New York Times takes on First Amendment

church state 01Some newspapers win Pulitzers through tenacious reporting, excellent prose and productive teamwork. The New York Times, which truly is one of my favorite papers, sometimes wins its Pulitzers by wielding its institutional clout, pulverizing readers with story after story about some expansive issue — seemingly dictated by editorial fiat rather than reader interest.

Who else suffered through that laughably bad Augusta National Golf Club bombardment? Apparently then-editor Howell Raines decided that the greatest problem facing America in 2002 was the failure of Augusta National to admit women as members. Never mind that Augusta National is a private club in a free country and that women could and did play the course as much as they liked. Yep, we needed to be treated to 40-plus news stories, columns and editorials about the horrors facing wealthy folks in Georgia.

And then there was that cloying Race in America series in 2000. And yes, it won a Pulitzer. I kind of imagine the Pulitzer committee decided on the award as a means to get the Times to just stop with all the stories already.

Compared to those sanctimonious series, the four-parter that ran this week isn’t so bad. Sure, it’s a guns-blazing attack on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, but what do you expect from the Times?

I kid, I kid. I kid because I love.

The breathlessly titled In God’s Name series examines how churches benefit from a historically liberal interpretation of the First Amendment. The first story, weighing in at almost 5,000 words, focuses on regulatory exemptions for religious organizations that run social services. Day two focused on rights of employees at religious organizations. The third installment was about revenue bond financing for religious groups. Part four is about the tax-exemption bounty that awaits members of the clergy. Part four made me want to ask my dad — a pastor — why we were so poor growing up. Seriously, if The New York Times is to be believed, my parents need to explain the powdered milk and hand-me-downs. While I talk to them, you can peruse all the articles, graphics and supporting multimedia here.

Business reporter Diana Henriques covers an incredibly interesting topic. It’s safe to say that the understanding of how the government treats religious entities has varied over time. I’m on record as someone concerned about government financing or support of any and all religious entities. We’ll look at the series in a few posts to see how well Henriques handled the weighty and complex questions. Here’s how she sets up her central thesis on day one:

In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide “war on religion” that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations — from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples — enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.

Some of the exceptions have existed for much of the nation’s history, originally devised for Christian churches but expanded to other faiths as the nation has become more religiously diverse. But many have been granted in just the last 15 years — sometimes added to legislation, anonymously and with little attention, much as are the widely criticized “earmarks” benefiting other special interests.

Now, maybe it’s just my economics background, but is the story here the expansion of the First Amendment or the overwhelming expansion of regulation? It means nothing at all that there is an increase in exemptions for religious organizations without knowing how many additional regulatory burdens there are overall! In other words, if there are 2,000 additional regulations facing all nonprofit organizations and 200 additional exemptions for churches written into legislation (anonymously! gasp! and with little attention! gasp!), then that’s a net of 1,800 additional regulations on churches. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but all I could think of while reading the piece was how regulatory burdens have increased exponentially in the last 50 years.

Because of the increase in regulations, I would be surprised if the government did not write a significant number of exemptions for religious organizations — if only to keep on the right side of the law. And Henriques’ shady comparison of earmarks — directly funneling money to specific people — with the lifting of regulatory burdens is choice, if I may borrow a word from my childhood.

I find it incredibly funny that the solution the Times envisions for a disparity between regulatory burden for churches and other groups is to jack up regulations on nonprofits. I don’t think Henriques talked to a single person — even though there are many who would have loved to make this point — who said that they believe American businesses, nonprofits and individuals are drowning in a flood of regulations.

establishment clauseEither way, when dealing with a contentious topic, reporters should be careful to source everything:

The changes reflect, in part, the growing political influence of religious groups and the growing presence of conservatives in the courts and regulatory agencies. But these tax and regulatory breaks have been endorsed by politicians of both major political parties, by judges around the country, and at all levels of government.

That’s the paper of record, folks. How come my editors never let me write broad and unsubstantiated statements such as these? I feel like the standards should be lower for me than for flashy Times reporters.

She hammers the idea that religious exemptions cost society. While churches don’t pay property taxes, for instance, they are served by police departments. (Let’s not hold our breath for Henriques’ next series on why the poor should not have their fires extinguished.) But readers would be better served by her mentioning that congregations are full of taxpaying members. She might also have mentioned that some people don’t believe in double taxation at all.

I love the idea that a business reporter would look into these issues. But I think the series would have benefited from more economic balance. It definitely would have helped to have Laurie Goodstein or another religion reporter on board. Heck, Linda “I am the Alpha and Omega of all things Factual” Greenhouse would have been helpful! Knowing, for instance, that different religions have different views on female pastors, homosexuality, debt, usury and insurance could help explain why the federal government would be violating the Establishment Clause if it mandated that religious entities follow regulations on same.

Stay tuned for more coverage on the series.

Photo via Riles3821 on Flickr.

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This is how it’s done

prosperity fishAs I mentioned earlier this week, I finally got a chance to read the Time cover story on the Prosperity Gospel. I’m sorry to be so late in analyzing the piece, but I heartily encourage you to read it.

The article is conversational and engaging as it digs deep into theological nuances and doctrinal distinctions. Unlike most newsweekly coverage of religious issues, the focus is theology rather than social or political impact. My mouth actually dropped open a few times as I read David Van Biema and Jeff Chu boldly characterize complex theological views. For instance, after letting each side in the “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” debate defend themselves and criticize opposite views, here’s how the two authors sum up the issue:

As with almost any important religious question, the first response of most Christians (especially Protestants) is to ask how Scripture treats the topic. But Scripture is not definitive when it comes to faith and income. Deuteronomy commands believers to “remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth”, and the rest of the Old Testament is dotted with celebrations of God’s bestowal of the good life. On at least one occasion — the so-called parable of the talents (a type of coin) — Jesus holds up savvy business practice (investing rather than saving) as a metaphor for spiritual practice. Yet he spent far more time among the poor than the rich, and a majority of scholars quote two of his most direct comments on wealth: the passage in the Sermon on the Mount in which he warns, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”; and his encounter with the “rich young ruler” who cannot bring himself to part with his money, after which Jesus famously comments, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Both statements can be read as more nuanced than they at first may seem. In each case it is not wealth itself that disqualifies but the inability to understand its relative worthlessness compared with the riches of heaven. The same thing applies to Paul’s famous line, “Money is the root of all evil,” in his first letter to Timothy. The actual quote is, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

So the Bible leaves plenty of room for a discussion on the role, positive or negative, that money should play in the lives of believers. But it’s not a discussion that many pastors are willing to have.

When was the last time you read a mainstream media report that characterizes Scripture as well as that? It’s a fantastically difficult trick to fairly and accurately discuss something as contentious as interpretations of Scripture’s view of wealth, and yet I think they did it very well.

After a colorful description of Joel Osteen’s sermons, theology and crocodile-leather shoes, Biema and Chu provide some needed analysis about how prosperity preaching has changed over time. They also spend hundreds of words looking at fine theological distinctions among Protestants. One of my favorite parts was that they quoted religious leaders and scholars I’d rarely seen in mainstream media before — and lots of them. Again, look at how the two reporters get what bothers prosperity teaching’s critics:

Most unnerving for Osteen’s critics is the suspicion that they are fighting not just one idiosyncratic misreading of the gospel but something more daunting: the latest lurch in Protestantism’s ongoing descent into full-blown American materialism. After the eclipse of Calvinist Puritanism, whose respect for money was counterbalanced by a horror of worldliness, much of Protestantism quietly adopted the idea that “you don’t have to give up the American Dream. You just see it as a sign of God’s blessing,” says Edith Blumhofer, director of Wheaton College’s Center for the Study of American Evangelicals. Indeed, a last-gasp resistance to this embrace of wealth and comfort can be observed in the current evangelical brawl over whether comfortable megachurches (like Osteen’s and [Rick] Warren’s) with pumped-up day-care centers and high-tech amenities represent a slide from glorifying an all-powerful God to asking what custom color you would prefer he paint your pews. “The tragedy is that Christianity has become a yes-man for the culture,” says Boston University’s [Stephen] Prothero.

One reader did send along this critique, but I think it’s a remarkable piece. By doing such a good job of characterizing doctrinal distinctions, the authors highlight the barrenness the religious coverage in the current media landscape. Let’s hope they’re working on their next cover story already.

Disclosure: Though I’ve only met him once, I should mention that coauthor Jeff Chu and I were in the same class of Phillips Foundation journalism fellows.

Prosperity fish decal via The Door.

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America, in God (or gods) we trust

bart n godBefore I dash into classes today, I wanted to make a brief comment on the “Losing my religion?” survey that came out yesterday from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

And here is what I want to say. Yes, I am going to hit you with the tmatt trio again.

All together now — if you want to know where people who say that they are Christian believers fall on a left-to-right theological spectrum, just ask these questions:

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

This Baylor survey is all over the place today in the mainstream media, but if you want the biggest splash of the actual data, head to veteran Godbeat reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman’s package on page one of USA Today. She nails the key issue right right up front:

The United States calls itself one nation under God, but Americans don’t all have the same image of the Almighty in mind. A new survey of religion in the USA finds four very different images of God — from a wrathful deity thundering at sinful humanity to a distant power uninvolved in mankind’s affairs.

Forget denominational brands or doctrines or even once-salient terms like “Religious Right.” Even the oft-used “Evangelical” appears to be losing ground. Believers just don’t see themselves the way the media and politicians — or even their pastors — do, according to the national survey of 1,721 Americans, by far the most comprehensive national religion survey to date.

What everyone will be talking about today is this survey’s attempt to clump Americans into one of four different camps when it comes to definitions of God. This is very strange stuff, in part because the four definitions overlap so much.

Most of all, the survey’s authors are trying to capture the dynamic that, in an age in which organized religion is spinning off into do-it-yourself movements and independent congregations, people are trying to find a way to enjoy spirituality and faith without tying themselves to doctrine and discipline.

Yes, this does remind me of sociologist James Davison Hunter and his Culture Wars thesis that the major division in religion today is between the “camp of the orthodox,” who believe in the power of eternal, unchanging, absolute, revealed truths, and the “camp of the progressives,” who believe truth is evolving and personal. I still think this issue is the fault line.

Meanwhile, here are clips from Grossman’s coverage of these four American views of God:

• The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity’s sins and engaged in every creature’s life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on “the unfaithful or ungodly.” . . .

• The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible. …

• The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he’s not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. … Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research. …

• The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is “no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us.” … Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It’s also strong among “moral relativists,” those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don’t attend church. …

bushgodConfused? Me too.

It still seems to me that you end up having to ask basic questions about moral issues and doctrines and that you will end up with that pattern that we see so often — about 20 percent strongly conservative, about 20 percent strongly liberal and the muddled “Oprah America” in the middle.

Note what happens, for example, when Grossman offers a sidebar on a crucial question: Who is going to heaven? Yes, that is a variation on one of the tmatt trio questions, about the role of Jesus in salvation.

And the answer? Welcome to the post-denominational heaven, and America is — surprise, surprise — split just about down the middle on the crucial question.

Americans clearly believe in heaven and salvation — they just don’t agree on who’s eligible. The Baylor Religion Survey finds that most Americans (58.3%) agree with the statement “many religions lead to salvation.”

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A preacher’s-kid story, writ large

FrequentlyAvoidedChristopher Goffard of the Los Angeles Times has told the pathos-laden story of conflicts between pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa and his namesake son, pastor of Capo Beach Calvary.

Goffard’s story touches on a theme that deserves long-form treatment somewhere: The often awkward role of young people — sons, usually — who inherit the weighty mantle of a celebrity preacher.

The two Chuck Smiths embody so many of the conflicts in contemporary church life, including:

• traditional vs. emergent congregations (emergent guru Brian McLaren endorsed Smith’s wittily titled Frequently Avoided Questions);

• doctrinal watchdogs vs. a man’s loyalty to his son (the younger Smith’s church still appears under the domain);

• decades of preaching and waiting for an imminent Rapture of the church vs. a sense that “the Gospels’ core message was real-world compassion, not preparation for the afterlife”;

• the minefield of sexuality debates, which bring so many smiles and hugs and feelings of unity, whether at a church convention or around the family dinner table.

Unlike the story of Billy and Franklin Graham, the account of the Smiths follows the more familiar script of the uptight old man versus the nuanced son who acknowledges murky reality:

From his pulpit in Santa Ana, Chuck Smith’s voice thunders with certainty. He denounces homosexuality as a “perverted lifestyle,” finds divine wrath in earthquakes and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and promises imminent Armageddon in a deep, sure voice.

If his message is grim, the founder of the Jesus People and the Calvary Chapel movement bears the ruddy good cheer of a 79-year-old believer who insists he has never known a day’s doubt or despair.

From the pulpit of Capo Beach Calvary, 25 miles south of his father’s church, Chuck Smith Jr.’s voice trembles with vulnerability and grapples with ambiguity. Without a trace of fire and brimstone, he speaks of Christianity as a “conversation” rather than a dogma, plumbs such TV shows as “The Simpsons” for messages, and aims to reach “generations of the post-modern age” that distrust blind faith and ironclad authority.

But Goffard also shows that father and son express affection for one another:

Reminded of the memo he issued cracking down on his son’s views, the father replies, calmly and amiably, that he and his son are just aiming for different audiences, and he doesn’t want to alienate the one he has. He says their relationship is stronger than ever, even deepened by the controversy.

“I don’t feel that he’s an apostate at all. If he would begin to question that Jesus is the son of God, then I would be concerned.”

. . . His relationship with his father, he agrees, is tighter than ever. He will even write his dad’s biography some day. His challenge, he says, is extricating himself from his dad’s fundamentalist evangelical community without traumatizing his parents.

“It’s like the parents whose child comes out to them and says, ‘I’m gay,’” Smith said. “Hopefully they come around and say, ‘You are our son and we will always love you.’ My parents are no less loving than that.”

Goffard closes his story by referring to a documentary about Lonnie Frisbee, who helped the elder Smith welcome hippies into his congregation in the 1970s and died of complications from AIDS in 1993. I’ve been eager to see Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher since OC Weekly placed it on my radar in April 2005.

Happy news for anyone else who is waiting: Director David Di Sabatino wrote in a recent email that his film will appear on KQED on Nov. 19. On the same day, Di Sabatino will begin selling DVDs of the documentary and The Making of Frisbee through

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What would Jesus wear?

Sunday Best 2I really liked this Peggy Fletcher Stack piece in the Salt Lake Tribune. It’s not groundbreaking, but it nicely surveys a variety of churches in the Salt Lake region about an issue that’s somewhat universal.

It happens every summer. A Catholic priest stands at the pulpit and laments the arrival of tank tops, flip-flops and shorts. Modesty and respect are on the decline, he moans. This is God’s house and you are dressing for the golf course or, worse, the beach. Then comes the retort: God doesn’t care a fig about suits and skirts. He sees only the heart.

The what-not-to-wear-to-church debate divides old and young, rich and poor, clergy and lay members, black and white, Americans and others. Like all such divisions, it can cause tension even among those who share a common theology.

Where Christians end up reflects cultural biases about what God expects from human worship. Is God a king to be worshipped and revered or an everyday presence who is with us in the ordinariness of our lives?

Fletcher Stack says the question of how to dress in church first arose in the 1960s. Ah, the 1960s.

One Utah Catholic priest in the 1970s posted a sign in his church’s vestibule: “Must wear shoes, no shorts, no bare shoulders.”

This may seem like a trivial subject to cover, but I learned recently how important it is. At my church, we all dress up and nobody seems to have a problem with it. But when I told some of my friends and family that I have to cover my shoulders at my wedding, many of them flipped out. Apparently the most important thing at a wedding is that the bride be dressed sexily.

Fletcher Stack talks to women who wear hats to church and reports that Mormons have an unwritten rule against women wearing pants.

I thought this was an interesting exchange, too:

Catholic educator Dan John was getting ready for church on a recent Sunday and put on a pair of sandals.

One of his teenage daughters at first queried, “Sandals at church, Dad?” and then answered her own question: “Well, Jesus wore sandals.”

Dan John then put his tunic and rope belt on and walked to the local church.

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The Sun sees an obvious light

TimeisgoddeadI am sure that I have written this before at GetReligion and I am sure that, before long, I will write it again. However, there is some truth in the old Godbeat saying that for most American newsrooms, the formula for a page-one religion story is “three anecdotes, a poll and a quote from Martin Marty.”

But there is a reason that Marty (click here for more info) has become a brand name in religion news. Actually, there are several good reasons. One is that his knowledge base is very broad, which often happens with historians who have written 50-plus books. Second, he can speak ordinary English about complicated subjects (and often be witty at the same time). Third, he is famous for answering his own telephone. Fourth, he writes about 2,000 words a day and all of them are published — somewhere.

Finally, the man is often two or three beats ahead when it comes to seeing the obvious and then putting a spotlight on it.

Thus, I would like to note that the Baltimore Sun just published a very fine essay titled “Religion’s flame burns brighter than ever: What happened to the world’s transition to secularism?” It was written by Timothy Samuel Shah of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and Monica Duffy Toft of the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

But I would also like to note that Marty voiced the major theme of this essay — in very blunt terms — back in a 2002 lecture that I heard him give to students, journalists and ministers at the University of Nebraska. He has also been saying the same thing for a decade or two, only now more people are noticing because of the march of world events.

So what is Marty’s big idea? Here’s how I stated his thesis in a 2002 Scripps Howard column:

Truth is, most Western leaders have long believed that religion would inevitably fade, he said. Thus, the West has been dominated by two big ideas.

“One idea was that every time you looked out your window, there was going to be less religion around than there was before,” said Marty. … “The other idea was that whatever leftover religion you find, it was going to be tolerant, concessive, mushy and so on. Instead, there has been an increase in religion and the prospering religions are all extremely intense. The versions of Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism that are prospering tend to be among people who care very much about what their faith is about.”

Countless despots have learned that faith cannot be killed with force. This is especially true outside what Marty called the “spiritual ice belt” that extends across Western Europe and North America. …

In the mid-1990s, Marty directed a massive project to study the “militant religious fundamentalisms” on the rise worldwide. It concluded that the leaders of many such groups would resort to military action, when they failed to achieve victory through constitutional means. And if military might was not enough, Marty noted that the study warned that “they may very well take no prisoners, allow no compromises, have no borders and they might resort to terrorism.”

This brings us to the essay by Shah and Toft, which states many obvious facts in a place where the rarely appear — the pages of a solidly left-wing American newspaper. Here’s a large chunk of the heart of this story:

Global politics is increasingly marked by what could be called “prophetic politics.” Voices claiming transcendent authority are filling public spaces and winning key political contests. These movements come in very different forms and employ widely varying tools. But whether the field of battle is democratic elections or the more inchoate struggle for global public opinion, religious groups are increasingly competitive. In contest after contest, when people are given a choice between the sacred and the secular, faith prevails.

God is on a winning streak. It was reflected in the 1979 Iranian revolution, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Shia revival and religious strife in postwar Iraq, and Hamas’s recent victory in Palestine and Israel’s struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon. But not all the thunderbolts have been hurled by Allah.

The struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s was strengthened by prominent Christian leaders such as Archbishop Desmond K. Tutu. Hindu nationalists in India stunned the international community when they unseated India’s ruling party in 1998 and then tested nuclear weapons.

American evangelicals continue to surprise the U.S. foreign-policy establishment with their activism and influence on issues such as religious freedom, sex trafficking, Sudan and AIDS in Africa. Indeed, evangelicals have emerged as such a powerful force that religion was a stronger predictor of vote choice in the 2004 U.S. presidential election than was gender, age, or class.

Much has changed, admit the authors, since the infamous Time cover in 1966 that asked “Is God Dead?” That was a logical question for people in elite academia. The question never made sense in Middle America. It is a question sure to be pinned on bulletin boards in the headquarters of Islamists, for obvious reasons.

The article shoots down other myths. Education does not make people less religious. Prosperity does not do the trick, either. Vague, muddy faiths keep fading, while traditional forms of faith appeal to young and old.

There is much that can be debated in this piece. But the central question echoes what Marty has been saying for years. Feel free to send the URLs for these pieces to your local newspaper editors and ask them how this reality is reflected in their newsrooms and in their future plans for their news pages.

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A faulty Sunday school lesson

FirstBaptistWatertownOh the confusing tales that we journalists weave, except when we attempt to deceive by making them too simple.

Did you hear that Thomson Financial has begun using computer-generated stories? Yes, some of what journalists used to do is now being done by computers. I can’t say that’s surprising, because of the cut and paste, let’s get that data out there nature of some journalism.

This type of technology is a long way off from replacing religion reporters — except, perhaps, when you ignore the details of a slightly complicated story and write a formulaic article with a shocking headline that confirms stereotypes and misreports the facts.

When I first stumbled across an Associated Press article about the firing of a longtime Sunday School teacher because her Baptist church had adopted a “literal interpretation” of the Bible’s teaching on women in the church, I knew something was amiss. Here is a report from Dan Harris of ABC News, who is not a regular religion reporter, that is only slightly more detailed than the AP’s:

Aug. 21, 2006 — After 54 years of classes, a New York Sunday school teacher is getting an unexpected lesson in theology: She lost her job because of her sex.

Mary Lambert, 81, has been a member of the First Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y., for 60 years. She had her wedding on the premises, raised her kids in its halls and taught Sunday school at First Baptist for more than five decades.

But she recently received a letter from the church board notifying her that the board had voted unanimously to dismiss her from her post. The letter referred to her sex as one of the reasons for her dismissal, quoting the Bible’s First Epistle to Timothy, which states: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”

Actually if Harris had bothered to dig any further, he would have discovered a more complex story that is messy and involves church politics, factions, and what appears (at least to outsiders) as petty squabbling. I also have a suspicion that this article did not surprise his editors because it confirmed all their worst stereotypes. This article would set off alarm bells in the head of any editor with even the slightest understanding of the theology behind conservative church policies.

I won’t make any claims of knowing the full story, but after reading this letter from the church’s pastor, the Rev. Timothy LaBouf, it’s obvious that Lambert was not fired simply because she is a woman. A convenient fact that Harris and the AP left out of their articles is that, according to this letter from the church’s deacon board, which includes women, a large percentage of the Sunday school teachers at First Baptist Church, Watertown, N.Y., are women. They are not being fired.

Judging from LaBouf’s letter, it appears the church fired Lambert for making a fuss earlier this year — that ended up in the local media — about changes being made by a new pastor:

We had originally intended to include the various multifaceted reasons for the dismissal in our [correspondence;] however after legal review it was recommended that we refrain from including issues that could be construed as slander and stick with “spiritual issues” that govern a church, which the courts have historically stayed out of. With threats of lawsuits in the past we wanted to try hard to not go down that road again. I am sure you can understand why we would desire to exercise caution.

Yes, Pastor LaBouf, we all understand. However, your church’s sneaky actions did not make it easy for reporters and this seems to have backfired. But that is no excuse for reporters failing to dig out some of the nitty gritty facts and report them.

But why should we expect that level of detail from news reporters? It’s clear that reporters, including the author of this Reuters story, read the letter but chose to omit its details. What other facts have been left out?

It’s really not that complicated a story, unless you ignore facts to downgrade it to a level that could be written by a computer. Just remember, reporters, facts keep journalists in business.

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Tmatt’s prayer for the day

Dear Lord,

Please do not let Frank Rich of the New York Times click here and have all of his prejudices confirmed (or a high percentage of them, anyway). Amen.

(Insert appropriate penitential litany here.)

Hat tip to Kathy Shaidle, by way of Rod Dreher, naturally.

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