Readers want the full text

stack of newspapersThe Los Angeles Times did us all a favor earlier this week by posting the text of a sermon given in 2004 that has All Saints Episcopal Church under an Internal Revenue Service investigation. In the age of the Internet, all reporters need to follow this practice because there is really no reason not to.

Even if a few days have gone by, or even weeks, posting the text gives a reporter a chance to revisit an issue. It will also keep reporters honest. When reporters know that the speech they are reporting on will be made available to all, they are going to be darn sure to quote the text accurately and in proper context.

The Times not only posted the entire text of the sermon on its website, but also printed about a third of the sermon in the dead-pulp version.Hhere is the newspaper’s summary, and an update that is sure to thrill any government investigator:

The sermon, delivered Oct. 31, 2004, by the Rev. George F. Regas, was framed as a debate involving Jesus, President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

In September, the church announced that it would not comply with an IRS summons demanding that All Saints turn over materials with political references, such as sermons and newsletters, produced during the 2004 election year. The current rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, did not obey a summons that ordered him to testify before IRS investigators.

The church continues to set a defiant tone. On Sunday, All Saints will sponsor a conference called “The War, the Pulpit and the Right to Preach.” It will include workshops on conflict resolution, tax law and “Prophetic Traditions and Free Speech.” Regas and Bacon are scheduled to speak.

But did Regas’ speech violate federal laws? The answer, [most] likely to come from the courts, hinges on how one defines campaigning and interprets his remarks.

newspaper readersThis is not the first time we have praised the LAT for its coverage of the church-state battles. The LAT seems to get it when it comes to the law, religion and the history of how they relate.

Earlier this month, The Washington Times nailed an excellent story in the church-state separation battle that found a minister saying that voting for one candidate would be like voting to free Barabbas instead of Jesus.

I’m hoping that when the Times decides to follow up on this potentially explosive story, it will include the full text (or even the audio) to give the readers the knowledge that they have the full story before them.

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Many truths, many paths, many gods?

rainbow vestmentsFor years now, I have been saying that the two most controversial subjects in American religion are sex and salvation.

Obviously this shows up (GetReligion drinking game alert!) in the questions that make up the tmatt trio. Let’s review those questions again, for reasons that will be obvious very shortly. All together now:

(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?

And, you may recall, when trying to define doctrinal boundaries in Anglican disputes I add a special bonus question that is, in a way, linked to question No. 2. That question is: Should churches in the Anglican Communion ban the worship, by name, of other gods at their altars?

This is a rather basic question, but one that is directly linked to any discussion of salvation. As the question is often stated, do all religious paths lead to the top of the same mountain? Are there beliefs that are eternally right and others that are eternally wrong? Are all religions true, even when they teach that others are false? Is everyone going to heaven — if there is such a place — no matter what they believe or do? As sociologist James Davison Hunter (his name should be in the GetReligion Dr Pepper drinking game, too) has stated, is the primary divide in contemporary life between those who believe that absolute, eternal truths exist and those who do not and, thus, put their faith in evolving, experiential concepts of truth?

You can see this issue rumbling around in the very first question posted at the massive new On Faith site operated by the Rt. Rev. Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, on behalf of the Washington Post/Newsweek empire.

If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?

It’s all in the word “monopoly.” Of course, it could be that Meacham and Quinn have a monopoly on truth when they imply that millions of believers are wrong when they believe that their faith contains some absolute truths. You have to watch out for those mature freethinkers who are absolutely sure that there are no absolute truths, other than their own absolute truth that there are no absolute truths. It’s kind of a Zen thing.

You can also see this basic question looming over that Jeffrey Weiss news feature last weekend in The Dallas Morning News, the one with the kicky headline “Whose soul is saved, and who gets roasted?” Here’s the heart of the story:

Who does go to hell?

Many people don’t believe in hell at all. Non-Christian faiths have their own take, of course. Judaism, the religion that birthed Christianity, teaches of the eternal nature of the soul, a divine judgment and a mostly undefined “World to Come.” But specifics are left up to God.

Islam is more like Christianity, with concrete traditions of paradise and hell. Who ends up where is a matter of how well the person submitted to God’s will while alive. Hindus and Buddhists believe in karma and reincarnation, so the evil done in one life is atoned for down the road — a road on earth.

Modern Christianity has many answers to who goes to hell. On the one extreme are universalists who say that a loving God could leave nobody in eternal torment. On the other are strict Calvinists who say that God picked a small elect for paradise before the world was created, and everyone else is simply stuck in the Handbasket to Hard Times.

The Christian discussion generally starts with this passage from the Gospel of John: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

stolesWeiss has collected a dizzying amount of detail about what different religions teach on the heaven and hell issue, including the doctrines of groups whose teachings have evolved and softened through the centuries. But you end up with the same logical problem: How can all of these world religions be right when some of them clearly teach truths that clash? This is especially true when dealing with missionary faiths such as Islam and traditional Christianity.

And what if you had a church or a global communion in which clergy — bishops and archbishops — had clashing views on this crucial doctrine? What if they could not agree on whether their faith was based on eternal truths? What if they could not agree on whether key events, take the resurrection for example, actually happened? What if they clashed over how to define certain doctrines or even sacraments, such as those linked to marriage and family? What if they disagreed over the path to salvation?

Then you’d probably have a giant conflict that would create lots of headlines and stories that would really test the skills of the journalists who had to cover leaders on both sides of this conflict in a fair and accurate manner. Yes, that would be quite a test.

So the salvation issue is out there and, in my opinion, is much more important than the debates over marriage and sexuality. For example, pay close attention to this exchange in a Here & Now radio interview between Robin Young and the new leader of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

RY: Time asked you an interesting question, we thought, “Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?” And your answer, equally interesting, you said, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.” And I read that and I said, “What are you: a Unitarian?!?” [laughs]

What are you — that is another concern for people, because, they say Scripture says that Jesus says he was The Light and The Way and the only way to God the Father.

KJS: Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. Umm — that is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through … human experience … through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus.

RY: So you’re saying there are other ways to God.

KJS: Uhh … human communities have always searched for relationship that which is beyond them … with the ultimate … with the divine. For Christians, we say that our route to God is through Jesus. Uhh … uh … that doesn’t mean that a Hindu … uh … doesn’t experience God except through Jesus. It says that Hindus and people of other faith traditions approach God through their … own cultural contexts; they relate to God, they experience God in human relationships, as well as ones that transcend human relationships; and Christians would say those are our experiences of Jesus; of God through the experience of Jesus.

I think that means “Yes.” And I think there are millions of Anglicans who disagree. And there is no way to cover the heaven-and-hell story without talking to people on both sides and wrestling with the fine details of their beliefs. Congrats to Weiss at The Dallas Morning News for taking a shot at that. Ditto for the producers at Here & Now. This is an issue that is hidden between the lines of many other news stories on the religion beat.

Photos from The Dancing Silk Company.

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Discuss: Are discussions like ours possible?

godbless shirtThe editors of GetReligion have commented frequently on Jon Meacham’s work, in part because he has shown such a frequent and keen interest in religion coverage. To his credit, Meacham has kept that interest keen since becoming the editor of Newsweek. Indeed, last week offered a fine competition between Newsweek and Time for best religion-based cover story (about which more in a subsequent post).

On a more timely note, however, Meacham has joined forces with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post to create a new religion blog called On Faith. Today’s Post featured a full-page ad for On Faith that played on the classic joke of “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar,” and Post reporter Caryle Murphy, who frequently covers religion news, is On Faith’s producer.

Quinn’s presence makes On Faith especially interesting. Quinn informs readers that she declared herself an atheist at 13:

And I was a committed atheist all of my life. My view was that more evil had been done in the name of religion than anything else in the world.I saw no redeeming value in it at all. Then I met Jon Meacham and we began talking.

Now Quinn approaches religion with the enthusiasm of a reporter on an exciting and challenging new beat, though this closing paragraph in her biography is too precious by half:

I still don’t know what to call myself. Years ago I went to the opening of “How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying” on Broadway. There was a moment when the star, Robert Morse, sang to himself in the mirror, “You have the cool clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth.” That sounds good to me.

As a joint effort of Newsweek and The Washington Post, On Faith should soon leave our humble little blog far behind in Web readership ratings. On Faith already is riding one of Meacham’s favorite hobby horses: “If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible?”

To answer such questions, On Faith has gathered a group of On Faith Panelists that should be the envy of any interfaith panel discussion. The full list does not stray far from the favored pundits of mainline and liberal faith, including Karen Armstrong, Lauren Artress, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and everybody’s favorite celebrity Wiccan, Starhawk. By my count, On Faith welcomes eight panelists who are on the right edge of the political or theological spectrum: Lyle Dukes, Richard Land, Al Mohler, Richard Mouw, Michael Otterson, Cal Thomas, Rick Warren and George Weigel. OK, I’ll add Mohammad Khatami, in the interfaith goodwill of On Faith. That’s 9 out of 62, a ratio that should make media-savvy conservatives feel right at home.

Image credit and Web commerce where it is due: Kinky Friedman.

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So you want to be a “Catholic” priest?

mitreOur own M.Z. Hemingway has had a lot of fun lately writing about the issue of who is and who is not a Roman Catholic priest. It’s pretty easy to become a “priest” if you really want to be one and you can write checks that do not bounce.

Click here to take a look — care of Catholic World News — inside the maze of the world of Old Catholic bishops and ordination operations. Once upon a time, I tried to write a feature story on this subject for the Rocky Mountain News — linked to a controversy at a local hospice — and finally just threw up my hands in frustration. It seemed like there were bishops all over the place and, one way or another, the road always seemed to lead back to Utrecht.

Anyway, here are some do-it-almost-yourself priest links via the Off the Record blog:

AMERICAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. Valid orders and apostolic succession; no need to relocate. (707) 554-2803. Web site: www.Americancatholicchurch.org

NATIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH OF AMERICA — inclusive, affirming, valid orders. Distance learning seminary. Holy Orders without regard to gender, sexual orientation, marital status. Varied ministries. Phone: (518) 434-8861. Web: members.aol.com/NatCathCh

CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH in North America — Inclusive, progressive, marital status and gender no impediment to holy orders. Phone: (845) 586-2201. Web site: www.cacina.org

Just do it. But good luck, journalists, if you try to cover this story.

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Cheers! Left hits GetReligion tipping point

slambangoI don’t know about you, but after carrying a very heavy cyberload all weekend, I could use a bit of lightening up.

Thus, in that spirit, let me to take you over to the Religious Left Online blog, where the anonymous congregation recently had a bit of fun at our expense.

As a great entertainer liked to say, “And awaaaaaay we go“!

The GetReligion Drinking Game

I was cyberchatting with a friend and joking about starting a drinking game (sacremental wine, of course) one could play while reading GetReligion, the well-respected conservative website on religion and the media. The goal of a drinking game — as perfected by college students but now a pop culture metaphor — is taking a shot everytime something is mentioned that occurs so consistently and repetitively that it is guaranteed to get you drunk.

Despite the many strengths, there is a certain repetitiveness and predictability to the posts and conversation at GetReligion — just as there is on many websites. I laughed this morning when I saw a post that mentions both Katie Couric and Oprah since I would have been able to take two shots of sacremental wine when those perennial names surfaced. Other topics that win you a shot:

• Daniel Pulliam posting a topic on Mitt Romney

• Terry Mattingly mentioning his TMatt trio

• Someone taking a shot at contemporary Christian music, while also trying to defend it.

• Criticizing the evil, liberal agenda of the NYT and WP, while promoting the LAT.

• Criticizing Jon Meacham while taking a shot at Episcopalians.

And that was just this week. There’s also

• suggest that the Mainstream church is dying because they are too liberal

• a link to Terry’s column

• a mention of Rod — friend of the Blog — Dreher

• and a suggestion to a commenter that they need to read more since they haven’t arrived at the same perspective as the blogger.

Happy Drinking.

Well now. I tried to find a link for the Katie meets Oprah post, but could not find it in recent weeks. But I have no doubt at all that such a post exists. (Wait! He/she/it had the link on Religious Left Online.)

I could do an annoted version of the game and respond to these wonderful, witty observations on our blog and the blogosphere in general. It would be a blast to see the anonymous drinker and his crew do the same thing for, let’s say, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. In other words, take a shot every time Sullivan uses the term “Christianist.”

00000118But, as the Religious Leftinistas note, this is something that can be said of any blog that features the beliefs and interests of a specific writer or a small group of writers. Also, the GetReligion gang does not hide that we are both mainstream journalists and members of traditional Christian flocks.

Still, I will make a few comments.

Take a drink — this ex-Baptist says make it Dr Pepper, the Mogen David of Texas Baptist life — every time I defend The New York Times, praise its correction system or note the brave candor of its editor.

Take a drink whenever we praise individual writers within the very newspapers that we often criticize. The fabulous Laurie Goodstein leaps to mind.

Take a drink whenever we stress that doctrine matters more than political labels, something that many leaders on the right forget as often as people on the left. This is what that whole tmatt trio thing is about.

Take a drink whenever we plug Poynter.org, the Pew Forum and others who note that we need more diversity in American newsrooms, diversity in terms of life experiences and educational backgrounds included.

Anyone else want to nominate some, uh, tipping points in the GetReligion cyberpages? Does anyone dare head over to Religious Left Online and do a game for that blog? No, not me. And one of my co-workers has a great idea. He says that the Religious left folks — they could use special make up to remain anonymous — need to actually stage the drinking game and record it as a YouTube video. Just do it.

Still, thanks to the anonymous Religious Leftistas for their careful and faithful reading. I wish that more conservatives spent more time doing similar reading on the left side of the cyberchurch aisle.

P.S. What’s with the thing about me shooting at Contemporary Christian Music while also defending it? That did puzzle me. I mean, there are artists out there trapped in CCM who I think are quite good, and I hope they escape into the mainstream, unless their calling really is to sing to the church and the converted. That’s the one drinking-game item that puzzled me the most.

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A note to religion reporters

a stack of booksCan anyone guess what the top two books at Amazon were Tuesday afternoon? If you guessed that the books had anything to do with religion, you would be correct.

Currently the number one book is The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. While it has since slipped to number five, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was in second place on Tuesday.

Go figure.

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We’re back (cross your fingers)

brokencomputers2Computers.

Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

Yes, GetReligion went offline yesterday afternoon for reasons that are still mysterious.

I thought it was my fault, seeing as how the disconnect took place an hour or so after I went to the Network Solutions homepage to pay another three years of fees to retain the rights to GetReligion.org and GetReligion.net. Then we vanished and it seemed that our URL was pointing back to TypePad, our home long ago in the early days of the blog.

Well, the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc was on the West Coast and away from his laptop. So I — Captain Useless — was stranded after hours. And on a writing night for the Scripps Howard News Service column, too. Ugh.

Needless to say, the folks at Network Solutions — the ones in answering-service hell, for starters — are gifted with the ability to speak in an unknown tongue and I have not been given the gift of translation. Finally, a dear computer-professional friend from West Palm Beach days who now works here in D.C. (I could tell you where, but I’d have to kill you) helped out and, with the right server info from On High this a.m., dug in and Reformed our settings. Yes, there is a reason that R is uppercase.

Or maybe Doug lept in from some zip code out West and healed things. It also appears that Network Solutions was having some problems of their own. Obviously, I am still confused.

Anyway, we are back in business. So, for starters, I would like to call the attention of longtime readers to the post in which I asked your advice on some tweaks to the site. In particular, I would like suggestions about which categories to add and which to remove. World Religions? New Age? New Old Age? Is it time for Mormonism to get its own folder? I always wonder where to put posts about church life and/or worship.

Other suggestions out there? No, we are not ready yet for separate storage areas for Episcopalians and Anglicans. That’s coming soon enough, only I would vote to move the Episcopalians back into the Seven Sisters.

Anyway, thanks for the emails of concern. We’ll have some fresh posts up soon.

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To boldly go, where GetReligion has not gone …

big2 01I had a minor epiphany the other day when I realized that we are a few months away from the third birthday of this weblog.

To make a long story short, the foundational “What we do, why we do it” post went online on Feb. 1, 2004, after the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc and I sent a month trying to get our act together. Well, that’s not exactly true. Doug had his act together, it took me a month to learn how (OK, to try to learn how) to use the software.

Here’s why I bring this up.

A kind former student of mine sent me a note alerting me to the fact that Frank “Bible Belt Blogger” Lockwood of the Lexington Herald-Leader recently shared the following observation with his readers:

My favorite blog on media and religion is getreligion.org. Day in and day out, it’s an absolutely outstanding site.

Obviously, we like it when Harvard-guy professionals on the beat say nice things like that.

But it also got me to thinking. There is so much that the busy people who do this blog wish we had the time to do. We need to update the left sidebar. We need to tweak the looks a bit in terms of graphics. Should we retire the colors and go to a DC-ish Navy and Khaki look?

Clearly, we need some new categories and a few old ones can go away. At the very least we need a “marriage and sex” category. How about one called “Seven Sisters” for the mainline Prots who aren’t under Anglicanism? I always wonder where to put posts linked to worship and trends in church life. We could use a “religious left” slot, but is that actually — the Pew Forum has great info on this — actually the same thing as the Seven Sisters? Or are the Seven Sisters all splitting up (the answer is “yes”) and the left side of that is half of the religious left, waltzing with the new secularists and the anti-Fundamentalist voters?

Anyway, Lockwood’s plug made met think about the future. Everyone agrees, in the Google-search age, that the way to grow a blog’s readership is through links to other sites of kindred interests. But that raises interesting issues for us. Our primary goal is to help mainstream journalists think about how to improve coverage of religion news. We are big on the whole diversity thing in newsrooms and we still believe in things like balance and accuracy.

We are glad to have readers who are simply interested in religion news and trends. Stay with us! Keep us in your Holy Blogs of Obligation. Please!

But we also need to keep reaching out core audience of news professionals.

So, other than the obvious — Beliefnet.com, Poynter.org, etc., can you name some other blogs and sites that you think should include GetReligion? Can you help us get more links out there in the mainstream? Want to help?

I also wonder: Anyone out there interested in GetReligion t-shirts, water bottles and coffee mugs? What would be the easiest way to pull that sort of project off? Just asking. Maybe we are a kind of blue-denim-button-down-shirt kind of site for causal Fridays?

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