ReligionLink

The numbers matter — and so does doctrine — in Methodists' high-stakes meeting on LGBT issues

The numbers matter — and so does doctrine — in Methodists' high-stakes meeting on LGBT issues

“Will the United Methodist Church be ripped apart?”

We considered that question in a recent post that critiqued a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story.

Now comes The Associated Press with a report — getting lots of play in newspapers across the nation — previewing the big meeting that starts this weekend:

The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly convenes Sunday for a high-stakes, three-day meeting likely to determine whether America’s second-largest Protestant denomination will fracture due to divisions over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.

While other mainline Protestant denominations — such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches — have embraced gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them, even though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied and talk of a possible breakup of the church has intensified.

At the church’s upcoming General Conference in St. Louis, 864 invited delegates — split evenly between lay people and clergy — are expected to consider several plans for the church’s future. Several Methodist leaders said they expect a wave of departures from the church regardless of the decision.

“I don’t think there’s any plan where there won’t be some division, and some people will leave,” said David Watson, a dean and professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who will be attending the conference.

The AP coverage is informative and filled with crucial details related to what’s at stake.

But two important facets of this scenario seem to get short shrift. Some of that, no doubt, is a matter of a wire service reporter with limited space. Trust me, I know — as a former AP newsman — that there’s never enough space to include every fact you’d like.

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Want to get beyond culture war stories? Try digging into religion's aspirational building blocks

Want to get beyond culture war stories? Try digging into religion's aspirational building blocks

Religion News Service recently ran the sort of news feature cum-opinion-column that I find a welcome intellectual and emotional respite from the culture wars cum-all-religion-is-political hit pieces that currently crowd my ever-more exasperating news feeds.

The piece ran under the intriguing headline, “Secular saints, folk saints and plain old celebrities.”

If you don’t at least skim the piece chances are it will be difficult to follow my thinking here.

The piece was contributed by novelist, unconventional — by my reckoning — theologian (though she writes that she regularly attends a “traditional” Episcopal church), and new RNS columnist Tara Isabella Burton. Seems to me she has just the right combination of imagination and thick skin to delve into the origins of religious thought in its broadest, and perhaps unconventional, sense.

The thick skin is a requisite because of the inevitable harrumphs I’m sure she endures from some religion traditionalists prone to dismiss her as a frivolous thinker.

That, plus the equally dismissive slights that anti-religion cynics I’m equally sure aim her way for daring to consider in a spiritual light the myriad aspirations that, often unconsciously, underpin so much of human motivation and thought.

However, given the enormous changes currently afoot in Western religious circles — the rise of the so-called “religiously unaffiliated” or “nones,” for example — I think voices such as Burton’s are increasingly important to the Western discourse on the place of religion in public life.

In short, there’s far more to popular and even quirky religious expression than is often immediately evident.

In this particular piece, Burton addresses aspirational thinking and the huge role it can play in shaping personal faith.

Question: Are you familiar with the term “cargo cult”? Yes, no? Either way I’ll return to this extreme example of aspirational faith below. But first, here’s the top of Burton’s piece.

On a recent Sunday in church, the officiating priest invited us (as he does every Sunday) to pray. We prayed for those you might call the “usual suspects”: for the bishop, for those in positions of political authority, for the recently departed.

But among those we also prayed for was “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – and for all the other saints … ”

Technically speaking, King is not a saint in any mainstream established Christian tradition.

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Yet more forecasting on what to expect in religion news and trends during 2019

Yet more forecasting on what to expect in religion news and trends during 2019

Those who read GetReligion on Dec. 20 (thereby postponing their holiday chores) may recall The Religion Guy’s list of the big three religion news themes for the new year:

(1) Ongoing debate over using the CRISPR technique to create human “designer babies” and manipulate genes that will be passed along to future generations. (The Guy – uniquely -- also proclaimed this the #1 religion story of 2018.)

(2) How Catholic leaders cope with multiplying cases of priests molesting minors, both at Pope Francis’ February summit and afterward. And don’t neglect those Protestant sexual abuse scandals.

(3) Reverberations from the United Methodist Church’s special February General Conference that decides whether and how to either hold together or to split over same-sex issues.

On the same theme, Religion News Service posted a longish item New Year’s Eve headlined “What’s coming for religion in 2019? Here’s what the experts predict.” This was a collection of brief articles commissioned from a multi-faith lineup. It turned out to be one of those ideas that seemed better in the story conference than in the resulting copy.

Understandably, no panelist expected an end to the persistent Catholic scandals.

Otherwise, the pieces predicted things like this:

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Religion newswriters take note: Scholarly specialists are joining 'The Conversation'

Religion newswriters take note: Scholarly specialists are joining 'The Conversation'

Reporters and editors who specialize in religion should be aware of a young Web site -- TheConversation.com -- and regularly check out its section devoted to “Ethics + Religion.

This innovative site was launched in 2011 in Australia, 2012 in Britain, and then 2014 for the United States, with funding from 11 foundations and sponsorship by a constellation of 19 major U.S. universities (oddly, no Ivy Leaguers).  

The stated concept here is to provide “an independent source of news and views” that allows “university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public,” as opposed to writing articles for narrow academic journals. TheConversation hopes that its “explanatory journalism” from experts will “promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues.”

The editor for the ethics + religion section is Kalpana Jain, a former reporter for The Times of India who has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

The site can help reporters by offering three things: 

(1) Added angles and background on themes in the news.

(2) Ideas for new stories.

(3) Perhaps most important, names of knowledgeable scholars on specific topics to keep on file as needed in the future.

This is, of course, similar to the ReligionLink material offered by the Religion News Association. Of course, when it comes to solid sources of information, reporters want to bookmark as many as possible.

A good example of this new site’s resources is the detailed July 19 piece “Explaining the rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S.”

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A Monday-morning quarterback re-examines a foggy religion news forecast for 2016

A Monday-morning quarterback re-examines a foggy religion news forecast for 2016

This Memo must begin with a confession.

The Religion Guy was among countless newsies who thought Donald Trump would lose. He figured it was close, Trump would win Ohio and Iowa, and had a good shot in Florida and North Carolina. But it didn’t seem likely (to say the least) the president-elect could grab Wisconsin, Michigan (where The Guy went to college), Pennsylvania (where his in-laws live) and fall only 1.5 percent short in Minnesota (that super-blue land of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale). 

Reminders of fallibility are necessary as The Guy turns Monday-morning quarterback and re-examines the forecast for 2016 by the team of pros at www.religionlink.com, an essential resource on the beat sponsored by our Religion Newswriters Foundation. (Tax-deductible donations welcomed.) Its Web postings are especially helpful in listing knowledgeable observers and advocates for reporters.

Naturally, ReligionLink led with the election. On the January day its 2016 forecast appeared, the RealClearPolitics poll average among Republicans put Trump first with 35 percent, followed by three rivals with substantial evangelical appeal who together claimed 38.3 percent: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson, in that order. Uh, that was essentially “white evangelical” appeal, due to African-Americans’ Democratic fealty.

ReligionLink cited Rubio’s pitch to evangelicals but ignored the devout Cruz and Carson.

Remarkably, Trump’s candidacy was not mentioned.

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5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

Godbeat pros will convene in Atlanta this week for the Religion Newswriters Association's 65th annual conference.

In advance of the national meeting of religion journalists, RNA President Bob Smietana did a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion. I'll sprinkle a few #RNA2014 tweets between Bob's responses.

Q: For our readers unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about your journalism career and your background in religion writing. And catch us up on how your beloved Red Sox are doing after winning a third World Series title in 10 years last season.

A: I’ve had a pretty fun career. I wrote a weekly religion column in college then decided to go out and save the world by working at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. Turns out I was terrible at saving the world.

So, in my mid-30s, I became a writer instead. I started small — my first freelance religion story paid $35 — and then landed a job writing for a small religious magazine in Chicago called the Covenant Companion, where I stayed for eight years. One of my big breaks came in 2001, when I got the chance to spend a summer at Medill, studying religion writing with Roy Larson.

Eventually I became religion writer at The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, which I loved. Spent six great years there. Now I write about research and church trends for Facts and Trends magazine here in Nashville.

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