Punches on the Darwinian front lines

DarwinBlackBox.gifI am shocked, shocked to discover a strong interest among GetReligion readers in the topic of mainstream media coverage of debates between defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy and their critics.

This quickly breaks down into two camps: those who see themselves as defenders of free speech and those who believe it is proper to lock people that they believe are non-scientists out of debates in science education. Non-scientists are those — such as Pope John Paul II — who criticize strictly naturalistic interpretations of the data gathered in traditional scientific research. To read the original post, click here.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a short piece by Dr. Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, attempting to clarify what most advocates of “Intelligent Design” believe, as opposed to what they are often accused of believing. Behe is the author of a controversial volume titled Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The Times piece is clearly addressed at people engaged in the public debate over science education, as opposed to the scientists themselves. For example:

(What) it isn’t: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. That’s misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

Behe has a way of finding simple ways of stating complex issues. For some, this makes him an effective apologist. For others, this makes him easy to mock. (More on that in a minute.) Here is a very typical sample of how Behe writes, when addressing readers in a daily newspaper:

. . . Unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore. Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed.

There is, of course, more to this than a single op-ed piece. For journalists, the key is that Behe is attempting to clarify what he believes and how he is defining his terms. The goal, in the end, is for Behe to be able to read coverage of this hot-button issue in a news report and then say: “Yes, that is what I said. Yes, that is what I meant.” The same standard, of course, applies to his critics. This will lead to news features that are packed with tension and disagreement. So be it.

Meanwhile, the folks at The Revealer have greeted with scorn Behe’s tiny footprint on the sacred pages of the Times. This is, I am afraid, par for the course. Here is the item as it ran. Doesn’t this have a kind of a Bill O’Reilly (in reverse) flair to it?

Michael J. Behe, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, pleads the case of Intelligent Design in The New York Times, explaining I.D.’s “four linked claims,” and disingenuously describing the first two controversial assumptions as “uncontroversial.” It’s an exercise in anachronism, pointing mechanical metaphors backwards towards biology to prove that “life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.” Like this: we can see that Mount Rushmore isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon, but designed. Likewise, clerics have described cell life as resembling man-made mechanics, like a watch, designed. And even Darwinists admit that life is complex, so let’s call that agreement with watch-theory. Don’t trouble your head about putting this in any sort of chronological order. Go with the flow. This is about motors and watches, not watchmakers. Resting on these supposedly shared presumptions, Behe leads to his “controversial” claims: 3, Darwinists haven’t recreated evolution in any studies, and 4, until they prove otherwise, it’s scientifically reasonable to believe in I.D., according to Behe’s final, binding scientific standard: “The Duck Song.”

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Smells, bells, baseball and mainstream news

HighMass.jpgIn the midst of a very busy week (I mean, I haven’t even had a chance to blog on that New York Times sonogram story yet), I received a comment from a reader that I thought deserved a slot on the front page, so everyone has a chance to read it.

The letter came from reporter Jeffrey Weiss, who wrote to offer background information and commentary on my recent blog item about his short story focusing on a visit by Cardinal Francis Arinze to a liturgical conference in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News‘ mini-report focused on the Nigerian cardinal’s reluctance to discuss a number of issues, from his status as a candidate for the chair of St. Peter to the Communion status of Sen. John Kerry and those who share his views of Catholic moral theology.

I was not the only one who thought that this article was somewhat strange. Catholic uberblogger Amy Welborn read the report and commented:

. . . “Huh?” It told me nothing — about why the Cardinal was in Dallas, what he said, and the interview was pure boilerplate. . . . It was either one of the worst written or most severely edited articles I’ve run across. Edited into nothingness.

Soon after that, Weiss sent GetReligion a note offering his point of view. Here it is.

(1) The DMN is a secular publication that generally focuses on the specifics of denominational activity only when it is of sufficient importance or interest that it would be of interest to folks who aren’t a member of the denomination in question. That can be pretty broad but not infinitely so.

(2) We can’t be everywhere. At the moment, the normally 3-member DMN religion reporting staff is me. We are hiring, but at the moment, I’m dancing as fast as I can. The liturgical conference is something that I (or another DMN religion reporter) might have considered attending under other circumstances. But maybe not. Inside baseball is inside baseball.

(3) We were told the Cardinal was getting the award the night before. And that I might get a conversation with him. I’d met Cardinal Arinze in Dallas several years earlier and got about 4 words out of him. On the off-chance that I’d get more, I attended the award. He was extremely reluctant to talk to me. Just about every word he was willing to share — and certainly every question he was willing to answer — made it into the story. I would have been thrilled to have asked him some of your questions, Terry. But I was grateful to get the crumbs I got.

Frankly, given how articulate he is, I don’t understand Arinze’s reluctance to talk to reporters. As if Nolan Ryan didn’t want to throw the fastball . . . I didn’t get the chance to ask him about that, either. And now you know . . . the REST of the story . . . 1:-{)>

Point (2) is certainly valid. Everyone who has worked in daily journalism knows that that kind of crunch feels like.

Nevertheless, I do want to restate my main point. Weiss says that “inside baseball is inside baseball.” True, but there are many baseball fans in the greater Dallas area and it does help to cover their larger teams, whether Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic. As I said before, I have found that issues related to worship — from inclusive language to radical changes in musical styles — are extremely important to many readers of mainstream religion news.

I do not know if controversial issues such as this came up during the Dallas conference that featured Cardinal Arinze. That’s the point. If there was controversy, you sure would not read about it in the local Catholic newspaper. That’s why religion reporting by quality mainstream reporters — such as Weiss — is so important. News is news, even when shrouded in incense.

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Newsweek takes a stab at Intelligent Design

DNA.jpgIt’s time for another one of those posts that begins with a disclaimer.

One of the hot Godbeat stories right now is the free speech controversy involving the science establishment and the rowdy band of intellectual rebels who promote what they call “Intelligent Design.” I have not written about this much because, for more than a decade, the patriarch of this movement — Berkeley law professor Phillip E. Johnson — has been a friend. As a result, I have only written a few columns on the subject and then only in cases when the focus of the story was very narrow and I ran the ideas past my editor first.

As a rule, the mainstream press divides these “evolution” wars into two camps.

On one side are the real scientists in the evolution establishment. It is interesting to note that many in this camp call themselves “theistic” evolutionists, even though this implies some role for a God or gods in creation. Thus, they do not believe that, in a classic statement of Darwinian orthodoxy: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process which did not have him in mind.” In a strict academic battle, the term “theistic evolution” is an oxymoron.

On the other side are “Creationists” who sell fake science. They range from true fundamentalists to, strangely enough, people who believe in the gradual evolution of species over time, but believe there is scientific evidence — the kind that can be studied in a lab — that this process was too complicated to be random. These people want to see reporters draw a line between “Creationism” and “Intelligent Design.”

On one level, this is a debate about a issue that has not been addressed in the Associated Press Stylebook, but may need to be. On another level, it is simply an issue of trying to offer fair and accurate coverage of two conflicting points of view in a complex and heated debate. It is hard to write news stories that warriors on both sides are going to embrace as accurate, as opposed to favorable. The goal is for leaders on both sides to be able to read a story and say, “My words and point of view were reported accurately.” The goal is a fair fight.

Reporter Jerry Adler’s “Doubting Darwin” feature in Newsweek gets many parts of this debate right. It contains lively quotes from the usual suspects who say the usual things. But major problems arise, right in the lead:

When Joshua Rowand, an 11th grader in Dover, Pa., looks out from his high school, he can see the United Church of Christ across the street and the hills beyond it, reminding him of what he’s been taught from childhood: that God’s perfect creation culminated on the sixth day with the making of man in his image. Inside the school, he is taught that Homo sapiens evolved over millions of years from a series of predecessor species in an unbroken line of descent stretching back to the origins of life. The apparent contradiction between that message and the one he hopes someday to spread as a Christian missionary doesn’t trouble him. The entire subject of evolution by natural selection is covered in two lessons in high-school biology. What kind of Christian would he be if his faith couldn’t survive 90 minutes of exposure to Darwin?

This is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that this local United Church of Christ must be a very, very unusual congregation in this most liberal of all oldline Protestant denominations. These are not churches that are known for cranking out young six-day Creationists, or even missionaries, for that matter.

This lead also gives the impression that leaders of the ID movement do not want schools to offer traditional lessons about evolution. This is not the case. If anything, the “teach the controversy” model advocated by Johnson and his associates want to see educators expand their lessons to include some of the hot and even bitter debates inside some of the various Darwinian camps. The goal is to discuss the kinds of gaps and puzzles that scientists get to talk about in places such as China, where no one has to be afraid of raising the God question at all.

This leads to another key point. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone inside the big ID tent — there are lively debates and disagreements inside this flock, as well — say that public schools should teach anything that is not rooted in open debate about the interpretation of traditional scientific research. Even if ID thinkers proved that the information contained in DNA codes was too complex to have been the product of a random, materialistic process, this would not prove in a scientific sense that any kind of higher power was involved. The goal is free speech about scientific issues in the public square.

Here is an example of a faith statement that cannot be proven in a lab: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Of course, the televangelist who made that statement was Dr. Carl Sagan. Traditional religious believers have also been known to make similar statements that cannot be nailed down with data. This is not the stuff of public-school textbooks.

I could make a few more observations about Adler’s fascinating report, but let me conclude with this. Near the end, one parent is quoted as saying: “I don’t know what to believe. … I just want my child to go to heaven.” Adler writes: “Well, so does the pope, but the Vatican has said it finds no conflict between Christian faith and evolution.”

Once again, this raises questions. For, you see, that is not what Pope John Paul II said. Here are some of the crucial quotes from the pope on this issue:

“Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. …

“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”

Note that the pope said theories — plural. There are conflicts within these theories. Most of all, John Paul clearly rejected the position that creation was the result of — to cite one wording — an “unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process … that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.” This is a problem, since this is how the National Association of Biology Teachers has defined evolution.

A scientific theory, according to John Paul, only “proves its validity by the measure to which it can be verified. It is constantly being tested against the facts. When it can no longer explain these facts, it shows its limits and its lack of usefulness, and it must be revised.”

Amen. Journalists need to get their quotes right, if they are going to cover these debates. It is time to update some of our language and many of our stereotypes.

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The Osteen factor

Osteen_coverLouis Romano hits where it hurts in his profile of Joel Osteen in Sunday’s Washington Post by closing on what Osteen would call a negative note:

Indicating his priorities, Osteen’s first hire was the music director, Cindy Cruse-Ratcliff. She and songwriter Israel Houghton create all the original music for the service. “I just think we’re in a society these days that we’re so distracted or busy. . . . It’s harder to hold people’s attention,” Osteen said. “We try to package the whole service — I hate to use the word production or show.”

He knows that some people just come for the music. And that is a good thing, he said. Whatever gets them in the door.

Osteen has been on my mind recently because I recently read through his besteller, Your Best Life Now, for a future review in Christianity Today. Like Norman Vincent Peale before him, Osteen places a heavy emphasis on being “positive” rather than “negative.” Here’s how Romano describes Osteen’s positive mental attitude creed:

Osteen, 41, does not sweat or yell, or cry for sinners to repent. He preaches an energetic, New Age gospel of hope and self-help — simple Scripture-based motivational messages, notably devoid of politics and hot-button policy issues.

The strongest portion of Romano’s 1,900-word story is this description of the tensions between megachurches and sacramental congregations:

“Joel is doing it better than most,” said William Martin, a sociology professor and religion expert at Rice University. “He is purposely seeking to lower the barriers that keep people from going to church. They don’t know the hymns; they don’t have to learn the creed. It’s all there for them.”

Detractors criticize the style as “Christian-lite” — all show and platitudes and no theological depth. Osteen’s older brother Paul, a surgeon who left his practice to help the church, differs. “There is a disconnect between religion and what people need,” he said, calling some sermons in traditional churches impenetrable, “almost goofy.”

“What people want is an unchurch,” Paul Osteen said. “They don’t want pressure. Joel makes faith practical and relevant.”

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Veteran reporters who really, really get religion

Scribecomputerframe_2Last week, Father Kendall Harmon — an Episcopal priest who has had more than a few close encounters with the mainstream media — left a dangerous comment in response to my post about the Poynter.org debate inspired by Washington Times veteran Julia Duin’s comments on the role that experience and training play in quality religion reporting.

Harmon was probably winking as he typed. Here is what he wrote:

OK, tmatt, here is a challenge then — tell us whom you consider the three or four best religion reporters out there in America right now, and tell us why you think so. You had Cornell as a role model to follow, who should young people be following as sources of learning now?

There is no way that I am walking deep into THAT minefield. I have many friends on the beat and there are numerous people that I respect greatly. So how to comment without getting killed? Let’s stick with a very, very short list of people in the mainstream, as opposed to specialty publications and websites.

GetReligion has, of course, formally saluted one reporter as precisely this kind of professional gold standard — Richard Ostling of the Associated Press. I also think that Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s work at National Public Radio must be mentioned.

While many consider the New York Times a bastion of liberalism (with obvious reason), Laurie Goodstein is an amazing reporter who often wins praise from partisans on both sides of hot issues. And while Duin works for the Washington Times, anyone who has followed her career knows that she is constantly finding new information and voices on the left as well as the right. Both are experienced professionals and must reads.

One other short note. I was happy to hear that Mark O’Keefe has ascended to the top job at Religion News Service (even though he did not drop me a line to let me know this news at the time, dang it).

I also wrote a piece long ago — in blog terms — about the need for some of our major newspapers and wire services to do a better job of steering online readers to their religious coverage. What’s the point of having a top-flight specialist on any major beat, such as religion, if it is next to impossible to find that person’s work? I mention some other favorite reporters in that piece.

Which brings us to a fine piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by veteran religion-beat scribe Mark I. Pinsky of the Orlando Sentinel, who is now as well known for his books such as “The Gospel According to the Simpsons” as he is for his work in daily journalism. The piece is called “Among the Evangelicals: How one reporter got religion.” Nice headline, don’t you think?

In terms of his own politics and beliefs, it is safe to say that Pinsky is not going to show up anytime soon on The 700 Club (although I have no doubt he would be a fabulous interview if he did). In his article, he describes the journalistic process — equal parts continuing education and snooping around — that helped him learn to understand and accurately write about the lives of the armies of evangelical Christians who are camped in and around Orlando. Here is a wonderful passage:

For the first time in my life, I was living in a sea of believing, faithful Christians, and the cold shock felt like total immersion. As on the West Coast, I learned a lot on the job, interviewing ministers, leaders, and lay people. I attended church services more often than many Christians — some months more often than I attended my own synagogue. But the most intense part of my education came from outside the job, apart from the mediation of a reporter’s notebook. At PTA meetings, at Scouts, in the supermarket checkout line, and in my neighborhood I encountered evangelicals simply as people, rather than as subjects or sources of quotes for my stories. Our children went to the same birthday parties. We sat next to each other in the bleachers while the kids played recreational sports. Our family doctor went on frequent mission trips and kept a New Testament in each examining room. In the process, I learned about the Great Commission, the biblical obligation of all Christians to share their faith with the once-born and the unsaved.

Evangelicals were no longer caricatures or abstractions. I learned to interpret their metaphors and read their body language. From personal, day-to-day experience I observed what John Green at the University of Akron has discerned from extensive research: evangelicals were not monolithic nor were they, as The Washington Post infamously characterized them, “poor, uneducated and easy to command.” Like Ned Flanders, they are more likely to be overzealous than hypocritical, although there is certainly some of the latter. They don’t march in lockstep to what Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Focus on the Family’s James Dobson tell them, and they hold surprisingly diverse views on many issues. While making common cause politically, their theological differences range from the subtle to the significant. For evangelicals, religion is not just for Sundays — or Election Day.

It’s hard to stop there. Read it all. Friends and neighbors, this is what it is all about. Preach it, brother.

Personal note: The Rt. Rev. LeBlanc has been on the road for several days, searching for wardrobes in Los Angeles. Now, I am headed to Tinseltown myself and then to Cincinnati. In other words, posting will continue in the next few days — when we can sit still long enough to do so. Make sure you let us know of any really good or really bad stories that you see.

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L.A. Times plays it straight on some hot stories

ReemsIs it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the Los Angeles Times is on a tear these days on the religion beat? Several times a week, the newspaper’s push-tech email I receive every morning includes two or three stories that dig into the religion hook of major events and the lives of interesting people.

Some of these stories are, I admit, a bit strange. Yesterday was a good example. Face it, it’s hard NOT to read a story that has a headline such as this: “After ‘Deep Throat,’ G-rated life: A new film highlights Harry Reems’ porn fame, but now he’s a born-again Christian who sells real estate.”

Uh, right. This sounds like an oh-so-cynical riff that David Letterman would dream up. However, reporter Kenneth Turan’s story plays this profile rather straight. After all, there was no need to liven up the story. Here are two summary paragraphs:

[When] Harry Reems takes a poetic moment and says “What a ride this thing called life is,” he is not being hyperbolic. As Linda Lovelace’s costar in “Deep Throat,” the most successful pornographic film ever made, he has gone from obscurity to celebrity to criminal notoriety to gutter-dwelling debauchery to born-again sobriety and success in one hectic lifetime.

“I’ve been through things most people never experience even vicariously, let alone for real,” he says. “I’m truly proud of myself; I’ve overcome some major problems. I really believe God is at work in my life.”

Normally, Reems only tells his story in churches and 12-step programs, but he is in the spotlight at the moment because of a major documentary entitled “Inside Deep Throat,” produced by Brian Grazer for Universal and HBO. Reems also admits that he would love to return to his acting career — legitimate acting.

This short feature includes many twists and turns, including his arrest in a government crackdown on the pornography industry. Most of all, Reems was drowning in a sea of alchohol. He was what he now calls a “blackout drinker.” Finally a 12-step program led to a charismatic Methodist minister and Reems, who was a secular Jew, was converted. Soon he vanished, embracing a normal life.

Also Saturday, the Times offered a very straightforward and balanced story linked to another hot-button issue, with this headline: “Church Plans to Bury the Ashes of Fetuses From Abortion Clinic.” Reporter David Kelly sticks to the basics, letting leaders on each make a case for their actions. The bottom line: A mortuary decided it would be more compassionate to let a local Roman Catholic church bury the dead, rather than throwing away the remains. The abortion facility disagrees and may or may not try to take this to court.

Particularly striking is this quote from one of the nation’s most fierce, unapologetic defenders of late-term abortions:

“They have taken it upon themselves to make a macabre ritual out of this, inflicting pain on everyone,” said clinic director Dr. Warren Hern. “I have women calling me who are very upset over this. These fanatics simply cannot leave other people alone with their most intimate sorrow.”

Meanwhile, here is a poignant detail from the other side. It seems that the Sacred Heart of Mary parish has

… a Memorial Wall for the Unborn, with tiny plaques put there by women who have had abortions. Each one has a message: “Forgive Me.” “No less real, No less loved.”

The remains of 3,000 fetuses are buried near the wall. On Sunday, 600 to 1,000 small boxes of ashes will be emptied into a tomb and covered.

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Same show, different planets

Richardland_1In an interview last year with Salon, Terry Gross of Fresh Air addressed the charge of some conservatives that National Public Radio works from a liberal bias:

Do you think that you have a bias?

On the air?


I think we try to be very fair on the air. We’re always asking ourselves if we’re being fair — we have constant editorial discussions about how to handle issues.

How about off the air? Which way do you lean politically?

Off the air I have opinions which I don’t care to share publicly. Because I have confidence as a professional that I can treat issues fairly. It doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions — but I like to leave them out of my public life.

I do not doubt that Gross and her colleagues strive for fairness or that they often believe they have achieved it. But if anyone thinks fairness means treating her guests with equally relaxed conversational styles or equally demanding questions, compare her interviews with Bishop Gene Robinson and Bishop Robert Duncan.

My summary of those two interviews: Gross asks Robinson how it feels to be a victim of oppression, and asks Duncan why he’s so hung up on homosexuality.

Gross covered the religion-and-politics front yesterday by conducting separate interviews with Richard Land and Jim Wallis. We can at least be thankful she avoided the usual shouting festival that emerges when Wallis occupies the same studio as Jerry Falwell.Wallis_mug

From Land (photo at top right, of course) we learn that conservatives care about more than abortion and gay marriage — though Gross tweaks him, somewhat fairly, when he says reporters never ask him about issues other than abortion and gay marriage.

From Wallis we learn that his prolife beliefs do not mean he favors “criminalizing agonizing, desperate choices.”

“I want to actually do something about abortion and not just argue about it at election time and ignore it in between those elections,” Wallis adds. (Actually, Jerry Falwell believes the same thing and acts on it through his Thomas Road Baptist Church)

Even Wallis’ minimalist political approach to abortion is too much for Katha Pollitt of The Nation, who either does not grasp or does not believe his promise not to “criminalize” anything:

Fortunately, God shares his priorities: Wallis often points out that the Bible mentions poverty thousands of times and abortion only a few. I’m not sure what this tells us — first we eradicate poverty and then we force women to have babies against their will? But in any case, Wallis is wrong: The Bible doesn’t mention abortion even once. Wallis cites the text antichoicers commonly use to justify their position: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Say what? Nothing about abortion there, pro or con. Nobody who wasn’t sure that somewhere in the Bible there must be a proof text against terminating a pregnancy would read that meaning into these words.

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South Florida Sun-Sentinel profiles a gay saint

McnaughtIn the mid-1990s, I had a chance to speak to some editors gathered in a Bible Belt city — let’s leave it at that — about how to improve religion coverage at their newspapers.

The morning of my talk, the local daily carried a long feature about a lesbian couple that was experiencing tension with neighbors in their middle-class community. It had a large, lovely photo of them in their perfect living room. The story was totally positive, with the exception of a very stereotypical quotation or two from predictably blunt fundamentalists (in the accurate sense of that word).

I used this as a case study in my presentation. I told the editors that I predicted the newspaper switchboard was getting lots of angry calls from readers accusing the editors of liberal bias. Bingo, said one editor, with a “What can you do?” shrug. I said that I thought the story was perfectly valid, while I might have had some questions about the witless, straw-men quality of the traditionalists who were quoted.

Now, what would happen if you ran this story on one day and then, on the next, did a matching story on a conservative who had left her lesbian past behind and was now married, with kids, and working in ministry with people in the area who were struggling with issues of sexual identity?

Well sure, one editor said, that would be great if such a person existed. Expecting this reply, I offered a name and number. It took a few minutes that morning for me to find such a woman in the area. If they ran this second story, I predicted that they would get more angry calls — from a totally different part of the community. This would be a good thing, I said.

I bring this up because of a story in my local newspaper this morning entitled (here is the whole headline), “The gospel of Brian McNaught: The South Florida resident who has been called the ‘godfather of gay diversity’ has a humble quest: a world of mutual respect.” McNaught is a former Catholic altar boy and progressive Catholic journalist who has evolved into a Buddhist gay activist and business consultant.

The story is, in every sense of the word, hagiography. It is amazing that, while McNaught is immersed up to his eyebrows in some of our culture’s hottest controversies, he has no enemies. It is clear that he is brilliant and has lived a strategic, productive life. But there is no one who can be interviewed who is critical of his ongoing work with American Catholic colleges, major corporations, etc.?

One of the few times a conservative point of view is mentioned, reporter Margo Harakas does something that, when I was in journalism school, was a mortal sin. She prints the views of this famous, but strangely anonymous, conservative leader second hand — trusting McNaught’s own account of the story. Here is that part of the story, with only one tiny edit:

In his presentations, McNaught says, “The most powerful thing I do is tell my story.” … He likes to tell of the man who sat next to him on a plane, a high-profile, born-again Christian businessman and recipient of a presidential Thousand Points of Light award. He was from Cobb County, Ga., which McNaught knew had an ordinance declaring homosexuality incompatible with community values. The man and his wife helped finance the opposition to civil rights for homosexuals.

“So, tell me about you,” the man said. “Are you married? What do you do for work?”

McNaught responded politely and calmly. He and his partner had been together more than 20 years, he noted. And his work was helping corporations address homophobia in the workplace.

Digesting that information, the man slowly began to probe more. McNaught shared the feelings of fear and isolation that gays and lesbians grow up with. He told of his life, of his devout upbringing, how he was a model child who yearned to be a saint. He explained that while he dated girls throughout his school years, he knew he was different. “The horror of growing up gay,” he explained, “is having a secret you don’t understand and are afraid to share with family and friends for fear of losing their love and respect.”

All that he was advocating, he said, was for a world that was mutually respectful.

As the plane readied for landing, the man declared, “Brian, as sure as I’m sitting here, I believe that God had you sit next to me.” He admitted he had never met a homosexual before. “You put a face on this issue and I won’t ever forget that.”

OK, I want to know. Who was this person? How would he describe his side of this encounter?

And what about the views of traditional Roman Catholics believers on the American Catholic campuses on which McNaught speaks as an authority on issues of sexual morality and health? It would probably be easy to locate a few and reach them by telephone.

Now, South Florida is South Florida and I know that. Let me stress that this was a valid news story, while I believe it could have used some sane, clearly attributed material from this man’s critics. Perhaps the Sun-Sentinel also needs to consider finding a second story. You know, perhaps there is another valid news story that would tweak minds and tempers on the other side of this cultural divide. Maybe?

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