Flash! Cardinal says all people created in God’s image

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In a way, the existence of the short New York Times story that ran with this headline, “Dolan Says the Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People,” is simply a matter of journalistic math.

Fact 1: Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the Catholic shepherd of New York and the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Fact 2: Dolan is articulate and, at times, even witty. He keeps showing up on television and in highly public places. He is hard to ignore.

Fact 3: In this case, he directly addressed the single most important subject on Planet Earth, from the perspective of the doctrines and worldview of this newspaper’s own college of editorial cardinals.

Add these factors together and, one way or another, you are going to get a news story — for better or for worse.

Now, from the point of view of the Times (classic Bill Keller faith statement here, in essay called “Is the Pope Catholic?“), Catholicism is in a state of crisis caused by its irrational commitment to ancient doctrines carved into dogma in the ages before Woodstock. Thus, the lede:

On Easter Sunday, weeks after he helped elect a new pope for a church struggling with declining numbers and controversy over social issues, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said that the Roman Catholic Church could be more welcoming of gay men and lesbians despite opposing same-sex marriage.

In recorded interviews with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week” and Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” on CBS, Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York and one of the leading voices of the Catholic Church in the United States, did not suggest any changes in church teaching. He defined marriage as “one man, one woman, forever, to bring about new life,” but, he told Mr. Stephanopoulos, “we’ve got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”

Actually, that second paragraph is pretty good and stresses the main point that needed to be made: Dolan said absolutely nothing new. The heart of what he said is found here:

Speaking just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Cardinal Dolan what he could say to gay men and lesbians who felt excluded from the church.

“Well, the first thing I’d say to them is: ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And — and we — we want your happiness. But — and you’re entitled to friendship,’ ” Cardinal Dolan said. “But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”

So, try to find the glaring news hook in that.

Actually, if the Times wanted to chase an interesting story, there is one linked to that. It could explore the writings and work of gay and lesbian Catholics who actually support the teachings of their church (sample here). That would be a new point of view for the world’s most powerful newspaper and, trust me, many of the points made in such a story would make the Catholic cultural right as uncomfortable as the usual suspects on the Catholic left.

However, the biggest stretch in this short story came near the end.

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Another hack piece by CNN … maybe (Updated)

Screenshot from CNN.com home page

What’s good for the goose is good for, um, Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Right?

Sarah, former online editor for Christianity Today and now managing editor for Odyssey Networks, spent three years as a GetReligion contributor before leaving us this past October.

To be honest, I still haven’t forgiven Sarah for giving up her high-paying gig as a GetReligionista. How dare she abandon our close-knit team of blogging professionals?

But anyway, this tweet by Sarah caught my attention today:

I tweeted back:

So here we are, with me about to treat Sarah to a big ole helping of the no-holds-barred media criticism that she doled out so often herself. (After typing that, why do I feel a sudden urge to take a break and watch some professional wrestling?)

Actually, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m delaying the inevitable part of the post where I have to say what a great journalist Sarah is and how much I enjoyed her 2,800-word story because, well, you know how much GetReligion readers hate posts that actually praise mainstream media coverage of religion.

Right?

Here’s the top of Sarah’s story:

Wheaton, Illinois (CNN)– Combing through prayer requests in a Wheaton College chapel in 2010, then-junior Benjamin Matthews decided to do something “absurdly unsafe.”

He posted a letter on a public forum bulletin board near students’ post office boxes. In the letter, he came out as gay and encouraged fellow gay Christian students — some of whom had anonymously expressed suicidal plans in a pile of the prayer requests — to contact him if they needed help.

In a student body of 2,400 undergraduates in the suburbs of Chicago, at what is sometimes called the Harvard of evangelical schools, Matthews said that 15 male students came out to him. Other students seemed somewhat ambivalent about his coming out, he said.

No one told him he was wrong or needed to change, Matthews said some students were obviously uncomfortable with someone who would come out as gay and remain a Christian.

“I don’t think most Wheaton students knew what to do because they’ve been given ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ rhetoric, but they don’t know how that plays out in real life,” said Matthews, who graduated in 2011. “They would mostly just listen, nod and say, ‘Yeah man, that’s hard.’”

Sarah packs the report with diverse voices, relevant context and history, strong survey data and important nuance that recognizes the complex nature of the issues at play. All in all, it’s an extraordinary story, worthy of the lead spot that it occupies on CNN’s home page at the moment I type this.

If I have any criticism, it’s that the story takes too long — in my humble opinion — to quote any Wheaton officials. We’re nearly 900 words into the piece before we get to this:

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Whoa! Questions about marriage and religious liberty!

YouTube Preview ImageYesterday some of us got a bit academic (and some of us practiced calling people bigots) as we discussed media coverage of the efforts to change marriage from an institution built on sexual complementarity to an institution built on sexual orientation.

Believing — by science, religion or otherwise — that all humans are made male and female and that the regeneration of humans requires the joining together of male and female is — as we all know — grounds for being openly derided, called names and generally marginalized. If you think the foundational unit of society is defined in terms of this reality, you’re basically the Ku Klux Klan. You might protest that you have reason, logic, science, tradition, or any number of things to appeal to. But we all know you’re really a bigot.

Mostly the media and other cultural elites know this. And they’re not afraid to point out that believing marriage is an institution based on sexual orientation like they do — as opposed to sexual complementarity — makes you a good person who believes in civil rights and other things on the side of angels. Not like those bad folks whose arguments can be dismissed without even so much as looking them over (do you give bigots the time of day? No you do not! Ignore them already!). Journalists at CNN and the Washington Post and the New York Times and NPR have all agreed — or at least pondered the approach as legitimate — these monsters don’t deserve fair treatment, inclusion in stories, or airing for their warnings.

Error has no rights, you know.

The genders are 100 percent interchangeable and we will make sure you agree! Are we getting tired of this media treatment yet?

Anyway, bucking the groupthink is a real, live journalist who should probably be sent to reeducation camp over the weekend. I don’t know where he got off thinking he could do this, but he got all skeptical about the value of this approach. In a newsroom! The gall!

John Kass is a traditional Christian at the Chicago Tribune and he has some questions regarding this debate:

Is it possible to be a traditional Christian or Muslim or Orthodox Jew — and hold to one’s faith on what constitutes marriage — and not be considered a bigot?

And is faith now a problem to be overcome, first marginalized by the state and then contained, so as not to get in the way of great changes to come?

No and yes. Can we go home now?

Oh wait, he has more. You should probably read the whole thing but it’s a little reflection on liberty and freedom … for all.

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Who knew Piers Morgan could be thought-provoking?

The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward is a thoughtful reporter and one who uncovers ghosts on his political beat with regularity. Earlier this week he wrote about the tension between evangelical morality and politics as it relates to changing marriage law to include same-sex couples.

Yesterday he wrote about something particularly fascinating. In the video above we see Piers Morgan and Suze Orman and Ryan Anderson. They’re debating the topic of marriage with Ryan T. Anderson. Their behavior is somewhat appalling but typical and represents a tension for those who do seek to define marriage in such a way as to include same-sex couples:

Piers Morgan’s CNN segment on Tuesday night was a vivid illustration of this tension. Morgan invited Ryan T. Anderson, a 31-year-old fellow from The Heritage Foundation, on his program to debate the issue. But Morgan did not have Anderson to sit at a table with him and Suze Orman, the 61-year-old financial guru, who is gay. Instead, Anderson was placed about 15 feet away from Morgan and Orman, among the audience, and had to debate from a distance.

The message, in both the language used by Morgan and Orman, and the physical placement of Anderson on the set, was clear: they thought him morally inferior. Evangelical leader Tim Keller talks about this dynamic — opponents of gay marriage being treated akin to bigoted groups such as white supremacists — in yesterday’s piece.

What I liked about Piers Morgan’s approach here is that it was just a very transparent and honest approach to that taken by many media figures. As the Washington Post scandal showed, through ignorance or inability to understand the arguments made by marriage traditionalists or some other problem, many in the media are convinced that they’re fighting the equivalent of racists and that, as such, horrific treatment of the people and their arguments is justified.

Here’s another example of that. Poynter discusses how some media figures took part in that most brave and meaningful public sacrament: changing one’s Facebook avatar to support changing marriage laws to include same-sex couples. You can read about it at “Journalists share arguments for, against using same-sex marriage symbols on social media profiles.”

My favorite part:

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Marriage vs. marriage (or, What is marriage?)

Yesterday morning there was quite a bit of activity in and near the Supreme Court of the United States. You may have heard about that.

Citizens who wish to uphold the traditional understanding of marriage as an institution built around sexual complementarity marched to the Supreme Court where they encountered people who wish to reform that understanding to include same-sex couples.

It was an opportunity for reporters to let their snark fly on Twitter, as Will Saletan of Slate did when he wrote derisively of marriage traditionalists:

Let me get this straight: The guys marching across from the Supreme Court in plaid skirts and puffy hats are AGAINST gay marriage?

A comment like that speaks volumes about the state and quality of media discourse on the topic. But another tweet really got me thinking. It comes from New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein. She writes:

Supreme Court surrounded today by marchers for marriage and their opponents, marchers for marriage.

I love it. Funny but also incisive. That both sides argue they are advocating “marriage” when they are directly opposed to each other reveals a truth that has been obscured through ignorance and/or activism in media coverage. What’s being fought about is what marriage is.

This is not to say that the media should pick sides about which definition is right (although they clearly have) but, rather, that the media should explain the different understandings of marriage and explore the societal ramifications of adopting differing views. We know that an understanding of marriage as an institution built around sexual complementarity has, for instance, the ramification of excluding same-sex couples. That’s been highly explored by the media.

But what about all the ramifications of changing that understanding? What will happen to our understanding of marital norms, if anything, and why? What will happen to our understanding of gender?

There are smart takes on this from both sides of the marriage debate (and, to blow your mind here, there are actually more than two sides to this debate) but in case I’m not being clear, here’s how some traditionalists arguing from natural law explain the two approaches to marriage:

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Polyamory, pessimism and other same-sex marriage ink

After years of pointing out how unbelievably unprofessional the journalism of same-sex marriage coverage was, something weird happened last week. Instead of the typical media suppression and derision, we started seeing stories about the people and arguments in favor of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution.

Now, they weren’t particularly good stories and they weren’t particularly long. They were still outnumbered by the stories cheerleading in favor of changing marriage law to include same-sex marriage. But the difference was notable (see: “At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat).

Many of us wondered what was going on. Reader Jeremiah Oehlerich wrote:

The rash of articles for and against gay marriage are all a part of the sides preparing for the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA next week. Each party is trying to get their message out in every way possible to help shape and influence the debate in the courtroom and beyond next week. That, in part is what is what has made so much of the one sided reporting leading up to these hearing so frustrating. It’s made the cases feel pre-decided by those who shape and drive the media narrative in the build up to their hearing.

Reader MJBubba gave props to GetReligion:

I think what we are seeing is a major victory attributable to GetReligion.

These journalists and their editors really do think of themselves as noble professionals. It has to have stung to see themselves portrayed as cheerleaders, called out with non-emotional appeals to the basic tenets and ethics of their profession. Consistently, for years, they have promoted one side of an important cultural issue. So, there has been a pent-up interest built by GetReligion in some, you know, balance.

Also, it is finally dawning on these bone-heads that they will be trying to explain the Supreme Court arguments next week to a readership/viewership that have never seen or heard any presentation of one side of these important cases. These are necessary catch-up articles.

Thanks! But I’m suspicious. Reader Kate noted:

I agree with MJBubba that this is the result of journalists doing prep work for the court case coverage, and realizing they have a lot of catch up to do. I have this mental image of a reporter cynically clicking links and reading pro-marriage arguments, and calling around to find out what kind of arguments opponents will use against marriage redefinition, and winding up completely shocked to find out that reasonable sounding people have reasonable sounding reasons to want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage. Now they’ve got to cover it so that it isn’t so obvious next week that they’ve been falling down on the job for years.

Maybe it’s a combination of a variety of things. But a few days of mentioning the people and arguments in favor of marriage built around sexual complementarity is not really significant in any case. And the entire game is rigged. Here’s one media outlet’s tweet:

Opponents of gay marriage say they’re no bigots

So they say. But I want to know when they stopped beating their children.

And so many of the interesting angles that should be covered in news sections are being covered in opinion sections. Religion opinion writer Lisa Miller had a fascinating “Got news?” item in the Washington Post a few days ago headlined “Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet.”

Now, this is not a news story, but it is about a newsworthy trend. It’s about how the presence and activism of polyamorous families — a not insignificant part of the UU community — helps those mean bad “conservatives” with their arguments that changing marriage law to include same sex couples would lead to recognition of polyamorous marriages since if gender is an unimportant component of marriage, number of involved is, too.

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One-sided look at controversial Baptist flock in Charlotte

It has been quite some time since I have used an old GetReligion term (Cheers!), so I think it might help for me to pause and explain the “tmatt trio” to new readers.

Back when I was on the religion beat full-time, I developed a series of three doctrinal questions that helped me scope out the dividing lines inside the battles that were shaking so many Christian denominations and ministries. You see, they all seemed to be arguing about the same issues over and over (James Davison Hunter, your ears should be burning), no matter what doctrinal heritage they were claiming to honor.

Yes, there are small-o orthodox and progressive answers to these questions, but that is beside the point. The goal of the questions, for me as a journalist, was to listen carefully to how people answered, or attempted not to answer, these basic doctrinal questions. The trio never failed to yield interesting answers and evasions that helped me, as a reporter, learn more about where people were actually coming, in terms of ancient doctrines (as opposed to mere contemporary politics).

So, here are the three questions:

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

Of course, there are churches that would not use the term “sacrament” in connection with marriage. Thus, I would tweak the wording on that question from time to time. Obviously, you need totally different questions when dealing with other faiths. The key is that you ask doctrinal, not political, questions.

Now, I have a personal confession to make. I first formulated these questions in the early 1980s, while working at The Charlotte News and then The Charlotte Observer. They grew out of my experiences as a member of the final Baptist congregation that I ever called home.

To be specific, if was the congregation discussed in this recent (alas, it has been in the tmatt guilt file for some time now) story in the Observer. Every reporter knows that clergy come and go all the time. In this case, the editors decided that a ministerial exit was news.

With tears and applause, hugs and handshakes, Myers Park Baptist Church said goodbye Sunday to a longtime senior minister who announced last week that he needed to walk away from the stresses of pastoring a 2,200-member congregation.

The Rev. Steve Shoemaker, who recently sought treatment at a Maryland facility for anxiety and depression, also bid his “beloved community” farewell with a final sermon that cast his resignation and the 70-year-old church’s upcoming search for a new leader as opportunities for each to start a new day.

“God is giving to me a new dawn, and God is giving to you, the congregation, a new dawn,” the black-robed Shoemaker said after climbing the stairs to the church’s pulpit one last time. “God is a God of new beginnings.”

Shoemaker, who also had admitted “self-medicating with alcohol,” wants to devote his attention to an intensive 90-day, out-patient recovery program and then pursue a career of teaching and writing.

Now, it helps to understand that Myers Park Baptist is a very controversial church and that has been the case for decades. On one level, this rather high-church, liturgical congregation is known for taking, as the story notes, “liberal stands” on the usual social and cultural issues. The congregation took early public stands in favor of gay rights, for example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In the story, the content of these “liberal stands” is hinted at in this paragraph:

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At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. I was an early skeptic of the war, back when that was a somewhat lonely place to be. Journalists who engaged in more cheerleading than skepticism toward that war have been spending the week issuing mea culpas for their failure to consider unintended consequences. In fact, so many people have been writing their “I was wrong” pieces that the contrarian in me wonders whether I should change my mind and now support the war.

Anyway, some of their regrets overstate how bad their coverage was — many media outlets provided at least some balance and gave skeptics a chance to say their piece.

But if we’re going to talk about journalistic failures, the pre-Iraq War coverage was Woodward and Bernstein compared to how journalists have handled the debates about whether to change marriage law to include same-sex couples.

There has been extremely little coverage of opponents and no skepticism present in the coverage. There has been very little that amounts to meaningful coverage beyond cheerleading. There has been no exploration of short- or long-term consequences — particularly those that might be unintended — to changing marriage law. And opponents have been derided with utter contempt on the very pages and programs that claim they’re devoted to news and not opinion.

Perhaps in 10 years we’ll see some mea culpas.

But here are two stories (admittedly, yes, out of the eleventy billion that have been published on this matter) that cover skeptics and their arguments. Who knew such a thing was even possible?

The first comes from the New York Times and it does what should have been done years ago and repeatedly since then — mentions the people and arguments in support of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution. Yes, there are lots of qualifiers in the piece but it manages to mention some of the actual arguments — imagine that! — of traditional marriage supporters by looking at a group of young scholars working on the topic. For example:

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