A Christian Muslim?

Why-I-Am-Not-A-Muslim-coverA reader submitted a story from CNN that has the strangest headline and lede:

Muslim teen fears for life after changing religion

A Muslim teenager from Ohio says her father threatened to kill her because she converted to Christianity.
Rifqa Bary claims her father wants her dead after she converted to Christianity.

Okay, this one is pretty simple, CNN. If someone converts from one religion to another, they’re by definition no longer the religion that they converted from. She’s not a Muslim teen, she’s a Christian teen.

The story has other problems, too. It’s about a 17-year-old named Rifqa Bary who ran away from her family in Ohio and took refuge in the Orlando, Florida, home of the Rev. Blake Lorenz of the Global Revolution Church. The teen said in an affidavit that her father Mohamed Bary was pressured by his mosque and told the teen that he would kill her. The reporter talks to the father:

Mohamed Bary told CNN a lot of false information has been given and “we wouldn’t do her harm.” He knew his daughter was involved with Christian organizations.

“I have no problem with her practicing any faith,” he said, but Bary admitted he would have preferred his daughter to practice the Muslim faith first.

I could be wrong, but that last paragraph just sounds weird. What does it mean to “practice the Muslim faith first.” I can’t help but think that the reporter explained the father’s quote incorrectly — that he said he would have of course preferred her to practice Islam.

The story is responsible insofar as it includes both the daughter’s and father’s perspective. However, it would have been helpful to have any outside perspective at all regarding the punishment for apostasy in Islam. What, exactly, are the range of beliefs for what should be done to females who convert? Certainly there are places in time and history where the consensus has held that capital punishment is in order for apostates. But there are also Muslims who argue that the Koran and Hadith should not be so interpreted.

It seems that this story would provide an excellent hook for a discussion of this topic, no? The governing body of the World Council of Churches met last week in Geneva and they took up the issue:

The World Council of Churches is calling on Pakistan to repeal the mandatory death penalty for blasphemy in the country’s penal code.

The reader who submitted the story wondered if CNN was trying to make a comment about whether this teen’s conversion was real or allowed. But the United Nations

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines religious conversion as a human right in Article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.

Does CNN disagree with this?

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Ghost in the ‘death panel’ image

orthopineI opened up my Washington Post this morning and immediately thought about a forum that took place in my own Orthodox parish last night.

You see, our priest and an attorney in the congregation led a group of parishioners (many with, I confess, gray hair) through an in-depth discussion of end-of-life planning, with a strong emphasis on points where legal options compliment or collide with our faith’s doctrines. It was an enlightening evening.

As far as I could tell, almost everyone there was on board when it came to preparing some kind of document of advance directives to express their own desires about issues such as palliative care, hospices, extraordinary measures to preserve life, etc. It was clear that our church members were anxious to find a way to tell caregivers not to prolong their lives past a point of recovery or meaningful contact with loved ones. However, they did not want to instruct doctors or loved ones to take actions to deliberately end their lives through extraordinary means.

It was an evening for learning how to make intelligent, faithful decisions about complex and emotional issues. It was a night when we learned that centuries of Christian doctrine and practice are highly relevant when discussing what believers have long called “the good death.” It was time to talk about final prayers, confessions and a simple pine box.

At the same time, there was another emotion in the room: Many people were worried about the advice and guidance of medical professionals (and the bureaucrats behind them, who guide policies) who do not share their own Orthodox Christian values. And what about the government?

This is where the Washington Post enters the scene, in the form of a story that ran with the headline: “The Unwitting Birthplace of the ‘Death Panel’ Myth.” Here’s the top of the story:

LA CROSSE, Wis. – This city often shows up on “best places to live” lists, but residents say it is also a good place to die — which is how it landed in the center of a controversy that almost derailed health-care reform this summer.

The town’s biggest hospital, Gundersen Lutheran, has long been a pioneer in ensuring that the care provided to patients in their final months complies with their wishes. More recently, it has taken the lead in seeking to have Medicare compensate physicians for advising patients on end-of-life planning.

The hospital got its wish this spring when House Democrats inserted that provision into their health-care reform bill — only to see former Alaska governor Sarah Palin seize on it as she warned about “death panels” that would deny care to the elderly and the disabled. Despite widespread debunking, those warnings have led lawmakers to say they will drop the provision.

OK, readers, we will not get into debating Palin and what she did or didn’t say.

However, if you listen to other voices — even pro-health-care-reform Catholics — you will find that there are people who wonder about President Barack Obama’s love of “independent” experts who help guide government policies on end-of-life decisions that involve “quality of life” questions, the elderly and, yes, cutting costs. Here’s the New York Times quote (drawn from a recent column I did on the subject) about that looms over the constructive discussions of this:

“That’s where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that’s also a huge driver of cost, right? I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here,” said Obama, in a much-quoted New York Times interview.

“I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. … That’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance.”

Now, this new Post article contains all kinds of interesting information about a hospital that appears to be doing good work in this area.

resurrection_icon_critical_cutWhat’s the problem? The problem is that the article is haunted. The Post team seems to think that there is some way to discuss these issues in the context of North America without religion getting into the mix. Simply stated: Do most Americans, or even a large percentage of Americans, want to turn to government leaders, insurance executives and medical personnel — alone — when they make decisions about how they want to die?

In the Scripps Howard News Service column I wrote on this issue recently, I talked with John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a member of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops task force on health care. His question: Could there be some way for the health-care-reform package to provide vouchers that would allow Americans to make their own decisions about where to take these questions?

Journalists! Think about this. The Post story seems to assume that it is in the government’s interest to either push or steer people toward secular institutions when it’s time to make decisions that involve their most personal religious beliefs. Perhaps most Americans would prefer to face these ultimate issues with help from their own pastors, rabbis, priests, hospice workers and other religious counselors?

Here’s what Haas had to say:

“The Catholic Church has a highly developed body of teachings and traditions to help guide people through these kinds of decisions,” said Haas. “We believe that hospice care is normal and good. We believe that it’s right to die a good death, with an emphasis on the relief of pain and suffering. …

“But let’s be clear. We think the government has an agenda on these kinds of issues and it’s not the church’s agenda. When it comes to dying, controlling costs is not our primary goal.”

The Post article contains lots of interesting and completely valid information. That’s good. There is a major story here.

But how do you write an article about end-of-life decisions without even mentioning the religious side of this equation? Does anyone else see the ghost here?

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Washington Post vs. Bob McDonnell

defconSo the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia wrote a master’s thesis about family-friendly government policies. Make that traditional family-friendly policies. Written in the 1980s, it suggested that the government should craft policies that encourage traditional families (as opposed to “cohabitors, homosexuals or fornicators”). The Washington Post‘s coverage of Bob McDonnell thesis is at DEFCON 1 — just a couple days into it we’re now up to two-front page stories, three inside stories, two columns, one house editorial and one cartoon (as of yesterday, that is).

The thesis is interesting and controversial, even if it’s from the 1980s. It’s certainly worth coverage — maybe even a front-page story depending on the competing news. Heck, I bet that there are a few other politicians out there whose college and grad work are worth a good look. But Virginia Republicans and conservative pundits are worried that treatment of the thesis is just the latest example in the Post‘s uneven coverage of political candidates. I don’t know. Maybe they have good reason to hit one candidate hard while avoiding the controversial contemporary statements of the guy they endorsed during the Democratic primary.

There’s actually a lot about the coverage to take issue with, but I wanted to highlight one story for how it sets the scene. It’s a front-pager from Tuesday and it’s headlined “Governor’s Race Erupts Over McDonnell’s Past View.” The eruption consists of pretty standard campaign stuff — Democrats sending out emails about the thesis and McDonnell holding a lengthy conference call with reporters to answer questions about the thesis. Here are two paragraphs that were highlighted by one conservative pundit as the most favorable of the article:

Democrats have long attempted to characterize McDonnell as an ultra-conservative who is playing down his views on such issues as abortion, school prayer and gay rights so as not to alienate moderate voters, particularly in Northern Virginia, who increasingly decide statewide elections.

But McDonnell’s public record and his reputation among colleagues paint a more complex portrait. He appears as a man with deeply conservative views that spring from a strong Catholic faith but also as reasonable, open-minded and increasingly focused on such issues as jobs and transportation.

Just to be clear: On the one hand he’s a Catholic with conservative views but on the other hand he’s reasonable!

Anyway, if you’re interested, there’s much more. And I imagine there will be much more. Here’s a sample: “’89 Thesis A Different Side of McDonnell,” “Thesis Issue Builds, McDonnell Tries to Move On: Former Colleagues Say Views Persist,” and “Republican Turns to Female Backers to Talk Down His Past Views and Promote Economic Plans.”

Apart from the overkill on the coverage and the pitting of “reasonable” against “conservative” “Catholic,” I’m not sure how well the Post portrayed the thesis to begin with. I read some of it and there is certainly some controversial stuff in there, but take this for instance, from the same story excerpted above:

He criticized a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing contraception for unmarried couples and decried the “purging” of religion from schools. He advocated character education programs in public schools to teach “traditional Judeo-Christian values,” and he criticized federal tax credits for child care expenditures because they encouraged women to enter the workforce.

Well, what he wrote wasn’t that complicated but apparently the Post doesn’t think it’s worth explaining (although Post blogger Ramesh Ponnuru does here). Basically, the Supreme Court found a right to marital privacy that included contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut. Later the court ruled — citing Griswold — that state governments can’t prohibit unmarried folks from buying contraception. McDonnell said that the later ruling “illogically” applied a marital right to unmarried people. So yes, he criticized the ruling but he did so on somewhat narrow grounds. He didn’t say anything about whether contraception should be legal and nowhere advocated restricting contraception. That’s not the feeling you get, however, if you read the Post.

His view that tax credits for child care should go to parents whether or not they use commercial day care were similarly butchered. He said that subsidizing only the choice to use commercial day care would preference that choice, negatively transforming the family by “entrenching a status-quo of non-parental primary nurture of children.” And as families figure out how to organize their affairs, tax credits to pay for day care — and not for a stay-at-home parent to care for their own children — can provide an incentive to go with day care. Government policies do affect the traditional family. I wish that newspapers would have more conversations about it. But the war being waged over McDonnell’s thesis is not a good example of what a responsible discussion should look like.

Another quick note. This Washington Post chat about McDonnell (by former assistant managing editor and Metro columnist Robert McCartney) describes Pat Robertson as having a “Protestant fundamentalist” outlook. For the eleventy billionth time, “fundamentalist” does not mean “those Christian folks on the right who we don’t like.” It’s a real word, with a real meaning. A word that the AP Stylebook recommends that journalist avoid:

fundamentalist The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

It’s not just pejorative. Pat Robertson, of course, espouses charismatic theology — something actual fundamentalists are not known for.

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Sanford’s mission from God

mark-sanford1When elected officials promote BS about politics or world affairs or the state of the economy, it’s a reporters responsibility to let readers know. (Not saying it happens often enough, but that is the expectation.) But what about when a pol says something religious that doesn’t pass the smell rest?

You get straight-faced reports like this coverage of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s battle to keep his job following his sordid spring:

Mr. Sanford vowed not to quit despite growing pressure from South Carolina lawmakers and Republican Party officials to resign or face impeachment. He said he intends to complete his term, not to hold on to power but to fight for conservative principles of governance.

“I feel absolutely committed to the cause, to what God wanted me to do with my life,” he said in an interview. “I have got this blessing of being engaged in a fight for liberty, which is constantly being threatened.”

That’s from the Washington Times. Also this week, the Wall Street Journal quoted Sanford’s self-styling as “zen-like.”

I’d like to knock the reporters for not calling Sanford on delivering religious cliches and using God as his scandal-survival wingman. But instead I have to commend them. They did their job and left judgments to be made by readers or resigned for God.

At least in this case Sanford didn’t pull an A-Rod and blame God. But coverage of Sanford’s saga hints at one of the toughest things about religion reporting. It’s also one of the elements I enjoyed the most: You’re writing about the personal beliefs that shape society. And as I said recently, it’s really hard to take at face-value anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth.

The trouble is that when a politician says a new government program would cost $20 million when it would really cost $70 million, a reporter can identify the disparity while still maintaining the neutral tone expected of newspaper journalism. But when they say that they’re on a mission from God to serve in government, despite disappearing to have a fling in South America, then it’s tough for a newspaper reporter to say an individual, in this case Sanford, doesn’t really believe that.

Reporters can, however, through the way stories are structured, remind readers to look at both a politician’s rhetoric and their deeds.

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Birthing babies and other delights

people-magazineOkay, I know readers are getting testy about all of the Ted Kennedy coverage (believe me, it’s wearing on me, too) but I have just one final story to highlight. It’s not about Kennedy per se but it uses his death as a hook to discuss the death of large Irish-American families in general. The New York Times story by Michael Wilson is worth highlighting because it does what so few stories about fertility do — it discusses how religion plays a role in the number of children women have. Huzzah! After making the case that Irish-American family size has plummeted, we’re told:

The smaller Irish-American family has been attributed to many factors, but the one most often cited is a decline in willingness to defer to the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. “The church’s guidance on all kinds of things, including family planning, doesn’t carry the weight it used to carry,” said Terry Golway, a writer who teaches American history at Kean University in New Jersey.

In New York, the migration of the Irish middle class from the city to the suburbs contributed to the decline of the double-digit family, he said. “Their world was not defined by the parish as it once was, when they lived in the Bronx,” Professor Golway said. “They moved to the suburbs, where it really was a melting pot. Not everybody on your block was Irish anymore.”

The story also quotes a woman who discusses her fertility and how it relates to her Catholic views. Not bad. I wish we could see more discussion of religion in the larger stories about fertility rates. This piece in the Washington Post from my August guilt file talked about how some economically developed countries have seen a surprising uptick in childbearing. There are references to ideology and immigration having a role but those angles aren’t fully explored.

And since we’re on the topic of birthing babies, there’s this absolutely horrific story that ran on MSNBC recently:

It’s not just in your head. There really is a bumper crop of baby bumps out there, from the famously fertile, like Heidi Klum, who’s flirting with her fourth set of stretch marks in five years, to the infamous Nadya “Octomom” Suleman, who earlier this year bore eight babies at once even though she already had six other kids at home that she could barely afford to take care of.

No, this wasn’t written by your 5th-grade daughter but an actual professional.

I love the spectrum — ranging from Heidi Klum all the way to Octomom. The story goes on to disparage mothers of larger-than-average families. “Experts” are quoted saying the mother’s seek attention, to get waited on during pregnancy, to avoid returning to work and to get comments and belly rubs from strangers. Because we all know how much pregnant ladies love unsolicited belly rubs. There’s discussion of “the void” that women are filling by getting pregnant.

It’s just the most amazing train wreck of a story — so much so that I’m actually thinking it’s good that they didn’t notice the correlation of certain religious beliefs to larger-sized families. Babble.com actually had a great take-down of the piece, if you’re interested.

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On threesomes and marriage

triplearch22The mainstream media really hasn’t done a very good job covering the heated debate over whether to extend the institution of marriage to same-sex couples. It’s been a problem for years and the coverage has been so amazingly one-sided that it’s surprising that all 30 states that have asked voters to define marriage as a heterosexual institution have done so. Part of it is that the mainstream media has long been an elite institution with views on homosexuality somewhat out-of-step with the general populace.

Five years ago, for instance, Pew found that journalists were more than twice as likely to self identify as liberals than conservatives and that 88 percent of journalists felt society should accept homosexuality compared with 51 percent of the general public. That same poll found that nearly half said that journalists’ ideological views color their work. Probably none of this is surprising to any media observer. But it means we get a number of emotional puff pieces about same-sex marriage with hardly any — if any — seriously engaging the concerns that the majority of voters in the majority of states have registered about making changes to how society has viewed marriage since its inception.

A few years ago, Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote (in a column I can no longer find online) that “critics who say the paper has had few, if any, features portraying opponents of this social change in a positive or even neutral light have a point. The overall picture, it seems to me, could use more balance.”

Okay. It took five years but the Post found one — and only one, the reporter repeatedly reminds us — supporter of traditional marriage who it can portray in a “positive or even neutral light.” It doesn’t go deep in describing his arguments and it throws pretty much every other traditional marriage supporter under the bus in doing so — but it’s not actively hostile (toward him — and only him) like so many other pieces about traditional marriage activists are. Here’s how it opens:

The nightmares of gay marriage supporters are the Pat Robertsons of the world. The James Dobsons, the John Hagees — the people who specialize in whipping crowds into frothy frenzies, who say things like Katrina was caused by the gays.

The gay marriage supporters have not met Brian Brown. They should. He might be more worth knowing about.

That’s a pretty weaselly introduction, there. I’m sure the Post newsroom doesn’t feel the same affection for James Dobson as it does for Vice President Joe Biden but a few things here. Maybe they all look alike from the cozy confines of the newsroom but not every evangelical or charismatic Christian believes the same thing. It’s unfair to describe them as “whipping crowds into frothy frenzies” and while it’s a butchering of the actual statement regarding hurricanes being acts of God, be careful who you ascribe it to. Thanks Snopes!

Anyway, you get the basic device reporter Monica Hesse is using: Most traditional marriage supporters are crazed bigots but there’s this one guy who is not vomiting while his head is spinning around. His name is Brian Brown.

But apart from the misrepresentation of what a lot of people believe, the device is probably the only way you’re going to get a feature profile of someone with his views in the paper. And within its own logic, it works. Brown is the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which works to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Hesse characterizes the aforementioned Christian-types as “fringes” who appeal to the far wings:

But this country is not made up of people in the far wings, right or left. This country is made up of a movable middle, reasonable people looking for reasonable arguments to assure them that their feelings have a rational basis.

Brian Brown speaks to these people. He has a master’s degree from Oxford, and completed course work for a doctorate in history from UCLA. He shoulders the accusations of bigotry; it’s horrible when people say that your life’s mission is actually just prejudice. He tries to help people see that opposing gay marriage does not make them bigots, that the argument should have nothing to do with hate or fear, and everything to do with history and tradition.

The reason Brian Brown is so effective is that he is pleasantly, ruthlessly sane.

You mean you can be sane and support traditional marriage? It’s a testament to the one-sided nature of the media treatment of this issue that this line could be published in a national newspaper. And yet, while it’s not news to many voters throughout the country that the arguments in support of traditional marriage could be considered sane, it probably is news to many media elite and their readers. And so we get this curious profile that treats Brown remarkably charitably. I mean, it quotes a critics but one saying relatively nice things about him.

These features are sort of a staple of the Post‘s Style section. They are usually very light and breezy and hardly critical of the subject of the profile. Brown’s is no exception. (For another puffy profile in last week’s Washington Post, you simply must read this one of ‘The It Girl of a New Generation Of Lobbyists’, Heather Podesta. The description of why she decided to take her third husband’s last name will make you laugh or cry. Or both.)

Here’s the portion that discusses Brown’s faith and a bit of his beliefs:

Brown is Catholic. He converted at Oxford, where he studied after a BA at Whittier College (he grew up surfing in California). He liked Catholicism’s traditions of social justice and work for the poor. Along the way, he met Sue, also a devout Catholic. After UCLA he accepted a position with the Family Institute of Connecticut, and worked to prevent the distribution of condoms in schools. “People would ask, ‘What does your husband do?’ ” Sue says. “It was embarrassing to say he worked on condoms. But it was nothing compared to this.”

His faith is important to him, but in his arguments he is ever the PhD candidate, addressing questions and dismissing counterarguments with fascination.

“I have gay people who are friends and family,” he says. “We can disagree on all sorts of things and still care about each other.” And later, “Of course, I have to take their arguments seriously. This issue is important. Ideas have consequences.”

He takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling. His arguments are based on his understandings of history, not on messages from God that gays caused Hurricane Katrina.

In short: The institution of marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Yes, there have been homosexual relationships. But no society that he knows of, in the history of the world, has ever condoned same-sex marriage. “Do they always agree on the number of partners? Do they always agree on the form of monogamy? No,” Brown says, but they’ve all agreed on the gender issue. It’s what’s best for families, he says. It’s the union that can biologically produce children, he says. It’s all about the way things have always been done. He chose his new church, St. Catherine of Siena, because it still offers a Latin Mass. Other noted conservatives have been parishioners there; Antonin Scalia has worshiped at St. Catherine’s.

I hear even some people who don’t choose Latin Mass Catholic parishes have these same views on the institution of marriage! But it’s a start. It shouldn’t be shocking to see some of these simple and straightforward positions of traditional marriage advocates in a newspaper but it is.
What I’d really like to see is a deeper exploration of those views and the various other arguments against same-sex marriage and some actual back and forth of the arguments for and against changing marriage laws. I’m sure advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage would love to see the same. We’ve had eleventy billion puff pieces — usually in favor of same-sex marriage — and we have this piece that is an uncritical look at one proponent of traditional marriage. But how about we move Brown and his arguments off of the Style pages and into the news pages where they can compete in the public policy marketplace.

Oh, one last quibble with the piece:

NOM’s campaigns have had missteps. “Gathering Storm,” with its melodramatic dialogue and fake lightning, prompted parodies as much as panic; one New York Times columnist called it ” ‘Village of the Damned’ meets ‘A Chorus Line’ ” for its instant camp value. Two Million for Marriage, the organization’s push to rally online activists around the country, was similarly unfortunate: Apparently no one at NOM had realized that 2M4M, the hip-sounding tag they’d chosen for the initiative, is also the abbreviation favored by gay couples looking for a threesome.

Okay, obviously it’s a bit dramatic and emotional of Hesse herself to claim that the purpose of the ad was panic. And while gay activists and the media may have disliked it, that doesn’t say much about its effectiveness. I’m always amazed at how stories fail to mention how successful traditional marriage activists are politically.

But more than anything, I wonder whose side it hurts more to learn that 2M4M is the favored abbreviation used by gay couples looking for a threesome.

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Changes in latitude, changes in attitude?

Let’s talk demographics for a moment. Hispanics are the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States. Around a third of American Catholics are Hispanic. And, according to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) website, Hispanic evangelicals are a booming demographic: “Hispanic born-again Christians make up 37 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population and 88% of all U.S. Hispanic Protestants, 43% of all U.S. Hispanic Mainline Protestants, and 26% of all U.S. Hispanic Roman Catholics.”

Where are the major media stories on Hispanic Protestants and Catholics? As the writer of this page from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life website comments, the very landscape of American Christianity is being transformed — and who, outside of ethnic media, is paying heed?

While most predominant among the foreign born and Spanish speakers, Hispanic-oriented worship is also prevalent among native-born and English-speaking Latinos. That strongly suggests that the phenomenon is not simply a product of immigration or language but that it involves a broader and more lasting form of ethnic identification.

These two defining characteristics — the prevalence of spirit-filled religious expressions and of ethnicoriented worship — combined with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population leave little doubt that a detailed understanding of religious faith among Latinos is essential to understanding the future of this population as well as the evolving nature of religion in the United States.

It is possible that what’s going on is that “Hispanic-oriented worship” (in Spanish, presumably) and the strong charismatic orientation of many Hispanic worship services has been challenging for some reporters. So I was grateful to reader Ben for sending GetReligion a HamptonRoads.com article by Steven Vegh highlighting an anti-machismo message resounding from the pulpits of some southern Virginia Hispanic evangelical churches.

This is not a perfect article, leaving out some context and making a few broad generalizations. It’s also possible that some Hispanic clergy and lay people will forcefully argue against making broad statements about Latin culture built on “machismo.” But writer Vegh is thorough, providing readers with quotes from a number of different sources, and developing a thesis based on the people he quotes, rather than the other way around.

Though it certainly got me thinking, I do find the lede a bit jarring:

As the new pastor at Vino Nuevo in Virginia Beach, the Rev. Gladys Mejias-Ashmore has been teaching a lot about family, parenting – and the dangers of machismo.

In Latin culture, the macho man looms large as boss of wife and family. But more than a few local Hispanic evangelical pastors are teaching that machismo violates Christian norms for husbands and fathers.

It’s a message Mejias-Ashmore said she never heard in church growing up in Honduras. “I used to think the Christian let the man do whatever he wants – even extramarital relationships.”

But after being “born again” and studying Bible passages on marriage, Mejias-Ashmore said she challenged her first husband about his drinking and adultery.

While it’s not unusual to have women pastors in some charismatic and minority communities (black churches have a long history of women in the clergy), I’m guessing that a number of conservative evangelical Hispanic churches might not allow women in these leadership roles. The fact that Mejias-Ashmore is the lead quote in an article about machismo is suggestive in itself.

One fascinating element in this article is how upfront some clergy and laypeople are in saying: yes, there is an issue here that should be confronted. Here’s one powerful quote:

Machistas, or male chauvinists, expect their wives and family females to be chaste, but “the man is free to do whatever – have affairs, have another woman,” said Gonzales from the Hispanic ministers association.

I’m not sure whether these evangelical churches fit into conventional left or right categories — I suspect that they do not. This press release on the NHCL site suggests that Hispanics may not take an approach to either Scripture or social justice issues that looks like either primarily white mainline or conservative churches. The gender role debate may also look different from the egalitarianism versus complementarianism dialogue that often goes on in white conservative evangelical congregations.

Quoting one harsh perspective on the role of the Virgin Mary seems wrong, given her importance as a role model in Hispanic culture and Catholic life in general.

While on the topic — remember the ladies, as Abigail Adams reputedly said to husband John. With the exception of one clergywoman, the reputed targets of machismo are absent from the story.

A few more caveats — obviously, not all Latino cultures are overwhemingly macho. Here’s where generalizations become dangerous. It would be interesting to know whether American-born Latinos are less “macho” than the immigrant men interviewed for the article, or whether immigrant families have been transformed by different cultural practices in America. And while conceivably someone might have a counterargument, only one point of view is expressed in the article.

But I confess that with all of its holes, I like this story for two main reasons. One, the author takes a look at an ongoing process of cultural transformation by talking to those in the trenches rather than eggheads. Secondly, we’re seeing way too few of these stories, and so this one becomes more interesting.

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Vogue’s squirm factor

As a magazine fan who does not consult Vogue about anything, I am quite happy to see that magazine give lengthy coverage to Jenny Sanford, First Lady (for now) of South Carolina.

Consider this byline-free article’s punchy lede, which cuts straight to the quality that makes Sanford a heroic figure for so many women – and men, for that matter:

Before Jenny Sanford came along, the options for wronged political wives were pretty poor. You could suffer silently (see Silda Wall Spitzer), deny everything (hello, Hillary), or make catty asides about the harlot who caused your husband to stray (Elizabeth Edwards). Then came Jenny Sanford.

To that list of long-suffering victims I would add Wendy Baldwin Vitter (wife of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.), whose expression of petrified vulnerability should end the sick tradition of a politician’s wife standing by her man at a moronic press conference.

Vogue‘s treatment of Jenny Sanford’s faith is another mater. She is, we are told, “pious without being smug.” Her one-page statement about her husband’s all-too-public adultery “mentioned God without making you squirm.” A quote from a longtime friend drives home the point that Sanford’s faith is so respectable because it’s apparently so deep in the background:

The Sanfords are conservative Christians, but they’re not the teetotaling, proselytizing sort. There are bottles of wine on the kitchen counter. Ayn Rand is on the bookshelf, but so is Gabriel García Márquez. The Bible sits front and center on the coffee table, alongside Forbes magazine. “You could be friends with her for 20 years, and she would never bring up the religious stuff,” says her friend Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina and a self-described liberal who once worked for The Nation.

Yet by the article’s own brief allusions, it’s clear that Sanford’s understanding of forgiveness has something to do with her faith:

“I am not in charge of revenge. That’s not up to me. That’s for the Lord to decide, and it’s important for me to teach that to my boys. All I can do is forgive. Reconciliation is something else, and that is going to be a harder road. I have put my heart and soul into being a good mother and wife.”

The article mentions that she saw her father kneel to pray each night, and says she attended “Georgetown University, the ne plus ultra for brainy Catholic girls,” but makes no effort to explain how she and her husband became Episcopalians. There’s no exploring of the rich questions about their political and social conservatism within a denomination not known for its conservatism. (In fairness, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is atypical in its theology.)

In this 2,800-word article, we read as much about Jenny Sanford’s full-throttle days while working at investment-banking firm Lazard Frères & Co. and living on Long Island (“Sanford was not the Paris Hilton of the Hamptons, but neither was she a saint”) as we do about what she believes and how it affects her choices during her public ordeal.

The turns of phrase are elegant, the piece is rightly admiring of this strong woman — and yet a huge portion of her interior life is missing. Had Vogue assigned the piece to a writer not so prone to squirming at the mention of God, it could have published a more insightful work of reporting.

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