Affirm homosexuality now … or else

Washington Post Book World fiction editor Ron Charles tweeted out this morning:

Changing times: Gay inaugural poet hailed; anti-gay inaugural preacher dismissed: ow.ly/gJopc, ow.ly/gJotK

And the links go to just that — stories about the hailing of a gay poet and about a Christian pastor who taught traditional Christian doctrine on homosexuality twenty years ago being disinvited from the inauguration.

Yes, changing times.

These are times that have been advocated strenuously for by the mainstream media. Many journalists don’t try to hide that fact and have been candid about this advocacy. We have covered their admissions here before. (See here, here, here, here)

And much of the current situation — where teaching what Christians outside of the Episcopal Church (and other churches that have recently changed their doctrines) teach about human sexuality makes you a pariah to be shunned — could have easily been predicted.

It was predicted, by many cultural observers (albeit the kind who don’t get glowing profiles in the same mainstream media).

As I prepare to look through the various stories (and of those that I’ve read, many are just fine explanations of the situation while some are more like Orwellian defenses of the inaugural committee’s understanding of tolerance), I have a simple question.

How well do you think the mainstream media explained the ramifications of their advocacy on this topic (and the advocacy of other elites on same) on Christians in the public square?

Medieval warrior, staring at you via Shutterstock.

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Is a blasphemous drag show really ‘anti-Catholic’?

Just yesterday Bobby pointed out a practice of double attribution, asking whether it goes beyond attribution into the dreaded scare quote territory. I wonder the same thing in a few stories I’m reading about the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.

I started looking around when Michael Brendan Dougherty asked, on Twitter:

Curious why reporters put “anti-Catholic” in scare quotes in their stories.

Jonah Goldberg responded, “because they think the anti-Catholics are right.”

What are they talking about? Well, when Hagel was nominated, some groups mentioned that he’d opposed Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel to be an ambassador because he was “aggressively gay.” Those words might not have been as controversial during the Clinton administration as they are now, but people were upset.

I was surprised to learn the rest of the story today:

Hagel also told the World-Herald he has seen tape of Hormell (sic) at an event by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a San Francisco-based performance and activist group comprised of gay men in drag as nuns.

“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Catholic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel told the paper in the 1998 interview. “I think it’s wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination.”

It is always good to consider the context of any remark. Hagel has apologized for his remarks either way, but knowing that Hagel was upset by Hormel laughing it up at a blasphemous drag show is an important detail. But is the group really blasphemous or anti-Catholic?

Wikipedia explains the group’s activities:

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Who’s this guy giving Obama’s benediction?

Two days ago, I wrote a post in which I suggested that the ginormous Passion 2013 conference down in Atlanta might have received even a tad more coverage. There were, reportedly 60,000 people there and yet there was almost no coverage. I thought it maybe a bit too much in the lack-of-coverage direction.

Reader responses varied. For instance, here’s Hemant Mehta:

But what would the story here be? That young Christians exist? That they gather at conferences? That’s hardly newsworthy. Did they do anything at the event that was different from what Christians typically do? (I’m asking that seriously.)

I argued that in this year, with the media focus on “the nones,” the existence of these young, motivated Christians actually would be sufficient for a story. But, further, I said it’s hard to know what was newsworthy because no one was there to cover it. Various readers agreed with Mehta.

Then reader Daniel said:

Being new on the political scene doesn’t seem to really be a standard used by journalists. If something has been going on for more than twenty years it still gets covered. What gets covered is what reporters advocate, and that’s about as far as we can get from fairminded. Lets use words like cool, trendy, unique! They sell.

The Old Bill had an idea for how to get media coverage:

Maybe if the Nuns On a Bus had been the opening act …

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Can forgiveness play a role in criminal justice?

That’s the provocative headline that accompanies a story I’ve been pondering ever since Amy Welborn brought it to our attention. The New York Times Sunday magazine piece runs about 7,000 words and it’s completely riveting. You can — and should — read it here.

It begins with 19-year-old Conor McBride turning himself into police for shooting Ann Margaret Grosmaire, his girlfriend of three years, in the head. He shot her after 38 hours of fighting. Then:

That night, Andy Grosmaire, Ann’s father, stood beside his daughter’s bed in the intensive-care unit of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The room was silent except for the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator keeping her alive. Ann had some brainstem function, the doctors said, and although her parents, who are practicing Catholics, held out hope, it was clear to Andy that unless God did “wondrous things,” Ann would not survive her injuries. Ann’s mother, Kate, had gone home to try to get some sleep, so Andy was alone in the room, praying fervently over his daughter, “just listening,” he says, “for that first word that may come out.”

Ann’s face was covered in bandages, and she was intubated and unconscious, but Andy felt her say, “Forgive him.” His response was immediate. “No,” he said out loud. “No way. It’s impossible.” But Andy kept hearing his daughter’s voice: “Forgive him. Forgive him.”

At first he told his daughter she was asking too much. Then we hear about Conor’s parents Michael and Julie McBride. They were on vacation at the time of the shooting and the father rushed home — to the hospital, before the jail.

During the drive, he hadn’t thought about what he would actually do when he got to the hospital, and he had to take deep breaths to stave off nausea and lean against the wall for support. Andy approached Michael and, to the surprise of both men, hugged him. “I can’t tell you what I was thinking,” Andy says. “But what I told him was how I felt at that moment.”

“Thank you for being here,” Andy told Michael, “but I might hate you by the end of the week.”

“I knew that we were somehow together on this journey,” Andy says now. “Something had happened to our families, and I knew being together rather than being apart was going to be more of what I needed.”

And that’s how this amazing story begins — with two families benefiting from forgiveness in the face of a horrific murder.

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Got news? The hidden mystery of 60K Christians

Of all the interesting things to consider as a media critic, the most important is probably story choice. We frequently look at individual stories and praise them or criticize them or point out interesting errors or omissions. But such an approach misses that big initial question of how story selection colors our understanding of the world more than anything else.

I’m reminded of the G.K. Chesterton quote about the matter:

It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

And this is, typically, how it should be — for the obvious reasons stated above. I might say to myself every time I take a flight, “I’m hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour in a steel tube with wings!” — but I prefer my newspapers to report on crashes as opposed to safe landings. Journalism doesn’t paint anything close to an accurate picture of our modern existence but much obligation is with the reader/viewer to understand why that is.

And yet sometimes this minority view is taken to an extreme. We see failures (of imagination or otherwise) when it comes to covering the holidays religious adherents celebrate. We see that conservative and traditional people are ignored even more than they’re dismissed. Every trend, no matter how weakly substantiated, is feted — for a few months at least — while the consistent practices are hidden.

I think that is part of the explanation for why most mainstream media failed to even notice that some 60,000 young Christians were gathered in Atlanta in recent days for a large evangelical conference called Passion 2013.

It was trending on Twitter every time I checked (also, Carrie Underwood and other celebrities were tweeting about it) and we had more than a few readers ask us to critique the coverage of the event. For instance, here’s reader Joshua Little calling us out on Twitter:

It would be awesome to see a GR piece about the nonexistent coverage of #passion2013 in Atl. Just sayin’

Quite a few evangelical people noticed the absence of any coverage — including prominent folks who emailed us to note it. We discussed this weekend Dan Gilgoff’s view that conservatives are wrong to say that there is an anti-religion bias in the media. I encouraged journalists to think about why people might sense a hostility or ambivalence toward religious adherents. This might be a good example.

OK, with the caveat that it wasn’t entirely nonexistent — WSB Radio, WXIA-TV, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and CNN (blog) joined Christianity Today, Christian Post and Christian Broadcasting Network in noticing the conference — it was remarkably undercovered. You can see the whole gamut of coverage here was limited to Christian and local press.

Surely we can find stories in a crowd of 60,000 college students and young adults. Surely there’s something interesting about what they heard or saw, what they discussed. Surely it would be interesting to look at who critiqued the conference. Surely there’s something worth just noticing about evangelical young adults gathered at this moment.

If this had been 60,000 people gathered under a different banner, we would have coverage, right? Heck, if this had been even close to 60 emergent Christians, or feminist Mormons or LGBQT Methodist clergy we would have seen quite a bit of coverage — if the past is any indication. Now, obviously this all relates back to the Chesterton quote — some things are more newsworthy than others. But just how many evangelicals do you have to get together for it to be worth covering?

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Excellent video journalism, or, seeing crucifixes on walls

YouTube Preview Image

A journalist I greatly admire shared this video, mentioning it was from the New York Times. It immediately struck me as a riveting piece of journalism with a not-too-small religion angle.

I have no doubt that readers of this blog will find this piece remarkable. What I’d like to discuss is why this works so well.

I wondered if a written story could even begin to convey what this video journalism does. As I was thinking on that, I found the original New York Times piece that highlighted the video. It’s from The Well Blog. The piece is headlined “Laws of Physics Can’t Trump the Bonds of Love” and it basically just introduces the video. We’re told that Jeffrey Wright, the subject of the journalism, is a well-known Physics teacher in Louisville who has become known also for a lecture he gives on love:

It has become an annual event at Louisville Male Traditional High School (now coed, despite its name), and it has been captured in a short documentary, “Wright’s Law,” which recently won a gold medal in multimedia in the national College Photographer of the Year competition, run by the University of Missouri.

The filmmaker, Zack Conkle, 22, a photojournalism graduate of Western Kentucky University and a former student of Mr. Wright’s, said he made the film because he would get frustrated trying to describe Mr. Wright’s teaching style. “I wanted to show people this guy is crazy and really amazing,” Mr. Conkle said in an interview.

Zack has a future, friends. He tells a great story (and yes, finding the right subject is a big part of that, but still). Do you think it’s the case that this story lends itself to video over print, too? Are many more stories that way than I realize? Probably, and I probably miss that because of my love of print.

We’re also told that Wright decided to give this lecture when students began asking him “the big questions”:

“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

As he tells the story of his love for his son and of his son’s love for him, he tells them that there’s something greater than energy, something greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?

“Love,” his students whisper.

But all of this is so deftly yet powerfully presented in the video journalism.

I’m just very curious what you think of it and what it teaches us about the Godbeat in general. There’s this scene in the video where the father is taking care of his son and there’s this giant crucifix — but a crucifix in the background, on the wall of a bedroom. When I think of my favorite journalists, some of whom have spent time on the religion beat, some of whom have never officially been there, they’re folks who included the crucifix in the shot, so to speak. It doesn’t mean just focusing on the crucifix, obviously, but it doesn’t mean ignoring it or, worse, never seeing it to begin with.

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Washington Post finds ghost in Russian adoption ban

Now that my husband and I hope to bring more children into our family through adoption, we’ve entered into a complex and incredibly bureaucratic and confusing world. We’ve made new friends, too, who have helped us through the process. Some of them have adopted internationally. In fact, most of the other adoptive families we’ve met have adopted internationally.

Some of our friends were in the middle of difficult Russian adoptions when the Russian government shut down adoptions from Americans. I can’t possibly convey how difficult and heartbreaking this has been for some folks who have spent a great deal of time and money pursuing the growth of their families through Russian adoption.

The story received a bit of coverage, but is there a religion angle? The Washington Post thought so, as you can read in this terribly interesting piece headlined “Russian adoption ban will hit disabled children, evangelical Christian families.” Here’s the lede:

In the “before” photos a pro-adoption protester carried outside the Russian Parliament last week, little Anton Delgado looks bloody, bruised and listless — baby steps away from death.

In the photos from after his adoption, his face fills out, his bandages off. Twenty-three-month-old Anton sits propped up on a couch with his adopted parents and siblings in Texas, thanks — his adoptive mother, Vanessa, says — to the grace of God.

“I prayed for God to tell me the right time to adopt,” said Vanessa Delgado, who met her husband, Jason, at church and regularly quotes Scriptures in her blog posts. “Then I saw a picture of Anton on Facebook, and I knew, ‘That’s my son.’”

Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions brokered heartbreak for many would-be parents and their adoptive children last week. But the law may hit one community especially hard: evangelical Christians, who in the past five years have begun adopting in droves.

The article goes on to state in the next line that “Adoption statistics are not broken down by faith, but agencies have seen a strong uptick in adoptions from impoverished countries since mega-preachers such as Rick Warren took up adoption as a religious issue five years ago, said Susan Cox, vice president of public policy for Holt International, one of the world’s largest international adoption agencies.”

I have definitely heard the same thing — but I’m wishing we had any hard data to support the idea that “evangelical Christians … “have begun adopting in droves.” Are we sure that this is a recent phenomenon? What do studies tell us precisely, if anything?

We learn that “a number” of adoption ministries have emerged in recent years, including some focused on children with special needs. We’re told that “the movement” reached a head in 2010 and that it’s driven, in part, by Rick Warren’s push to focus on adoption. Christianity Today (to which many of us here GetReligion contribute) has highlighted the issue on its cover.

Given the lack of hard data on adoption breakdowns by religious affiliation, I like the effort to substantiate. I just still wonder what the numbers are.

The story gets back to the Delgados. We learn about Anton’s rare skin condition, his abandonment by his biological parents, and how the Delgados came to adopt him. Apparently the Delgados loss of their special needs twins in 2008 motivated them to adopt. One thing I liked about the story was the inclusion of this quote, which accurately represents the general Christian approach to adoption — something that is not universally shared by other adoptive parents:

“Adoption is a beautiful gift,” she said by phone from Fort Worth, where her kids yelled and played in the background. “God adopted us through Jesus when we did nothing to deserve it. It’s a beautiful picture of the Gospel.”

There are many other stories — really terribly interesting — that are shared in this piece.

The story keeps a fairly narrow angle — on how this Russian ban affects evangelical Christian adoptive parents in America. So it doesn’t include background information on what precipitated the ban. Part of that issue relates to concerns over how some Americans have treated the children they adopted from Russia. That might be worth including. There have also been criticisms of some of the agencies mentioned in the article, also worth mentioning.

And along with the problem with the general lack of data, it may have helped to know how many children with special needs have been adopted out of Russia in recent years and what percentage of total adoptions that represents.

Still, kudos for finding a very real and undercovered (in the mainstream press) angle to this huge story.

Adoption image via Shutterstock.

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Do Nativity scenes owe more to artists than historians?

I am blessed to be a member of an absolutely wonderful congregation. It’s a healthy mix of people who work together to keep the mission of our congregation going and thriving. Our regular focus on the Divine Service inspires all of our mission work, including a parish school and community programs.

I had to say that before pointing out this one tiny … issue. See, we have this 100-year-old Nativity scene we set up each year. The older folks in the congregation have let us know that this must always happen. Somehow over the years it got mixed with both another Nativity scene and with a Noah’s Ark scene. It’s ridiculous. In with the oxen and cattle and camels are pairs of zebras and rhinos and elephants. There is some theological beauty in combining these two scenes, but it’s kind of a train wreck.

I thought of that when I read this great story by Tim Townsend in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For all the importance that Nativity scenes have in the lives of Christians in America and throughout the world, it’s interesting how little coverage we get of them in news stories. For many, it might be difficult to write an interesting or newsy story about them.

When the duke of Urbino in Italy needed a gift for the queen of Spain, he turned to his friend, the painter Federico Barocci.

Barocci, a devout Catholic, worked during the Counter-Reformation, and in 1597 he had painted his version of one of the most recognizable images in all Christendom.

And as Christians mark Jesus’ birth today, they will do so with imagery that owes less, perhaps, to historical accuracy than to artists such as Barocci and thousands of others who preceded him for 1,000 years.

The hook is that Barocci’s Nativity is on display at the St. Louis Art Museum. But Townsend uses this as item to write an interesting story exploring the theology and artistry of the scene:

Historians and theologians say it is that sense of family intimacy, coupled with the humbling circumstances of Christ’s birth as told in the Gospel of Luke, that has resonated with Christians for centuries.

Many Christians hang a crucifix or cross — a symbol of the resurrection — in their homes, “but the other pillar of Christianity is the incarnation,” said St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. “When the savior of the world was born, he wasn’t born in a palace, he was not born as a king. He came as a defenseless child.”

And, of course, Luke made Christ’s vulnerability even more stark by placing Mary and Joseph in a stable. When the time came for Mary to deliver the child, she “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn,” wrote the author of Luke’s Gospel.

There is a ton of history packed into the story as well as interpretations of same, making it a rare, meaty story in the midst of a lot of fluffy stories. You should read the whole thing.

The whole thing reminded me of the stir over Pope Benedict’s writing that the Gospels don’t mention any animals at the manger. Townsend mentions it toward the end of the piece, which concludes:

Eventually manger scenes became a feature in many Christian homes throughout the world. Carlson said that when he was growing up, he loved to play with the creche figures in his parents’ house.

“What got me into trouble was that I also had these little toy soldiers,” he said. Did he ever mingle the two? “Never,” he said, smiling.

Carlson has 14 creches decorating the archbishop’s residence on Lindell Boulevard at this time of year. He keeps two of them up year-round. One, a gift from a family in South Dakota made of wood and dating to the 19th century, sits on a mantle directly across from the desk in his home office. He looks at it every day.

“To me,” he said, “it’s just a simple reminder that God loved us so much that he sent his son to be with us.”

Our house currently has three manger scenes: a toy one for the children, a nice ceramic one my mother sent me this year and the one my Dad picked up when he was studying in Israel. It’s such an obvious point but it’s nice to see something so important to me and my family in the news. What’s more, it’s nice to learn more about the history of their development and their significance throughout the ages.

Nativity image via Shutterstock.

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