Holy St. Padraig, pray for us

stpadraigHappy “Shamrock Day,” to you?

I have no idea how this national-angle story ended up in the Waco Tribune-Herald — in a city that is not exactly a major center for Roman Catholic culture and news, unless we are talking about Baylor University wars over the role of faith in higher education. But I fear that there really is something to this story, because it’s, well, so logical in this day and age.

Read on, and may the saints preserve us. Here’s the lede:

Faith and begorrah, is nothing sacred?

Some folks are trying to transform the name of Tuesday’s holiday from St. Patrick’s Day to “Shamrock Day.” Card shops have banners proclaiming the occasion; the Disney Channel is using the term; and some places in this country have changed the name of their community celebrations of Celtic heritage to the “nonoffending” terminology.

And that offends some folks.

I looked around a bit, trying to find other coverage of this “St. Patrick Wars” story, but there is little out there. This seems to be early in the cycle of making the change, although you can see evidence of an up-tick in a general Google search.

Reporter Terri Jo Ryan’s story includes a hint of a national angle — you’ll be stunned to know this trend has hit California, of all places — but she mainly talks to Waco people. You have to have an elderly Catholic priest in there, of course, and he’s even from Ireland:

“I’m afraid I could use all kinds of expressions that wouldn’t be principled to describe this trend,” said Monsignor Mark Deering, 88, senior-most Catholic cleric in these parts. Deering, retired pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church of Waco, came here from Ireland in 1953 as a freshly minted missionary priest and never left.

“I don’t think that would ever be a success to call it Shamrock Day,” he said.

People the world over, of every culture and race, enjoy being Irish for the day, he added. And he said he’s heard no one take great umbrage before at having a Christian saint’s name attached to the day of merriment.

“In fact, in New York City, when the parade comes down Fifth Avenue, the Jews take more joy in it than almost anyone,” Deering said.

What you don’t get in this tiny story is a sense of just how important St. Patrick is, in terms of Christian history and, especially, the history of Christian missionary work. Click here for a bit of information about this subject.

We are talking about one of the giants, a saint who is still venerated in the East as well as the West. You better believe there’s one in my family’s icon corner, next to St. Brendan (my patron), St. Hilda and St. Brigid. I have seen more than a few icons of St. Padraig in Orthodox parishes in my travels and he is — to say the least — still very popular in Irish Catholic circles. Duh.

So if this is a trend or even a mini-trend, where is the national coverage? Put this up on the Drudge Report or let Chris Matthews tee off on it and we’d have a firestorm, especially if President Barack Obama were to take a shot at this topic during one of his scheduled meetings today with Irish-American leaders.

So did I miss something? Is there coverage of this topic out there in the mainstream?

Art: The icon of St. Patrick is available from The Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

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Got news? Evangelical crash ahead?

united_states_of_canada_and_jesusland_tshirt-p235441393542492745q6xn_400jpgThe reaction continues to roll in as the mainstream press surfs through the results of the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the one that points to the rising wave of the post-denominational age in American religion.

For background on the survey itself, click here to head over to ReligionLink. For my initial reaction to the “fading Christianity” meme in the MSM Round I coverage, click here. The bottom line: Niches ‘R’ US.

However, I expect that GetReligion readers will — sooner rather than later — start running into a Christian Science Monitor essay by Michael Spencer of InternetMonk.com that ran under the apocalyptic headline, “The coming evangelical collapse — An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise.”

Spencer describes himself as a “postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality,” to which I ask, is that “reformation” or “Reformation”?

Anyway, his essay isn’t news copy, that’s for sure. Yet it is a meditation on some of the trends that have shown up in the ARIS survey and in many other places in the past few decades, as I mentioned in my earlier post. These trends are now filtering into mainstream news coverage. I imagine that GetReligion readers are going to want to discuss some of his predictions, as Rod “friend of this weblog” Dreher has already done on his blog.

Read it all. But here is the set of bullets that will set legions of tongues wagging, in Catholic, Orthodox, mainline and Evangelical sanctuaries (both digital and analog). As Spencer sees it, here is the end result of the mainstream Protestant splintering that is just ahead (I have done a tiny bit of pruning):

* Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success. …

* Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the “conversion” of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

* A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches.

* The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.

* Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.

* Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority. …

* Evangelicalism needs a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. …

And one more for those who must see religion through a political lens:

* Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before — a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.

To cut to the chase, is Spencer merely saying that mainstream evangelicalism needs to settle on a doctrinal core, some kind of creed that defines what that vague, vague, vague word means? Good luck on that. And is he saying that religious liberty will lose some kind of showdown with the sexual revolution at the U.S. Supreme Court?

That’s the kind of detail one would offer in a news report, which this essay most decidedly is not. But still, I wanted to put this up for “Got news?” discussion, before readers swamped us with emails asking us for commentary.

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Groundhog Day and the baptism of Jesus?

groundhog_dayNot just a religiously rich, important and awesome movie, Groundhog Day is also a great secular holy day. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, meaning six more weeks of winter. Slate took the occasion of running a previously published piece on the origins and meaning of the day, written by Timothy Noah.

The piece argues that the holiday goes back to pre-Christian pagan rituals.

The determining factor, then, is whether it’s sunny or cloudy on Candlemas Day, an early Christian feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus that involved a lot of candle-bearing and therefore, inevitably, the casting of many shadows. Like many other Christian festivals, Candlemas co-opted an earlier pagan rite, and nowadays Wiccans are much keener about celebrating it than most Christians.

Um, how many things are wrong with this? It is true that Candlemas falls on February 2. But, Candlemas Day doesn’t commemorate the baptism of Jesus. Not even close. The other names for the festival might give you a clue about what is actually marked. In my church, for instance, we call it The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord because, well, it commemorates when Mary went to the temple for purification rites and presented Jesus publicly. Jesus wasn’t baptized by John until many decades later.

You get a basic fact like what Candlemas commemorates wrong and it kind of casts doubt on the whole piece. Not to mention that Noah asserts the pagan connection without substantiating the claim elsewhere in the piece. There is literally no explanation — we are just to take him at his word. That’s my biggest beef with the “Christian holy days co-opt pagan festivals” meme that is so popular with the mainstream media. They just run with the story instead of investigating some tangled and complex histories that may not fit into the preferred narrative.

But what’s with this purification and presentation stuff? Well, according to the Torah, women who had given birth were considered unclean for a particular period of time. Here’s how Leviticus 12 begins:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.

I quote from Leviticus for a point. So often you’ll have someone write that, say, Christmas and Easter are arbitrarily chosen days that copy some pagan festival. And while I don’t want to wade into that fight and while it’s certainly true that there are overlaps in various cultural celebrations, it’s interesting to note that the birth of Christ was actually likely marked as occurring 9 months from when early Christians believe he was conceived. And people used to believe (or perhaps still do?) that great prophets were conceived and died on the same day. So if Jesus Christ died around Passover, that meant he was conceived at that time, too. And you add 9 months and voila! you get Dec. 25 (for the presumed year of his birth).

Now if you add 40 days to Dec. 25 you get Feb. 2! So convenient of these co-opters of pagan rituals to have Leviticus to fall back on, eh? In the Western liturgical calendar, this feast is the last festival determined by the date of Christmas and shows that Epiphany is drawing to a close.

Fun Candlemas fact, by the way, is that the Nunc Dimittis was uttered by Simeon on this day. And prophetess Anna was also in the temple and offered prayers and praise to God.

The reader who submitted this story had another complaint. To substantiate his “baptism” claim, Noah links to a site labeled “Belarusian School of Icon Painting,” that is riddled with bizarre errors and extra-biblical contentions:

The post also includes a link to a website on tourism in Belarus that – after quoting the wrong chapter of Luke – claims that “on the 40-th day after birth of Christ Joseph and Mary took their child to Jerusalem Cathedral to baptise and made a religious offering – two pigeons.”

Cathedral? Baptize? If this was Noah’s source, shouldn’t he have checked the information somewhere else?

Also, if a news or newsy website is going to link to outside sources, how responsible (if at all) are they for what they link to?

So quite a few questions raised by this piece on Groundhog Day. I’m wondering whether no one brought all these embarrassing problems to Slate‘s attention five years ago when the story first ran. The beauty of the internet is that you get to fix egregious errors. Hopefully Slate will be able to do that before too long.

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Crown of victory in the arena?

troy-polamaluA football fanatic friend of mine whose very name screams predestination — Calvin — noticed something interesting in the prayers last night during vespers.

It was one of the prayers marking the name day of St. Tryphon:

Disdaining earthly things here below, O venerable and all-blessed Tryphon, thou didst hasten bravely to the arena; by wrestling unto blood, thou didst skillfully cast the haughty one to the ground, O Martyr, and didst win the crown of victory. Cease not to entreat Christ our God in our behalf, O prizewinner, that our souls be saved.

Bold words. Throwing people down in an arena?

Now, at this point, would it interest you to know that this is the patron saint of one Troy Polamalu, the star safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the gridiron warrior who has confused some sportwriters by constantly making the sign of the cross from right to left?

It’s Super Bowl Sunday so you had to know that your GetReligionistas would be looking for the religion angles in the rites of the day.

Some sportswriters struggle with the faith-based language that many players deploy during these kinds of events. However, Rick Maese of the Baltimore Sun offered an interesting column the other day in which he working his way through his feelings about this issue, and Kurt Warner in particular, and concluded that he has seen worse things happen in sports. Read it all, but here’s a crucial passage:

You’ll have to forgive sportswriters a tad. Most have seen too many athletes espouse their spiritual side yet indulge their criminal. When an athlete mentions God, eyes roll and tape recorders shut off. When thanking Jesus is considered cliche, you know we have problems.

I was engrossed, though. I’m not sure whether it was the message or the messenger, but as I age and as the world around me becomes increasingly unreliable and unpredictable, it’s refreshing to see someone who has every reason to get caught up in a peripheral storm of money, ego, celebrity and excess remain so grounded.

“My faith helps me with everything,” Warner says. “The biggest thing about my faith is it helps keep everything in perspective. You understand the highs and lows. You understand what’s going on sometimes with the highs and lows when other people don’t see them.”

I’m no trend spotter, and there’s no way to quantify this, but from David Tyree to Tony Dungy to Tim Tebow, it seems as if faith has been enjoying an increasingly prominent role in football in America. If it really helps control temperament, I dare say God might be the best performance enhancer you can use legally.

So Warner believes his faith is the most important thing in his life. How does a sportswriter ignore that? Warner says his faith is way, way, way more important than football? That’s an outrageous thing to say during Super Bowl Week, so it might be an an interesting idea to explore with honest coverage, isn’t it?

Which brings us back to Polamalu, whose un-orthodox Eastern Orthodox faith has been getting a bit more coverage in recent years.

This week, for better or for wose, it seems like he has arrived as one of the faith-driven NFL warriors. Of course that “please photograph me” mane of hair sure doesn’t hurt.

In Pittsburgh, veteran religion writer Ann Rodgers of the Post-Gazette jumped right past the football and wrote a news feature about the details of the football star’s pilgrimage and its impact on the Orthodox communities that he loves. I mean, this is a sports story that opens with a quote from an Eastern orthodox bishop.

st-tryfon1Here’s the heart of the report:

… (For) the Orthodox, he’s something special, said Damian George, the youth director at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland. When teens attend national Orthodox conferences, “the kids from Pittsburgh kind of brag about Troy, not only that he’s a Steeler, but that he’s Orthodox. And even the kids from Philly and New York get excited about it. He gives them a good role model because he’s able to play at a high level and keep his faith at an equally high level,” he said.

Orthodoxy has no tradition of celebrities who testify to their faith, said the Rev. Thomas Soroka, pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKees Rocks. There are lists of celebrities who have belonged to the church, including Tina Fey and Tom Hanks. But none are considered exemplars of Orthodox spirituality. Current online discussions of an Orthodox celebrity that don’t involve Mr. Polamalu tend to bewail the conduct of Rod Blagojevich, who was removed as Illinois governor last week after a four-day impeachment trial.

“A lot of times when people are Orthodox, it’s more of an ethnic or cultural thing. Troy stands above that by being a practicing, committed Orthodox Christian,” Father Soroka said. “Orthodoxy is quite sober. It’s not flashy or attractive to those who are looking for stardom. It’s much more introspective, and I think Troy embodies that.”

Note this: What makes this man interesting is that he actually practices his faith and, in this case, it’s a faith that many people find unusual, demanding and even exotic. Hey, I’ll ask the obvious question: Great Lent is not that far off, so what are some of his favorite non-meat and non-dairy recipes for use during the great fast?

Rodgers’ report also ends with what I think should be the thought for the day. Are you ready?

The Rev. Patrick Carpenter, pastor of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, South Side, joined a Troy Polamalu fan group on Facebook and took part in its “Steelers prayer wave.” But he won’t pray for a Steelers win.

“We don’t pray for victories. We don’t pray for defeats. We pray for the safety of the team.”

And all the people said, “Amen.”

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Oh no, a modern patriarch?

kirill_512_x_361One of the mantras of modern journalism is, “Show me, don’t tell me.” In other words, when in doubt use images and information that describe people and events, not tacked-on labels that are often vague and judgmental.

At GetReligion, we keep adding another concept to that helpful advice. When in doubt, do not attach political labels to people whose primary role in life is defined by doctrine. We know that this is hard for reporters, since politics is the true religion for them and real religion is often viewed as a totally private hobby with slightly less cultural importance than, oh, reality television.

I bring this up because of the first wave of mainstream reports about the election of Metropolitan Kirill as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. If you read several mainstream stories about this man, your head is going to spin. If you are Orthodox, as I am, your head may explode.

Count the labels. Let’s start with the basic Associated Press report:

The interim leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, seen as a modernizer who could seek a historic reconciliation with the Vatican and more autonomy from the state, was overwhelmingly elected patriarch Tuesday.

Metropolitan Kirill received 508 of the 700 votes cast during an all-day church congress in Moscow’s ornate Christ the Savior Cathedral, the head of the commission responsible for the election, Metropolitan Isidor, said hours after the secret ballot was over. Kirill defeated a conservative rival, Metropolitan Kliment, who received 169 votes, Isidor said.

OK, what precisely is a modernizer? (How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Change? What is this change?)

Well, we must assume that a modernizer is someone who values openness to other faiths — note the all important reference to the pope — and wants to distance the Russian church somewhat from the state. Note that this is the opposite of being a “conservative,” which means, well, what? Conservative Orthodox people want close ties to the Kremlin? Political ties? Cultural ties?

While we are at it, isn’t Pope Benedict XVI a wild-eyed fundamentalist who wants to take Europe back into the days before electricity? So you are a modernizer for wanting to discuss faith and doctrinal issues with Big Ben?

You see a few of the issues here. Note that later in the report we read that:

Kirill … has also promoted unity with the Roman Catholic Church against the secularism and immorality he says threatens humanity. The Vatican “rejoiced” over Kirill’s election, said its spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. …

In Russia, Kirill is seen as a politically savvy figure who may seek a more muscular role for the church, which has served the state for much of its 1,000-year history. Church and state are officially separate under the post-Soviet constitution, but ties have tightened again since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

So, he is a muscular modernizer who is opposed by conservatives. Is there some chance that the man actually wants distance from the government so that the church can focus on issues linked to doctrine, faith, religious practice and morality?

Let’s keep looking for clues over at the New York Times. Here, we start with the fact that Kirill is “outspoken,” which is the kind of thing that can be demonstrated. That’s progress:

A critic of declining moral values, Metropolitan Kirill has been involved in the ecumenical movement and has called for the Russian Orthodox Church to step up its outreach to secular society. He has also spoken in tough terms about threats to church unity, especially in Ukraine, where the Orthodox church has broken into rival groups since the collapse of the Soviet Union. …

The race for the patriarchal throne has played out almost like a contemporary political campaign, with passionate debates on Web sites and in blogs, and with tabloids and even some glossy celebrity magazines following the candidates as though they were movie stars.

There’s all kinds of information about rumors and political moves, which is understandable in the chaos that is Russia at the moment. Once again, the question is whether the reader needs to know anything about Kirill as a churchman, in terms of what he has said and done.

Thus, it is important to read:

Kirill was made archbishop of Smolensk in 1984 and metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad in 1991. In the 1990s, he and Patriarch Aleksy were accused by some critics of having served the K.G.B.

As chairman of the external relations department, he oversaw the drafting of the “social concept” of the Russian Orthodox Church, presented in 2000. It addresses church positions on social issues, including abortion, globalization and poverty. One of its most cited points allows for civil disobedience if the government violates Christian commandments.

oursaviormoscow-500x3471Thank you very, very much. That collection of facts is crisp and to the point, showing some examples of doctrine affecting public issues, with no labels in there. More?

Over at the Los Angeles Times, the basic story has some more labels for us — including that “modernizer” thing again, only this time accompanied by a vague adjective:

The longtime head of the denomination’s external relations, Kirill is expected to undertake some modest modernization within the conservative confines of the church.

“On the one hand, he’s a remarkable preacher and theologist; on the other hand, he’s a diplomat experienced in huge, bureaucratic work,” said Sergei Chapnin, editor of the patriarchy’s Church Guardian newspaper. “Today the Orthodox Church is not only a spiritual but also a tremendous social force in Russia. The state cannot ignore the position of the church when we talk about the interests of its citizens.”

What in the world is a “theologist?” And I still have no clue what “modernizer” means.

For Orthodox readers, and journalists who crave hard facts, it is interesting to note the many details in this Moscow Times report and, above all, these statistics cited by Kirill himself during the meetings surrounding the election, and quoted by Interfax:

Russia has opened 234 monasteries and 244 nunneries, the CIS-countries and Baltic States — 142 monasteries and 153 nunneries, other foreign countries — three monasteries and three nunneries. Besides, the Russian Church Outside of Russia supervises over 16 monasteries and nine nunneries. There are 203 monastery representations and 65 hermitages.

The number of parishes increased fourfold for 20 years (from 6893 to 29,263 parishes), the number of dioceses — twofold (from 76 to 157), clergy — more than fourfold (from 7397 to 30,670) and the number of bishops increased almost thrice (from 74 to 203). The number of acting churches in Moscow has increased twenty-two fold — from 40 to 872. The city had only one monastery acting before 1990, now there eight monasteries, 16 monastery representations, three seminaries, two Orthodox higher education establishments.

Again, when in doubt, show us, don’t tell us. Cite some numbers, quotes, hard facts about background. Avoid the political labels.

Amen.

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“Orthodox” journalism in Russia?

oursaviormoscowLet’s reach a few weeks back into tmatt’s infamous “folder of guilt” to look at an interesting New York Times piece about the growth of “religious media” in modern Russia.

Now, what precisely, are “religious media”? That’s the question, isn’t it? I say this as the leader of a journalism program here inside the Washington Beltway that spends quite a bit of time caught between warring camps of people who have clashing definitions of a related term, which is “Christian journalism.”

So, as you would expect, I was immediately interested in that New York Times feature late last month that ran under the headline, “With Orthodoxy’s Revival in Russia, Religious Media Also Rise.” I mean, I am a journalist, I am Orthodox and there’s a chance I may be visiting greater Russian in a few months. You know I am going to read this story. Here’s the lede:

By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, there were nearly 600 newspapers and magazines throughout Russia devoted to Orthodox subjects. They were all shut down by the Soviet regime by 1918.

Today, in a country that was officially atheist about two decades ago, there are again hundreds of newspapers, magazines and newsletters covering the world’s largest Orthodox church. There are about 3,500 Russian Orthodox Web sites, and some priests are even blogging.

The Russian Orthodox media, like the church itself, have not always fallen into step with the Kremlin line. The Moscow Patriarchate, its official newspaper and most Orthodox media have addressed the war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia as a tragic misunderstanding between two countries that share an Orthodox Christian heritage.

That’s interesting. But I have a question. What are “Orthodox media”? I mean, I understand that there are official newspapers and websites. That’s normal.

However, the trend covered in this article seems broader than that. For example:

When Sergei Chapnin, editor of the Moscow Patriarchate’s official newspaper, Tserkovny Vesnik, organized the first Russian Orthodox media festival in 2004, a government bureaucrat called to inquire about the event.

“I could tell he thought we would have 50 people or so attending,” Mr. Chapnin said about the first festival, which brought together 400 journalists. “I said there are about 500 publications with up to 10,000 journalists connected to them. There was silence at the end of the line.”

Once again, here is my question: Are these official “Orthodox publications,” or are they journalistic publications about Orthodoxy and religion, produced by real journalists who happen to be Orthodox? Might these publications feature the work of journalists, as opposed to church officials or public-relations professionals?

That’s what I want to know and, after reading this interesting article, I cannot figure out the answers to these basic questions.

There are clergy involved in some of these publications, but there are also professionals with mainstream backgrounds. Some of the publications focus on church affairs. Others are controversial because they focus on how faith affects the style of public life, including the lives of celebrities. What is going on here? Who are these scribes? I, for one, would like to know.

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Got news? Printed names in Turkey

towncrier3asOne of the most important resources available to mainstream reporters is a solid, printed list of names attached to clear information or opinion about a hot issue.

For a journalist, this is like a warm blanket on a cold night. You have a document. The names exist and can be verified. Often, the existence of this kind of document is news in and of itself.

Yes, the document may represent only one side of a complex story. Still, the names are there to cite — on the record. If the pope released a statement on the ordination of women, would it be news if a pack of Catholic theologians, priests, lay leaders and even a bishop or two signed a real, published, document opposing the Vatican’s stance? As they say in northern zip codes West of Fargo, “You betcha.”

Thus, we read in the Los Angeles Times:

Two hundred Turkish intellectuals last month launched an Internet signature campaign for an apology to Armenians for the 1915 massacres. “My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Armenians were subjected to in 1915,” the brief statement reads. “I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.”

Within a month, more than 26,000 people signed on, a significant number in a country where the fate of the Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire has been largely unmentionable for decades. To those long frustrated by Turkey’s intractability on the issue, this campaign may appear an inadequate gesture. But it has immense value, educating many Turks about the violence done to Armenians for the first time and enabling those who are ready to come to terms with it.

So far, so good.

Why is this a major story? Well, we need to look at the history a bit. But please note that the subject of this post IS NOT the divisive issue of what did or did not happen to Armenians in Turkey in the early 20th century. So take your hand off that mouse poised over the “comment” link. That’s an important subject, but don’t go there. I have other fish to fry, right now.

Back to the subject of the Los Angeles Times story:

The official Turkish position on 1915 has shifted over time. It was a fight between local Turkish and Armenian bands. Or it was a forced resettlement — a march on which hundreds of thousands of Armenians were sent to Syria, but most never arrived. Historians and politicians also have argued that it was actually Armenians who massacred Turks and that talk of an Armenian genocide was an international conspiracy. In contemporary Turkey, novelists, journalists, historians or other intellectuals who call the events a genocide or even mass murder can face trial under the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which outlaws insulting Turkey, its government or its people.

Organizers of the “I apologize” campaign notably shied away from the word genocide, opting instead for “the Great Catastrophe,” a phrase initially used by Armenians.

And so forth and so on. There are lots of names and on-the-record, even printed, statements in this piece.

So what’s the problem?

akdamarchurch1Here is the headline on this essay by Esra Ozyurek, associate professor of anthropology at UC San Diego:

Opinion

A Turkish ‘I apologize’ campaign to Armenians

The fate of Armenians in 1915 remains taboo in Turkey, but some intellectuals are taking action.

Yes, this is an op-ed page piece. It includes some first-person material and analysis.

The question, for me, is why a major newspaper — like this one — elected to handle this subject as an opinion, op-ed page piece when it included such hard, nailed-down, factual hooks for a major news report.

I can think of several reasons. Here are two, one that troubles me and one that troubles me for a different reason.

First of all, we may be reaching the point that newsrooms no longer have the personnel to handle these kinds of big, hard subjects, both foreign and domestic (or handle as many of them). Thus, the only way to get them into the paper is to let someone write about them on the op-ed page, perhaps a person who is involved on one side of the issue or another. That troubles me, as we are poised on the edge of an era of non-profit, niche, “European” style news/commentary.

Then again, perhaps these are stories that are so hot, so controversial, that the editors decided that anything that was written about them had to be labeled “opinion,” because news coverage is impossible on this kind of topic — especially when religion is involved. That really, really troubles me.

Now this has been coming up more often in cyber-discussions among your GetReligionistas — these op-ed essays about religion that contain facts, often unreported facts, that deserve “serious” coverage in the news pages.

What’s going on? That’s what we want to know.

Anyway, we have decided to create a “category” up there on the left sidebar of the site dedicated to this syndrome. In the past, we have not written about op-ed and opinion essays unless they included hard information that we thought would be of interest to Godbeat professionals (or they are on the cover of nonNewsweek).

We are still not going to write about everyday, merely interesting op-eds. But when you see the headline slug “Got news?” you’ll know that we are dealing with a piece of reporting that one of us thinks is worthy — because of its hard, factual content — of moving over into the hard-news pages.

Yes, this piece may be one-sided. It may have been written by an activist involved in the debate that is at the heart of the story. That is often the main point. We are arguing that the editors should have mustered up their courage and assigned someone to write a balanced, accurate piece of journalism about this topic or event.

Make sense? So, if you are curious, click here and you can see some of the first examples of this syndrome that we have spotlighted. I am sure, sadly, that there will be more soon.

Now, prepare to comment on this question: What do you think is going on here?

Photos: A town crier. A 10th century Armenian church in Turkey.

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No war on Epiphany

bosch_epiphanyThe Epiphany of our Lord — Epiphany for short — is the liturgical festival observed on January 6. The oldest Christmas festival, and originally the most important, It is still the climax of the Christmas season in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, where it is celebrated as Theophany. Epiphany as a season of the Lutheran liturgical calendar lasts until the beginning of Lent and encompasses four to nine Sundays, depending on the date of Easter.

The festival has not gone unnoticed by the media, which is nice. Much of the coverage is of the local color variety — with brief articles and photos of Epiphany celebrations. The Times Herald-Record (N.Y.) looks at a Lutheran church’s Christmas pageant — held on Epiphany (observed in some churches last Sunday) as opposed to late in Advent.

For those confused about when the 12th night of Christmas falls, this Telegraph story was no help, but it was fun.

Epiphany is celebrated with particular fervor in many Spanish-speaking countries. The BBC‘s brief look at Madrid’s annual parade made me wish I was there. The Los Angeles Times reported on a 1,600-meter-long Rosca de Reyes baked by local bakers.

This Democrat and Chronicle (N.Y.) article caught my eye:

At the Church of the Assumption, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, packets containing a piece of chalk and a prayer were handed out during the service. Families took these packets home to write “20 CMB 09″ above their front door with the chalk.

The numbers indicate the current year and “CMB” stands for the “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which — translated from Latin — means “May God bless this house.”

How bad does your Latin have to be to translate Christus as “God”?

The coverage of Epiphany celebrations in Tarpon Springs, Florida, is truly remarkable. Apparently the Greek Orthodox churches there have huge celebrations that bring in visitors far and wide. Rita Farlow, St. Petersburg Times reporter, has the beat covered, with several stories on the festivities. Here’s a portion of one story:

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people are expected for the city’s 103rd Epiphany celebration today, which begins with services at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and ends with an eight-hour Glendi.

In between, 65 young men will dive to retrieve this year’s Epiphany cross. The teen who finds the cross will receive a special blessing that is supposed to bring him a year of prosperity.

The reporter profiled a young woman who will release a dove as part of the festivities. A Suncoast News story looked back on the year had by the winner of last year’s dive.

No matter how big or small the stories on Epiphany and Theophany were, they all handled the theological significance pretty well. Some media outlets used the occasion to get into deeper religious themes. The Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette ran a piece by an Orthodox priest. Beliefnet‘s Patton Dodd had an epiphany while teaching an Epiphany Sunday School lesson. The Rev. Peg Chamberlin’s regular column in the Star-Tribune dealt with the topic. And the Santa Barbara Independent had an interesting piece on the similarities between Epiphany and Theopany:

One interesting aspect of these two parallel holidays is that they’re much more similar, theologically speaking, than they would appear. To a secular observer, a visit from three Magi and a dip in the river Jordan are entirely different activities; their connection appears obscure. To a Christian scholar, however, they’re both manifestations of Christ as the son of God.

She goes on to describe particular aspects of how the holy days are celebrated. So all in all, not a bad treatment of this major festival. Please let us know if you saw any particularly good or bad coverage of the day and season.

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