Seattle Times

San Francisco Chronicle's piece on RVs and the homeless is latest look at huge trend

San Francisco Chronicle's piece on RVs and the homeless is latest look at huge trend

I never knew there was a hidden population of people in church parking lots across the country. Then I read a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle about how some congregations were helping alleviate a crisis of homelessness on the West Coast.

It makes sense, actually. Most days a week, church parking lots are pretty much empty.

I thought the Chronicle’s story was unique until I did a search and found out that church parking lots-and-the-homeless have been covered quite a bit. KTVU, a local TV station, covered the same topic a month ago. Here's the Chronicle's piece:

Last year, Arnell Clark and his girlfriend, Mataele Robertson, moved their young family out of an East Palo Alto house because they could no longer afford the rent. The couple figured they’d get more room in a 34-foot recreational vehicle.

But the stigma hit hard. When they were renters, neighbors used to say hi. But in an RV on the street, “we’re invisible,” said 39-year-old Clark, a laid-off package handler. “It’s the unspoken that tells me how you feel.”

The solution: moving to a church parking lot. For months the couple have stationed their RV in the lots of local churches. They are currently on the East Palo Alto property of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ, an arrangement that Clark finds a blessing…

With no end in sight to soaring housing costs, several Bay Area faith organizations have become a sanctuary of sorts -- not just channeling donations and distributing food, but also offering a safe place for people living in cars or RVs. The arrangement has sometimes grated on neighbors, but for pastors, it’s simply an extension of their mission to serve humanity.

The newspaper offers a list of churches -– mainly in Silicon Valley -– that are letting either RVs or people sleeping in their cards take up space in their lots.

The "Safe Parking" sign that introduces this post is from Morgan Hill Bible Church that's well to the south of San Jose. Back to the feature itself:

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Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Union Gospel Mission is probably Seattle’s most venerable charity. Starting with the Great Depression, it has an 85-year history with the Emerald City especially in terms of its help with the homeless and the addicted.

Also known as UGM, the mission has done the dirty week of patrolling the streets, helping clear homeless encampments and serving a city where homelessness grew by 7.3 percent last year. Seattle is third in the nation (behind New York and Los Angeles) in numbers of homeless even though it’s the 20th largest city in the country.

But no one seemed to figure out until recently that the “Gospel” in Union Gospel Mission meant the organization may have religious and moral standards for its employees. That is, until a gay lawyer tried to get a job there.

I’ll start with the Seattle Times account of what happened next, partly because it’s fairly long and it’s written by Christine Willmsen, who was one of the young reporters I oversaw as city editor of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M. more than 20 years ago.

A bisexual Christian man is suing Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after it refused to hire him because of his sexual orientation.
Union Gospel Mission, which has provided addiction recovery, one-on-one counseling, emergency shelter and legal support services for homeless people in King County since 1932, says employees must live by a “Biblical moral code.”
When a staff attorney position opened in October 2016 for the nonprofit, religion-based organization, mission volunteer Matthew Woods was encouraged to apply, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court.
But as he started the application process, he disclosed he was in a same-sex relationship. David Mace, Union Gospel Mission’s managing attorney, told Woods, “sorry you won’t be able to apply,” because the Employee Code of Conduct prohibits homosexuality, the lawsuit says.

But Woods didn’t give up, deciding that a state law prohibiting job discrimination because of sexual orientation was more than enough ground to base a lawsuit on. Seattlepi.com explained how Union Gospel’s requirements for the job automatically excluded him.

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Arlene's Flowers vs. Washington state: This religious liberty battle keeps on going

Arlene's Flowers vs. Washington state: This religious liberty battle keeps on going

Unfortunately, I missed quite the event in my back yard on Tuesday: A hearing before the Washington State Supreme Court on what’s known as the “Arlene’s Flowers case.” Seated in an auditorium about seven miles from where I live, legal teams in argued the crucial church-state case, Robert Ingersoll & Curt Freed v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc.

I’ve covered the saga of Baronelle Stutzman before in GetReligion, so please click on that link to refresh your memories about the mainstream press coverage of what led to the lawsuit as well as what certainly appears to be the animus that the local American Civil Liberties Union and State Attorney General Bob Ferguson have against this florist.

Outside the auditorium where the hearing was held, there were a lot of pro-Stutzman demonstrators clamoring for her; an unusual sight in this bluest of blue states. The Tri-City Herald, a daily in eastern Washington that’s Stutzman’s hometown newspaper had the best reporting on the hearing, so I’ll start with that: 

BELLEVUE  -- Hundreds packed a college theater Tuesday to hear arguments in the case of a Richland flower shop and the same-sex couple who say they were discriminated against when the owner refused to make arrangements for their wedding.
Barronelle Stutzman, who owns Arlene’s Flowers, cited her relationship with Jesus Christ when she turned down the request of longtime customer Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed.
On Tuesday, after 3 1/2 years of legal wrangling, Stutzman, Ingersoll and Freed found themselves seated in the front row before the state Supreme Court.

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Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Covering the transgender bathroom/showers debates has created a few conundrums for the folks here at GetReligion in that we tend to comment on pieces in which religion is a factor or there’s a “ghost;” where religion should be a factor but the reporter –- or editors –- have left it out.

A lot of folks involved in these debates do so for religious reasons, but those reasons aren't often spelled out and instead, as my colleague Bobby Ross has reported, the debate devolves into journalists simply labeling folks "anti-LBGT.".

One side of the debate does seem to get demonized. This case study concerns a Seattle Times food critic who outed a local chef who happens to be providing some of the stadium food available during Seattle Seahawks games.

The chef, known as the “steak king of Seattle,” apparently had a hidden weakness, in that he held unorthodox -- to the new normal -- beliefs on a controversial issue in the public square. Here’s what the Times reporter ran on Wednesday:

Seahawks stadium chef John Howie donated $1,000 to the Washington anti-transgender bathroom group Just Want Privacy in May, and Howie says he also signed a petition opposing transgender bathrooms.
This puts Howie on the opposite side of the issue from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. On Monday, it was reported that Wilson and singer Ciara moved their wedding out of North Carolina due to that state’s anti-transgender bathroom law. Asked about the report today, Wilson said, “I just believe that Jesus loves all people. That’s honestly what I believe.”
Howie says he’s opposed to transgender bathrooms due to concerns about who could gain access to them. “I think that there’s a chance that the law could be abused by somebody,” he says. “I think somebody who is not transgender, a sex offender, could abuse the law -- somebody who is just out to put themselves into a women’s, or a boys’, bathroom, for that matter.

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Following up on World Vision's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in Gaza

Following up on World Vision's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in Gaza

In 2014, World Vision (WV) noted with pride on its website that Mohammed Khalil El Halabi had been named a United Nations humanitarian hero for his work leading the international evangelical Christian mega-charity in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory.

A year later, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), a right-leaning Israeli think tank, produced a lengthy white paper on WV's work in Gaza. It asserted that WV promoted "an anti-Israel narrative in order to obscure the role of Hamas in creating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. By serving as a conduit of misinformation about the Arab-Israel conflict, World Vision increases its income as it assists Hamas in its propaganda war against the Jewish state."

Neither the WV web post or the JPPA report received meaningful news media attention. That's as you might expect. In-house employee praise or white papers by groups with an obvious dog in the fight -- particularly those right-of-center on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- tend to gain little traction with mainstream journalistic professionals.

Here's what does receive attention: Last week, Halabi was charged by Israel with being a Hamas agent who diverted significant WV funds to the Sunni Islamist Palestinian group that the United States and other nations have labeled a terrorist group.

Click here to read how the New York Times handled the story. Click here to see how The Guardian played it.

WV is based in the Seattle area, so let's also see what the hometown newspaper did. Lacking its own international resources, the Seattle Times fell back on the time-honored journalistic slight-of-hand of having a staffer add a local veneer to a rewrite of wire reports. Been there, done that.

There are several journalistic points to be made here. But first a bit more on WV's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week (thanks, Disney.)

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The Supreme Court and pharmacists: CNN shines while Washington state newspapers punt

The Supreme Court and pharmacists: CNN shines while Washington state newspapers punt

Although I just moved to Washington state a year ago, I was unaware it is the only state in the country that mandates pharmacists to supply medicines they are opposed to on religious grounds. All other states have some sort of right of refusal for pharmacists.

Then along came Stormans Inc. v. Wiesman, a case involving an Olympia, Wash.-based pharmacy that objected to a state law mandating it sell certain forms of emergency contraception. The Tacoma News Tribune describes the background here.

Here is what CNN wrote about the latest Supreme Court action on this case:

Washington (CNN) -- Over the dissent of three conservative justices who expressed concern for the future of religious liberty claims, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a case brought by the owner of a pharmacy and two pharmacists who objected to delivering emergency contraceptives such as Plan B.
The plaintiffs in the case, the Stormans family, sought to challenge Washington State regulation mandating that a pharmacy may not "refuse to deliver a drug or device to a patient because its owner objects to delivery on religious, moral or other personal grounds."
The Stormans are devout Christians and own a pharmacy in Olympia, Washington.
A federal appeals court held that the Washington regulations did not violate the First Amendment.

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Anti-Muslim backlash strikes again: Media can't help falling in love with circumstantial evidence

Anti-Muslim backlash strikes again: Media can't help falling in love with circumstantial evidence

Facts, please.

That most basic element of strong journalism would be helpful as media keep spinning reports of "anti-Muslim backlash" after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

As you may recall, I criticized the Houston Chronicle last week for squishy, speculative reporting after an arson fire at a storefront mosque:

My plea for journalists pursuing the "Muslim backlash" story: Do some actual reporting.
Yes, treat Muslims (and other people of faith) with fairness and respect. By all means, listen to their concerns, and report them fully. But don't ditch normal, necessary journalistic skepticism and investigative techniques for the sake of a politically correct storyline.

So what happened not long after the Texas newspaper's big Page 1 story on the fire stirring fears in the Muslim community? Police arrested a suspect who claims to be a devout Muslim who regularly worshiped at the torched mosque.

Hmmm, that fact changes the storyline a bit, huh?

In the Pacific Northwest, meanwhile, a 16-year-old Muslim's death has caused a furor and fanned Islamophobia concerns, according to the Seattle Times. 

Earlier, the Seattle newspaper publicized online speculation that the teen was the victim of an "anti-Muslim hate crime." Speculation, of course, involves "the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence." That's not exactly a recipe for quality journalism.

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Seattle Weekly uses Falun Gong as counterweight to Chinese President Xi

Seattle Weekly uses Falun Gong as counterweight to Chinese President Xi

While Pope Francis was leading a star-studded tour of three East Coast cities last week, there was another international visitor heading for Washington, D.C. -- Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Clearly, Francis won out in the media coverage sweepstakes. Bloomberg may have had the best headline about the junction of the two: (“China’s Xi Can’t Compete with ‘Rock Star’ Pope in U.S. Trip”).

However, if you happen to live in the Seattle area, Xi’s visit was a bit hard to miss, because that’s where he spent two days before heading off to DC.

While Xi was ferried from Everett to Tacoma with stops at Redmond’s Microsoft campus and business meetings in downtown Seattle, whole interstates were closed for his 130-car motorcades for his 1,000-person entourage. Last Tuesday, his arrival caused a 17-mile-long backup on I-5 south going into Seattle and his Thursday departure caused similar headaches. The area around Xi’s hotel (the Westin) in downtown Seattle was a no-go zone for ordinary folks, but protestors got as close as they could.

And the religion angle? One was a Falun Gong practitioner who’d been tortured for years in Chinese gulags. A Seattle Weekly reporter happened to find her .

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Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

There aren’t many religion writers in the Pacific Northwest these days and that's a shame.

For example, The Seattle Times apparently hasn’t had one since Janet Tu left the beat several years ago. If something breaks like last year’s ouster of Mark Driscoll -- then-pastor of Mars Hill, Seattle’s largest church at the time -- the newsroom has to pull reporters from other beats to cover it.

So it was a surprise to see this story leading their web site Sunday on Medi-Share and two other Christian “health-sharing ministries” that act quasi-health insurers for lots of Washington state residents.

When Melissa Mira suffered sudden heart failure at the end of her second pregnancy last year, she worried first about her health and her baby -- then about the more than $200,000 in medical bills that began rolling in.
“Your world is just crashing down around you and you wonder: ‘How is this going to be covered?’ ” recalled Mira, 30, who spent more than a month away from her Tacoma home, hospitalized at the University of Washington Medical Center.
For Mira and her family, the answer came not through traditional health insurance, but through faith that fellow Christians would step forward to pay the bills.
The Miras -- including daughter Jael, 4, and baby Sienna Rain, now a healthy 9-month-old -- are among the growing numbers of people looking to “health care-sharing ministries” across the U.S. At last count, there were more than 10,000 members in Washington state and nearly 400,000 nationwide, individuals and families whose medical costs are taken care of entirely through the organized goodwill -- and monthly payments or “shares” -- of like-minded religious followers.

The writer is the newspaper’s health reporter and the tone is informative and respectful. It’s kind of sad when it’s unusual to find a piece in the secular media about religious practices that have no snark attached.

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