Striking the Wright balance

ObamaI watched Barack Obama’s speech on race and religion yesterday morning. But I imagine that I was one of relatively few people to actually watch the speech in its entirety (see it here) or read the whole transcript. That means that it’s been up to the media to summarize, translate and convey meaning about the speech to a larger audience.

I watched the address on MSNBC and knew the media had been completely won over when, upon the final word of the speech, Joe Scarborough immediately praised it as glorious and inspiring. Everywhere I flipped, broadcasters and pundits were talking about the brilliant, historic speech. So I guess Obama has retained the broadcast media vote.

I thought the speech would deal more with religion, since it was the rhetoric of Obama’s hostile pastor that caused this speech. The deft and nuanced speech was mostly about race. And the media coverage seems to get that point.

Still, the 37-minute speech did include discussion of religion and there has been media coverage of that, too. Nedra Pickler and Matt Apuzzo filed a report for the Associated Press that included this snippet:

[The speech] was prompted by the wider notice his former pastor’s racial statements have been receiving in the past week or so.

[Obama] said he recognized his race has been a major issue in a campaign that has taken a “particularly divisive turn.” Many people have been turning to the Internet to view statements by his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who suggested in one sermon that the United States brought the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on itself and in another said blacks should damn America for continuing to mistreat them.

That last sentence kind of cracks me up. The major reason why people are turning to the Internet to view statements by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright are because the mainstream media keeps characterizing them in just this bland, anodyne, tepid manner. One almost wonders what the fuss has been over.

I have stated before that context is desperately needed when discussing Wright, but covering up the incendiary rhetoric just serves to drive viewers and readers further away. You can’t keep the information — which included some amazingly offensive insults about white Americans, conspiracy theories about the federal government targeting blacks with the AIDS virus, and some nontraditional exegesis about the race of Jesus and his oppressors — away from people and it’s not right to do so in any case. Incidentally, the Pickler/Apuzzo report misstates Wright’s contention. He said blacks should sing “God Damn America” instead of “God Bless America,” not that blacks themselves should somehow damn America.

Speaking of the need for context, I thought Associated Press reporter Eric Gorski did a great job of providing it for his look at the speech. Having said that, he also characterized Wright’s views in the blandest way possible. But here’s how Gorski began:

As shocking as they may be, the provocative sermons of Barack Obama’s pastor come out of a tradition of using the black church to challenge its members and confront what preachers view as a racist society.

Yet while the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racially tinged messages still resonate in some black churches, evidence also suggests his style is receding into the past as civil rights-era pastors retire. Sermons in other congregations now focus less on societal divisions and more on the connection between spirituality and a materially prosperous life.

Some media outlets seemed to take Wright’s views completely out of context. But others kept on acting like what Wright said was as normal in black churches as women in hats and Gospel music. As if it’s perfectly fine to say some of the hateful things that Wright said. I really appreciated Gorski coming to the defense of black churches by providing a bit of perspective on where things stand there.

I don’t actually think it’s acceptable to be racist under any circumstances, particularly when you are a Christian pastor. But I do think that some media coverage made Wright into a bit of a caricature. Gorski does a good job of balancing out the picture — mentioning Obama’s defense of the man and explaining how Wright built Trinity United Church of Christ into the denomination’s largest congregation.

At the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ, the slogan “Unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian” has meant preaching about divestment during South Africa’s apartheid era. It has also meant fighting poverty, homelessness and AIDS at home. The religious message has been anything but watered down, with Wright dissecting Bible passages line-by-line. . . .

“The whole generation that Rev. Wright represents is expressing what they call a righteous anger, the anger from the failed promises of America,” said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “The prophetic anger is toward expanding the democracy, expanding it so all citizens can walk through the door of opportunity.”

Often lost in the attention paid to Wright’s fiery sermons is the typical conclusion, Hopkins said — that despite all obstacles, you are a child of God and “can make a way out of no way.” That phrase, common in the language of the black church, was used by Obama in his 4,700-word speech Tuesday.

That last paragraph, in particular, is what has been missing from so much of the coverage. But one of the things that bothers me with even Gorski’s story is that he doesn’t really talk to people who have any problem with Wright. Some of the things Wright said in his sermons didn’t sound like they were advancing democracy at all. I’m sure there are many people who would like to address just that point.

Gorski speaks with a religion professor at Columbia who defends Wright and says white Americans just don’t get race issues. And the omnipresent historian Martin Marty — a Democrat from Chicago, no less — is brought in to defend Wright, albeit it to balance out the discussion in a way that has been needed:

Wright does not focus his ire on white America alone, said Martin Marty, a retired professor of religious history who taught Wright at the University of Chicago.

“He is very hard on his own people,” Marty said. “He criticizes them for their lack of fidelity in marriage, for black-on-black crime. He is not saying one part of America is right and one is wrong.”

Gorski rounds out the Wright love fest by talking to parishioners who love Wright. Only one person quoted is in any way critical, and only at the very end of the article:

Bishop Harry Jackson, a conservative evangelical who leads a multiracial congregation in Beltsville, Md., said Wright and his defenders are wrongly portraying his comments and Afrocentrism as common in black churches and acceptable to most black believers.

“The people who are listening to him are listening to rhetoric that reinforces their sense of alienation and rejection while, ironically, not giving them any hope and not giving them any remedies,” Jackson said.

At least there was this solitary quote, showing that there actually exist people who have not been won over to Wright’s rhetoric. It also points to the obvious place reporters should look for balance in their portrayal of Wright.

It is good to explain the anger that Wright feels and it is good to place Wright’s preaching in the context of political struggles. But there are religious issues at play, here, too. How do other Christians feel about Wright’s message in particular and black liberation theology in general? We’ve gotten a lot of defenses of Wright from a religious perspective — and a lot of attacks of Wright from a political perspective. But it might be nice to have a bit more balanced conversation from a religious perspective.

Photo via Daniella Zalcman on Flickr.

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Race and religious affiliation

mobamaI finally got around to reading Lauren Collins’ profile of Michelle Obama in the March 10 New Yorker. It’s sympathetic but no puff piece — packed full of information that isn’t necessarily flattering. Obama’s stump speech includes the idea that we’re a country that is “just downright mean,” we are “guided by fear,” we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents, and so on.

But much to my surprise, the article deals with Obama’s religious views head on:

The other Chicago connection that dogs the Obamas is Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., their pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ. Wright, who drives a Porsche and references Bernie Mac and Terry McMillan in his unorthodox sermons (“Take what God gave you and say, ‘In your face, mediocrity, I’m a bad mamma jamma!’”), officiated at Michelle and Barack’s wedding and baptized their two daughters. Barack took the title “The Audacity of Hope” from a sermon that Wright preached. In 2006, the Obamas gave $22,500 to the church.

Wright espouses a theology that seeks to reconcile African-American Christianity with, as he has written, “the raw data of our racist existence in this strange land.” The historical accuracy of that claim is incontestable. But his message is more confrontational than may be palatable to some white voters. In his book “Africans Who Shaped Our Faith”–an extended refutation of the Western Christianity that gave rise to “the European Jesus . . . the blesser of the slave trade, the defender of racism and apartheid”–he says, “In this country, racism is as natural as motherhood, apple pie, and the fourth of July. Many black people have been deluded into thinking that our BMWs, Lexuses, Porsches, Benzes, titles, heavily mortgaged condos and living environments can influence people who are fundamentally immoral.”

In portraying America as “a Eurocentric wasteland of lily-white lies and outright distortions,” Wright promulgates a theory of congenital separatism that is deeply at odds with Obama’s professed belief in the possibilities of unity and change. Last year, Trumpet Newsmagazine, which was launched by Trinity United and is run by Wright’s daughter, gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to Louis Farrakhan, leading to accusations that Wright was anti-Semitic.

To some extent, this description and analysis of Wright’s hostile preaching are standard. But the New Yorker permits Obama to respond:

“We don’t want our church to receive the brunt of this notoriety,” Obama told me. I asked her whether Wright’s statements presented a problem for her or for Barack. “You know, your pastor is like your grandfather, right?” she said. “There are plenty of things he says that I don’t agree with, that Barack doesn’t agree with.” When it comes to absolute doctrinal adherence, she said, “I don’t know that there would be a church in this country that I would be involved in. So, you know, you make choices, and you sort of–you can’t disown yourself from your family because they’ve got things wrong. You try to be a part of expanding the conversation.”

Remember that recent Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey that showed that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations? Many reporters covered the story by leading with anecdotes about people who had switched denominations or religions. And that’s where the news was, so that’s a good idea. But even at the time I found myself wondering about the people who don’t pick up and leave their denomination like so many of their fellow Americans.

I might not be Lutheran if my mother hadn’t left the United Church of Christ, so I’m not saying that leaving a church body is a bad thing. But sometimes I’m shocked at how easily folks switch out denominations.

Anyway, chapter two of that survey showed that Protestants in historically black churches were much less likely to engage in denominational switching than those in other evangelical or mainline Protestant churches. I know that the United Church of Christ is not historically black, but I think that this piece of data does inform this discussion about race and religion. At the time, it seemed like a minor point in a mound of data. But in light of recent events, perhaps reporters might want to revisit the survey for more context and additional story ideas.

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A major address on religion and race

wrightobamaWhat a campaign season this has been. It’s amazing how much religion has played a part this year — from Huckabee’s surprising win in Iowa to Mitt Romney’s big religion in America speech. And now this, as reported by Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

Barack Obama plans a major speech tomorrow in Philadelphia on race, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the future.

An adviser said that Obama wants to contain the Wright story. He worries that the 1960s-to-1980s prism of race is what everyone has read into it, and Obama wants to move the discussion forward.

He is expected to recount, in detail, how he came to know Rev. Wright, how he came to admire Rev. Wright, the history and meaning of the Trinity church, and address the controversial remarks attributed to Wright.

He is also worried that Wright and church will get caricatured unfairly.

Let us know if you see any particularly good or bad media previews of the speech. And we’ll compare, contrast and analyze how the media portrays the speech tomorrow. Already the media are highlighting that this is a speech about race. I imagine that will be the focus of much of the media coverage, too.

The Washington Post just posted a good preview:

MONACA, Pa — Sen. Barack Obama will deliver a major speech about race in Philadelphia tomorrow that he said would explore his relationship with Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright and the wave of controversy it has stirred in his presidential bid.

“I am going to be talking about not just Rev. Wright, but just the larger issue of race in this campaign, which has ramped up over the last couple of weeks,” Obama told reporters after a town hall meeting here. According to aides, he was up until 3 a.m. Monday working on his remarks.

Wright, who recently retired as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, was Obama’s spiritual guide when he became a practicing Christian during his 20s. He presided over Obama’s marriage to Michelle and baptized both Obama daughters. But Wright, a fiery preacher, has come under heavy media scrutiny for a series of racially charged remarks he has made from the pulpit, and Obama has played defense on the issue since Friday.

“The statements that were the source of controversy from Rev. Wright were wrong and I strongly condemn them,” the Illinois senator reiterated today. However, Obama added, “I think the caricature that is being painted of him is not accurate. And so part of what I’ll do tomorrow is to talk a little bit about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church community, for example, which I think views this very differently.”

The story doesn’t ignore the religious angles to this story. Keep an eye out for others that look at the full picture.

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Speaking truth to power

obamacrossThere have been more than a few stories about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s spiritual mentor and pastor. A survey of broadcast media left me a tad unimpressed with the journalistic treatment. It seems news outlets are either exploiting the political rhetoric of Wright without any context or soft-peddling it to the extreme.

This weekend I contemplated the similarities between the political statements of Wright and other pastors. ABC News last week quoted Wright speaking about America:

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people,” he said in a 2003 sermon. “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

Now consider what Jerry Falwell said after 9/11. Like Wright, he though the attacks showed that some chickens were coming home to roost:

But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

And yes, I know Falwell apologized the next day whereas Wright seems pretty defiant about the correctness of his views. But comparing the rhetoric of these two pastors is an interesting exercise. Think about how often the media cover the controversial statements of American evangelicals such as Falwell. Now think about how often the media cover the controversial statements of those in the old mainline churches.

More than a few observers on the weekend shows have defended Wright’s rhetoric as typical and even moderate. And if that is true, it’s just downright bizarre that it hasn’t been mentioned by the mainstream media before. If it’s not true, and if Wright is an aberration, one wonders why the Chicago media, among others, have been asleep at the wheel on this story.

As a confessional Lutheran, the sermons I hear are much more likely to be about the sins being committed by, well, me than the political wrongs of others who aren’t in attendance. But political condemnations are a regular feature for many Protestants. The United Church of Christ is hardly an exception. My mother, who was raised in (what became) the UCC, used to tell me of her family’s shock at being told by church leadership that they should support Angela Davis. That was four decades ago. Of the many family members who left the UCC, some did so because of the extreme political rhetoric they were hearing each week. If the mainstream media would cover more than the UCC’s ad campaigns, this Wright story might not be such a bombshell.

As I noted earlier, Falwell retracted his comments and was roundly condemned by more or less everyone. A different story is playing out with Wright. But as some news outlets overplay the Wright story and other outlets underplay it, it might be worth considering how the story was handled for Falwell. Were his comments placed in context and defended as the prophetic speaking of truth to power? Were they overplayed for shock value? Why do the media pay so much attention to folks like Falwell and so little to those on the other side of the American Protestant coin?

And what can news outlets do to cover this story properly? Many readers have already offered thoughtful criticism of how this story is being handled. But as it develops — which is likely — what questions should be asked? What questions shouldn’t be asked?

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Obama and the Islam factors

obama in OhioNews media from around the world parachuted into Ohio and Texas this week to cover the much anticipated primary elections that managed to further the Democratic Party’s confusion over their choice for a 2008 presidential candidate.

One story that continues to follow the Obama campaign is the false rumors that he is not a Christian. To write about this, reporters have latched on to Obama’s statements that he is a Christian, and followed that with the false rumors that he is a Muslim. The other angle of this story is that many voters seem to be confused (or don’t care) about the status of this charismatic politician’s personal faith.

Here is The New York Post conducting an ill-advised information survey of about 12 people in Cleveland:

On a recent visit to Cleveland, The Post conducted an informal survey of about a dozen people and found that most didn’t know Obama’s faith – and many incorrectly assumed he was a Muslim.

Some Ohio Democrats even thought he had sworn the oath of office while holding the Koran – another false Internet rumor.

Trying to reassure voters yesterday, Obama told the audience in rural Nelsonville that they would feel right at home in his church in Chicago.

Surveys like that are just dumb. What percentage of the unscientific sample size of about 12 thought he swore his oath of office while holding the Koran? And if he did, would that affect whether they would vote for him? Also, would the members of Obama’s audience in rural Nelsonville, Ohio, really feel comfortable in Obama’s Chicago church? Should it matter? What if they’re like the people who (like me) are rarely that comfortable when they visit a church for the first time?

Much of the media coverage of this issue has failed to ask the question so obvious to many American Muslims: why is Obama so insistent in trying to disprove a silly baseless Internet rumor? Is it really that politically damaging to Obama’s campaign that some people are confused about his faith? Is a candidate’s religion, particularly if it happened to be Islam, to be considered by default a handicap in this country?

Why does it seem to bother Obama and his campaign so much that some people think (and others believe) that he is a Muslim? Do people really take the Manchurian Candidate theory so seriously that they believe it is an issue?

On the other side of this issue is the fact that American Muslims seem to be gravitating towards Obama after largely supporting President Bush in 2000. Not that you would hear this if you followed solely the American news media. The BBC, with its sensitivity towards the growing Muslim population on its side of the pond, swooped into a Cleveland mosque, stating that it “would sit comfortably in the capitals of the Middle East.”

Here is what they found:

A group of men from the mosque, led by the centre’s president, Faud Hamed, spoke to BBC News after evening prayers.

There was exasperation at the on-going war, and a sense that social justice – a central tenet of Islam – is being ignored: “We all know that in the US Constitution it calls for peace and justice, but if we look around the world do we see any peace and justice?”

Uneasy about being publicly critical, most asked not to be identified.

“We are sometimes given the short end of the stick but in general we’re treated fairly… I agree with the brothers [that] if you look at the cost of the war in Iraq so far, how much of these billions could have saved lives in the US alone,” said one.

Whenever someone says that they have a right to something or that a certain concept is central to the Constitution, reporters should always ask for citations. They don’t have to be specific, but allowing someone to state that a certain vague idea such as “peace and justice” is somehow central to the Constitution requires further explanation.

But vague surface explanations and quotes fitting the BBC’s worldview is par for the course in this story. One gets the sense that this visit to Ohio mosques by the BCC was an act of an excellent dictation exercise by the reporter. If BBC journalism is merely taking down a couple of quotes gathered by a few vague questions, then that’s their prerogative. The public is less informed by reading it.

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Blessed are the question askers

BlochSermonMountI came across two stories within moments of each other yesterday. Both, ostensibly, deal with the same Barack Obama town hall event in Ohio. And that’s where the similarities end. Here’s the first paragraph (of three paragraphs!) from the Associated Press:

Democrat Barack Obama says he’s tired of questions about his religion. The Democratic presidential candidate told a town hall meeting Sunday in Nelsonvile, Ohio, in the state’s rural southeast, that he is a devout Christian who prays to Jesus every night. He told audience members they would feel right at home at his church in Chicago.

That, plus two additional sentences, was the entire story. The other story is from the Baptist Press, which is one of the more thorough denominational press outlets out there. I’ll give you just the first paragraph from the piece, written by Michael Foust:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama defended his belief in same-sex civil unions March 2 by referencing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and then implicitly criticizing those who view Romans as a binding teaching on homosexuality.

The Baptist Press story goes on to quote Obama’s remarks and analyze them from their particular vantage point. But I couldn’t believe that was the first I heard of the remarks. A search shows that there was other coverage of the remarks, disproportionately from the gay and Christian press. But there were a few mainstream attempts.

The thing I found most interesting, however, was that these stories mentioned Obama’s remarks about the Sermon on the Mount more than they mentioned Obama’s views of Romans. And when they did mention the Sermon on the Mount, they either didn’t specify what portion of the sermon Obama thought dealt with same-sex civil unions or they speculated about Obama’s interpretation.

Here’s how the Baptist Press handled it:

The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5-7, the passage in Romans is found in chapter 1, verses 26-32.

The Los Angeles Times wrote:

That likely would be “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” over “Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves due penalty for their perversion.”

Cybercast News Service:

Obama’s mention of the Sermon on the Mount in justifying legal recognition of same-sex unions may have been a reference to the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Or it may have been a reference to another famous line: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic says CNS reporter Terry Jeffrey has it right:

Having heard Obama work the Sermon on the Mount into several riffs before, I think Jeffrey, who is apt to want to misread Obama, gets it pretty much right. Obama has Matthew 7:1-6 in mind — the discourse on judgementalism –

I have an idea. Rather than speculating, how about one of these fancy reporters ask Obama which specific portion of the Sermon on the Mount he was referencing! I didn’t go to journalism school, though, so maybe I’m wrong.

As you might imagine, with so much confusion about the Sermon on the Mount — much less the portion of Romans dealing with homosexual behavior — coverage of this story hasn’t been too great. Obama called that passage obscure. What did he mean by that? In what way does he see a conflict between the two passages? Obama also talked about abortion and how his support for legal abortion does not make him less of a Christian. Entire stories could be written about just that portion of his remarks.

30obama 600 01The media love to write stories about Obama’s appeal to evangelicals but reporters didn’t bother to ask any substantive questions about how evangelicals feel about Obama’s exegesis.

The partisan and religious press did somewhat better.

The Baptist Press story quoted a theologian praising Obama for using Scripture to justify political positions but noted that it is a common evangelical belief that all Scripture is inspired by God and equally authoritative. The story also noted that Jesus does talk about marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Ambinder at The Atlantic noted that Obama was doing something that usually gets people in trouble:

Obama’s reference was casual, and in referencing scripture he’s committed the same (venial) sin that liberal religionists are always cataloguing as coming from conservatives: that they slip contextless biblical phrases into their political stump speeches and degrade the meaning of both.

If you’d like the full remarks, in context, CNS posted them here.

If Obama is going to use the Bible to justify his policy positions, we’re bound to see more coverage. Let’s hope future coverage does a better job of explaining things.

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About the bisexual-bishop story (updated)

StJohnDivineAs you might expect, I would like to make a few comments about “The Bishop’s Daughter,” the buzz-provoking piece in The New Yorker by the poet Honor Moore about the double life lived by her father, the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore Jr., the trailblazing liberal leader of the Diocese of New York from 1972-89.

However, until the magazine elects — we can only hope — to post the full article online, we can only link to a secondary form of revealed wisdom, a news report on the subject printed in the New York Times.

Conservative Anglicans will gag on the headline, “A Bishop Unveiled God’s Secrets While Keeping His Own,” but let’s set that aside for the moment. There is no question that Bishop Moore was one of the most important voices in the history of the U.S. Episcopal Church, especially as the modern patriarch of a powerful family in New York church circles and the city’s liberal establishment.

Here’s a chunk of the story containing the crucial information:

In an elegiac article in the March 3 issue of The New Yorker magazine titled “The Bishop’s Daughter,” the poet Honor Moore describes her father, Bishop Moore, who died in 2003 at 83, as alternately passionate and elusive, capable of deep “religious emotion,” yet just beyond her emotional reach. It was only after he died, she said, that she fully realized that he had had gay relationships during his two marriages, the first of which produced his nine children. …

The revelation of his hidden world comes at a time of deep tension within the Episcopal Church of the United States over the issue of homosexuality. Since the church ordained an openly gay bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, a dozen congregations in various parts of the country have withdrawn from the American branch of the church and aligned themselves with theologically conservative African or South American branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

First of all, there is a clear error in that phrase that says “a dozen congregations in various parts of the country” have withdrawn to align with conservative branches of the Anglican Communion. It is possible that a key word dropped out, or was clipped by an editor. That word would be “several,” as in “several dozen congregations.” At the very least, there are multiple opinions about what the exit number would be (watch here for reactions at the TitusOneNine weblog).

Now, I realize that once a national church starts splintering, it is hard to keep track of which congregations are headed in which direction and this is certainly true in the complex Anglican diaspora that is unfolding here in North America. Some parishes are leaving and entering the Anglican Mission in America, but not all of them are retaining their old names. There are new missions that are made up of members of old parishes. But is it accurate to say that this is a parish that has left its diocese? People will argue about that.

Then there are the parishes that are forming ties to the traditionalist Anglicans in the Global South, the most obvious example of which is the emerging network linked to Nigeria called CANA — the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Then there is the American Anglican Council, another network of churches that includes many that are fighting to stay in the Episcopal Church and others that are fighting to get out. Is that a fair way to word it? It’s complex.

In other words, in partial defense of the Times, it’s hard to come up with a definitive list of churches that have made it all the say out the exit door.

But a dozen? That is way low — bizarre even. To read a conservative analysis of this question, see this post by Father Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine. Of course he is a partisan. But the numbers are so far off that they are hard to ignore. It would seen that the number is at least 100-plus and, as I mentioned before, that does not include the AMIA numbers or missions that began as pieces of Episcopal parishes. And what about the pending departure of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin?

So it’s hard to count all of these apples and oranges. But it is not hard to discover that there are more than a dozen.

BishopMooreAnother issue that interests me in this Moore story, as it did in the fall of the Rev. Ted Haggard, is the degree to which this bishop will now be identified as “gay.” As I have asked before, to what degree was this married man — father of nine children — gay? Why isn’t his daughter’s book evidence that he was “bisexual”?

I realize that the Times report clearly states that the bishop “had had gay relationships during his two marriages.” So a bisexual man had gay relationships. Is the word “gay” being used in this reference in a different way than when “lesbigay” activists discuss the legal status of gays, lesbians and bisexuals?

Finally, there is the way that the piece ends, which strikes me as a bit strange:

Howard Hadley, 62, a member of the church choir who considered himself a friend of the late bishop’s, said it came as no surprise to him to learn that Bishop Moore had been involved in gay relationships.

“It was the times he lived in. That’s the sad fact. But there was never any doubt in my mind about him,” said Mr. Hadley. “People who say they didn’t know? Well, you know, people see what they want to see.”

The writer of “The Bishop’s Daughter” might say that, in some cases at least, people see what they are invited to see.

Is that the end, or was an attributed quote cut off? Who is speaking, in this sentence? When I was in journalism school and learning the ropes in mainstream newsrooms, I was told to avoid speculation in hard news reports.

Then again, perhaps this story is a work of analysis or opinion. Could be.

UPDATE: Hey, the New Yorker link is up. Read it all, as the master Anglican elf would say.

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Pew Forum marches on (post No. 3,000)

FanfareTrumpetsThis past summer I was talking with another religion-beat professional and this nationally known journalist put something into words that I had been feeling, but had not yet articulated. This scribe who will not be named said that on many days she or he felt like he or she was turning into a public-relations person for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“Amen,” said I. “I know just how you feel.”

In recent years, the pollsters and journalists over at the Pew Forum have been downloading waves of data about into the minds of religion-beat professionals from sea to shining sea and beyond. There are other groups doing research into some of these topics — religion and politics, for example — but no one has been creating as many headlines as the Pew Forum.

There are times when a self-aware Godbeat scribe has to go out of the way to avoid covering some of this material. Last year’s study on Pentecostalism is a perfect example. Now, I have been told, they are gearing up for a nation-by-nation study of religion in Africa. Try to avoid writing about that, in an era where tensions between growing expressions of Islam and Christianity are on the rise. Can you say, “Nigeria”?

I bring this up for two reasons — one obvious and one not so obvious.

The obvious reason is, well, obvious if you have been online this morning. There they goagain. You can run, but you cannot hide, from the results of the Pew Forum’s massive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The stories are everywhere and legions of GetReligion readers have been sending us URL’s since yesterday afternoon, when the embargo on the results ended. More on that in a minute.

The less obvious reason is that this — a blast of trumpets, please — is the 3,000th post on this here weblog. And it would be hard to find a more symbolic or appropriate topic for a landmark post than the whole changing landscape of American religion. So here goes.

There is so much coverage out there, and so much information in this survey, that I do not quite know where to begin. I mean, the Forum crew interviewed 35,000 adults. Think about that for a minute. Personally, I plan to munch on it for a week or so, and look at some of the angles that do not draw coverage, before even attempting to find a unique lede. But other reporters, obviously, had to write — on deadline.

So what were some of the MSM ledes? This is a case where diversity was a plus and it’s interesting to note who put what right up top. I’ll avoid the names of reporters, to save space.

* One clear option was what you might call the “post-denominational age” lede. Here is the New York Times take on that one:

More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion, according to a survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report, titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations. For at least a generation, scholars have noted that more Americans are moving among faiths, as denominational loyalty erodes.

* You had the same basic approach at the Associated Press, only with a hint at the winners and losers:

The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds. …

While much of the study confirms earlier findings — mainline Protestant churches are in decline, non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing — it also provides a deeper look behind those trends, and of smaller religious groups.

* This was a story where a classic W5H lede (if you need to ask what that is, you are not a journalist) might have been appropriate. The Dallas Morning News put as much as possible in one sentence and that looked like this multi-sentence approach:

A major new measure of religious belief in the United States confirms trends shown in earlier polls: The percentage of adult Americans claiming no particular religion is at an all-time high. The percentage of Protestants is dropping. And the percentage of Catholics is stable — but only because the overwhelming majority of immigrants is Catholic.

BelieveUSAflag* The Washington Post had some interesting breakout numbers very close to the top, after using the post-denominational lede:

Forty-four percent of Americans have either switched their religious affiliation since childhood or dropped out of any formal religious group, according to the largest recent survey on American religious identification. …

Among other findings, the survey indicated that members of Protestant denominations now make up only a slight majority — 51.3 percent — of the adult population. The 44 percent figure includes people who switch affiliations within one of the major faith traditions, such as a Protestant who goes from Baptist to Methodist. Counting only people who switch traditions altogether — say, from Catholic to Orthodox, or Protestant to Muslim — the number drops to 28 percent.

* And there you have it, one of the other strong contenders for a different and more specific angle on the story. Let’s call it the non-Protestant America lede. Here is the Los Angeles Times, which managed to get that note sounded right from the get-go:

Americans are switching religious affiliation in ever-greater numbers or abandoning ties to organized denominations altogether, and Protestants are on the cusp of becoming a minority, according to a survey released Monday.

Barely 51% of Americans are Protestants, and among 18- to 29-year-olds, just 43% identify with this branch of Christianity. … Protestants have always held a majority status in the United States.

* Now get ready for an ironic twist. Just because the Protestants are fading does not mean that the other largest body in American religious life is doing just fine. Check out this lead from the Washington Times, which is sure to raise eyebrows:

Evangelical Christianity has become the largest religious tradition in this country, supplanting Roman Catholicism, which is slowly bleeding members, according to a survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Evangelical Protestants outnumber Catholics by 26.3 percent (59 million) to 24 percent (54 million) of the population. …

“There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in past few decades toward evangelical churches,” said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. “They are now the mainline of American Protestantism.”

The traditional mainline Protestant churches, which in 1957 constituted about 66 percent of the populace, now count just 18 percent as adherents.

In other words, the post-denominational age is producing churches that are post-denominational and those are called Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. So the fact that America is approaching a post-Protestant majority status does not automatically mean that another form of mainline faith will gain power. Things may simply get more diverse and more confused — period.

I could go on and on with this and, methinks, the other GetReligionistas will join in. But I think you see the major options.

However, I hope to ring up the omnipresent John C. Green of the University of Akron and ask a few questions, like these: Are people changing faiths or is the content of these faiths changing? In other words, what role does doctrine play in all of this? People may flee one pew — in a splitting church — and try to find a pew in another church that is defending the doctrines that the old denomination used to defend. It may even be a church without pews.

You may have people who are exiting a church because they have lost their faith or radically changed it. Then again, it may be the faith of their old church that has radically changed. There are different reasons to hit the road on a personal pilgrimage (and Rod “friend of this blog” is exploring some of that). It will be interesting to see if there are hints at that down deep in the Pew Forum survey.

Stay tuned. And tell friends about GetReligion. We are 3,000 posts into this and I think we’re hanging around. You think?

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