After the Boy Scouts? For a few, camping with doctrine

When considering the forces pulling at the Boy Scouts of America, one thing journalists really needed to consider was a simple statistical chart that can be found (.pdf) on the organization’s homepage. Here are the crucial numbers found at the top of this file:

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — 37,856.

United Methodist Church — 10,868.

Catholic Church — 8,397.

Presbyterian Church — 3,597.

Lutheran Church — 3,827.

Baptist churches — 3,981.

These are these numbers? That would be the number of Scouting units hosted by these particular religious groups.

I am well aware, as I have written in a previous post, that this chart doesn’t tell us everything in terms of Scouting’s internal divisions and tensions. Once again, that is this “Presbyterian Church”? How many of those are liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations, as opposed to congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or, for that matter, more doctrinally conservative PCUSA flocks in the Sunbelt or elsewhere in flyover country?

The same question can be applied to that “Lutheran Church” reference. Are these part of the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the conservative Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church? And those “Baptist churches,” are they Southern Baptist, American Baptist, independent Baptists, from one of the two National Baptist conventions or what?

But one thing is certain, given the realities shown in that chart. In keeping with trends in its own work, the Mormon leadership endorsed the policy of accepting openly gay Scouts, but no openly gay Scout leaders. The Mormon compromise was victorious.

Now, who comes next?

The United Methodists, that’s who. Outside the Sunbelt, there are few United Methodist congregations that will not accept, if not hail, this decision (unless they believe it does not go far enough).

Then how about your generic suburban American Catholic congregations?

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Let me draw your attention to this fascinating article in the Parisian weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur about the new generation of Catholics arising in France.

The article « Plongée dans la galaxie “catho-réac-décomplexée” » in Le Nouvel Obs (with a circulation of over 500,000 it is France’s most widely read general information weekly) asks the question who is leading the charge against the Socialist government’s gay marriage agenda — and finds that it is the “cathos 2.0″ generation. The 20-25 year old:

Enfants de Jean-Paul II et de Benoît XVI, … une nouvelle génération catho à la tête haute, grisée par la découverte de la militance, est née, très éloignée de la pudique discrétion de ses aînés.

Children of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, … a new generation of Catholic has arisen, intoxicated by their discovery of militancy that is  far different from the modest discretion of their elders.

Deconstructing this article has proven to be a hard task. On the surface the story of the Cathos 2.0 generation is so strong that it cannot be killed by a skeptical or hostile presentation. It is a French man bites dog story — student revolutionaries in Paris as ultramontane Catholics.

On the surface Le Nouvel Obs seems to have framed the story against the interest of the subject. While it allows the young Catholics to tell their own story, the analysis and commentary is drawn from the left — academics and liberal Catholics who bemoan the conservative political and doctrinal views of Cathos 2.0. Nor do we hear from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France. This packaging should have made the issues unattractive and painted the subjects in an unsympathetic light. But  by the end of the story these young people come off well. You like them.

The article starts off in a critical yet cinematographic mode – – were this a film the opening paragraph would be accompanied by an accordion and perhaps Edith Piaf.

Trois garçons arrivent à Vespa. Un jeune couple veste treillis-capuche-fourrure traverse la place depuis le Café de Flore, situé juste en face. Une grappe de caqueteuses s’approche joyeusement de l’entrée tout en échangeant bises et potins. Une retardataire en talons hauts et breloques diamantées aux oreilles les rejoint en trottinant. Un concert ou un spectacle ? Pas du tout. Comme tous les dimanches soir, la jeunesse chic et branchée de la rive gauche a rendez-vous avec… Jésus ! Le clocher bat le rappel, c’est l’heure de la messe à Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Dans une église bondée, les jeunes gens, moyenne d’âge 20-25 ans, s’agenouillent devant le saint sacrement comme les bigotes d’autrefois. L’encens brouille la vue, et le choeur entonne un chant latin repris par une assemblée sagement recueillie. Non, nous ne sommes pas chez les traditionalistes de la Fraternité Saint-Pie-X, mais à l’une des cérémonies dominicales destinées à la jeunesse francilienne.

Three boys arrive on a Vespa. A young couple wearing hooded fur jackets crosses the square from the Café de Flore, located just opposite. A cluster of prattling girls happily approaching the entrance while exchanging kisses and gossip. A latecomer in high heels and diamond earrings hurries in. A concert or a show? No. Every Sunday night the chic and trendy youth of the left bank have an appointment with … Jesus! The bell sounds. It is time for Mass at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

In a crowded church, young people, 20-25 years of age, kneel before the Blessed Sacrament like the bigots of the past. Incense blurs vision and the choir sings a Latin chant taken up by a by the congregation.No, we are not in the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, but one of the Sunday ceremonies for Catholic youth.

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How To Be A Lousy Journalist

Over at Intercollegiate Review, I have a piece with some helpful journalism tips. Here’s how “How to Be a Really Lousy Journalist for Fun and Profit” begins:

There has never been a better time to consider a career in journalism. Newspapers are thriving, magazines are innovating, online journalism listicles are becoming more substantive, and cable-news talking heads are shouting at holograms.

Journalists are living up to our reputation as the country’s most trusted profession (at least compared to IRS agents and American Airlines customer-service representatives). Whether it’s our nuanced and thoughtful analysis of hot-button topics such as gay marriage or our tenacious coverage of the terrorist attack in Benghazi and Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic in Philadelphia, people know you can count on us to get the story right.

Would you like to succeed in this environment? As a long-time reporter and media critic, I’m happy to share tips on what to do if you want to make it in modern journalism.

Don’t Sweat the Details

Is there a difference between an Evangelical and an evangelist? Who cares? Don’t know the technical reason why Christians celebrate Easter? Will anyone really notice? Do you confuse the author of Hebrews with Paris booksellers? We all do! Whether you’re reporting on important U.S. Supreme Court decisions or how many people died in a terrorist bombing, what’s most important is getting the story first, not getting the story right, particularly under the pressure of a 24-hour news cycle.

Don’t Question Authority

If the powers-that-be suggest that a terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 was the spontaneous and direct result of an unseen YouTube video with junior high school production values, who are you to be skeptical?

If these same authority figures suggest that therefore it’s dangerous for Americans to speak freely, share their religious views, and express their artistic sensibilities however they want, you should probably just join them in calling for restrictions on these First Amendment freedoms.

It’s advice you’ve seen me sarcastically give for years, if you’re a GetReligion reader. But the folks here at GetReligion gave me excellent additional tips to include, and they’re sprinkled throughout.

There were dozens more I could have included. What are your tips for how to be a lousy journalist?

 Image of journalist via Shutterstock.

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Ready! Set! Be bored by Illinois’ same-sex marriage debate!

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s “Religion News on the Web” page is one of the places I go to peruse religion news.

A headline from Illinois caught my attention today:

AP: Politics and the pulpit: Black churches at heart of gay marriage debate in Illinois

That topic interests me, so I clicked on the link.

Let’s start at the top of The Associated Press report:

SUMMIT, Illinois — When a proposal to legalize gay marriage started gaining momentum in the home state of President Barack Obama, it seemed a quick and easy deal: The pastor of his former megachurch endorsed it with powerful testimony at the Capitol and Democrats control Illinois’ government.

But fervor over the idea has stalled for months in that exact spot where faith and politics are inseparable.

Black churches — where the pulpit has always been political — are deeply divided over their support for same-sex marriage and are central to the Illinois measure’s passage, which awaits a House vote as early as this week. On either side of the issue, pastors and politically active congregations have waged intense campaigns with robocalls, columns and sermons.

What do you think of that lede?

When I worked for AP, I always enjoyed writing creative ledes much more than inverted-pyramid-style ledes (meaning straight-news, just-the-facts intros). So I understand the desire to grab the readers’ attention with something more stimulating than “Black churches in Illinois are deeply divided over same-sex marriage, stalling proposed legislation on the matter.”

But honestly, the lede AP used contains way too much editorialization for my taste. And way too little attribution. Who thought the proposal seemed like a “quick and easy deal,” for example? Doesn’t that subjective fact demand a named source?

Still, I kept reading, holding out hope that the story would reflect passionate voices on all sides of the debate.

The first source introduced — an openly gay pastor — certainly seems fired up:

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Asking the Boy Scout questions that matter the most

If you know anything about the politics of gay rights, you know that there is absolutely nothing that the Boy Scouts of American can do right now that will not lead to major divisions in their organization. The key force that will cause a future split is, of course, the deep divide among mainstream religious groups on the moral status of homosexual behavior.

There is no safe ground for the Boy Scouts, none whatsoever.

It’s very clear where American public opinion is headed, at the moment. Thus, there are few if any surprises in the media coverage of that new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which asks two questions related to the Boy Scouts debate. Let’s walk through a short Post “On Faith” blog item on the results:

A wide majority of Americans support the Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to admit gay scouts for the first time, and most oppose the organization’s plans to continue to bar gay adults from serving as scout leaders, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The century-old group’s National Council will gather later in May to vote on the plan, unveiled last month, which would allow gay scouts but maintain a ban on gay scout masters. In splitting the decision, the group may be trying to modernize while continuing to appeal to a diversity of views on homosexuality — seven in 10 scout groups are chartered by religious institutions.

So, with that seven-in-10 statistic, what are the most crucial follow-up questions that the authors of this poll needed to ask? It’s clear what the real issue is here, but it does not appear that the poll team was interested in the hard facts (poll .pdf here) behind the news.

Opposition to banning gay scout leaders ranges by religious group and along well-worn political fault lines. A 56 percent majority of Catholics oppose the continued ban on gay scout masters, a number that rises to 75 percent among people who identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. By contrast, Protestants are closely divided, 49 percent supporting and 47 percent opposing the ban on gay scout leaders. While the new survey did not ask Protestants whether they identify as “born-again or evangelical Christians,” surveys have consistently shown evangelical Christians are more conservative than mainline protestants on issues of homosexuality.

Once again, it is absolutely useless to ask where American Catholics stand on just about anything without asking a detailed question about Mass attendance. It Boy Scout troops are hosted by Catholic parishes, that means that the key players in future decisions are almost certain to be people — parents with children — who not only attend, but help lead, those parishes.

How many sacramentally active, weekly Mass Catholics oppose the ban on gay Boy Scout leaders? If the goal of the poll is to investigate the future of the Boy Scouts, that’s the crucial question on the Catholic side of the aisle. Frankly, I was stunned at that anti-ban 56 percent number — stunned that it was not higher.

The key statistics that the poll did not investigate can be seen in a chart at the Boy Scouts website (the “On Faith” site does contain a link).

Where are most Boy Scout troops based? Total units linked to congregations in:

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So, does LA need a ‘conservative’ newspaper or not?

Time for a quick trip into tmatt’s infamous GetReligion file of guilt.

You just know that plenty of GetReligion readers are going to send us emails about an essay — in this case, from The Week — that runs with the following headline:

Why newspapers need to hire more Christians

For starters, it would help rebut conservative concerns about media bias

This essay by Matt K. Lewis opened with a reference to the recent death of one of the most talented Christians who has ever worked in the hallowed environment of The New York Times — the great John McCandlish Phillips (click here for my recent Scripps Howard column on this reporter-turned-preacher). Here’s the key transition material in the Lewis essay:

Conservatives have long lamented our East Coast secular media, charging that its worldview bias (even more than its overt political bias) skews America’s information supply. Too often, Christians feel like they’re cast as the type of fringe characters one might associate with the bar scene from Star Wars. …

This longstanding lack of diversity in the newsroom is confirmed by the Times’ McCandlish Phillips obituary, which noted that “there were [no other evangelical Christians working at the Times] when he joined the paper.”

That was unfortunate. Media outlets who want to understand America should at least have a few journalists hanging around who share — or at least, aren’t hostile to — the Christian faith.

Lewis later deals with the fact that many newsrooms do contain their share of believers, often professionals whose religious views are quite progressive/liberal who work on the opinion side of the newspaper business. That’s good, but it almost misses the point.

The key issue being discussed here is actually the need for intellectual and cultural diversity and, quite frankly, tolerance in many major newsrooms when it comes to traditional forms of major religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here, once again, is a key passage from the highly symbolic — especially in light of future events (hello Bill Keller) — 2005 self-study at The New York Times entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust.”

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason — to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it. The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.

We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). …

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

Now, let me stress that longtime GetReligion readers will know that I think, based on my experiences in mainstream newsrooms, that there are fine reporters doing accurate, balanced reporting on religious and cultural issues who are not believers of any kind. That’s not the point of the Times review material. The point is that culturally and intellectually diverse newsrooms do a better job covering modern America than newsrooms that are not as diverse.

At the same time, on the issue of Christians in the newsroom, my position is the same as that of Phillips. Bias issues exist, but it would also help if there were more religious believers who had the skills and the guts to work in elite newsrooms, which are not environments that embrace those with thin skins. We are dealing, as I have said many times, with a blind spot that has two sides. All too often, mainstream journalists do not respect the valid, First Amendment role that religious liberty plays in American life. At the same time, far too many religious believers do not respect the valid, First Amendment role played by the press.

Now, I said all of that to note this recent article at The Daily Beast about the potential sale of The Los Angeles Times to everybody’s favorite billionaire libertarian brothers, David and Charles Koch. I’m talking about the one that ran under the headline, “Could There Be A Conservative LA Times?

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That ghost in Dr. Ben Carson’s, well, moral theology

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The folks who edit and operate the newspaper that lands in my front yard are having a Devil of a time trying to figure out what to do with Dr. Ben Carson. Frankly, their struggles are beginning to remind me of their struggles to understand the role that the church plays in the lives of many African-Americans in the politically liberal state of Maryland.

Carson is not only one of the most famous and respected African-American leaders in Baltimore, he is one of Charm City’s most famous and respected leaders — period. In addition to being a global figure in medicine and science, the outspoken director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is also an outspoken Christian and moral conservative, which raises problems.

So what to do when he actually speaks out? Read the following material from The Baltimore Sun very carefully and look for the ghost:

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson stepped down Wednesday as commencement speaker at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after complaints from students about controversial comments concerning same-sex marriage.

The withdrawal came less than a week after medical school Dean Paul B. Rothman chastised Carson for his comments and met with graduating students concerned that the famed physician was an inappropriate commencement speaker. Carson sent Rothman a letter saying that he didn’t want to “distract from the celebratory nature of the day.”

“Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interest of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year,” he wrote in the letter to Rothman, which the dean shared with the Hopkins community. …

As Carson, 61, prepares to retire from medicine in June, he has become more outspoken about his political and social views. He criticized President Barack Obama’s health care reform law at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, which made him a darling of conservatives.

Now let me stress that my goal here is not to discuss the actual content of the public remarks that led to this embarrassing standoff between our city’s most prestigious academic and scientific institution and its most acclaimed medical superstar. Don’t click “comment” to bash or to praise Carson.

I also know — since I keep writing about this fact at this here weblog — that as a liberal private institution, Johns Hopkins has every right to limit the degree to which members of its voluntary association speak out in ways that contradict its core, defining doctrines. It appears, at this point, that the leaders of Johns Hopkins believe in cultural and intellectual diversity, so long as the members of its proudly tolerant community do not have to tolerate the views of anyone they deem to be intolerant.

What I am trying to note is how the Sun leaders have decided to frame the nature of the doctor’s comments and, thus, the current controversy.

This is the key, for me, journalistically speaking. If you read Carson’s own words on moral issues, you learn that he does not have (How does the story put it?) “political and social views” on issues linked to sex and marriage. The moral views of this political independent are pretty much defined by his Christian beliefs.

Why write about this conflict between Carson and Johns Hopkins without making a single reference to the intellectual content of his faith?

Why turn this into a story about his alleged “political” and “cultural” views on sex, marriage and family? By the way, what does “cultural” mean in this context? Is that a reference to, well, race?

So what happens when Carson is quoted in this piece?

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Washington Post tries to define ‘liberal’ in Maryland

There is much to applaud in today’s Washington Post story that ran under the headline, “Maryland’s leftward swing.”

If I could listen in on the inner thoughts of the newspaper’s editors, I would imagine that one element in this story that they considered a bit edgy, in terms of journalistic norms, as its open use of the word “liberal” to describe the victories of liberal politicians in the state of Maryland. Yes, the increasingly popular word “progressive” — the preferred label among political liberals these days — used used high up in this report. But the other “L” word is used without shame.

This is appropriate, since the Maryland left is on a roll.

Now, I live and vote in Maryland and I get that this is a pretty liberal state. Trust me on that.

The problem with this story is that the Washington Post team seems to be viewing events in Maryland through its usual lens, which is the point of view of the Washington establishment. The Post, of course, takes very seriously its role as the voice of the new and evolving normal in the nation’s capital.

The problem is that the view of the Washington establishment is not the same as that in Maryland. The essence of the Post worldview is a kind of white, professional, moral Libertarianism. I would imagine there are debates in the newsroom about, oh, how to handle Iraq and Medicare, but very few debates about issues linked to abortion and the Sexual Revolution.

So what does this have to do with Maryland?

Maryland is a liberal state, yes. But two of its most powerful forms of political liberalism are touched by streams of religious thought that appear to be hard to see through the lens of the Washington establishment. First, there is the crucial role that the African-American church plays in Baltimore and in the older suburbs, especially in Price George’s County. The second is the complex role that Catholicism plays in the state.

Let’s look at the top of the story, a story that has next to nothing to say about either race or religion:

Benefits for illegal immigrants. Same-sex marriage. Strict regulations on gun purchases.

Over the past two years, Maryland has enacted laws that represent a dramatic liberal shift, even for a state long dominated by Democrats.

Driving the progressive swing is Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the Maryland General Assembly, which now embraces legislation that it previously rejected. Emboldened by victories in statewide referendums, the governor and his allies have imposed tax increases, repealed the death penalty and approved a system to provide more than $1 billion in subsidies to a potential offshore wind farm.

Now, look at that lede. Where, for example, would establishment Catholics be on the issue of benefits for illegal immigrants? The church hierarchy would favor that. How about the African-American church? More complex, but I would predict that most lean “left” on that issue, if the word “left” applies.

Jumping to the third issue, where would the Catholic establishment be on gun control? Once again, that’s a “life” issue on which most Catholics — even the weekly and daily Mass crowd — would tend to back the “liberal” option. How about the African-American church? Once again, most would lean “left.”

How about the death penalty? Ditto.

How about tax increases, especially those intended to help programs for the poor and unemployed? Ditto.

A measure pitched as pro-environment? Ditto.

Now, what about same-sex marriage? All of a sudden, things change and grow much more complex. The same is true for issues linked to abortion and sexuality in general. There are fault lines and divisions among church-going Catholics and those active in the African-American churches, yet it is safe to say that they remain more conservative than the Maryland norm on moral and cultural issues.

What’s my point?

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