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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Taxpayer funding of abortion

catholicabortionWe’ve been critical of some of the coverage of health care legislation in recent weeks. But here’s a straightforward Associated Press piece that does a solid job of laying out the issues. From the beginning of the article:

Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions, a decision that would affect millions of women and recast federal policy on the divisive issue. . . .

Advocates on both sides are preparing for a renewed battle over abortion, which could jeopardize political support for President Barack Obama’s health care initiative aimed at covering nearly 50 million uninsured and restraining medical costs.

“We want to see people who have no health insurance get it, but this is a sticking point,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We don’t want health care reform to be the vehicle for mandating abortion.”

The piece gets the perspective of NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups that support abortion rights.

“It’s a sham,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life. “It’s a bookkeeping scheme. The plan pays for abortion, and the government subsidizes the plan.”

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., author of the compromise, said she was trying to craft a solution that would accommodate both sides. Her amendment also would allow plans that covered no abortions whatsoever–not even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother–to be offered through the insurance exchange.

“With all due respect, not everyone adheres to what the Catholic bishops believe,” said Capps, who supports abortion rights. “Our country allows for both sides, and our health plan should reflect that as well.”

I’m not quite sure how you accommodate the people who don’t want to pay for other people’s abortions as well as the people who do want to pay for other people’s abortions under the same plan, but the article does a good job of showing how abortion rights supporters and those who oppose abortion have fought over the federal funding of abortion issue for decades. One of the most helpful parts of the story is explaining how taxpayers might pay for abortions under the new legislation and how and why they don’t pay for abortions under the current law. It also does slightly better than previous stories in explaining current provisions for abortion under private insurance plans.

It’s not the most thorough story on the matter, but it’s a great start and does a good job of including the voice of Catholics who want health care legislation but don’t want any provision that would lead to taxpayer funding of abortions. There might even be some other religious voices worth hearing on the matter. Something tells me this abortion issue is going to be a big one.

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The value of promiscuous sex

Life-Now-no-one-is-safe-from-AIDSThe Los Angeles Times has a daily front page feature under the name “Column One.” The column is for “interesting” news and is designed to give people surprising or provocative information.

There have been some great pieces there in the past, but recently there have been some real doozies. There was the Hemlock Society press release for euthanasia and the hagiography of Colorado abortion doctor Warren Hern.

Saturday’s Column One is a similarly one-sided and shallow puff piece on married sociology professors who teach a class about sex at UC Santa Barbara. I’m all for putting more stories about sex in newspapers and as a puff piece, it’s certainly enjoyable reading. But talk about imbalance:

How well should people know each other before they have sex?

In the biggest classroom at UC Santa Barbara, sociology professors John and Janice Baldwin are reeling off survey results showing that male and female students are almost equally willing to sleep with someone they love. But the hall erupts in knowing laughter as a gender gap emerges: Men, the long-married couple reports, remain eager for sex through descending categories of friendship and casual acquaintance. Women don’t.

By the time Janice Baldwin gets to the statistic on sex between strangers, the din from the 600 students is so loud, they can hardly hear her announce that 37% of men would have sex with a person they had just met, compared with only 7% of women.

“So you can see, males are a little more likely to go to bed with somebody they don’t know very well,” Baldwin says dryly.

“Or at all,” she adds, to guffaws.

By turns humorous and deadly serious, “Sociology of Human Sexuality” has been an institution at the beach-side campus for more than two decades. So have the Baldwins, unflappable sixtysomethings who are trusted voices on love and lovemaking for thousands of current and former UC Santa Barbara students.

With a lede like that, you’d think the article might feature some discussion about competing moral claims regarding sex. Maybe we could learn a bit more about how well people should know each other before they have sex. Or even get into some interesting territory about same-sex relationships. Instead it’s just the most gauzy look at no-judgment sex education. There’s no need for a story like this to be negative but neither should it be completely uncritical, either.

The article is also just wrong in parts. Take this, for instance:

The survey also found that promiscuity on the campus peaked in the late ’80s, before awareness of AIDS. In 1988, 38% of the school’s sexually active undergraduates said they had had at least one sexual encounter with a person they had known one day or less; by 2007, that figure had dropped to 26%.

Okay, everyone knows that President Ronald Reagan personally spread AIDS dominated the entire 1980s. To say that “awareness of AIDS” came some time after 1988 is just ignorant.

Anyway, here are a few other selected sections from the story:
aids1

“We don’t feel we are the sex king and queen of the world,” Janice Baldwin, 63, said recently in the cramped office the couple share, their desks touching. “So this is not about us. It’s about the students, and we are privileged to get to teach a class that can help them avoid the downsides of sex and increase the positives.” . . .

The couple’s aura of nonjudgmental experience helps. . . .

After marrying, they traveled for several years in the jungles of Latin America while he researched the behavior of squirrel monkeys. There, they witnessed the human suffering caused by overpopulation and lack of birth control. The experience influenced Janice to volunteer for Planned Parenthood when they returned to Santa Barbara in the early ’70s. . . .

The Baldwins are tight-lipped about their own lives, except to say that they have no children, were never married to anyone else and spend their free time hiking. They say it is fine for students to abstain from sex, but they also give off the vibe of supportive parents who think it’s all right for young people to be sexually active as long as they keep it safe. . . .

I love how people who oppose birth control or think Planned Parenthood is not a humanitarian institution are frequently portrayed as judgmental by the media. They certainly couldn’t get a puffy piece like this in their favor. But having a competing moral vision makes you nonjudgmental. It’s also very generous of the professors to say it’s “fine” for their unmarried students to abstain from sex.

There’s also a vignette about discussing when it is right to out closeted gay politicians and celebrities and when it’s an invasion of privacy. I thought this was one of the most interesting sections:

The topic that seems to upset students most, the Baldwins say, is parental sex. Year after year, the class breaks into groans at images of mature couples in nude embraces.

“They . . don’t like to think about their parents having sex,” Janice Baldwin said.

And you know the one thing that the article never mentions? Children. There’s discussion of birth control, abortion and infertility. But either the professors themselves or the reporter never mention children as the natural product of sex. It’s so bizarre to read a lengthy discussion of sex — which is something humans do for pleasure, sure, but also the means by which billions of humans have been conceived — and never discuss children. Does this “la-la-la” approach to sexuality, where everything is less important than pleasure and where children are “punishment” for sex turn everyone into idiots? THAT is the topic that most upsets the students? Not, say, herpes? Or the prevalence of other STDs? Or the abortion rate? Or people having sex with strangers?

The story also repeatedly refers to the couple as role models because they’re a long-time married couple. It’s just an interesting acknowledgment of the ideal of marital commitment. The biggest ghost in the whole story is any discussion of the Baldwins’ religious background. It’s the number one question I had while reading the story — particularly while learning about the dismal sex education the duo had growing up. Religion, of course, is one of the biggest shapers of people’s views on sex. But the reporter never asked the question or didn’t include the answer in the story. It’s just an odd thing to leave out.

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Reporters! When in doubt, be specific

Caught with pants downWhile it may surprise GetReligion readers who reside in some parts of the United States, there are thousands of evangelical Christians — millions, globally — who worship in United Methodist pews week after week. That is certainly true down in the Southeastern corner of the Sunbelt, where there seems to be a United Methodist congregation in every small town and in almost every zip code.

Now hold on to that thought.

I am sad to report that ABC News served up a story the other day that, once again, pinned the “evangelical” label on another GOP falling star without offering any practical details that would, or would not, justify that word. At best, this appears to be a story about a man who “voted” evangelical and then got caught with his pants down.

We simply don’t know. Here’s the top of the story, which includes all kinds of slimy details about a scandal that deserves to be called an “affair” in every sense of the word. The detail about the stolen disc of nude photos is especially choice.

What began as a government internship for a one-time honors student with a questionable past has become a full-blown sex scandal that ensnared a married Tennessee state senator and led him to resign.

Republican Sen. Paul Stanley had maintained a low profile until his announcement … that he was resigning from the state Senate effective Aug. 10, after his affair with a 22-year-old intern and a subsequent extortion attempt was revealed to the public.

Stanley, a 47-year-old evangelical Christian with two children, said in his resignation letter that he has “decided to focus my full attention on my family.”

“Whatever I stood for and advocated, I still believe to be true,” he told Memphis radio station WREC-AM Tuesday. “And just because I fell far short of what God’s standard was for me and my wife, doesn’t mean that that standard is reduced in the least bit.”

He had been engaged in a sexual relationship with intern McKensie Morrison when her boyfriend, Joel Watts, contacted him, according to an affidavit filed in Davidson County by prosecutor Douglas Long. Watts threatened April 8 to release nude photos of Morrison at the senator’s apartment unless Stanley paid him $10,000, the affidavit claimed.

So he is an “evangelical” and that’s that. Read on and you’ll see that there is nothing in the story that gives us any clue as to why Stanley fits that label — unless simply being a Republican is enough. Take it away, Jim Wallis.

Now, as a GetReligion reader quickly noted by email, it isn’t all that hard to Google this politician’s name and read the following on his personal website. At least, it was easy to do that before the contents were locked after his resignation announcement. Still, the direct link still works, so click here. That’s where we read that:

From 1997-1999 he was Vice Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. Paul was Senior Field Representative to U.S. Senator Bill Frist from 1995-1997 and served on the Republican State Executive Committee from 1998-2002. He is a member of Christ United Methodist Church where he serves as a Sunday school teacher and board member of their day school.

OtherPaulStanleySo here is the question for the reporter. Why not simply say that the state senator is a Sunday school teacher in a United Methodist congregation? That would be specific and accurate.

But wait, I hear some of you thinking, “But that doesn’t offer any political content about this man who has sunk into this pit of shame. It makes his actions worse if he is one of those ‘evangelical’ people. After all, if you just said he was a United Methodist, then people might think that he’s, uh, well educated and sane.”

As it turns out, the state senator’s “about” page also offers more information, noting that:

He has sponsored and passed many pro-business and technology bills and has a 100% rating from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, NRA and Tennessee Right to Life.

There you go, Stanley had a sky-high voting record from his state’s Right to Life chapter — even higher than the rating by another pro-life evangelical from Tennessee years ago. You remember Sen. Al Gore, don’t you? But he was a Democrat, of course.

In conclusion, there may be all kinds of specific information — other than this one political statistic on life issues — that would justify pinning the stunningly vague term “evangelical” on this latest GOP falling star. However, that information is clearly not in the ABC News story, where all we get is a hollow label.

It was easy to learn that Stanley is a United Methodist. Why not simply be specific, for a change? Go ahead and give us a few details.

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