Peggy Fletcher Stack

Surprise! New York Times profiles Paul Huntsman, owner of Salt Lake Tribune, and religion is key

Surprise! New York Times profiles Paul Huntsman, owner of Salt Lake Tribune, and religion is key

Today’s Daily Religion Headlines email from the Pew Research Center features abortion stories from the New York Times and The Associated Press.

There’s a Washington Post story on the House passing a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a Chicago Tribune story on police boosting their presence at Jewish schools and synagogues after Molotov cocktails were found and a Dallas Morning News story on parishioner reactions to authorities’ recent raid of Dallas Catholic Diocese offices as part of a sexual abuse investigation.

And there are a handful of other headlines with rather obvious religious angles.

But then there’s this one:

Can Paul Huntsman save The Salt Lake Tribune?

Wait, what!? Why exactly is that a religion story?

Well, first of all, Salt Lake City is in Utah. Isn’t every story there a religion story? (I kid. I kid. Mostly.)

But seriously, this is a story that couldn’t be told — or at least couldn’t be told well — without recognizing the crucial religion angle.

Give the New York Times credit for hitting that angle immediately:

SALT LAKE CITY — Life was tranquil for Paul Huntsman, a scion of a rich and powerful Utah family, before he got into the news business.

He spent his workdays managing much of the Huntsman family’s considerable portfolio at the Huntsman building on Huntsman Way. Sundays meant services at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel with his wife, Cheryl Wirthlin Huntsman, and their eight children. There were also skiing excursions to Deer Valley and hiking trips to Snowbird, and the parents were regulars at their children’s ballet performances, cheerleading banquets and lacrosse games.

Then Mr. Huntsman, a son of the billionaire industrialist Jon M. Huntsman Sr., bought The Salt Lake Tribune.

The news peg for the story is Huntsman’s effort to save the Tribune by turning it into a nonprofit entity. I won’t attempt to summarize all those details but will instead urge you to read the Times’ story. On social media, I noticed both positive and negative appraisals of the piece from insiders.

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Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. “The Catholic Church has proven that it cannot police itself. And civil authorities can’t let the church hide child sexual abuse allegations as personnel matters. They’re crimes. We need a full accounting of the church.”

The Washington Post rounds up the wave of state and federal investigations spurred by the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

The explosive report about sexual abuse by Catholic priests unveiled by a Pennsylvania grand jury in August has set off an unprecedented wave of investigations over the last several months, with attorneys general in 14 states and the District of Columbia announcing probes and demanding documents from Catholic officials. Those efforts have been joined by a federal investigation out of Philadelphia that may become national in scope.

The swift and sweeping response by civil authorities contrasts sharply with the Vatican’s comparatively glacial pace. While some U.S. dioceses have published lists of priests they say have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and two cardinals have been ousted, the Vatican this month put on hold a vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on measures to hold bishops more accountable until after a global synod in early 2019. In the meantime, Rome has done little to address the crisis.

2. "It totally sucks you away from all other aspects of your life. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy your life.”

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Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning up my back yard in the Seattle suburb where I live when two Mormon missionaries walked up. Of course they wanted to talk.

I didn’t agree with their theology, nor did I want start a discussion of the Mother God and other doctrinal clashes between Trinitarian Christianity and their faith.

How could I, I wondered, engage them as human beings? It was getting on in the evening and they were clearly tired.

An idea occurred to me. I mentioned how the Pentecostal and charismatic movement is the world’s fastest-growing kind of Christianity and how it shares something in common with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prophecy, I explained, is a current reality with both groups. The missionaries clearly perked up and we had a good talk.

Now, what would this look like in the news?

It was unusual to see Tuesday’s story in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the prophetic gift actually works. Veteran religion reporter Peggy Stack began the piece this way:

By his own account, Russell M. Nelson speaks often to God, or, rather, God speaks often to him.

Nelson, the 94-year-old president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently that he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a distinct impression that he should go to the Dominican Republic.

Within days, the Church News reported, the energetic nonagenarian was on a plane to that Caribbean nation.

This is an “era of unprecedented revelation,” Nelson told the missionaries gathered to hear him there Sept. 1.

Indeed, in his first nearly nine months as the Utah-based faith’s top “prophet, seer and revelator," Nelson has used the term “revelation” again and again to describe his motivation for initiatives and changes.

Few of his predecessors were so open –- or blatant –- about claiming that God personally revealed truths to them as Nelson has been ever since he took over headship of the church in January.

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Friday Five: Ethical question, 'Uncle Teddy,' faith-free aliens, Muslim swimmers and more

Friday Five: Ethical question, 'Uncle Teddy,' faith-free aliens, Muslim swimmers and more

I have a question for you, dear reader.

It's not directly related to religion, but it is about journalism — and GetReligion has a lot of smart readers who either work in the news business or care deeply about it.

Via Peggy Fletcher Stack, the religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, I came across a chilling column written by the widow of a reporter killed in the Capital Gazette shooting. 

I was struck by Andrea Chamblee's repeated references to news media — the New York Daily News, ABC's "Good Morning America," the Wall Street Journal — that contacted Chamblee right after the shooting even before she knew anything about the fate of her husband, John McNamara.

I know journalists have a job to do. I've interviewed countless loved ones of people killed in various tragedies. But must reporters call people such as Andrea Chamblee almost immediately? Is there not a better way to give victims a voice yet not intrude on their humanity in such a desperate time?

I'd welcome your thoughts and insights.

In the meantime, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: As GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly noted earlier today, the New York Times has a new story out on the latest accusation facing disgraced Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

The Times story is a must read, as is tmatt's commentary ("Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6") and my colleague Julia Duin's earlier post ("Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story").

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An amicable parting? Joint statement on Mormon Church leaving Boy Scouts ignores values clashes

An amicable parting? Joint statement on Mormon Church leaving Boy Scouts ignores values clashes

Differences?

What differences?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America issued a joint statement this week announcing an end to a century-old partnership between the two entities.

Go ahead and read the entire statement. See if you notice any hint of the clashes over values that brought the relationship to the breaking point:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America have been partners for more than 100 years. The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process. We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.

In this century of shared experience, the Church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA.

We have jointly determined that, effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world. Until that date, to allow for an orderly transition, the intention of the Church is to remain a fully engaged partner in Scouting for boys and young men ages 8–13 and encourages all youth, families, and leaders to continue their active participation and financial support.

While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.

Nope, I didn't catch any sign of strain either. I suppose that's a real nice statement, from a public relations standpoint. 

Meanwhile, back in the real world ...

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And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

In a week that’s been a continuous wave of #ChurchToo revelations –- including a massive investigation of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and yesterday’s news about Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page –- I wanted to draw your attention to a related debate and quasi-scandal occurring in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Long-time Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Stack, along with education reporter Benjamin Wood, came out with a story Monday about a church decision to allow a second adult in the room while bishops question teenagers about their sexual sins.

Say what? This is a fascinating look at Latter-day Saints’ lives that one wouldn’t know unless you were in a culture where your bishop can ask you pointed questions about whether you’ve been chaste.

It's not easy writing about sexual matters in a PG-rated fashion fit for a daily newspaper, but these reporters did a pretty good job at it. The key: The reporters have provide enough background to help outsiders, but not overstate the obvious for regular readers in Mormon country.

For more, read here:

Amid a grass-roots outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former Mormon mission leader, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency unveiled revised guidelines Monday for one-on-one meetings between members and local lay leaders while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”
In a document titled “Preventing and Responding to Abuse,” congregational leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to invite a parent or other adult to sit in an adjoining room when meeting with women and children.

The Deseret News also had a piece on the document here

Those of you who’ve been following the various accusations leveled at evangelical Protestant ministers in recent weeks may have missed a bombshell that broke last week in Utah.

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Duck, duck, goose: Three different approaches to covering Mormon church president's death

Duck, duck, goose: Three different approaches to covering Mormon church president's death

As a young journalist fresh out of college, I applied for a business editor position in small-town Oklahoma.

As part of the interview process, the newspaper's top editor asked me to write an obituary — for myself.

The exercise both tested my writing skills and gave me an opportunity to enlighten my potential boss on what made me tick. I guess I passed the exam because I got the job. (I drove extra carefully on the way home, hoping to avoid the tragic car wreck I had just described.)

Very few people get to write their own obit, which leaves the story of their life — if their life merits an obit at all — to others to tell.

I mention this because — even though I am not a Mormon — I was interested in how various major news organizations covered this week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wonder what Monson would have thought of the way these the following three ledes characterized him. (I'll reveal the source of each lede later in this post and pose a question or two.)

Lede 1:

Even as he ascended to the pinnacle of a worldwide faith, Thomas S. Monson never stopped being a Mormon bishop.
He was the same affable leader, folksy preacher and care-taking friend after becoming the LDS Church’s 16th president in 2008 as he was during his more than five decades as one of the faith’s 12 apostles.
During Monson’s nearly 10-year presidential tenure, which ended with his death Tuesday night at age 90 of causes incident to age, Mormonism faced some of the most intense public scrutiny in its history — from a divisive vote over gay marriage to high-profile Mormon candidacies for president, and a hotly debated policy for same-sex couples and their children. Still, the private prophet stayed largely behind the scenes, showing up unexpectedly at funerals, comforting the bereaved, visiting the sick and, before her death, caring for his wife, Frances.
“With tender feelings we announce that Thomas S. Monson, president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died this evening at 10:01 p.m. in his home in Salt Lake City,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in an email Tuesday at 11:39 p.m. “He was with family at the time of his passing.”

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Of 'MormonLeaks,' intellectual property and The Salt Lake Tribune -- recipe for bias?

Of 'MormonLeaks,' intellectual property and The Salt Lake Tribune -- recipe for bias?

There are, as many people know, two daily newspapers in Salt Lake City, Utah, the state's largest city, its capital city and, yes, world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often colloquially referred to as the Mormon Church.

One newspaper is the Deseret News, where I served as a national reporter in 2014 and 2015. The LDS Church owns the company that publishes the paper. Many church members in Utah appreciate the Deseret News' coverage and family-friendly orientation. (And as noted when I rejoined the GetReligion team, I do not report on the paper's faith coverage due to my previous association there.)

The other newspaper is The Salt Lake Tribune, now owned by a son of billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr. after years of tumult following the paper's migration from local ownership to being part of a hedge-fund controlled national chain. This newspaper has often run pieces critical of, if not hostile to, the LDS Church, mostly in the opinion pages, but occasionally elsewhere. The Trib's longtime religion reporter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, is an award-winning Godbeat journalist who is very well sourced in the LDS community, as well as among other faith groups in the Beehive State.

But it was another Trib reporter, Christopher Smart, who recently took on a dispute between the Mormon leadership and an independent website called "MormonLeaks," which disseminates its information via Twitter and, until recently, Facebook. The group, headed by Ryan McKnight, a former member of the LDS Church, seeks to make public internal Mormon documents in order to bring "transparency" to the membership. (There's another group with the "Mormon Leaks" name, who assert their data relates to LDS history, not current church operations. These people disavow any association with McKnight and company.)

On March 1, attorneys for Intellectual Reserve Inc., a non-profit LDS Church corporation that owns the copyrights to LDS Church publications and documents, sent a "takedown notice" to McKnight's MormonLeaks group, and one of its hosting sites declaring a leaked document asserted to be copyrighted LDS Church property. The document was reported to be an internal slide presentation for church leadership summarizing why some people quit their membership. 

Sharing these slides online, the letter stated, infringed on that copyright. The hosting firm took the document down, and now the Trib jumped in.

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Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

By nature, newswriters abhor secrecy, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”) is the most secretive of America’s large  religious denominations.

Headquarters provides no information about church decision-making and finances. Believers are oath-bound to reveal nothing about temple rituals. In 1999 church authorities even won a federal court order to halt Internet postings from the secret “General Handbook of Instructions” that defines procedures and policies for local leaders.

However under Thomas Monson, president since 2008, "Handbook” material is now available to members and the public. Also during  recent years a “Gospel Topics” section on the church’s official website has posted revealing historical essays about founder Joseph Smith’s odd “plural marriage” (i.e. polygamy) practices, the ban on full membership for blacks (ended  in 1978), disputed matters regarding the Saints’ unique scriptures, etc.

On Sept. 26th, the Church Historian’s Press issued a first-class, lavishly annotated volume in its ongoing Joseph Smith Papers series: “Administrative Records: Council of Fifty Minutes, March 1844–1846,” ($59.95). That title may not sound like anything to set journalists’ pulses pounding, but there’s a great story here. These legendary texts have been kept ultra-secret the past 170 years. And for good reason.

Background: In tumultuous 1844, Smith was assassinated while being held in jail for ordering destruction of a newspaper shop of dissenters  in Nauvoo, Illinois, who opposed his polygamy and political designs. At the time Smith was running for president of the U.S. after failing to get promises from the presidential candidates to protect his oft-persecuted flock.

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