Pew views: Questions about Oprah America

rainbow vestments 04As you may have noticed — if you have taken a turn or two around the WWW in the past 20 hours or so (click here) — those amazingly productive people over at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have rolled out the second half of their lay-of-the-land study of religion in the United States.

I’ll kick off the GetReligion discussion of the coverage by looking at the national stories in the New York Times and USA Today. I would also urge you to head straight over to the Pew Forum site and check out the survey for yourself. We are very much at the stage where most — repeat, “most” — of the press reports are sticking to the Forum’s own talking points.

But first let me make three comments about the main headlines, which center on this question in the survey:

[IF RESPONDENT HAS A RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION, ASK:] Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR: many religions can lead to eternal life.

Question No. 1: What is a “religion”? What is a “faith”?

I am being a bit picky here, but I suspect that if you asked a lot of people that Pew Forum question today, they would think of the great world religions. But many Christians would think more narrowly than that. Not all. Not many, perhaps. But some. What is your religion? I’m a Baptist, a Nazarene, an Episcopalian, a Catholic. Can people outside of your religion be saved? Of course. This is not the same thing, for many, as saying that they believe that salvation is found outside faith in Jesus Christ. There are others who might have a “dual covenant” view of Judaism, but not apply that belief to Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, etc.

Other Christians may believe that, somehow, all people will — in this life or the next — face some kind of spiritual decision about Jesus being “the way, the truth and the life.” But if you asked them if that means that only Christians will “be saved,” they will say that only God can know that. It is highly unlikely that they will say that the Bible is wrong or that centuries of Christian teaching are wrong. Yet it is unlikely that all of them — even Billy Graham — will be strictly dogmatic about what THEY know about eternity. How do they answer this Pew question?

In other words, there is a reason that the first two questions in the infamous “tmatt trio” are:

Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

Question No. 2: Is the American press now officially defining “tolerance” in doctrinal terms instead of in social or public terms? In other words, to be “tolerant” now, does one have to hold a certain doctrine of salvation? Do you have to be a “universalist” on that issue and believe that all religious paths lead to the top of the same eternal mountain?

What happened to the old definition — at the heart of American church-state separation — that citizens were supposed to be tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs and allow them full rights of free speech and association? In other words, is it now “tolerant” to be intolerant of people that you do not believe to be adequately tolerant on issues of salvation? There was a time, early in American history, when one of the main points of religious toleration was to provide freedom for people to proclaim their beliefs, even if that meant evangelism by, let’s say, Baptists in a state that was led by, let’s say, intolerant Anglicans (think Virginia). This point of view influenced the freethinkers of that day, including a deist or universalist like Thomas Jefferson.

Question No. 3: Has there been much actual change in the beliefs of the more committed 40 percent of the U.S. population that tends to practice its faith in a more strict manner? For a generation or two, the Gallup Poll numbers have consistently shown that about 40 percent of all Americans are frequent worshipers and people whose beliefs impact their daily lives in a strong way.

You can read the Pew Forum data and reach the conclusion there is a lot of change in the other 60 percent and perhaps some change in younger people in the 40 percent. But I am not sure that this survey shows that the vague, foggy faith of “Oprah America” has really cracked that much deeper into the beliefs of the people who are in the pews and on their knees week after week. I am sure there is change — James Davison Hunter has been seeing warning signs for decades — and I think the Pew Forum folks are sharp enough to find it and underline it. But I still want to know more about how the “true believers” are faring in this day and age. Has there been much change there?

So with that background, let’s turn to the lede in the Times:

Although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, reveals a broad trend toward tolerance and an ability among many Americans to hold beliefs that might contradict the doctrines of their professed faiths. For example, 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” including majorities among Protestants and Catholics. Among evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did. Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.

The findings seem to undercut the conventional wisdom that the more religiously committed people are, the more intolerant they are, scholars who reviewed the survey said.

stoles 01Several questions: How is that mush word “evangelical” defined? And, again, has a real tie between religious commitment and this new doctrinal toleration actually been demonstrated?

After all, a few lines later we read:

The survey confirms findings from previous studies that the most religiously and politically conservative Americans are those who attend worship services most frequently, and that for them, the battles against abortion and gay rights remain touchstone issues.

And later:

As past surveys have shown, this report found that Americans who prayed more frequently and attended worship services more often tended to be more conservative and “somewhat more Republican” than other people. Majorities of Mormons and evangelicals say they are conservative, compared with 37 percent of Americans over all. (Twenty percent say they are liberal, and 36 percent say moderate.)

This turns into politics so quickly, doesn’t it? I wish there was a survey that really went hard, in very detailed language, about the underlying doctrines.

Meanwhile, if you want a fuller survey of all the results — and the over-arching trends in the vague 60 to 70 percent of the population — turn to Cathy Lynn Grossman’s reporting in USA Today. Here is a key piece of her long story:

The survey finds U.S. adults believe overwhelmingly (92%) in God, and 58% say they pray at least once a day. But the study’s authors say there’s a “stunning” lack of alignment between people’s beliefs or practices and their professed faiths. …

Among the highlights:

* 78% overall say there are “absolute standards of right and wrong,” but only 29% rely on their religion to delineate these standards. The majority (52%) turn to “practical experience and common sense,” with 9% relying on philosophy and reason, and 5% on scientific information.

* 74% say “there is a heaven, where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded,” but far fewer (59%) say there’s a “hell, where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished.”

* 70%, including a majority of all major Christian and non-Christian religious groups except Mormons, say “many religions can lead to eternal life.”

* 68% say “there’s more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.”

* 44% want to preserve their religion’s traditional beliefs and practices. But most Catholics (67%), Jews (65%), mainline Christians (56%) and Muslims (51%) say their religion should either “adjust to new circumstances” or “adopt modern beliefs and practices.”

Like I said, there are many, many, many more angles and stories to investigate. Tell us the best ones that you have seen in other media.

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Obama prays behind closed doors

chained doorOne of the hardest things to do is to cover an important “off the record” meeting that takes behind closed doors.

We had a very important meeting that kind more than a week ago in Chicago, between Barack Obama and 40-plus Catholic, evangelical and oldline Protestant leaders. I was going to write about it immediately here at GetReligion, but then pulled back when (a) I began getting interesting emails about what happened in the meeting and (b) some participants began blogging about their impressions of the meeting, while still refraining from quoting Obama’s comments.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to write about the event myself in my Scripps Howard News Service column.

But let’s back up a second. Here is a major chunk from the top of the solid, informative Associated Press report by Charles Babington, from which I quote while praying that our nation’s fair use and commentary laws are still in effect.

Barack Obama discussed Darfur, the Iraq war, gay rights, abortion and other issues Tuesday with Christian leaders, including conservatives who have been criticized for praising the Democratic presidential candidate.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, a prominent black clergyman who heads a Dallas megachurch, said Obama took questions, listened to participants and discussed his “personal journey of faith.” The discussion “went absolutely everywhere,” Jakes told The Associated Press, and “just about every Christian stripe was represented in that room.” …

Jakes said the meeting, at a law firm’s offices, seemed designed to prompt a wide discussion rather than to result in commitments from either Obama or those attending. Others familiar with the meeting said some participants agreed to attend only because it would be private.

Who called the meeting? Who attended?

Joshua Dubois, the Obama campaign’s director of faith outreach, said the meeting included “prominent evangelicals and other faith leaders” who “discussed policy issues and came together in conversation and prayer.” Similar sessions will occur “in the months to come,” he said.

About 30 people attended, the campaign said, but it released only three names: the Rev. Stephen Thurston, head of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., a historically black denomination; the Rev. T. Dewitt Smith, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., which was home to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders; and Bishop Phillip Robert Cousin Sr., an A.M.E. clergyman and former NAACP board member.

Two sources familiar with the meeting, but who spoke on background because the session was private, said others attending included conservative Catholic constitutional lawyer Doug Kmiec; evangelical author Max Lucado of San Antonio; Cameron Strang, founder of Relevant Media, which is aimed at young Christians; the Rev. Luis Cortes of Esperanza USA; and Paul Corts, president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.

Now, regular GetReligion readers will notice that the last name in that list — Paul Corts — is my boss. I quickly emailed him on the road to confirm that he was not talking to anyone about the meeting. He already knew that some people were talking about the questions that they asked behind the closed doors, as opposed to the answers that Obama gave.

If you want to start unpacking the online diary of this session you can start with the always candid John Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, whose blog has become must reading for open-minded people on the left as well as the right. You can’t say that about many religious conservatives. The man is a gaining clout in this town, Click here and then here to read his take.

From Brody, you can head over to NPR.org to see more of the fall out. As a GetReligion reader noted in a private email:

… NPR’s “All Things Considered” covered Obama’s meeting with prominent evangelical leaders. Listen to it. The reporter, David Brody, senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, knows his stuff. My head spun as he named names and listed off where each attendee stands in the political spectrum, making a point of the generally “moderate” leanings of most attendees. The anchor, Michelle Norris was clearly not keeping up. And then, THEN, less than 10 minutes later, the top-of-the-hour news recapped the story with the standard “Obama Meets with Conservative Christian Leaders.” I thought to myself that NPR news should should consider looking at NPR’s other thoughtful programing as a source for its reporting.

Precisely. This was a meeting that involved some conservative evangelicals, some centrists and then lots of “progressive” evangelicals of various kinds, which means people who are progressive on a variety of different issues from one another. Confused? That’s the point. Then there were Catholic leaders and people from Obama’s own world, the Protestant churches of the left.

But it was the reaching-out-to-evangelicals angle that had legs, obviously.

If that is what interests you, then read the text and the subtext of this weblog post by Steve Strang, the founder of Charisma Magazine, a major voice on the Pentecostal/charismatic side of evangelicalism. Here is a part that will tick off many on the left, until they read more closely:

I returned from the meeting very concerned. Here is a liberal — Obama — reaching out to the Christian community at a time the conservative — Sen. John McCain — seems to be distancing himself from the so-called “Christian Right.” I think McCain has a lot of work to do to get the support of the Christian community. Obama seemed to have the support of at least half of the 43 leaders who attended the Chicago meeting. And in my opinion, he “made points” with the rest. The tone of the meeting was respectful and generally upbeat.

I was curious to see who would attend. They wouldn’t release a list of invitees ahead of time. It turns out my son Cameron, who founded Relevant Media Group, was also invited. But neither of us knew this until I copied him with an email saying I intended to go, and he told me he was also attending.

The invitation to the meeting stated, “This is an off-the-record (no media) time for questioning and listening, with no expectation of endorsement.”

ObamaCrossStrang asked the big question: How did Obama square his stance on abortion with his Christian commitment. It was an obvious question, yet Obama had to know it would be asked — since the room contains pro-life liberals as well as pro-life conservatives.

What happened next? Here is my summary from my Scripps column:

Strang said Obama offered a surprisingly “centrist,” 15-minute answer. Since the evangelical entrepreneur had read Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” memoir, he recognized that the response came from its “Faith” chapter.

Thus, it’s likely that the presumptive Democratic nominee retold the story of the University of Chicago doctor who gently challenged a statement on a U.S. Senate campaign Web site pledging that Obama would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” The doctor’s e-mail said he wasn’t asking Obama to oppose abortion, but to begin addressing “this issue in fair-minded words.”

Obama told his staff to drop the offensive language, in recognition of the fact that many abortion opponents want sincere, sober discussions instead of more shouting. About that time, a member of a polite, pro-life family protesting outside an Obama rally called out: “I will pray for you. I will pray that you have a change of heart.”

Thus, Obama wrote: “Neither my mind nor my heart changed that day, nor did they in the days to come. But I did have that family in mind as I wrote back to the doctor and thanked him for his e-mail. … I said a prayer of my own — that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.”

I also found another quote in my copy of “Audacity” that, well, seemed to fit the content of some of the emails that were flying around containing all kinds of rumors about what Obama did or did not say about this issue. Thus, I wrote — very carefully — the following:

… (Abortion) remains a high hurdle in an era when several U.S. Supreme Court justices are near retirement.

Is change possible? In “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama noted that many opponents of abortion are willing to “bend principle” in cases of rape and incest. Meanwhile, the willingness of “even the most ardent” of pro-abortion-rights advocates to “accept some restrictions on late-term abortion marks a recognition that a fetus is more than a body part.”

There are all kinds of other reports out there, including this newsy blog item from the Chicago Sun-Times. Then there is an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, by a Catholic who attended. Who knows, we may even hear from Christianity Today, which has stressed that there are young evangelical votes that are up for grabs.

That’s all for now. If half of what I have seen in emails is true, this meeting may make big headlines somehow, someday. It’s really hard to know for sure, when the doors are shut, yet the World Wide Web is wide open. Let us know what you see, if it’s on the record.

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Clinging to journalism doctrines

toasterAfter one brief palate-cleansing look at decent stories on the same-sex marriage issue, we can now return to the mainstream media’s attack on defenders of traditional marriage. At this point, I’m not sure how inadvertent the biased stories are.

Take this feature from yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Headline:

California’s gay marriage law revives religious debate over homosexuality

Some cling to literal reading of religious texts. Others call for new interpretations.

One would think that in a year such as this, when Barack Obama got in a spot of trouble for characterizing some rural voters as Bible-clingers, the copy desk would be more sensitive to the word. Some “cling” to the Bible as written while others “call for” new interpretations? Are you kidding me? That is just a shameful and stupid headline.

Perhaps those of us that “cling to” the idea that journalists should at least try to be unbiased in their reporting can comfort each other. Unfortunately, reporter Duke Helfand doesn’t really improve things with his story, which purports to look at the Scriptural battles over gay marriage:

“Homosexual intimacy is out of bounds. It’s not what God created us for,” said Richard Mouw, president of the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

Mouw cites Romans 1 in the New Testament that decries men and women abandoning “natural relations” and men “inflamed with lust for one another” committing “indecent acts with other men” — behavior that carried death as punishment.

Behavior that carried death as punishment under what law? Jewish? Roman? But Mouw is talking about New Testament teachings. And unless some new verses have been added to Romans recently, I don’t recall Paul calling for the death penalty for homosexual behavior. I mean, unless reporter Duke Helfand is taking the exegetical position that what Paul is doing in his Romans sermon is calling for the death penalty to be imposed on those who sin in general — be it sexual sins, pride, envy or any of the other sins he enumerates in that chapter. To the Christian, the wages of sin may be death — but that’s kind of the whole point of the “good news” of the Gospel.

Anyway, Mouw’s views are followed by the Rev. Mel White’s, former Fuller professor who got married to his male partner on Wednesday:

“The Bible says as much about sexual orientation as it does about toasters or nuclear reactors,” White said. “We have to grow with the times.”

Other clergy reject the scientific argument and say homosexuality is a choice.

I’m not sure why Duke Helfand didn’t write the entire story about this huge piece of breaking news. Science has decided this contentious issue? Sure, scientific studies on this topic are conducted all the time — but has there been a definitive conclusion? Have we found the elusive gay gene? What’s more, many clergy are opposed to homosexual behavior whether it’s innate or immutable. So it’s sort of a silly statement either way, designed to make it seem like there are good people (the scientific types) versus bad people — the idiots who have no basis in reason or science for their awful, backward views.

The entire story is more of an instructional guide for how to argue against traditional religious opposition to homosexuality as opposed to an objective piece of journalism:

Theologians and biblical scholars trace the origins of the dispute to a handful of passages in the Torah, New Testament and Koran.

Perhaps the most frequently cited is Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman: It is an abomination.”

The passage from the Torah is repeated, with slight variations, in Christian scripture, which, like the Jewish text, orders death for violators. The Koran also denounces homosexuality, in Chapter 7, Verse 81: “For you practice your lust on men in preference to women: You are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.”

reactorThis is just another bizarre passage. It belittles the issue to cast it as a dispute over a “handful” of passages. The teachings about homosexuality — no matter which side you’re on — are about much more than a handful of Scriptures. There is an entire ethic — woven throughout Scripture — about sexuality in which homosexuality is just a part. There are also 2,000 years worth of tradition and church teaching about the matter.

And is Helfand aware that Christians also hold the Torah as Scripture? The Torah — aka the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — may be called the Pentateuch or the Law by Christians but they’re the same books of Moses. Perhaps someone should tell the reporter that they say the same thing. But as for New Testament passages on homosexuality, there is no death penalty, as we mentioned. So Helfand’s writing is just a mess in that last paragraph.

He quotes a Roman Catholic priest saying that the church teaches that homosexuals are to be treated with love and respect but that society does not have the authority to redefine the natural and divine institution of marriage. But that argument is only placed there so that it can be countered:

But other clergy criticize what they see as a selective analysis of the texts. Jesus condemned divorce and remarriage, they point out, but that hasn’t stopped many Christians from splitting and remarrying.

The Old Testament not only denounces adulterers and children who curse their parents, it demands the death penalty for both. It prohibits sex between husbands and wives during menstruation, even though theologians acknowledge the practice occurs without any formal reprimands.

This is not journalism. And no editor should ever permit Helfand to perform any exegesis of any Scripture at any point in the future. This reads like something Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens would write, except not as erudite or witty. Where oh where is Stephanie Simon? How can the paper have fallen from those heights so quickly?

Anyway, Helfand quotes the director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Berkeley’s Pacific School of Religion saying that everybody without exception reads the Bible selectively and that all texts need to be interpreted with regard to the culture and society that they were written in. He shows how the issue has been debated in Conservative Judaism and in some sectors of Islam. The piece then ends with an obligatory quote from Father Thomas Reese, the Larry Sabato of religion stories.

You’ve got to hand it to Helfand. In a sea of bad stories related to California’s same-sex marriage ruling, he’s one big fish.

As always, please keep comments focused on media coverage.

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Kiss pic or no kiss pic?

licenced kiss 1Our friends over at the diversity and ethics offices at Poynter.org have run a really interesting commentary on a media issue at the heart of debates about fair and accurate coverage of same-sex marriage.

On one level Kelly McBride‘s piece is about whether or not news organizations should run the “dreaded kissing photo.” On another level, the debate is about whether pushing same-sex marriage into the faces of readers is (a) good for the subscriber-challenged mainstream press and-or (b) good for the actual cause of lesbigay rights.

This is similar to the debate in England about whether calling The Wedding a “wedding,” as opposed to the “blessing of a civil union” is a good strategic move within the Anglican wars.

Here is a key chunk of McBride’s post:

Some newsrooms have policies that discourage running photos or video of same-sex couples kissing. Some photo editors and news directors are inclined to run the kissing images, because they capture the climactic moment of a wedding.

Interestingly enough, some advocates of gay marriage bristle at the kissing photos, arguing that they have become a cliche that turns people away from the story. Of course, other gay marriage proponents argue that when editors refuse to show a photo of a simple kiss, they give in to dehumanizing forces.

Four years ago, when public officials around the country began to test the laws that banned gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying, journalists learned a lot. The audience, in some cases, protested mightily over the photos. They accused their local television stations and newspapers of supporting the liberal cause of gay marriage by displaying the images. Others celebrated the diversity of same-sex couples that is rarely represented in visual journalism.

There is, of course, a thin line in California right now between saying that these photos will turn off newspaper subscribers and saying that they will turn off voters.

I can’t come up with a reason not to run the best photos that you have. I would, for example, have trouble saying that photos in secular settings are somehow better or safer than photos taken in sanctuaries on the religious left. This is a journalistic decision, although it is clear that there is no “safe” choice. Are “kissing photos” good for the religious right or the religious left? You can argue both sides of that.

Similar issues bubble to the surface in a Los Angeles Times piece by Jessica Garrison that ran with the candid headline “Gay couples are emphasizing low-key weddings — Flamboyant images from same-sex ceremonies, activists say, could be used by opponents to convince California votes that gays and lesbians shouldn’t have the right to marry.”

This theme that runs through this story is clear: It’s time to focus on public relations. Do what is best for the movement. Here’s the lede:

The gay and lesbian couples who packed a Hollywood auditorium last week had come seeking information about California’s new marriage policies. But they also got some unsolicited advice.

Be aware.

Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L.Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to convince California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying the other side.

Sitting close to his husband-to-be in the audience, hairstylist Kendall Hamilton nodded and said he knew just what she meant. No “guys showing up in gowns,” he said.

“It’s a weird subject,” added Hamilton, 39, who plans to wed his partner of five years, Ray Paolantonio. “We want everybody to be free, but the image does matter. … They are going to try to make us look like freaks.”

In other words, do not celebrate too much. That’s important advice to activists. The question is whether this advice should have anything to do with policies in newsrooms.

Photo: From http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/

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All the trimmings in Anglican land

london st bartholomew churcYou gotta hand it to the Brits. The journalists over there sure know how to cover a wedding.

The Telegraph rolled out the heavy artillery to cover what may have been the most celebrated wedding in the United Kingdom since that of Prince Charles and Lady Di. I am referring, of course, to the same-sex union rites for the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord.

Here’s the hard news lede, served up by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the newspaper’s religious affairs correspondent.

An Anglican church has held a homosexual “wedding” for the first time in a move that will deepen the rift between liberals and traditionalists, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Two male priests exchanged vows and rings in a ceremony that was conducted using one of the church’s most traditional wedding rites — a decision seen as blasphemous by conservatives. The ceremony broke Church of England guidelines and was carried out last month in defiance of the Bishop of London, in whose diocese it took place. News of the “wedding” emerged days before a crucial summit of the Anglican Church’s conservative bishops and archbishops, who are threatening to split the worldwide Church over the issue of homosexual clergy.

Notice how, in just a few sentences, the reporter hit all the different levels of this Anglican blockbuster — both local, diocesan, national and global. Good show.

But this is one case where it really helps to remember that this story focuses on the radical redefinition of an ancient sacramental rite in a church that claims apostolic ties to Catholic orders and creeds. This has to be a story about worship and doctrine.

That’s where another Telegraph story really shines. To truly grasp the importance of what is going on, and all the fine details, I suggest that GetReligion readers click here and print out a blogger’s close analysis of the actual text for this same-sex rite, compared and contrasted with the Book of Common Prayer rite that it is modernizing or postmodernizing, depending on one’s point of view.

This story focuses
on the worship service itself, making clear the degree to which this was a wedding, no matter what the high Anglican spinners try to say after the fact. And the setting? Location, location, location. Read it all. But here is a sample:

St. Bartholomew the Great at West Smithfield, in the City of London, dates from the 12th century but it can have seen few more historic events than this.

Greeted with a fanfare of trumpets, the Rev. Peter Cowell and the Rev. Dr. David Lord celebrated their civil union with the kind of pomp and pageantry reserved for royal weddings. The couple walked up the aisle to Mendelssohn’s march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream dressed in morning suits, with their bridesmaids and best men following behind.

A robed choir sang in Latin as incense was burned on the high altar. The service was rooted in the most traditional style, from the music to the liturgy, which was based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Rev. Martin Dudley addressed the congregation: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity.”

To conservative Anglicans the use of those words in such circumstances might be blasphemous, but the packed pews indicated the level of support for the couple.

One more detail, in a nation that truly sweats the details of class and politics.

Cowell is who is a hospital chaplain at Barts and priest at Westminster Abbey, which means he works at the heart of the system that serves the queen. Thus, he are told:

Among those celebrating with the couple were some of the Church’s most senior clergy, including Canon Robert Wright from Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

“It was incredibly grand — the most spectacular wedding I’ve ever been to,” said one guest. “They had a 10-tier wedding cake. I’ve never seen a cake that big.”

So, do you think that this might come up for discussions in Jerusalem and then in Canterbury?

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Holy matrimony from Cana to California

marriage cana xlOf the many stories dealing with same-sex marriage in California, one San Francisco Chronicle story in particular deserves a look. Headlined “Bay Area churches opened door to same-sex vows,” the reporter skims the surface of the history of same-sex rites in Christian churches and managed to get the attention of more than a few GetReligion readers in the process:

The Bay Area has had a number of seminal moments in the history of gays and lesbians in organized religion. The first ordination of an openly gay minister, William Johnson, took place in San Carlos. One of two openly gay bishops in the Anglican Communion, Otis Charles, is a Bay Area resident.

But even so, the vast majority of churches in the region limit the role of gays and lesbians. Only one mainline Protestant denomination – the United Church of Christ, which ordained Johnson – marries homosexual couples with the same rite used for heterosexual couples. And the number of churches friendly to gays and lesbians is much lower than the number of Catholic, evangelical or other conservative Christian churches in the region.

So while liberal churches helped change the state, the state now has a far more liberal view of same-sex marriage. Flat-out opposition has come from evangelicals and the state’s Catholic leaders – including San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer and Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron. Joint support for a November ballot initiative seeking a constitutional amendment that will codify marriage as between one man and one woman will probably come from them.

In case the language wasn’t clear enough, the bad people “limit,” “flat-out oppose” and aren’t “friendly” to gays. The good churches “help change” the state’s views on same-sex marriage, ordain and marry homosexuals and condone homosexuality. And that bizarre last sentence is conditional and passive why?

Reporter Matthai Kuravila goes on to say that “churches supportive of gay and lesbian rights” are in the difficult position of being in denominations with stricter rules on same-sex marriage than they might prefer:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church, for example, now prohibit using the marriage rite reserved for straight couples for same-sex marriages. Separate – and, some say, unequal – rites are set aside for gays and lesbians. (That’s not true for all churches in those denominations, including some in the Bay Area, where evangelical members insist that marriage should only be between a man and woman.)

I sort of have no idea what he means by this paragraph but love that it’s “evangelicals” in these mainline churches who oppose same-sex marriage. What does that word mean in this context? That middle sentence is also fascinating. It should really form the basis for its own article. In fact, I think an article on Christian marriage rites for same-sex partners is desperately needed.

The Christian model of marriage is based on the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband is to sacrifice for his wife as Christ gave himself to the church. The wife is to respect the husband as the church obeys Christ. You can read all about it Ephesians 5. When my husband and I got married, this was the understanding of marriage that we were instructed in. This was included in our marriage rite. Such clear roles for husband and wife wouldn’t make sense for same-sex partners. Or, if the same rite is used, who represents Christ and who represents the church? Is the same model of Christ and church used for same-sex partners? How is this understood? I would love to learn more about liturgies for same-sex marriage — or just other marriage liturgies in general — rather than some throwaway line about how some people say the rites are “unequal.” I mean, really.

Anyway, the article ends with a discussion of how Bay area Episcopalians have been at the forefront of gay rights issues. Bishop Marc Andrus says that gay couples should have a purely civil ceremony at county clerks’ offices and then return to the church for a blessing. And all couples — straight and gay — should use one of the three rites approved for same-sex blessings. The article fails to mention that these “approved” rites have not been approved by the Episcopal Church itself but, rather, the local California Diocese.

This Religion News Service report appearing in the Washington Post on Saturday notes that even in California, Episcopal bishops hold different views on same-sex marriage rites.

Here’s how the article ends:

Andrus said it is part of a natural order that churches might lead the state, and that the state might lead the church.

“We seek to intently follow Christ, but we don’t contain Christ,” Andrus said. “Christ transcends the boundaries of the church. . . . It’s not a surprise to me that the culture is going to manifest Christ in a way that summons the church to new realities. I really welcome that. I think that’s the way it’s meant to be.”

I feel like this quote needs more explanation, context or a response — but maybe it’s that I moved from California so long ago that I have forgotten the language. Anyway, all that to say that the graphic that accompanies the article is in error.

The chart looks at the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to see whether celibacy is required for gays and lesbians and whether they bless same-sex unions, perform same-sex marriages or ordain partnered gay clergy.

According to the chart, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do not require celibacy, do bless same-sex unions and do ordain partnered gay clery. Except that that’s not true. Practices may and do vary in both church bodies but the PCUSA does say that unmarried clergy must remain chaste and that people are not free to disobey that rule. And I think they also forbid same-sex marriage blessings. As for The Episcopal Church, 10 dioceses bless same-sex unions but the national church body has not condoned that. And the international Anglican Communion has been pressuring the Episcopal Church to crack down on those dioceses that conduct same-sex union liturgies.

It just seems that if you’re going to write a light and airy piece like this, the least you can do is get the facts right.

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Obama a doomed apostate? (true or false)

obama father topperHey, did you hear that Barack Obama is not a Muslim?

Actually, the mainstream press has — thank God — devoted lots of coverage to shooting down that plague of forwarded emails. However, a more interesting topic has come up for debate over at the New York Times, in the wake of a controversial (to say the least) op-ed by Edward N. Luttwak, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of “Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.”

The very pushy headline on this piece: “President Apostate?” Here is the heart of the topic being discussed, which centers on the oft-stated claim that Obama’s election would be welcomed by the Muslim world.

This idea often goes hand in hand with the altogether more plausible argument that Mr. Obama’s election would raise America’s esteem in Africa — indeed, he already arouses much enthusiasm in his father’s native Kenya and to a degree elsewhere on the continent. But it is a mistake to conflate his African identity with his Muslim heritage. Senator Obama is half African by birth and Africans can understandably identify with him. In Islam, however, there is no such thing as a half-Muslim. Like all monotheistic religions, Islam is an exclusive faith.

As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother’s Christian background is irrelevant.

Well, here we go again. Note the problem areas in this discussion. There is one “Muslim world.” Obama was born a Muslim as Muslim law is “universally understood.” And so forth and so on.

The basic logic goes something like this. Obama’s father was a Muslim, at one time, which means the faith has a claim on his son. Obama is a convert to Christianity, which means that he is a Muslim apostate and, under Sharia law, some would say he should be killed for this offense against Islam. Note that I said “some” would see the issue that way, so I am already heading toward my point.

Luttwak, who is a military historian, goes on to make a number of points about the crime of apostasy and notes, in particular, that while there is some debate about the proper punishment for apostasy, there is wide agreement on the fact that Muslims who kill apostates should not be punished. Really?

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

That an Obama presidency would cause such complications in our dealings with the Islamic world is not likely to be a major factor with American voters, and the implication is not that it should be. But of all the well-meaning desires projected on Senator Obama, the hope that he would decisively improve relations with the world’s Muslims is the least realistic.

The public editor at the Times rejected, well, all of this in a fierce rebuttal column that ran with the headline “Entitled to Their Opinions, Yes. But Their Facts?”

obama cross 01Once again, Clark Hoyt makes a number of interesting points. But here is the big one:

Did Luttwak cross the line from fair argument to falsehood? Did Times editors fail to adequately check his facts before publishing his article? Did The Times owe readers a contrasting point of view?

I interviewed five Islamic scholars, at five American universities, recommended by a variety of sources as experts in the field. All of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.

David Shipley, the editor of the Op-Ed page, said Luttwak’s article was vetted by editors who consulted the Koran, associated text, newspaper articles and authoritative histories of Islam. No scholars of Islam were consulted because “we do not customarily call experts to invite them to weigh in on the work of our contributors,” he said.

That’s a pity in this case, because it might have sparked a discussion about whether Luttwak’s categorical language was misleading, at best.

As you would expect, I am all in favor of newspapers printing articles that debate these kinds of issues. That’s the whole point, in this case.

Luttwak clearly used language that was too simplistic on the issue of apostasy and Muslim identity, where claims of faith and ethnicity blur many lines. Yet it seems that, after interviewing some scholars in the context of North America — Hoyt comes close to going to the other extreme and saying that all Muslims agree with his more moderate, tolerant, evolving view of Islamic law.

Luttwak makes exclusive statements, based on one view of Islam. Hoyt comes very close to making exclusive statements on the other side of the issue and he certainly says that Luttwak is totally wrong — based on a competing view of Islam.

The problem, of course, is that there is no one Islam, no one view of this issue.

Truth is, debates continue to rage inside a number of different Muslim nations and cultures on how to handle apostasy and blasphemy. Reporters who cover these issues have to read both of these Times op-ed pieces with more than a grain of salt.

So all Muslims will see President Obama as an apostate? Wrong.

So there are no Muslims who will see President Obama as an apostate? Wrong again.

Be careful out there.

Top photo: Barack Obama, Sr., and his son. Photo released by the Obama campaign team.

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From our “no comment” department

obama messiahThe following is not taken from a news story. It’s part of a column from (wait for it) the San Francisco Chronicle. And, yes, we have crossed paths with this man’s work before.

So I have no comment on Mark Morford’s answer to the question: What’s really going on with Obama (no other names needed at this point)?

I have no comment about the headline: “Is Obama an enlightened being? Spiritual wise ones say: This sure ain’t no ordinary politician. You buying it?”

Read the thesis for yourself, or a small part of it.

Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually demeaning stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this why he is so often compared to Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose stirring vibrations still resonate throughout our short history.

More? More?

But you gotta wonder, why has, say, the JFK legacy lasted so long, is so vital to our national identity? Yes, the assassination canonized his legend. The Kennedy family is our version of royalty. But there’s something more. Those attuned to energies beyond the literal meanings of things, these people say JFK wasn’t assassinated for any typical reason you can name. It’s because he was just this kind of high-vibration being, a peacemaker, at odds with the war machine, the CIA, the dark side. And it killed him.

Now, Obama. The next step. Another try.

Like I said, I have no comment at all. This is a column by a person whose elevator may or may not stop on all of the floors. I’ll let you judge that.

But you know that this is the kind of thing that is going to get people on the other side of the coin — the Obama is a Muslim and probably the Antichrist side — rolling in their tiny publications that are read by literally dozens of people (as opposed to a daily newspaper in a major city), until they draw mainstream coverage and then it hits Drudge, talk radio, Colbert Report, etc.

Paging Pat Robertson, where are you Pat Robertson?

So I have no comment on this. But you can watch for updates over at the Obama Messiah site. And perhaps Timothy Noah will bring back his “Obama Messiah Watch” feature at Slate.com, which kept an eye on the media Obama worship front.

OK, here is my comment. Sigh.

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