AP finally spikes infamous Nazi Christian Youth (not) photo

It took a while, but the final shoe dropped the other day in the mysterious case of those — What did Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher call them? — Nazi Christian Youth in a church in North Richland Hills, Texas.

I am referring, of course, to that Associated Press photo what showed a group of Train Life boys standing in a circle singing the song “Taps.” It’s an old end-of-the-day Scouting tradition and it involves a symbolic, sun-setting gesture, too.

Alas, the original AP cutline missed, or hid, that fact:

ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014 AND THEREAFTER — In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members form a circle and recite the organization’s creed during meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A later cutline, used by the San Jose Mercury News, helped a bit:

In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members move their arms as they sing “Taps” in a circle during a meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (LM Otero/AP)

So what is the problem, readers might ask (if they have not been following this story)?

Click here to see the photo in question, complete with what appears to be a salute, shall we say, drawn from World War II-era Germany.

As I wrote in a post the other day:

Isn’t it amazing that journalists at the Associated Press decided to focus on this precise and rather dangerous — in terms of negative symbolic content — moment in the arc of those slowly descending young arms? What a coincidence!

Or perhaps this was an innocent mistake.

Apparently, folks at AP have decided that something did, in fact, go wrong in the editorial process — somewhere.

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So, AP does its part to pin Nazi salute on Trail Life boys?

I doubt that many news consumers who do a quick read of the recent Associated Press news feature about the growth of Trail Life USA — a small, explicitly Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts — will hear loud warning sirens.

But the main photo that accompanied that story? That’s another matter.

You simply must CLICK HERE to see it.

This is a hot-button topic, of course, because it involves centuries of Christian doctrine and America’s growing acceptance of homosexuality, both in terms of orientation and sexual behavior. The Boy Scouts voted to accept openly gay Scouts, but not openly gay leaders, a tricky stance that angered both conservative religious groups and the cultural left. Boy Scout executives stressed that they still expect Scouts to keep sex out of their lives as scouts.

The AP report by Nomaan Merchant does have a bit of that neo-National Geographic tone to it as readers are introduced to this strange tribe of Christians who dare to enroll their sons in a voluntary association that teaches the doctrines affirmed in their homes and churches. But these believers get to defend their beliefs in their own words, which is good.

Let it be noted, however, that this story — for some strange reason — gives zero attention to the views of those who criticize Trail Life USA. Why not include the secular and Christian left in this picture? The story does give a small amount of space to BSA leaders who defend the evolution in their membership guidelines. And there is this concise summary of the conflict at the heart of this story:

Trail Life promotes itself on its website as the “premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens.” Its official membership standards policy welcomes all boys, but adds, “We grant membership to adults and youth who do not engage in or promote sexual immorality of any kind, or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the program.”

For over a century, Scouting banned openly gay youth and leaders, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to defend its right to do so. Leaders who were revealed to be gay were excluded, and some boys were denied Eagle Scout awards by regional councils that were notified of their sexual orientation.

But the Scouts eventually began to face pressure from sponsors and CEOs who serve in Scouting leadership but lead companies with anti-discrimination policies. BSA surveys also showed that youths and parents of Scouting-age children were supportive of allowing openly gay Scouts. Scouting leadership proposed a compromise: Accept openly gay youth, but exclude gay adult volunteers. BSA’s National Council voted in May to enact it.

Readers who have closely followed this story will note, of course, that Trail Life stresses that if will not admit those who “promote sexual immorality of any kind” — note the loaded word “promote.” The Boy Scouts now allow “openly” gay Scouts, while local leaders struggle with the precise meaning of that term.

The story also includes this telling detail:

The boys and their parents are still getting used to a world of new names, new ranks and new uniforms that haven’t arrived yet. They hold up five fingers while reciting their oath, instead of three. Scouts are now “Trailmen,” and troops are now units. There is a new handshake and a new salute.

This brings us to that troubling Associated Press photo that ran with this story. Those who follow Twitter may have noted this tweet (which now appears to have been deleted):

Grossman, to her credit, has apologized for that dashed-off tweet. But this only raises another question: What was going on in that photo? How did this image end up on top of the AP story?

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Got news? A Baptist emerges as acting president of Ukraine

The news rolls on in Ukraine, with leaders of the opposition attempting to get some work done after the chaos. As you would expect, the tensions remain highest in the Eastern half of the nation, where cultural and, yes, religious ties to Russia are strongest.

However, one of the first things that caught my attention in the following Los Angeles Times piece was a simple question of Associated Press style. Can you catch the problem at the top of the report? Let’s just say that it’s linked to a key element of the headline: “Ukraine’s acting leader still seeking consensus on interim government.”

KIEV, Ukraine – Hoping to reach a consensus that would heal some of Ukraine’s wounds, the country’s acting president on Tuesday delayed the seating of an interim government for at least two days, even as opposition colleagues appealed to the Hague criminal tribunal to try fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovich on charges of crimes against humanity.

Reports of mounting discord among ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and gunshot wounds suffered by a top aide to Yanukovich further heightened a sense that Ukraine’s stability is threatened as politicians jockey for position before the May 25 presidential election.

A multiparty transitional leadership had been expected to be announced Tuesday. But acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told lawmakers that it would take until at least Thursday to get consensus on a Cabinet that would have the trust of the entire nation.

Well, I guess there is the fascinating question (for obsessive former copy editors like me) of when the “opposition” ceases to be called the “opposition” and becomes the people in power.

But, no, that isn’t what caught my eye (which may or may not be winking).

Let’s put it this way. What is the key difference that you spot in this lede from the online news team at Christianity Today?

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Ghosts haunt AP story on Boy Scouts of America

When my oldest son was a Boy Scout, the entire experience was couched in church settings.

His pack meetings took place in church halls,  and ceremonies were scheduled in church sanctuaries and auditoriums. His pack leaders often doubled as congregational lay leaders, and the boys were asked once a year to don their uniforms and lead a special “Scout Sunday” worship. When the boys recited the oath, the “Under God” portion no doubt resonated within their surroundings.

I was surprised, then, by The Associated Press’ story on new statistics released Wednesday that show a 6 percent membership decline in the last year — a year during which new rules were put in place to accept and protect openly gay Scouts, from Cubs to Eagles.

The story had a Dallas dateline, undoubtedly tied to the organization’s national headquarters in nearby Irving, Texas. Beyond that obvious connection, what better area in the country to find a wide array of faith groups willing and able to speak intelligently about the impact of the change on troops with which they might have alliances or sponsorship?

But, no.

We hear from Scouting spokesman Deron Smith, who admitted the change might be partially responsible, but blamed the loss of thousands of boys and their families more on day-to-day time demands and the relevancy of its programs — and over the course of the last decade, not just nine months. And Smith touted the positives of the organization, as you might expect:

He pointed to several successes in 2013 for the Boy Scouts, which opened a new permanent site for its annual jamboree of Scouts from around the world and was featured on a National Geographic television series.

“Last year was a milestone year for the BSA in many ways,” he said.

He added that accepting openly gay boys “allows us to serve more kids.”

Well, not by the final count. Still, the most telling graf of the entire piece is yet to come — and without attribution, even!

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Why the slide in the influence of America’s churches?

GENE ASKS:

What one factor accounts for the indifference so many Americans harbor toward the church?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

Forced to pick just “one factor” among many, The Guy says fading cultural respect — for committed Christians, for Christian churches and for Christianity.

Begin with some hard data.

As Religion Q and A analyzed last Oct. 19, the collective membership of America’s moderate to liberal “Mainline” Protestant denominations has gradually fallen by a third since the mid-1960s, an unprecedented slide. These churches were once at the center of the culture.

During that era the Catholic Church continued to grow (thanks substantially to immigrants) as did groups of conservative and “Evangelical” Protestants, who now outnumber “Mainliners.”

But let’s take a closer look inside those trends.

On paper, U.S. Catholicism claims 77.7 million adherents, 22 percent of the population. However, that counts all those baptized as infants, many no longer active. A 2008 Georgetown University survey found that only 55 percent of those calling themselves Catholic say they practice the faith.

The largest U.S. Protestant body, the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, enjoyed years of expansion while the Mainline churches declined. But as of 2012 the S.B.C. reported its sixth straight year of slight membership decline (to 15.9 million). Worse, average worship attendance was down 3 percent in just one year (to just under 6 million). Baptisms of youths and adults declined in six of the past eight years; the 2012 total (314,956) was the lowest since 1948.

Other conservative groups still gain but that suggests future problems beyond just the S.B.C.

(Though Gene asks about churches, a 2013 Pew Research survey of American Jews showed only a third belong to a synagogue, 23 percent don’t believe in God, and 62 percent say being Jewish is mostly about ancestry and culture vs. only 15 percent who think it’s largely a matter of religious belief.)

Accumulating cultural currents deserve more attention. On Sundays, pro football commands TV devotion while local athletics and other diversions that have become socially prominent compete with worship attendance. The once-protected name of God is repeatedly uttered “in vain” (as the Ten Commandments phrase it) on radio and TV talk shows, whether conservative or liberal. Entertainment media ridicule cherished beliefs. (The Guy distinguishes that from lampooning religious figures’ follies.)

Not to be partisan, but years ago we couldn’t imagine the federal administration legally opposing employment freedom at a Lutheran school (a unanimous Supreme Court backed the Lutherans) or enforcing a healthcare funding rule that violates the conscience of Catholic agencies and some Protestants. Clearly the ground is moving.

Tobin Grant of Southern Illinois University developed an “aggregate religiosity” index that combines 60 years of data from 400 U.S. surveys on things like worship attendance, church membership, personal prayer and feelings about religion. In an essay for Religion News Service he writes in that Americans’ religiosity began to weaken starting in the 1960s, leveled off for two decades, but since 1995 has undergone a steady falloff that’s twice as severe as the earlier one. Grant calls this “The Great Decline.”

And what about Gallup?

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Shocking! Baptist says wives should ‘submit’ to husbands

Courtesy of The Washington Post, let’s all prepare to hyperventilate.

This news will shock you (SHOCK YOU!):

A Republican member of Congress says in a recently released book that a wife is to “voluntarily submit” to her husband, but that it doesn’t make her inferior to him.

Rep. Steve Pearce’s (R-N.M.) memoir, “Just Fly the Plane, Stupid!” was released last month. Its publication — and his acknowledgment in the book of the controversial nature of the submission debate — come as the Republican Party reevaluates how it talks to and about women.

In the book, Pearce recounts his rise to owning an oil-field service company and winning election to Congress. In the book, the Vietnam War veteran says that both the military chain of command and the family unit need a structure in which everyone plays his or her role.

He said that, in his family’s experience, this meant that his wife, Cynthia, would submit to him and he would lead.

“The wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice,” he writes, citing the Bible. “The husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else.”

My sincere apologies to all you inside-the-Beltway readers who just spilled your cocktails.

Who is this maniac? Is he a Baptist or something? Heaven forbid.

But apparently, yes, that is the case. Pearce is a Baptist. Worse yet, even though the Post spares him the ignominy of being so specific — it appears that he is a Southern Baptist.

And even more horrifying that that, it seems readily apparent — based on the Post’s justifiably breathless reporting — that he is a Southern Baptist who believes in traditional Southern Baptist doctrine. You know, doctrine that subscribes to Bible passages such as Ephesians 5:22-23:

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Wind of change comes sweeping down the plain

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My home state of Oklahoma made big news Tuesday when a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The New York Times noted that the ruling occurred in the “heart of the Bible Belt,” while The Associated Press characterized Oklahoma as “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” (Religion angle, anyone?)

For the Tulsa World — whose banner headline today proclaimed “Gay marriage wins” — the ruling hit especially close to home, and not just because a Tulsa-based judge made the ruling. Two of the four plaintiffs are World editors, a connection that — to its credit — the Tulsa newspaper made clear in its story.

A friend of mine who works for the World remarked on his Facebook page that “it’s not often you walk into the newsroom and watch news happen in front of your face. Like national news kind of stuff.”

From The New York Times story:

“We’re jubilant, we’re over the moon,” said one of the plaintiffs, Sharon Baldwin, 45, who has lived with her partner and co-plaintiff, Mary Bishop, 52, for 17 years.

The two both work as editors at The Tulsa World newspaper and had just arrived at work on Tuesday afternoon when the city editor told them of the decision.

“We’re taking the day off,” Ms. Baldwin said.

In the major outlets, the first-day news coverage focused on the national ramifications of the decision, and rightly so. CNN described the ruling as “yet another victory for same-sex marriage supporters.” The Washington Post termed it “the latest in a string of recent court decisions that have challenged such prohibitions.”

But a few news organizations — including the AP — delved into the meat of U.S. District Judge Terence Kern’s 68-page ruling:

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Grantland gets the ghosts in the Baylor football saga

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Regular readers will know that I have been arguing, for quite some time now, that it’s hard to believe that anyone would try to write the story of the Baylor Bears football team, and the story of Head Coach Art Briles in particular, without getting into all of that Baptist stuff. How do you not even mention the faith angle woven into the fabric of this particular educational institution?

Well, the long-read pros at the ESPN.com feature site, Grantland, clearly decided to end that journalistic losing streak.

I am sure, however, that they thought the heavily favored Bears would win that last game. It’s sad but they didn’t (at least sad for a Baylor alum like me), but that upset is almost beside the point after the Big 12 championship and the symbolic changes represented by Baylor’s new on-campus stadium and extended contract for Briles. The double-stack headline had lots of ground to cover:

Can God Save Baylor?

The lovable losers of the Fiesta Bowl

The key to this fine Grantland news feature, by scribe Bryan Curtis, is that the faith element never detracts from the football facts. The Baptist identity is shown to be what is really is — both a challenge to the success of the program and a potential source of its strength, with the right mix of players and coaches.

The here’s the current question: How did Baylor become cool, all of a sudden? How did the relatively small Baptist school end up winning, or even holding its own, in a major conference in the whole big TV/BCS era?

Safety Ahmad Dixon was asked earlier this year if Baylor could win the Big 12. Baylor hadn’t won an outright conference title in 22 years. Dixon looked at the reporter and replied, “Can God save a hooker?”

That gets us closer. Because what’s cool about Baylor isn’t what’s new. It’s what’s quaint and old-fashioned. This is the campus where dancing was prohibited until 1996, a decree that led to the immortal Gary Cartwright line, “Baylor fans did not make love standing up, lest God mistake the act for dancing.”

Briles hasn’t erased that past. In the age of Rivals rankings, he has slyly embraced it. The new Baylor shows how you can marry religion with athletics without committing blasphemy against either of them. It shows how a religious school can be a football school and also a religious school.

And how it can be a normal school, at times, too.

The alum in me (I actually helped cover, as a Baylor Lariat reporter, the 1974 “Miracle on the Brazos” championship team) truly appreciated the fact that the story recognized that Baylor teams have always included their share of party-hearty, non-Bible study types. Check out this nice passage, featuring the voice of linebacker Doak Field, a team leader the late 1970s and on the 1980 Southwest Conference championship team:

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