Pretty polys

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As a reborn opinion journal, Newsweek has to keep up with cultural trends. A few weeks ago, it announced to its readers that polyamory, the practice of multiple relationships in which each partner is aware of the other ones, is going, if not mainstream, than at least tributary.

Researchers are just beginning to study the phenomenon, but the few who do estimate that openly polyamorous families in the United States number more than half a million, with thriving contingents in nearly every major city. Over the past year, books like Open, by journalist Jenny Block; Opening Up, by sex columnist Tristan Taormino; and an updated version of The Ethical Slut” — widely considered the modern “poly” Bible — have helped publicize the concept. Today there are poly blogs and podcasts, local get-togethers, and an online polyamory magazine called Loving More with 15,000 regular readers. Celebrities like actress Tilda Swinton and Carla Bruni, the first lady of France, have voiced support for nonmonogamy, while Greenan herself has become somewhat of an unofficial spokesperson, as the creator of a comic Web series about the practice –called “Family” — that’s loosely based on her life. “There have always been some loud-mouthed ironclads talking about the labors of monogamy and multiple-partner relationships,” says Ken Haslam, a retired anesthesiologist who curates a polyamory library at the Indiana University-based Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. “But finally, with the Internet, the thing has really come about.”

I’ve been waiting for a story like this — an article that bills polyamory as the trend to watch. A couple of years ago, I was hoping to write a polyamory story, researching the movement and interviewing practitioners (I got sidetracked). So, I confess, I was eager to see what Bennett would do with this topic.

While the article is easy to read, there were some big holes — gaps that seem to me to trivialize the issues around polyamory and those who worry about it.

First of all — what’s this about a “coming-out party?” Yes, a few new books on polys have appeared this year. But Alan over at Polyamory in the News has been tracking media coverage, including mucho mainstream media coverage, for at least four years. What may be more novel about this story is that writer Jessicca Bennett was able to find polys in Seattle willing to let her use their real names. In fact, Greenan, the center of the triad, is quite good at promoting herself — and has commercial motives for doing so. It would have been harder to find a less obvious profile choice, but it would have given the story more depth.

My impression, back when I was researching this subject, was that a triad with a filmaker/actress was more the exception than the rule. Instead, polys are schoolteachers, in law enforcement, administrative assistants — many reside in conservative communities. Polys pretty much look like the rest of us (if you are a striking filmaker/actress, I apologize).

In other words, there’s a strong “glamour” component to this story that disrespects the seriousness that polyamorous partners feel that they deserve — and the strong feelings that they can evoke among conservatives. Check out Practical Polyamory, Anita Wagner’s blog (she’s quoted in the article) if you want to see a down-to-earth perspective on polyamory.

While this particular triad is not, polys are also engaged in religious communities. Among them are Unitarian Universalists, pagans and those who represent other faiths. There’s no discussion of the religious connections here.

But does the existence of approximately half a million polyamorous families mean that “traditionalists better get used to it?” That’s at least debatable. It’s also snarky, distracting readers from taking the piece seriously.

Bennett does address a few of the difficult issues in polyamorous relationships: jealousy, parenting, and those who see acceptance of gay marriage as opening the window for polyamory (and who knows what else) to fly in. There is also, as she notes, tension between some polys and proponents of gay marriage, though it’s not clear how many polys want to be married.

Striking in this article is the lack of conservative religious voices that address polyamory from a theological and doctrinal perspective, like that of R. Albert Mohler, Jr., (who did comment, in the Christianpost.com). Although I like Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family’s quote (he gets your attention) it’s got more of a political feel to it.

Even more disturbing to me, as a writer, is that nowhere in the article are there quotes from more traditional (and I’m not even talking conservative) therapists, some of whom take a rather dim view of polyamory. Why do we only hear from polyamory proponents in the therapeutic arena? A few peeps from anthropologist Helen Fisher (whose name is mispelled near the end of the article) isn’t enough.

The writer doesn’t really explain why polys are convinced that “more love” is possible — or why some religious leaders and secular proponents of monogamous marriage are indeed watching with concern. How about a little gravitas, Newsweek?
I’m still looking for the story that does justice to the many voices contending for dominance in American culture when it comes to relationships and marriage — among which polyamory is one important, but by no means yet a dominant thread.

Love Outside the Box is from Wikimedia Commons

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Got news? Faith, funds, hard choices

sadchildI continue to be amazed at the degree to which the debates about health-care reform keep cycling back to issues of money and, let’s face it, religion.

President Barack Obama has said that costs must be held down and that 80 percent of those costs are rooted in decisions made in the final stages of life. Meanwhile, the abortion whirlpool is still there, period, swirling around questions about whether tax dollars should be spent on one side of the abortion question.

While the talk-radio troops (and others) say what they want to say at the public forums, and the mainstream press continues to preach that these life-and-death issues are based on factual errors, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have remained very quiet. Even their new website on the issue is very understated. The bishops have stated four goals, seeking:

* a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity

* access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants

* pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options

* restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

That list has doctrinal and political content and there’s no way around that reality. Life issues for young and old. Care for the poor. A conscience clause. Applying cost restraints equitably. There are factors there to scare the political left and right.

Do you doubt the religious content of some of the issues involved? Frankly, it would help if journalists could get past the shouters and look at the religious issues at the heart of some of these conflicts.

I mean, give the president’s office at Belmont Abbey College a call. You see, there’s news — yes, conservative news — on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page today. Ignore the spin. Just look at the content of the government decision.

Last week, thanks to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal government took a giant leap toward encroaching on the religious liberty of Catholics. Reuben Daniels Jr., director of the EEOC District Office in Charlotte, N.C, ruled that a small Catholic college discriminated against female employees by refusing to cover prescription contraceptives in its health insurance plan. With health-care reform looming before the country, this ruling is a bad omen for people of faith.

In 2007, eight faculty members filed a complaint against Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., claiming that the school’s decision to exclude prescription contraceptives from its health-care plan was discriminatory against women. “As a Roman Catholic institution, Belmont Abbey College is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church,” said the college’s president, William Thierfelder, at the time.

20060511-pillThink church-state entanglement. Did Belmont Abbey’s policy raise questions about fraud, profit or a clear threat to life? No. So why — as a voluntary association based on doctrine — does a branch of the government need to use its tax-payer rooted power to get involved in this dispute among Catholics on this private campus?

Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the Down syndrome issue to get some mainstream ink.

Over at the Washington Times, veteran scribe Julia Duin has written a very personal column that touches on some of these themes, while telling the story of a faith-based group — Reece’s Rainbow — that is trying to find homes for Down syndrome children around the world.

There are poignant details in the story of Andrea Roberts and her son Reece and there’s news there. But what about the wider implications of this passage in the column?

It’s not easy finding families for little people whom no one wants. Canada restricts families to adopting only one such child; Britain “basically denies it,” she told me, because of … health care policies that discourage families from taking on such children. She fears the health care reforms being pushed by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats will eventually do the same.

Yes, I edited a buzz word out of that paragraph so that the heads of some readers will not explode.

Try to focus, folks, on the actual news hooks there. It’s a fact that stopping people from adopting special needs children would help governments to hold down health-care costs. What about giving birth to Down syndrome children? Would parents have that health-care choice? How about the birth of a second handicapped child? Would that be covered? These kinds of limitations would help hold down costs.

Ignore the yelling, please. Focus on the content of the doctrinal and political issues. There are stories in there.

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Digging into the “morals clause”

PitinoCover.jpgSome sex scandals are sad but exciting and some are just unseemly. This Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino one is a doozie. The married father of five had unprotected sex six years ago with a woman he had just met earlier in the evening and when she claimed to have gotten pregnant from the encounter he gave her $3,000. He says the money was for insurance. She says it was for an abortion. And then years later he went to the FBI after, he says, her extortion attempts got out of hand.

I wanted to highlight two stories that handled the confession in completely different ways. First, the Associated Press account. Here it is, published on Sports Illustrated/CNN:

University of Louisville President James Ramsey expressed surprise at the new details in the scandal surrounding the coach, a staunch Roman Catholic whose contract includes dishonesty and “moral depravity” as grounds for firing. . . .

Pitino is a dedicated Roman Catholic who has brought a priest who’s a close friend and spiritual adviser on team trips.

I wouldn’t mind knowing what the adjectives “staunch” and “dedicated” mean in this case.

Another interesting story is from the Louisville Courier-Journal, headlined “Pitino apologizes but says he won’t resign.” This story doesn’t mention anything at all about Pitino’s religious views but it did report on what a variety of university-affiliated and local parties thought about the sordid affair, including one social conservative group:

In a blog yesterday, Martin Cothran, a lobbyist for the Family Foundation of Kentucky who has in the past advocated against abortion and same-sex marriage, called for the university to fire Pitino.

There are “two issues here,” Cothran said in an interview. “One is, are we holding Rick Pitino to a lower moral standard than we do student athletes? … We suspend people from teams for bar fights. We fire high school coaches for unintentionally causing the deaths of others. What we have in this case is somebody who intentionally acted to end a human life.”

What Cothran is referring to is the apparent decision by University president James Ramsey and Athletic Director Tom Jurich that they support Pitino and that he need not be dismissed for violating a “morals clause” in his contract. Here, from the same report is more on that clause:

Under his contract, Pitino will collect a $3.6 million bonus if he is still coach on July 1, 2010.

That contract allows him to be fired for acts of “moral depravity,” or for being dishonest with the university, or for generating disparaging media publicity, if it is caused by “willful conduct that could objectively be determined to bring (the) employee into public dispute or scandal.”

So-called “morals clauses” are common in contracts of college coaches, and allows them to be fired for inappropriate conduct that is not necessarily criminal, such as visiting a topless bar. That act, for example, led to former Alabama football coach Mike Price’s dismissal in 2003 before he ever coached a game for the university.

While an extramarital affair alone is unlikely to trigger a morals clause, giving money for an abortion and being less than completely forthcoming with the university “might be enough,” said Brian Socolow, a New York sports attorney who has written on the subject.

“Coach Pitino may be in some danger,” he said.

I think the missing ghost vis-a-vis the “morals clause” might be Coach Pitino’s record at the public university more than anything else.

Apart from the sad tale of Pitino and this woman, it might be interesting for reporters to dig into these “morals clauses” and see what purpose they serve. In Kentucky, basketball is something of a religion but the religious angles of sports are seen in the coverage nationwide. If having sex with a random woman and giving her cash for insurance/abortion doesn’t trigger the clause, it makes one wonder what would trigger it.

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What would Eunice Kennedy Shriver do?

Shriver_Special_OlympicsAbout a year ago, a coalition of pro-life groups began a global effort to lower the percentage of unborn children who are aborted because they have been diagnosed as having Down syndrome. That statistic is believed to be about 90 percent, in large part because of parental fear the burden of raising a flawed or imperfect child.

That fact jumped into my mind as I mulled over one of the big stories in the nation’s major newspapers today.

In the end, I was left with this simple question: What would Eunice Kennedy Shriver do? What would she say about this issue, based on what we know about her life as a daily-Mass Catholic who was an openly pro-life defender of the rights of the weak, the defenseless and, especially, those faced with mental and physical challenges? Would the founder of the Special Olympics connect any of these intellectual and moral dots?

Let’s consult the Washington Post, why don’t we? You can read quite a bit there about her good deeds and, near the end, there is this piece of the puzzle:

Eunice Mary Kennedy was born July 10, 1921, at the Kennedy residence in Brookline, Mass. She grew up there and in the Bronx and Bronxville, N.Y. She was educated at Catholic schools, and at one time the family thought she might become a nun.

What about the obit in the Los Angeles Times, since she spent some crucial years on the West Coast? This feature contains many of the crucial elements of her story, with an emphasis — again — on politics, the Kennedy family lore and the agonizing, poignant story of Rosemary, the hidden sister who was mentally handicapped. Then there is this:

Eunice and Sargent Shriver’s marriage was widely considered the best in the big Kennedy clan. Both were regular churchgoers committed to public service, and they made room for fun. When Sargent Shriver was U.S. ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970, his wife installed a trampoline on the residence lawn and often invited diplomats to bounce a bit.

As the mother of four sons and a daughter, Eunice Shriver thoroughly believed “in motherhood as the nourishment of life,” once writing that “it is the most wonderful, satisfying thing we can do.”

Still, none of the major dots are connected. The faith is just there. The social activism is over there. The marriage is somewhere else.

What about the coverage in the newspaper of record, the New York Times? Once again, there are the lengthy and absolutely justified passages on her amazing work on behalf of the mentally and physically challenged. The importance of her own family is central. Then there is a brief mention of her faith:

Mrs. Shriver’s family said in a statement Tuesday morning, “She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more.” Mrs. Shriver, her family said, “taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others.”

There is also a more detailed reference to her very intense, serious Catholic education:

She attended Convent of the Sacred Heart Schools in the United States and England and Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Stanford in 1943.

baby_angels-4There were culture-of-life hints in the public remarks about her death (if not in the comments by political leaders). Thus, in the family’s public statement, we read:

Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing — searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change. She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. …

We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always. She was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother. May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever.

So what’s the point? Once again, news consumers can, if they are willing to veer over into the world of “conservative” news, hear a completely different chorus of praises for this — it goes without saying — relentlessly pro-life Democrat.

The LifeNews.com story is one of many that say what the mainstream stories did not say, connecting the dots that few connected.

Yes, this is niche news. But if you put the pieces of the puzzle together, is this the accurate picture?

Although other members of the Kennedy family abandoned their pro-life beliefs as their political stock rose, Eunice Kennedy Shriver never did. And for that, pro-life advocates are mourning the passing of the woman who founded Special Olympics. …

Shriver, a lifelong pro-life Democrat, was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Senator Edward Kennedy. But she was honored by Feminists for Life of America in 1998 as a “Remarkable Pro-Life Woman.” … Shriver was a member of the advisory committee of the Susan B. Anthony List, a women’s group dedicated to electing pro-life women to Congress. …

In 1992, Eunice and Sargent Shriver joined Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey many other influential pro-life leaders in signing a full-page ad in the New York Times protesting the Democratic Party’s embrace of the pro-abortion agenda.

‘We can choose to reaffirm our respect for human life. We can choose to extend once again the mantle of protection to all members of the human family, including the unborn. We can choose to provide effective care of mothers and children,” the ad said. “And if we make those choices, America will experience a new birth of freedom, bringing with it a renewed spirit of community, compassion, and caring,” it added.

Want more praise for this fierce Catholic Democrat? Go ahead, click here and read Baptist Press.

So did anyone in the mainstream press connect all of these dots? Only one person, that I can find. Kudos to Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report for his short online piece at the God & Country weblog, with links to back his case.

Will a more complete picture of this remarkable woman emerge in coverage of her funeral Mass? Stay tuned.

Images: The top photo is posted at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org

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True love waits but don’t get crazy

forty_year_old_virginThe August cover story for Christianity Today, a magazine I write a column for (here’s the latest) has been making a bit of a splash. Mark Regnerus’ “The Case for Early Marriage” discusses how the chastity advocates forgot to mention that waiting until you’re old to get married might not be the most effective strategy for abstaining from sex until you’re married.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I was engaged to be married when I was very young but that didn’t work out. I ended up not getting married — and not even really wanting to get married — until more than a decade later. Very few people in my family waited as long as I did to get married. My husband is a bit younger but we both wish we would have found each other and figured things out much earlier. I’ve actually wondered why no one in my life pressured me to marry younger. It might have helped. Don’t get me wrong — things have worked out great and I had a wonderful time in my twenties. But I’ve come to see the wisdom in getting married younger — if you find the right person, of course.

Anyway, the piece made a bit of a splash and the Associated Press‘ ace religion reporter Eric Gorski used it as a hook to discuss the issue.

When Margie and Stephen Zumbrun were battling the urge to have premarital sex, a pastor counseled them to control themselves. The couple signed a purity covenant.

Then, when the two got engaged and Margie went wedding dress shopping, a salesperson called her “the bride who looks like she’s 12.” Nonchurch friends said that, at 22, she was rushing things.

The agonizing message to a young Christian couple in love: Sex can wait, but so can marriage.

“It’s unreasonable to say, ‘Don’t do anything … and wait until you have degrees and you’re in your 30s to get married,’” said Margie Zumbrun, who did wait for sex, and married Stephen fresh out of Purdue University. “I think that’s just inviting people to have sex and feel like they’re bad people for doing it.”

I just hope another couple profiled in the story — Megan and Jay Mkrtschjan — are given some vowels on their wedding anniversary. I kid. Anyway, the article looks at the issue from many different angles. It never actually discusses why some Christians don’t want to have sex until they’re married. I’m sure there was a time when such a view needed no explanation but in our hypersexed culture, it might have been worth a few words. Another reader quibbled about this section:

The call for young marriage raises questions: How young is too young? What if marriage is viewed as a ticket to guilt-free sex? What about the fact that marrying young is the No. 1 predictor of divorce?

The man who wrote the Christianity Today article — Mark Regnerus — is the same guy who wrote an essay for the Washington Post in April headlined “Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?”. In that article he had something to say about that statistic:

Of course, there’s at least one good statistical reason to urge people to wait on the wedding. Getting married at a young age remains the No. 1 predictor of divorce. So why on earth would I want to promote such a disastrous idea? For three good reasons:

First, what is considered “early marriage” by social scientists is commonly misunderstood by the public. The best evaluations of early marriage — conducted by researchers at the University of Texas and Penn State University — note that the age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers (those who marry before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume.

Reason No. 2 deals with gender differences and reason No. 3 is that correlation is not causation. Marriage at a young age can be an indicator of an underlying immaturity and impatience with marital challenges but it need not be, he says.

One reader said there might be another problem with the statistic about young marriages — it doesn’t break out those people who marry young as virgins. What’s their contribution to the divorce rate?

Anyway, the story is really fun and interesting despite these questions. Gorski does his trademark Gorski — speaking with a wide variety of Christians who espouse waiting until marriage for sex. One thing I love is how he includes people who are genuine evangelicals or genuine voices for their confession of faith — but they’re not necessarily the people you find in every other religion reporter’s Rolodex.
Aug2009Cover
The story doesn’t just nay-say the challenges of young marriage. It also discusses the issue of how marrying young can help couples grow together — something I have definitely witnessed among my friends and family. Here’s a bit of the gentle pro-marriage push from Regnerus:

“I’ll probably get framed as I want people to marry because I don’t want them to have premarital sex,” said Regnerus, author of “Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.”

“I think marriage is just a fantastic institution for people who think rightly about it, have realistic ideas about it and put the requisite work into it.”

Which reminds me — I hope you got a chance to read Laura Munson’s provocative essay in the New York Times a couple weeks ago. It was about how she chose not to believe her husband when he told her he’d fallen out of love with her and what happened after that.

Gorski also speaks with people who have different views about early marriage. But all sides are treated with respect — those who think abstinence is realistic no matter the age of marriage, those who advocate younger marriage and those with neither view.

The Christianity Today cover package includes some essays responding to the Regnerus story as well as a great news piece by Sarah Pulliam on the theological implications of online dating.

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Got news? (Criminal) check, please

800px-MountainBrookPoliceCar-SnowAlthough often restrained by their position from writing stories that reveal serious denominational problems, or using quotes that reveal dissenting viewpoints, in-house religious journalists are often a big resource for journalists covering religion stories.

First of all, they have to be very careful about what they say — so they aren’t as likely to make mistakes. They are normally closer to leaders in a denominational hierarchy than secular journalists. And they are usually “safe quotes” whose stories, albeit often laden with jargon, are parsed carefully by writers trying to understand the intricacies of a particular doctrine, event or dispute.

Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press provided us last Friday with a story with implications far beyond that of his (mostly) Southern Baptist readership. The subject matter? How routine criminal background checks for church volunteers turned up hopeful volunteers with real criminal backgrounds!

The article raises so many questions that it could be the catalyst for a whole series of stories. Although it’s really too bad that he relies on a press release rather than quotes from experts in law enforcement, pastors and volunteers, Allen also provides numerous links, some more helpful than others.

Given the spotlight on clergy sexual misconduct, the fact that many potential volunteers in Southern Baptist congregations have felonious pasts is big news. Because Baptist congregations govern themselves, they aren’t required to do background checks — so, conceivably, the problem is even larger. If routine background checks are turning up legal problems for Southern Baptists, what are the statistics for other denominations that require criminal checks?

The eye-popping number of possible perps themselves give Allen’s lede some punch:

One in eight background checks conducted on volunteers or prospective employees through LifeWay Christian Resources found a criminal history that might have kept an individual from working or volunteering at a church…

Last year LifeWay negotiated an affinity-group discount for screening services for churches with Backgroundchecks.com, a 10-year-old company with 4,500 clients. Since then, according to a news release, about 450 churches requested more than 5,000 background checks on volunteers and prospective employees.

While most screenings returned clean records or only minor traffic offenses, LifeWay said, 80 found serious felony offenses and more than 600 people had some type of criminal history that may have disqualified them from volunteering or working at a church.

While not a statistically representative sample, 450 churches is 1 percent of the 44,848 Southern Baptist congregations claimed in LifeWay’s most recent Annual Church Profile. Projected onto the other 99 percent of Southern Baptist churches, that would add up to 8,000 serious felony offenses and more than 60,000 people with some sort of checkered past in churches across the convention.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that churches are enticing to those who have had (not counting traffic tickets) brushes with the law. But it would be interesting to know more about those potential volunteers. Are they members of local congregations? What happens when such volunteers are turned away? Do they leave the congregation?

Spotting and weeding out sexual predators aspiring to volunteer is a big concern among congregations. The writer raises a unnerving possiblity — that insuring this is very challenging. “Because victims typically are reluctant to come forward and with statutes of limitations on molestation laws in many states, only an estimated 10 percent of sexual predators are brought to justice.” Given that it’s possible that many sexual predators stay underneath the radar of the police or other law enforcement, what can a congregation do to keep potential predators away from children? Allen has some helpful suggestions from the Center for Disease Control. But it’s evident that the Southern Baptists, with what he terms a “free-wheeling” style of governance, have to leave most such safeguards to individual congregations.

So the number that he’s got are obviously self-selecting congregations who felt the need to do some kind of criminal background check.

While there are many links here (a really good one for the Centers for Disease Control), I wish that more of them had actually linked to studies or neutral sources, rather than church websites or advocacy groups. This paragraph cries out for a link:

“In 2007 the Associated Press polled three major insurers for Protestant churches and totaled claims of minors being sexually abused by clergy, staff or other church-related relations at about 260 reports a year. That’s a higher number than the average of the 228 credible accusations against Catholic priests per year reported in the John Jay study.”

Which Protestant groups? Are we comparing oranges to oranges? Is there another story here?

These caveats aside, Allen has highlighted an issue of ongoing concern to many, if not all congregations. This isn’t a new issue at all. Many groups, like Roman Catholics dioceses, already mandate criminal background checks for volunteers. But how successful are congregations at policing themselves? A secular journalist has a lot of potentials angles to follow up on this story. Allen provides some fuel to get the fire going.

Picture of police cars is from Wikimedia Commons

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Faith & football — to the max

troy with son 2Regular readers may have noticed at some of your GetReligionistas are big sports fans, which includes the National Football League in several cases. This continues to be the case even though young master Daniel Pulliam is inactive, while serving as editor of a law review.

Regular readers may also know that we are big fans of intelligent question-and-answer interviews, especially when this format allows a skilled journalist to let intelligent and colorful people stretch out and tell their own stories and describe their own beliefs in their own words.

Regular readers may also know that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity and, it goes without saying, I am interested in the views of other Orthofolks.

However, just about the last thing I would expect to see in public media is a long and highly intelligent interview with an NFL superstar, commenting on the role of his Orthodox faith in his life as a parent, husband, churchman and athlete. Can you imagine the odds against that?

So, click here and check out Gina Mazza’s conversation with — you guessed it — the mane man in Pittsburgh, which would be Troy Polamalu, the star safety for the Steelers. I don’t quite know where to start with the interesting material in this one (Can you say, “Mount Athos?”), but let’s start with this part of the introduction:

Fatherhood is new in Polamalu’s life since the birth of his son, Paisios, named after a beloved contemporary Greek Orthodox monastic, Elder Paisios, on Oct. 31, 2008. Has daddy-dom been life-changing? Will he encourage his son to play professional sports? How’s that beautiful new mom doing?

And last but not least: Faith. In order to properly meet Polamalu where he lives, this is the requisite, the grounding force that gives meaning to everything he does, every play he makes. Polamalu’s evident gratitude to the one who made him is marbled throughout our talk — from his training regime to his travels to Mount Athos, a monastic site in Greece, a place he calls “heaven on earth.”

So this interview includes some very unusual questions, in the context of sports. How about, “Would you want your son to be a priest?” But, you see, that isn’t the biggest question.

Here’s a major chunk of the interview:

What is your greatest wish for your child?

Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That’s what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that’s one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he’s able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid — to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that. …

How would you define the spiritual struggle you referred to earlier?

It’s the struggle of good and evil, and with that comes the struggle with greed, jealousy, materialism, sexual morality, pride, all these types of struggles that we face every day, in every second of the day.

Your faith continues to evolve. In the past few years, you formally
converted to Greek Orthodox. Where do you worship?

My wife and I go often to a Greek Orthodox monastery in Saxonburg [Nativity of the Theotokos], a monastery in Arizona, and several parishes in Pittsburgh. We like the monastery because it’s most serene there and we can talk to the monastics. To see their daily struggles really fascinates me.

What intrigues you about the monastic life?

For me, faith is to be simple in this way. If anybody believes in God and believes in the Holy Bible, how can you be in any grey area? I’m talking about myself here, how can “I” think one way and do another way? To me, Christianity is very black and white. Either you take it serious or you don’t take it serious at all. The monks’ example to me is that they take salvation seriously in every facet of their lives. This is a model for me as a Christian and for my family on how to live our lives.

Read on. This has to be one of the most off-the-wall (in a good way) interviews of the year. Enjoy.

Photo: From the TroyPolamalufan.com website.

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Apocalyptic fun

Josh Levin, senior editor of Slate, wrote an epic series this week on the theme “The End of America.” The series begins here, and rolls on in eight segments and about 23,000 words. That’s not counting Slate’s embedded notes and thousands more words in The Fray. Slate also offered discussions on Facebook and Twitter, so the most obsessive readers easily could have devoted an entire week to debating Levin’s reporting.

Levin discussed the many doomsday scenarios in which the United States would be greatly diminished or cease to exist entirely. The savviest Web feature was “Choose Your Own Apocalypse,” which allowed readers to pick their top five threats to U.S. survival.

I highlighted the factors that are connected in any way to religion, including:

• Social critiques attractive to some believers: decadence; Obama as God; neo-humans; cloning; red vs. blue; the Rapture.

• Arguments or strawmen presented against believers or their concerns: the influence of intelligent design; passivity induced by Christianity; gay marriage leading to a separatist, “heterosexual-only state”; voluntary human extinction; tribalism; theocracy.

• A few leftovers: Dec. 21, 2012, doomsday scenarios; militant Islam; Israel-Arab war.

I’m pleased to see that the random array of readers who voted in Slate’s feature chose only one of these factors — the Israel-Arab War — among the top five threats. It appears these readers are not worried about the civilization-threatening potential of intelligent design, Christianity, red vs. blue tensions or theocracy.

Levin writes on an especially engaging theme when he explores the idea that Mormons would preserve American ideals even in a world without the United States.

Read the entire piece, because it’s so sprightly and well-argued, but this paragraph is a good sample:

Seen as honest and incorruptible, Mormons are recruited in great numbers by the FBI. Dubbed by Harold Bloom “perhaps the most work-addicted culture in religious history,” they have proved spectacularly successful in both secular and Church business. (1999′s Mormon America: The Power and the Promise pegged the church’s assets at $25 billion to $30 billion.) They venerate the traditional family unit, rarely divorce, and live as much as a decade longer than the average American. They are just like us, only they’re always on their best behavior.

Levin writes far more about sports than about religion. That is sportswriting’s gain and the Godbeat’s loss.

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