Is that chaplain a priest or not?

holy communionI meant to post an update on the ongoing story of Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, but I have been a bit under the weather. Earlier this week, both Washington newspapers covered another protest event at the White House, during which the Navy chaplain ended his 18-day fast — insisting that he had been victorious in his fight to be able to give public prayers in the name of Jesus.

Both stories noted that Klingenschmitt broke his fast by consuming a Communion host.

This was an interesting symbolic gesture, in light of the fact that reporter Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post elected to label the chaplain as:

… an aggrieved clergyman who believed his military career was about to end because of his insistence on preaching a fire-and-brimstone kind of evangelical Christianity — and who managed to enlist more than 70 members of Congress and a who’s who of conservative Christian leaders to pressure the White House on his behalf.

Over at the Washington Times, reporter Tarron Lively noted that the issue of public prayer is linked to wider tensions that have:

… become widespread among Navy chaplains since the late 1990s. Two lawsuits were filed in 1999 and 2000 against the Navy by 50 Christian chaplains, stating the Navy discriminates against evangelical and Pentecostal clerics.

“Most of those chaplains are no longer in the Navy, saying they could not get promoted and they’re out on the street now without jobs, because they prayed and preached the wrong way when the government was trying to censor their prayers and sermons,” Lt. Klingenschmitt said.

During the summer of 2004, he preached an evangelistic sermon while aboard the USS Anzio at the funeral of a Catholic sailor in a base chapel. After being censured by two senior chaplains, he was sent ashore in March to Norfolk.

This is the heart of the story. But what I found interesting is that these reporters did not give us an important piece of information about the chaplain — his church affiliation. This is crucial, since regulations state that military chaplains “may conduct public worship according to the manner and forms of the church” to which they belong. The assumption, in the Post, is that he is a “fire-and-brimstone kind of evangelical.”

Thus, I was interested to note that Jenn Rafael at the Marine Times reported that:

Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt, an evangelical Episcopal priest, began his water-only fast Dec. 20. He claimed Dec. 22 during a vigil outside the White House that his convictions were going to cost him his job. He said the Navy objects to him praying in the name of Jesus.

In other words, this chaplain is a priest. That creates a somewhat different image in your mind, doesn’t it?

However, there is a problem. It appears that Klingenschmitt is a priest in the “Evangelical Episcopal Church,” rather than being an evangelical who is a priest in the Episcopal Church. It really matters, you see, whether that “e” in “evangelical” is upper or lower case. If it is lower case, the chaplain is a conservative in a liberal church that has incredible clout in the operations that control military chaplains. If that “e” is upper case, then Klingenschmitt is a priest in a tiny, perhaps edgy, church that some would say is pretending to be mainstream when it is not.

It appears that he is part of what its critics would call a “splinter church” and its actual name is The Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (or the CEEC). This is not to be confused with the Charismatic Episcopal Church or dozens of other small flocks that claim Anglican and/or Catholic roots.

If this all sounds complicated — it is. However, words and symbols really matter on the religion beat. Is this controversial chaplain a run-of-the-mill evangelical? Or is he an evangelical Episcopal priest, with a large “E” on the word “evangelical” or a small “e”? This is not an insignificant detail, as I am sure the progressive military chaplains from the Episcopal Church would agree.

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You write the lead, again

OK, it’s time for another edition of “You Write the Lead.” So you are a reporter for a mainstream newspaper in North America and you are sent to cover this rally of Iranian pilgrims headed to Mecca. What is the lead? Click here for exerpts from the text. (Hat tip to Rod Dreher at the Dallas Morning News editorial blog.)

Is this the pull quote?

We, the pilgrims who have come to the house of God, condemn the plots and the measures taken by the international Zionism — the deceitful Satan who spreads heresy, polytheism, and idolatry, enslaving human beings with a new method. It abuses the divine religion of Moses. It takes Satanic measures, and arouses the world’s hatred towards this divine religion, and its true followers. We denounce these criminal acts. We call upon the world of Islam and the free peoples to take significant measures to thwart the Satanic policy of this camp.

Or is this the pull quote?

The American and British governments, which permit the torture of suspects, and the spilling of their blood in the streets, and the tapping of citizens’ phone calls without a court order, do not have the right to claim they are defending civil rights.

Or, perhaps, should we assume that the preacher is the Islamic version of, oh, Pat Robertson?

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Blogging the grilling

As a sidebar to the Divine Ms. M’s post on the Stephanie Simon’s abortion-coverage commentary, let me note that the Washington Post has its U.S. Supreme Court hearings blog up and running again. When I hit the blog this a.m., this excellent multi-media overview of the Samuel Alito grilling was topped by a banner ad for the dispassionate folks at NARAL Pro-Choice America. What are the other blogs that GetReligion readers are watching?

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Window into an abortion clinic

pp6Young master Pulliam previously praised the Los Angeles Times‘ Stephanie Simon for her Nov. 29 piece that profiled a number of women who had abortions at a clinic in Arkansas.

In the amazing story, each woman described the feelings surrounding her abortion in shockingly straightforward ways. If a woman had an abortion because otherwise she wouldn’t fit into her wedding dress, for instance, Simon shared her story. If a broke and single college girl didn’t relish the idea of abortion but felt she wouldn’t be able to provide for a child, that was also shared.

Anyone who has been in an abortion clinic waiting room, worried about being pregnant or been near someone worried about being pregnant can tell you that the way the mainstream media cover pregnancy is woefully inadequate. The only issue that reporters ever cover is the legality or illegality of the practice. But what about the women who end one in four pregnancies in America? In that regard, Stephanie Simon’s piece was brilliant, blunt, fair and poignant.

Luckily for us, she wrote about the process of reporting and writing it for the Casey Journalism Center. It’s a fascinating look at the evolution of a story:

I hoped to provide an honest, unblinking account of what went on in that clinic on that day — without spin from pro-choice or pro-life activists.

Of course thanks in part to that spin, few readers will ever consider a story on abortion honest, much less fair. Most readers approach the subject with intense biases, as do most writers. The only antidote I could offer was to try to absorb and record every detail of my day in that clinic. Some scenes might be offensive; some might play into stereotypes; some might seem too intimate to be exposed to a million readers. But I wanted readers to feel as though they were standing alongside me, learning what I learned.

She even witnessed the abortion of a 13-week-old fetus.

My goal was to present a day in the life of a clinic so that even readers entrenched on one side or another of the abortion debate would learn something new about the cause they defend — or detest. To that end, I chose not to censor material that seemed to favor one side or the other. I didn’t count paragraphs in an effort to be “fair”; I didn’t include a quote from an anti-abortion activist to “balance” out the quotes from the abortion doctor. I kept telling myself that this wasn’t supposed to be an exhaustive analysis of the abortion debate, it was meant to be a window into the world of a clinic on a single day. With my editor’s skilled help, I went through my first draft to minimize the use of adjectives, strong verbs, extraneous details — any devices that bumped up the story’s emotional charge.

fetusIt turns out that not all the readers were as pleased with the story as we here at GetReligion were. Pro-choice readers were upset that she described the ultrasound images or included the story of the woman who had an abortion so she could fit into her wedding dress or the one who said abortion was easier than remembering to take birth control pills. Pro-life readers were upset at the abortion doctor’s quotes saying his patients were so relieved by their abortions that they felt they’d been “born again.” Another reader felt she had promoted abortion by making it seem routine.

The criticism — as well as positive responses from both sides — made me realize I had been naive to think the story could be a window; it was actually more like a mirror: People read into it what they wanted, filtering it through their preconceptions. In that sense, the story failed. Yet it did provoke debate and prompt some reader reflection. On such a polarizing topic, that may be the best we reporters can hope for.

I don’t agree with Ms. Simon’s assessment. Certainly her story was filtered through readers’ preconceptions and biases but that’s because every story is. And yet an unobstructed window into an abortion clinic is precisely what her story provided. Simply reporting the facts in an unadorned manner, as the Times piece did, is far more illuminating than what normally passes for abortion coverage.

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God and pro football

football prayersAs I get hyped up for this weekend’s Colts vs. Steelers game, The Indianapolis Star managed to remind me that NFL players are as human as any of us. They make mistakes, they have problems and they need guidance from above.

The Colts unpaid chaplain Ken Johnson finds himself in tough situations, travels with the team and even prays for the team’s success on the field. We’ve already addressed the issue of religion in football and apparently most NFL teams have some form of religious leader:

Chaplains fulfill a basic need: They provide church services to people who work many Sundays.

But in an era when professional athletes are frequently paid like kings and worshipped like idols, and when fleeting glory falls on the young shoulders of men in their 20s and 30s, the chaplain’s job goes beyond weekly church services.

“With all the pressures of an NFL or a professional lifestyle, it helps the guys to have someone they can talk to without their business getting out in the street,” said Corwin Anthony, the director of pro sports for Athletes in Action, which provides chaplains for about half the teams in the NFL.

There was no mention of the fact that some Christians view NFL football as unholy because it violates fourth commandment by playing games on the Sabbath. Maybe this is an old issue and nobody that plays in the NFL these days thinks about, but remember the conundrum presented in Chariots of Fire? Just curious if anybody thinks this is still an issue.

Overall, the testimony that slips into the story from players is powerful, especially since the team is dealing with the recent suicide of the coach Tony Dungy’s son, who was close to the team. This all makes a story like this even more relevant a I’m sure there are many in Indianapolis who wonder how the team and the coach is cooping with the loss. I found it interesting that Dungy has asked Johnson to come by the practice facility, which speaks loudly of the importance of faith in his life:

From that pulpit, he has the chance to share his faith and what he has learned from life — although not every player is receptive. Green Bay Packers chaplain Joe Urcavich said developing trust is vital when it comes to serving pro athletes, who tend to live in a closed, protective circle. But he said gifted athletes frequently yearn to be recognized for who they are off the field.

Colts offensive lineman Tarik Glenn is among those who have developed a trusting relationship with the chaplain. Glenn asked Johnson to preside at his wedding after the two grew close through Bible studies.

“He is a big reason why my foundation in the Lord is where it is and why my maturity is where it is,” Glenn said.

I know I’m biased because I read the IndyStar on a daily basis, but they have had a prolific number of religious stories in the last week or so.

First we have the same-day recap of the “scandal of particular prayers” with lawmakers shouting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” followed by an excellent next-day story by reporters Robert King and Bill Ruthhart. The article is thorough and while it is driven by the events of the day, it reflects well on the reporters’ understanding of religion.

And finally, Ruthhart follows up with a story that is somehow related because it is a Statehouse issue and will certainly involve some of the same actors as the particular prayers story:

For the second straight year, Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, is pushing for creating an “In God We Trust” license plate. The House passed the bill in last year’s session, but it stalled in the Senate.

“What I want is exactly what it says on the dollar bill,” Burton said. “Nothing more.”

He is more optimistic this time around, mostly because Senate President Pro Tempore Robert D. Garton, R-Columbus, said the bill would reach a Senate committee this session…

That doesn’t satisfy Lindsey Mintz. As director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council, she testified against the license plate at Thursday’s committee hearing.

“There is still a line between religion and government, and it is actually being crossed,” Mintz said. “There are still tax dollars being used to create a plate that invokes a particular deity.”

So there you go, the IndyStar, while not known for its religion coverage, isn’t afraid of the occasional religious story, especially if it’s a relevant local issue. And for that they deserve credit from us here at GetReligion.

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Prepare to start your media-bias studies

1 01Please pick up your cyber-copy of the Washington Post and click here. Then click here.

One thing is clear. This should be an interesting year at the annual March for Life on Jan. 23 here in Washington, D.C.

We are currently at the stage where it is very important for people on both sides of the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. to say that there is more to this battle than abortion. But the headlines, day after day, are likely to show that, while there is more to the debate than abortion, the subject of abortion will always loom in the background.

Yes, it certainly does appear that Roe v. Wade has settled this painful issue in American life. Right, Richard Cohen? Right, Justice Clarence Thomas? (Scroll down for the comment.)

Gentle people in the media-bias study centers, prepare to start your content-analysis work. This is all a test run for the next nomination, which would almost certainly be the swing vote.

Oh, how I do wish that David Shaw could write about all of this. This is one of those stories that will be so hot, MSM editors should consider running two stories every day — with veteran, skilled reporters assigned to the religious right and to the powerful coalition on the religious and secular left.

I think this strategy could work, even thought it seems to undercut that question I have been asking here at GetReligion for a long time. If the religious left is for Roe and the religious right is opposed to Roe, what is the compromise position? What would have to happen at the U.S. Supreme Court for a compromise to take place?

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Visit with a coal-country pastor

minechurch200It’s time for a compliment. The Baltimore Sun has a very simple and very moving story today that does what I have been hoping someone would do all week — take us inside the doors of the Sago Baptist Church.

Sure enough, reporter Stephen Kiehl was able to talk to the Rev. Wease Day, a man who, sure enough, has coal country in his blood and knows something about the theology of suffering.

This isn’t rocket science. All Kiehl had to do was interview the pastor who was there and give us the details. It’s called journalism. Here is a sample:

Day, 49, would do as he had done for the past 40 years, since he was spiritually saved in the church he now heads: He would let the spirit in and trust the Lord.

“We heard about the tsunami. We heard about Katrina,” the pastor said in an interview with The Sun last week after mine officials announced the deaths. “This one was here, and we had to deal with it. It’s easy to play football from the stands. But when you get down on the field, it’s a whole different ballgame, and we were standing in the middle of the field.”

Ministering to these relatives and friends was a role Day is uniquely qualified to fill. He grew up in the hills around the mine, went to Sago Baptist Church before he was old enough to walk and returned as its pastor nine years ago. For the past 25 years, he has been a bus driver for the county school system. …

He expects the tragedy to bring the families closer to God and help them realize what they still have. The problems within families or small disagreements that kept people apart probably won’t seem so important anymore. Fences that had been built up will be torn down.

“You can’t always feel like praising the Lord,” Day said. “But in the worst of times, this is what we have: faith in God.”

Day will not stand in his pulpit today, snap his fingers, and try to preach a sermon that makes the pain go away. His church is at the door of the Sago Mine and he knows all about the people who work there and die there.

As I journalism professor, I am always telling my student that their goal — when seeking sources for information and color — is to find voices with authority. Some people have what I call the “authority of title.” They are experts and have impressive titles associated with their names, often with degrees from impressive institutions. Then there are people with “authority of experience” and, by describing their lives, a reporter can show readers why their information is crucial to the story.

In this tragic story, Pastor Day has both kinds of authority — big time. His title? Ask the miner families if the word “pastor” offers “authority of title” in this neck of the woods.

Thus, I am glad that Kiehl let us see this story through his eyes.

By the way, this story also includes that gripping cable-news quote from Anna Casto that I mentioned in my post the other day

“We have got some of us saying that we don’t even know if there is a Lord anymore,” Anna Casto, a cousin of a dead miner, told CNN. “We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us.”

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The pastorpreneur

megachurchBecause I’m a new subscriber to the London-based magazine The Economist, you’ll likely hear more from me about this excellent source of news and commentary. Appropriately for the day of the week, I sat down to read an article titled “Jesus, CEO,” and was alerted to a term that I hadn’t seen in the American press, and I believe it accurately sums up the megachurch movement: the pastorpreneur.

Apparently the man behind the website has written a book on the subject, and the unnamed author of the Economist piece (removing bylines is something American magazines should consider!) uses the term throughout to describe the growing movement of CEO-led, business strategy considering churches in America:

Yet three things can be said in the mega-churches’ defence. The first is that they are simply responding to demand. Their target audience consists of baby-boomers who left the church in adolescence, who do not feel comfortable with overt displays of religiosity, who dread turning into their parents, and who apply the same consumerist mentality to spiritual life as they do to everything else. The mega-churches are using the tools of American society to spread religion where it would not otherwise exist.

The second line of defence is that they are simply adding to a menu of choices. There is no shortage of churches that offer more traditional fare — from Greek Orthodox to conservative Catholic. The third defence is more subtle: these churches are much less Disneyfied than they appear. They may be soft on the surface, but they are hard on the inside. The people at Lakewood believe that “the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error”. Cuddly old Rick Warren believes that “heaven and hell are real places” and that “Jesus is coming again”. You may start out in the figurative hell of a Disney theme-park, but you end up with the real thing.

The other common criticisms of the mega-churches — and the marriage of religion and business that they embody — are practical. One is that the mega-churches are a passing fad, doomed to be destroyed by a combination of elephantiasis and scandal. Another is that they are an idiosyncratic product of red-state America: amusing to look at, but irrelevant to the rest of the world. Again, neither argument is entirely convincing.

The article is an excellent roundup of the mega-church movement (sorry for those who cannot link, the magazine limits a good amount of their content) uses a balanced approach and addresses the subject of personal religion — as it should be — seriously:

Another problem is subtler: how do you speak directly to individual parishioners when you have a church the size of a stadium? Some mega-churches have begun to see members drift away in search of more intimate organisations. And many mega-preachers worry that they are producing a flock who regard religion as nothing more than spectacle. So they have begun to adopt techniques that allow churches to be both big and small at once.

One ruse is to break the congregation into small groups. Most big churches ask members of their congregation to join clutches of eight-to-ten people with something in common (age or marital status, for example). A second is to segment the religious market. Willow Creek has two very different services. The Sunday one for new “seekers” is designed to exhibit the Christian faith in a “relevant and non-threatening way”. Willow Creek estimates that over half of the people who come to its Sunday services would otherwise be “unchurched”. The Wednesday service for people who are committed to Christianity is designed to deepen their faith.

As an attendee of a church that employs the small-group strategy, I can say that it’s great for getting new people involved in a larger organization. That said, my church cannot boast megachurch numbers.

From my limited readings of The Economist, I have found that it takes a fresh approach to stories on American trends, often highlighting aspects that journalists in the United States overlook or simply don’t see as significant. My favorite from this piece is the reversal trend:

Indeed, in a nice reversal businesses have also started to learn from the churches. The late Peter Drucker pointed out that these churches have several lessons to teach mainline businesses. They are excellent at motivating their employees and volunteers, and at transforming volunteers from well-meaning amateurs into disciplined professionals. The best churches (like some of the most notorious cults) have discovered the secret of low-cost and self-sustaining growth: transforming seekers into evangelicals who will then go out and recruit more seekers.

The author of this piece clearly gets religion. I wonder if he/she gets it more than some of these people pushing the pastorpreneur/CEO church trend.

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