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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So which Bible version is really the most authentic?

DUANE ASKS:

There are many different versions of the Bible: King James, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, etc. Which is considered the closest to the earliest available manuscripts?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

Folks shopping for Christmas gift Bibles are well aware of the countless editions on sale, those aimed at Moms, teens, substance abusers in recovery, ESL students, and the like, and all the useful study Bibles with marginal notations, explanatory articles, timelines, maps, and indexes. However, Duane isn’t asking about such add-ons but the many English translations of the Bible itself.

The beloved “Authorized” or King James Version from 1611 is a monument of English literature that retains wide popularity, especially among Protestant Fundamentalists, some of whom champion a “King James Only” movement. The King is the sole Bible used in Mormonism. But experts note that it isn’t ideal in terms of Duane’s criterion of closeness to the best ancient texts. (The question says “earliest,” which is not always “best,” but let’s leave aside the textual technicalities.) Important ancient manuscripts were not available to the King James team, for instance key 4th Century codices and the Hebrew scriptures found among the celebrated Dead Sea Scrolls. A secondary problem is that the King’s Elizabethan language is occasionally hard for 21st Century readers to comprehend easily or correctly.

Still, something is lost with today’s profusion of modernized translations compared with the time not so long ago when generally similar and memorable phrasing was shared by the Protestants’ King James, the Catholics’ Douay-Rheims Bible from that same era, and the 1917 Jewish Publication Society Tanakh (the Hebrew-based term for what Christians call the Old Testament).

Proponents of each modern translation on the market will assert that it’s faithful to the Hebrew and Greek. Indeed, most renditions from recent decades are reliable products from well-credentialed scholars capable of wrestling with the best available texts. Because there are so many ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts and the meaning of some Hebrew Old Testament terms is unclear, there are differences in wording among the translations, but key substantive disagreements are few. Instead, the major differences involve the philosophy of translation and, to a lesser extent, the reading skill of the intended audience.

One approach is thought-for-thought or “functional equivalence” translation that emphasizes the text’s meaning for clear understanding. An example is the Good News Bible, a.k.a. Today’s English Version, which is especially helpful for those who aren’t fluent English readers. The other main option is more literal word-for-word or “formal equivalance” renditions. The King James leans that way along with modern translations generally following in that tradition such as the Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, and somewhat more literalistic New American Standard Bible.

An interesting Jewish translation by Everett Fox works to evoke the wording and feel of the underlying Hebrew. For instance, here’s the call of Abraham in Genesis 12: “YHWH said to Avram: Go-you-forth from your land, from your kindred, from your father’s house, to the land that I will let you see. I will make a great nation of you and will give-you-blessing and will make your name great. Be a blessing!”

One recent issue is the degree a Bible uses gender-inclusive language, a hallmark of the 1989 New Revised Standard Version.

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Those Latter-day Saints: What’s in a name?

ROYCE WONDERS: (Paraphrasing) What’s the origin of Mormonism’s official name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and do those two “of” phrases mean Saints are on equal footing with Jesus, or that Jesus was Mormon, or what?

THE GUY RESPONDS: The founding Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. originally called his group “the Church of Christ.” The scriptures that Smith added to the Bible say that in an 1831 revelation God pronounced this to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).

Thus, God revealed a new and final church name to Smith in Missouri on April 26, 1838: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D & C 115:4). Some historians say this combined “The Church of the Latter Day Saints” used by Smith’s flock in Ohio with “The Church of Jesus Christ” preferred by his newly acquired Missouri followers.

According to Mormon Doctrine, a widely consulted though non-official reference book by an LDS apostle, the name is all-important because the “authenticity of any church” must be determined by whether it has “some combination of the names of Christ as its name.” (With the other listed marks of authenticity, only the LDS Church qualifies.)

In recent years the LDS Church has changed its official typography to put JESUS CHRIST in larger capital letters marked off from the rest of the name in order to defend itself against the charge that Mormons are not true Christians. LDS headquarters is quite particular about use of its name and officially “discourages” the “Mormon Church” and “LDS Church” nicknames that are commonly used by Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

The Guy has never really thought much about those two “of” phrases that apparently can be confusing for some. However, the are crucial to the Saints.

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Pod people: Facts are your friends, journalists

Here at GetReligion, we make no secret of our bias.

That bias: our deep affection for good, old-fashioned journalism.

In two recent posts, I highlighted stories at opposite extremes of that ideal. I discuss those posts with host Todd Wilken on this week’s episode of “Crossroads,” the GetReligion podcast.

In my “When religious liberty clashes with gay rights” post, I praised a Wall Street Journal story on lawsuits over wedding professionals — such as bakers and photographers — refusing to serve same-sex couples. I noted that the Journal quoted sources on both sides of the issue and fairly framed each side’s broad arguments.

That post prompted some interesting discussion from readers (some of it actually related to journalism). Reader cvg commented, in part:

This seemed like a good article. I wouldn’t say the quotes were really well balanced. The SSM quotes reflected personal trauma, while those on the liberty side didn’t. Perhaps it is the language each side naturally uses: one naturally in tune with successful PR, and one naturally out of tune? I suspect there would be stronger balance if quotes reflected how disturbing it can be for a person of faith to be forced to act against deep seated convictions. However, is it the journalist’s job to dig for balance, if those reflected each side don’t naturally portray such balance? Probably not. However, if you’re really after portraying balance, a decent follow up wouldn’t hurt. Too much leading?

My reply:

cvg,

You definitely make some interesting points concerning the balance on the quotes.

One issue at play: Attorneys are being quoted (instead of plaintiffs themselves) in most of these cases, and attorneys speak legalese.

Another issue: the relatively short word count on the story, which doesn’t allow for any source to elaborate a whole lot.

Still, I was pleased that the Journal made an attempt to let each source make its best case, albeit in a short amount of space.

Meanwhile, in my “Mormons softening opposition to homosexuality … or not” post, I raised a number of questions about what I characterized as an Associated Press “puff piece” on Mormons challenging the church’s stance on homosexuality.

Reader Darren Blair commented, in part:

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Mormons softening opposition to homosexuality … or not

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If you enjoy quality journalism, feel free to skip an Associated Press story out today on Mormons challenging their church’s stance on homosexuality.

But if you’re in the mood for a puff piece, wow … AP has produced a doozy!

From start to finish, this quasi-news report engages in unfettered cheerleading. Ready? OK!:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wendy and Tom Montgomery went door-to-door in their California neighborhood in 2008 campaigning for the passage of an anti-gay marriage proposition. They were among thousands of faithful Mormons following the direction of a church that spent millions on the cause.

Then they learned last year that their 15-year-old son is gay — a revelation that rocked their belief system.

Now, Wendy Montgomery is leading a growing movement among Mormons to push The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach that homosexuality isn’t a sin.

Alas, AP never gets around to providing any concrete data to back up the claim of “a growing movement.”

The story does provide this big chunk of “background,” all without any named sources:

The Utah-based church’s stance on homosexuality has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California’s Proposition 8. A new website launched this year encourages more compassion toward gays, implores them to stay in the faith and clarifies that church leaders no longer “necessarily advise” gays to marry people of the opposite sex in what used to be a widely practiced Mormon workaround for homosexuality. In May, church leaders backed the Boy Scouts’ policy allowing gays in the ranks. Some gay Mormons who left or were forced out of the church say they are now being welcomed back — even though they remain in same-sex relationships.

Who says the church’s stance has “softened considerably?” The story doesn’t say.

Who are the gay Mormons welcomed back and allowed to remain in same-sex relationships? AP doesn’t bother to quote any of them.

That giant paragraph is followed by this transition:

It may seem like negligible progress to outsiders, but Mormon scholars say 2013 has been a landmark year for the religion on gay and lesbian issues.

How’s that for editorializing? (I’ll give it an A-plus.)

Throughout the story, AP presents the Montgomerys’ version of events as the gospel truth, such as:

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Another haunted story about Ravens locker room faith

At this point, fans who pay close attention to the Baltimore Ravens are contemplating a deep moral and religious question. No, I am not referring to the sins being committed on a weekly basis by the offensive linemen who are allegedly blocking for quarterback Joe Flacco.

No, the bigger question is this: Who dominates the locker room, the party players associated with the recent “party bus” incident, with that strong supporting role played by a stripper named Sweet Pea, or the inner core of religious believers who are clearly being pulled into the organization or retained as leaders by head coach John “give me some mighty men” Harbaugh?

As the defending Super Bowl champions attempt to get their act together on the field, it’s clear that there are questions that need to be answered in the locker room.

Do the reporters and editors of The Baltimore Sun see what is going on?

I honestly do not know. I do know that, in story after story, the folks that operate the newspaper that lands in my front yard demonstrate that they are tone deaf when it comes to writing about the lives of the many religious believers who are playing key roles in the Ravens locker room. Tone deaf? What other explanation is there for this trend in which the religious role in players’ personal lives is either ignored or downplayed in story after story? Want to see a few examples, just from the past 12 months? Then click here, here, here, here and here.

The latest story in this haunted series focuses on safety James Ihedigbo, who — against strong odds — has emerged as a leader on the Ravens defense. It’s important to know that his family is from Nigeria.

Thus, this crucial transition in the story:

After bouncing around the NFL for a couple of years and surviving another training camp competition, Ihedigbo is thriving as a starter for the Ravens. The 29-year-old is providing sound coverage, reliable tackling and leadership for a younger group of defensive backs that lost a pair of veteran mentors in Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard this past offseason.

“James has been kind of the glue back there,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Fighting to keep a dream alive is nothing new for him or for the Ihedigbo family. Decades before, Ihedigbo learned about perseverance and the power of faith from his parents.

The Ihedigbos, Apollos and Rose, left Nigeria and came to the United States in 1979, settling in Amherst, Mass. Two of their five children were born there, including their youngest son, James.

OK, there’s the faith word. Now what’s the story, in terms of the journalistic facts?

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Sun does it again: Ghost in the Ngata and Suggs friendship

Are you ready for some football!

GetReligion readers: What?!?

So, the National Football League season starts tonight with the world-champion Baltimore Ravens returning (due to a baseball schedule issue here in Charm City) to Denver to play the other beloved team of my heart, the Broncos.

As you would expect, this means that the team at The Baltimore Sun needed to churn out another lengthy news feature in which an obvious religion angle (a “ghost” in other words) was buried if not ignored altogether. This appears to be a Sun specialty.

In this case, the story focuses on the unlikely friendship between two radically different Pro Bowl-level members of the Ravens defense, massive nose tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

The key is that Ngata is the straightest of straight arrows and Suggs has lived a rather colorful personal history, to understate the issue. Thus this key passage:

Of Tongan descent, Ngata’s activity of choice is a quiet night with his wife, Christina, and their two young boys. He lets loose on occasion with his teammates, but he never appears comfortable or content in front of reporters.

Meanwhile, Suggs — or “Sizzle,” as his teammates call him — is a movie and music buff who doesn’t shy away from the nightlife. While Ngata “just likes to be quiet,” Suggs’ voice reverberates everywhere. Yet the two are inseparable, especially, Ngata says, at the team facility, where “I can’t go by myself to do anything or he can’t, and if one of us does, we get on each other pretty bad.”

“If I told my wife I was with Haloti, she wouldn’t worry about a thing,” Suggs said. “She’d say, ‘All right, you guys have fun.’ He’s a real good person to be around, especially if you want to stay out of trouble. The man doesn’t even curse. Haloti is a big teddy bear, and everybody knows he’s an amazing family man. But when Haloti is in pads and he has a helmet on, there’s no more gentle giant. He’s ferocious.”

Hint, hint. And later on readers learn more about this dynamic:

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Hey AP: Where is religious left on religious liberty issues?

A long, long time ago, 1998 to be precise, I wrote a column marking the 10th anniversary of my weekly “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service. I opened it with an observation about one of the major changes I had witnessed on the religion beat during the previous 20 years or so.

Add that all up and we’re talking about events in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. At the top, I noted that, when covering news events:

I kept seeing a fascinating cast of characters at events centering on faith, politics and morality. A pro-life rally, for example, would feature a Baptist, a Catholic priest, an Orthodox rabbi and a cluster of conservative Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Lutherans. Then, the pro-choice counter-rally would feature a “moderate” Baptist, a Catholic activist or two, a Reform rabbi and mainline Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Lutherans.

Similar line-ups would appear at many rallies linked to gay rights, sex-education programs and controversies in media, the arts and even science. Along with other journalists, I kept reporting that today’s social issues were creating bizarre coalitions that defied historic and doctrinal boundaries. After several years of writing about “strange bedfellows,” it became obvious that what was once unique was now commonplace.

This led me to the work of a famous scholar who was seeing the same pattern:

Then, in 1986, a sociologist of religion had an epiphany while serving as a witness in a church-state case in Mobile, Ala. The question was whether “secular humanism” had evolved into a state-mandated religion, leading to discrimination against traditional “Judeo-Christian” believers. Once more, two seemingly bizarre coalitions faced off in the public square.

“I realized something there in that courtroom. We were witnessing a fundamental realignment in American religious pluralism,” said James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia. “Divisions that were deeply rooted in our civilization were disappearing, divisions that had for generations caused religious animosity, prejudice and even warfare. It was mind- blowing. The ground was moving.”

The old dividing lines centered on issues such as the person of Jesus Christ, church tradition and the Protestant Reformation. But these new interfaith coalitions were fighting about something even more basic — the nature of truth and moral authority.

Two years later, Hunter began writing “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America,” in which he declared that America now contains two basic world views, which he called “orthodox” and “progressive.” The orthodox believe it’s possible to follow transcendent, revealed truths. Progressives disagree and put their trust in personal experience, even if that requires them to “resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life.”

Why bring this up? This is the first thing I thought of the other day when GetReligion readers started sending in links to an Associated Press report noting that — prepare to be shocked — various groups in America are taking different stands on same-sex marriage. Thus, they are also taking different stands on some of the public-square issues linked to the right of doctrinal traditionalists to live out their beliefs in the practical details of public life.

In other words, the doctrinal, philosophical divisions of the “culture wars” era are now affecting how our nation’s leaders view religious liberty and, specifically, the free exercise clause in the First Amendment.

Surprised? There is no need to be. The problem is that this story paints this as a division primarily between religious people and secular people. More on that in a minute.

Now, here’s another key fact that is in the background of this Associated Press news feature. Truth is, the old coalitions that used to support religious liberty have been shattered — especially the remarkable left-right coalition that worked with the Clinton White House on issues of “equal access” and religious freedom in the workplace. That change in the legal landscape is now affecting debates among traditionalists about how to defend their beliefs on marriage and family (and religious liberty). Here is some key material near the top of the story:

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