Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

broncosfansnowBack in 2005, Thomas Herrion, an offensive guard for the 49ers, collapsed and died after a pre-season game. His casket was draped not in a baptismal pall but in a blanket with his team logo. I always thought that this sad story reflected the bizarre confluence of religion and football. Of course, I come from a place where people paint their houses orange and blue.

Kentucky’s News-Democrat & Leader had a story on the sports page this week about a new book that looks at religion and football. Western Kentucky University professor Eric Bain-Selbo’s “Game Day and God: Football, Faith, and Politics in the American South” will be published later this year. He argues that college football functions as a religion and cites some of the similarities:

A day of worship – for college football fans, that day is Saturday.

Well-known worship centers – in the SEC, those include Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.; Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.; and Tiger Stadium, aka “Death Valley,” in Baton Rouge, La.

Large congregations – tens of thousands join together for Saturday worship.

Fathers of their faith – each school has its own but probably none larger or more revered than Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama. “Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant is a godlike figure in Alabama for many people,” he said.

Rituals and symbols – tailgating, pep rallies, team walks, fight songs, distinctive lettering or uniforms. “Tailgating is central to the whole ritual and is what separates college football from college basketball. You don’t just show up and go to the game and go home,” he said.

Hard-core believers – like at church, the best seats and tailgating locations go to those who are longtime members or who arrive early.

A sense of community/fellowship – from the tailgating area to the stadium, thousands of people from various socio-economic and cultural backgrounds come together for one goal.

As big of a sports fan I am, these comparisons do strike a chord. Maybe the mainstream media really do devote quite a few resources to religion reporting — we just haven’t noticed because it’s on ESPN and the sports pages.

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Step in a traditional direction

youngevs 01 We’ve heard this before: Young evangelicals are abandoning the Republican Party; they are sick of being identified with the Religious Right and its narrow-minded agenda; they want a politics that extends to issues such as global warming, Darfur, and (illegal) immigration; and as a consequence, they plan to vote Democratic. If there were one meta-narrative after the 2004 election, this was it.

Some stories, however, are poking holes in this thesis. While not bullet proof, they are promising. Take this The New York Times story from Neela Banerjee.

Banerjee began her story in conventional fashion. She focused on young Southern Baptists in Missouri and their rejection of old evangelical politics:

Southern Baptists, as a rule, do not drink. But once a month, young congregants of the Journey, a Baptist church here, and their friends get together in the back room of a sprawling brew pub called the Schlafly Bottleworks to talk about the big questions: President Bush, faith and war, the meaning of life, and “what’s wrong with religion.”

“That’s where people are having their conversations about things that matter,” the Rev. Darrin Patrick, senior pastor and founder of the Journey, said about the talks in the bar. “We go where people are because we feel like Jesus went to the people.”

The Journey, a megachurch of mostly younger evangelicals, is representative of a new generation that refuses to put politics at the center of its faith and rejects identification with the religious right.

They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves.

If the story had continued on this vein, it would have said nothing new. But Banerjee examined whether young evangelicals’ new attitudes made any difference in the polling booth. Her conclusion: they don’t, probably.

And so far, there is no clear evidence that supporting a broader social agenda has led young evangelicals to defect from the Republican Party in great numbers, as many liberals have predicted. …

A report last year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicated that in 2001, 55 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as Republican, far more than in the broader population. In 2007, 40 percent did. But a more recent Pew poll only of registered voters found that 60 percent of young white evangelicals identified themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, the same as all white evangelicals.

“This is the most pro-life generation I’ve seen,” said John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at the evangelical Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. “I don’t have any evidence that being green is going to trump pro-life issues in the voting booth.”

Banerjee deserves credit for bucking the conventional wisdom and backing up her thesis with statistics. Her reporting is not heroic, but it is empirical.

My only complaint with Banerjee’s story is its failure to examine young evangelicals’ attitudes toward abortion. What theological or moral influences shape their thinking? Why do they think that the pro-life issue trumps other issues? I mean, good grief. Republicans could hardly be in worse shape politically and yet young evangelicals still favor the GOP overwhelmingly.

As tmatt told me when I prepared this post, reporters need to pursue other angles and points of view. Banerjee’s story is a step or two in a traditional direction — but only a step or two.

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The eroding freedom to offend, part I

2a cbldf first amendment imageMost Americans probably assume that the First Amendment has locked in solid free speech and press rights for all eternity, but that has not always been the case nor may it be the case in the future. One of the most important under covered stories received some much-needed attention Thursday in The New York Times: the erosion of freedom of speech and the press around the world.

It is a very good development that the NYT did a news story on this subject. Spouting off opinions on how the world should be on the op-ed page is one thing, but it’s another matter to have a straightforward news account on the state of free speech in the United States and other parts of Western society:

“In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one’s legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk, and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment,” Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called “The Exceptional First Amendment.”

“But in the United States,” Professor Schauer continued, “all such speech remains constitutionally protected.”

Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

Earlier this month, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined $23,000 in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.

By contrast, American courts would not stop a planned march by the American Nazi Party in Skokie, Ill., in 1977, though a march would have been deeply distressing to the many Holocaust survivors there.

NYT reporter Adam Liptak gets credit just for giving the newspaper’s readers coverage of this story from an objective viewpoint. Too often key stories from the NYT are bumped to the editorial page.

There is so much that could be said, and hopefully other mainstream journalists and even the partisan press will pick up this story. This is an issue that could impact conservatives and liberals, traditional journalists and <a href="http://www.buzzmachine.com/2008/06/12/the-internet-is-the-first-amendment. Hopefully this will be just the first in a series of stories from several news organizations on the importance of strong free press laws. If future federal judges are not asked about this subject at confirmation hearings, news organizations should highlight that fact.

The story leads off with the high-profile example of free speech under attack in Canada where a group of Muslim students have sued a magazine under their country’s Human Rights Act. Here’s what one of the students told National Public Radio’s On the Media in April (More here from National Review‘s Mark Hemmingway:

BOB GARFIELD: Before you filed your complaint, you tried to persuade Maclean’s to let you rebut the Mark Steyn piece. Tell me how that played out.

NASEEM MITHOOWANI: Before we actually met with Maclean’s, we wanted to do some research into the editorial content of Maclean’s Magazine to see if this was essentially one article or one in a series of many.

What we found was within two years Maclean’s published 19 very lengthy articles, all which in some way, shape or form alleged that Muslims are to be viewed as the enemy.

We felt that it was time for the Muslim population to play a part in the discussion about Islam and Muslims that Maclean’s had started. We therefore went to Maclean’s editors. We asked that a mutually acceptable author — so not us, because we’re not writers, but somebody that we could both agree upon — would be allowed to author a response to the Steyn article.

We were told that Maclean’s would rather go bankrupt than allow for any response. And that’s what really spurred the human rights complaint.

For the rest of the story, see here what the magazine’s editor-in-chief had to say:

Maclean’s declined an interview, but Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Whyte made this statement last December, quote: “The student lawyers in question came to us five months after the story ran. They asked for an opportunity to respond. We said that we had already run many responses to the article in our letters section but that we would consider a reasonable request.

They wanted a five-page article written by an author of their choice to run without any editing by us except for spelling and grammar. They also wanted to place their response on the cover and to art-direct it themselves. We told them we didn’t consider that a reasonable request for response.

When they insisted, I told them I would rather go bankrupt than let someone from outside of our operations dictate the content of the magazine. I still feel that way.”

Unfortunately, the NYT article failed to show the true horror that this type of legal regime could place on news organizations. The idea of someone or a group having the ability to force a magazine or news organization to publish anything without substantive editing authority sends shivers up my spine.

First Amendment WherePut it simply, if a magazine runs articles that someone finds offensive, the publication’s pages could be held hostage or the editors and publishers subject to expensive lawsuits and damage awards. I wonder how many editors and publishers out there would rather go bankrupt than plead guilty and allow 5-page, unedited rebuttals printed in their magazines.

A big question I have is why two of the main forces behind this shift in the law are members of a major world religion, Islam, and liberal thinkers:

“It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”

Professor Waldron was reviewing “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment” by Anthony Lewis, the former New York Times columnist. Mr. Lewis has been critical of efforts to use the law to limit hate speech.

But even Mr. Lewis, a liberal, wrote in his book that he was inclined to relax some of the most stringent First Amendment protections “in an age when words have inspired acts of mass murder and terrorism.” In particular, he called for a re-examination of the Supreme Court’s insistence that there is only one justification for making incitement a criminal offense: the likelihood of imminent violence.

The religious component of this story is tricky because it involves a religion, Islam, that few American journalists have been able to cover with the subtleness necessary to properly convey its beliefs, customs and traditions. The coverage of the Danish Cartoon controversy comes to mind. Understanding Islamic blasphemy laws and how courts or commissions may or may not apply them outside Islamic legal jurisdictions is key to understanding how religion plays into this story.

A free press has developed primarily in the West, but that development is relatively new and incomplete. Journalists should also not forget the United States’ own history of repressing free speech and the press. There are Britain’s ancient blasphemy law, which remain on the books today.

Even Thomas Jefferson was known, once he became president, to engage in the repression of the press when it was in his favor to do so. Most significantly though, the nasty history of the Alien and Sedition Acts should remind all journalists that even in the United States at one point expressing one’s opinion could result in jail time.

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Another way to be one sided

onesided 04 The other day, Mollie criticized The Washington Post for running a one-sided story about gay marriage in California. Today I say that there is more than one way to be one sided. Consider this Newsweek story from Lisa Miller:

[A]s homosexuality ceases to be a cultural taboo, evangelicals increasingly have had to grapple openly with the question of how to deal with the gays and lesbians in their midst; last week Rick Warren announced that he was welcoming a group of gay fathers to his church for Father’s Day. Now, even on very conservative Christian campuses, there are gays who are “out” and who want their authority figures to recognize them — and their sexuality — as deserving of God’s love. Thanks largely to the efforts of Soul Force, which encourages dialogue between gays and Christians on campus, these students are trying to get organized.

The story is legitimate. Homosexual students are organizing on evangelical Christian campuses. Conflict, novelty, religion and politics — the nut graph contains the ingredients of a fine story.

The rest of the story, however, lacks the rest of the ingredients of a fine story. To take the most glaring example, the story is not fair or balanced. Miller does quote from a Christian college administrator who reiterates an orthodox moral prohibition against homosexual conduct. Yet the quote is little more than pro forma. Miller’s story fails to provide even a one-sentence explanation of the Christian position.

What makes Miller’s story unique, however, is not its one sidedness. It’s the presentation of reality from only one interest group on that side: Soul Force. Imagine if reporters in the civil-rights era wrote a story entirely from the perspective of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee without mentioning whether other civil rights organizations dissent from their tactics or strategies. Miller commits that mortal sin of journalism.

After reading the Newsweek story, I clicked on Soul Force’s website. On the home page is the following news:

The American Family Outing is in full action as LGBT and straight-ally families have already shared the power of love, commitment, and dedication … This Father’s Day weekend families are set to visit Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

Maybe Miller got the news about Rick Warren’s invitation elsewhere. Yet readers should question that assumption. In the next sentence in the passage quoted above, Miller described Soul Force this way:

Thanks largely to the efforts of Soul Force, which encourages dialogue between gays and Christians on campus, these students are trying to get organized.

The description is misleading. Soul Force seeks to do more than promote dialogue between gays and Christians. It aims to win the dialogue — no, to conquer its bigoted rival. As its mission statement declares:

The mission of Soulforce is to cut off homophobia at its source — religious bigotry.

In addition to misleading characterizations, Miller’s story suffers from a lack of context.

For one thing, Miller neglects to mention that the group is evangelizing at Christian colleges. So are the students quoted in the story working for or coordinating with Soul Force? It’s impossible to say. The story leaves the impression that the activist gay students at Christian colleges represent a spontaneous outgrowth of grassroots sentiment.

For another thing, Miller fails to mention that the Rev. Dr. Mel White, the founder and CEO of Soul Force, is a former speechwriter for evangelical leaders. Is White’s background not relevant to the story?

At least the story ends on an appropriate note. It quotes from activist Rachel Watson, a lesbian student at Southern Baptist Union University.

Watson just graduated, “thank the Lord,” and soon will go on the road as a gay activist with Soul Force.

Forgive readers for wondering whether Miller and her editors might join her.

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It’s perfectly natural, baby

single momIn a recent post looking at how the media cover the debate surrounding same-sex marriage, commenter Michael had some intriguing thoughts about why the mainstream media struggle to cover opposition to same-sex marriage. he said that the press needs to do a better job of explaining opponents’ view that society would suffer if same-sex marriage were to be sanctioned.

Ths argument is not easy, however, to cover. It’s based on speculation and slippery slopes and “may, mights, and coulds.” Those are not easy stories to cover, because the answer from the other side is “prove it” and well, the anti-SSM can’t. But it doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told.

The pro-SSM forces has have been successful at painting opponents as bigots and–while it is true there are plenty of bigots who oppose SSM because they just don’t like gay people–the press needs to do better at allowing anti-SSM advocates to give voice to their non-animus based fears and let the public decide on their own whether those fears are good enough reason to deny legal and civil rights.

Journalists like underdogs, and the pro-SSM advocates are the underdogs in this story. The media has played a key role in giving voice to other civil rights struggles and therefore sees a similar role here. But that doesn’t mean that the other side should be ignored. I think those stories will come in time, but they are hard to write.

The anti-SSM side is also hindered by a lack of advocates who are good at articulating the position. It’s an abstract, philosophical argument that needs people who can make it without coming off as a little unhinged. The movement pundits are awful spokespeople on this issue, although someone like David Blankenhorn comes to mind as someone who hasn’t been coopted and can explain the argument reasonably.

I agree with much of Michael’s commentary. It’s really easy to tell a story about two people of the same sex wanting to get married. It’s really difficult to tell an abstract story about why society may want to be cautious about redefining the concept and practice of marriage. So I waited a day to see how the media would cover a major statement against same-sex marriage from a group of Catholic bishops. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen anything about it. I was tipped off to the statement by religion reporter Gary Stern of the Journal News but he only mentioned it on his blog (which I read every day).

The statement from New York’s eight bishops is lengthy and puts forth a Natural Law argument against the state redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. A few readers had asked to be pointed to arguments such as these and they should definitely read the whole thing. The bishops say that while there are numerous theological and religious arguments against same-sex marriage, religious values are not the sole source of opposition to the plan:

938 010 Divorce Posters

To be clear, the state’s historic recognition of marriage is based on the biological fact that the physical union of a man and a woman tends to lead to children. Common sense and empirical evidence tell us that children’s welfare is best served in most cases by their being reared in a stable home with their mother and father. This fact has been recognized and intuited by societies for millennia. Encouraging marriage between a man and a woman, therefore, serves the state’s interests, as well-reared children who live with their mother and father are much more likely to grow to be good citizens, thereby, creating wealth, stability and security for the members of the society.

On the other hand, there is no compelling state interest in granting legal recognition to same-sex relationships. The simple fact that two people have a committed relationship is not a reason for the state to confer upon it the status of marriage. If affection and commitment were the only prerequisites for a marital relationship, then it is conceivable that any two or more individuals could claim the right to a civil union, no matter what their relationship.

Recognizing same sex unions will only serve to devalue marriage even more than what has already occurred in recent years. Numerous scholars have written extensively of the negative impact on children and society resulting from our nation’s growing rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births over the last four decades.

Societal acceptance of casual divorce and single parenting was initially viewed by many as the natural progression of an enlightened society, just as “same-sex marriage” is viewed by some today. . . .

But what about the argument of proponents of “same-sex marriage” that traditional marriage is a form of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons? This is not the case, as marriage by definition is a union of physically and emotionally complementary male and female partners. However, it is true that homosexual persons sometimes face unjust discrimination in certain areas. This is wrong and must be opposed by everyone. But the state need not ignore the realities of natural law or discard thousands of years of human tradition to address such issues.

The bishops emphasize the consequences of family breakdown, the importance of a mother and father and the consensus among sociologists that children suffer from divorce and single parenting. They say that marriage has worked well throughout history and that same-sex marriage furthers the disconnect between procreation and marriage while promoting the notion that non-traditional families serve children as well as traditional ones.

This natural law argument is not exactly unheard of. Reporters may need to bone up on it to properly include it in their reporting. But Catholic bishops, among others, can — and should — certainly be interviewed for stories on the matter. If they want to personalize the natural law argument, simply showing the benefits of children having both a mother and father should suffice. Natural law offers, of course, a systematic approach to the family. Just because it is complex doesn’t mean that reporters can’t include its adherents in discussions about same-sex marriage rather than ignoring the debate.

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Alt-weekly goes church hopping

church hoppingGetReligion tends to focus on mainstream coverage of religion, but I wanted to take a little break from that to highlight a intriguing article out of an alternative newsweekly The Louisville Eccentric Observer on the community’s church services. Apparently this is the start of a 10-part monthly series of Christian church reviews.

The opinions of the reporters, George Halitzka and Zach Nord, shine brightly, but you know that going into the piece. Halitzka and Nord also provide some personal background so you know where they are coming from.

Here’s the article’s mission statement, so to speak:

Religion here on the border of the Bible Belt is a fascinating mix. Half of Louisville is CatholiBaptist. The other half’s hoping if they ignore the Jesus Freaks long enough, they’ll go away.

But we figure there are probably a few folks in the middle, too. Curious souls who wonder what really happens in church on Sunday, but fear they might burst into flames if they cross a sacred threshold. Just for you, LEO is launching a new series called “The Church Hoppers.”

Each week, I (George Halitzka) and my partner-in-holiness, Zach Nord, will visit a different Louisville church. We’ll report what happened in the worship service, and try to draw some conclusions about what the church might believe.

That way, if you ever decide to visit, you’ll know in advance if they’re stockpiling rifles for Armageddon.

I would hope this style of reporting wouldn’t make it onto the news pages of a mainstream news organization, but it works well in an alt-weekly.

The big question I had going into the piece is whether the journalists simply reported what happened in the worship services or merely express opinions. It turns out that it’s a mix of both. Clearly the journalists were not concerned with leaving their personal opinions, biases and past experiences at the door with the ushers, but as long as they were straightforward with where they were coming from and reported the details, one cannot fuss too much.

Snarky comments, such as “if you ever decide to visit [the churches], you’ll know in advance if they’re stockpiling rifles for Armageddon” may upset a few, but hey, they are reporting in Kentucky [This Hoosier ducks and runs].

The fact that one of the reporters is a self-described evangelical and the other was raised Catholic, but is now trying to figure out what he believes, balances the story and should broaden the number of people interested in their experiences.

Neither reporter enjoyed an Interstate megachurch so much. They both walked away feeling as if they had attended a pep rally. Attending a Catholic mass was a joy for the evangelical reporter, but the reporter who was raised Catholic found the passionate style of the service discomforting.

The article gets in a jab at “social-action Jesus” loving “liberals” for being uncomfortable with the concept of sin, but generally gives a straightforward account of their experience at an African-American church. Both reporters were sadly reminded that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States.

The only thing missing from the series is an account of the community life at these churches. An account of a single service is a good start, but so much of what makes up a church happens outside that hour. The fact is that no one can experience that through church hopping.

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Sleepy local religion news

sleepy pandaCould The Topeka Capital-Journal do better than the following story on how local families balance church and sports? Check out the introduction:

Involvement in team sports requires hours of regular practice, games and tournaments.

Balancing schedules when a child’s team’s schedule conflicts with the family’s worship and church fellowship becomes a juggling act for some.

Daren and Debbie Nigus, of Topeka, have made special arrangements to permit their two sons, Seth, 11, and Jesse, 14, to play Ken Berry baseball.

A reader who kindly brought the story to our attention thought the story was “lousy” and “dull.” (See Mark’s fine post here on another “unedifying” story). Here is more from our reader on heartland religion news:

So the headline caught my eye. But the article is a disappointment. It is a story without a plot: “Some families balance faith and sports by not playing the Sunday games, which is fine.”

I agree that this is not the most interesting work of journalism and likely won’t win awards, but let us consider the options the reporter had in deciding how to spice the piece up.

There is always the controversial angle. Instead of focusing on the fact that everyone generally seems to be getting along, why not focus on the fact that these sports organizations dare to schedule activities on the Sabbath Day! Doesn’t that potentially discriminate against those who take the Lord’s Day seriously?

Not exactly, at least how this story was reported. However, this rather non-controversial story is an example of how a journalist could have taken a seemingly mundane topic and work everyone up into a fit of steam. Perhaps it’s better that the reporter told what seems to be a rather straight-up story?

What happens when an athlete is not allowed to participate in a tournament or a league because of his or her personal or family commitment to attending church? That type of story seems to end up on page A1 in The Washington Post when it involves a high school athlete being disqualified from a track meet for wearing clothing intended to be modest for religious reasons.

In general, I hope this is not the Capital-Journal‘s one religion news story of the week. I should note that the article seems to have appeared in the “Life & Leisure” section on a Saturday. A brief exploration of the Web site shows that the newspaper published on the same day a column on a Muslim physician, a religion calendar and religion briefs. There is even a searchable devotional directory.

A July 2000 article notes that the newspaper launched a weekly news section (in color!) that was intended to cover “the wide variety of faith groups active in and around the Topeka area, focusing on how faith and spirituality affect people’s lives” and stories featuring “ethics and values.”

Eight years is a long time in the newspaper business. Here is hoping that these articles represent a vibrant religion section that gets into the heart of the community’s religious issues.

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More Catholic details, please

robinsonSome stories don’t get religion because they lack necessary details. Of course, few stories can get at the whole truth. But too many stories about religion are bland and unedifying.

For example, consider The Los Angeles Times‘ piece about a former Australian bishop of the Catholic church whose book tour is not welcome among California bishops.

Give reporter Duke Helfand credit, however, for an interesting and informative lede:

Four of California’s leading Roman Catholic bishops, including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, have taken the extraordinary step of urging an Australian bishop to cancel a monthlong tour of the United States to promote his controversial new book about clergy sexual abuse.

Following direction from the Vatican, the California religious leaders and eight other prominent bishops around the country have asked former auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Sydney to steer clear of their dioceses because of his “problematic positions” on priestly celibacy and other issues.

That left me wanting more. When it comes to the sexual abuse scandal in the church, there is a rough consensus among Catholics that the facts should come out and not be denied. Wanting more information to come out is not a “left” thing or a “right” thing, when it comes to matters of faith and doctrine.

Yet the story only suggests that Robinson had something to say. Other than noting that he had a high-ranking job in examining clerical abuse in Australia, Helfand failed to flesh out details of his storyline. Take this passage below:

In his book, “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus,” Robinson argues that the church’s celibacy requirement has contributed to the sex abuse crisis. He openly criticizes the papacy for failing to provide leadership. And he wonders whether the Catholic Church has been more concerned with managing the scandal than confronting it.

That’s fine as a summary paragraph. But Helfand fails to add a sentence or two that might give Robinson’s charges merit or provocation. How has the celibacy requirement contributed to the sex abuse crisis? How has the papacy failed to lead on this issue?

Also, Helfand fails to elaborate on the concerns of California’s bishops. Take this passage:

The dioceses said they are not trying to silence Robinson, who notified each of his plans, but to guard against what they believe is his misinformation.

Again, the absence of details drags down the story. What information do the bishops consider Robinson to be peddling? This is an important question because the bishops’ original claim was that Robinson was guilty of heresy, not getting his facts wrong.

Finally, Robin’s status in the Catholic Church is unclear. Read this passage below:

Robinson said he ultimately concluded that he could not continue to serve as a bishop of a church that left him with such “profound reservations.” He resigned and began to write his book, which was published last year.

This paragraph, too, requires more details. Does Robinson still consider himself Roman Catholic? Does he have any official status as a cleric in the church? If not, that angle is worth a sentence or two. (For what it’s worth, I have never heard of a Catholic bishop being considered a former bishop.)

More details, please: They are the spice of a story — any story.

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