‘Sin’ gets scare quote treatment in Portland, Ore.

Be very, very afraid, Portland!

The Christians are invading Oregon — and they want to tell your children about Jesus.

That’s scary stuff, I know.

But somehow I missed — until now — the newspaper story earlier this month about some residents’ concerns about an after-school Bible study club. I promise this headline is from The Oregonian, not The Onion:

Evangelical Christian clubs coming to Portland-area public schools — opposition says curriculum is ‘hardcore fundamentalist indoctrination’

If you need me, I’ll be hiding under my desk.

Then again, it’s probably best not to delay this dramatic news:

Hundreds of Portland-area residents are organizing to stop a network of Christian clubs from proselytizing to children on public school campuses.

The Good News Club has been controversial around the country, but Portland may be the first city to organize on such a large scale against the group.

“We think if people have enough information, they’ll choose not to do it,” said Robert Aughenbaugh, a co-founder of Protect Portland Children. His said the group purchased a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Willamette Week.

The Good News Club’s curriculum includes teaching children that every person is a sinner. In the eyes of many Christians, “sin” is any failure to meet God’s standards. The Bible states, for example, that “all have sinned.”

“We believe that these doctrines are harmful to 5-year-old children,” Aughenbaugh said. “They teach fear. They teach shame.”

Did you catch the scare quotes around “sin?”

Here at GetReligion, we’ve become accustomed to seeing scare quotes (which according to Merriam-Webster, express “skepticism or derision concerning the enclosed word or phrase”) around terms such as “religious liberty” or “religious freedom.”

But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen scare quotes around “sin.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a newspaper feel the need to define that term. Then again, I’m a Bible-believing Christian who lives in the heart of the Bible Belt.

Actually, however, the story isn’t terrible. (I wish I could say the same about The Associated Press’ extremely lame rewrite.)

Keep reading, and the newspaper provides crucial context on the program’s constitutionality and gives a voice to all sides, including the Christians. In fact, the report gets down to some important (albeit humorous, if you know anything about evangelical Christianity) nitty-gritty:

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Pod people: Are all political liberals also on moral left?

Every now and then, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken take and I off in one direction when doing a “Crossroads” podcast and then — boom — we will suddenly veer off in what at first seems like a totally different direction. Radio is like that, you know.

That is certainly what happened this time around, big time. Click here to check out the podcast.

Wilken started out by repeating that question that I have been asking over and over during recent weeks, as the media storm over the so-called Hobby Lobby case has raged on that on.

You know the one: What should journalists call people in American public life who waffle on free speech, waffle on freedom of association and waffle on religious liberty?

The answer: I still don’t know, but the accurate term to describe this person — in the history of American political thought — is not “liberal.” Defense of basic First Amendment rights has long been the essence of American liberalism.

So what happened during the discussion?

Well, while we talked it suddenly hit me that this topic was, in a way, the flip side of the topic that I took on this week in my “On Religion” column for the Universal syndicate. That piece focused on some fascinating information — at least I thought it was fascinating stuff (as did Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher) — found in the new “Beyond Blue vs. Red” political typology study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Before we move along, readers may want to surf over to the Pew site and take the short quiz that went along with the study. This will allegedly show where you belong on this new spectrum of American political labels.

The quiz is frustrating, but worth the time. Many people, including me, found some of the questions impossible to answer since the options were pushed so far to the political fringes. Take this question, for example:

“Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return”

“Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently”

No, there is no option in the middle that — hello experts in Catholic moral teachings — accepts the responsibility for governments to help the poor, yet allows for realistic critiques of whether the resulting programs are effective. In this case, along with the “What would Jesus do?” option, some readers may be left asking, “What would Daniel Patrick Moynihan do?

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The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The purge of Christians from Mosul in northern Iraq — home to thriving Christian communities almost since biblical times — is a historic human rights abuse. Yet mainstream media have done comparatively little coverage on it, probably because they’re stretched thin with the twin stories of the airline shoot-down in Ukraine and Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Also, of course, the Islamic State is in no mood to allow access to the “kafir” media.

Still, some reports have emerged, and some are brave, sensitive and frank on what the Christians are suffering.

The New York Times is often tone-deaf on religion in the U.S., but the newspaper has distinguished itself in stories like this one. Tim Arango’s newsfeature opens with an anecdote on the loss shared by Iraqi Christians and many Muslims:

BAGHDAD — A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

The warm scene here was an unusual counterpoint to the wider story of Iraq’s unraveling, as Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gain territory and persecute anyone who does not adhere to their harsh version of Islamic law. On Saturday, to meet a deadline by the ISIS militants, most Christians in Mosul, a community almost as old as Christianity itself, left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

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How should we define — and assess — atheism?

DANIEL ASKS:

Is it becoming possible to be religious without believing in god? (the lower-case “god” is Daniel’s usage)

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This is partially a repeat from March 22, 2013, when The Guy posted “Is atheism a ‘religion’? Is the Pope Protestant?” That headline indicated the idea seems ludicrous on its face. Yet, as the item explained, things are actually somewhat complicated.

The Guy won’t repeat that material here. Meanwhile there’s intense interest not only in definitions but in atheism’s role in society, to judge from the 69 lively comments posted in response to The Guy’s June 21 item on the unhappy “track record when atheists wield political power.” As an admitted theist, The Guy would like to thank all atheists who responded. These matters obviously deserve another look.

First, can people be “religious” without belief in God, or a god, or gods? Yes, absolutely. This is not “becoming possible” now but has long been true. The Buddha lived perhaps 26 centuries ago and everyone agrees Buddhism is as much a religion as, say, Islam. The Buddha Dharma Education Association, among others, states flatly that true Buddhists do not “believe in a god.” Yet teachers like Kusala Bhikshu tell us “a lot of Buddhists believe in God” while others don’t.

Or consider the modern Unitarian Universalist Association, self-defined as a “religion” yet creedless. It explicitly welcomes atheists as members in good standing alongside those with a God-concept. Humanistic Judaism likewise designates itself as a “religion” but eliminates the Jewish God.

However, those are obvious exceptions. Most atheists have no involvement with “religious” groups, don’t consider themselves “religious,” and may feel the label is a slur.

One comment distinguished between ordinary atheists with a live-and-let-live attitude toward belief versus atheists who turn “religious” in their zeal to oppose “religion.” This referred to the recent “new atheist” authors and activists who not only argue against God but may demean religion and religionists as stupid or evil, or seek limitations on religious rights commonly recognized by democracies.

Since devout religion and convinced atheism wrestle with the same issues, The Guy suggests everyone call a truce and speak of atheism not as “religious” but as a “philosophy” or “ideology” or “worldview” or “metaphysical stance.” Comments?

On to the June question and answer about the historical facts when atheists exercise political power, which were calculated to provoke discussion and certainly succeeded!

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Big news report card: Oklahoma same-sex marriage ruling

Give the New York Times an F for its sketchy coverage of an appeals court striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Times managed to report on Friday’s court decision affecting “conservative-leaning” Oklahoma — as the Times described my home state — without quoting a single source who supports the traditional view of marriage.

On the other hand, The Associated Press deserves an A for its solid news report that quoted sources on both sides of the issue — as fair, unbiased journalism is supposed to do:

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Oklahoma must allow gay couples to wed, prompting a fast, angry response from leaders of a state that has vehemently fought policy changes brought on from outside its borders.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a federal judge’s ruling striking down Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban, which had been approved by more than 75 percent of voters in 2004. Friday’s decision marks the second time the federal appeals court has found the U.S. Constitution protects same-sex marriage.

The court put its 2-1 ruling on hold pending an appeal, meaning same-sex couples won’t be allowed to marry in Oklahoma for now.

“Today’s ruling is another instance of federal courts ignoring the will of the people and trampling on the right of states to govern themselves,” Gov. Mary Fallin said. “In this case, two judges have acted to overturn a law supported by Oklahomans.”

Later, the AP story quoted Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, a lesbian couple who challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban, as well as a senior attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending the ban, and the leader of The Equality Network, which supports gave marriage:

“We are so grateful that the 10th Circuit understands what more and more people across this country are beginning to realize — that gay and lesbian people are citizens who should enjoy the same rights as straight people under the law,” Baldwin and Bishop said in a statement.

Other grades:

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LATimes shreds old-school language in religious liberty story

The following information cannot be examined too many times during the media storm that has followed the so-called Hobby Lobby decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back in 1993, early in the right-wing reign of terror led by the Clinton White House, the U.S. Senate voted 97-3 to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The “nay” votes were cast by two Democrats and one Republican, each hailing from somewhere on the political right. Taking a stand in favor of a traditional, “liberal” approach to religious freedom — no scare quotes needed back then — was not controversial.

I urge journalists covering First Amendment issues today to study this graphic from that now-distant age.

This must be contrasted with the 56-43 vote the other day — a mere four votes shy of cloture — to bring a bill to the floor that would have, for all practical purposes, reversed the Hobby Lobby decision.

What has happened in the past two decades? What turned religious liberty into “religious liberty”?

This is one of the most compelling political questions of our day. This mystery is one reason that I have, in recent years, been asking the following question: What should journalists call a person who waffles on free speech, waffles on freedom of association and waffles on religious liberty?

The answer: I still don’t know, but the accurate term to describe this person — in the history of American political thought — is not “liberal.” Defense of basic First Amendment rights has long been the essence of American liberalism.

This brings me to the top of a new Los Angeles Times story that perfectly demonstrates the degree to which standard political labels are being mangled in our culture’s current meltdown on sex and religion. The lede:

The Supreme Court’s controversial Hobby Lobby decision has thrust a once-little-known boutique law firm into the center of a growing conservative movement to make faith-based exemptions as potent a legal tool as free speech has been for liberals.

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A little more context on that charismatic pastor, please

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Your friendly neighborhood GetReligionistas always love story tips from readers.

I appreciated this one from Matt Carney in my home state of Oklahoma:

I had not seen it.

The top of the story:

Paul Daugherty will turn 29 on Aug. 27, three days after he becomes the senior pastor of Victory Christian Center, one of Tulsa’s largest churches. His parents, Sharon Daugherty and the late Billy Joe Daugherty, were about the same age when they founded the church 33 years ago, and watched it quickly grow to one of Tulsa’s leading charismatic churches.

He will oversee a ministry that draws 7,600 weekly worshipers to its state-of-the-art facility at 7700 S. Lewis Ave., runs an international Bible school network of 1,542 schools in nearly 100 nations, and operates a major Christian school and the Tulsa Dream Center, an outreach to the north Tulsa community.

And he will remain in a neighborhood that has been central to his entire life.

I’ll second Carney’s opinion: It was a nice profile. Maybe too nice, but then we journalists tend to be contrarians.

Here’s what I like about it: It gives prominent play to a major change involving one of the largest churches in the newspaper’s coverage area. And it provides plenty of space for the new pastor to describe himself — and his journey to his new role — in his own words:

“The night my dad passed away, I was holding his hand … and just, crying, ‘God, please let my dad live.’ And I just had this moment, where God was like: ‘He’s with me now, and he’s happy. Serve your mom and serve the church, and get ready because you’re going to step into this role one day.’ That scared me, because I had never thought about being the pastor of Victory.

“I was the youngest sibling. … I didn’t say anything. But I took it to heart, and started serving my mom wholeheartedly.”

Confirmation came a year and a half later, he said, when his mother told him: “I think you should know that your dad had spoken that you would one day step into the role as pastor, but that you needed time to develop.”

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Changing climate — of church views on the environment

USA Today has been eroding its standard of short, shallow stories. And for a complex newsfeature like its recent story on religion and global warming, that is an exceedingly good thing.

The article focuses on the effort to sell global warming to church people. Religion and the environment is an evergreen topic — I wrote a long feature on it more than a decade ago — but USA Today writer Gregg Zoroya takes the interesting tactic of leading with a rabbi in Kansas:

Rabbi Moti Rieber travels the politically red state of Kansas armed with the book of Genesis, a Psalm and even the words of Jesus to lecture church audiences, or sermonize if they’ll let him, about the threat of global warming.

“My feeling is that I’m the only person these people are ever going to see who’s going to look them in the eye and say, ‘There’s such a thing as climate change,’” Rieber says. “I’m trying to let them know it’s not irreligious to believe in climate change.”

He is at the vanguard of religious efforts — halting in some places, gathering speed elsewhere — to move the ecological discussion from its hot-button political and scientific moorings to one based on theological morality and the right thing to do.

An admiring nod not only to the canny rabbi, for combining verses from both testaments of the Bible, but also to Zoroya for grabbing our attention right from the lede.

The story does a great survey of the environmental wings in the various religious bodies, from Roman Catholic to Eastern Orthodox to United Methodist. Zoroya’s also touches base with veteran para-religious organizations, including the Evangelical Environmental Network and Yale’s Forum on Religion and Ecology. (He bobbles a bit, though, in mentioning an “Episcopalian” priest; it’s “Episcopal.”)

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