The New York Times

New York Times features free church weddings for cohabiting couples, with predictable criticism

New York Times features free church weddings for cohabiting couples, with predictable criticism

The story is about a Texas church offering free weddings for cohabiting couples who agree to undergo premarital counseling.

The publication is the New York Times.

So it’s no surprise that the feature eventually gets around to same-sex marriage and how the church involved won’t allow it.

But overall, it’s an interesting piece.

Let’s start at the top:

A few months before Kelvin Evans married his live-in girlfriend, Pa Shoua Pha, in 2016, uncertainty gripped him.

“I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to have any more children,” said Mr. Evans, 44, the father of two boys from a previous relationship. But his girlfriend, he said, wanted to start a family and “it became a huge sticking point.”

Fortunately, the couple had a support network through the Concord Church, a nondenominational Christian church, in Dallas. Alongside five other cohabiting couples, they signed up for a “step into marriage” challenge and worked out their issues. On Aug. 27, 2016, all six couples, plus 19 other couples who also took the challenge, married in a mass ceremony. Mr. and Ms. Evans now have a daughter, Ava Naomi, who was born this past March, and Mr. Evans couldn’t be happier. “If I was doing any better,” he said, “it would probably be illegal.”

“If I was doing any better, it would probably be illegal.” Love it! I appreciate it when the writer rewards the reader with a great quote up high.

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Bad vibrations: Riverside Church war offers perfect case study of @NYPost vs. @NYTimes

Bad vibrations: Riverside Church war offers perfect case study of @NYPost vs. @NYTimes

This certainly was not your typical media storm about a Baylor University graduate who achieved fame in the ministry by heading to Washington, D.C., and then to New York City.

However, the fall of the Rev. Amy Butler from the high pulpit of Manhattan’s world-famous Riverside Church offers readers a classic journalism case study illustrating the differences between New York Post readers and New York Times readers. It’s also educational to note that the religious themes in this controversy played little or no role in either report.

Starting with a classic A1 headline, the Post editors knew what would zap readers awake while reading in their subway cars:

The reason for her ouster is far more stimulating than any sermon this pastor could have delivered.

The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, the first woman to lead Manhattan’s famed Riverside Church, lost her lofty post amid complaints that she brought ministers and a congregant on a sex toy shopping spree and then gave one of them an unwanted vibrator as a birthday gift, The Post has learned.

On May 15, Butler allegedly took two Riverside assistant ministers and a female congregant to a sex shop in Minneapolis called the Smitten Kitten, during a religious conference, according to sources familiar with the out-of-town shopping excursion.

At the store, the pastor bought a $200 bunny-shaped blue vibrator called a Beaded Rabbit for one minister — a single mom of two who was celebrating her 40th birthday — as well as more pleasure gadgets for the congregant and herself, sources said. The female minister didn’t want the sex toy, but accepted it because she was scared not to, sources said.

The great Gray Lady, on the other hand, knew that the readers in its choir would want a story rooted in sexism, patriarchy and workplace politics. The headline, as you would imagine, was a bit more restrained: “Pastor’s Exit Exposes Cultural Rifts at a Leading Liberal Church.”

The sex toys angle made it into the Times story, with a nod to Post coverage, but readers had to wait a few extra paragraphs to find that angle. Here’s the overture:

When the Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler was hired to lead Riverside Church in Manhattan in 2014, she was hailed as a rising star, the first woman to join a distinguished line of pastors at one of the pre-eminent progressive Protestant congregations in the United States.

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Friday Five: Billy Graham rule, Marianne Williamson, nun's curveball, MZ's Kavanaugh book

Friday Five: Billy Graham rule, Marianne Williamson, nun's curveball, MZ's Kavanaugh book

A famous steakhouse off Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas, offers a free, 72-ounce steak.

The only catch: You must eat it all in one setting.

On a reporting trip this week, I stopped there for lunch. Spoiler alert: I didn’t order the 4.5-pound hunk of beef. I chose something slightly smaller.

While I savor the delicious memories, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This may not be the most important story of the week. In fact, veteran religion journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald questioned on Twitter whether it’s news at all.

But I’m fascinated by the coverage of a little-known Mississippi gubernatorial candidate who invoked the “Billy Graham rule” in declining to allow a female journalist to shadow him for a day. I wrote about all the national media attention state Rep. Robert Foster has received — and the lack of details on Foster’s actual religious beliefs — in a post Thursday.

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A male gubernatorial candidate, a female reporter and a Pence-like storm over 'Billy Graham rule'

A male gubernatorial candidate, a female reporter and a Pence-like storm over 'Billy Graham rule'

Remember a few years ago when a bunch of people flipped out over news that Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t meet alone with a woman?

Interestingly, a New York Times poll later found that — surprise! — not just Pence but many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations.

Fast-forward to this week.

A little-known Republican candidate for Mississippi governor is getting national attention, mostly negative, after citing the same “Billy Graham rule” that Pence did. The candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster, sparked a furor by declining to grant a female reporter’s request to shadow him (unless she brought a male colleague along).

CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today — among other major news outlets — have covered the story. The journalist in question, Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell, offered her firsthand perspective on Foster’s decision.

What is the Billy Graham rule? The Times explains:

Mr. Graham, who died last year at 99, was the country’s best-known Christian evangelist. He sought to avoid any situation involving a woman other than his wife “that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion,” he wrote in his autobiography.

In Lloyd Bentsen style, CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke felt compelled to let Foster know that he’s no Billy Graham:

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Why did Ross Perot turn on George H.W. Bush, another rich Texan? Look for a religion ghost

Why did Ross Perot turn on George H.W. Bush, another rich Texan? Look for a religion ghost

Here’s the parting shot offered by Ross Perot, in an interview a few years ago with The Dallas Morning News: "Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, I'll be Texas dead. Ha!"

No doubt about it, Perot was a Texan. However, the prodigal Texan in me (my chosen label) can still remember some of the holes in the mainstream press coverage of Perot’s gadfly political career — if that was, in fact, the real goal of his crucial first White House campaign. So many journalists simply settled for saying that Perot was a Texan, when they needed to ask what KIND of Texan he was.

You see, Perot wasn’t your ordinary Texan. He wasn’t even your ordinary rich Texan in Dallas.

Perot rose to become a Highland Park Texan. He wasn’t just rich, he was a certain kind of rich within the structures of Texas life. If you want a glimpse inside that world, check out this 1976 classic from Texas Monthly: “The Highland Park Woman.”

To cut to the chase, this kind of conservative Texan — much like the liberal tribe located in Austin — is embarrassed by all those other Texans. Most of all, they are opposed to all of those, well, religious nuts out there in ordinary Texas.

So this leads me to the big question that I kept asking as I read some of the mainstream news obituaries for Perot: Why did he do it? Why did Perot turn on George H.W. Bush — from the Houston version of the Highland Park tribe — and try to take him down? What was the elder Bush’s fatal sin?

Well, let’s look back to a 1992 feature in the New York Times to find some of the information that was omitted from the Perot obits, as well as most of the coverage of his public life. Read this carefully:

Mr. Perot espoused a kind of fiscal conservatism and toward the end of his campaign a strong law-and-order theme. But he also drew cheers when he staunchly defended a woman's right to choose an abortion and when he bashed the religious right. Indeed, in the voter survey, only 34 percent of Mr. Perot's voters said they attended religious services at least once a week, compared with 42 percent in the survey sample as a whole.

Mr. Perot's army seems to include a strong libertarian streak: people seeking a measure of freedom from what they perceive as the heavy hand of institutions, religious as well as governmental. If the fundamentalist right holds sway in the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party, Perot followers could go elsewhere.

What did Bush do wrong? Why, there may have been other sins (like Gulf War 1.0), but it was crucial that George H.W. Bush betrayed his class by abandoning his support for abortion rights, while taking other steps to court the world of religious and cultural conservatism.

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Evil, sin, reality and life as a 'Son of God': What Marianne Williamson is saying isn't new

Evil, sin, reality and life as a 'Son of God': What Marianne Williamson is saying isn't new

Early in the 1990s, I made the leap from full-time reporting in a mainstream newsroom — the Rocky Mountain News (RIP) — to teaching at Denver Seminary.

My goal was to pull “signals” from mainstream media into the world of people preparing for various ministries (key summary document here), helping them to face the ideas, symbols and stories that were shaping ordinary Americans, in pews and outside traditional religious groups. I wanted to pay attention to valid questions, even if traditional believers couldn’t embrace the media world’s answers.

In my main class, I needed a book that could open a door into what I called “Oprah America.” Thus, in 1992, I required my students to read “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles,” by Marianne Williamson. Some of these evangelical students were not amused.

This, of course, leads us to that massive New York Times feature that ran the other day:

The Curious Mystical Text Behind Marianne Williamson’s Presidential Bid

The New Age author was drawn to an esoteric bible in the 1970s. It made her a self-help megastar. And now it has gone mainstream.

To my shock, the world’s newspaper of record dedicated large chunks of newsprint to the religious content — the doctrine, even — at the heart of Williamson’s life, ministry and her politics. I would say this story gets the equation about 75 percent right, but the Times team needed to back up a bit further in order to understand why so many Americans will — if told the roots of her thought — find her beliefs disturbing.

Hold that thought. Here’s the key question: How would the Times, and other elite media, have handled a feature about the beliefs of a Oneness Pentecostal or a faith-healing preacher who sought the presidency as a Republican? With this light a touch?

Now, here is a crucial chunk of that Times feature, which comes after a brief discussion of her remarks in the recent debates featuring a flock of Democratic candidates:

She was … drawing directly from a homegrown American holy book called “A Course in Miracles,” a curious New York scripture that arose during the heady metaphysical counterculture of the 1960s.

This is not some homey book of feel-good bromides. Rather, it is taken by its readers as a genuine gospel, produced by a Manhattan doctor who believed she was channeling new revelations from Jesus Christ himself.

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Friday Five: 2020 politics, doctrine-defying Catholic teachers, Mormons in the news, Mongolia fundraiser

Friday Five: 2020 politics, doctrine-defying Catholic teachers, Mormons in the news, Mongolia fundraiser

Happy Fifth of July!

OK, that doesn’t have the same ring as “Happy Fourth of July!” But I’m too late for that.

I hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday. Perhaps you’re still celebrating it, if you have today off. That’s my plan, as soon as I finish this Friday Five post.

So let’s dive right into it:

1. Religion story of the week: The role of religion in the 2020 presidential race keeps making significant headlines.

In case you missed it because of the holiday, Richard Ostling wrote about Democratic candidates seeking a modernized faith formula that works.

Earlier in the week, Terry Mattingly reflected on this Trump-related question: “How many Democrats would back a pro-life Democrat?”

And this morning, Julia Duin posted on the battle at the border and evangelical leaders jostling for Trump-era media relevancy.

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#HoneymoonHell @NYTimes: Might there be a religion ghost somewhere in this story?

#HoneymoonHell @NYTimes: Might there be a religion ghost somewhere in this story?

The New York Times ran a stunning feature the other day about how our digital age has turned honeymoons into a depressing exercise in using social media to impress friends, family, colleagues and, if possible, the entire world.

People are not taking ordinary honeymoons anymore, if would seem. They are engaging in online competitions to prove that their honeymoon travel was way more awesome than that of other folks. Here is the double-decker headline atop this piece:

Honeymoon Hashtag Hell

Social media pressure to take perfectly posed photographs may lead to the first argument as a married couple. Is it worth a fabulous Instagram shot if you are just having a horrible time?

As you would expect, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West make an appearance in this story.

Ignore them, if at all possible. That isn’t what this post is about. The question, here, is whether — in the eyes of Times journalists and, thus, elite America — honeymoons remain linked, in any way, with the subject of marriage, a topic that once had deep religious significance. Marriage and sex was once part of the discussion. You know, that whole “moral theology” thing.

So let’s ask: Is there a “religion ghost” in this post? That’s the term that your GetReligionistas have always defined as an important religious subject hiding inside a news story.

Here is the overture to “Honeymoon Hashtag Hell,” just to introduce the key players and their dilemma.

If you ask JP Smith what he remembers most about his 2014 honeymoon in Aruba, he’ll say the sunsets, but not because of their beauty.

“It was like a photo shoot for some magazine that would never exist,” said Mr. Smith, 38, a real estate agent in New York, and he didn’t mean that in a good way. He described the weeklong vacation with his new wife, Natasha Huang Smith, as a “sunset nightmare,” “stressful,” “cumbersome” and “torturous.”

Ms. Huang Smith, 34, who works in digital marketing, was attempting to showcase their honeymoon on Instagram.

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Thinking about beating Trump: How many Democrats would back a pro-life Democrat?

Thinking about beating Trump: How many Democrats would back a pro-life Democrat?

The conservative interfaith journal First Things is not the place that one would normally look for an essay offering advice to Democrats who absolutely, positively, want to defeat Donald Trump in the next race for the White House.

I had intended to put this piece up as this past weekend’s “think piece,” but was not able to get that done. My free WIFI options in the North Carolina mountains were much worse than normal. Where I hang out, there isn’t even service on my smartphone.

So what is going on with this First Things piece by John Murdock, an attorney in Texas?

First of all, he takes very seriously the evidence that many, many conservative Protestants and Catholics really didn’t want to vote for Trump the last time around, but felt they were stuck in a lesser-of-two evils crunch — because of Hillary Clinton’s stances on issues such as abortion and religious liberty.

So what if the Democratic Party ran a candidate — a popular governor in a state Trump carried — who is a consistent Catholic on moral and social issues as well as a solid Democrat on a host of economic and justice issues. Yes, we are headed back into those interesting pro-life Democrat waters, again (following up on some interesting coverage at The New York Times).

We are talking about Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. Hold that thought, because we’ll come back to it.

Let’s start with this interesting Murdock analysis of the Hyde Amendment issue. That’s the longstanding ban on using federal dollars to fund abortions.

Polling by Morning Consult earlier this month found that 38 percent of likely Democratic primary voters supported the Hyde Amendment, as did 49 percent of the overall electorate (with only 33 percent opposed). That largely corroborates what Marist polling found in early 2018. Their survey showed that 24 percent of Democrats “strongly oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.”  Another 19 percent were “opposed,” making the total Democratic opposition to taxpayer-funded abortions 43 percent. While these voters may have other issues — like civil rights, immigration, or healthcare — driving their election day choices toward the Democrats, many would still prefer a more pro-life candidate if one were available. Today, none are. 

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