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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Propaganda vs. journalism in PBS Catholic abuse coverage

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Good Episcopalian that I am, I am ready to believe the worst about the Catholic Church.

Perhaps it was my upbringing, the culture in which I was formed, the schools where I was educated, my crowd. But accusations hurled against the Catholic Church of corruption, cruelty, mendacity — of being downright un-American –stick in the back of my mind. “Why not?”

I was also reared in Philadelphia and as a boy worshiped at the altar of the Eagles and Phillies. Longing and loss then were taught to me early on, as was support for the underdog.

Yet as much as I enjoy watching a good thrashing of the Vatican, I also am troubled by unfairness, foul play and sneakiness.

Which brings me to the documentary broadcast by PBS’s Frontline show entitled “Secrets of the Vatican“. This is an extraordinary film. It is beautifully made. I would not hesitate to say that the camera work, the musical scoring, the editing, and the writing are exquisite. Documentary film making does not get any better.

And yet, “Secrets of the Vatican” is also vile. Repulsive in that art and the extraordinary talent of its creators are put to malign purposes. It is propaganda — a film crafted to make arguments rather than to speak the truth.

At this point I must stop and respond to the cries of two competing choruses. My opening remarks about my own anti-Catholic bigotry are hyperbole designed to introduced the topic of bias. Nor am I claiming “Secrets of the Vatican” has suborned perjury from those whom it has presented on film.

It is, however, exaggerated, unbalanced, and seeks to inflame rather than inform. I do not expect a plaintiff’s attorney who specializes in clergy sexual abuse cases to present both sides of an argument in the documentary, but I would expect a film maker to do so, giving voice to the opposing side.

Catholic commentators have excoriated the film, accusing it of rehashing old stories and telling only half the tale. The popular conservative blogger Fr. Z wrote:

 The objectives of the show are to pin all responsibility for every case of clerical sexual abuse not just on local authorities but on “the Vatican”, to detach sexual abuse from homosexuality, to undermine a celibate clergy, and to convince you that there are more homosexual priests than there really are.  Finally, Pope Francis is the most wonderfullest Pope ehvurrr.

Let’s look at one vignette from the film — the claim that Catholic clergy are more likely to be child molesters than non-Catholic clergy — that illustrates my disquiet.

Frontline interviewed Dr. Martin Kafka, a Harvard University psychiatrist who has studied this issue. Kafka made the claim:

The number of Catholic clergy who are accused of or prosecuted for child and adolescent sexual abuse vastly outnumber the number of Protestant clergy.

Taken in isolation this statement could be construed to mean that reports of child abuse by Catholic clergy “vastly outnumber” reports of child abuse by Protestant clergy. That would be a statistic compiled by the FBI that would speak to reports of abuse.

However, in light of the surrounding comments, images and testimony offered by the film, the implication of Dr. Kafka’s statement is that Catholic clergy are more likely to offend than non-Catholic clergy.

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What can we make of the prayers of Oscar Pistorius?

When it comes to famous Bible passages, even those favored by athletes, 1 Corinthians 9: 26-27 will not appear near the top of many lists:

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Nevertheless, anyone who pays close attention to the left shoulder of runner Oscar Pistorius will be able to see most of that verse in a tattoo that juts out from underneath his sleeveless running jersey.

Why is it there?

I have no idea. I also have no clue as to the nature or seriousness of this controversial man’s faith after reading the following Agence France?Presse report about an emotional day in his tabloid-friendly “blade runner” murder trial in Pretoria. Here’s the top of that:

Pretoria (AFP) – A weeping Oscar Pistorius shielded his ears as a witness in his murder trial on Thursday gave harrowing evidence about desperate attempts to save Reeva Steenkamp’s life after she was shot.

Rocking back and forth in the dock, Pistorius put his hands over his ears as neighbour and radiologist Johan Stipp recounted how he entered his house to find the distraught Paralympian bent over, attempting to resuscitate his girlfriend.

Stipp noticed a wound on Steenkamp’s right thigh, right upper arm, and “blood and hair and what looked like brain tissue intermingled with that” on top of the skull.

So what does religion have to do with this scene? Stripp’s graphic testimony included the following:

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Tears and prayers on camera: Did NBC want the full Oprah?

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Anyone who has watched television coverage of tense, painful events has seen it happen. This is especially true of news events that can, in any way, accurately be described as “disasters.”

Years ago, I had a conversation with the late Peter Jennings about what happens next on camera:

Inevitably, a reporter confronts a survivor and asks: “How did you get through this terrible experience?” As often as not, a survivor replies: “I don’t know. I just prayed. Without God’s help, I don’t think I could have made it.”

What follows, explained Jennings, is an awkward silence.

“Then reporters ask another question that, even if they don’t come right out and say it, goes something like this: ‘Now that’s very nice. But what REALLY got you through this?’”

In other words, the person caught up in this panful event did not give the kind of answer that was being sought by the interviewer. Often, Jennings said, the person gives an answer that is rooted in religious faith — a factor that many media superstars fail to take seriously.

But, just as often, the person who has experienced pain or some great lose gives a rather straightforward and dignified answer. At that point the interviewer asks another question that, for media critics, has come to live in infamy. If the person on camera continues to hold his or her emotional act together, then the interviewer starts asking, over and over, variations on this basic question: How. Do. You. Feel. Right. Now.

That’s what is being debated right now, of course, in all of the social-media chatter about the media ethics involved in the infamous interview (see the YouTube at the top of this post) with Olympics skier Bode Miller that was conducted by Chirstin Cooper of NBC Sports. At the heart of this grab-the-viewer scene, of course, is the lingering grief caused by the recent death of his 29-year-old brother, snowboarder Chelone “Chilly” Miller. Here’s one transcript of the key moment in this on-air drama:

Miller: “This [medal] was a little different. I think, you know, my brother passing away — I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. So this was a little different.”

Cooper: “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?”

Miller: “A lot, obviously. Just a long struggle coming in here. Just a though year.”

Cooper: “I know you wanted to be here with Chilly really experiencing these Games. How much does it mean to come with a great performance for him, or was it for him?”

[Miller began to cry.]

Miller: “It’s just a tough year. I don’t know if it’s really for him. I just wanted to come here and, I don’t know, I guess make myself proud.”

Cooper: “When you’re looking up in the sky at the start … it just looks like you’re talking to somebody, what’s going on there?”

As I have already hinted, these push-for-tears questions tend, as a rule, to make me go rather crazy.

However, there is the chance that this is the rare case in which the interviewer was not only pushing for a tear-soaked TV visual, but for a quote that somehow involved (a) God, (b) the skier’s brother, (c) heaven or (d) all of the above.

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Got news? The one and only Caesar of Jewish humor

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Remember all of those nasty charges by anti-Semites through the years that The New York Times is controlled by Jews and that it’s pages have been dominated by Jewish concerns?

Yes, I know about the Sulzberger family.

But if the Times team views the world through some kind of Jewish prism, then explain the following passage from the newspaper’s lengthy obituary for the truly great American comedian Sid Caesar:

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

And that’s that?

What about the fiery post-Holocaust rage of Caesar and his brilliant writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbert and, later on, a young Woody Allen? Oh for some bull-session YouTubes out of that room!

So his work left an “indelible mark” on American humor?

What about his role in mainstreaming a sharp-edged Jewish sensibility right into the heart of the emerging, coast-to-cast mainstream television culture? Talk about a religion, or at least religious culture, ghost in a story!

The Times obit does include this one tiny nod to the obvious:

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10 years of GetReligion: Labels, labels, labels, labels!

It is my understanding that there was some kind of Jerry Springer-esque debate last night between young-earth creationist Ken (hello dinosaurs) Ham and Bill (The Science Guy) Nye.

Let me state up front that I am not terribly interested in what either man had to say.

However, I am curious to know if any of the thousands of religion-beat pros who live and move and have their being on Twitter can answer the following questions:

(1) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “creationist” defined? Did the definition involve six 24-hour days or was the emphasis on God being meaningfully involved in creation, period?

(2) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “evolution” defined? If so, was the process described as being “mindless, unguided, and without purpose or goal” or words to that effect?

Also, was anyone involved in the debate whose viewpoint resembles the following?

“Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations.”

And also:

“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”

These words, of course, were spoken by the Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Which simplistic term commonly used in mainstream articles about these debates — “creationism” or “evolution” — is best used to describe this soon-to-be-official saint’s perspective on God, man and creation? Which label, as commonly used by way too many journalists, deserves to be stuck on the forehead of John Paul the Great?

If there is one thing that your GetReligionistas do not like, at all, it is the degree to which the mainstream press accepts the use of vague, simplistic labels. Want to imply that you accept someone? Then call them a “moderate” (like that crucial New York Times self study noted). Want to imply that someone is stupid? Then you know what F-word to pin on them.

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Got news? Can Christian and atheist swap lives for a month?

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Half a world away from my Oklahoma home, an experiment just concluded in Australia.

An atheist and a Christian who are friends agreed to trade places for a month and document the experience, with the summary promised later this week.

According to a brief in online news’ The Blaze, believer Bentley Browning and non-believer Simon Capes gave up their respective belief systems for the other’s in January, “in the hopes of coming to understand one another’s views more fully.” They’re calling it Faith Swap.

To be specific, each adopted the other’s daily rituals, or lack thereof, including prayer, Bible reading, worship, sacraments or any other related activities.

Color me intrigued.

Faith Swap also has been quasi written up in the Huffington Post after a brief PR piece appeared in the Christian Today Australia. So the concept is kind of out there, but without a good story.

So what am I critiquing exactly? The possibility. I’m still hopeful a GodBeat pro might latch onto it in and give us a proper feature.

Why? I’d like to see it go deeper. While Christians don’t always walk the walk, so to speak, can one completely erase all contact with or dependence upon God for a month and adopt the lifestyle of an individual completely without faith? Conversely, can someone with no belief in God conform to the daily discipline of contact with Him and extract spiritual meaning in the rituals of worship?

The possibilities for a true piece of reporting vs. a quick publicity rehash keep popping into my head.

For starters, Capes’ non-belief is categorized as that of an atheist without test or question. In a setting like this, why not educate readers about the differences between agnostics and atheists?

From there, how did Browning cope? Did he find a substitute for prayer? How did erasing God from his life affect his approach to money or reading?

For further background, the pair has been updating on Facebook, and some of Browning’s posts are genuinely descriptive of what I would envision a day without prayer might feel like to me. It is tough to make out which man is which, however, because both post under one user name.

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Tweeting Mohammad

The Mohammad cartoon controversy has resurfaced over the past week with a flutter over a tweet.

The British press appears to have come down on the side of Maajid Nawaz. Newspaper articles, opinion pieces and television chat shows have defended his right to share a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammad. But they have also ceded the moral high ground to his opponents — Islamist extremists — by declining to publish a copy of the cartoon that has led to death threats and calls for Nawaz to be blacklisted by the Liberal Democratic Party for Islamophobia.

What we are seeing in the British media — newspapers and television (this has not been a problem for radio) — in the Jesus and Mo controversy is a replay of past disputes over Danish and French cartoons. Freedom of speech and courage in the face of religious intolerance is championed by the press — up to a point.

The point appears to be whether being courageous could get you killed or even worse, earn the displeasure of the bien pensant chattering classes.

The Telegraph gives a good overview of the affair.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has received death threats after posting a cartoon image of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.

However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden. More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.

The Guardian summarized Nawaz’s motives in this subtitle to their story:

Lib Dem candidate says he aimed to defend his religion ‘against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest’

It explained:

The row blew up after Nawaz took part in a BBC debate where two students were wearing t-shirts depicting a stick figures of stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?”

The politician, who is founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank, tweeted what he believes is a “bland” image and stated that “as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that”.

Both stories are sympathetic and are topped by striking photos of Nawaz, who is  running to be an MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. But neither article reproduces the cartoon that has led to the threats against his life. In their defence, it could be argued that a photo of Nawaz, rather than the offending cartoon was more appropriate as the article focused on the politician’s travails over the cartoon, not on the cartoon itself. A weak argument but an argument none the less.

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