Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

It's a question I have heard over and over during the nearly 14 years that GetReligion has been online. It's a question that I am hearing more and more often these days, as the reality of online economics shapes what we read, see and hear.

The question: Why doesn't GetReligion address journalism issues in opinion pieces, as well as in hard-news stories?

After all, major news organizations keep running more opinion pieces about major events and trends in the news, often in place of actual news coverage. Why does this keep happening?

There are several obvious reasons. First, as your GetReligionistas keep noting, opinion is cheap and hard-news reporting is expensive. All kinds of people are willing to write opinion pieces for next to nothing, while reporting requires lots of time and effort by professionals who, you know, need salaries.

Opinion pieces are also written to provoke and, most of the time, to make true believers shout "Amen!" before they pass along (click, click, click) URLs on Twitter or Facebook. You can usually tell a news organization's worldview by the number of opinion pieces it runs that lean one way or another, while appealing to core readers. In the South this is called "preaching to the choir." Check out the opinion-to-news ratio in the typical "push" email promo package sent out each morning by The Washington Post.

It also helps that it's hard to blame news organizations for the slant or content of opinion pieces they publish. Editors can say, and this is true: Hey, don't blame us, that's his/her opinion.

Finally, there is a deeper question behind this question: How does one critique an opinion piece on issues of balance, fairness and even accuracy? After all, it's not real news. It's just opinion.

Yes, I am asking these questions for a reason. Yesterday, my Twitter feed was buzzing with reactions to an "On Faith" essay published by The Washington Post. It was written by Michael Frost, an evangelism professor who is the vice principal of Morling College, a Baptist institution in Sydney, Austrailia.

The headline: "Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees."

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South China Morning Post covers church split over democracy movement

South China Morning Post covers church split over democracy movement

Three years ago, we covered the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and how many Christians were involved in those protests. Three years later, churches are still split over it and the South China Morning Post provides the latest update.

As you read it, think of the similarities between the stories of these Chinese and the more familiar (to us in the States) stories of Americans who likewise got involved in politics during last year’s elections.

In both cases, the questions are the same. What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar?

It was a Sunday in late September and Reverend Philip Woo was enjoying his day of rest, taking afternoon tea with a friend at the Admiralty Centre, blissfully unaware of the higher plan God had for him that day – to play his part in a movement that would go on to shape Hong Kong’s political history.
Across the road from Woo, a founder of the civil disobedience movement Occupy Central, Benny Tai, was preparing to rally protesters outside the Central Government Complex, setting in motion a 79-day demonstration in which tens of thousands of Hongkongers would block roads in the business district to demand the right to democratically elect their leader, the chief executive. It was a demonstration that would polarise Hong Kong, strain the city’s relationship with the mainland Chinese government, and leave a question mark for years to come about the political future of the famously free-wheeling former British colony.
Back in 2014, from his table on the second floor at the Admiralty Centre, Woo could not see Tai and the protesters gathering – any more than he could have foreseen the countless twists and turns the political saga would one day take. But he could hear them, and a little voice inside him told him to investigate.
Once on the street, he could see clearly. He could see the crowds forming, and he could see the mounting ranks of riot police. And when he saw those same policemen firing tear gas into the assembled masses one thing became clear in his mind: that his faith in God demanded he act.

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Time offers shockingly faith-free look at struggles Democrats are having in heartland

Time offers shockingly faith-free look at struggles Democrats are having in heartland

While President Donald Trump does that thing that he does -- shoving the poles of American public discourse further and further apart -- some journalists have quietly started focusing attention on the fact that the Democratic Party is in horrible shape at the regional and state levels.

Why is that, precisely? Inquiring journalists want to know.

Obviously, a group like Democrats for Life is going to have a different take on that question than the young activists marching under the Bernie Band banner. Never forget, in the age of Nones, that religiously unaffiliated Americans, along with the core atheist-agnostic demographic, now make up the Democratic Party's largest identifiable choir on matters of morality, religion and culture.

With that in mind, check out the headline on that Time magazine cover at the top of this post. The headline inside is less spectacular: "Divided Democratic Party Debates Its Future as 2020 Looms."

Now, if you are old enough (like, well, me) to remember the rise of the Reagan Democrats and the fall of the populist Democrats in the South, then you know that social, moral and, yes, religious issues have played a major role in that political drama.

Yes, economic issues were crucial and they still are in the Rust Belt and elsewhere in the American heartland. However, there is a reason that wits on the left started referring to "flyover" country as "Jesusland."

However, read this Time think piece and see if the political desk there has any clue that the stark divisions in American life are based on cultural issues, as well as radical changes in the nation's economy. I mean, wasn't that the whole logic of the book "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," that GOP strategists were using moral, cultural and religious issues to distract Middle America from its true economic interests?

Here is the Time overture:

Like virtually all Democrats, Tim Ryan is no fan of Donald Trump. But as he speeds through his northeastern Ohio district in a silver Chevy Suburban, the eight-term Congressman sounds almost as frustrated with his own party.

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Sally Quinn tells RNS: 'Occultism was so much a part of my growing up and my beliefs'

Sally Quinn tells RNS: 'Occultism was so much a part of my growing up and my beliefs'

The media campaign for Washington, D.C, journalism legend Sally Quinn's "Finding Magic" book rolls on and on.

This really isn't a surprise, in light of her spectacular social connections to just about every level of Beltway society and the media powers that be -- starting, of course, with The Washington Post, where she was a Style page force to be reckoned with both as a writer and as a news maker. There was her infamous romance with the married editor Ben Bradlee, of course, followed by their equally celebrated marriage.

That Washingtonian profile -- the subject of my first post on Quinn and her book ("Sally Quinn and her ghosts") -- was just the start, describing her as the "gatekeeper of Washington society turned religion columnist and about-to-turn evangelist for mysticism, magic, and the divine."

Yes, there are all the hot political connections. Yes, there are the even hotter personal details, from sex to deadly hexes. But I am sticking by my earlier statement that the Quinn revelations in this book are important and that they should matter to GetReligion readers because:

... Quinn -- during some crucial years -- served as a major influence on religion-beat debates. My take on her approach: Why focus on hard news when everyone knows that religion is really about emotions, feelings and personal experiences?

Now, Religion News Service, has an interesting Q&A up online with Quinn, which means here are going to be lots of questions about the DC maven's "evolving faith." The word "occult" shows up in Quinn's very first answer and the crucial theological term "theodicy" should have, as well.

RNS: Your childhood is a particularly beautiful and important part of the book. What was your religious experience growing up?
Quinn: For me, it was what I call embedded religion. The occultism was so much a part of my growing up and my beliefs.

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Two conservative manifestos say something about Protestant dynamics, news values

Two conservative manifestos say something about Protestant dynamics, news values

Conservative U.S. Protestants are particularly active in issuing manifestoes. That could reflect their feeling of increased defensiveness over against the broader culture, or their perception that Christian liberals provide mushy or erroneous messages so definitions are needed, or other factors.

Two recent pronouncements that have won support from hundreds of endorsers tell us something about news judgment on religious issues and about internal dynamics within U.S. Protestantism as churches prepare to mark the Reformation 500th anniversary on October 31:

(1) The August “Nashville Statement,” narrow in both agenda and in organizational backing, consists of a preamble and 14 articles in a “we affirm” and “we deny” format. It proclaims U.S. traditionalist responses to the moral debates over same-sex couples and transgenderism.

(2) The September “Reforming Catholic Confession” defines in 11 sections and a related “explanation” what a wide swath of U.S. evangelical thinkers view as the essence of Protestant belief and how to approach Catholicism after these 500 years.

As of this writing, media discussion of #2 has been limited to parochial outlets and a few social conservative Web sites, while by contrast #1 has won coverage and heated reactions across the spectrum of “mainstream media” newspapers, broadcasts and Web sites.

Alongside the old local TV news cliche “if it bleeds, it leads,” The Guy sees two other maxims: “Who cares about doctrine any longer?” and “If it’s sex, it’s sexy.”

While cultural liberals accuse the conservatives of being obsessed about sex,  it’s equally the case that they feel forced to actively confront new challenges, like it or not. Such statements are less about changing minds of outsiders than shoring up beliefs within the  in-group.

Commentators think the Nashville group’s most dramatic assertion is that it’s sinful “to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism” and this “constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” Strong stuff, and obviously controversial -- and thus newsworthy.

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Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

When it comes to lesbians and gays in the ministry, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America speaks with a clear voice. So that doctrinal stance really isn't news anymore.

When it comes to ecclesiastical approval for same-sex marriage liturgies, the ELCA -- at this point -- leaves that decision up to local leaders. So it really isn't news when an ELCA congregation backs same-sex marriage.

When it comes to ordaining a trans candidate for the ministry, some folks in the ELCA have crossed that bridge, as well. So an ELCA church embracing trans rights isn't really news.

So what would members of this liberal mainline denomination need to do to make news, when releasing a manifesto on issues of sex, gender and marriage? That was the question raised by the recent "Denver Statement" that was released by (and I quote the document):

... some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married image-bearering Christians at House for All Sinners & Saints (Denver, Co).

That was also the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I addressed in this week's podcast. So click here to tune that in.

Now, in terms of news appeal, it helps to know that this relatively small, but media-friendly, Denver congregation was founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a 6-foot-1, tattooed, witty, weight-lifting, frequently profane ELCA pastor who has graced the bestseller lists at The New York Times. She's like a superhero who walked out of liberal Christian graphic novel.

So the Denver Statement made some news because it was released -- at Bolz-Weber's "Sarcastic Lutheran" blog -- in reaction to the Nashville Statement that created a mini-media storm with its rather ordinary restatement of some ancient Christian doctrines on sexuality.

So if the Nashville Statement was news, then it made sense that -- for a few reporters and columnists (including me) -- that the Denver Statement was also news. (Oddly enough, a previous statement on sexuality by the Orthodox Church in America -- strikingly similar to the Nashville Statement -- made zero news.)

But here's another journalism issue: Was the Denver document news merely because it openly rejected what the Nashville Statement had to say?

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An abortionist and his faith? The Atlantic leaves us wondering what kind of faith

An abortionist and his faith? The Atlantic leaves us wondering what kind of faith

When I saw that The Atlantic had interviewed someone about abortions in the South, naturally I was interested. Here was an African-American doctor talking about why he makes huge sacrifices to make sure southern states have access to abortions.

Being that 35 percent of all aborted babies are black even though black women are only 6 percent of the U.S. population, that says something about the large numbers of black babies who will never see the light of day. And since this doctor is in Birmingham, Ala., in the rural South, which is heavily black, I thought he might have something to say about why that clientele has such high abortion rates out of proportion to their share of the population.

One more thing: Since the kicker above the article says he would be discussing his Christian faith, I was even more interested. Would the reporter know enough, I wondered, to challenge this doctor with theological questions about this topic? Or would this be one of a zillion sympathetic profiles of abortion providers out there? Also, there is another obvious question: What is this man's church tradition?

The story begins:

Willie Parker is an imposing ob-gyn who has been traveling across the deep South providing abortions since 2012. At times, he has been one of the few providers in the only abortion clinic for hundreds of miles. Though he had been flying down from his home in Chicago twice a month to provide abortions in Mississippi and elsewhere, he recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama -- closer to the center of the abortion wars.
He is also a practicing Christian, and he frequently refers to his faith as being the reason why he does what he does. It’s the argument he lays out in his recently published book, Life’s Work, and in his new position as board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a prominent pro-choice advocacy group.

The link after the words ‘his faith’ is to an enormously sympathetic 2014 profile of the same doctor done by Esquire. By now I already know where this article is heading.

Still, the writer, Olga Khazan, does ask the question:

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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:

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Strange, uh, Times: Praise for on-the-record Catholic quotes about a clergy sex case!

Strange, uh, Times: Praise for on-the-record Catholic quotes about a clergy sex case!

What strange times we live in, in terms of mainstream journalism about religion.

It feels strange to praise a New York Times news story because it contains perfectly normal, clearly attributed response material from an organization like the Vatican and other officials -- at various levels -- in the Church of Rome.

In a way, my praise for this particular story -- "Amid Pornography Case, Vatican Recalls Priest From Washington Embassy" -- is a commentary on tensions that still exist in many Catholic offices about investigations of the sexual abuse of children and teens by clergy. At the same time, there are tensions between the Times and many Catholic leaders.

Nevertheless, this story doesn't contain the gaping holes we saw the other day in news coverage of another clergy sexual-abuse case. Click here for that post, which noted some mainstream news stories that lacked quotes -- any quotes, at all -- from:

* The Vatican.
* Legal representatives of the church, at any level.
* The local archdiocese in which this newsroom is located.
* Conservative Catholics who are highly critical of how many church officials have handled clergy-abuse cases.

I noted -- this was really bizarre -- that the stories didn't even include references that told readers reporters tried to reach church officials, as in: "Leaders of so-and-so group declined repeated requests for interviews."

So what did Times professionals -- and church leaders -- get right in this basic news story on what remains a hot-button, controversial subject?

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