Just another generic do-gooder on a Baltimore pro team

At this point, I have just about decided that the editors of The Baltimore Sun sports section have banned the use of the word “Christian” in stories about local and national athletes. Several times a year (for an imperfect survey, click here), the newspaper that lands in my front door prints a sports story that, from beginning to end, is full of religious themes, yet stops short of printing a few crucial facts.

Consider, for example, this profile of Jemile Weeks, who is competing for a second-base slot in the Baltimore Orioles line-up. This is very ordinary sports-page stuff, although it is pretty obvious what Weeks is from a rather unusual family (and I’m not talking about the fact that his big brother is the better known pro Rickie Weeks).

The X-factor in his family? The only word that leaps to mind is “ministry.” Note the hook at the end of the opening anecdote.

In early December, Jemile Weeks’ baseball career was thrown upside down. He was traded away from the only organization he had ever known, the Oakland Athletics, and sent to the Orioles for one of the franchise’s most popular players, closer Jim Johnson, in what was immediately deemed a salary dump.

Although the 27-year-old second baseman viewed it as a new opportunity, the external pressure was once again descending on Weeks, a 2008 first-rounder who grew up playing in, and around, the shadow of his All-Star big brother, Rickie.

But Weeks didn’t have time to get caught up in the hoopla; he was too busy trying to figure out how to feed 1,000 people and how he could borrow a bounce house or two.

Feeding the 1,000? What is that all about? As it turns out, the event is linked to a charity near his old stomping grounds in Orlanda, Fla.

Spot the key word in this summary of the roots of this project:

A month before the deal, his offseason schedule got particularly complicated when he announced at a periodic family meeting — yes, two pro ballplayers and a community-relations professional sister still have occasional family meetings with their parents — that he wanted to host a community event for charity near where he grew up in Orlando, Fla. Never mind that Weeks had never attempted such an event or that Christmas was a month away. That was what he wanted to do. And so it was going to happen.

“With my own hands, I reached out to people I know and my sister did, along with my mom’s church,” Weeks said. “I just phoned friends. I got the bounce houses and the food, pizzas and ice cream, and asked for live performances from people I knew.”

Simple as that.

Now what, precisely, does the phrase “my mom’s church” mean? Also, what does it mean — a few lines later — when the story notes that the event featured the work of an “inspirational rapper”?

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5Q+1: CNN Godbeat pro on his remarkable Lampedusa story

When one of the best religion journalists on the planet produces one of the most gratifying stories of his life, news consumers are in for a real treat.

Enter Eric Marrapodi, co-editor of CNN’s Belief Blog.

His 4,500-word  “Stepping-stones to Safety” story — featuring a family fleeing Syria’s war — ran over the weekend.

The gripping lede:

Lampedusa, Italy (CNN) – Abdel clung to his pregnant wife, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter as they sailed across an open stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.

They were in a dilapidated fishing boat with limited provisions and almost no sanitation, sharing a cramped space with some 400 other Syrians.

Abdel prayed quietly and recited verses from the Quran for two days and two nights as the boat swayed and motored precariously along the 180-mile route from Libya to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.

If they could make it, his young family would be one step closer to freedom.

He knew thousands had died making the same voyage.

Abdel prayed for safety. He hoped land would come soon. He worried his wife, 8 1/2 months pregnant, might give birth before they reached land.

Abdel and his family risked their lives to flee Syria for Italy.

Marrapodi agreed to respond to a few questions from GetReligion about his extraordinary report.  (If you haven’t read it yet, feel free to do so now. We’ll still be here when you get back.)

What’s the inside scoop on this story? How did it come about, and how long did it take to report, write and edit it?

I’d been hearing about Lampedusa and the refugees there for a long time. After Pope Francis made it his first visit outside of Rome, I knew I had to get over there. I was fortunate to be part of an extraordinary group of journalists who won Henry Luce Foundation grants for international religion reporting through the International Center for Journalists. ICFJ connected me with another grant winner, the wonderful Elisa Di Benedetto, who is an Italian journalist.

We met in Rome and flew to Lampedusa and Catania. We were on the two islands for a week total at the end of September. Because it was more of an evergreen story, we worked on the writing and the editing for months to get it right. We also had a lot of fact checking and following up to do.

It was a real challenge and a real joy to report.

Tell me about your travel experience. How big a journalistic adventure did you enjoy?

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Interview or argument? There’s a difference, CNN

Want to get drunk fast?

Watch this video and take a swig of an adult beverage every time Chris Cuomo interrupts Bill Donohue.

After 12 minutes, you won’t be able to stand up.

Cuomo brought Donohue onto CNN’s morning show New Day in the latter’s role as head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The topic was the Arizona law that was just vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer. As you may recall, the law would have allowed anyone to decline to do business with someone on religious grounds. Gays were believed to have been the main targets, in sympathy with Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong.

Meaty stuff for a discussion, to be sure. What if the businessman believes blacks are inferior? Conversely, without the law, would a Jewish photographer be forced to shoot pictures at a Klan or skinhead wedding?

And the talk is actually pretty productive for the first half of the interview. But then Cuomo makes it a quarrel. Either that or badgering. Sometimes he doesn’t even wait for Donohue to finish a sentence before adding more preachments thinly veiled as questions.

Here are some excerpts from where the two discuss a recent situation in New Mexico, of a photographer who didn’t want to take pictures at a gay wedding. Donohue actually says he has “no sympathy” for such people. Then he raises fears about forcing churches to accept gay weddings.

“No, we’re not going there,” Cuomo says at first. Then when Donohue insists, Cuomo gets more argumentative, moving from law to morality.

Donohue: We feel, people of faith, that our rights are being whittled away in the name of gay rights having to trump ours. We need to have an honest discussion. I’d like to see a moratorium on this …

Cuomo: How does gay marriage compromise your rights?

Donohue: The problem with gay marriage is this: It makes a smorgasbord. It basically says that there’s no profound difference, socially speaking, between marriage between a man and woman — the only union that can create a family — and other examples. I don’t …

Cuomo: Who says that’s the purpose of marriage? What if you want lifelong companionship and commitment?

Donohue: If a man and woman don’t have sex, we can’t reproduce, can we? We can’t propagate …

Cuomo: You don’t have to be married to propagate.

Donohue: No, that’s right, you …

Cuomo: And you don’t have to want kids to be married.

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Report both sides of the story, unless you’re HuffPost

A bill dealing with gay weddings is being hotly debated in Kansas, but not in a Huffington Post article about it. The clumsily titled “Being Gay Ain’t Okay in Kansas” would fit well in a journalism textbook chapter on one-sided reporting.

The article, summarizing a HuffPost Live video, loads the first paragraph with the warning that the bill, if passed, “would allow discrimination against same-sex couples on the basis of religious beliefs.” It then quotes legislator Emily Perry, interviewed in the video, and doesn’t go much beyond that point for the next 200 words or so.

The three-page bill itself seems pretty straightforward. Its main point is that:

[N]o individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement …

The HuffPost story links to the bill but doesn’t quote it directly. Instead, it helps Perry raise red flags about a host of civil wrongs:

“To me it really talks to the fact that an employer or even a governmental entity … could not provide services,” Perry said on HuffPost Live. She raised an example of a police officer arriving at the scene of a domestic violence complaint involving a gay couple. “We don’t want these public servants to be able to arrive at the scene of the crime, and decide that because of their religious beliefs, they don’t want to offer services,” she said.

The piece says that Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t read the bill but “is a well-known supporter of religious liberty.” It’s apparently drawing from a Kansas City Star piece to which it links:

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Doing right by the pope — and by the readers

What a pleasure it is to see a writer do it right. So it’s a pleasure to read John L. Allen Jr.’s interview with Cardinal Sean O’Malley in the Boston Globe.

Allen, an associate editor of the Globe, brings years of skill and experience in having covered the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter in interviewing the archbishop of Boston.

The story, which Allen wrote along with religion reporter Lisa Wangsness, picks the brain of Pope Francis via the man who, as it says, “is widely considered to be Pope Francis’ closest American adviser.” The journalists set a balanced tone right from the first three paragraphs:

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley says he shares in the sense of wonder at how swiftly Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention and softened, with his sometimes startling words and personal gestures, the image of the Roman Catholic Church.

But he cautions that those with high expectations that the shift in tone presages major changes in church teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and other flashpoint issues are likely to be disappointed.

“I don’t see the pope as changing doctrine,’’ O’Malley said in an interview with the Globe, though he said the pontiff’s focus on compassion and mercy over doctrinal purity has reverberated powerfully throughout the church.

That’s another sign of an original reporter. Allen is aware of the tone in many secular media, anticipating liberal changes in the Roman Catholic Church. But unlike many colleagues, he chooses reporting over parroting.

He is also scrupulous in telling us what limitations he accepted for the interview. One is not to bring up a flap at a local Catholic school, where someone wasn’t used to provide food service after revealing that he’s gay. That’s analogous to Bob Costas’ agreement to confine his Wednesday interview with President Obama to matters related to the Winter Olympics.

Nor does Allen assume everyone knows O’Malley’s prominence in clerical circles. He offers this crisply written background:

O’Malley’s read on Francis carries special weight.

He is the only American cardinal Francis knew well before his election. O’Malley has traveled widely in Latin America, and once stayed at the Buenos Aires residence of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. They conversed comfortably in Spanish, a language O’Malley speaks fluently.

The 69-year-old archbishop is the only American on the pontiff’s all-important “G8” council of eight cardinal advisers, who will have their third session with Francis later this month to ponder reform of the Vatican bureaucracy and other matters.

He adds later that it was O’Malley who announced in December that Francis was forming a commission to deal with sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

The interview offers some tantalizing tips on future developments under Francis. One is to boost women’s leadership, even at the Vatican level:

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5Q+1: Godbeat pro reflects on reporting inside Pakistan

Jaweed Kaleem, the Religion Newswriters Association’s 2013 Supple Religion Feature Writer of the Year, produces exceptional journalism on a regular basis.

Don’t be surprised if his latest story — in which he goes inside Pakistan to report on religious minorities — turns out to be one of the best religion news stories all year.

It’s a must read:

KARACHI, Pakistan — Every Sunday, thousands celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s, a three-floor, 21,000-square-foot Catholic church that’s the biggest in Pakistan. Dressed in their best tunics and loose cotton pants, worshippers sit barefoot in the pew-less building — a style adapted from nearby mosques — as they sing hymns to the sounds of drums and a piano. As the sun sets, a light shines in a 24-hour prayer room, something common in Western nations but a rarity here.

The success of St. Peter’s, which cost $3.8 million to build — making it the most expensive in the nation when it opened two years ago – has been hailed as a sign of progress for Christians and religious minorities. Yet beyond its bold size and growing attendance, the difficulties parishioners face stand out here as much as at any other non-Muslim house of worship in this overwhelmingly Islamic country. Guards are outside to protect worshippers from would-be suicide bombers and attackers. Prayers for recent Christian martyrs are said regularly during services. Priests use nonalcoholic wine or grape juice during Holy Communion, partly because it’s cheaper, but also to avoid inflaming Muslims who believe drinking is sinful.

Rather than copy and paste all 2,600 words, I asked Kaleem — the national religion reporter for The Huffington Post — if he’d respond to a few questions about this remarkable story.

What’s the inside scoop on this story? How did it come about?

Over the summer, I received a grant to do a foreign-based religion reporting project through the International Center for Journalists. Within ICFJ, this particular program was funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

As someone whose beat includes writing about death, dying, grief and loss, I initially wanted go to India to explore Hinduism and changing end-of-life traditions there. My visa was essentially denied because my parents are from Pakistan, so I had to scrap that plan and come up with a new one. I’m very interested in South Asia in general, so I decided to go to Pakistan, where one of the biggest religion stories is the rise of more conservative (Deobandi) Islam and the decline of freedoms for religious minorities, including Shiites.

Did you travel to Pakistan specifically for this story, and what was your experience as a journalist like there?

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‘Moderate’ cardinal does some brash media criticism

As always, the annual March For Life has unleashed waves of debate and criticism about the news coverage, or lack of coverage, of this event.

In this case, one of the most interesting quotes this week came from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and it related to the ongoing interest in what Pope Francis meant when he offered that famous — all together now — quotation that said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. … The teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

And, of course, he also said that the church:

“… cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. … We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

In the mainstream press, this has evolved into a sound bite in which the pope says Catholics are “obsessed” with abortion and it’s time for Catholics to stop marching, stop counseling at abortion facilities, stop teaching their doctrines to their children in Catholic schools, etc., etc.

Enter Cardinal O’Malley, who is usually seen as one of the more moderate or even progressive voices at the top of the American Catholic hierarchy. He certainly has his share of conservative Catholic critics. Also recall that, as the leader of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Boston prelate also delivered the pre-march homily that annually serves as a kind of state of the union address for the pro-life movement.

Thus, it is interesting that O’Malley, in an interview with The Boston Herald, offered this bit of media criticism about mainstream news coverage of Pope Francis and, in particular, that “obsessed” quotation:

The normal Catholic in the parish might hear a sermon on abortion once a year. They’ll never hear a sermon on homosexuality or gay marriage. They’ll never hear a sermon about contraception. But if you look at the New York Times, in the course of a week, there will be 20 articles on those topics. So who is obsessed?

Yes, there is more:

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Wives, submission, web traffic and Candace Cameron Bure

Candace Cameron Bure (Photo by Joe Seer/Shutterstock.com)

Candace Cameron Bure, darling of ’80s sitcom television, is all grown up.

In case you’re mired in Nick at Nite reruns of “Full House” and hadn’t heard, the younger sister of fellow actor Kirk Cameron has been married for 17 years, has three teenage children and is on her second book tour. She calls herself a devout evangelical Christian and, while on tour promoting said second book, has been peppered specifically about a chapter where she explains her take on the biblical concept of wives being submissive to their husbands.

The Huffington Post deals with it thusly:

She writes in her book, “I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work.”

Bure elaborated on HuffPost Live, “The definition I’m using with the word ‘submissive’ is the biblical definition of that. So, it is meekness, it is not weakness. It is strength under control, it is bridled strength.”

Cameron has defended her view of marriage in the past. On Christian Women Online she quoted the biblical passage, “First Peter 3:1 says, ‘In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.’”

“It is very difficult to have two heads of authority,” she told HuffPost Live. “It doesn’t work in military, it doesn’t work — I mean, you have one president, you know what I’m saying?”

The Cameron family project (a nice title for a reality series, no?) seems to be focused on taking a conservative Christian message to the mainstream media, ready or not. Remember Kirk Cameron’s 2012 interview with Piers Morgan in which he came out swinging against homosexuality, declaring it “unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization.”

Fans aligned with his beliefs embraced the father of six and have supported his ministry and evangelistic film work. (As an aside, I coughed through “Fireproof” while my husband teared up, which was my indictment of the acting. Ahem.)

It seems his sister is going to tackle women’s roles in marriage and family according to her interpretation of Scripture. And while the live Q & A on Huff Post’s website went well overall, from the looks of the transcript, other sites that have picked up on the story are simply pulling one or two quotes about submission, sensationalizing headlines and hoping to light up their comment sections.

Some of the more predictable responses from readers to these efforts:

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