Neon Trees rocker says he’s gay — and still Mormon

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At some point, coming-out stories about faith-claiming celebrities, musicians, politicians — anyone in the public eye — will cease to be newsworthy.

Until then, we put up with the half-written attempts by news outlets and magazines to tell their stories. I say half-written because rarely do these pieces come close to a proper attempt at reconciling the subjects’ claims of sexual orientation with their faith backgrounds in any meaningful way. (For the record, that includes comment from someone representing the denomination with which the newly heralded LGBT identifies himself/herself.)

The latest example is Rolling Stone’s narrative on alternative rock group Neon Trees’ lead singer Tyler Glenn. Glenn, a lifelong member of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tells the magazine he is gay and has known since he was 6 that he was attracted to men. He also describes his first date with another man, indicating he will pursue that type of relationship in the future.

Glenn also says that he still considers himself a Mormon, although the church’s doctrinal position on homosexuality is clear: Sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married.

One might think that Rolling Stone would seek out a quote from a church representative, given the situation. Not in this story. No quote from anyone in the church, although we do hear from Glenn’s mother, also a Mormon, as well as others connected to the group — whose members all profess Mormon faith. And no word from Neon Trees fans, whom Glenn admits might be upset when they hear the news:

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Do Mormon women lack standing in their own faith?

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The issue of women’s roles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been bubbling for a while, and it’s back in the news this week.

As Religion News Service reported, the Ordain Women advocacy group will be denied access to the Mormons’ all-male general priesthood session next month.

That latest news reminds me that we need to pull an important item out of our GetReligion guilt file — those stories that we want to cover but for whatever reason haven’t.

I’m referring to The New York Times’ 5,000-word, front-page Sunday story from a few weeks ago on the sea change brought by the Mormon church lowering its age requirement for female missionaries to 19 from 21:

DAEJEON, South Korea — Ashley Farr, once Miss North Salt Lake Teen USA, is the first in her family’s long line of Mormon women to become a missionary, and in December she embarked on her new life in this gray corner of Asia. She packed her bag according to the church’s precise instructions: skirts that cover the knee, only one pair of pants, earrings that dangle no longer than one inch, and subtle but flattering makeup, modeled in photos on the church’s website.

Sister Farr, as she now is called, had left behind the student entrepreneurship competitions she was helping to run in Utah and paused her relationship with her boyfriend, far away in the Philippines, as they served his-and-her missions. Ms. Farr, a finance student at Brigham Young University in Utah, believed proselytizing would not only please God but also give her the organizational and persuasive skills to succeed professionally. She rattled off all the things she wants to become: Intern at Goldman Sachs. Wife of a mission president. Chief executive of a fashion or technology company.

“A mother and a businesswoman,” she said in an interview on her first day, neatly summarizing the two worlds, Mormon and secular, in which she hopes to thrive.

On the surface, it’s a fantastic story filled with revealing details about the experiences of the female missionaries featured, and it’s bolstered by an excellent multimedia presentation — including photos and videos.

But while the Times story certainly is an important addition to the national conversation on Mormon women’s roles, the piece seems overly broad and scattered.

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Concerning all those angry white married men in pews

It’s mid-term election time, which means that it’s time, once again, for the mainstream press to try to figure out what is wrong with all of those angry white men.

You remember the angry white men, right? Remember the folks who keep insisting on clinging to their — what was that phrase again — guns, religion and antipathy to people who are not like them?

GetReligion readers can probably predict which one of those factors was ignored in the recent New York Times piece that ran under the headline, “Democrats Try Wooing Ones Who Got Away: White Men.” The key voice up top — in the thesis paragraphs — is that of Frank Houston, a man with working-class roots who is leads the Democratic Party in Oakland County, Michigan.

Mr. Houston grew up in the 1980s liking Ronald Reagan but idolizing Alex P. Keaton, the fictional Republican teenage son of former hippies who, played by Michael J. Fox on the television series “Family Ties,” comically captured the nation’s conservative shift. But over time, Mr. Houston left the Republican Party because “I started to realize that the party doesn’t represent the people I grew up with.” …

Mr. Houston is part of an internal debate at all levels of his party over how hard it should work to win over white men, especially working-class men without college degrees, at a time when Democrats are gaining support from growing numbers of female and minority voters.

It is a challenge that runs throughout the nation’s industrial heartland, in farm states and across the South, after a half-century of economic, demographic and cultural shifts that have reshaped the electorate. Even in places like Michigan, where it has been decades since union membership lists readily predicted Democratic votes, many in the party pay so little attention to white working-class men that it suggests they have effectively given up on converting them.

There are several religious and cultural ghosts in this story, but the Times team never really names them.

Instead, the story does a great job — over and over — of telling readers what kind of voters are very loyal to the Democratic Party these days. Readers then have to do the math and try to spot the obvious patterns. Take this quote for example:

No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white men since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all prevailed with support of the so-called rising electorate of women, especially single women, and minorities. But fewer of those voters typically participate in midterm elections, making the votes of white men more potent and the struggle of Democrats for 2014 clear.

Carter, of course, did much better in the South and in the Midwest in his first campaign. And what was different that time around? I mean, other than having to run against Reagan?

Also, note another theme in the story: Democrats do much, much better with single adults, as opposed to married adults. In stories that dare to probe this, what usually shows up in that familiar “pew gap” indicating that people who attend worship more tend to vote for culturally conservative candidates. Married people also tend to more religious than single people.

But this is not a story that has the time to look into things like that.

Let’s see. So what else does this story tell us?

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Ghosts haunt AP story on Boy Scouts of America

When my oldest son was a Boy Scout, the entire experience was couched in church settings.

His pack meetings took place in church halls,  and ceremonies were scheduled in church sanctuaries and auditoriums. His pack leaders often doubled as congregational lay leaders, and the boys were asked once a year to don their uniforms and lead a special “Scout Sunday” worship. When the boys recited the oath, the “Under God” portion no doubt resonated within their surroundings.

I was surprised, then, by The Associated Press’ story on new statistics released Wednesday that show a 6 percent membership decline in the last year — a year during which new rules were put in place to accept and protect openly gay Scouts, from Cubs to Eagles.

The story had a Dallas dateline, undoubtedly tied to the organization’s national headquarters in nearby Irving, Texas. Beyond that obvious connection, what better area in the country to find a wide array of faith groups willing and able to speak intelligently about the impact of the change on troops with which they might have alliances or sponsorship?

But, no.

We hear from Scouting spokesman Deron Smith, who admitted the change might be partially responsible, but blamed the loss of thousands of boys and their families more on day-to-day time demands and the relevancy of its programs — and over the course of the last decade, not just nine months. And Smith touted the positives of the organization, as you might expect:

He pointed to several successes in 2013 for the Boy Scouts, which opened a new permanent site for its annual jamboree of Scouts from around the world and was featured on a National Geographic television series.

“Last year was a milestone year for the BSA in many ways,” he said.

He added that accepting openly gay boys “allows us to serve more kids.”

Well, not by the final count. Still, the most telling graf of the entire piece is yet to come — and without attribution, even!

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How to cover the Mormons, England and religious liberty

It goes without saying that Godbeat veteran Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake City Tribune has, over the past quarter of a century or so, covered more than her share of stories about doctrinal issues (and disputes) in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the moment, Mormon authorities are caught up in one of the most bizarre religious liberty stories in a year dominated by big religious liberty stories. I wanted to call attention to a recent Stack report on this controversy simply to show GetReligion readers what it looks like when a pro starts nailing down one of these complicated stories.

To cut to the chase: There is a former Mormon in Great Britain who is suing the church for false and misleading doctrine. Honest. Here is a key slice of copy at the very top of the story:

Tom Phillips, a former Mormon bishop and stake president, asserts, among other claims, that LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has “made representations … which were … untrue or misleading” — including that “there was no death on this planet prior to 6,000 years ago” and that “all humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago” — to “make a gain for himself or another.”

… A district judge in Westminster Magistrates’ Court of London issued a summons to Monson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to appear March 14 to answer the charges. And Phillips expects to see the 86-year-old Mormon leader in court — unless Monson “pleads guilty.”

“This is a serious matter,” Phillips said Wednesday in a phone interview from his home in England. “If President Monson believes in the Book of Mormon, he will show up. If he has any concern for Mormons in Britain, he will show up. And if he doesn’t show up, then an arrest warrant will be issued.”

As you would expect, Mormon authorities are outraged.

That’s the easy part of the story. It’s easy to find church authorities who see this as an outrageous violation of what, in America, would be First Amendment principles. The laws are somewhat different in the United Kingdom, but you have a similar conviction that state authorities are not supposed to get involved in disputes over doctrines and the ties that bind for eternity.

Most reporters quote the angry person. Then they quote the outraged church authority. What makes or breaks the story is the quality of the OTHER INFORMATION in the report.

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Asking the nasty, logical question about that Utah judge

It’s often like the force of gravity in American politics and it has been gaining power for about a quarter of a century.

We’re talking about the “pew gap,” that mysterious X-factor that keeps showing up in surveys about the most controversial political and social issues in this land of ours. Simply stated, the more often a person sits in a pew inside a religious sanctuary, the more likely they are to vote for morally conservative candidates (in either party, but these days this tends to show up as a GOP bias).

So does his mean (a) that all moral conservatives are Republicans? The answer, of course, is “no,” especially when you start hanging out with Latinos, African-Americans and people in blue-collar jobs and/or labor unions.

Does this mean that (b) all Republicans are moral conservatives? The answer, of course, is “no,” especially when you are dealing with country-club members and people far outside the Bible Belt.

Does this mean that (c) cultural liberals are godless heathens who never go to church? Of course not, but they are a minority of those found in pews and they tend to be active in smaller, doctrinally progressive flocks of all religious brands.

So this brings us to that New York Times story about that judge in Utah — all together now, UTAH! — who has become an instant hero among supporters of gay-rights and same-sex unions.

This story provides lots of relevant information, all focusing on how his decision has shocked Republicans. Let’s look at a slice or two of the text:

DENVER – For a judge who would go on to make same-sex marriage legal in Utah, a deep-red state where streets in the capital are numbered by their distance from the Mormon temple, Robert J. Shelby arrived on the bench with enthusiastic praise from Republican leaders.

He had been a combat engineer in the Persian Gulf conflict and was, according to state voter records, a registered Republican. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a seven-term Utah Republican, recommended him for a federal judgeship, calling him an experienced lawyer “with an unwavering commitment to the law.” Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party Republican, said that Mr. Shelby was “pre-eminently qualified” and predicted he would be an outstanding judge.

Now, less than two years since he joined the bench, the same-sex marriage case has transformed Judge Shelby into a hero for hundreds of newlywed gay couples and an object of derision for many social conservatives who supported Utah’s 2004 ban on such unions.

OK, so remember point (b) mentioned above?

What is the logical information that readers almost certainly need to know to understand this legal puzzle?

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There’s that Baltimore Ravens faith ghost — again

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The Baltimore Ravens have been playing some really, really wild football games in recent weeks, a few with endings that several commentators have been tempted to call “miraculous.”

Sort of like that playoff game last year in frozen Mile-High Stadium in Denver (sorry, about that M.Z. Hemingway).

Anyway, head coach John Harbaugh was asked, in a recent press conference, to name the X factor behind his team. Here’s how ESPN.com reported the response:

“The thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We believe. We trust. Because of that, we’ll fight. We will run the race right down to the end. That’s something that our football team does. I’m very proud of them for that.”

There are times when special moments define special teams, just like the times when the Ravens converted the fourth-and-29 in San Diego and delivered the Mile High Miracle last season. These Ravens are building quite a portfolio of “never say never” moments.

Two weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 22-20, by stopping a two-point conversion with 1:03 remaining. Last week, the Ravens outlasted the Minnesota Vikings, 29-26, by scoring three touchdowns in the final 2:05, including the winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with 4 seconds left.

OK, you probably didn’t need all of those gridiron details, but I thought they were relevant.

Here in Charm City, the newspaper that lands in my front yard eventually printed that quotation, like this:

“We’re playing our best football right now and we’re going to have to continue to improve with what we have in front of us down the stretch,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You look at our football team and the thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith. We believe. We trust. Because of that, we’ll fight. We will run the race right down to the end, that’s something that our football team does. I’m very proud of them for that.”

Now, that faith language is rather generic sports talk, methinks. What struck me was a football coach using that interesting language connecting this faith factor to finishing a “race,” as opposed to a football game.

That sounded rather familiar, coming from the organizer (or endorser) of the weekly Ravens Bible studies.

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Latest coverage from the church of The New York Times

Few news consumers would be surprised that the journalists at Baptist Press frame their coverage of controversial moral and cultural issues in a way that supports the doctrines affirmed by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock of believers.

After all, this is a denominational wire service that is funded by a doctrinally conservative body. The wider world of Southern Baptists (and often former Southern Baptist) is complex enough that it also supports a second wire service — the Associated Baptist Press — that affirms what is usually a more doctrinally liberal, oldline Protestant view on social issues.

Thus, it isn’t surprising that, when framing the decision by Judge Clark Waddoups to strike down a key section of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, the Baptist Press team used several quotes from moral conservatives. In turn, it is not surprising that these sources linked this event to the “slippery slope” argument that says once a culture starts redefining a concept like marriage, it is hard to stop. Here’s a typical passage:

Defenders of the biblical and historic view of marriage said the decision undermines the institution and provides more evidence that its redefinition will be more expansive than just incorporating same-sex relationships.

“Sadly, when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing,” Russell D. Moore said in a statement released Dec. 14. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults, divorced from the needs of children for a mother and a father committed to each other for life,” Moore said. “Polygamy was outlawed in this country because it was demonstrated, again and again, to hurt women and children.”

Later in the report, the Baptist Press report included related several quotes from the Waddoups text and from defendant Kody Brown, who is featured with his four wives in a television reality show called “Sister Wives.” That’s pretty much to be expected, since the BP staff includes quite several scribes with mainstream news experience.

However, here was the voice that I found especially interesting in this context:

Jonathan Turley, lead counsel for the Browns and a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., connected the homosexual and polygamy causes in his reaction to Waddoups’ opinion.

“[P]lural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by [the] gay and lesbian community over criminalization,” Turley wrote.

“The decision affects a far greater range of such relationships than the form of polygamy practiced by the Browns,” he said. “It is a victory not for polygamy but privacy in America.”

Bravo. It gladdens the heart of your GetReligionistas to see hints of intellectual and cultural diversity, even in copy from a denominational wire service.

Why bring this up? Other than in our “Got news?” posts, GetReligion rarely digs into the offerings of advocacy journalism sites.

Well, in this case it is interesting to contrast the Baptist Press piece with the coverage of the same decision that was offered in The New York Times.

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