Got news? Got news! PCUSA and Israel

I was all set to make this a “Got news?” post. I had been reading rumblings about an upcoming Presbyterian Church (USA) report in the religious and conservative press, but nothing in the mainstream media. Here’s a sample religious media report and here’s a bit from the conservative Weekly Standard:

Six years ago, the nearly 3 million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became the first and only U.S. religious body to adopt a divestment policy against Israel. After a large uproar from Christians and Jews, including a personal appeal from Presbyterian former CIA Director James Woolsey at the church’s General Assembly in 2006, the divestment stance was repealed.

Controversy over the church’s stance towards Israel may now reignite. A special PCUSA study committee is proposing that the denomination’s 2010 General Assembly take a strident anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stance. The committee’s report points to the Israeli presence on the West Bank as the great evil in the Middle East. It urges the United States to “employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid to enforce Israel’s compliance” with demands for withdrawal. The committee recommends no similar pressure against any other actors in the region.

It was five years ago that tmatt noted that the media didn’t seem terribly interested in stories about mainline denominations and their relationship with or stance on Israel. And the trend toward divestment and other measures seemed possibly to be fading.

So I thought this report made a perfect Got news? feature. That’s where we highlight stories that appear on opinion pages even though they’re breaking news. And if you do a Google News search, it seems all the hits come from opinion sources or religious media.

But the reason why this doesn’t make a great example of that is because there is a mainstream report that covers the issue. And it comes from the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s Peter Smith, who does excellent work covering the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is headquartered there.

His story is very balanced, very nuanced. He notes that the report has harsh words for Israel and that the denomination is trying to handle public relations a bit better this time by issuing letters to Jews, Christians and Muslims living in both the United States and Israel:

The report released Friday proclaims “in no uncertain terms: we support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders.”

Yet it decries Israel’s 43-year-old occupation of Palestinian lands, the building of a separation barrier around and through Palestinian territories and the increasing radicalization of Israeli settlers in the territories.

In a letter to Palestinians, the report uses the term “nakba,” often translated as catastrophe, which Arabs have used to decry the creation of Israel and subsequent war. “From 1948, we have made our stance clear on the unjust situation of Palestinian refugees since the Nakba. Your experience is one of displacement; as a people of faith.”

I have absolutely no doubt that Smith will continue to cover this story well, including whatever fallout comes from within the denomination and other communities. He also does a good job of providing background information at the paper’s religion blog.

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Got news? Five soldiers arrested, really?

When I received this email alert yesterday I had strongly conflicting emotions, as a journalist.

This is one of those stories that makes a stark fact claim. This claim is either accurate or it is not.

If it is accurate, why in heaven’s name is it breaking at the Christian Broadcasting Network? Here is the blog item as it first came in:


CBN Exclusive: Five Muslim Soldiers Arrested at Fort Jackson in South Carolina

CBN News has learned exclusively that five Muslim soldiers at Fort Jackson in South Carolina were arrested just before Christmas. It is unclear whether the men are still in custody. The five were part of the Arabic Translation program at the base.

The men are suspected of trying to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson.

A source with intimate knowledge of the investigation, which is ongoing, told CBN News investigators suspect the “Fort Jackson Five” may have been in contact with the group of five Washington, DC area Muslims that traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad against U.S. troops in December. That group was arrested by Pakistani authorities, also just before Christmas. Coming as it does on the heels of November’s Fort Hood jihadist massacre, this news has major implications.

Now, stop and think about this. It is very, very hard for me to believe as a journalist that the source for this story — as his or her first news-coverage option — took this material directly to CBN, a niche-news site. Having the story break in this setting automatically labels it, and validly so.

Then there is the matter of the time element. The story claims that the arrest were made before Christmas. How long has the source been trying to draw attention to this alleged event? If the event happened, why was it ignored by the mainstream?

Again, either those arrests were made or they were not. That’s a news event, if it is true. It’s breaking news.

Now, in the wake of that CBN report we do have a short Associated Press item. Here is the tiny little story that ran this morning in the Washington Post, a paper that one would think would jump on a story of this kind:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Army has been investigating five soldiers over allegations of food poisoning at its largest training base.

But Army spokeswoman Julia Simpkins said Friday no soldiers were ever in danger at the South Carolina base. Simpkins says an investigation continues at Fort Jackson, located outside Columbia. She said the investigation involved potentially threatening comments toward fellow soldiers.

On Thursday, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon said the investigation involved allegations that soldiers’ food was being poisoned, but no credible information to support the allegations was found.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the investigation has been going on for almost two months. Garver said he was not aware of any arrests.

Again, look at the timing. We have Army quotes from today — Friday? — and from yesterday. Are those contacts in the wake of the CBN report?

Once again, please focus on the key facts. Notice that the CBN source says the five tried to poison the food and that AP quotes a military spokesperson as denying that the food was poisoned. The two statements do not contradict one another.

What in the world is going on here?

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Got news? Focus PWNs the shocked left

The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc, co-founder of this here weblog, is not writing for GetReligion at the moment, but he’s still out there in media land — seeing things through GetReligion eyes.

After the Super Bowl, he sent me the link for an editorial column that hinted at a wonderful hook for a “God news?” post. The source is the conservative RedState.com site, where columnist Jeff Emanuel had some interesting commentary on the media storm that surrounded the Focus on the Family advertisement featuring Tim and Pam Tebow.

Once again, I know that this is editorial-column content, not hard news. But hang in there with me, because there is a news hook in here:

The fact that the commercial was not overtly pro-life (or anti-abortion) made the PWNing even sweeter, and likely brought far more people over to the Life side of the issue (or, at least, divorced them from the pro-abortion side) than an overtly anti-abortion spot would have. … On top of all that, the absence of an abortion message in the ad meant the pro-abortion left had to bear the entire burden of publicizing such a divisive and touchy issue all by themselves.

This was made possible, in part, by a brilliant non-information campaign. The ad’s contents were kept entirely secret. … In this absence of detail, the pro-abortion left immediately assumed the worst, treating the ad as though it would approach the issue as they do: by getting in people’s faces and shoving views down their throats.

The fact that Focus on the Family did nothing of the sort made the pro-abortion left’s smear-and-silence campaign into a massive overreaction — and made Focus’s effort an EPIC WIN for the pro-life side of the aisle.

By the way, since I am not a computer-game guy, I was not familiar with the term “PWN.” Thus, Doug had to point me to the Urban Dictionary for clarification. I do not know what this says about Doug and his media habits. But, I digress.

Try to forget the editorializing in Emanuel’s post and focus on an a very interesting question: Who was the media strategist who thought up this strategy for Focus on the Family? This leads to another question: Can you imagine this kind of media-savvy tactic being used during the regime of Dr. James Dobson? Does this ad seem like his style?

The story behind the ad is interesting enough, if anyone at Focus will talk about the fine details. But the larger news question is now obvious: Is this ad one of our first looks at a the “new” Focus, a glimpse of what may be its new style after the departure of Dobson (and the subtle tensions that have followed)?

In a way, these questions are linked to that eyebrow-raising column by Sally Jenkins, a proud and articulate feminist, that ran in the Washington Post sports section the other day about the Tebow affair. Lots of folks sent me the URL for that column (as if I didn’t see it in one of my local newspapers), asking for GetReligion commentary on it.

Well, LeBlanc’s tip makes a chunk of that editorial column relevant. You can see shades of the Focus strategy in this passage, even though this ran before the Super Bowl:

Tebow’s 30-second ad hasn’t even run yet, but it already has provoked “The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us” to reveal something important about themselves: They aren’t actually “pro-choice” so much as they are pro-abortion. Pam Tebow has a genuine pro-choice story to tell. She got pregnant in 1987, post-Roe v. Wade, and while on a Christian mission in the Philippines, she contracted a tropical ailment. Doctors advised her the pregnancy could be dangerous, but she exercised her freedom of choice and now, 20-some years later, the outcome of that choice is her beauteous Heisman Trophy winner son, a chaste, proselytizing evangelical.

Pam Tebow and her son feel good enough about that choice to want to tell people about it. Only, NOW says they shouldn’t be allowed to. Apparently NOW feels this commercial is an inappropriate message for America to see for 30 seconds, but women in bikinis selling beer is the right one. I would like to meet the genius at NOW who made that decision. On second thought, no, I wouldn’t.

If you want to dig deeper into the arguments that followed that Jenkins piece, click here and explore some of the 1212 comments that were posted before the newspaper shut them down.

So has anyone in the mainstream press seen the news hook here?

You can see hints that veteran Godbeat reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today has seen the news hook — but has only been able to write about it online, in her Faith & Reason weblog. Click here to see what she has to say.

Yes, she talked to Jim Daly (photo), the new Focus on the Family president:

For a week now, earnest groups have been protesting the anti-abortion, anti-gay rights Focus group getting CBS to change its policy against advocacy advertising and let this issue ad run.

Now, it’s airing and it’s a major score in the “Euphemism Bowl” — no mention of abortion, of choosing to carry a life-threatening pregnancy to term or anything else politically hairy.

Daly told me Sunday afternoon that they were perplexed by all the hyperventilating.

Perplexed? Or pleased? That’s the story.

What’s next? Cooperating with the witty women at Feminists For Life? Stay tuned.

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Got news? Saluting a Baltimore hero

To my amazement, the Baltimore Sun managed to get some newspapers delivered earlier this week — in between the record-shattering snow storms that keep rolling through the Mid-Atlantic region. As I type this, we are in the middle of storm No. 3. and, OMG, the word “snow” is in the Monday forecast.

As I dug into that thin Monday newspaper, I was struck by the power of a story that appeared under the headline, “One man’s fight against redlining.” Here’s the top of that piece:

A small paid notice in Wednesday’s Sun announced the death of Anne Irene Ruth Salzman at Charlestown Retirement Community. She was 97 and “was preceded in death by her husband of fifty years, Sidney Salzman,” the notice said.

Missing was the rest of the story — how the Salzmans in 1941 fought the Federal Housing Administration for the right to live in a neighborhood of their own choosing. Much has changed since then, but studies suggest that each year millions of Americans still face similar discrimination — not by the government, perhaps, but by the real estate marketplace.

In 1941, Anne Salzman and her husband wanted to buy 821 Glen Allen Drive, one of seven foreclosed houses in Hunting Ridge, a neighborhood off Edmondson Avenue. Four years earlier, the federal government had prepared lending risk maps for Baltimore and 238 other American cities from coast to coast. It had given to Hunting Ridge its highest ranking, the same rating it bestowed on Guilford, Homeland and Rodgers Forge. Under federal guidelines, such mostly Protestant neighborhoods generally barred “inharmonious elements” — African-Americans and Jews.

In Hunting Ridge, though, the homeowners’ covenant against Jews had expired in 1940.

Sidney Salzman was Jewish and his wife was a Christian and they had always managed to live in Gentile neighborhoods. The bureaucrats were “not impressed.”

Mr. Salzman decided to fight. He repeatedly offered purchase prices verbally suggested by FHA officials, proposing to put nearly half the money down. He was refused each time, even though he had been pre-approved for a mortgage, according to documents in the possession of University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor W. Edward Orser.

Finally, one official, “with evident embarrassment … gave as reason for the turning down of my offer the fact of my Jewish extraction, that it was thought best not to sell one of these properties in a restricted neighborhood to me, that it might affect the sale of other properties, and that the [Charles] Steffey Co. real estate brokers handling the properties strenuously objected to such sale to me, on the same grounds.”

And so the fight began, a pivotal fight in the history of race and religion in this city.

The Salzmans won the fight.

It’s an amazing and important story.

So why did this story have to appear on the newspaper’s op-ed page? Why did it need to end with this credit blurb?

Antero Pietila retired from The Sun after 35 years. His history of Baltimore, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” will be published later this month. He may be reached at www.anteropietila.com.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am very glad that the newspaper ran this piece — somewhere. However, the piece opens with a reference to factual material, to an event — the death of Anne Irene Ruth Salzman — that provided all of the news hook that was needed for a news feature.

This is a major story. Why wasn’t it played out front, with photos and, online, some kind of video tribute to this couple and the role they played in the history of Baltimore? I assume that retired reporters can still receive or share bylines, or perhaps write sidebars to major stories. Why did this very important subject get shuffled over to the op-ed page? A quick search of the newspaper’s web site found no other references to “Sidney Salzman.”

This is an A1 news feature story if I have ever seen one.

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Got news? Monogamy and gay unions

A few months ago, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to affirm gay clergy in “monogamous” relationships, tmatt noted that the word has different definitions among gay theologians.

Some take the traditional definition, arguing that gay unions are forever and that those taking vows must remain sexually faithful to one another. “Twin rocking chairs forever,” as tmatt put it. Others say it means serial monogamy, much like the definition used by most heterosexuals today who engage in sexual relations prior to marriage and who divorce easily. This definition requires sexual fidelity for each relationship, so long as it lasts “Twin rocking chairs for right now.” And then there’s the definition that says that gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians must be “emotionally” faithful to a partner but can have secondary sexual relationships that don’t threaten the primary “monogamy.” You can read more about these ideas here.

When the ELCA had its vote, there was very little discussion in the media of what the new requirement for gay clergy meant. What did the “monogamy” definition mean? The gay press has done a great job of covering this discussion over the years. This view of sexual monogamy is not a point of shame for the gay community and the gay press has discussed, debated and codified the feature that is present in many gay relationships.

But for some reason, the mainstream media has steadfastly avoided the topic. And they still do, by and large. But there was this rather surprising column or blog post in the New York Times last week that dealt with the issue head on. Judged as an objective news article, it would not hold up too well.

However, this was a classic Got news? piece for this here blog. While fully endorsing a view of marriage without fidelity, “Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret ” broke some news that has been hidden from most readers.

The article appeared in The Bay Area Blog, which features coverage of public affairs, commerce, culture and lifestyles in the San Francisco region. It was penned by Scott James, who is described as “an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco.” He publishes his award-winning books, which are sexually explicit explorations of gay themes, under the name Kemble Scott. He is an open supporter of legalizing same-sex marriage. His most recent book challenges assumptions about sexual morality by having a protagonist who disseminates health across the planet via gay sex. Anyway, here’s the gist of his provocative and interesting piece:

As the trial phase of the constitutional battle to overturn the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage concludes in federal court, gay nuptials are portrayed by opponents as an effort to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony. Quietly, outside of the news media and courtroom spotlight, many gay couples are doing just that, according to groundbreaking new research.

A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.

That consent is key. “With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,” said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, “but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.”

I’m not sure if the description of the study’s findings is written up as well as it could be. If 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their primary relationship with the knowledge and approval of their partners, that’s an utterly fascinating, and newsworthy statistic. Still, I’m curious about the remaining half. What percentage of those surveyed have sex outside of their primary relationship but don’t have the knowledge and/or the approval of their partners? It seems like a key piece of information.

The headline refers to such open relationships as “successful.” And note the adjectives in the excerpt above. Later we learn that such relationships are a mark of “evolution,” show “fresh perspective,” “insight,” and “innovation.” While it’s not exactly labeled as such, the article has a definite point of view. And while it does a fantastic job of interviewing actual gay people (something that is lacking in too many stories about gay issues), the article doesn’t include any critical perspectives at all. That’s not a strength.

Certainly there’s at least one person in the world who thinks that sex with multiple partners is not the key to a successful marriage, right? And I’m not just talking about advocates of traditional marriage vows, or advocates of spousal fidelity. We don’t even learn how this study will be responded to by people such as Andrew Sullivan (lately seen breaking even his own record for insanity) and others who have argued that same-sex marriage needs to be legalized as an important way of curbing promiscuity and encouraging monogamy in the gay community.

The bottom line, though, is that this study breaks news. Really interesting and important news.

It looks at one of the most fundamental institutions in society and what that institution means for various people who seek to take part in it. This affects religious institutions, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and others that require monogamy for gay clergy. This also could have far-reaching ramifications for religious freedom, as lesbian law professor Chai Feldblum argues. So why is this relegated to a regional blog posting?

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Got news? China’s missing girls

Every now and then, a story that I have followed for years and filed over in category A gets connected in some completely logical way with another important story that I have filed in category B and, suddenly, I am shocked to discover something new — a major story in category C.

I think the Washington Times just printed a perfect example of this phenomenon. It will be interesting to see if anyone follows up on this story.

The story in category A: China’s one-child-per-couple policy, which has long been the subject of passionate protest by religious activists. When combined with that society’s prejudice in favor of male children, you end up with a powerful form of sexism that results in the abortion of millions of unborn children who happen to be female. Of course, there are also secular human-rights activists — feminists, even — who are concerned about this issue.

The story in category B: The growing global concern about the sexual trafficking of young people, mostly girls, in what amounts to a new form of slavery. Once again, this issue has inspired activism in a wide variety of religious groups and in secular human-rights circles, as well.

And the story in category C? Here is the top of Cheryl Wetzstein’s report:

When Chinese officials created the country’s one-child-per-couple policy in 1978, they intended to contain the country’s burgeoning population for the sake of economic growth, national security and environmental preservation.

But Chinese boys now outnumber Chinese girls by the millions, and the impact of the lopsided sex imbalance is starting to spill beyond China’s borders.

This phenomenon of “missing girls” has turned China into “a giant magnet” for human traffickers, who lure or kidnap women and sell them — even multiple times — into forced marriages or the commercial sex trade, says Ambassador Mark Lagon, who oversaw human rights issues at the State Department during the administration of President George W. Bush.

“The impact is obvious. It’s creating a ‘Wild West’ sex industry in China,” Mr. Lagon said.

In China, “an entire nation of women” is missing because they were aborted before they were born, said Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a nonprofit anti-sex slavery group. “This is gendercide.”

The story connects the dots between statistics from a variety of different, starting with the prediction by the official Chinese Academy of Social Services that, by 2020, at least 24 million Chinese men might not be able to find brides. Wetzstein notes that “previous estimates put that number in the 30 million to 50 million range.”

But the Chinese traditions favoring male children are deep — even ancient.

Chinese parents believe they must have a son to carry their family name, inherit family properties, support them in their old age and host their funeral ceremonies. Tradition says children belong to their father’s lineages, and daughters become part of their husband’s families.

Because of these ancient beliefs, China’s one-child policy forces couples to choose between “their future retirement and the lives of their daughters,” said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, a nonprofit pro-life group who has been tracking the one-child policy since the late 1980s.

What is the religion hook in this story?

In a way there is none, other than the high-profile role that religious groups have played in protesting both the one-child policy in China and weak efforts by governments worldwide to fight the rising tide of sexual trafficking. Of course, issue of abortion — government-mandated abortions — looms over the debates about the actions of the Chinese government.

In other words, while all three of these hellish stories are rooted in concerns about basic human rights, they are often portrayed as “conservative” issues or even “evangelical” issues because so many religious conservatives are involved in efforts to combat these abuses. Thus, I have topped this post with one of our “Got news?” headlines.

But this could change, because the movement to fight sexual trafficking is broadening. The U.S. government is also quietly concerned about the situation in China.

… (The) most immediate and horrifying consequence of China’s “missing girls” is that it is fueling a growing trade in human beings, especially girls and women, say those who are fighting it.

The State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report downgraded China to its Tier 2 “watch list,” because it is a “source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.”

While women from many countries are being captured or trafficked into China, North Korean women are especially vulnerable. … If North Korean women protest or try to flee their forced marriages or prostitution houses, they can be “repatriated” to North Korea, said Mr. Lagon. Upon their return, they are treated like criminals and are likely to be beaten, imprisoned or killed, he said.

Laura Lederer, a former State Department official who now is part of Global Centurion, a nonprofit group fighting sex slavery, said that the sex imbalance in China is leading to a “new tsunami of demand.”

Stay tuned and, by all means, please watch for coverage in other newspapers and wire services.

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Got news? Stark religious numbers

Catholic_Gift_Idea_NunIf you backed up a few years, or even a decade or two, one of the subjects that religion writers in the mainstream press used to debate could be summed up in this question: “Are religion columns a good thing?”

You see, when most journalists hear the phrase “religion column,” they still think of two things. First, they think of religion pages, those gray ghettos back in the Saturday metro sections where, in most daily newspapers, slightly old wire-service copy went to die. Second, and even worse, they think of religion columns as those strange monstrosities in which a low-level reporter or clerk was asked to type up tiny news bites based on all of the press releases that religious congregations sent in the previous week (so that they wouldn’t have to support real news by purchasing advertisements).

The real issue, however, centered on the fact that many mainstream editors used religion pages and columns as excuses to keep religion news and trends out of the main news pages. In other words, religion writers assumed that as long as there were religion columns/pages, there would never be serious religion news on A1 or the metro front.

I always asked, “Why not both? Why not mainstream the coverage and have a religion page?” My assumption was that there would always be religion news that the religion-beat specialist understood was important, but that editors just “didn’t get.” It was nice, I thought, to have a niche in the newspaper in which a religion specialist could print that kind of news. This option wasn’t perfect, but it helped you get some important information into circulation.

Take, for example, meetings of the U.S. Catholic bishops. You know that, whenever they meet, the big headlines are going to be about whatever statement they issue that has something to do with (a) politics, (b) sex or, even better, (c) politics about sex. Trust me: This is the physics of daily journalism.

So what happens if the the bishops discuss other issues that — if viewed through the lens of doctrine or tradition, rather than politics — are actually quite important or even, pray tell, earthshaking? That’s when you need a religion column really, really bad.

This is why I am glad that veteran Godbeat scribe Julia Duin (who took second in the 2009 Religion Reporter of the Year Award competition from the mainstream Religion Newswriters Association) has a regular column over at the Washington Times.

While catching up with my reading after an almost completely wifi-free Thanksgiving, I came across a perfect example of how she uses her columns to get crucial information into the newspaper. In this case, I ran into a column about the recent survey: “Recent Vocations to Religious Life” (click here for .pdf) done by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research. This was discussed during the recent U.S. Catholic bishops’ meetings in Baltimore. Go ahead. Try to find additional coverage of the contents in the secular press.

Why do I think this is so important? I realize that I have, as Bible Belt people say, “gone to preachin’,” but let’s look at two very newsy passages in this analysis column:

Compared to the 1960s, when there were 23,000 priests, 12,500 brothers (monks) and about 180,000 sisters (nuns), the religious population has decreased by 65 percent. … Today there are about 13,000 priests in religious orders, 5,000 brothers and 59,000 sisters. Seventy-five percent of men and more than 90 percent of the women are at least 60 years old. Of those who are younger than 60, the majority are in their 50s, with only 1 percent younger than 40.

(That 1 percent, I am guessing, belongs to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, now numbering more than 250 women, who limit their candidate pool to women 30 and younger. They’ve got 23 postulants this year alone; the largest number of new nuns in training in the country. Which may be why I’m getting fundraising letters from them asking for money to feed, house and train these women.)

nuns for choiceWhat in the world?

After reading that information, a reporter should be asking a logical question: What happened to the support networks that used to support young women and men who were considering entering religious life?

Brace yourselves. The executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference delivered more stunning news:

“When asked to rate the encouragement they received when they first considered entering their religious institutes,” Brother Bednarczyk told the bishops, “newer entrants ranked family members (parents, brothers and sisters), people in the parish and diocesan priests as giving the least encouragement when they first considered entering their religious institute.”

I’ll repeat that. The people from whom the emerging sister or brother expects to get the most encouragement when considering their radical vocation offer the least. Broken down, 30 percent said they were “very much encouraged” by parents, 22 percent were “very much encouraged” by siblings, 31 percent were “very much encouraged” by fellow parishioners and only 17 percent were “very much encouraged” by diocesan priests.

Years from now, decades or centuries even, people who care about the Church of Rome will look back at this trend and say: “What in the world was going on? What happened?”

Answer that question and you have a story that should be on A1, or a series of stories that belong on A1. As for me, I am glad that Duin was able to use her column — mixing hard facts with her own analysis — to put at least a small spotlight on these sobering numbers.

This is what religion columns are all about. Here’s hoping her editors let her dig deeper, because there is hard news in those statistics.

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Got news? A tale of two collars

50spink_tasselsTwo quick confessions.

Yes, I do read the women’s mag Marie Claire – this wasn’t a tip from one of our commenters.

And no, I didn’t page right past a story about an aspiring politician and an amateur burlesque dancer.

But I didn’t notice the autobiographical commentary by writer Sarah Liston in the middle of the November issue of the magazine until today. After, uh, setting the stage, Liston describes husband Dave’s work as a public servant — and his other volunteer activities.

My husband, Dave, just finished his third term as chairman of our local New York City community board. He serves as cochair of the landmarks committee, and was recently awarded his own Appreciation Day by the borough president. His life revolves around volunteering as a subdeacon at an Episcopal church and listening to the public complain about subway construction, class size, and too-noisy bars. His dream is to make it to Congress one day, and to have an old-fashioned, street-level storefront office where constituents can stop by. After a long political career, he hopes to attend divinity school and become an Episcopal priest.

As an amateur burlesque dancer, I perform mostly at upscale restaurants and wine bars in New York City. My dream is to go on a burlesque tour through Europe, wearing ostrich feathers and velvet and bustiers, removing piece by strategic piece in lush, red-curtained, time-stained theaters. Usually, political scandals implicating half-dressed women involve everyone but the wife. In our case, the sex scandal is the wife. Though, for the record, I never get completely naked when I dance, and I use a pseudonym, Grace Gotham, to stay incognito. But still, you can see how my new hobby might put some drag on my husband’s political trajectory.

So let’s put the pieces of the story together. Here’s a little more biographical information about Subdeacon Liston. Turns out that he’s a lawyer at a New York City law firm and a former assistant district attorney — as well as a mayoral appointee to the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board. In a city of public servants, many of whom are pretty well-known, Mr. Liston would still be someone newsworthy.

Imagine for a moment that an evangelical or Mormon lawyer/public servant had a wife with this eclectic avocation? You’ve got to believe that some mainstream media outlet would be all over this story. Actually, whether you approve of burlesque or not, it’s a potential feature story.

Of course, if you are a well-known lawyer who has a spouse who is an author impelled by a yen for pasties and Edith Piaf — you’d have to be an Episcopalian, wouldn’t you? Stands to reason. Given David Liston’s biographical reference to Holy Trinity, I’d guess that this innovative East Side church is his parish. Tough to tell from his spouse’s commentary if she attends or not. Judging solely by the website, Holy Trinity seems to fit into the “inclusive” or “progressive” category.

I wonder why David Liston wants to wait to become a priest — to atone for years in the political crucible? His wife doesn’t tell us. Sarah Liston does give readers hints that her amateur career placed a bit of stress on her marriage. I also wonder, parenthetically, why she doesn’t note that her husband is a lawyer.

There’s so much more to tell here. Note to editors at the New York Times — all you have to do is figure out whether the Liston story belongs in the “Politics” or “Style” sections — and it sort of tells itself. The religion angle, played for “cute” in the Marie Claire essay, also could use a lot more attention. In short, you could argue that the tale of the kitty-collared performer and the lawyer/politician who dreams of the priesthood definitely has legs. So to speak.

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