Search Results for: laurie goodstein

Pew news: You don’t have to be religious to be Jewish

 Readers (and bloggers) “of a certain age” will recall the famous advertising campaign for Levy’s “real Jewish Rye” bread showing photos of people who are distinctly non-Jewish enjoying a sandwich on the famous bread.

Now, a study from the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life — reportedly the first major Jewish demographic survey in more than a decade — reveals that many American Jews feel people don’t have to be, well, religiously oriented to be Jewish. Several religion reporters were apparently briefed on the study’s results at last week’s Religion Newswriters Association convention in Austin, Texas, and numerous stories broke this past Tuesday, the day the research results were formally released.

The New York Times‘ Laurie Goodstein kicked things off:

The first major survey of American Jews in more than 10 years finds a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox.

The intermarriage rate, a bellwether statistic, has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews, and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews — a huge change from before 1970 when only 17 percent of Jews married outside the faith. Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, one-fourth do not believe in God and one-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year.

“It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, found that despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish and have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”

While Wertheimer might be feeling grim, the survey respondents appear happy enough, both collectively and individually.

Scribe Emily Alpert at the Los Angeles Times focused on someone who appears to fit the “demo” of the survey:

Growing up Jewish, Marilyn McLaughlin loved lighting the braided candle and singing to mark the end of Shabbat. She relished studying the Talmud and weighing its ethical questions.

But sitting in synagogue left her cold. “I was stuffed with religion,” McLaughlin said. “But I had no deep connection to it.”

A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that more than a fifth of Jewish Americans say they have no religion. Yet like McLaughlin, they still identify themselves as Jewish.

Scholars say that the Jewish people have long seen themselves as more than a religious faith, also defining themselves as Jewish through culture or ancestry. Only 15% see being Jewish as “mainly a matter of religion,” the new survey of nearly 3,500 Jewish Americans shows. Less than a third of Jews — even religious Jews — think someone can’t be Jewish without believing in God.

As more Americans of all faiths turn away from religion, Jewish secularism seems to be booming too. Pew found that the share of “Jews of no religion” appears to have surged, compared to a somewhat different survey a dozen years earlier. Younger Jews are much more likely to shrug off religion than their elders.

Alpert’s article puts the Jewish “nones” question in perspective: lots of people in America allegedly are turning to secularist views, so why not in the Jewish community?

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Do religious readers really want quality religion coverage?

It has been awhile since our own Bobby Ross, Jr., quoted that laugh-to-keep-from-crying tweet by New York Times religion scribe Laurie Goodstein that said (all together now): “Will the last one on the religion beat please turn out the lights?”

Mocking the typical newsroom attitude that three anecdotes equals a valid news trend, Ross asked if it was time for someone to write a story about “why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore?”

Discussion ensued, including this item at Poynter.org, and Bobby quickly wrote a follow-up post covering the conversation. In the midst of all that, I asked:

Well, is the issue whether people want to cover religion news or is it that they believe they can personally survive in the changing realities of smaller newsrooms?

To be more precise, what I meant to say is that — in light of the current advertising crisis in the news business — it is understandable that some professionals are questioning whether the religion beat, along with other complicated specialty beats, can thrive in an age of 24/7 journalism, with fewer journalists trying to produce more and more digital news products. There are, of course, many people (see art atop this post) who are convinced that the advertising crisis is going to kill American-model mainstream journalism, period.

On top of this new reality, there is the sad old fact that I stated in The Quill back in 1983:

The major reason few American newspapers and radio and television stations cover religion is simple. Few of the people who decide what news is care about religion.

You might even say that far too many newsroom managers simply do not get religion, or words to that effect.

As the discussion rolled on, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher posted an item under this blunt headline: “Why Are Newspaper Religion Reporters Quitting?” You need to read all of it, but I would like to respond to a few statements in his post. So, let’s proceed:

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Assessing the state of the Godbeat

I posted earlier this week on three veteran superstars of the Godbeat — Ann Rodgers, Bob Smietana and Tim Townsend — deciding to leave major daily newspapers.

I noted a tweet in which The New York Times’ religion writer Laurie Goodstein joked, “Will the last one on the religion beat please turn out the lights?”

Playing off Goodstein’s quip, I suggested that someone — I nominated former GetReligionista and current Religion News Service national correspondent Sarah Pulliam Bailey — should “step up, interview these three and write a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story on why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore.”

My choice of terminology, even while typing with my tongue firmly in cheek, was not the best.

My phrasing prompted a gentle pushback from tmatt in the comments section:

Well, is the issue whether people want to cover religion news or is it that they believe they can personally survive in the changing realities of smaller newsrooms?

I agree. I nominate Sarah to write a definitive piece for Poynter.org

RNS Editor in Chief Kevin Eckstrom, meanwhile, strapped on a rhetorical holster and came out firing (take cover, fellow GetReligion contributors!):

Or, how about this? Rather than conclude (without any basis in reality) that “no one wants to cover religion anymore,” perhaps it’d be a good idea to ask why these folks are leaving the beat (it’s complicated) and whether these positions will be filled (most likely).

But that’s not the way GR does things. Shoot first and never ask the appropriate questions later. C’mon, guys, you can do better than this. Or at least you should.

You can read my response to Eckstrom (and his response to my response) in the comments section of that original post.

Eckstrom complained that Poynter.org picked up on my question and that I didn’t do the religion beat “any favors with careless irresponsible exaggerations.” 

In fact, this was the headline on Poynter’s follow-up on my post:

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Et tu, Tim? Townsend latest to leave the Godbeat (updated)

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Speaking of Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes

In the last few weeks, we’ve highlighted the departures of two respected journalists from the Godbeat.

First, Bob Smietana left The Tennessean.

Then Ann Rodgers announced plans to leave the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

Now, a third religion-writing superstar — Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — has decided to leave the Godbeat.

Townsend revealed his plans on Twitter and even provided dramatic music to go along with the announcement:

Townsend’s tweet prompted this response from religion writer Laurie Goodstein  of The New York Times: 

Smietana. Rodgers. Townsend.

Tim Townsend

In journalism, we all know that three examples make a trend. (Or are we up to six now?)

There’s a legitimate news hook here, people. Who will be the enterprising Godbeat soul (if there’s anyone left) who will step up, interview these three and write a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story on why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore? (To anyone out there screaming that I’m overgeneralizing, shhhhhhh. We’ll add context to the piece later, but first we need to inspire someone to take the assignment. The more dramatic, the better.)

My nomination for this assignment: former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey, now a rockin’ Godbeat pro herself (at least as of this moment) for Religion News Service.

What say ye, Sarah? You up for it?

In the meantime, kind GetReligion readers, please feel free to leave a comment. If you want, you can reflect on how much you’ll miss Townsend’s excellent journalism with the Post-Dispatch. Or if you prefer, you can speculate on who will be next to leave the Godbeat. No wagering, please.

Update: Sarah just sent the following tweet to RNS Editor in Chief Kevin Eckstrom, so it appears she’s considering the story idea!

 

 

Marriage vs. marriage (or, What is marriage?)

Yesterday morning there was quite a bit of activity in and near the Supreme Court of the United States. You may have heard about that.

Citizens who wish to uphold the traditional understanding of marriage as an institution built around sexual complementarity marched to the Supreme Court where they encountered people who wish to reform that understanding to include same-sex couples.

It was an opportunity for reporters to let their snark fly on Twitter, as Will Saletan of Slate did when he wrote derisively of marriage traditionalists:

Let me get this straight: The guys marching across from the Supreme Court in plaid skirts and puffy hats are AGAINST gay marriage?

A comment like that speaks volumes about the state and quality of media discourse on the topic. But another tweet really got me thinking. It comes from New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein. She writes:

Supreme Court surrounded today by marchers for marriage and their opponents, marchers for marriage.

I love it. Funny but also incisive. That both sides argue they are advocating “marriage” when they are directly opposed to each other reveals a truth that has been obscured through ignorance and/or activism in media coverage. What’s being fought about is what marriage is.

This is not to say that the media should pick sides about which definition is right (although they clearly have) but, rather, that the media should explain the different understandings of marriage and explore the societal ramifications of adopting differing views. We know that an understanding of marriage as an institution built around sexual complementarity has, for instance, the ramification of excluding same-sex couples. That’s been highly explored by the media.

But what about all the ramifications of changing that understanding? What will happen to our understanding of marital norms, if anything, and why? What will happen to our understanding of gender?

There are smart takes on this from both sides of the marriage debate (and, to blow your mind here, there are actually more than two sides to this debate) but in case I’m not being clear, here’s how some traditionalists arguing from natural law explain the two approaches to marriage:

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Pod people: Red America and Bible Belt atheists

On the latest Issues, Etc. podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss my recent post on a Washington Post story that featured a red-state American in her natural habitat.

I explain why I liked that story better than some other post-election autopsies of Republican-leaning states, such as this New York Times story.

While the Post story devoted 1,800 words to attempting to understand a religiously motivated voter, the Times report allowed two paragraphs:

The Rev. Brady Cooper, the pastor of New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., said he had heard acquaintances in the days since the election speculating that social issues cost the Republicans the White House. To a degree, they were probably right, Mr. Cooper said. But he said that he could not abandon his values to win elections, and was increasingly moving away from politics.

“I’m kind of disillusioned more and more with the political process,” Mr. Cooper said. “One of their top priorities is being re-elected, and that kind of drives a lot of decisions that they make. And it means obviously going with the trends of the culture as opposed to the truth.”

(To be fair, the Times’ Laurie Goodstein provided a more in-depth analysis of the Christian right and the election.)

In the podcast, Wilkin and I also revisit my concerns about the ghost of Prince William County.

And we discuss the unasked question about atheists going to church.

By all means, enjoy the podcast.

 

Bishops are Republicans, Nuns are Catholic


Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been invited to give the closing prayer at this week’s Democratic Convention in Charlotte. The New York Times reports the New York cardinal will be one of matched pair of high profile Catholics to appear on the podium before the Democratic faithful, with Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus” fame completing the set.

Religion reporter Laurie Goodstein’s story “At Democratic Convention, a Cardinal and an Outspoken Nun” sets the scene and offers a bit of the “why” — but I’ve seen little so far on the “how” — and outside of the religious press, not much on whether this is a good idea at all.

The Times reports the news the:

Democrats are giving a convention speaking slot to Sister Simone Campbell, an outspoken advocate for the poor and elderly, according to an aide with President Obama’s campaign who would speak only on background.

In doing so, the Democratic Party has balanced its own Catholic ticket by showcasing both Sister Campbell, who pushed for the passage of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is suing the White House over a provision in the health care overhaul that requires employers to cover birth control in their employee insurance plans.

The article is framed in good cop/bad cop terms, but seeks to balance the piece by positing a degree of moral equivalence between the Dolan and Campbell’s political activities.

Cardinal Dolan, who says he is a personal friend of Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate. has been perceived by many Catholic commentators as being too cozy with Republicans, while Sister Campbell has been seen as being too supportive of Democratic causes. In June, she led the “Nuns on the Bus” tour to call attention to cuts affecting the poor and elderly in the budget proposed by Mr. Ryan.

The two will have different roles at the convention:

Cardinal Dolan will give the closing prayer at the convention, and Sister Campbell will speak but not offer a prayer.

And the story then r0unds off with a few paragraphs about Sister Campbell. All in all a solid story with an editorial voice that favors the nun over the cardinal. The theme of the article is that the liberal Campbell is balanced by the conservative Dolan.

What would have made the story stronger would have been a development of the why and how themes. We have surface story of the Democrats playing “me too”, inviting Dolan because the Republicans did. The import being the Democrats are seeking to curry favor with Catholic voters in the same way the Republicans have. But Campbell?

The Times article notes her support for the President’s healthcare initiative and suggests she is an alternative Catholic voice. Yet is there more? In an Aug 24 story in the New Yorker — before the invitation from the Democrats was given to Dolan, Hendrick Hertzberg wrote:

Dolan, as you may also have heard, heads up the male hierarchy’s drive to portray Obamacare as an attack on freedom of religion and is a leading enforcer in the Vatican-ordered crackdown on women religious who regard ministering to the poor and the sick as more urgent and more admirable than railing against contraception and homosexuality.

He then cites with approval the Aug 24 edition of the Carville – Greenberg Memorandum, where James Carville argues the Democrats should invite Campbell to spite Dolan and exploit the social justice agenda of the church for their political advantage.

And now, a week later, we have Campbell speaking and Dolan praying in Charlotte.  How did we get to this point? Do Dolan and and Campbell represent different wings of the same church, different views of what it means to live a Catholic life? Is it wise for the Catholic Church to allow individuals to become symbols of the conflicting views of its teachings?

Should the Catholic Church allow itself to be used by the national political parties in this way? I am not speaking of separation of church/state issues, but whether the integrity of the church, any church, is damaged when it comes in contact with secular politics. The assumption here is that it is social good for religious organizations — as opposed to religious individuals — to take a stand in the public square. Is that a valid assumption?

And should these issues be raised in the reporting on these questions? Not every story need be an essay on the merits of the marriage of politics and church leaders — but should there not be a voice offered from time to time that sees the arrangement differently? What say you GetReligion readers? Have I strayed into editorializing here by suggesting that clergy might be seen, but not heard at political conventions? Am I pushing my interpretation ahead of the simple facts of who is doing what in Charlotte — or is there a deeper truth that has yet to be revealed in the reporting of these issues?

And the title to this post? It comes from the Carville video –his mangling (deliberate?) of the old saw, “Bishops are Republicans, Nuns are Democrats.”

Vatican to sisters: Enough moving beyond Jesus

One of the things I love about being a media critic is watching how a story develops over time. You may remember that years ago the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith launched a review of U.S. women religious communities. Several years ago, then, and before the the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was involved in helping President Obama pass his health care legislation, we were looking at discussions about the health of these religious orders. I remember tmatt’s column that included one such discussion:

During this era of crisis and decline, some Catholic religious orders have chosen to enter a time of “sojourning” that involves “moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus,” Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink told a 2007 national gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

“Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian,” added Brink, a former journalist who is a biblical studies professor at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union. For these women, the “Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative.

The questions being hammered out were whether many sisters had rejected Catholic teachings on the priesthood, sex and salvation. Or as one of my favorite Catholic bloggers put it at the time, “If you’re going to be Post-Christian, then be Post-Christian. I don’t say that with snark. It’s just reality. If you’ve moved on — move on. Step out from the protective mantle of identity that gives you cachet, that of ‘Catholic nun.’”

OK, so where are things now? Well, let’s let Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times explain:

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”

Goodstein’s story is great, with many details. We learn that the Vatican found that the LCWR had serious doctrinal problems and that they were reprimanded for undermining Catholic teaching on various issues. The story mentions that the sisters had given “crucial cover” to the Obama administration back during the health care insurance battles of 2010. There’s also helpful data, such as that the conference claims 1,500 members who represent 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the U.S. That it was formed at the Vatican’s request and answers to the Vatican. I never knew that.

There’s also great color. The news of the Vatican’s action took the group by surprise (something that Rocco Palmo suggested might be a possibility in his helpful analysis at Whispers in the Loggia). We learn that the Vatican singled out Network as one group that was wrongly “silent” on abortion and marriage issues. Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director there, is quoted and given a chance to respond, including this bit:

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

One key point in that passage is actually not true.

The group was not cited in the Vatican document for focusing too much work on poverty and economic injustice. Far from it. They were actually praised for their work in this regard. In fact, on the first page alone is this line, “The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.” I read the eight-page document and certainly didn’t see anything coming even close to suggesting that the Vatican wants the sisters to focus less work on poverty issues. The document never indicates any problem with that work at all. Instead, it focuses on the sisters’ silence on other issues of social justice and fidelity to church teaching.

Cardinal William Levada appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead the reform of LCWR, with assistance from a few other bishops. We learn specifics of what the reform will mean. There is a ton of context and analysis without any favoritism shown to the sisters or the Vatican. It’s a very helpful piece, in my view. I also learned that the investigation of LCWR was separate from a visitation of women’s religious orders and communities and that it concluded in December with the results not yet made public. I just assumed this was all part of the same thing.

Let’s look at another great treatment, this one by David Gibson of Religion News Service. When it ran at USA Today, the web editors put a picture of a bunch of habited nuns attending a Rick Santorum rally in Michigan with it, as if to say “We don’t know what we’re doing!” But the story itself is also helpful. Although the lede underplayed the drama of the report:

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

You might recall that the New York Times conveyed this not as “not speaking out strongly enough” but as silence. Which is it? I mean, technically both could be true but one obviously gives a very different impression from the other. Well, in the eight-page summary you can read here, we are told:

The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faithmorals, are not compatible with its purpose.

And in fact, much of this excerpt is quoted directly or summarized later in the RNS report. The later parts of the report also include some feedback from Sister Campbell as well as some of how the group had attempted to defend itself during the investigation and why that defense was ruled inadequate by the Vatican. The story even goes beyond the context of the health care law’s passage in 2010 to point out that the LCWR is currently backing President Obama in his battle with Catholic bishops over religious freedom. That was one omission I thought odd from other reports, given its timeliness. The lengthy report mentions that the more traditional religious orders, while much smaller than those that are part of LCWR, are the ones that are growing. It is obvious that this story is written by someone with deep knowledge of the topic, as all of these details are included in the report.

I did find this line somewhat interesting:

Increasingly, however, the hierarchy in Rome and the U.S. is focusing on promoting doctrinal orthodoxy and curbing dissent.

Now, maybe it’s just because I’m Lutheran and have some weight of history bearing down on me on this topic, but what does “increasingly” mean here? How is this measured? And over what period of time? Likewise, it would help to know how similar “unorthodox” teaching or dissent has been treated in the states or elsewhere over the years.

Which brings us to the Associated Press report on the topic. This one was not my favorite. Here’s the lede:

The Vatican orthodoxy watchdog announced Wednesday a full-scale overhaul of the largest umbrella group for nuns in the United States, accusing the group of taking positions that undermine Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”


See, you might have bristled at the “crackdown” language used by other reporters, but it seems downright tame compared to this lede. Interesting that sanctity of life, whether related to abortion or euthanasia, isn’t mentioned in this lede. It does get mention down-story, right before Campbell is quoted claiming the report was linked to her advocacy on behalf of the Obama administration’s health care bill. The AP points out that the review of LCWR began in 2009 and doesn’t cite the bill.

Perhaps due to the struggles of space constraints, the article includes paragraphs such as this:

When the Vatican-ordered inquiry was initially announced, many religious sisters and their supporters said the investigation reflected church officials’ misogyny and was an insult to religious sisters, who run hospitals, teach, and play other vital service roles in the church. Conservative Catholics, however, have long complained that the majority of sisters in the U.S. have grown too liberal and flout church teaching.

Considering how specific these anonymous complaints are, I wouldn’t mind something more descriptive than “many” people. Whether you think it makes the sisters or their supporters look great or awful for alleging “misogyny,” it’s worth backing that up with a real person. We are told that investigators cited the Brink speech mentioned above, as well as other examples of how the LCWR leadership had publicly disagreed with church teaching and embraced radical feminism.

I’m mildly surprised by the way the story ended, with a quote defending the sisters and attacking bishops. Readers usually focus on headlines and ledes, but you can always tell a lot about a story by the kicker. In any case, the quote was set-up in the following manner:

Nick Cafardi, a canon lawyer and former dean of Duqesne Law School, said he has worked over the years with many nuns and that the description in the report does not reflect his experience with them. Cafardi is an Obama supporter.

Is it just me or is it kind of weird to mention which political candidate Cafardi supports?

Images of nun praying in church and health care paperwork via Shutterstock.


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