Utah

A string of teen suicides in Utah — might town's Mormon influence offer relevant context?

A string of teen suicides in Utah — might town's Mormon influence offer relevant context?

Certainly, not every national story out of Utah has to include mention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But given the LDS church’s strong influence in the Beehive State, that faith connection is highly relevant in many cases.

Take the Wall Street Journal’s recent front-page on a string of teen suicides in Herriman, Utah.

Based on the Journal’s powerful lede, it’s not immediately clear whether religion is a crucial factor — or a factor at all:

HERRIMAN, Utah — Eight months to the day after his only son, Chandler, killed himself, Kurt Voutaz was in his kitchen eating lunch.

He and his wife, Catherine, had long since ripped the blood-soaked carpet out of Chandler's bedroom and cleaned the walls and ceiling. It was warm for February, and they had taken the snow tires off the car. They were hoping winter was over.

Suddenly, a police car sped across a footpath in the park behind their house. A couple of teenagers were standing nearby, shouting.

Mr. Voutaz stepped outside to see what was going on. He quickly wished he hadn't. Just a few yards from his house, a body was lying on the ground. It was Chandler's friend, Cooper Nagy. Like Chandler, he had shot himself.

Cooper was the fourth high-school student from Herriman to die by suicide since Chandler's death in June of 2017. Two more would kill themselves by May of 2018, bringing the total to six in less than a year, plus at least one recent graduate.

Keep reading, and the story provides the nut graf — noting that the nation’s suicide rate is rising and that “suicide clusters” involving multiple deaths and almost always adolescents hit roughly five U.S. communities per year.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:

ANOTHER PRO-LIFE DEMOCRAT

A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

If journalists really want to grasp the importance of the splits that the Donald Trump era is causing among religious conservatives, there are some logical places to look.

Obviously, they can look at the world of evangelicalism and, yes, even inside the complex world of white evangelicalism. Please start here.

Then they can narrow that down by looking at the generational and gender tensions inside the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock.

Journalists can also look at what is happening in Utah — starting with Trump’s astonishing — well, maybe not — personal shot at Rev. Mia Love, the GOP’s only black woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here is the top of a report from The Salt Lake Tribune:

President Donald Trump praised Republicans for expanding their majority in the Senate on Wednesday, while offering harsh criticism to GOP House members — including Utah’s Rep. Mia Love — who failed to wholeheartedly embrace his agenda.

Trump said Love had called him “all the time” asking for help freeing Utahn Josh Holt, who had been imprisoned in Venezuela. But her re-election campaign distanced itself from his administration, the president said, which led to her poor performance in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

“Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” Trump said. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Part of what is going on in that Utah vote is the increasingly important rural vs. urban divide in American life (check out the voting pattens in that district). Also, see this recent New York Times feature about some of the nuances in this particular Congressional race.

By the way, Trump served up his political kill shot on Love while votes are still being counted in Utah’s fourth district.

So, back to the Utah context. This president is even less popular in the urban Salt Lake City area than he is in the rest of deep red, Republican Utah — where politics are soaked in the conservative, but more gentle, style of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Election day thoughts: New York Times visits Utah, includes crucial faith details in a tragic war story

Election day thoughts: New York Times visits Utah, includes crucial faith details in a tragic war story

The mayor of North Odgen, Utah, was a soldier on yet another deployment — returning to Afghanistan.

Brent Taylor was married and had a large family, although it was not unusually large by Utah standards. He was a Republican who was popular with many Democrats in his town.

No, this is not going to be a post about whether professionals in the mainstream media — The New York Times, in this case — did or did not replace the term “Mormon” with the full name of that religious institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a major story.

No, I want to say that the journalists behind this Times story made a sincere attempt to grasp the ties that bind in the piece that ran with this headline: “Brent Taylor, Utah Mayor Killed in Afghanistan, Was on 4th Deployment.”

I had some doubts, at first, when the faith element did not show up in the overture:

NORTH OGDEN, Utah — The call had come again. Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden and a major in the Utah National Guard, would be going to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment.

He told his constituents about it on Facebook in January, leaning into the camera to explain that he had been called to serve his country “whenever and however I can” and that he would be gone for a year, as part of a team helping to train an Afghan Army commando battalion. “Service is really what leadership is all about,” he told them.

He said goodbye to his wife, Jennie, and their seven children, and turned over his municipal duties to his friend Brent Chugg. “You need to keep safe,” Mr. Chugg told him. “I will,” Major Taylor replied.

He did not make it home.

However, the faith details emerged — I think this was the right call — when the story shifted into details about family and community. I also think it was appropriate, as a radically divided nation heads into midterm elections, for the Times team to include some of this painful political atmosphere (without mentioning You Know Who). In my experience (including two recent invitations to speak at religious-liberty events at Brigham Young University), many LDS leaders and laypeople are very unsettled by current trends in America’s political life.

But back to the head of the story — the mayor and his family, and its community.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

ESPN writer explains what made Dale Murphy special, on and off field, and sort of avoids a ghost

ESPN writer explains what made Dale Murphy special, on and off field, and sort of avoids a ghost

For any baseball fan who remembers Dale Murphy, this is a fantastic read from ESPN the Magazine.

The in-depth piece by Wright Thompson — titled "Where Have You Gone, Dale Murphy?" — makes the case that the former two-time National League Most Valuable Player should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That induction would emphasize the fact that the retired Atlanta Braves star did not use performance-enhancing drugs, even though he ended his career in the steroids era.

Thompson writes:

If baseball wants to wash itself clean from steroids, the best way to do it isn't to keep [Barry] Bonds out of the Hall but to let Murphy in. Induct cheaters but also celebrate Dale Murphy for his 398 home runs and for the dozens he did not hit.

While the article is pegged on the Hall of Fame argument — noting that Murphy will be eligible again next year — it's the personal story that makes this such a captivating read.

That story revolves around what a good guy Murphy is. A moral guy. A family guy. Dare I say a religious guy?

ESPN hints that faith might be at play in Murphy's character, as the writer emotionally describes how a generation of boys who grew up within reach of the TBS cable station idolized the Braves' star:

Our letters arrived at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, 50 or more a day for a decade, as Murphy perennially battled Mike Schmidt for the NL home run title and won back-to-back MVP awards, one of four outfielders in baseball history to accomplish that. We read the stories about Murphy's kindness and charity, how he didn't drink or smoke or curse and how he signed every autograph. We imagined meeting him over big glasses of milk and talking about his moonshot home runs. 

A few paragraphs later, readers learn more about the Murphy of present day:

Generation Murph has grown into middle age. We are 35 years removed from his peak as a player. He lives mostly anonymously in Utah with his wife and eight grown children. 

Utah, huh?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

At a religious freedom conference in Utah, a diverse panel explores how to get news media coverage right

At a religious freedom conference in Utah, a diverse panel explores how to get news media coverage right

Whew!

A diverse panel of journalists and attorneys — including GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself — just wrapped up a panel discussion on "Getting It Right, Media Coverage of Religion Freedom."

The 90-minute exchange occurred at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, as part of the Religious Freedom Annual Review. BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies hosts the event each year. 

You can watch the entire discussion via this Facebook Live feed.

Hannah Clayson Smith, senior fellow at BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies, moderated the panel. 

Besides tmatt and me, other panelists included:

• Sahar Aziz, professor of law and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar at the Center for Security, Race at Rights at Rutgers University Law School.

• Emma Green, staff writer covering politics, policy and religion at The Atlantic.

• Holly Hollman, general counsel and associate executive director for the Baptist Joint Committee.

Earlier today, Green gave an excellent keynote address on the legal and political landscape of religious liberty. I don't see that talk online yet, but if I come across it, I'll add a link.

On a lighter note, I loved Green's response when asked about the polarization caused by social media:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Taxing theology? Washington Post does pretty solid reporting on exemptions for big Utah families

Taxing theology? Washington Post does pretty solid reporting on exemptions for big Utah families

In journalism, sometimes it takes an outsider to provide an inside look at a community, such as the one I reside in and commute through daily.

Today's example is a Washington Post story about the uncertain impact of pending tax reform legislation, headlined in part: "In land of large families, deep uncertainty over impact of tax overhaul." (The original URL for the story inserts the word "Utah," followed by a comma, between "in" and "land.")

Let's drop in on the story, shall we? The key: How did these political-beat reporters handle the religion details in this topic?

AMERICAN FORK, Utah -- This is how Becca Riding, mother of five, thinks about the tax changes speeding through Congress: Will she and her husband still be able to pay swim team fees for Emily, 13, and Caleb, 11? Will Ainsley, 9, be able to go back to the week-long science summer camp she loved? Can their family still go camping once a year in a national park? And will it remain as affordable to give 10 percent of their income to the Mormon Church, as their faith prescribes?
Middle-class families like the Ridings have been at the center of the Republican message about why the party needs to pass a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax code. The Senate’s top tax writer, Utah’s Orrin G. Hatch (R), pledged that the legislation would bring relief to “hard-working American families and small businesses in Utah and around the country.” President Trump surrounded himself with families at the White House as he urged lawmakers to pass the bill.
But days before Congress plans to pass the biggest tax overhaul in three decades, the Ridings and other middle-class families are still seeking basic answers about the plan and how it will affect not just their pocketbooks but their everyday lives.

I currently have a day job in Lindon, Utah, a few miles south of American Fork, through which I pass morning and evening. (If someone throws a hubcap on the I-15 there during the afternoon rush, watch out.)

So I have some first-hand knowledge of the area and the community. The landscape is dotted with chapels and other facilities related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- generally one "ward," or congregation, for every 400 families. There's an LDS temple in American Fork, as seen in the image at the top of this post (Rick Willoughby via Wikimedia Commons). As with much of Utah County, immediately south of Salt Lake County, the area is heavily Mormon.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

It's a sin for Mormons to consume caffeine.

Everybody knows that, right?

Not so fast.

Given today's big headline involving Brigham Young University and Coca-Cola, it's probably not a bad time to remind readers of the actual facts.

But before we delve into specifics, let's catch up with the news, via this fantastic lede from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.
But yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.
Based upon what church officials recently declared a long-running misunderstanding of the Mormon faith’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, and other than caffeine-free soft drinks — since the mid-1950s.

The Associated Press took a more straightforward approach, befitting its role as a national wire service:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Donald Trump promised to work to free Americans held captive abroad. Here's what happened next

Donald Trump promised to work to free Americans held captive abroad. Here's what happened next

First, let's address the headline on Time's new story on President Donald Trump's efforts to free Americans held captive abroad: "The Art of the Hostage Deal."

Kudos to the magazine for a clever take on Trump's 1987 bestseller "The Art of the Deal."

Now, to the story itself: It's excellent. It's thoroughly reported and compellingly written. But that's no surprise given the byline: Elizabeth Dias. She's the Time correspondent who covers religion (often mixed with politics), and her Godbeat work has won frequent praise from GetReligion.

So yes, it's obvious that this is a fantastic piece of journalism. But is it my favorite Time piece from a religion reporting standpoint? If I'm honest, it's probably not. I'll explain why in a moment.

Before I get to that, a few readers may be wondering right about now: What exactly does hostage dealmaking have to do with religion anyway? 

Good question.

This story doesn't deal overtly with religion, but religion figures — at least figuratively — throughout the piece. 

The first mention of church appears in the second paragraph of the graphic opening scene:

RIVERTON, Utah — Armed Venezuelan police stormed Thamara Candelo's apartment complex at dawn on June 30, 2016. It was two weeks after her wedding day, and Candelo's American husband, Joshua Holt, was lying in their bed in Caracas. One officer demanded to see his visa. Others ransacked the rooms, took Holt's phone and finally ordered him to get into a pickup truck. For the next five hours, his gun-toting captors mocked and hit him. Then they took him to the Helicoide, a prison home to the Venezuelan intelligence police. He has not been allowed out since.
Holt, 25, sent this account of his capture in a letter last August to his parents, who live south of Salt Lake City in his childhood home. It was only the beginning of an ordeal his family could never have fathomed when the young couple met online through their church that year. Holt was accused of arms possession, though witnesses told his family and lawyers that they watched agents plant firearms in the apartment after the arrest. He and Candelo have been held without trial. Five preliminary hearings have been canceled, with no explanation other than judges or courts were unavailable.
According to his family, Holt has lost more than 50 lb. subsisting on the prison's diet of uncooked chicken and raw pasta, meals former Helicoide inmates have claimed are mixed with feces. He was denied medical care for bronchitis, a kidney stone and pneumonia. When an infection spread from his jaw to his eye, authorities pulled a tooth and filled the hole with cement, right atop his exposed nerve. Holt became suicidal. On July 3, the 368th day of his imprisonment, he fell from his bunk when guards woke him, sustaining what his family fears was a concussion and a back fracture. "Demons stroll the hallways," Holt wrote of the prison. "I have been told by 10 or 20 people, prisoners and guards, that I am here because I am American."

Later, Time refers twice to families placing their "faith" in Trump.

Also, there's this note:

Please respect our Commenting Policy