A move towards a Mormon president

romney in grayMassachusetts Governor Mitt Romney didn’t exactly announce that he was running for president last week, but he certainly made as forward a move as any major candidate so far. What’s interesting about this announcement is that it’s before the 2006 elections.

Sure, Romney was forced to decide before then — he has said he is “testing the waters” for a presidential run — but most candidates have the luxury of waiting to make so a bold move until after the 2006 elections. Positioning before this day means little as the 2006 elections will lay the landscape for 2008. Look for all major candidates to make bold moves sometime in January/February 2007.

But enough of the speculation and onto the news. The first thing we over at GetReligion think of when we hear the name “Romney” is “Mormon.” And most assuredly this factor will get more play in the future than at the end of this same-day Boston Globe story.

There has also been an undercurrent of concern among Christian conservatives, particularly in the vital South, rooted in his Mormon faith. One political operative in South Carolina branded the religion a “cult.”

The Romney-Mormon story first broke last June and the line was that “He’s been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly.” And then in August, The Atlantic jumped ahead of the story on “the Latter-day Saint who serves as the governor of Massachusetts.” And finally, Romney’s “Evangelic Problem” was laid out in detail in the Washington Monthly in September.

Most of the news stories surrounding the Romney-not-running-for-governor announcement made little mention of the Mormon factor, but look for a variety of interesting stories exploring this issue as primary season draws closer and how it’ll impact the 2008 GOP primary where for the first time in decades neither side will have an “incumbent” running as a sitting president or a VP.

A bevy of interesting politics-religion stories are waiting to unfold on Romney’s Mormonism, what exactly Mormons, or Later Day Saints, believe and whether or not evangelicals will accept Romney who is outside the fold religiously but could fill in nicely politically. And what exactly is an evangelical politician these days anyway? As Romney runs for president, the term will receive a level of scrutiny matching if not exceeding any it received in past elections.

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A few “elite” words from the editor

044653191X 01  SCLZZZZZZZ This is the rare case where I want to pull a piece of a comment thread out front, since it deals with the actual purpose — the roots — of this blog.

Click here to catch up on the original thread. Click here to read the original Los Angeles Times report — still being promoted at the newspaper’s entertainment page online — that we are attempting to discuss, among the usual diversions into religion and politics.

See let us begin:

I don’t think Terry was using “elite” as a code word for gays and Jews, but a common theme in late 19th and 20th century anti-Semitic writings was to portray Jews as an elite trying to undermine Christian values, and a more recent trend among anti-Semites is to gripe about the Jews who control Hollywood.

Terry, I don’t think you’re a bigot, but really, you need to be aware of the implications of your words.

Posted by Avram at 10:31 pm on December 15, 2005

Adding to Avram’s point, adding to the Jews as “elites who control Hollywood” has been the recent addition of gays into a similar code and smear. It is fairly common theme among the more anti-gay social conservative organizations.

Posted by Michael at 11:04 pm on December 15, 2005

The word “elite” has been used in media-bias research since the late 1970s, where I encountered it in graduate studies at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

Let’s say you are studying the beliefs of seminary professors.

If you attempt a study of all seminary professors, in general, that is one thing.

If you then separate out the professors at the top 10 ranked seminaries in the nation, the second study is called an “elite” study.

If you are studying the entertainment industry and you attempt — somehow — to study everyone who works in it, that is one thing.

If you attempt to study only those who have reached the level of Academy voters, studio heads, etc., then the second study is called an “elite” study.

Yes, there are people out there who say that EVERYONE in Hollywood constitutes a kind of ELITE in the wider American context. I think that is too vague a use of the word and, thus, I never do that. I think we should stay close to the definition that has been around for several decades.

Similar case: The term “culture wars” has been ripped out of the context given it by Dr. James Davison Hunter. I try to avoid uses of it at this site that muddy his original definition for the term.

As you have seen, GetReligion takes the same approach on the use of words such as “fundamentalist.”

And, as always, note that Avram and Michael do not address my concern about their smears on the views of those they oppose.

0807061794 01 LZZZZZZZTo site one example:

I wrote, in the comments section: If these voting pools — the subjects of the reports referenced — do not constitute an “elite” as studied by many scholars, etc., then what groups will?

Avram replies: Er, what? What does this even mean? What scholars are you talking about?

Read the words that I wrote: “voting pools.” I am talking about the people who vote on the Globes and the Oscars.

The subject of the LA Times story was concern about the impact of the Golden Globes nominations, which, you may have noticed, range far wider than the “Brokeback Mountain” pep rally issue. (Click here for an interesting Washington Post feature that includes all of the talking points on the left side of this story.)

The word “elite” is a perfectly good word, whether used by a Ben “The Media Monopoly” Bagdikian to describe conservate corporate elites or by E. Stanley Lichter to describe journalistic elites in the nation’s most powerful newsrooms.

Once again, it really does help if those leaving comments take the time to read the views of the people they are slamming. And it really helps if they respond to the posts that are written, rather than to the ones that they imagine were written. It really helps if you — you in this case meaning the tag team of Michael and Avram — address the issues at the heart of this blog, rather than turning everything into arguments about theology or politics.

Our goal here is fair and accurate coverage of a diverse culture, on left and right. I realize that some of our readers oppose this, because some of you see the people on the cultural right as not being worthy of coverage that accurately reflects their beliefs. You are not willing to tolerate those you consider intolerant. There are many MSM journalists who are in favor of your approach and many who are not. This debate inside many newsrooms is the subject of this blog. We are in favor of old-fashioned, American model of the press journalism that seeks accurate coverage of a wide range of groups. We are pro diversity.

Now, dare I ask: What did readers actually think of the Los Angeles Times article? Do you have any response at all to what I actually wrote about, which is the debate within Hollywood about the blowback from the Globes and the Oscars to come?

A note to the comments crowd: Please drop the “conspiracy” talk in this discussion. No one is alleging a conspiracy in Hollywood. There is no need for a conspiracy when a very high percentage of a community — let’s say Oscar voters — favor a particular position on a controversial moral/cultural/religious issue. What we are dealing with here is the opposite of a conspiracy. When the likes of Steve Martin or Robin Williams joke about this, they are simply talking about the normative worldviews in the creative community in which they live and work.

Another late note: A crucial point I forgot to include. In all parts of life, “Elites” hold more power than their numbers would seem to allow. They define what is normative for the industry and, most of all, they define what one needs to do and belief to ENTER THE ELITE (to move up in the power and financial chain). Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows this. In media theory, it is referred to as the “gatekeeper” effect.

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Hey MSM: Want to break a story?

targettargetI have noticed that there have been a number of MSM stories recently updating the status of the Christmas wars at department stores and shopping malls. The new angle is that there is evidence that some major stores are loosening up a bit and allowing a bit more diversity in the greetings used by salespeople and in their advertising departments. Limited use of the C-word appears to be a possibility.

If you are not already burned out on this story (and I know many of you are), you might want to check out this wide-ranging story by Keven Eckstrom at Religion News Service that updates a number of boycotts, former boycotts and boycott threats. Some business leaders are backing down and listening to their customers, for better or for worse.

And, yes, the gang here at GetReligion has heard about the Cal Thomas “Christmas wars” column in which he, as he often does, to his credit, actually listens to conservative leaders and then asks them hard questions about what they are saying. Here is the top of this snappy column:

The effort by some cable TV hosts and ministers to force commercial establishments into wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” might be more objectionable to the One who is the reason for the season than the “Happy Holidays” mantra required by some store managers.

I have never understood why so many Christians feel the need to see and hear “Merry Christmas” proclaimed to them at stores by people who may not believe its central message. While TV personalities, junk mail letters and some of the ordained bemoan the increasing secularization of culture; perhaps some teaching might be helpful from the One in whose behalf they claim to speak.

However, let me get to the point of the headline on this post.

Has anyone seen a MSM report on the developments covered in this wire service report by veteran Baptist Press reporter Tom Strode here in Washington, D.C.? Are there any MSM reporters out there who would like to break what seems, to me, to be a major story for A-1 or the business section?

The poster child for the boybotts this year has been Target and Sears has been looming on the horizon. Thus, it is important that Strode writes:

Two of the country’s largest retail chains have reversed course and are now directly acknowledging Christmas in their in-store promotions and advertising.

Target and Sears both informed the American Family Association, a pro-family organization based in Tupelo, Miss., they are using “Christmas,” thereby changing their recent practice. As a result of Target’s decision, AFA announced it would end its boycott of the chain. Although AFA had not called for a boycott of Sears and its subsidiary, Kmart, the organization had listed the company as one of those that had banned “Christmas” in favor of more generic words, such as “holiday.”

Pro-family leaders who had called for changes by offending retailers welcomed the decisions.

“We are pleased to learn that Target has heard our concerns and decided to use Christmas in their advertising and marketing efforts,” AFA Chairman Donald Wildmon said in announcing the end of the boycott in a written statement. “We think you will see a different approach next year. Corporate America is getting the word from the grassroots.”

According to this report, Target executives said:

“Over the course of the next few weeks, our advertising, marketing and merchandising will become more specific to the holiday that is approaching -– referring directly to holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah. … For example, you will see reference to Christmas in select television commercials, circulars and in-store signage.”

And what about the battle lines in the Salvation Army story? Stay tuned.

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The missing abortion debate

babyThe European papers are all over this study from Oslo University on the trauma abortion can cause, which appears to be greater than the trauma caused by a miscarriage. The interesting thing here is that while European journalists jump all over this story, there is relatively little noise over in the United States. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Here is London’s The Daily Mail‘s take on the subject:

Women who have an abortion can suffer mental distress, anxiety, guilt and shame even five years afterwards and sometimes even longer, research has shown.

The study compared a group of 40 women who suffered a miscarriage with 80 women who chose to have an abortion, questioning them 10 days, six months, two years and five years after the event.

The team from Oslo University, found that women who had a miscarriage suffered more mental distress up to six months after losing their baby compared with those who had an abortion.

There is a certain Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade that prevents any true debate in the United States on abortion. It’s perceived as a settled issue so journalists have little need to explore the deeply compelling story that is the actual act of an abortion rather than the horse race that is Supreme Court nominations.

It’s considered a right as basic as voting, which keeps it out of the political arena and thus largely the journalistic arena. There are exceptions of course, graphically seen here in the Los Angeles Times (for more commentary spurred on by that article, click here and here).

As the Economist wrote so eloquently this week (no link, sorry folks, I read this one while at the dentist and it’s blocked on their Web site), abortion in the United States remains a hot button issue precisely because there is no true debate on the issue. The issue of abortion is largely settled throughout most of the world (in favor with some restrictions), but in the U.S., the debate rages onward and has started to negatively impact our judicial system and take time away from other much more pressing issues that must be debated such as terrorism and a flu pandemic. And all because a few judges believed that the right to an abortion was akin to the right to vote. Clearly, the issue is not that simple.

Fox News’ Salynn Boyles seems to be the only American journalist to have jumped on this story, and she does so in great detail. The Australian Doctor.com covered the story as did the Hindustan Times. The BBC has an article on this, as does the Telegraph and The Independent. I know this story is only a day or so old, so it might take time for it to catch on in the U.S.

For reporters who coverage laps into this area of health and abortion issues, don’t let a legal decision stop you from covering this story. This Web site might be a good place to start as might the local church or abortion clinic. One way or another, there’s a story to be told and one way or another, the truth will get out. The question is whether American journalists have it in them to cover the story.

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’Tis the journalism season…

… For editors to require religion-beat specialists to pull dozens of holiday and Holy Day stories out of a hat. Here is the official Religion Newswriters Association tip list for stories this year.

Mary of Nazareth
A Merry Hindu Christmas
The soundtrack of this Christmas
Happy Christmakkah!
When it’s not your holiday
Home for the holidays
Homeless for the holidays
Christmas: A Muslim-American Parent’s Dilemma
Religious toys and games
A gift to be simple

Behold! No sign of empty megachurches. Visit ReligionLink to see the interactive resources there.

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Have Yourself a Megachurch Xmas

WallpaperVL9Now it’s official: The “Have Yourself a Megachurch Christmas” story is going to roll all the way through Dec. 25, which is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (to get technical about it).

I think it is safe to predict the presence of the odd network and local news satellite truck or two on the lawns of the more prominent of these superchurches on Christmas Eve, with journalists interviewing the faithful as they enter about their views of the entire affair. Merry Christmas.

Who, I wonder, will be the first to broadcast video clips from the Willowcreek Community Church DVD that this trailblazing congregation is handing out for members to pop into their home entertainment centers on Sunday morning in place of gathering for corporate prayer, praise and, heaven forbid, something resembling the sacraments? (Photos from the church’s website.)

Wasn’t that a nasty way of wording the current situation?

You see, there are at least two stories of substance lurking behind this little media firestorm. The first is obvious and has now officially been locked into Holy Writ by Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times. Here it is right under the lead, with the headline “When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off.”

Some of the nation’s most prominent megachurches have decided not to hold worship services on the Sunday that coincides with Christmas Day, a move that is generating controversy among evangelical Christians at a time when many conservative groups are battling to “put the Christ back in Christmas.”

This assumes, of course, that the moderate evangelicals who huddle in some of these megachurches are the same kinds of people who are out there on the front lines of the Christmas wars. This is highly unlikely, I think. But it is true that this particular battle has pounded a wedge into some cracks in the large, but terribly vague, world that sprawls around under that vague umbrella word “evangelicalism.” You cannot say this too often: Not all evangelicals think alike and act alike. Ask Jimmy Carter and Jerry Falwell.

The other story concerns the decision to cancel worship services at all.

Here, there are two entirely different attitudes at play and Goodstein (and many other reporters) are hinting at a division in doctrine between Protestants and ancient churches, but not really underlining it. However, Goodstein does write:

The uproar is not only over closing the churches on Christmas Day, because some evangelical churches large and small have done that in recent years and made Christmas Eve the big draw, without attracting much criticism.

What some consider the deeper affront is in canceling services on a Sunday, which most Christian churches consider the Lord’s Day, when communal worship is an obligation. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was in 1994. Some of these same megachurches remained open them, they say, but found attendance sparse.

This is only part of the story.WillowCreek

Churches that follow the ancient traditions of Christianity and, to one degree or another, honor its liturgical calendar, would never think of not gathering for worship on one of the most important Holy Days in Christianity — period. Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday or whatever.

Christmas is Christmas. It’s the Christ Mass. You observe it in the early hours of the morning right after midnight and then come back on the day itself. This is part of what it means to be a church.

Or is it? What’s the larger question here and this whole episode helps point out the degree to which there are American churches, following the American calendar and its rites, and then there are, uh, churches that are part of the global history and community of Christianity in the broader, ancient sense of the word.

Here’s Goodstein again:

Canceling worship on Christmas Day appears to be predominantly a megachurch phenomenon, sociologists of religion say.

“This attachment to a particular day on the calendar is just not something that megachurches have been known for,” Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University, said. “They’re known for being flexible and creative, and not for taking these traditions, seasons, dates and symbols really seriously.”

P.S. For coverage of this story from the inside, click here for a new Christianity Today weblog essay.

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Put Christmas back in the church

manager emptyThis Associated Press report is one of those “believe it or not” stories that you just have to write straight and let the readers shake their head.

Or is it just me that thinks this way, since I am one of those strange liturgical calendar kind of guys?

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Central Kentucky’s largest church will be dark on Christmas Day, a decision drawing some criticism among the faithful.

Southland Christian Church near Lexington is joining several evangelical megachurches across the country in canceling services for the holiday, which this year falls on a Sunday. Officials at the church, where about 7,000 people worship each week, said the move is designed to allow staff members and volunteers to spend the holiday with their families.

The megachurches, which rank among the largest congregations in America, will hold multiple Christmas Eve services instead. Among the churches closed on Christmas Day are Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago area’s largest congregation; Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Fellowship Church near Dallas.

The move is drawing mixed reviews. Critics say it’s the day of the week — not the day of the year — that’s sacred. To them, closing the doors of the church on the Lord’s Day is unthinkable.

Some churches are scaling down their Sunday schedule on Christmas. Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church, where 18,000 people worship each weekend, is scheduled to hold one service on Christmas in the fellowship hall.

You know, I think Easter falls on Sunday as well and that can be inconvenient, too.

But, seriously, this is a wonderful example of a news story that is the mirror image of the Christmas Wars story that some of you are so tired of, it seems. (Thanks for the link, Michael.) Actually, I remain interested in the “Merry Christmas” speech battles because, like Ms. Mollie, I am interested in anything that has to do with the blurring of public speech about religion. I am interested in what happens when people call out the lawyers to settle religious issues.

But the story that interests me just as much or more is the amazing fade out of Christmas in real, live, big-sign-on-the-lawn CHURCHES. It seems that the actual traditions of Christmas are being rolled over by The Commercialized Holidays Steamroller — and the mall calendar that goes with it — inside the doors of actual churches.

So I wish the Associated Press or one of the local newspapers touched by this trend had gone a step or two further and let us know what the leaders of these megachurches were actually thinking when they made this decision.

Do Christmas rites matter? Why not? Put Christ in Christmas? How about put Christmas back in the Church? Having the Feast of the Nativity fall on a Sunday morning would seem, to me, to be a chance to do more with this holy day — the first day of the 12-day Christmas season — rather than less.

If anyone sees a report of a Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran or Eastern Orthodox congregation canceling Christmas morning services or scaling them back, please let me know.

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Holiday Target practice

kettlesIf you have picked up a newspaper in the past week or so, you have surely noticed that we are well into our culture’s annual Christmas Wars.

This is that magical time of year when lawyers on both sides of the culture wars get to earn overtime pay, making the world safe for secular menorahs and faith-neutral holiday trees. Meanwhile, many people who think of themselves as conservative Christians do their best to make innocent store workers feel guilty if their corporate bosses will not let them say “Merry Christmas.” Meanwhile, most churches are worn-out with “Christmas celebrations” a week or more before Dec. 25th — the first day of the 12-day Feast of the Nativity.

It’s a mess. It makes you want to fast and pray, or something.

Even with his snarky tone, I have to admit that Adam Cohen of the New York Times is on to something with his essay entitled “This Season’s War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else.”

Here’s the opening:

Religious conservatives have a cause this holiday season: the commercialization of Christmas. They’re for it.

The American Family Association is leading a boycott of Target for not using the words “Merry Christmas” in its advertising. (Target denies it has an anti-Merry-Christmas policy.) The Catholic League boycotted Wal-Mart in part over the way its Web site treated searches for “Christmas.” Bill O’Reilly, the Fox anchor who last year started a “Christmas Under Siege” campaign, has a chart on his Web site of stores that use the phrase “Happy Holidays,” along with a poll that asks, “Will you shop at stores that do not say ‘Merry Christmas’?”

Bah, humbug. The story that actually interests me this year is related to the Christmas wars, but actually has some content. It also concerns Target, Wal-Mart and a bunch of other people. It focuses, of course, on the decision by Target — perhaps honoring a request by gay-rights groups — to start enforcing its ban on solicitations outside its doors by “Merry Christmas” whispering bell-ringers at those offensive red kettles. The result is a PR professional’s nightmare in a competitive economy, which you can see by clicking here.

I wrote about the Salvation Army a week ago for Scripps Howard and mentioned some of this, while focusing on this organization’s battle to retain or regain some of its public identity as a church. Religion-beat veteran Ken Garfield of the Charlotte Observer also published a thoughtful column on this standoff that included the following:

… (For) some who view the bells and kettles as a symbol of Christmas compassion, the ban by Target rankles — especially after Katrina and the other disasters to which the Salvation Army has responded. The debate is also deepened by the fact that other retailers, such as Harris Teeter, welcome the Salvation Army to their front doors.

Charlotte’s Susan Chaffin shared her embrace of the Salvation Army, and a warning to retailers, in a letter to the editor after Katrina: “To deny their traditional places and opportunities is to deny their efforts and contributions to these and other needy people in America. So just remember, no bell-ringers, no me.”

saltargetSure enough, folks on the anti-Target right are cheering a recent dip in the company’s stock, while those folks at Wal-Wart are singing glad tidings (to the sound of Salvation Army bells).

Meanwhile, my friend Simon J. Dahlman at Milligan College recently, in his “Face to Faith” column, addressed a topic that I believe should get more coverate this time a year — the religion of commercialism and the sacraments that people consume at the mall. Here, friends, is the war at Christmas that matters the most and, yes, it is spiritual. Would that more churches were concerned about this. Dahlman writes:

“Consumerism serves as a form of religion,” says the Rev. John Kavanaugh, a Roman Catholic priest who teaches philosophy at St. Louis University. “The mall serves as the new parish church, the new gathering place. People go there to socialize. It’s a community center, centered on shopping.”

Kavanaugh, who has written several books that examine the complex relationships between American culture and religion, including “Following Christ in a Consumer Culture,” notes other similarities between religion and retail.

“It’s amazing how many products are associated with values and with self-esteem,” he said in a phone interview this week, rattling off brand names to illustrate his point: Boss, Freedom, Joy, Easy to Be Me.

I could keep quoting, but I suggest that you read it yourself. If you see similar stories on this theme, please let me know.

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