Union of sanctuary and steak

steaks1Let’s start with the classic Martin Marty quote, which is always good when talking about religion and the news. Marty has been known to say that, for many people, the word “ecumenical” seems to boil down to someone saying, “I don’t believe very much and you don’t believe very much, so we must have a lot in common.”

The same attitude often shapes the world of interfaith dialogues.

The New York Times ran a story this week that isn’t like that at all. This is one of those cases where very different religious believers follow doctrines and traditions so specific that they were pulled together. Instead of having no beef with one another, they are … Well, read the story. This is also a story that puts the crunch (if well done) back in “Crunchy Cons,” so thanks to Rod Dreher for spotting this one.

The headline on reporter Joan Nathan’s piece is wonderful: “Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul.” Synagogue and steak didn’t work as well, I guess. Here’s the lede from the wilds of Howard, S.D.

Near a prairie dotted with cattle and green with soy beans, barley, corn and oats, two bearded Hasidic men dressed in black pray outside a slaughterhouse here that is managed by an evangelical Christian.

What brought these men together could easily have kept them apart: religion.

The two Hasidim oversee shehitah, the Jewish ritual slaughtering of meat according to the Book of Leviticus. The meat is then shipped to Wise Organic Pastures, a kosher food company in Brooklyn owned by Issac Wiesenfeld and his family. When Mr. Wiesenfeld sought an organic processor that used humane methods five years ago, he found Scott Lively, who was just beginning Dakota Beef, now one of the largest organic meat processors in the country.

There is a news story down in the body of this tasty story (the old headline writer in me will now stop the puns). The bottom line is that food is important in traditional forms of religion, starting with the Hebrew scriptures and moving right on into churches that stress fasting and feasting.

Throw in a dose of environmental concerns, fair trade practices, labor conditions and humane treatment of animals and you have a niche audience — people who have a motivation to pay more than the local discount club — out there for good meat. Thus:

Christians, Jews and Muslims who see food through a moral lens are increasingly organized and focused on showing their strength. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a national coalition of more than a dozen religious organizations, is lobbying Congress for legislation to help small farms. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is helping congregations and universities in the Midwest buy local produce from family farmers. …

“This is the first time I have seen such a deep and growing involvement of the faith community,” said Brother David Andrews, who is on sabbatical from his job as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has followed these kinds of issues for 30 years.

If this nascent cause was taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound. “The religious movement is a huge force,” said Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture. “Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher and institutional buying.”

And you have to love the ending. Read this story, folks.

As it turns out, some of these people are even intensely red zip code folks (even if some of them live near blue-people zones). Here’s a quip from closer to the Beltway:

Joel Salatin, who is considered a guru of organic agriculture, said he has seen a change in the people who visit his Polyface farm in Virginia.

“Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”

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God’s Warriors wraps it up

Armor of GodMuch of my writing on CNN’s God’s Warriors has focused on the promotion for the series. Many of you readers have agreed that lumping all religious extremists together with a term that implies violence is not very good journalism. While this is very likely a decision of CNN’s marketing department, not the journalists behind the three-part series, it’s still bad journalism.

That said, one of the things CNN has done well in its marketing and portraying of the subjects — religious extremists in Islam, Judaism and Christianity — is that society at large has generally failed to understand God’s warriors. Can I get an amen?

A reader of ours, Dennis Colby, left this helpful link and commented on a Q&A the show’s host, Christiane Amanpour, did with readers of CNN.com:

It makes me reluctant to watch. Amanpour apparently subscribes to some version of newsroom universalism:

“But as far as I’m concerned, as long as people believe that only their holy book or only their holy word matters and is relevant, then there will be no solution. And that’s why it takes committed and courageous leadership to provide an answer and solution that addresses the greater good for all.”

Her political beliefs seem incoherent and sophomoric. She says over and over that the only thing that can help the world is “committed leadership” but also laments, “that unfortunately the very vocal minority often dominates the political stage.” What do you think a “leadership” consists of if not a vocal minority?

She basically comes off as an ill-informed Universalist with what are commonly called liberal beliefs, and as someone who doesn’t, ahem, get religion. This is why I hate these “journalists should disclose their biases” exercises: the CNN series is produced by a lot of people, and from what I’ve read seems to be fairly well done. But after reading this Q&A, I really have no motivation to watch a minute of it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that Amanpour did all the work on this series, but as anyone who has any experience in broadcasting knows, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people behind the scenes doing research, shooting film, prepping questions and even doing the interviews. Amanpour is the glorified star of the show.

Another thing about the show that’s noteworthy is its ratings. Here they are courtesy of Matt Drudge:

AMANPOUR’S BIG NUMBERS CONTINUE
Total Views 8/22/07

FOXNEWS O’REILLY 2,260,000
CNN AMANPOUR 2,201,000
FNC SHEP SMITH 1,308,000
FNC BRIT HUME 1,286,000
FNC HANNITY/COLMES 1,278,000
FNC GRETA 1,031,00
CNN DOBBS 813,000

Now that the recap is complete, here’s a well-timed article in this week’s issue of The Economist that focuses on D. Michael Lindsay’s book on how “evangelicals have joined the American elite”:

“Faith in the Halls of Power” is not a perfect book. Mr Lindsay’s prose style suggests that he spends too much time reading his fellow sociologists. His failure to discuss the American armed services is bizarre given the number of Evangelicals there. But he has nonetheless written an impressive and admirably fair-minded book: anybody who wants to understand the nexus between God and power in modern America should start here.

I write this before the final episode, “God’s Christian Warriors,” airs. I wonder if it will be mentioned at all.

Now for my review of tonight’s show

The Jerry Falwell segment was nicely done and probably the best way to introduce the issue. There was little effort made to explain the theological differences within American Christianity until the very end of the show. There was little news out of Amanpour’s interview with Falwell. One interesting tidbit was Falwell’s statement that 2008 could set a new standard for GOP presidential candidates that are acceptable to the religious right.

There was little violence in the episode, unlike previous evenings. The abortion clinic bombings of the 1990s got a little attention, but there’s only so much you can do with that. Would it have been appropriate for CNN to explain how these Christians are for the most part not warriors in the violent sense? It was interesting how many interviewed claimed to be God’s warriors.

The segment in which CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin spoke was pretty bad from a legal standpoint. He said that if the Republican Party gets a couple of new Supreme Court justices, the law would be transformed beyond recognition. Toobin should be aware that law evolves constantly and the law today doesn’t look like the law last year. That’s just the nature of our system. He could have made the point that if conservative Christians got their way the law might look like it did 40 to 50 years ago — and to some that would be a setback — but he didn’t.

As for President Jimmy Carter, I think he’s officially the costar of this show. I found his claim that he didn’t express his Christian faith more than others kind of loopy and untrue. The show didn’t explicitly show this, but it was there.

The final segment on Battle Cry was tremendously well done. Overall this series has given its subjects the chance to answer the question: Why do you believe that? That’s a huge plus that made the show worthwhile.

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God’s Warriors: Misunderstood Muslims

Islamic radicalsThe second episode of CNN’s God’s Warriors series aired Wednesday night. I wasn’t able to follow the show as closely as on Tuesday night, so I’ll provide some general comments rather than “live blogging” the show. Please give feedback since commentary on television news programs isn’t something we do that often.

This episode started off a lot less violently (at least visually) than the episode on Jewish extremists. As with Tuesday’s show, a lot experts gave us the history of complicated situations, but this time it involved things that happened centuries ago and not just decades. Overall, the show covered vast material fairly superficially. One could do 10 hours of programming on Islam. I think it might have been more interesting to focus on a few specific examples of radical Islam, rather than trying to cover Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, the United Sates and Europe.

That was one of the strengths of “God’s Jewish Warriors.” It was contained to a small tract of land and one nation.

The New York Timesreview found the first episode the weaker of the bunch and found value in the show’s host, Christiane Amanpour, being confrontational toward the views that offended her:

Tonight’s opening installment, “God’s Jewish Warriors,” seems particularly timid, spending more time than necessary on clips of the Six-Day War and other familiar historical episodes. The warriors are Jews who have forcefully pushed settlements into areas even the Israeli government has placed off-limits, making political inroads at the same time. We’ve already heard quite a lot from these people; Ms. Amanpour’s most interesting contribution is a segment on the fund-raising in the United States that supports them.

“God’s Muslim Warriors,” tomorrow, is sharper, with Ms. Amanpour finally showing some aggressiveness, on the issue of women’s rights under radical Islam, brashly confronting leaders about things like stonings. But mostly she’s polite and lets her subjects stay in their comfort zones. The most compelling interview in the segment is not with a radical but with a former radical, Ed Husain. And it turns out he’s just hawking a book.

Amanpour’s Western values came through clearly in this episode, but I agree with the Times review: Amanpour confronted people politely, not aggressively. It contrasted nicely with her upbringing in Iran.

An article by Gannett News Service’s Mike Hughes is more a report about Amanpour’s experience researching the project. I found this comment interesting and contrary to what we’re shown on the show:

The title shouldn’t be taken literally; this is rarely about actual warfare. “Only a … tiny minority uses violence or terror,” says Mark Nelson, head of CNN Productions.

Why would CNN mislabel a show? The title of the show is the major problem for most critics, and now CNN wants us to believe that it is only a superficial title?

Overall I found this show less interesting because of the broad focus on the various strains of radical Islam spread around the Middle East, Europe and (briefly) the United States. I found the part on non-terrorist jihadists in the U.S. the most revealing.

Near the end of the show, Amanpour finally got around to the brutal “holy” murder of Theo van Gogh. The show does a great job contrasting the secular practices of the Dutch with the strict teachings of radical Islam.

I am really looking forward to Thursday’s episode on “God’s Christian Warriors.” I hope to spend more time following and writing on the big finale.

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CNN: God’s Warriors are hurting us

As promised, here is a review of the first installment of CNN’s series God’s Warriors hosted by Christiane Amanpour. The topic for tonight is “God’s Jewish Warriors.” I raised the question Monday of whether the series would engage in moral equivalency by lumping together extremists (or God’s warriors) from Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As one reader asked, where are the Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism?

Overall I am very glad that CNN is airing this type of show in prime time. The producers clearly spent some serious time putting this together and CNN has done a good job getting the news out about the show. It’ll be interesting to see the show’s ratings.

But that’s neither here nor there. What follows is a running commentary as the show aired.

Spooky Lost-style music raises on scenes of people raising their hands to the heavens, on a cross and a man saying that scripture is the foundation of society. They say God is the answer, but there are people saying that Islam is a threat, religion is too involved in politics and suicide bombers are scary.

Amanpour introduces the series and insinuates that “God’s warriors” in Christianity, Judaism and Islam all believe that violence could fix society’s problems.

The first story, in an attempt to show how some Jews believe that parts of the Middle East are for the Jews to settle, shows a woman whose father was killed by Palestinians. The family continues to live in the West Bank despite the conflicts.

The show transitions nicely into showing how the Jewish people who believe they have a right to the West Bank inflame sentiments in the Islamic world.

Now we’re seeing a nice history of the Six-Day War and the recapture of the Old City.

And now we’re at our first commercial. “Later, Jewish settlers turn to terror … and a plot to destroy one of Islam’s holiest sites.”

And now we’re back. Tanks, soldiers, machine guns, and more on the 1967 Six-Day War. The result of the Six-Day War — the West Bank settlements — is now the focus of the series. Scenes from conferences and fundraisers for building up the Jewish settlements are amusing from a Michael Moore investigation style.

Now we’re off to another break. Coming up, a Jewish warrior of God tells CNN that the proper response to terrorism is revenge.

Once again we’re back in America talking about how the $3 billion provided by the U.S. is something members of Congress could never vote against. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that so much focus is on what’s going on in the U.S.

Now we’re being told that President George H.W. Bush was nearly a hero for taking on the Jewish lobby. But he backed down just before the 1992 GOP convention. Now we’re talking about a hero of the show, President Jimmy Carter, and his efforts to address the matter.

Now we’re off to another break and I just accidentally hit the publish button, so everything after this comes after my initial publishing.

The story is now coming full circle as evangelical Christians are introduced as financial backers of the Jewish settlement movement. Portrayed are members of a supposed evangelical church (whatever that means these days) that takes their Jewish heritage so seriously that they worship sometimes on Friday nights. They also dance around in blue dresses and bang on tambourines.

Oh and if you didn’t know, the alliance between evangelical Christians and Israel is growing! Lots of money is raised from Christian Zionists to fund bad stuff in Israel and the West Bank. More Americans are supporting Israel by moving there.

Overall the failure to better define “some evangelicals” is a major failing of the show. Evangelicals are not monolithic on anything related to Israel and Judaism.

We’re dealing now with more history of the agreement between Egypt and Israel to give back the Sinai Peninsula. I think I like the history portions of this show the most. The plot to destroy the Dome of the Rock gets little attention these days. I’m glad this is being discussed.

An advertisement for Anderson Cooper 360° comes up. Did anyone know Hurricane Dean is coming?

Now we’re being told that the Jewish man who killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, because of Rabin’s to his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, is in the same moral category as suicide bombers.

Another break and I’m thankful for DVR because it’s getting late.

Things are getting pretty violent as we see Muslims and Jewish terrorists going at it. The rising violence results in support to the radical right ring of Israeli politics. Jewish terrorists are now planning to attack a Palestinian school for girls with a homemade bomb. “Jewish terror to match Palestinian terror,” Amanpour says. Bomb makers are stopped and sentenced to prison. Not all Jews condemn the criminals.

After what I hope is the last break (my alertness is fading), it’s interesting to see that what was yesterday’s news is now part of history. The evacuation of the Gaza settlements seems so fresh in my mind, and it’s fascinating to see how it played out in relation to the last 50-plus years.

The violence between the Jewish settlers and the Jewish military and police is amazing to watch. I don’t remember this being reported in U.S. media. Does anyone else remember how much coverage it received?

And concluding with the statement that people all over the world are fearful that modern society — whatever that is — is trampling on their religious beliefs, Amanpour wraps up the first in this series and I’m off to bed.

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God’s Warriors: blatant moral equivalency

Christiane Amanpour12Christiane Amanpour’s CNN series, God’s Warriors, seems to be a well-intended effort at explaining in-depth religious issues prominent in today’s world. Amanpour deserves credit for raising the visibility of international issues. That she has a total of six hours of prime-time television over the course of three days this week to focus on these issues is also a plus.

But based on the promotions, it appears the series engages in a blatant case of moral equivalency between Jewish settlers, Muslims fighting to making Islamic law the law of the land and Christians fighting for “the social, political and religious future of the U.S.A.” Tuesday will be on “God’s Jewish Warriors,” Wednesday is on “God’s Muslim Warriors” and Thursday is on “God’s Christian Warriors.”

The Associated Press’s David Bauder has a rather incomplete write-up of the series that fails to address this issue. Rather, it lavishes praise on Amanpour and tells us little that the press release doesn’t tell us. But the piece provides a good launching point for making my main criticism:

Many people know only stereotypes of these true believers, even the ones in their own country, she said.

Yet it’s vital to be familiar with their thinking given the growing importance of these movements in the war on terrorism, the never-ending conflicts surrounding Israel and conservative politics in the United States.

“I’m not interested in drumming up false fears, or falsely allaying fears,” CNN’s chief international correspondent told The Associated Press by phone from France, where she added last-minute touches to the series. “I just want people to know what’s going on.”

I know it’s unlikely that Amanpour was involved in promoting the show, and it may be true that the piece tries to shatter stereotypes. But based on what I’ve seen, for instance on the series’ website, the overall approach engages in a blatant stereotype: anyone who takes their religious seriously is on the same moral level as anyone else who takes their religious seriously.

Lumping the three groups together all as “God’s warriors” also clouds the issues and gives people a false image of all groups that take religious seriously. I would be more comfortable with this if there were only Muslims who wanted to make Islamic law the law of the land, but that’s not the case in the world.

Rightfully so, the promotion says an “extreme fringe” uses terrorism as a weapon and I think it is very wrong for CNN to compare terrorism with anything but terrorism. It cheapens the act of the terrorism and lowers the moral standing of political efforts of groups trying to affect society.

Consider this post a preview for the show. I have major issues with equating terrorism with settlers’ movements and nonviolent political battles, but the show may surprise me. I have been recently blessed with a DVR. I plan to watch each episode and do my best to report back after each show airs or soon after.

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Assume the official position

this week in godWhile visiting the blog of Episcopal priest Joseph Howard I came across a link to a new journalism and religion site. Funded by the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, the site has blogs, links to a Second Life community, and other features. Here’s how it’s described:

Stories about religion are too often framed around conflict and controversy, culture wars and holy wars. We want to tell another story — the lived experience of people’s faith.

We are a team of journalists from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley exploring “God, Sex and Family.” That’s where choices about marriage, dating, the building of community, family and faith play out in private life.

And public life, too! I love the idea behind the site, as I’ve long advocated against religion stories being framed around conflict. And I think the current scope of sex discussions (homosexuality, abortion) is far too limited in most media coverage of religion.

It’s just getting started but some aspects are worth looking at. One popular area is the Moral Compass, where you can learn what the “official” positions are for nine major religions: Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Reform Judaism, Mormon, Muslim (mostly Sunni), Southern Baptist, United Methodist, Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist. Yes, Unitarian Universalism is a major world religion, isn’t it? Why not Zoroastrians?

It’s also interesting to note what is missing. Where are the Pentecostals? Where are the non-Baptist evangelicals? Where are the always-forgotten liberal Baptists? Charismatics? Why is Reform Judaism more important than the Conservative branch? How about Hindus? I would love to see the argument for including United Methodists over Hindus. A partial answer is given by one Erin Fitzgerald:

The plan for the Moral Compass was to state the “official position” for nine major religions. We discussed and debated which nine those should be. We wanted Hinduism; wanted to include it very much, but it didn’t fit our parameters, that is, first, stating the official position, then indicating nuances to that position via the videos. I personally contacted several Hindu groups but they said that Hindus do not normally take positions, as a group, on these types of ethical decisions. One of the Hindu organizations I spoke to said that they are currently working with other Hindu groups to prepare those types of statements, but the “official position papers” wouldn’t be ready until well after our deadline. In short, we did what we could given these constraints.

I know these are only grad students, but this journalist has just explained why so much media coverage is lacking. Rather than looking critically at the parameters set out by the project and readjusting to reflect the reality of different religions, the group simply excludes the religion that doesn’t fit. I’m not saying I’m not sympathetic, but it’s just interesting to contemplate how this works in story assignment and development.

When sources don’t say what you want them to say, do you ignore them? Do you exclude them? Do you rethink your story’s premise? I’d say how you answer that question says a lot about the quality of the piece you end up with.

The problem with Hinduism’s lack of “official” positions is legitimate, though. But how well did the journalists do with understanding the official positions of, say, the Episcopal Church? Here’s their answer to the question of what the Episcopal Church’s official position is on whether gays and lesbians can marry and have such unions blessed by the church:

We recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.

But as Howard notes, that’s not an official position and fails to reflect the true “fuzziness” of the current Episcopal position that is clearly changing:

I think it is important to point out that the response as to homosexual relationships are blessed by the entire Episcopal Church, thereby making it an official position is incorrect. At the most it should be listed as “varied” or “discerning,” since the item you refer to as indicating official blessing was merely a resolution indicating that some Episcopalians are exploring this as a legitimate position and we are not sufficiently of one mind to condemn them. That is hardly a unified and official position, and I would hazard a guess that while the majority of the Episcopal Church voted not to reject such practices at General convention, a majority of Bishops have not approved such rites, nor would they encourage priests in their dioceses to use them. A little more clarity about our confusion would be appreciated.

It’s a good point and one the journalism grad students should keep in mind as they develop their Moral Compass. After all, this is the closest most journalists will come to a moral compass. I kid, I kid. It’s been a long week at work. What do you think of the site? What could be improved? Is this a sufficient improvement over The Daily Show‘s “This Week in God”?

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Please define ‘evangelical’ (yet again)

USA evangelicals2If you type the word “evangelicals” into Google Images, the art attached to the top of this post is the very first thing that turns up. This tells us quite a bit about how most Americans now define the vague word “evangelical.”

Even Wikipedia is better than this strictly political image and — horrors — you can see the battles over what the word means by reading the start of the “evangelicalism” entry at that mixmaster site:

The word evangelicalism often refers to a broad collection of religious beliefs, practices, and traditions which are found among Protestant Christians and some Catholics. Evangelicalism is typified by an emphasis on evangelism, a personal experience of conversion, biblically oriented faith and a belief in the relevance of Christian faith to some cultural issues. Historically, the movement began in the early 18th century as a response to Enlightenment thinking. It stressed a more personal relationship with God at the individual level; as well as activism based upon one’s biblically based beliefs.

Current media usage of the term (especially in the United States), is often synonymous with conservative Protestant Christians. This is only partly accurate, as the movement embraces a wide range of expressions of faith around the four core characteristics.

Notice, again, the entire history of the term Protestant, yet somehow we now have Catholics who apparently vote evangelical, which means there are Catholics who are now evangelical Protestants. The terrible phrase in the Wiki definition is the one that says evangelicals share a “biblically oriented faith” — which could mean just about anything. Thus, all the confusion. But it is not my intent to open up that subject for debate, yet again.

No, what caught my eye this time was a recent New York Times story by veteran religion writer Laurie Goodstein, which makes a solid attempt to add some clarity on the diversity of “evangelical” views on at least one issue that is hard to label as “liberal” or “conservative.”

Thus, the headline: “Coalition of Evangelicals Voices Support for Palestinian State.” This coalition is stressing that both Jews and Palestinians have rights “stretching back for millennia” to territory in the Holy Lands. These leaders have issued a letter calling for the creation of a Palestinian state that includes the “vast majority of the West Bank.”

Now, who are these people?

The letter is signed by 34 evangelical leaders, many of whom lead denominations, Christian charities, ministry organizations, seminaries and universities.

They include Gary M. Benedict, president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination of 2,000 churches; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Gordon MacDonald, chairman of World Relief; Richard E. Stearns, president of World Vision; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; and Berten A. Waggoner, national director and president of The Vineyard USA, an association of 630 churches in the United States.

“This group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we’re committed to the security of Israel,” said Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, which often takes liberal positions on issues. “But we want a solution that is viable. Obviously there would have to be compromises.”

Once again, you can see how hard it is to use political labels in this context — especially in a short news report.

What in the world does it mean that Sider and company often take “liberal positions on issues”? That is simply far too vague. What issues? Is it “liberal” to favor economic justice? Is that politically “liberal” or theologically “liberal”? Sider, by the way, is consistently pro-life and a doctrinal conservative on sexuality issues.

You can see this struggle later in the article, as well:

In the last year and half, liberal and moderate evangelicals have initiated two other efforts that demonstrated fissures in the evangelical movement. Last year, they parted with the conservative flank by campaigning against climate change and global warming. This year, they denounced the use of torture in the fight against terrorism. Some of the participants in those campaigns also signed this letter.

I do not fault Goodstein in any way for this confusion between political “evangelicalism” and doctrinal “evangelicalism.” Truth is, the word is all but meaningless right now. The reporter is caught in an impossible situation.

9780801025778However, by the end of the piece Goodstein manages to squeeze in an authoritative voice (and I must confess that he is a friend and former teaching colleague of mine) who can crisply note the nature of the doctrinal debate that looms behind this debate over Israel and Palestine.

There is a crucial theological difference between Mr. (John) Hagee’s views on Israel and those expressed by the letter writers, said Timothy P. Weber, a church historian, former seminary president and the author of “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend.”

Mr. Hagee and others are dispensationalists, Mr. Weber said, who interpret the Bible as predicting that in order for Christ to return, the Jews must gather in Israel, the third temple must be built in Jerusalem and the Battle of Armageddon must be fought.

Mr. Weber said, “The dispensationalists have parlayed what is a distinctly minority position theologically within evangelicalism into a major political voice.”

Now, most run-of-the-mill newspaper readers who make it this far are almost certainly going to have to ask, “What in the world is a dispensationalist?” And, there is no way around it — this is another big word worth arguing about.

But at least it’s the right word and a highly precise one at that.

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Here some stand

Schmeling“Stories like this annoy me,” a Lutheran pastor wrote when he notified us of the following Chicago Sun-Times piece. Written by veteran religion reporter Susan Hogan/Albach, it’s about how the Metropolitan Chicago bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America views his denomination’s celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy. The Lutheran clergy and GetReligion reader is a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which does not ordain gay clergy. Though both Lutheran groups are large (and I’m a member of the LCMS), only the larger ELCA is mentioned in the story.

Because of insufficiently clear mainstream media coverage, LCMS Lutherans are used to being asked if we really pay for the abortions of our female clergy members (the LCMS doesn’t even have female clergy members and officially believes the lives of unborn humans should be protected) and other such questions that are better posed to the larger and more politically liberal ELCA. But rarely is there any differentiation among the Lutheran groups in mainstream media. The mention that not all Lutherans are ELCA Lutherans doesn’t need to be big or a substantive part of the story — but it’s probably good to mention it. Particularly considering just how wildly different the two groups stand on everything from confessional approach to political involvement. On to the story:

The Chicago Sun-Times story begins with a horrible headline: “Same-sex salvation.” The story isn’t about whether gays and lesbians are saved. The story isn’t even about whether or not gays and lesbians should be ordained. The story is about the debate in the ELCA over whether or not people who are gay and lesbian AND are ordained should be engaged in sexual behavior. The story and accompanying side bar never even address salvation. Here’s how the story begins:

The Lutheran pastor soon to be bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod wants his denomination to lift a celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy.

“That’s where I think the church is going,” Bishop-elect Wayne Miller of Aurora said. “That’s where I think it needs to go.”

He’s hoping the change will come next month in Chicago, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is conducting its churchwide assembly. Nearly a third of the denomination’s 65 synods are asking for a policy shift in clergy standards.

Two things that I would like to praise about the story: thank goodness Hogan/Albach is on this very timely story about possible changes in the ELCA’s position on homosexuals in sexual relationships serving in the ministry. It’s a big story and there has not been enough coverage. The denomination’s assembly is being held shortly after a decision to defrock a popular gay pastor in Atlanta (Bradley Schmeling, pictured) for his sexual relationship with his partner. And it’s also great the lengths she goes to identify the denomination by its official name: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are many stories that just go with ‘Lutheran’. The reason why it’s a shame there hasn’t been more coverage of this particular angle is that it leaves those of us curious about the debate completely in the dark about the particular views of the various sides involved. It’s hard to analyze viewpoints when they’re not substantively looked at.

The reporter speaks with folks on one side of the issue, including the current bishop:

“Some of the churches with the most growth in this synod are led by gay pastors in committed relationships,” said Bishop Paul Landahl, 69, who has led the Metropolitan Chicago Synod since 2001.

Landahl said he approaches the issue pastorally and with compassion.

“I have a daughter [who is in] a same-sex committed relationship,” he said. “It’s been part of my life. To see her connected to a church that’s kind of slammed the door on gay and lesbian people is a miracle in and of itself.”

Unfortunately, the reporter doesn’t speak with anyone in the ELCA who believes differently. And the problem with lack of diversity is not just intra-ELCA or intra-Lutheran. In a sidebar, Hogan/Albach tries to show “where the faiths stand” on ordaining homosexual clergy. Here’s the full list:

Catholics: The church, which only ordains celibate men, says homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” but that it is not a sin to have a “homosexual orientation.”

Episcopal Church (U.S.): Supportive of gay clergy, including a bishop in a same-sex relationship, which put the denomination at odds with some in the worldwide Anglican communion.

Presbyterians (U.S.): Clergy are required to live either in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

United Church of Christ: Not only supports gay clergy, but endorses same-sex marriage.

United Methodist: Because homosexuality is considered “incompatible” with Christian teaching, “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” aren’t ordained.

Judaism: More liberal branches allow for gay and lesbian rabbis.

Islam: Imams aren’t ordained and homosexuality is considered immoral.

So there’s no differentiation for Presbyterians. There’s the funny (U.S.) designation after them and the Episcopal Church. Does that mean she’s referring to the PCA? or the PCUSA? There’s a mention of the UCC and UMC but no mention of, say, any Baptist, charismatic or evangelical denominations. And while the LCMS is over twice as large as the UCC, it doesn’t even get mentioned. It’s kind of like we got a view of the full scope of religious viewpoints — as seen through the windows of a mainstream newsroom.

It would be one thing if the story was limiting its focus to old-line mainstream Protestants, but with the inclusion of the Catholic church and Judaism and Islam, it’s hard to see what the goal of the sidebar is.

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