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Are Catholics about to loosen Communion rules?

Bernard Longley

The professional skill of a reporter can be tested by his abilities to weigh the importance of his sources. “Who” said something is as important as “what” was said.  The Telegraph‘s Religious affairs editor John Bingham in an article entitled “Anglicans could receive Roman Catholic communion, Archbishop suggests” shows how this is done in religion reporting.

A senior Catholic leader in England stated Anglicans may one day be permitted to receive Communion in Catholic Churches, but The Telegraph further states the Archbishop of Birmingham has no authority to permit such an innovation. The British daily offers an exciting lede, offering a potential blockbuster of a story, but qualifies the news high up in the story. The author’s skill is shown by having a great “come-on”, a hook to get the reader past the lede. But his professionalism is scene in his fidelity to the facts.

The article opens with:

The ban on Anglicans receiving Roman Catholic Holy Communion could be relaxed as part of moves to bring the two churches together after centuries of division, one of Britain’s most senior Catholic clerics has suggested.

Followed by:

The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Bernard Longley, signalled that restrictions, which can be traced back to the Reformation, might be “reconsidered” as a result of “deeper sharing” between the two churches.

Although he insisted that he was expressing a “personal view”, the Archbishop’s comments will be closely watched as he is the senior Catholic cleric responsible for dialogue with the Anglican churches.

In his lede paragraph the author pushes the story as hard as the facts allow, crafting an eye-catching opening. He then qualifies the first sentence, nudging the story so as to make clear that though Archbishop Longley is one of the senior Catholic bishops in England, his statements do not represent official policy but are his personal views.

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Islam, ISIS and the FGM fatwa

IslamEyesReporting from the front lines of the Middle East conflicts be a parlous experience if you are on the wrong side of the battle line. However not all of the no-go areas are geographically bounded. The topic of  Islam and female genital mutilation is a country few reporters are willing to enter. Cultural prejudices and politically correct assumptions appear to be driving the reporting on Islam. Few reporters seem willing break free from the herd and ask “why”?

Western Asia is a hard place for reporters. Relying upon U.S. or Israeli government agencies for information can be a frustrating experience — bureaucratic petty-mindedness knows no national boundaries. Yet it is possible to test the truths handed out in press statements by observation and old-fashioned reporting.

This is not always possible when reporting from the rebel side or from hostile regimes. Checking can get you killed as reporters covering the fighting in Gaza have noted in recent days. Even Hamas, however, attempts to play the Western media game (according to its lights) and holds press conferences.

Not so with ISIS, the Sunni extremists who have seized Mosul. While their supporters can be found on Twitter and the Web — it has not been possible for reporters to check the claims coming out of Northern Iraq. The atrocities and destruction committed by ISIS can be seen in the photos of decapitated government troops, crucifixions of enemies and videos of burning churches and fleeing refugees taken by smart-phones and posted to the internet.

The war aims of the group can be divined from videos of speeches given by its caliph or statements posted to the internet — yet these must be viewed with suspicion as their provenance is unclear. The story that ISIS’s religious/political leaders have issued a fatwa — a religious decree — ordering all women under the age of 49 to undergo FGM (female genital mutilation) has played across the newspapers in recent days.

However, the second day stories suggest this may not be true.

The source for the claim of FGM for the women of Iraq came from a good source — a UN official in Iraq. Reuters reported:

The United Nations, expressing deep concern, said on Thursday that militant group Islamic State had ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation. …

Such a “fatwa” issued by the Sunni Muslim fighters would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil.

“We have current reports of imposition of a directive that all female girl children and women up to the age of 49 must be circumcised. This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” Badcock said.

The follow up from Reuters reported that their sources could not confirm the UN’s claims. The second day story from The Guardian said:

Jihadi extremists who have taken over the Iraqi city of Mosul have denied ordering families to have their daughters undergo female genital mutilation in order to prevent “immorality” or face severe punishment, as claimed by a senior UN humanitarian official on Thursday.

Yet even this reported denial has to be weighed carefully, The Guardian said in its second paragraph as the denial comes from supporters of ISIS, not ISIS itself.

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La Nación on soccer and Protestantism in Brazil

Sitting in my “guilt file” of stories I should be covering — but have not yet gotten round to doing — is this fascinating piece from the sports section of La Nación, the Argentine daily. (With its larger rival Clarín, the two dailies make up almost half of the Buenos Aires newspaper market — as to their editorial stance, neither supports the government of President Cristina Kirchner).

The article “Historias mínimas sobre la selección de Brasil y la religión: de la peregrinación de Scolari al pastor visionario de Neymar” from the July 7 edition reports on the links between Christian faith and the members of Brazil’s world cup team.

The subtitle sets the theme of the story: “Es el país con mayor cantidad de cristianos del mundo y que atraviesa un fuerte crecimiento de los evangelistas; ¿cómo es la relación de los futbolistas con la Fe?”

[Brazil] has the largest number of Christians of any country in the world and that through a strong growth of evangelists. What is the relationship between soccer players and the faith?

The key sentence in this story: “Soccer and religion are twin pillars of Brazilian life.”

Yet in telling this story, La Nación makes an error found in American newspapers — confusing evangelist with evangelical — and further states Brazil has the largest Christian population in the world. (It does not.)

The article follows a traditional sports-human interest story line. It begins with a description of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s visit to the Church of Our Lady of Caravoggio in Rio Grande do Sul a few days before the start of a World Cup, and notes he had made a similar pilgrimage in 2002 and 2013. The coach is quoted as saying his team counts on hard work and the blessings of faith to see them through to victory.

Also, Pope Francis’ farewell to Brazil following his visit last year is cited to underscore the links between faith and football.

In Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Well, what does a player when he is called to be part of a team? Must train and train a lot. So it is in our life as disciples of the Lord. St. Paul tells us: “Every athlete exercises all, and they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we do it for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25) Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup. He offers us the possibility of a fruitful and happy life, and a future with him without end, eternal life.

The scene shifts to the soccer pitch, where instances of prayer after key plays is recounted closing with a quote from one player following his game winning goal against Colombia: “I’ve been practicing a year at Chelsea. Knew that one day God would bless me.”

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Calvin the Fundamentalist and other General Synod myths

Monday’s vote by the General Synod to allow women bishops has put the Church of England onto the front pages of the world’s press. News reports and commentary from around the globe have weighed on this development giving voice to a variety of opinions. Some of this reporting has been quite good, most of it average, while a few pieces have fallen short.

The Huffington Post‘s piece contained two errors of note. At the end of the piece the article confused the numbers for the Church of England for the wider Anglican Communion. A correction subsequently noted:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that the Church of England has 80 million members in more than 160 countries. Those are the figures for the worldwide Anglican Communion.

A minor slip, but the second raised questions as to whether the Huffington Post followed the debate, or recycled information it had gleaned from second hand sources. The article stated:

Like the vote that year, more traditional Anglicans, including evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, argued in front of the synod that having women as bishops would go against the teachings of Jesus. If Jesus intended women to be among the top church leaders, he would have had a woman among the Twelve Apostles, some of the traditionalists said.

By my reckoning, of the almost 100 speakers in the day, only one (lay delegate Jane Bisson from the Diocese of Winchester) raised the issue: “If Jesus intended women to be among the top church leaders, he would have had a woman among the Twelve Apostles.” The overwhelming majority of voices opposed to the change in church teaching couched their arguments around the Apostle Paul’s teachings on “headship” and the role of women in church assemblies — with arguments from tradition running second. Check for yourself.

Summarizing the arguments against women bishops along the “Jesus intended” line does a disservice to the debate in Synod and across the church. Painting the opponents of women bishops as Biblical-literalists is lazy reporting.

An otherwise excellent news analysis piece in The Guardian also makes this error — but this time John Calvin is the “fundamentalist” in question.

Calvin was not a fundamentalist. The Guardian Style Guide does not contain an entry for “fundamentalist.” However, as noted many times here at GetReligion, the Associated Press Stylebook makes this observation:

 “fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

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Pod people: Gunga Galunga goes CNN

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Carl: So I jump ship in Hong Kong and I make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas.

Angie: A looper?

Carl: A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald… striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one — big hitter, the Lama — long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga … gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Caddyshack (1980)

The Dalai Lama has an impressive resume: chief monk of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, symbol of Tibet’s aspirations for independence, human rights leader, champion of interfaith dialogue, Nobel peace prize laureate, and cultural icon. While he may be heartily disliked by the Chinese government, Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama is his title) has achieved a degree of renown in his lifetime equal to statesmen such as Nelson Mandela, or faith leaders such as John Paul II.

But this renown, coupled with the Western worldview held by most reporters, serves to obscure news reporting about the Dalai Lama.

In this week’s episode of Crossroads, a GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discussed the tendency of Anglo-American journalism to hang the Dalai Lama in a Christian frame. The first 15 minutes of our conversation focused on bullying by The Guardian newspaper of the Church of England in the run up to its vote on July 14, 2014 on women bishops, while the second half moved to Tibet to examine a CNN report on a statement made by the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his 79th birthday last week.

The Tibet story was drawn from my GetReligion article: “Do the words of the Dalai Lama matter to all Buddhists?”, where I argued:

The bottom line: What the CNN team is doing in this story is projecting Christian assumptions about a church and hierarchy upon a non-Christian institution. These assumptions make the story intellectually accessible to a Western reader, but present the issue in a false light.

In his birthday address to the faithful, the Dalai Lama called upon Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka and Mynamar to halt their violent campaign against Muslim minorities and act in a way more befitting their faith. CNN quoted him as saying:

“I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime,” he said in the Indian town of Leh. “Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking.”

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Resistance to the Guardian is futile

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The General Synod of the Church of England — the legislative organ of the Protestant state church — will take up the question of women bishops this week. Should the delegates to synod be unsure as to how they should vote, the doctrinal authorities at The Guardian appear to be instructing them what they must do.

On July 9 the newspaper of the English establishment ran a silly news report entitled “Church of England women bishops: archbishops will overrule synod” that made the extraordinary but unsubstantiated claim that unless synod did what the establishment wanted, the archbishop of Canterbury would do it for them.

Why do I say that this story is silly? Why that word? Besides being petulant, exaggerated and, in journalism terms, unbalanced — it is also untrue. Rumor and opinion are packaged as fact. What the reader gets is the views of certain unnamed persons of what ought to be done, presented as what is to be done.

What we see in this story is not an example of media bias, but basic advocacy journalism. Let me be clear: This is not a failure to get religion or simple error. The non-objective approach taken by The Guardian is deliberate. To use that new GetReligion term, this is “Kellerism.”

The lede states:

The archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is preparing to drive through legislation to allow women bishops even if it is rejected by the church’s governing body, the General Synod. The synod is poised to vote again on the vexed plan next week but senior sources have told the Guardian that should the move be blocked again, there are now options being considered to force the change on the church.

The story is that if the plan for women bishops is thwarted a third time by the synod the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, will “force the change” through synod. Yet a close reading of the two sentences shows us the strength of the first is being modified by the second. The subject shifts from the archbishop will act to the archbishop is being presented with a choice of options.

Sources are cited in support of the archbishop’s putsch — but they are not named. The standard practice in classic journalism is to give an identity to your source so that the reader may judge the source’s credibility. What is fact? What is gossip? What is wishful thinking? What motives are at play?

When the source cannot be revealed, there is most often an explanation why and some version of this clause appears in the story: “a source with direct knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak to the media told …. ”

The Guardian article offers several options but does not take their measure. What is fantasy? The ground shifts with each paragraph in this story. The title states “archbishops” implying this is about the archbishops of Canterbury and York. The lede, states the archbishop of Canterbury will act. (Have we lost York?) The details in support of the lede say these are options and scenarios suggested by unnamed pro-women bishop campaigners.

The credibility of the article is further damaged with this paragraph.

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Do the words of the Dalai Lama matter to all Buddhists?


CNN reports the Dalai Lama –the spiritual leader of Tibet — has urged his co-religionists  in Sri Lanka and Myanmar to halt the sectarian violence that has pitted majority Buddhist populations against Muslim minorities.

The assumption behind this story is that the Dalai Lama is a person of consequence whose words will carry weight with Buddhists round the world. What he says matters, CNN reports.

But does it? And if it does matter, to whom does it matter?

The attacks on Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have had the approval of Buddhists leaders and in some cases mobs have been led by saffron-robe clad Buddhists monks. The report from CNN cleanly and clearly reports on the Dalai Lama’s call for peace, but it neglects to mention (or perhaps it assumes) that Buddhism is a monolith, a unified system of belief whose leaders are universally esteemed by its practitioners.

The bottom line: What the CNN team is doing in this story is projecting Christian assumptions about a church and hierarchy upon a non-Christian institution. These assumptions make the story intellectually accessible to a Western reader, but present the issue in a false light.

The article entitled “Dalai Lama to Myanmar, Sri Lanka Buddhists: Stop violence against Muslims” begins:

(CNN) – Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has made a renewed call for Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to cease violence towards the countries’ Muslim minorities, in an address delivered on his 79th birthday. Speaking before tens of thousands of Buddhists, including Hollywood actor Richard Gere, the exiled Buddhist leader implored the faithful in the majority-Buddhist countries to refrain from such attacks.

“I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime,” he said in the Indian town of Leh. “Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking.”

The article reports that “[r]ising Buddhist nationalism” in Sri Lanka and Mynamar “spearheaded by movements led by extremist monks” has led to communal violence in recent years. Details of the violence are given as are the Dalai Lama’s calls for peaceful coexistence between the faith communities.

And the story closes with an explanatory note that:

The Dalai Lama was speaking before the audience in Leh to confer Kalachakra, a process intended to empower tens of thousands of his Buddhist followers to reach enlightenment, his office said.

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Latest box scores from France: USA 67 — Islam 19

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Voters were no longer the subjects of politics, democratic citizens deciding the fate of their country. They were objects to be counted, studied, and counted again. The proliferation of polls had allowed almost any newspaper or televisions station in the nation to measure the feelings of any population. Measurement, not democratic debate, was becoming the stuff of American politics.

– E.J. Dionne “The Illusion of Technique” in Media Polls in American Politics (1992)

The wire service AFP reports that a poll published at the end of June finds the French have a pretty high opinion of the United States, but they don’t like immigrants or Islam. The headline in the French daily Midi Libre states: “Sondage : la “famille” plébiscitée, “immigrés” et “islam” massivement rejetés” (Poll: Acclaim for the “Family”, “Immigrants” and “Islam” massively rejected.”

Those cheese eating surrender monkeys really like us, they really like us (to mix Simpsons and Sally Fields metaphors). But how is this news?

A survey carried out in late June by the CSA polling agency for Atlantico (a French news site akin to the Daily Beast or Huffington Post) measured likes and dislikes on a scale of very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, very negative. Phrases like family, liberty, equality and tradition received high marks while the US was viewed with higher regard than the EU.

Les Etats-Unis évoquent quelque chose de positif pour 67 % des sondés, soit 14 points de plus que l’Union européenne (53 % positif)

Those phrases that registered the highest negative responses were Islam, immigrants, globalization and trade unions. While 67 percent of those surveyed had a positive view of America, only 19 percent had a positive view of Islam. AFP reports that Islam was the sole religion included in the good/bad survey.

Les mots recueillant le plus de désapprobation sont “islam” à 81 % (dont 38 % “assez négatif” et 43 % “très négatif”), “immigrés” à 69 % (41+28) suivis de “mondialisation” à 63 % (44+19) et “syndicats” à 61 % (40+21). Aucune autre religion n’est soumise aux sondés, ni la notion de religion en général.

Which leads to the question, what value does this have as news? What is the value of reporting on polls? And, how do you report on polls?

In the essay cited at the top of this story, the Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne stated it is now common for reporters to question candidates about their poll numbers rather than their policies. Issues do not matter. The race is all important.

Knowledge of popular sentiment is essential for product marketing as well as politics. But without an explanation of the why, the numbers generated in a poll have slight value.

What do the French mean when they say Islam? Is it the religion or the faith’s practitioners that are unpopular? Are immigrants interchangeable with Islam in the French mind? Has this view changed over time? Would a poll that included the Catholic Church generate high negatives if asked at the height of the press frenzy surrounding the clergy abuse scandal? Is the conflict in Syria and the fear of French jihadis returning home spiking the numbers?

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