mantra here at GetReligion is that the mainstream news media should take religion seriously.

But way too often, newspapers such as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune — today's example — offer faith coverage that is about as meaty as pink cotton candy.

The Star-Tribune this week published a skeleton of a story exploring a subject that — if approached more thoughtfully — could be extremely timely and insightful concerning modern worship trends.

Instead, readers are treated to a religious puff piece.

The story subject: churches turning to Wednesday night as an alternative to Sunday worship. 

The lede:

Each Wednesday, the Latzke family heads to their Bloomington church for an evening of religious education and a worship service. Sunday is too packed to squeeze in church, so now Wednesday is their day — as it is for thousands of busy Minnesotans.
“Wednesday is the new Sunday,” is what some clergy call this trend reflecting the scheduling quirks of modern families.
“This works really nice for us because we’re so busy on weekends,” said Robyn Latzke shortly before the service at Transfiguration Lutheran Church. “She dances, and she plays volleyball,” Latzke said, pointing to her daughters.
“And I farm on weekends with my brother,” added her husband, Jeff Latzke.
As churches across Minnesota try new ways to accommodate the hectic lives of the faithful, Wednesday night services have emerged as a popular option.
For churches that already offered religious education on Wednesdays, adding a worship service was a logical fit. For others, a Wednesday service helps folks who travel on weekends, hold down jobs, or schlep children to hockey, soccer and other events.

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How do you report on 'Muslims Get Out' sign? Interview diner owner who put it up, of course

How do you report on 'Muslims Get Out' sign? Interview diner owner who put it up, of course

Quote the knucklehead.

If that's not made clear in modern-day Journalism 101, it should be.

Often, your GetReligionistas will post a critique of a one-sided news story that fails to give an adequate voice to one side. Inevitably, somebody who thinks the side that wasn't represented is stupid or bigoted or racist will object and suggest the other side doesn't deserve to be quoted.

I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but that's not journalism. It's advocacy. Unfortunately, depending on the subject, there's a lot of mixing of those two (journalism and advocacy) in many media reports these days.

In recent months, we've seen a bunch of slanted, squishy reporting on the topic of "Islamophobia." Read past posts here, here, here, here and here if you happened to miss them.

So my expectations for fair, impartial coverage wasn't sky-high when I came across a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story on a small-town business owner putting up a "Muslims Get Out" sign.

The Star-Tribune team surprised me, though, with an evenhanded, fact-based approach:

A “Muslims Get Out” sign in front of a small-town dining spot in southern Minnesota will remain, the owner said Tuesday, despite the business being targeted by what he said was hate-inspired vandalism.
Dan Ruedinger said he put up the message this week in front of Treats Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Lonsdale soon after a stabbing rampage inside a St. Cloud mall over the weekend that the FBI is investigating as a possible act of terrorism.
Ruedinger said he’s “had enough” and is “standing up” to all the violence that extremists have inspired around the world.

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The artist named Prince: Was he ultimately a rebel for, or against, the Sexual Revolution?

The artist named Prince: Was he ultimately a rebel for, or against, the Sexual Revolution?

So, in the end, was Prince Rogers Nelson a hero of the Sexual Revolution or someone who, as he grew more mature, was a heretic who -- in the name of a controversial faith -- rejected many of the sexy doctrines he previously celebrated?

I'm not sure that there's a definitive answer to that, especially when talking about someone as complex as Prince (or TAPKAP). But I do think that it was crucial for journalists to let their readers know that this was an important question to ask.

In the first stories about the artist's death, the emphasis was totally on Prince the gender-blurring hedonist. But as the day went on, a few counter themes began to emerge.

You could see the struggle (and that's kind of a compliment) most clearly in The Washington Post, where the first news reports about Prince were baptized in his sexy '80s glory, while a sidebar openly discussed changes linked to his decision to join the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In the final obit, the Post team hinted early and, at the very end, mentioned that many seemed afraid to mention. Here's the solid lede:

A musical chameleon and flamboyant showman who never stopped evolving, Prince was one of the music world’s most enigmatic superstars. He celebrated unabashed hedonism, sang of broken hearts and spiritual longing and had a mysterious personal identity that defied easy definition.

The obit hit all of the fine details of the sexy Prince, from erotic guitar eruptions to skimpy costumes. It was difficult, at times, to tell what was happening when, in terms of his music and stage personas. If he never stopped evolving, then it's crucial to be precise about the young prince vs. the mature Prince.

At the very end, the news story offered this:

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Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Attention all supporters of strong, accurate religion-beat reporting: What is the first question a journalist needs to answer for readers when covering a "Lutheran church" story, especially when it is linked to controversy?

Let me raise the stakes a bit higher. This question is especially true when dealing with a flock located in Minnesota or elsewhere in the upper Midwest, which is often called the Lutheran Belt in American life because there are so many Lutheran congregations in that region.

The question: So what kind of Lutherans are we talking about?

Are we dealing with a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which, despite the presence of the E-word in the name, is a liberal flock on key issues of doctrine and moral theology? Or how about the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, located on the right side of the mainline Protestant world? Or how about the smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is also more doctrinally conservative than the ELCA?

So check out the top of this major story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this month. Yes, you'll have to look for clues in this long passage:

North Heights Lutheran, the one-time megachurch of Arden Hills, has run out of prayers.
The church is shutting down, the apparent victim of a civil war that has split it apart. After 70 years of weekly worship, the church’s last service will be Sunday.
“This took me by surprise,” 20-year member Zelda Erickson said Monday after learning of the closing at an announcement during Sunday’s church service. “I feel terrible about this.”

North Heights once had Sunday attendance of 3,400 at two church locations. But attendance has fallen recently to several hundred -- not enough to keep the church afloat.

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