Church of The New York Times keeps preaching its own faith

It’s time for another “Kellerism” update, as The New York Times continues its efforts to highlight religious institutions with doctrines that are unacceptable to the newsroom’s theologians and, perhaps, the U.S. Department of Justice. This time, the drama shifts out West, where another Christian college community is trying to find a way to live out its faith commitments.

NEWBERG, Ore. – A growing number of openly transgender students have forced schools around the country to address questions so basic that they were rarely asked just a few years ago, much less answered: What defines a person’s gender, and who gets to decide?

A small Christian college here, George Fox University, has become the latest front in this fight, refusing to recognize as male a student who was born anatomically female. The student calls himself a man, and as of April 11, when a state circuit court legally changed his sex, the State of Oregon agrees.

But George Fox University sees him as a woman, and it prohibits unwed students from living with anyone of the opposite sex.

Notice the question that was not asked, in an alleged news story that opens with an editorial assertion: If a private — as opposed to state — college is a doctrinally defined voluntary association, what happens when a student decides that he or she does not believe those doctrines? Think of it this way: If a student at a Muslim college decided to convert to Christianity, thus contradicting the covenant he voluntarily signed when he came to the campus, would the college be able to say that this student had to accept the school’s doctrinal authority?

If private religious organizations have the right to define their communities in terms of doctrine, does this First Amendment right no longer apply to doctrines linked to sex? The other way I have stated the question is this: Does the First Amendment’s promise of free exercise of religion still apply to traditional religious believers who reject many of the doctrines linked to the Sexual Revolution?

The leaders of the Times team, of course, do not appear to be interested in that half of the debate that is at the heart of this news story. Thus, this report crashes, as an attempt at journalism. Why?

The answer, of course, is “Kellerism.” What is that? Here is a reminder from a recent post, when I first coined that term. The key is the famous 2011 remarks by former Times editor Bill Keller, when he said that the basic rules of journalism no longer apply to coverage of religious, moral and cultural issues.

“We’re liberal in the sense that … liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. … “We’re an urban newspaper.”

Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”

Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

The words “aside from” are the doors into “Kellerism.” It’s first journalism-defining doctrine is:

There is no need for balance and fairness and related old-fashioned journalism values when one is dealing with news linked to morality, culture, religion, yada, yada. Newspapers should resist the urge to slip into advocacy journalism when covering politics, but not when covering — uh — moral, cultural and religious issues such as sex, salvation, abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, cloning and a few other sensitive matters. You know, non-political issues. Things like Roe v. Wade and Romer v. Evans.

The second “Kellerism” doctrine grows out of his quiet rejection (.pdf here) of a key element in the landmark 2005 Times self study entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust,” the passages calling for more cultural and intellectual diversity in the world’s most powerful newsroom. Keller — only days after leaving his desk as editor — said he was committed to hiring diversity in the newsroom on matters of gender, race, etc., but not on matters of culture and intellect.

So how does this shape the Oregon story? Simply stated, the Times team completely ignores the issue of a private school’s right to define the doctrines at the heart of its community, whether on the doctrinal left or right. Note the unstated connection running through this passage:

George Fox, a Quaker school southwest of Portland, asked the Department of Education for a religious exemption from Title IX. Rob Felton, a university spokesman, said the request was prompted by the position the government took in the California case, and by warnings from Jaycen’s lawyer that he intended to file a Title IX complaint. In drafting its petition, the university consulted with an evangelical group, Alliance Defending Freedom, that has fought attempts to allow transgender students to use what they see as the sex-appropriate school restrooms and other facilities.

The department granted the Title IX exemption on May 23, and on the same day it gave a similar exemption to Simpson University, a Christian school in California — the first two ever given for policies on transgender people, department officials and transgender advocates said. It granted a third exemption last month to Spring Arbor University, a Christian college in Michigan.

Now, the Justice Department is looking into whether George Fox’s transgender policy might violate nondiscrimination requirements in federal housing law.

What connects these schools? Their attempts to defend the doctrines that define their communities.

The unstated question: Why is the student named “Jaycen” at George Fox? This is the other point where the Times team is completely uninterested in the views of those that oppose the newspaper’s doctrines. Apparently, other than the school’s PR voice, there are no voices at George Fox who are willing to defend George Fox. At the end of the story readers are told:

Jaycen said that in spite of everything, he had found strong support from students and faculty members.

“I want other transgender and L.G.B.T.Q. people to see that they can have a place in faith-based education,” he said. “The fact that I’m here is proof of that.”

Of course, there are schools whose doctrines fit those now held by Jaycen and others whose convictions now contradict centuries of Christian doctrine. Should students attend schools where they can sign doctrinal covenants and then keep those vows? This issue is never explored in the story. Why is this student at George Fox?

Yes, it does matter that the school’s own community seems to be divided — anonymity is crucial — over these doctrines. This is common. That is why it’s crucial — in terms of journalism ethics — for the Times team to quote people on both sides of this debate, even inside George Fox and similar institutions.

Why not cover both sides of the debate? Because, under “Kellerism,” error has no rights, even if that means changing the basic rules of the American model of the press.

So what happens when Times leaders decide that it is no longer necessary to apply the rules of journalism to religion, culture and morality? What happens when the leaders of this powerful newsroom decide that, in ways both open and subtile, that they can attack religious believers whose doctrines they reject?

Simply stated, many traditional religious believers — even if they are long-time supporters of the Times — are being forced out of the doctrinally defined community that is the church of New York Times subscribers.

Really? Yes, really.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • steve

    “Why is this student at George Fox?” I’ll proffer a guess based on my experience. Perhaps, like me and many of my college friends, he was raised in a distinctive religious group and all or most of his family members and friends up until this point are within that church. And he was attracted to that particular college because of its intimate connection with that church and because family and older friends went there. All his life he has heard stories from loved ones who told of their adventures and who found spouses and life long friends there. From a very young age he has visited and always expected that he would go there. Now to address another issue, it is not immediately clear to everyone that this does violate as you say, centuries of Christian doctrine. Prior to recent decades there was no possibility of a person changing their gender. It is not addressed in any scripture that I know about. So it may be that some organizations and churches now interpret it as violating tradition, but it is just that, an interpretation and a rather recent one. And perhaps it is not immediately obvious to otherwise traditional believers that it is. If what he said is true, then there are faculty members who it would seem are otherwise orthodox and who agree with him. There is something new under the sun, a woman can become a man. This new situation is the source of the conflict and as is often the case it will take a while to resolve. Finally, church-affiliated schools are not stagnant and unchanging. They sometimes do change on some issues after a period of time. Sometimes it takes a challenge and some conflict to bring a resolution.

    • jaybird1951

      But a woman cannot become a man. Or vice versa. Surgical manipulation and hormonal injections do not change one’s sex, the one we are born with. To say that she is now a he is to play along with a lie.

      • steve

        If a person is born without a limb or with heart problems, we have no objections to providing a prosthesis for them. If they are born blind or deaf, we are ready to do whatever is within our power to aid them. If a person is so sure of their identity that they wish to undergo the knife and have their sensitive parts removed and rearranged, that authenticates their identity. It leads me to believe that their birth gender is a similar accident as these other situations mentioned.

        • Steve Bauer

          Category mistake.

          • steve


          • Satori

            Jebus said so

      • BobSF_94117

        It may be a “lie” to you, but it isn’t a lie to George Fox University. They just require completion, so to speak, of the transition in the form of genital surgery.

  • praxagora

    How do Jaycen’s convictions contradict Christian teaching? What convictions does he hold? The story, as you point out, doesn’t seem to delve into that issue, but you are making editorial comments on this young person’s faith when you have absolutely no idea what his faith is like. What texts or traditions of Christianity are violated by his personhood? Is there a biblical passage, for instance, that forbids people from being trans?

    • AlanCK

      Do the texts or traditions of Christianity get to define his personhood? Does Jaycen get to be interpreted by Jesus Christ alone?

      • Reformed Catholic

        That is a theological question, where is the journalism question.

      • praxagora

        certainly not.

    • tmatt

      I am simply saying that this is a debate between people with different convictions on several issues. Again, I am asking a journalism question.

      • praxagora

        No you are not. The school actually has no problem with Jaycen attending – they are supporting of his studies and refer to him with the proper pronouns. The only issue for George Fox, which actually comes off pretty well in this story, is the issue of housing. They don’t want to house someone with female genitalia in an apartment with roommates who possess male genitalia. There are no doctrinal issues here at all; merely the messy business of figuring out how to include people like Jaycen into the framework of modern life. They seem well-intentioned and the story seems pretty balanced. These are Quakers after all; they’re far more interested in Justice and Consensus than policing morality.

        You stated, “Of course, there are schools whose doctrines fit those now held by Jaycen and others whose convictions now contradict centuries of Christian doctrine.” I ask you again, what are the doctrines held by Jaycen? Other than his claim in the NYtimes article that he is, “deeply committed to his faith” we don’t know what he believes. Maybe the article should have delved into that more, but the focus of the article is more on how schools are handling issues of transgendered students and TItle IX than on the faith lives of those involved. Why did you make this claim about him and what are the “centuries of Christian doctrine” that relate to his status.

        I thought that this article was quite fair. The George Fox people are quoted pretty extensively and they seem like they want him as a student.

        Also, did you quote from an article without linking to it? I can’t find the link to the original here.

      • praxagora


    • jaybird1951

      Why does there have to be a specific passage forbidding it? The passage from Genesis about “male and female he created them” and the comments by Jesus, the Christ, about the father’s intentions and the union of male and female should be enough for any Christian. There are a number of modern day aberrations that Scripture did not list in detail but that does not make them valid.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    The first sentence in the article is quite loaded. The term “transgendered” goes undefined – it “sounds” like “transsexual,” which means someone who is having or has had medical treatments to alter the body to conform to a different sexuality, but “transgendered” seems to mean people who insist they are and desire to be recognized by others as something not conforming to the biological gender they possess. (it’s not a matter of “I’m a woman but want to act unconventionally” but “I am physically female but claim to be a man and want the world to regard me as such.”) The use of the word “force” in the sentence becomes poignant in light of the difference. (Society appears to have no right to “force” a gender on a biological female against that person’s wishes, but said person has a right, it seems, to “force” the chosen gender on everyone else.) Also the historical claim about questions (not) asked or answered does not have any back-up, a kind of historical revisionism if facts are not used to substantiate it.

    • praxagora

      The fact that you don’t understand what transgendered means doesn’t count as a critique of the article, which, in fact, details his status quite clearly.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        Actually it never states clearly that he remains anatomically female until near the very end where it says he “plans” sex-reassignment surgery which he may never actually get, and even at the end his present status is only implied. That is hardly what a reasonable person would call “detailing his status quite clearly.” And if you want to defend the clarity of the article, why don’t you point to places in it that support your point? Instead you have to attack a complete stranger. Hooray for tolerance.

  • Satori

    No one would complain about the NYT failing to defend a racist school that wanted to discriminate against blacks even if the racist school used religion to justify its behavior.

    Anti-LGBT bigotry is unacceptable and should be pushed out of polite society. Don’t like it? Tough.

    • Reformed Catholic

      I believe the columnists here would call out the NYT if it was as one-sided in its coverage as it is in this case. That’s the only issue here. Of course, you had to play the bigot card, which then shuts down all conversation.

      • Satori

        See, I don’t believe that. That’s not meant as a knock on the columnists here BTW. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to think that some views actually are “beyond the pale” and should be stigmatized. So do most other people. The problem religious traditionalists have is that they know they can’t convince liberals to accept that traditional views of sexuality and gender are correct, and they have tried to solve it by adopting process based arguments about how they are being treated unfairly. Unless you want to argue that NO views are beyond the pale you can’t do that, you have to argue over whether your views actually are bigoted and warrant social stigmatization. Unfortunately for traditionalists I and many other people think their views are irrational and harmful, so we are going to push them out of polite society if we can.

        • MarcusRegulus

          So then, it all comes down to brute force? A mere matter of who has the most raw power?

          You are perfectly within your rights as a human being to “..think their views are irrational and harmful…” You have absolutely NO right to stage a hegemonic take-over of “polite society”. (You DO have the right to create a society which includes only those who are bein pensants like yourself.) Bullying people who think, quite sincerely, different than you, is a certain mark of intolerance. Bigotry has a way of backfiring, since it has no ethical support, even when — it is always presumed to be — in a “good cause”..
          If we are reduced to the use of power and force in attaining some popular faddish goal, we have conceded already the legitimacy of the other side. If we demonize other people, this diminishes their humanity, and we have seen in the last century where that sort of thing leads. If we believe, however sincerely, we can “romp and tromp” on whoever we please, for our own reasons, how are we any better than the barbarians we think the “differently ethicized” are?
          Oliver Cromwell, not the nicest or most tolerant of people, is still recorded as saying , “I beseech ye… think, ye may be wrong.” Always good advice when charging into a battle, especially one of extermination, which you indicate you think is a desirable goal.

          • Satori

            >You have absolutely NO right to stage a hegemonic take-over of “polite society”

            Really? Why should private newspapers and private individuals be “fair” to views they find morally repulsive? That’s like asking a Catholic to be “fair” about a black mass. It’s no big deal, right? You talk a lot about force, but what you are really saying is that we have no right to dislike you. Unconvincing to say the least.

            > Bullying people who think, quite sincerely, different than you, is a

            Do you think any views are so abhorrent that they warrant social stigmatization? Racism? The desire to subject young girls to female genital mutilation? Nep-Nazism?

          • MarcusRegulus

            As I come from an antediluvian time, the liberalism I learned at my grandpa’s knee stated in no uncertain terms that, contra the NYT, Error Does Have Rights. It is the hallmark of liberalism, at least before everyone became so darned belligerent, that obnoxious opinions should be tolerated.
            No doubt you have learned a different version, but, yes, even the morally repulsive view does have rights. In a free society, the Nazis have a right to march in Skokie, and the survivors of the Shoah have a right to protest that march.
            It is the premise of Jeffersonian democracy that truth will triumph over evil, if both are allowed to state their case in the open marketplace of ideas. Even a fin de siècle group of proud bigots like WBC are permitted to rant, and the angels are entitled to form human barricades to marginalize them. There is a vast difference between letting someone know you disagree with their stupid opinion and trying to ruin their life and livelihood in the name of “tolerance”.
            It is distressing one should have to point out in detail such things as were once taught in all high school civics courses, but this new century seems to be one in which ignorance and bigotry is rampant. Not to mention bad manners.
            If the range of what is acceptable become so narrowed down as to be identical with say, Your Thoughts, we will no longer live in a free society. And when the climate of opinion or ponderance of force changes against your views, what recourse will you have? (Yes, the pendulum does swing both ways. All attempts to nail it into one place or another have met with abysmal failure.)
            Now, for my main point, and a desperately hopeless one, since I do not perceive your understanding or assent, is very simple. In a civil society, such as we hope to be gendering, thoughts are free of the police. words, mostly should be also free (exceptions few and far between). It is ACTIONS which we regulate, for the good of society. Nobody has any business doing otherwise. Not even a Caliph.
            If Jackass #1 thinks female genital mutilation is a good thing, it is irrelevant as long as he has no ability to perform the heinous ACT (without severe repercussions). There lies the difference. Thoughts are free, actins may be penalized. If Jackass #2 donated money to the KKK 30 years ago, you are not entitled to take away his job to punish his bad behavior.
            Examples could easily be multiplied, but really, you should consider that if you make brute force the standard of society, when you are in power, what do you expect will happen when you are not?
            Reply or not as you like, I grow weary of trying to educate the uneducable.

          • Satori

            I find it odd that you are pretending that I defended banning traditionalist speech. I don’t want to ban the Catholic Church any more than I want to ban Neo-Nazis. My point was about how other citizens respond to them in the private sphere.

          • MarcusRegulus

            “Unfortunately for traditionalists I and many other people think their views are irrational and harmful, so we are going to push them out of polite society if we can.” — *Pretending*?
            Dude! Seriously, historical revisionism is all the rage these days, but that wasn’t a remark you made about “other citizens”, it was a proclamation of your agenda.
            How can I trust anything you might have to say when your recourse to a reasoned argument is to fall down and play victim, reimagining what your original statement was in the process?
            Let us part in such peace as we may, inasmuch as further discussion would only go downhill from here.

          • Satori

            Right, I said we will push you out of polite society. Not ban your speech.

            Lying about what I said makes you seem pathetic and stupid.

          • MarcusRegulus

            (sigh) I begin by cautioning you against triumphalist thinking, and in the end, you conclude that I am your enemy. You must have a lot of those.
            However, my first impression was correct. You, sir or madam, are a jerk. My name may not be Dances With Wolves, but I have nothing more to say to you; you are not worth talking to.

    • jaybird1951

      It is not bigotry to refuse to go along with the self-deception and pandering position that someone can change their sex simply through surgical procedures and hormone injections. Everyone remains the sex they were born with. That is a scientific as well as theological fact. As for that “polite society” you refer to, there is not much that appears “polite” about it and trying to piggy back on the civil rights movement is very dishonest.

      • puritangirl1970

        There is increasing evidence that transgender people have some (or many) brain structures of the ‘opposite’ sex. I looked at a study last night, completely at random, that I pulled off of Pub Med. It’s from last December. It’s called, “Regional Grey Matter Structure Differences Between Transsexuals and Healthy Controls”. If you want to look it up, the first listed author is Lajos Simon. Here’s a quote from the study: “Additionally, our findings showed that in several brain areas, regarding their GM volume, transsexual subjects did not differ significantly from controls sharing their gender identity but were different from those sharing their biological gender.” (The authors then list eleven areas of the brain where this occurred.)

        FWIW, I thought George Fox had the best position: Recognizing that being transgender is a real thing while opposing male and female genitalia in the same living spaces. George Fox seems to refuse the ideology-based blinders of both the pro- and anti-trans camps and keeps it safe and real for everyone. Well done, George Fox.

  • BobSF_94117

    What evidence do you have that a doctrinal question is in play here?

    The school requires genital surgery before recognizing a transgender student’s reassigned gender for housing purposes. Before surgery, they recognize the “new” gender for all other purposes.

    You want the NYT to cover this story with the attendant OUTRAGE that might be the case if the school were, say, Liberty U. But it’s not. They’re Quakers. They don’t have the “doctrinal problems” with transgendered people that Baptists do.

    • tmatt

      I am asking a journalistic question: Cover the actual community that is there, with both sides of the debate. That is all.

      This is a journalism blog.

      • Satori

        Should the Westboro Baptist Church presented as a reasonable “side” in the debate over its activities? What about churches linked to the KKK?

        I’m not being facetious either. To many liberal there is no reason to draw a distinction in cases like this. You might be okay with anti-LGBT thinking, but to us it is beyond the pale. It does not belong in polite society any more than racism does.

        • Reformed Catholic

          More red herrings …

      • BobSF_94117

        How does the NYT not cover the two sides of the debate at George Fox University?

        You want the article to be about something bigger. You want another rehash of the fight the “traditionalists” are waging, but this school is QUAKER and, while there’s a policy issue/problem/debate over transgender housing. There is NO debate about the legitimacy of transgenderism. In fact, it seems to me that the school’s position that surgery is necessary to completely accept the new gender in all respects is exactly NOT what “traditionalists” would like to hear, let alone have represented as the “opposing view”.

  • Honey Badger

    Great article.

    What’s next, the NY Times complaining that the Pope is Catholic?

  • Cha5678

    “Does the First Amendment’s promise of free exercise of religion still apply to traditional religious believers who reject many of the doctrines linked to the Sexual Revolution?”

    No more than the facts of biology still apply to the postmodern, postconstitutional, postlogic progressives.