The Chicago Tribune

Old Chicago church gets converted: It's a real estate story, but there are religion questions

Old Chicago church gets converted: It's a real estate story, but there are religion questions

News consumers who have been paying attention to religion trends may have noticed this one: There are lots of church buildings for sale these days.

This is especially true with old-line Protestant sanctuaries located in older neighborhoods — often on prime property deep inside zip codes that are evolving due to gentrification.

What to do? Well, lots of urban folks — singles, cohabitating couples, married-without-kids folks — are attracted to unique condos and apartments that don’t look like they are assembled using cookie-cutters and one or two sets of design plans.

That brings us to the following real-estate headline at The Chicago Tribune: “Logan Square church gets new life as 9 luxury apartments.” Let me stress that I realize that this is a real-estate story. One should not expect that news desk to provide a lot of depth, when it comes to the religious implications of some of the information in a news report of this kind.

But let’s see if you can spot the detail that I think would have been worth a follow-up question or two — a click of a computer mouse, at least, or even a telephone call. Things start in a rather predictable manner, with a bad pun:

Living in one new Logan Square apartment building is a heavenly experience. The former church was converted into nine distinctive residences, incorporating many of the original architectural features.

The historic Episcopal Church of the Advent was built in 1926 by renowned architect Elmer C. Jensen, who designed and engineered more than two dozen of the city’s early skyscrapers. The church closed in 2016 due to dwindling membership.

That brings us to the colorful details that caught my attention. Read this carefully and think, well, sort of like a liturgist, or a religion-beat professional:

In preparation for its second life, the building interior was mostly gutted, and the space was subdivided. Stained glass art windows, ornate chandeliers, decorative millwork, and stone arches and columns are among the retained features. In one apartment, a stone altar acts as the base for a kitchen island. In another, wainscoting was installed to complement the existing millwork. The church exterior was preserved in entirety.

“Any of the elements that were left here, the developer was able to repurpose and reuse,” said Mark Durakovic, principal at Kass Management Services, which is managing and leasing the building.

Wait a minute!

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No gay wedding flowers yet: Reporters puzzle over what Baronelle Stutzman ruling means

No gay wedding flowers yet: Reporters puzzle over what Baronelle Stutzman ruling means

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to toss the Arlene’s Flowers case back to the Washington State Supreme Court instead of ruling on it wasn’t all bouquets for Barronelle Stutzman.

Get this: the highest court in the land dodged making a decisive ruling for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission several weeks ago, then proceeded to tell  judges in Washington state to take a second look on the Arlene’s Flowers case in light of the vague Masterpiece decision.

In other words, did government officials in Washington state show the same kind of negative bias against Stutzman's religious convictions that was demonstrated in Colorado? That's the point of logic that journalists had to figure out.

Living just east of Seattle as I do, I’m betting the Washington Supreme Court will make exactly the same decision they did before, then lob the case back onto the U.S. Supreme Court’s side. Looking at the local media react, KIRO radio said:

Three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a Colorado baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding, the court sent the similar Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington case back to Olympia for another look.

And according to Kristen Waggoner with the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that is working pro bono for the florist, Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman of Richland is feeling “hopeful” about getting a second chance at the Washington State Supreme Court.

Waggoner explained to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the decision essentially nullifies the Washington State Supreme Court’s previous ruling that Stutzman violated the Constitution in 2013 when she refused to do a floral arrangement for a gay wedding.

The Chicago Tribune had a better read:

After failing to fully resolve two difficult cases this term, the Supreme Court signaled Monday it was still not ready to decide whether a Christian shop owner can refuse service to a same-sex wedding or when some states have gone too far in gerrymandering their election maps for partisan advantage.


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Bill Hybels resigns at Willow Creek: Thank goodness, real pros got to cover this story

Bill Hybels resigns at Willow Creek: Thank goodness, real pros got to cover this story

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the most basic facts.

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, the Denver area was in the middle of a remarkable boom era for evangelical megachurches. There were congregations that -- in the space of 12 months or so -- attracted several thousand members.

During a classroom discussion one day. a student from overseas (I think it was Russia) asked an interesting question: Why are there no old, unattractive, balding superchurch pastors? Why are they all young, super attractive and really funny? And how can you be a pastor when you have 7,000 members or more? Were these men pastors or celebrities?

The Americans laughed, but the laughter was rather weak.

I thought about that exchange when I was reading some of the early coverage of the latest scene in the ongoing drama of the Rev. Bill Hybels and the massive Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago.

Obviously, Hybels is more than a pastor who founded a giant evangelical megachurch 42 years ago. He is the creator of what amounts to a new Protestant mini-denomination -- more than a mere parachurch network. He has been a hero -- a celebrity -- among moderate evangelicals who want to make sure that the world understands that they aren't like all of those other tacky evangelicals.

There's a reason that GetReligionista Julia Duin's original #ChurchToo post about the accusations against Hybels has attracted nearly 18,000 readers.

With all that in mind, let me say something very obvious about the main news reports about the Hybels resignation.

These stories are, as a rule, long, detailed and full of nuance. In other words, look at the bylines on the following stories in the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and the hard-news website at Christianity Today.

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Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Several years ago, there was a mini-wave of mainstream media coverage when a variety of Christian ministries and institutions of higher learning took risky stands against the Health and Human Services mandate that required most religious institutions to offer their employees, and often students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after pills."

The problem, of course, is that members of most of these religious communities had accepted, and in most cases signed, covenants defending centuries of doctrines on marriage and sexuality. To varying degrees, some or all of these HHS demands violated doctrines that leaders of these institutions had promised to defend.

One high-profile case involved Wheaton College, a famous evangelical Protestant school near Chicago. Wheaton leaders refused to buckle under government pressure and kept fighting in the courts -- a process that drew coverage in news outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post and, logically enough, the nearby Chicago Tribune (check out this Google News search for examples).

So what happened -- in terms of news coverage -- when Wheaton won a crucial district-court victory upholding the college's First Amendment rights?

To find out, click on the video at the top of this post (or just click here).

Ever since that ruling, your GetReligionistas have been watching to see what kind of mainstream coverage there would be about this story. Activists at the conservative NewsBusters website were doing the same thing and published this summary: "Not News: Wheaton College Wins Permanent Injunction Against ObamaCare Contraception Mandate." It noted:

During the past several days, the press mentioned Wheaton College in Illinois when a former student was arrested for multiple burglaries, and when there were new developments relating to a football team hazing incident. On the positive side, the college's partnership with a school for children with disabilities got coverage, as of course did Wheaton's most famous graduate, the just-passed Rev. Billy Graham. But there hasn't been a word in the national establishment press about the Christian college's victory over the Obamacare contraception mandate -- a victory which should ripple though all remaining related cases.

Of course, this crucial update in a national-level case did receive all kinds of attention in alternative "conservative" news outlets.

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Coast-to-coast coverage of anti-sharia protest offers lots of heat, but little or no light

Coast-to-coast coverage of anti-sharia protest offers lots of heat, but little or no light

Arguments about religion and freedom took to the streets around the country this past weekend as a group called ACT for America staged anti-sharia law demonstrations at roughly 28 locations around the country.

I wasn’t aware of the event until I read a piece in the Seattle Times announcing the rally. The lead sentence, which began with, “Supporters of an organization considered a hate group by local Muslims will gather in Seattle on Saturday…” told me all I needed to know about the Times’ take on the event.

Once again, we have one of those news stories where editors already know who is totally good and who is totally evil (there are no variations or debates on either side, you see) and there is no need to let readers hear from other voices. It's much easier just to write an editorial.

Sadly, the Seattle paper didn’t improve things much with its post-rally story

Supporters of an organization labeled an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center gathered Saturday in downtown Seattle as part of a national “March Against Sharia,” but were outnumbered by counterprotesters who used horns, whistles and chants to drown out their message.
The counterprotest, called “Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors,” drew a few hundred people to target the much-publicized demonstration sponsored by ACT for America. That group claims Islamic Sharia law — which is not in effect in the United States -- is a threat to American values. Sharia is religious law found in the Quran, and some Muslim-majority countries use Sharia law in their legal systems.

Did other media do better?

The report from ABC-TV quoted its Seattle affiliate and a Minneapolis newspaper about the status of rallies in both those cities, then quoted an Islamic studies professor in Hamilton, Ontario to comment on what’s going on in the States. Weren’t there any Islamic studies scholars in American universities who could be quoted?

CNN’s report was only a little better: 

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Here is today's strange Godbeat AP style question: Are Lutherans also Christians?

Here is today's strange Godbeat AP style question: Are Lutherans also Christians?

Your GetReligionistas love to hear from veteran religion-beat professionals, in part because journalists who have spent years covering this complicated news topic can spot subtle, and often humorous, issues when they pop up in news reports.

Take issues of journalism style, for example. Now, your average blog reader may not get excited about references to tricky issues in the Associate Press Stylebook, but this is the kind of thing that fires up veteran editors and reporters.

After all, if you don’t know your AP style and some church history you can end up printing a story that says that Lutherans aren’t Christians.

Yes, that happened the other day in a Chicago Tribune story that ran with this headline: “County defends surprise church inspections.” Thus, I received this note from a religion-beat veteran:

This caught my eye. … The zoning dispute doesn’t bother me, it’s the weird contrast of Lutheran with Christian. “He was a baseball player before he became an athlete” would be a fair comparison.

Say what? Here is the strange passage in context, right at the top of this business-like story about a rather business-like topic:

For as long as Hillcrest Christian Church has been around, and that's more than 40 years, parishioners and church leaders always assumed the building and grounds were part of Hazel Crest, the community that surrounds the property.
Turns out they were wrong.

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Thumbs up or down? The Los Angeles Times offers wink, wink verdict on weeping icon

Thumbs up or down? The Los Angeles Times offers wink, wink verdict on weeping icon

Do you remember the relatively minor buzz in the mainstream press not that long ago about the icon -- located on the iconostasis at the front of an Orthodox sanctuary -- that appeared to be exuding drops of myrrh?

If you don't, click here for the GetReligion post on that story. It helped, of course, that this story broke as some journalists were seeking a hook for this year's story on the Orthodox celebration of the greatest feast in Christian life -- Pascha (or Easter).

There were television crews that went face-to-face with the icon, such as in this local CBS report. However, it was the story in The Chicago Tribune that started the mini-boomlet in coverage. You may recall that this is how it began

Since July, tiny droplets of fragrant oil have trickled down an icon of St. John the Baptist in front of the altar at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Homer Glen. Parishioners believe the oil has healing properties and that its origins are a blessing from God. ...
Whether it's an act of God or a chemical reaction, no one really knows. And frankly, few in the Greek Orthodox community care. A rational explanation is irrelevant if what seems to be a supernatural event draws people toward God, clergy say.

As you would expect, this was a case in which the word "miracle" went safely into scare quotes. However, this news story -- to my surprise -- ended up drawing editorial-page comment in The Los Angeles Times, of all places. Some people sent me the URL saying the editorial was wonderful, from a faith perspective, while others thought it was horrible.

The headline: "Is it a miracle? Does it matter as long as you believe it is?"

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Will Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein touch a third rail in Catholic doctrine? Of course not ...

Will Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein touch a third rail in Catholic doctrine? Of course not ...

First things first, to update our recent former-GetReligionista watch post, congratulations to Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein today as she receives her doctorate in sacred theology -- magna cum laude -- from the University of St. Mary on the Lake (Mundelein Seminary).

And congratulations, as well, on that A1 Chicago Tribune story that managed to cover quite a bit of Dawn's complex and fascinating life -- from rock-beat journalist to teaching seminarians -- up to this rather historic moment in Catholic higher education.

The story, for example, mentioned that her faculty appointment -- which still has not been announced -- will be overseas. Interesting. Does Dawn speak Italian?

As you would expect, there are some interesting editorial nuances in a mainstream news report about a person as complicated as Dawn. For example, even though (a) her journey into this work began in the Pope Benedict XVI era and (b) women have been appointed to interesting leadership posts (for several decades, actually) in conservative as well as progressive dioceses, the hook for this story (it's a news-media law) must be linked somehow to the current occupant of the chair of St. Peter.

She is earning the degree, issued by the authority of Pope Francis, at the same time Francis is pushing to raise the profile of women in the Catholic Church, most recently in his 260-page apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," in which he praised some aspects of women's liberation, though he did not go so far as to say women should be priests.
Goldstein is not calling for women's ordination. She's not condemning celibacy, and she voluntarily took a vow herself. She's simply pursuing an education to shape the church's ministers of tomorrow and mentor women who feel called to serve the church.

Of course, there is a reason this pope didn't "go so far" as to support female priests. There is, after all this document from St. Pope John Paul II called "Ordinatio sacerdotalis" in which he ruled that church teachings on this subject are "definitive," and part of the church's ancient "deposit of faith."

As is customary in most news coverage of Catholicism, the story -- over and over -- discusses contemporary issues in language that hints that they are (a) personal opinion, (b) political or (c) both.

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It's Easter for the Orthodox: Chicago Tribune comes this close to facing a weeping icon

It's Easter for the Orthodox: Chicago Tribune comes this close to facing a weeping icon

Writing a news report about an event that lots of people believe is a miracle is a difficult task. This is especially true with reports of healing when, often for legal reasons, the medical professionals linked to the case are not anxious to be interviewed or to provide relevant documentation from tests.

However, it's much easier to write about a phenomenon -- an object for example -- that can be examined by the senses, including the senses of skeptical journalists. That's what I kept thinking about as I read the Chicago Tribune news feature that ran under the headline, "Thousands flock to 'miracle' icon at south suburban church."

First of all, I am glad that the Tribune ran a story hooked to this year's Eastern Orthodox celebration of Pascha (Easter). This May 1 date on the ancient Julian calendar is very late in the spring, in comparison with this year's March 27 Easter date in the modern West.

Second, I was thankful that voices of believers are given quite a bit of space in this piece. However, well, where are the unbelievers? And if the story is going to focus on claims of a miracle then why not talk to some experts, in terms of theology and science? After all, we are talking about a very familiar phenomenon -- an Orthodox icon exuding a mysterious substance. Information on this phenomenon is only a few mouse clicks away. We aren't dealing with a large flour tortilla in Cleveland that appears to contain an image of LeBron James.

OK, let's look at a few pieces of this report, beginning with the overture:

As millions of Orthodox Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday and the miracle of Jesus Christ's resurrection, thousands across the Chicago area are flocking to a southwest suburban parish to see what they believe to be a different miracle.

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