Missouri

Friday Five: Godbeat trend, United Methodist future, Wheaton 'proof texts,' targeting atheists

Friday Five: Godbeat trend, United Methodist future, Wheaton 'proof texts,' targeting atheists

In a post this week about religion writer Tim Funk retiring from the Charlotte Observer, I asked about the status of religion reporting at the nation’s regional newspapers.

I mentioned a few metro dailies — the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Peter Smith), The Tennessean (Holly Meyer) and The Oklahoman (Carla Hinton) among them — that still rock the Godbeat.

But I asked readers to help me compile a list of all the big papers with full-time religion writers. Got a name to add to the list? By all means, comment below or tweet us @GetReligion.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Did you hear that the United Methodist Church had a high-stakes meeting in St. Louis, the latest battle in decades of warfare over marriage, sex and the Bible? LGBTQ issues are at the heart of this drama, as always (it seems).

Of course you heard about that and here are some of our posts from that major shindig:

Next big news story: After 40 years of war, is United Methodist establishment ready to bargain?

Big United Methodist questions: Has left embraced 'exit' plans? Do 'coexist' clauses work?

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Out of all the news coverage that I read, my favorite piece was this one by The Atlantic’s excellent Emma Green. Got a different nominee? Share a link below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

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She's a Democrat, pro-life and from Missouri. Why can't The New York Times say she's Catholic?

She's a Democrat, pro-life and from Missouri. Why can't The New York Times say she's Catholic?

The New York Times floated a story with an interesting headline on Tuesday: “Is it Possible to be an Anti-Abortion Democrat? One Woman Tried to Find Out.”

It is the story of a 77-year-old politician who, figuring that she didn’t have a whole lot to lose at this point, got a plank added to the state Democratic Party platform that welcomed pro-lifers.

The response wasn’t what she expected.

We (well, mostly tmatt) have written about pro-life Dems before and how they’ve been made homeless in the past two decades. This Times report shows us that nothing’s going to change any time soon.

By the way: There’s a religion ghost in this story and it’s a pretty obvious one.

ST. LOUIS — Joan Barry has been a member of the Missouri Democratic Party for 53 years. As a state legislator, she voted regularly for workers’ rights, health care and programs for the poor.

So when the party began writing a new platform after its crushing losses in 2016, Ms. Barry, a member of its state committee, did not think it was too much to ask for a plank that welcomed people like her — Democrats who oppose abortion.

At first the party agreed and added it. Missouri’s Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, even called Ms. Barry to praise her.

But within days, Ms. Barry began receiving angry emails and Facebook messages. People called her a dinosaur, a has-been and worse. Her children started to worry.

Missouri, the story added, used to be the nation’s bellwether state. That stopped when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and since then, much of the state has drifted to the right. At this point, its Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, is one of the more vulnerable officeholders up for election next month. The video atop this blog post lays out what’s at stake.

Simply put, both political parties are fighting tooth and nail for this Senate seat.

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Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Nearly four months after the firing of Jerome Socolovsky, Religion News Service has hired a new editor in chief.

The name will be familiar to regular GetReligion readers: Bob Smietana.

Smietana, as a news release from RNS notes, is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has worked for The Tennessean, Christianity Today and, most recently, Facts & Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Smietana served as president of the Religion News Association from 2013 to 2015. He is extremely familiar with RNS, previously serving as a correspondent for the news organization and as a member of its board of managers.

From the release:

Smietana credits RNS with first launching his career, and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to now lead the organization, expand its footprint and mentor the next generation of religion journalists.

“The American religious landscape is being transformed before our eyes,” Smietana said. “For more than 80 years, RNS has covered religion with accuracy, insight, empathy and independence. As a result, RNS is perfectly positioned to document that transformation and to help our readers navigate this new world.”

Smietana’s appointment concludes a national search, which solicited more than 130 applicants, helmed by Nicole Neroulias Gupte, chair of the RNS Board of Managers.

“After considering many qualified candidates for this position, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of Bob Smietana’s religion journalism experience, his passion for this beat and commitment to our organization,” Gupte said. “We look forward to working with him as RNS grows its staff and coverage areas, including implementing our Global Religion Journalism Initiative and other exciting projects.”

Smietana is a friend of mine and a longtime reader of GetReligion. We appreciate his willingness to praise us when he agrees with our critiques and engage with us when he disagrees. We hope that continues in his new role.

Full disclosure: I occasionally write freelance stories for RNS.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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'Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?' Yes, do take the time to read this excellent piece of journalism

'Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?' Yes, do take the time to read this excellent piece of journalism

A conversational, informative lede that draws readers immediately into the story.

An impartial, fact-based narrative that quotes intelligent sources on both sides.

A solid chunk of analysis from an independent expert with impressive credentials.

A Kansas City Star story on the question of "Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?" boasts that winning trifecta — and it makes for a quality, satisfying piece of daily journalism.

"This piece by Judy L. Thomas is the best report I've read on the subject," Star reporter Laura Bauer tweeted about her colleague's work. "Definitely take the time to read."

My response: Amen!

As we've noted repeatedly here at GetReligion, mainstream news coverage often favors abortion rights supporters. In case you missed our previous references, see the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

Given the typical imbalanced coverage, the Star's fair, evenhanded approach is particularly refreshing from a journalistic perspective.

The lede sets the scene with a history lesson:

Almost half a century has passed, so forgive Dave Heinemann if he doesn’t remember every single detail of how things went down that long spring day in Topeka.

But one thing the former Kansas lawmaker hasn’t forgotten is the intensity of the 1969 debate on a measure that made abortion more accessible in the state.

“The Legislature was rewriting the state’s criminal code, and there was one section on abortion,” said Heinemann, then a Garden City Republican serving his first term in the Legislature. “That was the only section that really became a lightning rod.”

At the time, Kansas — like most states — banned abortion except to save the life of the woman. But some states had begun to propose measures to loosen the restrictions.

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Another year, another state contemplating the idea of getting out of the marriage license business

Another year, another state contemplating the idea of getting out of the marriage license business

My mother was 17 and my father 19 when they went to a county courthouse — along with their parents because of my mom's age — to get a marriage license in 1964.

With that important piece of government paper in hand, a minister joined them in holy matrimony in a simple, living-room ceremony in their Missouri Bootheel hometown.

When my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2014, I wrote a Christian Chronicle column about their commitment to God and each other.

For the last two weeks, I've witnessed a new chapter of their "love story" at a Texas hospital. My dad is battling a severe case of pneumonia and a problem with his kidney function.

Night after night, Mom has slept (albeit not much) on a hospital couch to care for Dad. At this point, they are both beyond exhausted. And Dad is still hooked up to oxygen and having trouble breathing.

Suffice it to say that they took their marriage vows — sanctioned by their government and their faith — seriously.

But once again in 2018, some lawmakers are asking whether the government belongs in that equation at all. 

In 2015, my home state of Oklahoma made headlines when it contemplated getting out of the marriage license business. A similar proposal to end government-sanctioned marriage in Missouri drew attention last year. On the flip side, some religious leaders have refused in recent years to sign government marriage licenses — saying that's not their role.

Enter Alabama, which is considering similar legislation this session in response to the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015.

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For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

Can I be honest?

My head is still spinning after all the big religion-related news from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

As you may have noticed, I did a post late Monday afternoon on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. And this morning, tmatt followed up that post with still more cake — I mean, still more reflection on the journalistic questions associated with that high-profile clash of religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But now I want to call attention to another of the major headlines from Monday: The lede from The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other nonreligious needs.
But the justices stopped short of saying whether the ruling applies to school voucher programs that use public funds to pay for private, religious schooling.
By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it "odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees."
The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church's application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

The most diehard GetReligion readers (I count at least three of you) may recall that we praised a Kansas City Star overview of this case way back in October:

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Just in time for new year, one state debates ending government-sanctioned marriage

Just in time for new year, one state debates ending government-sanctioned marriage

Way back in 2004 — during Season 6 of the Emmy Award-winning television drama "The West Wing" — a congressman raised the idea of banning marriage. All marriage.

With two-thirds of Americans then opposed to same-sex nuptials, a gay Democrat identified as "Rep. Benoit" proposed getting the government out of the marriage business.

"If the government can't make it available to everyone, I want us out of the business entirely," Benoit said to Josh Lyman, chief political adviser in the fictional Josiah Bartlet administration. "Leave it to churches and synagogues, and, of course, casinos and department stores."

Lyman chuckled and brushed off the suggestion.

Fast-forward more than a decade: A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court has legalized it. And amid ongoing battles pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty, some real-life lawmakers wonder if the answer might be removing the government from the process.

The Associated Press reports on a Missouri legislator's proposal to do just that:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri Republican saw last year's debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would have protected businesses that deny services to same-sex couples bring lawmakers to tears and grind legislative work to a halt. His solution: Take state government out of marriage completely, for both gay and heterosexual couples.
"You can stop spending so much emotional energy on the issue, and we can move on to other things," state Rep. T.J. Berry said, adding, "I'm treating everybody the exact same way and leaving space for people to believe what they believe outside of government."
His bill, filed ahead of the 2017 legislative session, would make Missouri the first state to recognize only domestic unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples, treating legal partnerships equally and leaving marriages to be done by pastors and other religious leaders.

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My response to the election, the news media and my alleged 'blanket defense of journalists'

My response to the election, the news media and my alleged 'blanket defense of journalists'

Nineteen days until the election, it's getting testy out there, huh?

(This aside is for my editor Terry Mattingly because I'm about to embed a bunch of tweets, and he worries in these cases that readers won't realize I'm eventually going to make a real point. So, yes, keep scrolling down, and I promise to say something by the end that will rock your world. Or not. But either way, I won't charge you.)

On Twitter, I follow a wide array of journalists, ministers and other folks highly active in the two worlds in which I spend so much time — news and religion.

On the one hand, my journalist friends are frustrated with critics lumping them all together as the evil news media. A few of those friends retweeted this tweet, which made me smile.

My friend Steve Lackmeyer, a longtime reporter for The Oklahoman, joked in response to that tweet.

On the other hand, some of the stereotypes that many apply to the news media have roots in legitimate concerns, the kind we often address here at GetReligion:

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Devil's advocate: Religion News Service reports on Satanist pitch

Devil's advocate: Religion News Service reports on Satanist pitch

The Satanic Temple has gotten lots of coverage from the Religion News Service. But its most recent story digs deeper into the group and its founder, Lucien Greaves. Which is not to say that the article doesn't have a laundry list of flaws. 

Most of the 1,600-word article is drawn from an interview with Greaves. Some of it is pasted from previous coverage. It makes some shaky claims about the causes of the Satanist movement. And it allows Greaves to attack Christianity again and again, without seeking out the other side.

This update does seem less servile than, say, the summertime feature in the Washington Post. It does more explaining, less campaigning. RNS seems to use a double peg. One is Greave's meeting with the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, seeking allies and kindred minds.  And Missouri is the home of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, which sponsors the Good News Clubs.

Hence the playful lede:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (RNS) Lucien Greaves is the Good News Club’s worst nightmare.
Greaves is co-founder of the Satanic Temple, a group dedicated to church-state separation. And his organization’s latest campaign in launching after-school clubs for children, Greaves told RNS before a recent talk in Kansas City, is not so much about indoctrinating children into Satanism — he doesn’t actually believe in the devil as a real being, much less one to be worshipped.
Rather, the After School Satan clubs, as they are called, are about making a statement against the government providing facilities exclusively for Christian after-school programs such as the Good News Club.
A side benefit is that the publicity surrounding the After School Satan clubs is likely to bring far more attention — and maybe public understanding — to the Satanic Temple than anything else the group could do.

So we have a good summary of Greaves' grievance: not so much a defense of his faith, but attacking activities of another faith. And we have the story's first flaw: calling The Satanic Temple the "worst nightmare" of the Good News Club. That may sound cheeky, but RNS doesn't interview anyone connected with Good News.

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