The meaning of life

StemCell2Yesterday media outlets announced the news of a breakthrough in stem-cell research. The details were published in the prestigious journals Science and Cell (PDF).

Translating the research for readers of mainstream media has challenged reporters all over the globe. Two different teams of scientists have figured out a means to obtain pluripotent stem cells without creating — or destroying — an embryo. In fact, no human reproductive material was used at all, including eggs. Now, most pluripotent stem cells are known as embryonic stem cells, meaning they come from an embryo. The new technology, called Direct Cell Reprogramming or Induced Pluripotent State, takes adult cells and regenerates them back to the pluripotent state. It’s quite similar to embryonic stem cells, but they are not embryonic stem cells.

So that’s my first note — headlines such as these two from National Public Radio are problematic:

Skin Cells Can Become Embryonic Stem Cells

Scientists Create Embryonic Stem Cells from Skin

On the other hand, many reporters did a great job of explaining and translating the science and its ethical impact. Here, for example, is Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The need to destroy embryos has made stem cell research one of the most divisive issues in American politics, pitting President Bush against prominent Republicans like Nancy Reagan, and patient advocates who hoped that stem cells could cure diseases like Alzheimer’s. The new studies could defuse the issue as a presidential election nears.

The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today’s drawbacks will prove to be temporary.

Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work, conducted by independent teams from Japan and Wisconsin, should reshape the stem cell field. At some time in the near future, they said, today’s debate over whether it is morally acceptable to create and destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells should be moot.

“Everyone was waiting for this day to come,” said the Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. “You should have a solution here that will address the moral objections that have been percolating for years,” he added.

Good thing Missouri enshrined embryonic destruction into its constitution! Thinking back to that election battle, one of the criticisms I had was that the mainstream media kept referring to supporters of the Missouri amendment as “favoring stem-cell research.” Of course, everyone, more or less, favors stem-cell research. Stem cells have been considered very exciting avenues for research because of their remarkable potential to develop into different cell types in the body (muscle cell, brain cell, skin cell). Some stem cells come from adults while other stem cells come from embryos. Each type has various advantages and disadvantages. Some people don’t think advances in science should come by destroying embryos. Others think that destroying embryos is a price you have to pay for the possibility of developing cures to diseases.

StemCellWhat’s neat about the recent news is the potential improvements on the most promising line of research — without destroying embryos or requiring women to donate or sell their eggs.

Well, all of a sudden, the media seem to have figured out this distinction between stem-cell research and embryonic stem-cell research. Obviously the whole hook of the story was that pluripotent stem cells are being obtained without killing embryos. So reporters had to explain the distinction between embryo-destroying research and non-embryo-destroying research. But what a shame that they hadn’t been doing a better job of this earlier.

Anyway, there are many stories out there about this recent advance. In addition to a straight news story, The Washington Post explored the political significance of the finding:

Still, even skeptics of the president’s approach acknowledged that the new findings could make it more difficult to keep up the political momentum for embryo research, even if scientists say it is too early to abandon it. Most immediately, some said, it could hurt the effort to override Bush’s June veto of a bill that would have loosened the rules on federal funding.

The Los Angeles Times had a thorough article with an interesting comment thread. Kolata had a follow-up story for the Times about one of the scientists who broke the latest discovery, James Thomson. He was the same scientist who touched off debate on embryonic stem-cell research in 1998 when he took stem cells from embryos:

The fact is, Dr. Thomson said in an interview, he had ethical concerns about embryonic research from the outset, even though he knew that such research offered insights into human development and the potential for powerful new treatments for disease.

“If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough,” he said. “I thought long and hard about whether I would do it.”

Interesting. USA TODAY reported on the ethical concerns remaining, something religion reporter Gary Stern highlighted on his blog. Finally, if you are looking for an excellent analysis of the medical and political significance, I recommend (my fellow Phillips Fellow) Ryan Anderson’s piece in The Weekly Standard.

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What can Chuck Norris do for Huckabee?

chuck norrisTwo stories in Wednesday’s Washington Post were placed in interesting ways. On the front page there is a straight political poll-based story bringing the world the news that former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee exists and could just possibly win in Iowa. On the front of the Style section is a piece telling us, in a rather pushy way, that Republicans in Iowa are still searching for a savior.

Out here in the heartland, the big news isn’t the results of some poll or an Eastern newspaper’s opinion on what type of savior people in Iowa should be searching for. Instead, it’s that the pop-culture hero Chuck Norris has endorsed the preacher man (YouTube). Up until now, it’s been easy to get the feeling that reporters in Washington could not care less about Huckabee and in the heartland, people could not care less about politics, at least compared to the people back in Washington.

While reporters in the Midwest may care less about the current emotional and psychological state of the religious right, Washington Post reporter Lois Romano seems to care and seemed to have burned some quality shoe leather getting out into the cornfields of Iowa to give us the scoop on how evangelicals are feeling these days:

Political experts have been perplexed that the evangelical community hasn’t rallied sooner and in greater force for Huckabee. “My sense is that the rank and file on the religious right are waiting for cues from identifiable leaders like James Dobson or Tony Perkins,” says Cary Covington, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.

But beyond the horse race, beyond the fact that Iowa is a late-deciding state, the mood among many evangelicals here reflects what is happening nationally, as Christian conservatives grapple with apathy and evaluate whether they should count on the government to legislate morality. Down the highway in Sioux City, home to nearly 300 Christian churches, Jeff Moes, a soft-spoken, 44-year-old senior pastor, is one of those who has nudged his congregation into a “new vision” of the process. “I am hearing ‘what difference does it make?’ ” he says. “They are less and less trusting of government.”

Moes says he [tells] his 1,000 congregants that the church is the institution with responsibility to effect change in the community. “We can’t rely on one man or the government any longer,” he says.

Personally, Moes says he, too, has moved to Huckabee’s corner. John McCain, he says, strikes him as “very negative, very angry,” and Romney’s Mormon religion “bothers more people than they care to admit.”

And thrice-married Rudy Giuliani, whose children don’t seem to be supporting his candidacy, is a non-starter for Moes and many others, he reports, because “he can’t get his own house in order.”

“The Bible says that if a man can’t lead his own family, how can he manage the house of God?” he says. “And I think it’s the same with the country. If he can’t get his kids to love and respect him, how can he command the respect of a nation?”

Moes says he simply doesn’t get why religious leaders aren’t doing more for Huckabee. “The saddest thing for me right now is that no one in the evangelical community is leading — they are all following,” says Moes. “Huckabee is head and shoulders above the rest of the field. . . . If someone like James Dobson came out for Huckabee, it would make all the difference in the world. . . . He’s one of us.”

Stop the presses! Who cares when someone like James Dobson will decide to get out there and endorse when Huckabee may have received one of the most important endorsements of them all? While Midwestern reporters have ignored the evangelical psychoanalysis story, they haven’t missed the Chuck Norris endorsement story:

That e-mail and the new television ad parody an Internet phenomenon of “facts” about Norris, who is fabled to have superhuman powers.

“When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he isn’t lifting himself up. He’s pushing the earth down,” Huckabee says in the tongue-in-cheek TV ad, which he unveiled this week on Fox News Sunday.

Would it be fair to compare the Norris endorsement with Obama’s endorsement by Oprah?

Reporters can have as much fun with the endorsement and subsequent commercials, but a Chuck Norris endorsement is somewhat significant. Norris is more than just an actor. He has promoted Bible study and prayers in public schools and expressed belief in creationism. In some ways he is Hollywood’s version of James Dobson. But the big question is whether Iowans will even care.

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Drawing lines in interfaith dialogue

coexist bannerStories about interfaith issues are tricky these days, particularly when they involve conflict. Down in Austin, Texas, a Baptist church’s rejection of an interfaith Thanksgiving service because of the involvement of Muslims has sparked an intense discussion of the holiday and how people and organizations of different faiths are supposed to interact with each other in today’s society.

It’s crucial for reporters to convey the issues with the correct terms and definitions along with both sides of the argument. The problem is that, depending on who you talk to, those terms and definitions are different and it may not be entirely clear to anyone what exactly has happened. And then sometimes people don’t talk to reporters or they send out intentionally vaguely worded statements. Reporters trying to get to the heart of an issue really don’t like those.

Take for instance the lede to this Austin American-Statesman story:

Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, the city’s largest interfaith organization, announced Thursday that its annual Thanksgiving celebration Sunday had to be moved because Hyde Park Baptist Church objected to non-Christians worshipping on its property.

The group learned Wednesday that the rental space at the church-owned Quarries property in North Austin was no longer available because Hyde Park leaders had discovered that non-Christians, Muslims in particular, would be practicing their faith there. The event, now in its 23rd year, invites Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Bahais and others to worship together.

I have no knowledge of this church or of Austin, for that matter, but last time I checked, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday with religious undertones and history.

With that in mind, I am left wondering precisely how this involves worship in the traditional understanding of the word. The rental space in question is a gymnasium, not a sanctuary.

While not specifying when the church started to object to the event, the story seems to point toward a postcard for the event that “promised space for Muslim Maghrib prayer.” The statement from the church says that it welcomes “all faiths” to worship, but won’t allow its property to be used for “non-Christian religions.” This story is about prayer, then. If you take away the prayer element, is the church OK with this?

The statement from the church, urging tolerance for its religious beliefs that prompted the decision, seems to cloud some of the issues. It would have been helpful if the reporter had persuaded church members to expound what precise theological issues prompted them to reject this group after accepting them. Perhaps it is the case that the church only wanted to issue the statement and refused interviews?

Later on in the story is this interesting statement, which includes a term reporters should avoid at all costs:

Of Hyde Park’s decision, he said it was “unfortunate that people still feel this way in this day and age.”

Some Christians object to praying with people of other faith backgrounds or allowing those people to worship in their sanctuaries.

That horribly overused word “some” should really be avoided, especially when it is used as a catch-all summary of what a reporter thinks is the viewpoint of a group of people. This story isn’t even about a sanctuary or the church praying with the group. It’s about church property.

Would it be fair to mention that some Muslims in the area, or around the world, may feel the same way about their property or that traditionally churches consider their property, whether it was the sanctuary or the barn, as sacred? The most intriguing part of the saga comes when local synagogue leaders arrange for space for the event and everybody goes home happy and thankful.

The story gives plenty of room for those who believe interfaith issues are important and how sad and terrible it is that something like this could happen in this day and age, but is it really that difficult to find Christians, or even Muslims, who respect and understand the view that churches can do what they want with their property?

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The spirit of the law

moses and the lawI read with particular interest a Houston Chronicle article on Tuesday about the growing number of “Christian-based” law schools sprouting across the country. The story hooks onto a new law school opening in Louisiana called the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law. The school is supposed to open in 2009 and is named after a lawyer active in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Reporter Mary Flood highlights a few interesting points and takes off on a brief survey of religiously affiliated law schools around the country. The story manages to summarize a few highlights, generally miss more substantive issues and note that many of the law schools classes begin with a prayer. Oh, and classes like torts and contracts will have discussions involving religious issues, as if that is some novel development:

“The law school will deliver through the lens of a biblical world view needed today in our nation and our system of justice,” said Joe Aguillard, president of Louisiana College in Pineville, La., where he hopes the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law will open in 2009.

Aguillard wants his school to graduate lawyers whose understanding of the law is rooted in “the absolute truth of the Bible” and the foundations the Bible provided for American law.

He notes that means abortion should not be legal. The press release announcing the plans for the private school, which is affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, included a picture of a fetus in the womb reaching a hand out to grasp the finger of a surgeon during an operation.

I am not sure about the relevance of abortion in establishing a law school, but apparently it was important enough to note high in the story. Is it all that surprising that a law school named after Pressler would be against abortion?

The article correctly notes, or implies, that basing an entire legal curriculum on religious issues is not exactly the norm. However, I am not sure that is what these schools or doing, or that what they are doing in highlighting and emphasizing the religious roots of our legal system is that far out of the norm.

I attend a secular state-funded law school, and all of my classes have at one point or another discussed serious religious issues. In three of the four areas of law I am studying — torts, contracts, property — we have discussed how the foundations are in principles found in the Bible. The Good Samaritan rule is a good place to start. (My textbook contained the entire passage from the Book of Luke.)

Another shortcoming is that while the story highlights Ave Maria School of Law, there is little mention of the dozens of other Catholic law schools that will have at least some level of piety in the class room and the curriculum.

Regarding Ave Maria, this paragraph — quoting Charles Roboski, associate dean for external affairs — is priceless:

“Students feel comfortable sharing issues of faith here,” Roboski said. He called it a pro-family campus, meaning students with families may feel especially welcome, and pro-life, meaning anti-abortion.

Thanks for the clarification about those terms. No doubt Roboski is anti-abortion, but is that clarifier all that necessary?

The story rightly points out that there are plenty of law schools affiliated with religious institutions, but they should not be confused with institutions such as Ave Maria:

Despite the new trend merging religion and law, other law schools at universities with religious affiliations have strictly secular curriculum and don’t stop for prayer. In Texas they include the law schools at Baylor University, St. Mary’s and Southern Methodist University.

John Attanasio, dean of SMU’s Dedman School of Law, said his school’s mission “is to train lawyers. The practice of law is largely secular, so that’s what we’re about.”

The article attempts to divide American law schools and the teaching of law into two neat little boxes. There are those secular schools that teach the law the proper way, which start classes with “probing questions about the separation of church and state,” and there are the others, this growing force, that want to “intertwine … the tenets of one or more branches of Christianity into the legal curriculum.”

I would argue that the statement is not precisely accurate since American law is by its nature already intertwined with Christian tenets. How that history is highlighted is another matter, but it is an important distinction. The issue of mixing today’s religion and the law is no doubt controversial, but the issue is not as clear-cut as this story implies.

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Pakistan’s religion-rich conflict

bhutto 3The opening sentence in Time‘s guide to the conflict in Pakistan is quite appropriate: “The turmoil in the streets of Pakistan stems from a mercurial mix of history, religion and politics — with explosive results.”

Religion is front and center in this very important part of the world, but are reporters telling the story?

The New York Times scored an interview with embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday, and while the religious issues don’t pop out at the reader, they are present:

He said Pakistan was suffering from a “disturbed terrorist environment,” and he appeared to be unaffected by calls from Europe as well as the United States for an end to the emergency rule.

Instead, the general, whose government has received more than $10 billion in aid from the Bush administration, mostly for the military, asked for even more support, and more patience.

The Bush administration has called the general the best bet to fight Al Qaeda and Islamic militants, but has also complained that the cooperation of the Pakistani military has been sporadic and often ineffective.

You don’t have to read too deep between the lines to understand where religious issues come into play. But religious issues remained cloaked in vague terms, such as “moderates,” as tmatt pointed out Wednesday.

As for the Time piece, it is a good start and long overdue. However, it is only a start and it largely fails at explaining the various forms of Islam in Pakistan and how they relate to the law and politics.

A helpful way to go about this would be to compare Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries dominated by Muslim politics. Some are comparing the situation in Pakistan to the pre-revolution situation in Iran. Now that is a scary thought. But how does the presence of the highly professional military in Pakistan negate that factor, and what does religion have to do with it?

Speaking of countries highly influenced by the military that also happen to be allies of the United States, how does this compare to the situation in Turkey? An important aspect of this story is that Pakistan is no Turkey in terms of its relationship with the U.S. The country is far more radical, at least in religious ideology. Before September 11, 2001, the country was headed the way of Iran and Iraq as an official supporter of terrorism. But things changed on that tragic day, and the United States needed help of Pakistanis — along with Iranians — in routing the Taliban out of Afghanistan.

Another significant religion ghost that could receive more attention concerns former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. What is the religious significance that the opposition leader in an Islamic country is a woman? What does that tell us about the way Islam is taught and applied in the country?

Just as everyone was caught off-guard by the Iranian revolution, another surprise could be on the horizon concerning Pakistan. Religion will likely be in the center of it all.

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Paging Pat Moynihan, long distance

1101670728 400 01Here we go again.

For various reasons, journalists have rarely done even an adequate job covering the decline and fall of the African-American family. The share of black babies born out of wedlock in the last four decades has soared to around 70 percent from 25 percent.

Tellingly, the original story was broken not by a reporter but by a young researcher at the U.S. Labor Department, who had grown up in a single-parent Irish Catholic household full of Democrats. In the liberal backlash to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report, journalists avoided discussing the topic of black family dissolution, fearing that they were “blaming the victim” or blaming blacks for centuries of racism and oppression. After black sociologist William Julius Wilson in 1978 made the subject respectable again, a few top journalists explored the topic, but they tended to rely on materialist explanations, such as the role of AFDC or welfare and the decline of good-paying, low-skill industrial jobs.

To be sure, it’s difficult for journalists to cover long-term, quantitative- and sociological-driven stories. Yet the story about black family decline has been going on for a long time, entering its fifth decade. Surely some journalist has identified the main problems.

Well, no, Which explains the stunned reaction to a report by the Pew Foundation about a sharp decline in black mobility. As The Washington Post reported in an A1 story:

Ronald B. Mincy, a Columbia University sociologist who has focused on the growing economic peril confronted by black men and who served as an adviser on the Pew project, said skeptical researchers repeatedly reviewed the findings before concluding they were statistically accurate.

“There is a lot of downward mobility among African Americans,” Mincy said. “We don’t have an explanation.”

Pew hopes to develop some answers in future reports in its series on economic mobility. Reports scheduled to be released early next year will probe, among other things, the role of wealth and education in income mobility.

Mincy and others speculated that the increase in the number of single-parent black households, continued educational gaps between blacks and whites and even racial isolation that remains common for many middle-income African Americans could be factors.

Journalists are given no more than speculation and resignation? Michael Fletcher of the Post should have looked elsewhere for his explanations of the trend.

Although the story no doubt has many parts, it’s clear that two key parts are the decline and fall of the two-parent black family and decline in religious attendance. Heck, haven’t we reporters checked out the debate in black America between Bill Cosby and Eric Michael Dyson? Or have we not read what social conservatives such as Maggie Gallagher and David Blankenhorn or black moderates such as Juan Williams had to say about these topics?

dpm lbyPat Fagan, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has emphasized the importance of religion and family structure well:

During the 1980s and 1990s, when religious practice decreased overall, the association between regular religious attendance and marital stability became even more apparent. Those who had ceased religious practice divorced 2.5 times more frequently than those who continued to attend religious services. Paul Amato, a leading authority on the sociology of divorce from Pennsylvania State University, concluded that a possible increase in religious practice among some already existing marriages might have offset the negative effects of the overall decrease in religious practice among many other Americans.

… Parents’ religious practice also counts. The greater the parents’ religious involvement, the more likely they will have higher educational expectations of their children and will communicate with their children regarding schooling. Their children will be more likely to pursue advanced courses, spend more time on homework, establish friendships with academically oriented peers, avoid cutting classes, and successfully complete their degrees.

It’s unlikely that the decline in religious attendance among African Americans and divorce (or marriages that never formed in the first place) entirely explain the jump in downward black mobility. But it’s surely more than what our fellow journalists have been telling us.

The Washington Post, by the way, was not the only major newspaper in serious denial about some of the moral and religious issues tied to this painful and tragic reality in American life. Check out the Los Angeles Times story on the same topic. Keep in mind that this information is at the very bottom of the report, literally the next to last paragraph. The key voice here is John Morton, director of this economic mobility study, who says that “changing family structures” are also a factor that must be considered.

“There is a higher prevalence of single-parent families at a time that it is increasingly important to have two salaries to maintain a standard of living,” Morton said.

And this is a new trend? Or is this now into its second or third generation? What would Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan have said about that?

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Ghosts in the coach Reid story

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidThe troubles in the family of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid is a difficult story for reporters to cover. In many ways, one would wish for the story to just go away. Coach Reid’s family life is in public disarray. A judge has publicly castigated him about his abilities as a parent and his two oldest sons are in prison because of their long-standing drug addictions.

A headline from The New York Times is particularly appropriate: “There Are No Easy Answers for Reid and His Family.”

Much of this story appropriately has to do with drug addiction and whether it should be considered a disease. But there is another aspect of this highly personal story that has not received much attention, particularly by the Times. The Philadelphia Inquirer, perhaps because it is closer to the story than anyone else, touched on it on Sunday:

The boys were expected to become Eagle Scouts — and Garrett and Britt did so, Tammy Reid said. Piano lessons were required through age 18. Other rules were bent to accommodate the crazy hours of a coach. If her husband “got home at 9 o’clock, you’ll bet the kids are up to see him,” she said.

And when that wasn’t enough, she let him know. “We’ve got our roles down pat,” she said in that earlier interview. “I’m the one who tells him when he really needs to be home. There’s just times you can read the kids’ coverage – that’s what I call it. You just know one of your kids needs their dad. I say, ‘You really need to get to this.’”

As Mormons, the Reids did not allow even alcohol in their home. And Tammy Reid has described her husband’s determined efforts to carve out time with Garrett, Britt, and the three younger children — to be present at their sporting events, to take them to movies, to cut down a tree and sing together on Christmas.

There’s obviously only so much that a reporter can do when reporting on a person’s personal faith. If a public person doesn’t acknowledge that faith publicly, then it is probably out of bounds in stories like this.

But it would be difficult to say that Reid’s Mormon faith is not part of his public character. Check out this story from earlier this year by the sports director at Philadelphia television station NBC 10:

For all of us, there are times when the lines that separate our personal and professional lives are sometimes blurred. This is one of those times for me.

You see, I’ve known Garrett and Britt Reid since they were in their early teens. Their parents, Andy and Tammy, were classmates at BYU in the early ’80s and Andy and I were college teammates. More importantly, we share a common faith, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’re Mormons — which is still a relatively small community here in the East. …

Most Mormon young men apply for and serve a two-year church mission following their freshman year of college. Neither Garrett or Britt did that. A church mission in the Mormon faith is almost a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood — almost like being bar mitzvahed if you’re a Jewish boy. …

The Reids are very private and, as reported in newspaper accounts, very religious.

It’s moments like this that their faith really matters.

To be perfectly clear, the Mormon angle to the Coach Reid story should not be raised to castigate or criticize Reid or Mormonism. Reporters should treat this highly difficult subject with care and resist any urge to cast stones. But ignoring the Mormon angle of the story gives readers an incomplete picture.

Variations of this situation can happen in any family. Faith will often play an important, if not key, role in a family’s efforts to adjust and cope. To the extent that figures in the family are public and the situation becomes public, the faith aspect should not be tucked away or ignored.

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Cheering for women’s ordination

womenpriests2We have written before about Roman Catholic Womenpriests and how the media usually botch coverage of such groups. Roman Catholic Womenpriests wants the Catholic Church to allow women’s ordination and claims to ordain women as Catholic priests. Reporters covering these services often take them at their word that the ordination is genuine.

The problem with the stories is not that they report claims of ordination. That is an established, observable fact. The problem is that the coverage does not reflect that all the ordinations amount to are independent claims without taking into consideration that the Catholic Church does not recognize the services and finds them offensive. Your opinion on the Catholic Church’s position does not matter. The church’s position is a fact reporters should consider in weighing how to convey the news of an event.

A story in Monday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatchobvious cheerleading. The story is even headlined with the crowd’s cheers as if that was the most significant thing to come out of the story. To the credit of reporter Michelle Muntz, the story notes up front that the Roman Catholic Church does not sanction these ordinations. But she also refers to Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath the “first women ever in the city to be ordained as Catholic priests.”

To members of the diverse crowd — the dozen ministers in robes and stoles of different colors, those wearing yarmulke, and some wearing buttons saying “God loves us, just ask her” — the ceremony showed unity and understanding.

“What a day, what an occasion, what a case, what a rabbi,” said Patricia Fresen, the ordaining bishop with Roman Catholic Womenpriests, referring to the synagogue’s rabbi, Susan Talve. The room boomed with applause.

The story adequately addresses the fact that the Roman Catholic Church objects to the ordinations and finds them offensive. In fact, the potential response of the ceremony could have led the story, but it’s buried down near the end:

The action irked some. The Rev. Vincent Heir, who directs the Catholic Church’s interfaith efforts in St. Louis, said the archdiocese will not participate in any more interfaith events if Central Reform Congregation is “a leading player.” St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who has threatened to excommunicate Hudson and McGrath, asked Talve to reconsider hosting the ceremony.

Though she felt support among the throng of people there Sunday, Talve said, “There is still work to do, still conversations to have to help people to understand why we chose to do what we did. Hospitality outweighed other issues that presented a challenge.”

Threats of ordination and refusal to participate in interfaith events are significant statements and could allow for follow-up stories. Instead, we get to hear about a “booming” crowd that cheered along an invalid, offensive to some, ordination service.

Reporters covering these stories should not pass up the opportunity to address the deeper theological issues involved in the Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women. Slanted coverage does not help anyone and just reinforces the view that the media have a stake in the dispute. If you watch this YouTube video, you will see a smart question from reporter Ann Rodgers at a 2006 press conference and an in-depth response that gets to the heart of the issue.

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