sin

Thinking about social media: Baptist progressive says pastors should pull the plug -- period

Thinking about social media: Baptist progressive says pastors should pull the plug -- period

Having watched the entire social-media era, from beginning up to the current craziness, I have a confession to make. I have been shocked that we have not heard more neo-Luddite sermons from the conservative side of the religious world.

I’m not talking about making a case for a full-on Amish withdrawal from the Internet and from social media.

As someone who has taught mass-comm courses in a traditional Christian content — at a seminary and then in two liberal-part colleges — I realize that we are talking about a classic theological puzzle linked to culture. Traditional Christians believe we live in a creation that is both glorious (as created by God) and fallen (touched by sin and The Fall).

Social media can be wonderful or totally evil — sometimes on the same website in the same thread in material submitted by two different people within seconds of one another. We’re talking about a medium a very high ceiling and a very low floor.

I am starting to hear more debates about the role of smartphones (and addictions to them) in a truly religious home.

However, there is another social-media question that I have expected to read more about; Should pastors be active participants in social media?

That brings me to this weekend’s think piece, care of the progressives at Baptist Global Media. The author — John Jay Alvaro — is a Baptist, in Southern California, with a degree from Duke Divinity School (not a normal Southern Baptist seminary education option, to say the least). Click here to visit his website (yes, he has one) about religion and technology.

The headline on this piece: “Pastors and other church leaders: Give up social media. Not for Lent, but forever.” The basic thesis is that pastors need the time to be pastors and that this is, well, an analog, face-to-face calling. This is a pastoral issue, not a theological issue with technology.

Any benefit you perceive social media is giving you pales when compared to the real losses of cultivating your online social presence. It is as simple as that. Or take it from the other direction. If everyone in your congregation got off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., your ministry and your pastoral life would improve immediately. Well, not immediately. First there would be withdrawal, anger and other addictive reactions. Drugs don’t leave your system peacefully. But it will be worth it.

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When covering Catholic wars over sex, it's clear there are questions the Gray Lady refuses to ask

When covering Catholic wars over sex, it's clear there are questions the Gray Lady refuses to ask

You have read this story before. You can count on reading it again and again.

In recent years, American newsrooms have produced a river of stories about LGBTQ Catholics who have lost their jobs in Catholic schools, parishes or other institutions. In most cases they were fired after announcing a same-sex marriage or taking part in some other public act stating their views on sexuality.

Why did they lose their jobs? There are several possible answers that need to be explored in these stories.

(1) They had signed a doctrinal covenant of some kind (usually in a school) in which they promised to affirm Catholic doctrines or, at the very least, not to openly oppose them.

(2) They faced opposition from conservative Catholics who reject their acts linked to LGBTQ issues. The opposition could be ugly, graceful or some combination of both.

(3) They worked in actual parish ministry or administration positions in which they were expected to teach or, at the very least, affirm Catholic doctrines. This would include leadership roles in worship.

Once again, let me stress that journalists do not need to agree with Catholic doctrines in order to do fair, accurate, balanced coverage of these debates. The key is whether the coverage includes accurate information that allows readers to grasp the beliefs of articulate, honest, qualified people on both sides.

This brings us to the latest New York Times jeremiad on this topic, which ran on the front page with this headline: “He Was a Gay Man on Staff at a Catholic Parish. Then the Threats Began Coming In.” Readers will be hard-pressed to find a single sentence in this story that would be affirmed as accurate or complete by pro-Catechism Catholics. There are entire paragraphs, often without attribution, that provide the talking points of liberal Catholics who want to see their church’s doctrines modernized.

The person described in the headline is Antonio Aaron Bianco, a “gay layman in charge of managing St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church” in San Diego. Right up front, readers learn — as they should — the content of these threats, as described by Bianco. Then there is this summary statement:

Located in the heart of San Diego’s largest gay neighborhood, St. John the Evangelist is one of about 300 Catholic parishes around the country that quietly welcome gay Catholics. Although the Catholic church teaches that same-sex relationships are sinful, growing pockets of the church have accepted openly gay parishioners, staff members and even priests.

But after this summer, when the church faced renewed allegations of clergy sexual abuse, some bishops and conservative Catholic media outlets immediately blamed the crisis on homosexuality. That set off a backlash, fueling a campaign to purge the church of gay clergy members and church workers.

The key word in this passage, of course, is “welcome.”

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A question for comics, counselors and clerics: Where does guilt come from?

A question for comics, counselors and clerics: Where does guilt come from?

WINNIE’S QUESTION:

Where does guilt come from?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This topic was referred to The Guy after it emerged during discussions at a monthly lunch group consisting of a liberal Catholic, a liberal Protestant, a Unitarian and an evangelical.

Guilt interwoven with religion is a continual theme for humor. The late entertainer Robin Williams, for instance, used to say he was an Episcopalian because it’s “Catholic light. All the pageantry, half the guilt.” Jews themselves continually joke about Jewish guilt.

In 21st Century America, guilt ain’t what it used to be -- on the surface. It is often portrayed as a needless, even damaging, burden. Or consider a memorable moment at a 2015 “pro-family” rally in Iowa. Presidential candidate Donald Trump said, quite candidly, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness.” No guilt-ridden soul there.

Both high and low culture promote moral relativism by which age-old rules that were officially upheld  if sometimes violated are now eradicated. And yet socio-cultural liberals who cherish such freedom will readily turn absolutist against, say, guns or global warming or #MeToo misconduct. Polls continue to show high opprobrium against adultery. Think of the careers recently wrecked by sexual sin in these supposedly unbuttoned times.

Is guilt disappearing as religion is moved from the center of cultural influence in the West? Quite the opposite, contends University of Oklahoma historian Wilfred M. McClay. His 2017 Hedgehog Review essay “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” said intellectuals expected guilt to fade with secularization but instead it “has grown, even metastasized, into an ever more powerful and pervasive element” of life. We cannot “banish guilt merely by denying its reality,” he wrote. Secularization makes matters worse because so many can no longer rely on Jewish and Christian forms of absolution that make guilt bearable.

Psychological experts indicate guilt is essential to the very definition of what it means to be human.

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Concerning truth and lies, fake news and 'snake news,' Pope Francis and St. John Paul II and more

Concerning truth and lies, fake news and 'snake news,' Pope Francis and St. John Paul II and more

A long, long time ago -- as in 2004, GetReligion's first year -- I wrote a piece linked to one of the most interesting articles I have ever read about journalism and, in a unique way, religion. I am referring to the PressThink essay "Journalism Is Itself a Religion," by Jay Rosen of the journalism faculty at New York University.

I would like to urge GetReligion readers (I have done this many times) to read this Rosen piece. I do so again for reasons linked to this week's "Crossroads" discussion (click here to tune that in) about the much discussed document from Pope Francis about fake news, "snake news," journalism and the twisted state of public discourse in our world today.

The pope, you see, traces "fake news" back to the Garden of Eden, stressing that it's impossible to communicate when the process is built on lies. This document was the subject of my column this week for the Universal syndicate and a previous post here at GetReligion.

The minute you start talking about lies, that means you're discussing the conviction that it's possible to say that some statements are true and others are false. Your are discussing the belief that there is such a thing as absolute truth and that flawed, imperfect human beings (journalists, for example) can, to the best of their abilities, seek and articulate truth, as opposed to lies.

Yes, this makes me think of one of the greatest works of St. Pope John Paul II -- Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). But that is a topic for another day.

Now, here is passage in Rosen's piece that I wrote about back in the early days of this blog. This is long, but there really isn't any way around the details:

Here and there in the discussion of religion “in” the news, there arises a trickier matter, which is the religion of the newsroom, and of the priesthood in the press. A particularly telling example began with this passage from a 1999 New York Times Magazine article about anti-abortion extremism: “It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy,” wrote David Samuels.
This struck some people as dogma very close to religious dogma, and they spoke up about it. One was Terry Mattingly, a syndicated columnist of religion:

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Sin and the stock market: On biblically responsible investing, who would Jesus quote first?

Sin and the stock market: On biblically responsible investing, who would Jesus quote first?

I like sin.

Wait a minute. Let me rephrase that: I like news stories about sin. They tend to fascinate me.

In my Associated Press days, I wrote about sin taxes.

In today's New York Times, there's a business story about an equally intriguing topic: sin stocks.

Overall, the Times report is thorough and factual — answering most questions a typical reader would have. But yes, there's also an element of Kellerism. Isn't that almost always the case when the Old Gray Lady covers subject matter such as this?

What is Kellerism? Regular GetReligion readers don't need to ask. But for those new to this journalism-focused website, it's the reporting gospel according to former Times editor Bill Keller. Basically, that gospel — as explained by GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly — proclaims that the Times is justified in leaning left on cultural issues such as gay rights.

How does that doctrine manifest itself in the sin stocks story? See if you notice what I did:

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See any valid Super Bowl religion stories today? Here's one linked to the ultimate sin

See any valid Super Bowl religion stories today? Here's one linked to the ultimate sin

Ah, Super Bowl Sunday. Another one of those days on the liturgical calendar of American civil religion when reporters have to stretch and stretch in an attempt to find valid story angles to fill niches in the inevitable wave of coverage.

Religion-beat pros can get sucked into this whirlpool, as well. The traditional Super Bowl religion-angle story is, of course, the whole "Does God care who wins a football game" story. As I have noted many times, the more devout the believer who is actually involved in the game (classic example would have been the great Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry), the less likely they are to believe in some kind of cause-and-effect prayer equation here.

Thus, most believers simply say that athletes should pray to play their best and for participants to avoid injuries.

But this is not the kind of theological problem that devout Christians actually think about, when faced with something like the Super Bowl. So, if reporters are looking for a valid story linked to The Big Game, what might that look like?

This year, let me point readers toward a feature by a former student of mine, Tim Ellsworth, a communications pro at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., who also writes sports features for Baptist Press. What's his angle this year?

Clue: It comes before a fall.

HOUSTON (BP) -- They work at a job where millions of people watch them. They are cheered, admired, lauded and pampered. People recognize them, hound them for autographs and care what they have to say.
Falcons' long snapper Josh Harris and Patriots' wide receiver Matthew Slater share how professional athletes often struggle with pride.

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In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

In your newspaper? Vatican reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality and the priesthood

The big news out of the Vatican today really isn't all that surprising, if you know anything about the Catholic Catechism. However, grab your local newspaper and look for this story anyway, because I will be surprised if you find coverage of it there.

The Washington Post online headline proclaims: "The Vatican reaffirms its position suggesting gay men should not be priests."

Yes, we are returning to Pope Francis and the most famous, or infamous, quotation, or sort-of quotation, from his papacy. I am referring, of course, to the 2013 off-the-cuff airplane press conference in which he spoke the phrase, "Who am I to judge?"

The pope said many things in that historic presser and news consumers have had a chance to read about 90 percent of what he actually said. Click here for previous GetReligion material about this media storm. By the way, here are the latest search engine results for these terms -- "Who am I to judge" and "Pope Francis." There are currently 7,520 hits in Google News and 140,000 in a general search.

So what did the Vatican say that is, or is not, in the news? Here is the top of a Washington Post "Acts of Faith" item, which is one of the only major-media references I could find to this story. I would be curious to know if this appears in the ink-on-paper edition:

People who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests in the Catholic church, the Vatican said in a new document on the priesthood.

The document said the church’s policy on gay priests has not changed since the last Vatican pronouncement on the subject in 2005.

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USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

If you didn't see this big-time sports story coming then you haven't been paying attention.

During a radio talk show a few months ago, I speculated that if Baylor (one of my two alma maters) had qualified for the final four in football, it was highly likely that gay-rights groups would petition the NCAA powers that be to have the Bears (and other private schools with doctrinally based lifestyle covenants) kicked out of the association.

Not yet. But the arguments are beginning, as evidenced in the new USA Today feature that ran under the headline, "When religion and the LGBT collegiate athlete collide."

Now, if you believe in old-school journalism ethics -- think "American Model" of the press -- then the goal of this story is to accurately represent the beliefs of representatives on both sides of this debate. Want to guess how that turns out?

Meanwhile, it's crucial to remember that the NCAA is not a government agency and, as a private body, is not limited by the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause. To further complicate matters, the NCAA includes both private and state schools. Thus, while there may be legal issues involved (television and conference contracts, for example) in this NCAA debate, this really shouldn't be called a religious-liberty debate. The NCAA rules.

This feature starts, of course, with a gay athlete -- swimmer Conner Griffin -- who attends Fordham University, a Catholic school that is clearly enlightened since it has chosen the spirit of the age over attempts to live out (some would say "enforce") Catholic doctrines on marriage and sex.

So right up top there is this exchange:

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What would Rene Russo do? Los Angeles Times punts when dealing with Hollywood and faith

What would Rene Russo do? Los Angeles Times punts when dealing with Hollywood and faith

On one level, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is about a very shallow, quickie feature that The Los Angeles Times published the other day about a fledgling ministry that is trying to help -- using a very expensive set of weekend seminars -- Christians break into the movie business.

Apparently, the editors who handled this story did not know that the Times had, in the past, actually done solid news features that talked about some of the complex issues linked to religious faith in Hollywood. They even quoted some of the academic and artistic leaders who have been doing this kind of work, as I kept stressing, for decades. It's like some editors in the Los Angeles Times newsroom are not that familiar with, well, Los Angeles.

Maybe there is a reason for that. Thus, on another level, this podcast focused on a problem -- a loss of institutional memory -- that is plaguing the news business right now as so many veteran journalists are being pushed out of newsrooms. Why is that? Well there is a major crisis in journalism, in case you haven't noticed, linked to falling ad revenues and the harsh reality that no one has discovered a solid Internet news business model that will support diverse newsrooms that retain experienced reporters and editors.

Then again, maybe there is a third level to this discussion. You see, there are quite a few people of faith in Hollywood and -- you may need to sit down -- they don't all agree with one another about lots of tough issues. Some of their programs even compete with one another, if you want to know the truth. They take different approaches. Really!

Can you imagine that? Not all Christians agree with one another when it comes time to wrestle with tough, complex issues linked to art, ministry, money, storytelling and many other realities in Hollywood. Should all movies be "evangelistic"? Should they all be "safe" and "clean"? Can Christians work in movies that are not "Christian"? Come to think of it, what does the adjective "Christian" mean when parked in front of the word "movie"?

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