Does traditional faith equal hate? Southern Poverty Law Center coverage raises unasked questions

Does traditional faith equal hate? Southern Poverty Law Center coverage raises unasked questions

Here's a proactive journalistic question: Does expressing one's faith and beliefs always and without exception equal hate?

Maybe that's too broad. Let's try a variation on that question: Does expressing ancient and/or traditional forms of religious beliefs always and without exception equal hate?

I ask because of an important news story that's gotten some traction in evangelical and conservative media and may soon cross over into the mainstream press. I'm hoping -- and not against hope, I pray -- that journalists will pause and ask some serious factual questions if and when that coverage takes place.

To be sure, it's tough being a conservative Christian or interfaith public policy group these days. Just ask Christianity Today, reporting on something new that's taking place at the influential charity watchdog website GuideStar.org:

Several Christian organizations known for their advocacy on behalf of traditional marriage and families were recently labeled hate groups on one of America’s top charity research sites, 1
In response to “hateful rhetoric” during a “highly politicized moment” in American history, the portal began incorporating designations from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) this month. Profiles for Christian nonprofits like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Liberty Counsel, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the American Family Association featured a banner saying they had been flagged as a hate group.
The SPLC’s “hate group” label, though often-cited, is controversial, particularly among conservatives. The Alabama-based watchdog charity applies the term to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and certain LGBT rights as well as to violent and extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and Nation of Islam.

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Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

If you know anything about the history of sacred architecture, you know there is nothing strange about believers being buried inside church sanctuaries.

In fact, there is an ancient tradition of celebrating the Mass on altars built directly on or over the tombs of saints (see the New Advent online Catholic Encyclopedia). In Eastern Orthodoxy, altars and sanctuaries still contain relics of the saints, usually fragments of bones. Consider this 2014 column I wrote about efforts to rebuild St. Nicholas Orthodox parish at Ground Zero in New York City.

Some people find these traditions creepy. But the whole idea was to link heaven and earth, for believers in this life to worship with the saints of old.

Perhaps this is rather advanced material, in terms of church history. Still, I assumed that some journalists (maybe even at the New York Times copy desk) would know that the altar of the most famous church on Planet Earth -- St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican -- is build directly over catacombs containing the tomb of St. Peter and other popes. Don't these people read Dan Brown novels?

I bring this up because of a strange passage in a recent Times science piece that ran with this double-decker headline:

The Mummies’ Medical Secrets? They’re Perfectly Preserved
Mummified bodies in a crypt in Lithuania are teaching scientists about health and disease among people who lived long ago.

As it turns out, the crypt in question is located underneath an altar in a Catholic church in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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When a 12-year-old Mormon says she's gay, CNN is all over it. But is this really a news story?

When a 12-year-old Mormon says she's gay, CNN is all over it. But is this really a news story?

Just in time for Pride Week or Pride Month, we have a story from CNN about a 12-year-old girl coming out to her Latter-day Saints congregation. On May 7, a girl named Savannah stood up during a service to give a brief speech about being a lesbian.

After about three minutes, the leaders turned off her mic and asked her to sit down.

Since then, the story of the girl from Eagle Mountain, Utah, has spread, culminating in an article on CNN a few days ago.

There are all kinds of journalism challenges in this story: The big questions are whether the CNN team is actually interested in what is going on right now, in terms of Mormons adapting some -- repeat, "some" -- of their doctrines to the LGBTQ age. Also, there is this: How stable is the sexual identity of a 12-year-old female?

Let's work our way through this:

(CNN) Savannah, 12, made a decision this January; she was going to come out as lesbian at her Mormon Church. Nothing was going to stop her.
She's a normal almost-teenage girl in Utah: She loves to draw and make art. When she grows up, she wants to be a Disney animator. Her favorite bands are Imagine Dragons and Fall Out Boy.
On June 22, 2016, one day after her birthday, Savannah came out to her parents as lesbian. Mom had suspicions and knew that day might come.
"I looked at her and said, 'OK, I love you. And I'll support you no matter what you do,'" said Heather, her mother.
The family felt strongly that they didn't have the right to prevent Savannah from telling her story publicly, including sharing it with CNN, but asked that their hometown and last names be withheld to give them a measure of privacy.

The story went on to describe -- quoting printed documents, of course -- Mormon policy on same-sex relationships.

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Refusing service to gays? Is pollster asking the right question? Journalists should inquire

Refusing service to gays? Is pollster asking the right question? Journalists should inquire

Religion News Service, a national wire service for which I occasionally freelance, reports that no major U.S. religious group opposes refusing service to gays.

The lede from RNS:

(RNS) In no U.S. religious group does a majority think it’s acceptable for businesspeople to invoke their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays.
This finding from a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute survey is a first, said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the nonprofit research group.
In a 2015 PRRI survey that asked the same question, more than half of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons approved of those who cited religious belief to deny service to LGBT customers.
But in the new 2016 survey, only 50 percent of white evangelical Protestants expressed such approval, as opposed to 56 percent the year before.
Mormons showed the second-highest rates of approval. About 42 percent of Mormons backed businesspeople who deny services in the latest survey, as opposed to the 58 percent who favored them the previous year.

RNS notes that the question asked by PRRI is this:

Do you favor or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs?

Here's what I wonder: Is that the right question for the pollster to ask?

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Are Southern voters really different? Washington Post political desk avoids religion, again

Are Southern voters really different? Washington Post political desk avoids religion, again

We are, of course, talking about the most important news story in the history of the universe. That is, until the next political proxy war takes place between Citizen Donald Trump and powers that be in elite American culture.

So Republican Karen Handel defeated House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- as well as 30-year-old documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff -- for a traditionally Republican seat in the greater Atlanta area.

If the GOP had lost, the news media powers that be would have hailed it as a tremendous loss for Trump -- even though this was a rather pricey, highly educated district that wasn't fond of Trump (as noted in this New York Times fact piece).

Since the Democrats lost, this affair was hailed -- by Trump supporters -- as a great win for their bronze-tinted leader, as opposed to Handel, a pro-life Catholic.

One thing was clear: Acela-zone journalists knew that this race was about money and jobs, as well as politics, money and jobs. Here's the most recent Washington Post overture:

Narrow losses in two House special elections had Democrats once again trading recriminations Wednesday and pondering anew whether their leaders have them on a path back to power.
Especially painful was Jon Ossoff’s three-percentage-point loss Tuesday in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District after his campaign was buoyed by more than $23 million in donations, much of it from grass-roots Democrats across the country eager to oppose President Trump.
That funding surge was blunted by millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads and mailers from Republican victor Karen Handel and from outside GOP groups. A common theme in those efforts was to tie Ossoff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- a figure both well-known and widely reviled, according to Republican polling.

You can hear the same dirge here, in the Times. However, down near the bottom of that long Post report there were some interesting thoughts from Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), assistant House Democratic leader. He was concerned about weak efforts to turn out African American voters, but he also added:

But Clyburn said he asked the DCCC “not to make it a national cause” and that he “intentionally did not want it nationalized . . . because I know how South Carolina voters are.” ...
“Southern voters are a totally different breed,” he added. “And Southern voters react parochially.”

Maybe, just maybe, there were some cultural issues at play in this race? Down South, issues of culture, morality and faith tend to be rather important. Can I hear an "Amen"?

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Mammon AND God: What the Detroit News missed in a church's bitter succession battle

Mammon AND God: What the Detroit News missed in a church's bitter succession battle

I've been in plenty of church services where the message, or a personal testimony, or a worship music presentation, has arrested my attention.

So far, I've not been present when an actual arrest was made during the worship hour.

Parishioners at the Detroit World Outreach congregation, in the suburb of Redford Township, were treated to the latter a few months back, part of a succession battle after the sudden passing of its senior pastor. The Detroit News picks up the story:

Local religious leaders are warring with a bishop’s widow over a $3 million mansion and control of the soul and mega bank accounts of one of Metro Detroit’s megachurches.
The war is 4 months old, triggered by the death of Bishop Benjamin Gibert, the charismatic, leather-clad leader of Detroit World Outreach in Redford Township, a megachurch whose leaders believe wealth is God’s reward.
Within days of the bishop’s death, church leaders fired his widow, Charisse Gibert, from her church post and announced plans to sell her home, an 11,000-square-foot parsonage in Northville Township that was controversially removed from the tax rolls 10 years ago.
Church leaders also are trying to block Charisse Gibert from collecting on her late husband’s $2 million life-insurance policy.

Well, now! A megachurch, a mega-mansion, a mega death benefit and a "mega bank account." If ever a story screamed for newspaper attention, this might be it. Add in the widow's arrest (see video above) and it's practically a journalistic Sutter's Mill.

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Is it a hate crime? Washington Post offers strong coverage of Muslim girl's D.C.-area slaying

Is it a hate crime? Washington Post offers strong coverage of Muslim girl's D.C.-area slaying

Is it a hate crime?

That's a key question after the slaying of a 17-year-old Muslim girl in the Washington, D.C., area.

Regardless of the motivation, of course, the death of Nabra Hassanen is an unspeakable tragedy. My daughter is 17, and I can't help but identify with what the local sheriff told the Washington Post:

“I can’t think of a worse instance to occur than the loss of a 17-year-old on Father’s Day, as the father of a 17-year-old myself,” Loudoun County Sheriff Michael L. Chapman said

From the beginning, the Post has offered strong, insightful coverage of the murder case — boosted in large part by the expertise of the newspaper's stellar religion reporters, including Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a former GetReligionista.

That coverage has included excellent, factual stories (examples here, here and here) updating readers on the police investigation as well as how the victim's family and friends are handling the loss:

The Virginia teens were up late observing Ramadan, so they did what young people often do in the wee hours of the weekend: They went out for a bite to eat at McDonald’s.
But as they walked and biked back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Sterling, along a major thoroughfare, a red car approached from behind about 3:40 a.m. Sunday and chaos erupted.
The driver, Darwin Martinez Torres, a 22-year-old construction worker from Sterling, got into an argument with a teen on a bike and then drove his car over a curb, scattering the group of as many as 15 teens, police said. He caught up with them a short time later in a parking lot and chased them with a baseball bat, striking 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen and then abducting her in his car, police said.
Martinez Torres assaulted Nabra a second time, in Loudoun County, before dumping her body in a pond next to his apartment complex, where it was discovered about 3 p.m. on Sunday, police said. The medical examiner ruled Monday that the girl died of blunt-force trauma to the head and neck.
The horrific slaying of the South Lakes High School student reverberated beyond Virginia on Monday, as social media lit up with anger and grief, politicians expressed condolences and groups of various faiths condemned the violence. Many feared it was another hate crime targeting Muslims, coming shortly before a man driving a truck in London plowed into a group of people who had just finished Ramadan prayers. It follows a national upswing in attacks targeting Muslims since the November election.
So far, Fairfax County police said they have no indication that Nabra was targeted because of her religion, saying her killing was probably a “road rage incident,” although they continue to investigate the motivation.

Beyond the straight-news stories, though, the Post has supplemented its coverage with pieces such as Bailey's overview of "What happens when tragedy strikes Muslims during Ramadan."

This is a case where, obviously, it helps to have a Godbeat pro — or in the case of the Post, more than one — on the team:

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Ties that bind in Warriors locker room: Might those game-day Bible studies be important?

Ties that bind in Warriors locker room: Might those game-day Bible studies be important?

Hello, all of you sports fanatics out there in GetReligion reader land!

Yeah, right.

I realize there may only be a dozen or so of you, based on the digital silence that has followed most GetReligion posts about sports-news topics. However, I (along with Bobby Ross, Jr., the Texas Rangers acolyte) have bravely soldiered on and written quite a few posts about the God-shaped holes found in the coverage at most mainstream sports-news outlets (hello, ESPN).

So here I go again, with a follow-up post to the recent NBA championship run by the Golden State Warriors. I want readers to answer a simple question about news coverage (one that will take us into territory linked to the never-ending saga of Steph Curry and his sneakers).

The question: Which of the following two news topics do you think will receive the most post-championship coverage?

(a) Debates about whether these Warriors from the deep-blue Bay Area will visit Donald Trump's White House.

(b) New evidence of faith ties -- a Bible study group to be precise -- that bind among some of the key players at the heart of this pro-hoops juggernaut.

If you are not following the White House story, here is a sample of the verbiage there, care of Rolling Stone:

Fresh off winning their second NBA Championship in the last three seasons, the talk about the Golden State Warriors quickly turned to whether or not the team would visit President Donald Trump at the White House. Within hours of defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5, CNBC's Josh Brown tweeted, "NBA champion Warriors skipping the White House visit, as a unanimous team decision per reports." Brown later said on Twitter, "I have no idea if its true, hence 'per reports.'" The tweets were later deleted, but the news spread and the team issued a statement clarifying their current position. ...
Several Warriors including Stephen Curry, David West, Shaun Livingston and coach Steve Kerr, have been outspoken regarding President Trump and his rhetoric.

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From gay-phobic to gay-friendly evangelicals; New York Times repeats familiar narrative

From gay-phobic to gay-friendly evangelicals; New York Times repeats familiar narrative

I saw the most fascinating (and very familiar) narrative in the New York Times about a personal war in one corner  of American evangelicalism: How a transgender dad changed the life of his son and the church that this son pastors. And how evangelicals, led by a few brave congregations, are bound to change their views on gay and transgender people sooner rather than later.

Why? Because of the power of narrative, of story, of the injustice visited upon those who want change by those who don't. 

You can't argue with a person's story, can you? And so the article begins:

Jonathan Williams was three months into his ministry when his father called to say they needed to talk. Paul Williams, Jonathan’s father, was prominent in the evangelical Christian world, chairman of an organization that started independent churches around the country. One of those churches was Jonathan’s, Forefront Brooklyn, a new congregation that met in a performance space downtown. Paul Williams’s organization, Orchard Group, had helped it raise $400,000 and assemble a staff.
Paul Williams had never felt entirely comfortable with who he was. When he was very young, he thought he would someday get to choose his gender, probably before kindergarten, and at that point he would choose to be what he felt, a girl. And when the figure he thought of as the gender fairy never materialized, he soldiered on.
He followed his own father into ministry, preaching as a guest in some of the country’s largest evangelical churches; he married a minister’s daughter, fathered three children and became a successful executive in a conservative Christian organization. From their home on Long Island, he loved to take Jonathan hiking or mountain biking. He was an alpha male, the head of a religious home. Whatever else was going on in his mind, he decided, was a secret that he would take to his grave.

One detail here bothers me; the observation that this Orchard Group organization is "prominent" in the evangelical world.

One quick survey of the folks on the GetReligion team didn't turn up any of us who'd heard of it, and together -- our combined Godbeat experience is something like 140 years -- we're aware of a pretty large swath of who's who in evangelicalism.

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