foster care

Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon

Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon

Rome. Nashville. St. Louis.

These are the centers of the religion news universe this week, involving America’s three largest Christian groups.

At Vatican City, Pope Francis has convened a four-day meeting on the Catholic Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis. In Nashville, Tenn., Southern Baptists heard from the convention’s president, J.D. Greear, earlier this week concerning that denomination’s own sex abuse crisis.

Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes, three-day meeting on LGBT issues opens Sunday in St. Louis. Are we talking about schism or a semi-schism?

Amid all that news, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In a busy week, the ongoing Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis dominated headlines and GetReligion commentary. Oh, and there’s another post linked to those Covington Catholic High School boys.

In case you missed them, here are some of our must-read posts:

How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

'Abuse of minors' – Rare chance to hear New York Times sing harmony with Vatican establishment

Beyond Thorn Birds (again): Vatican confirms there are rules for priests with secret children

What did press learn from Covington Catholic drama? Hint. This story wasn't about Donald Trump

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In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

Some news stories are more balanced than others.

Take, for example, the Washington Post’s coverage of a controversy over whether faith-based foster care agencies that work only with parents who share their religious beliefs should qualify for federal funding.

This is one of those quasi-balanced stories that eventually gets around to quoting both sides. But the 1,250-word piece has the feel — almost from the beginning — of leaning toward one side of the debate. That imbalance can be seen in the negative terminology used to describe those arguing for religious freedom.

This is the headline:

Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that reject LGBTQ parents

That’s opposed to more neutral wording, such as, “Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that defend doctrines on marriage.”

The Post’s lede:

President Trump made religious leaders a contentious promise at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast: Faith-based adoption agencies that won’t work with same-sex couples would still be able to get federal funding to “help vulnerable children find their forever families while following their deeply held beliefs.”

The president offered no details, but a plan is already in motion.

In a 2020 draft budget request that has not been made public, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking broad authority to include faith-based foster-care and adoption groups, which reject LGBTQ parents, non-Christians and others, in the nation’s $7 billion federally funded child-welfare programs. That request follows a waiver granted last month to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries — which requires foster-care parents to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ and refused to work with a Jewish woman seeking to be a mentor — to continue to receive federal funds.

HHS’s Office of Civil Rights argues in the draft proposal that some of the country’s oldest religious agencies in places such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington have gone out of business because of nondiscrimination requirements that are themselves discriminatory.

Concerning that last paragraph, is it an argument or a fact that religious agencies in those places (Boston, Philadelphia and Washington) have stopped providing foster care services rather than violate tenets of their faith? A sentence or two by the Post to provide details of those closures would seem to be appropriate there.

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Three key facts about Trump administration allowing religious freedom for S.C. foster care provider

Three key facts about Trump administration allowing religious freedom for S.C. foster care provider

Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, has 2.4 million Twitter followers.

So when the former first daughter tweets, what she says gets attention — be it announcing her pregnancy with a third child or commenting on a news story about a faith-based foster care agency in South Carolina.

I’m certain that Kelsey Dallas, religion writer for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, didn’t mind the extra clicks that Clinton’s tweet generated for her coverage of a Trump administration decision involving religious freedom — or religious discrimination, depending on one’s perspective.

The lede from Dallas:

The Trump administration on Wednesday made a decision in support of a faith-based foster care agency in South Carolina, announcing that religious organizations are protected by federal religious freedom law and can receive government money even when they won't serve LGBT or non-Christian couples.

"Faith-based organizations that provide foster care services not only perform a great service for their communities, they are exercising a legally protected right to practice their faith through good works. Our federal agency should not — and, under the laws adopted by Congress, cannot — drive faith-motivated foster care providers out of the business of serving children without a compelling government interest," explained a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian organization based in Greenville, had been at risk of having to close its foster care program or adjust its screening process for prospective foster parents if HHS didn't grant it a waiver to nondiscrimination law. Miracle Hill, like many conservative, religious foster care agencies, has been under fire for the last year for refusing to work with LGBT couples for religious reasons.

The Trump administration's decision, although long-expected, sparked an outcry among liberal legal activists, who argue that religious freedom shouldn't protect discrimination.

Like the Deseret News, the Washington Post offered a factual, balanced report on the decision, opening its story like this:

The Trump administration said Wednesday it was granting a Christian ministry in South Carolina permission to participate in the federally funded foster-care program, even though the group will work only with Christian families.

The long-standing policy of Miracle Hill Ministries of Greenville violates a regulation, put into place in the closing days of the Obama administration, that bars discrimination on the basis of religion by groups receiving money from the Department of Health and Human Services.

About a year ago, the South Carolina Department of Social Services learned of Miracle Hill’s policy, notified the group it was in violation of federal law and downgraded it to a provisional license. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) then asked HHS for a waiver.

On Wednesday, HHS said it would grant the waiver, days before the group’s provisional license was set to expire. The department argued that the Obama-era regulation was ill-conceived and that some of its requirements “are not reflected” in the underlying statute.

In reading a variety of news accounts of the decision — including this one by the The Associated Press —  I was struck by certain details that seem important but weren’t reflected in every story.

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Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Is it possible to love Jesus and journalism?

Count me among those who do.

As such, I can’t help but endorse Daniel Darling’s column for Religion News Service this week on “Why Christians should support a free press.”

Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, writes:

Restoring faith in our media institutions is a shared responsibility. Christians should not only see the value of a free press but should support robust reporting, even journalism that reveals the misdeeds and sins in our own communities. Transparency doesn’t hurt the advance of the gospel. After all, the death and resurrection of Christ lay bare the gritty reality of every human heart.

In other words, a newspaper article cannot reveal anything about us that God doesn’t already know.

Meanwhile, the media could learn from some of the criticism of consumers. Too often, in our day, it seems that an undercurrent of bias exists against Christian ideals, even in subtle ways in which stories are reported or given the weight of breaking news or national importance. Too often journalists, especially on social media, seem to cheerlead rather than report.

Amen and amen.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: For the second week in a row, the death of American missionary John Allen Chau occupies this space. I’ll echo my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin, who said earlier this week that she “figured the story would be just a blip in the daily news flow.”

Some of the notable mainstream press coverage since Duin’s post includes NPR religion and belief correspondent Tom Gjelten’s piece titled “Killing Of American Missionary Ignites Debate Over How To Evangelize” and RNS’ in-depth report (by national correspondents Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins) on the same subject.

But some of the must-read material on Chau’s death has come not in the form of news stories but rather first-person opinion pieces. Look for some insightful analysis of that in a think-piece post coming this weekend from GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly.

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NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

This Thanksgiving Day story by Julie Moreau for NBC News is about how some Christian ministries are preventing children from being adopted or fostered by homosexual couples. It quickly drew my attention for a rather obvious reason: As an adoptive mom, I am interested in the topic. However, this feature had way too many holes in it.

I am in favor of letting all parties adopt: Gay, straight, whatever, as long as folks pass all the background checks required with any home study. While searching for an agency to help me find a child, I was infuriated by certain Christian agencies that would not let single people use their services. (Did I sue them? No, I spent my money on a better agency.)

Their mentality was that singles were lesser beings and that kids deserved a two-parent family. Well, yes, in a perfect world, that’d be nice. But in an age of orphans and thousands of kids in state foster care systems, we need all hands on deck.

So, the premise that nasty religious folks are sending more kids onto the street is a gripping one. But some copy-desk errors plus the reporter’s tone deafness to the doctrinal concerns of Catholics and evangelical Christians led me to dismiss much of the piece. It starts thus:

Religious exemption laws allowing child placement agencies to deny LGBTQ prospective parents from fostering or adopting are exacerbating the current “child welfare crisis,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), Voice for Adoption and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

“Turning away LGBTQ prospective parents by asserting a religious exemption or taking advantage of a lack of state nondiscrimination law is a violation of this group’s rights,” the report states. “It also negatively affects the already strained child welfare system, ultimately harming the children in its care.”

Out of some 443,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system, the report says, some 50,000 are adopted each year, but another 20,000 age out before being adopted. That is, they turn 18.

Let’s keep reading.

“Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child and seven times more likely to be raising an adopted child than their different-sex counterparts,” the report states, citing data from the UCLA’s Williams Institute. “They are also more likely to adopt older children and children with special needs, who are statistically less likely to be adopted.”

I’ve heard the same thing, unofficially.

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Scare quotes aside, latest takedown -- er, takeout -- on Texas adoption law could be worse

Scare quotes aside, latest takedown -- er, takeout -- on Texas adoption law could be worse

Here.

We.

Go.

Again.

Texas' new adoption law, set to take effect Sept. 1, is back in the news — this time via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Gay rights vs. religious liberty is, of course, the major tug of war at play here. (Honk if you've already read a post or two or three on this issue at GetReligion this week).

The Star-Telegram's 1,800-word piece is not terrible. Granted, it's not going to win any awards for fair and balanced journalism. But the paper makes at least a cursory attempt to reflect both sides.

Nonetheless, it seems clear which side the newspaper favors — the one featured in the lede and conclusion as the Star-Telegram focuses on this theme:

Some 20,000 Texas kids need homes. But will a new law turn families away?

Let's start at the top and see how long it takes the first scare quotes to appear:

Franklin and Amy Countryman dream of someday serving as foster parents to children who need homes — and possibly adopting a child or two.
But the Mansfield newlyweds fear a new Texas law geared to let child welfare service providers deny children to Texans based on a provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” could make their quest harder.
At issue: Many adoption agencies are faith-based and likely will oppose the couple’s move to be foster parents because Franklin is transgender. And the new law that goes into effect Sept. 1 would allow that.

Want more scare quotes? The Star-Telegram also feels compelled to put "the rights of conscience," the "Freedom to Serve Children Act" and "reasonable accommodations" inside quote marks. Would any of those phrases fail to make sense without quote marks? Or is the Star-Telegram intentionally casting doubt on the use of the terms (which would make them scare quotes)?

But just when it appears that the story will be a one-sided editorial, the paper actually allows the other side a voice. Among those quoted is Randy Daniels, vice president of program development for Baptist-affiliated Buckner Children & Family Services:

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Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Will new adoption laws mean more or fewer kids get permanent homes?

Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Will new adoption laws mean more or fewer kids get permanent homes?

The Associated Press claims to abhor bias, but when it comes to reporting on clashes between gay rights and religious freedom, the global wire service often slants its coverage toward the LGBTQ side.

That's particularly true when the byline atop the story belongs to David Crary, a New York-based AP national writer who covers social issues. Think Kellerism — reporting in which certain "settled" matters are declared unworthy of balanced coverage.

With all of the above in mind, AP's — and Crary's — treatment of new adoption laws protecting faith-based providers in Texas and South Dakota should surprise no one paying attention: 

With tens of thousands of children lingering in foster care across the United States, awaiting adoption, Illinois schoolteachers Kevin Neubert and Jim Gorey did their bit. What began with their offer to briefly care for a newborn foster child evolved within a few years into the adoption of that little boy and all four of his older siblings who also were in foster care.
The story of their two-dad, five-kid family exemplifies the potential for same-sex couples to help ease the perennial shortfall of adoptive homes for foster children. Yet even as more gays and lesbians adopt, some politicians seek to protect faith-based adoption agencies that object to placing children in such families.
Sweeping new measures in Texas and South Dakota allow state-funded agencies to refuse to place children with unmarried or gay prospective parents because of religious objections. A newly introduced bill in Congress would extend such provisions nationwide.

A fair, full treatment of the subject matter would approach the laws impartially. Such coverage would give both supporters and opponents an opportunity to make their best case. It would seek advocate and expert insight — not to mention relevant numerical data — into whether the measures will result in more or fewer children receiving permanent homes.

But AP approaches the story almost entirely from the perspective of gay parents. The wire service (Crary specifically) seems uninterested in questioning whether protecting the sincere religious beliefs of faith-based foster and adoption providers actually will allow more children to find homes. 

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When prayer precedes a couple adopting seven kids — all at once — there might be a holy ghost

When prayer precedes a couple adopting seven kids — all at once — there might be a holy ghost

GetReligion reader Mark Burke spotted a holy ghost in a CNN feature on a George couple who adopted seven kids — all at once.

Regular readers know that we define ghosts (as they relate to mainstream media coverage of religion) this way:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.
They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The CNN story, with the headline "The Clarks just went from a family of 3 to a family of 10," hints at a ghost way up high:

(CNN) From the photographs, you can tell they are already a family. There's Jessaka and Justin Clark, and their biological son, Noah. Then there are seven other smiling faces: Maria, Elizabet, Guillermo, Jason, Kristina, Katerin and James; the newest additions to a clan brought together by a little bit of good timing and a lot of courage.
The Clarks, who live in Rincon, Georgia, were exploring adoption options when their caseworker brought them an unusual proposition: Instead of one or two children, what about seven, all at the same time?
"We prayed about it for one night before we said yes," Jessaka Clark told CNN.

Burke said in an email:

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Show me the money: Coverage of Texas adoption bill improving, but questions remain

Show me the money: Coverage of Texas adoption bill improving, but questions remain

Good news: Media coverage of a Texas lawmaker's bill that he says is designed to protect the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies is improving. 

Bad news: That coverage remains flawed.

I'll delve into specifics in a moment, but first, some important background: Earlier this week, I criticized The Associated Press for a slanted headline — and story — on the Lone Star State legislation.

The biased AP headline that sparked my concern:

Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims

The Dallas Morning News and many other news organizations in Texas and across the nation ran with the global wire service's spin. Those pushing the AP storyline included a state politics reporter for the Dallas newspaper.

Today's Dallas Morning News coverage of the bill passing offers a fuller, fairer treatment than the original AP report, starting with the front-page headline:

Religious protections for adoption agencies OK’d

The lede:

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