Media circus, maybe

poster b1While papal coverage dominated religion news last week, the saga involving the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints continued. I’m still digging through all the recent updates and analyses, but I wonder what readers think of this headline:

Polygamist sect hearing in Texas descends into farce

Here’s how the story, by the Associated Press‘ Michelle Roberts began:

A court hearing to decide the fate of the 416 children swept up in a raid on a West Texas polygamist sect descended into farce Thursday, with hundreds of lawyers in two packed buildings shouting objections and the judge struggling to maintain order.

The case – clearly one of the biggest, most convoluted child-custody hearings in U.S. history – presented an extraordinary spectacle: big-city lawyers in suits and mothers in 19th-century, pioneer-style dresses, all packed into a courtroom and a nearby auditorium connected by video.

She goes on to describe the hearing as a circus. The article is packed with tons of information even if it’s a bit heavy on the adjectives. Still, I wonder if “farce” and “circus” are the best words to use. Assuming we still have some presumption of innocence for the accused, they might describe what they’re going through as a tragedy.

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B16: Doing the Latino math

st thomas guadalupe processionSo Pope Benedict XVI moved on up the coast to New York and, as you would imagine, the newspaper of record in those parts is packed with coverage today. We could do an entire day or two on this here blog simply trying to scan all of that. But did I miss any editorials or op-eds today?

Anyway, I thought that the most interesting story of the lot was a backgrounder on the role of Hispanics in the modern American Catholic Church, only turning the telescope around to look at this issue from the perspective of the many Hispanics that have exited into Pentecostal churches. Like many of the other stories being done these days, you can sense the presence of data DNA from the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life, even in places where it is not directly quoted.

For example, read this story. Then click here and dig around a bit. See any ties?

Here is the section of the story that interested me the most.

… (If) Latinos are feeding the population of the church, many have also turned to Pentecostalism, a form of evangelical Christianity that stresses a personal, even visceral, connection with God. Today, it has more Latino followers in the United States than any other denomination except Catholicism; they are drawn, they say, by the faith’s joyous worship, its use of Latino culture and the enveloping sense of community it offers to newcomers. As the Pew survey revealed, half of all Latinos who have joined Pentecostal denominations were raised as Catholics.

They are part of a global shift. Pentecostalism, the world’s fastest-growing branch of Christianity, has made such sharp inroads in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, that in an address to bishops there last year, Pope Benedict listed its ardent proselytizing as one of the
major forces the Catholic Church must contend with in the region.

Catholic leaders and experts on the church in the United States say that the impact of Pentecostalism has been less dramatic here. Still, the pope has urged the nation’s bishops to make every effort to welcome immigrants — “to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home.”

You will notice some confusion about the very nature of Pentecostalism itself (perhaps the editors needed to cruise through another Pew study), with it being a single denomination in one reference (wrong), to a movement containing many denominations (right). Of course, many of the most vital Pentecostal churches are devoid of any denominational ties and others are still part of mainline bodies or, of course, the Roman Catholic Church.

Clearly, the reader needed more clarity there. However, I would be the first to admit that the post-denominational age is hard to get a handle on — period.

The story also fails to nail down another reality. Roman Catholicism used to be a church that offered a profound sense of mystery and made urgent claims about a supernatural faith. Has that remained the case in Western expressions, in the post-Vatican II world? Meanwhile, Pentecostal Christians are touching working-class Hispanics at a basic, supernatural, communal level.

The story does a great job on the communal side, but not the spiritual. There is more to this story than some Latino praise music and a few people playing guitars, percussion and trumpets. There are doctrinal and moral issues here, too.

It is crucial that the Times story addresses another key question — how many of the new Latino Catholics in North America are interested in the priesthood, religious orders and the permanent diaconate?

Father Deck, of the Office for Cultural Diversity, said the Catholic Church was making progress. Latinos now make up about 15 percent of all seminarians. “And we’ve had an explosion in what we call lay ministry,” he added. “There are thousands of Latinos who are lectors during Mass, do outreach work, are catechism teachers, and we have some who are administering parishes.”

That’s where the next story can be found and, of course, in the second-generation church statistics about faith and practice among children and grandchildren.

Many of these issues are, of course, linked to political debates about legal and illegal immigration, a hot story that the pope could not ignore. He didn’t ignore it, during the New York visit.

But there is only so much that the Catholic establishment can do, in its tense talks with politicians about tough issues along the border and in the new multicultural heartland. The questions that matter the most are the ones that Catholic leaders face right now — at their own altars and in their own pews.

Decades ago, when I was covering Hispanic churches in Denver, I heard ex-Catholics say two things over and over. They wanted pastors who spoke Spanish and who were Latinos. They really didn’t care if they were married or single. They wanted real Hispanic parishes and they wanted clergy that they could trust. That’s the next layer of this story.

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B16: Is this pope a Universalist?

Benedict English ColorHistorian Martin Marty once told me that many people have a definition of “ecumenism” that goes something like this: “I don’t believe very much and you don’t believe very much, so we must have a lot in common.”

The same thing, of course, goes for interfaith dialogues as well. There are people involved in these kinds of talks whose point of view, as an Episcopal lawyer who researches religious liberties issues once told me, could be summed up with another old saying: “You know, there are people out there who just don’t love everyone the way that they should, and I hate people like that.”

Needless to say, Pope Benedict XVI has a reputation for not fitting into either of those camps. And the Baltimore Sun does not seem to be very happy about that. However, hang on, because we need to look at a Sun story that includes a very fitting twist that offers a glimpse of actual religious tolerance. So keep reading.

Here is the top of the daily story in the Sun by Matthew Hay Brown, which very much blazes its own trail from the rest of the daily coverage:

With his visits to a synagogue and a mosque, his acknowledgment of the sins of Christians against Muslims and Jews, and his decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, Pope John Paul II won the appreciation and trust of believers of other faiths the world over.

His successor, meeting today with leaders of other faiths during his first American visit, is developing a very different kind of reputation. In his three years as spiritual leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI has alienated other Christians with his repeated assertion that his is the one true church. A 2006 address in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who linked Islam and violence set off riots in Muslim countries. And Jews continue to protest his endorsement of a prayer for their conversion.

To some Catholics, those are the forthright moves of a stalwart defender of the faith. But critics, inside the church and out, say his words and actions may be complicating already delicate relations with other religions.

“He has a very, very high Christology, which is to say there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ. And the only path to Jesus Christ is the Roman Catholic Church, ” said Catholic scholar Rosann Catalano, associate director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore. “If that’s your starting point, it seems to me, there is not an openness to the possibility that the other — the one who is not you — can be a blessing.”

There are all kinds of nuances missing in that, especially the fact that the lede focuses on issues that are not directly linked to either Christology or salvation. It’s the same old framework that pits Pope John Paul II against his close associate, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. For a really good look at the complexities of that issue, see the Atlantic Monthly cover story entitled “The Year of Two Popes.”

The Sun has, however, raised the right issue — which moves us right into the heart of the dreaded “tmatt trio.” (Cheers!) For the pope, the first two questions would be relevant:

(1) Are 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)?

Do NOT reach for the mouse yet, to click “comment.”

Trust me, I am well aware that the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on other world religions have evolved a bit in the past generation or two. This issue has come up before here at GetReligion. I know who Karl Rahner is, thank you, and the meaning of the term “anonymous Christian.”

The folks at the Sun can rest assured that Benedict XVI knows who Rahner is, too.

rainbow vestments 03The question, for the pope, is how he can reconcile ancient Christian teachings with a strong commitment to religious liberty and tolerance. I predict we will hear more about that at the United Nations this week.

It’s amazing, to me, that there are journalists and other public critics who are convinced that Benedict needs to slash away at the doctrines of his faith, yet they would freak out if he made the same demands of the leaders of other world religions.

There are, of course, other religious leaders who have spotted this paradox. To the credit of the Sun team, one of them shows up in this analysis piece — let’s call it what it is — about the pope’s visit. Here is a crucial passage. See if you can spot the dynamic that is at work here, a dynamic I am not sure if the reporter realized was there.

Jewish and Muslim participants in today’s meeting say their conversations with the church remain productive.

“We’ve seen an utter transformation in this critical relationship in just four decades without parallel in the 2,000 years prior,” said David Michaels, director of intercommunal affairs for B’nai B’rith International. “We’ve seen so much progress in such a relatively short period of time that I think the Catholic-Jewish relationship can and should serve as a model.”

Still, he called Pope Benedict’s approval of the prayer for the conversion of the Jews for the Latin Mass on Good Friday “a cause for real hurt and concern. … We will be raising it, moving forward, with our Catholic partners at various levels.”

Not all Jews are as concerned. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, who will be representing the Orthodox Union at the meeting, sees the prayer as an internal matter.

“We would not be so brazen as to tamper with another religion’s liturgy, and we would expect that other religions would not tamper with our liturgy,” the former leader of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore said.

What is the subtle point? Note that Weinreb is from the Orthodox Union, which means that he is used to having believers on the left — Jewish and otherwise — tell him that his fellow Orthodox believers need to edit their rites and practices in order to fit into modern life.

Does Weinreb agree with Benedict on these theological issues? Of course not. But, clearly, the rabbi is committed to religious tolerance. His voice was an essential part of this story.

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What’s in a name?

T Shirt Hello My Name is TROUBLE 766236Religion reporters have had some time to reflect on the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Texas.

A few stories look at how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responded to the news about the FLDS. Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune had a typically thoughtful piece about the matter. She spoke with LDS members, especially those with polygamist ancestors, about how it feels to see a group on the wrong side of popular opinion and the law:

They hear echoes of 19th-century salacious – and false – rumors about their Mormon forefathers seducing women and having sex on temple altars. And they worry about government officials having power to decide what’s best for children.

“As the FLDS are, we once were,” says Guy Murray, a lawyer in Southern California who has been blogging daily in defense of the FLDS community’s civil rights. “Back then, we were the ones in the compound. We’ve all seen the photos of our brethren who went to prison rather than give up their wives.”

The story also made sure to point out that a poll of a small group of Latter-day Saints found that over three-fifths felt the raid was justified.

Nancy Perkins and Amy Joi O’Donoghue of the Deseret News, which is owned by the Latter-day Saints, provided a detailed look at the raid from the perspective of those inside the YFZ ranch. I’ll note that they make sure not to use the word compound:

Texas authorities entered the YFZ ranch last week armed with a search warrant, automatic weapons, SWAT teams, helicopters, dozens of law enforcement vehicles — including an armored personnel carrier — and were met with no resistance from the more than 600 residents of the polygamous community.

“They first got under the gate under false pretenses,” said Isaac, a 33-year-old FLDS man who did not want to be identified because he has several children who are now under state custody. “They had police cars box in the whole property.”

One of the more interesting things I’ve been looking at is how the media describe members of the FLDS. Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch included in his Saturday column an interesting tidbit about who gets to be called Mormon:

“It is frustrating at times,” said David Sylvester, a 46-year-old from Herculaneum who serves as the president of one of four Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints territories (called stakes) in the St. Louis area. “The nickname given the church — Mormon — seems to be tagged to every one of the splinter groups that’s left the church, so people believe we’re one religion, and such is not the case. I don’t know how many times I’ve addressed this question. It’s an interesting challenge every time it happens.”

Polygamy is another reason non-Mormons sometimes confuse the mainstream church with breakaway groups. The church was founded by 1830 and by 1890 it had officially discontinued polygamy. But more than a century later, members still have trouble shaking that part of their church’s history.

“This is 100 years ago and kids go to school and they get asked, ‘How many moms do you have,’” said Jim Hendricks, a 48-year-old from St. Charles who works for the church’s religious education program. “There’s a little bit of ignorance out there about our doctrine and belief, but then again, I’m not an expert on other people’s religion.”

Terry Slezak, a 44-year-old O’Fallon software consultant and president of the church’s north St. Louis County and St. Charles stake, said the media are partly to blame for the confusion for applying the term Mormon — which only applies to the 13 million members of the mainstream church — to the fundamentalist sect.

I was very surprised to see that last bit. Should the word “Mormon” only be used to describe members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Here’s what the LDS says on its Web site:

In the public mind, the word Mormon has come to mean something very specific. It conjures up images of Mormon missionaries on bikes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon temples. It has become a synonym for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Consequently, when Mormon is used to describe polygamist groups, it causes great confusion about our beliefs among the general public and frustration to our members, which number over 12 million worldwide.

The Associated Press Stylebook has recognized this difficulty and specified that the term Mormon is a nickname that should be applied exclusively to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that it is not accurately applied to any other person or organization (see entries on “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The” and “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”).

book of mormon 01
The AP Stylebook — or the 2003 Stylebook I have handy, at least — says that the term Mormon should not be applied to those Latter Day Saints churches that “resulted from the split after Smith’s death.” I think this could be worded much better. “The” split after Smith’s death was the one that separated the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as Community of Christ) from the LDS. Their division was mainly over authority and, specifically, over who should become president. But the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints emerged in the 1930s over the issue of polygamy. Officially the LDS had abandoned polygamy in 1890, but the fundamentalists left when the LDS hierarchy really began cracking down on polygamists, rooting them out and excommunicating them. That didn’t happen until the early 20th century. So that’s also a split, but it’s not “the” split after Smith’s death.

I think that reporters should go to great pains to make sure that the LDS church and any other Latter Day Saints groups are carefully delineated, but it is interesting that the AP Stylebook recommends against the use of the word Mormon to describe people who believe the Book of Mormon is sacred scripture. It is particularly interesting in light of LDS efforts to be described as Christian. I think it is incumbent on reporters not to use the phrase “Mormon church” to describe these offshoots, since that could cause confusion, but I think the way reporters have used “offshoot” or “fundamentalist” as modifiers is helpful. It is so tricky to respect the beliefs of both groups and not game stories by using flash words.

The Dallas Morning News‘ Jeffrey Weiss ran a helpful, brief Q&A that deftly handled these issues:

Is the FLDS Mormon?

Members say they represent the only true Mormon church — a claim otherwise rejected by people who consider themselves Mormon. As Mormon historian Martha Sontag Bradley of the University of Utah puts it: “The FLDS is as foreign to contemporary Mormons as they are to outsiders.”

It takes more words to put the various “Mormon” claims in context, but Weiss was still quite efficient about it. He also answers what the shared history and major differences between the FLDS and the mainstream Mormon church are.

It’s important for reporters to explain how the LDS church and various Latter Day Saints offshoots are different. Just saying that they are separate isn’t enough and can give the impression that there are more similarities than there are. Those reporters that have engaged the issue, seem to have done a good job with it.

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Honest to blog

Uses of BlogsSo last week I was reading the Washington Post‘s coverage of its impressive win of a whopping six Pulitzers and came across Joel Achenbach’s analysis of the wins:

Original reporting still matters. It’s probably our best gimmick. It’s what we do (imperfectly to be sure) better than anyone else in the news business. It also can’t be easily replaced on the cheap by some other information-delivery system.

And then I was reading David Crumm’s site Read the Spirit, a multi-media publishing company and site focusing on religion and spirituality. He had a substantive critique of mediocre coverage of the upcoming papal visit that included these words:

The dramatic downsizing of newsroom staffs and the slashing of reporting budgets has never been more painfully obvious than in the current preparation for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit.

There should be an enormous story somewhere in this complicated cultural collision, shouldn’t there? The Catholic Church, after all, claims to have a global population of more than 1 billion — close to the size of the entire Islamic world.

The top guy in the church — in fact, the world’s single most powerful religious figure — is paying a historic visit to the world’s two greatest secular centers of power. Somewhere in this global pageant there’s news, isn’t there?

Unfortunately, many of the religion-writing experts who once covered these issues for newspapers and news magazines are long gone in the many waves of journalistic downsizing. The slimmer staffs of journalists left standing inside these historic offices often are struggling simply to meet deadlines. For the most part, these professionals are smart, talented people desperately trying to fill the dwindling news space — without the time or the resources to do their jobs properly.

It is amazing how few religion reporters are at local papers relative to, say, sports reporters or business reporters. Year after year we see that the top stories are infused with religion and yet the funds and resources devoted to religion reporting don’t increase.

One way to bridge the gap is through blogs and some papers and media outlets have attempted them. I’m really not sure how I feel about them. There are some blogs that I do check out regularly — and link to from here.

I am completely confused by the Washington Post religion blog. I don’t get it at all. Every few weeks I remember it exists and it befuddles me. Please explain it to me. How do you use it? What do you like about it? What knowledge does it imparts? Or conversely, why don’t you like it?

The thing is that my favorite blogs about religion are either very newsy or very theological. I think that’s why I find the Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith section so maddening — I never seem to find any substantive news or theology there.

Now go look at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s new religion blog. Called Civil Religion, it has an eye toward just that — Rousseau’s concept of Civil Religion.

Right now there are 12 bloggers from various religions. The idea is that they write posts representing their own religious beliefs and in so doing, interact with each other. The posts I like the most are those that bring in a little bit of reporting. The Mormon blogger, for instance, explained what the previous Sunday’s General Conference was and added her perspective that the twice-annual meeting is a little bit like Easter and Christmas. All of the bloggers are able to raise issues that are newsy, and add context to the discussion.

What do you think about these religion blogs at mainstream newspapers? Do you read them? Do you like them? What would you like to find there? And do they make up for the gaps we see in religion reporting?

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Let Texas be Texas?

FLDSoverviewRegular GetReligion readers may recall that I am a native Texan, though I must confess of the “prodigal” variety. Still, I speak fluent Texan and my instincts about my native land are pretty good.

So that Los Angeles Times update about the unfolding events in Eldorado caught my attention, the one with the headline that said, “Texas has its own view of polygamists — Unlike Arizona and Utah, it closed a compound forcibly.”

So Texas “has its own view” of polygamy and allegations of statutory rape and/or forced marriages of very young girls? And what might that unique point of view be, precisely? Read the whole story, please, and tell me what you think the X-factor is.

Here’s the top of the story, which I will unpack a bit.

After a polygamist sect took up residence outside this tiny ranch town a few years ago, the library stocked paperback, cassette and hardcover copies of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” an unsparing look at such groups that was suddenly in hot demand.

OK, so the town is full of liberals who loved that book’s fiery view of Mormonism and other forms of violent religious fundamentalism in America? It was the kind of book that makes religious liberals happy. Correct?

The local weekly newspaper devoted stories in nearly every edition to the outsiders. And it posted online audio clips of the sect’s self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, ranting in a creepy monotone about the Beatles being covert agents of a “Negro race.”

Ah, more evidence that this town was worried that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was a bit on the far-out, right-wing side of things. They didn’t even like the Beatles! And there were all of those old-fashioned dresses and hair styles.

The people of Eldorado (pronounced el-doh-RAY-do) took in the sect’s arrival with nervous anticipation — because they understood that, unlike in Utah and Arizona, this would not last long in Texas.

There is the question again. What is the mysterious agent at work here in West Texas, something that is not found in places like Utah and Arizona.

The article continues to tip-toe around this question, all the way through. We do not even get a discussion of the possible answers.

Is this a town full of anti-fundamentalist liberals? Is it a town full of Southern Baptists who read Jon Krakauer books and strive to defend rock ‘n’ roll? Is it a town full of Christian fundamentalists who are hung up about older men having lots of sex with teen-aged girls? You know, the omnipresent moralizers who want to throw water on other people’s fun? Are the streets packed with cowboys who want to enforce their own view of anti-religious justice?

The most likely answer is this is a town full of anti-fundamentalist fundamentalists. Texas is that kind of place, you know.

This story contains all the usual details from the past few days of coverage. The new element is this “it could only happen in Texas” theme.

Texas’ raid contrasts sharply with the approaches of Arizona and Utah, which have looked the other way for decades while the FLDS put underage girls into “spiritual marriages.” The 10,000-member sect was founded in the 1930s by religious leaders who continued practicing polygamy after it was banned by the Mormon Church in 1890.

“God bless Texas,” said Flora Jessop, an activist who escaped the FLDS at age 16. “The state has done in days what Arizona and Utah failed to do in more than a century — protect children.”

I am genuinely confused. So you tell me. What’s the X-factor? Are the states of Utah and Arizona actually pro-polygamy, at the level of police and civic leaders? Sure the Times is not saying that. Surely.

Now, before you click “comment,” let’s be clear about the question I am asking. I want to know what you think the journalists at the Los Angeles Times were trying to say. Stick to the journalism question and don’t go raging off into a discussion of what you think about the FLDS and/or its critics.

Focus: What was the Times trying to say?

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B16: “Give eternal light and peace to all who died”

231006spet11We are beginning to see some interesting advance stories based on the texts that Pope Benedict XVI will use during his upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City.

This is very tricky territory, as any reporter will tell you who has covered one of these trips — the Olympics of Godbeat writing. Here is an example of why.

While in New York, Benedict will visit Ground Zero. Rest assured that one of the tmatt trio questions will come into play, as journalists cover this event. Which one? In this case, watch out for controversies linked to No. 2:

(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)?

Now, here is the full prayer text as released by the Vatican:

O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here — the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11,
2001.

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness. Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope. We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred. God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.

So where is the controversy in that text?

Here is the lede for a Reuters report by Philip Pullella about this prayer:

Pope Benedict will pray for the conversion to love “of those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred” when he visits New York’s Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade towers destroyed on September 11, 2001.

A prayer he will read also commemorates those who died or were injured in the other September 11 attack at the Pentagon and on United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought off hijackers. Nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11 attacks, including the 19 hijackers.

9 11storyThere are several questions here. For example, what, pray tell, does “conversion to love” mean?

The crucial phrases to be used by the pope are the following. First, there is the prayer to “give eternal light and peace” to all who died, which would, naturally, include the 19 hijackers. Later, the pope will pray for God to, “Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.” This is interesting language, since “turn to” is a phrase that, in New Testament language, is, literally, the meaning of the word “repent.”

The headline for the Reuters report jumps on this angle: “Pope Ground Zero prayer seeks terrorists’ redemption.” At first I thought that was a bad headline, but now I think that it does capture the essence of the text.

So the pope is praying for the eternal salvation of terrorists, including the leaders and followers in the Al-Qaeda plot. This may offend Muslims, since it can be read as a prayer for the conversion of some Muslims — in this life or the next. It will certainly raise eyebrows among Christians who believe that it’s impossible for non-Christians to find salvation after death, and certainly after the non-Christians in question have flown passenger planes into towers full of defenseless people. Both sides of that coin are controversial.

Stay tuned. And let us know about the other interesting pre-visit stories that you see in the mainstream media.

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Sacred seizure

FLDSbookYesterday I raised some of the journalistic questions surrounding coverage of the raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints in Texas. And I was happy to see I wasn’t alone in being intrigued by those questions.

In the comments to the post, reader Joel asked:

Did you notice that when the temple was searched, there was little or no mention of the taboo-ness of gentiles entering it? I wondered about that, and I still haven’t seen anything that mentions the FLDS reaction to having their sanctum sanctorum violated.

Enter Miguel Bustillo’s story in today’s Los Angeles Times.

Authorities searching a remote polygamist compound for a 16-year-old girl who had claimed she was sexually abused discovered a bed inside a towering limestone temple and were told by a “confidential informant” that men used it to have sex with underage girls, according to a court document unsealed Wednesday.

The Associated Press ran a video report on the raid, that puts the size of the temple and the ranch in context.

Some folks wondered how it was possible that the group’s sacred temple and the contents therein could be subject — rather easily it seemed — to a search and seizure by law enforcement officials. Here’s the Times, again:

The allegation that sex between adult men and underage girls was occurring inside the monolithic white temple came Saturday from a confidential informant who formerly belonged to the religious sect and who had been cultivated over several years by Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, according to the affidavit.

In addition, Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long disclosed in the affidavit that investigators had interviewed numerous underage girls who were pregnant or married to men with multiple wives. While inside the compound, Long saw a document “indicating marriages between one man and more than 20 wives, all of whom resided in the same residence” as of last August.

When an investigator asked one girl her age, the affidavit states, the girl turned to her husband, Lee Roy Jessop, who said, “You are 18.” The girl then told the investigator that she was the fourth wife of Jessop, 33, and that “he was still married to the other three wives” in the eyes of the sect.

The initial search warrant does not appear to have been executed solely due to one complaint from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been raped and beaten. The Texas officials had been working with a confidential informant who had, on more than 20 previous occasions, given information that had been corroborated. The affidavits for search warrants have been unsealed so I hope the media report the further details.

Reading through the search warrants, some of the girls with children of their own claim not to know their age. So clearly law enforcement officials are looking for records which establish precisely how much statutory rape is going on among the FLDS. That presents concerns not only related to religious freedom but also attorney-client privilege. FLDS attorneys are arguing they have the right to review the seized material:

“The church has rights. Entry to the church is a sacred area,” said Gerald H. Goldstein, an attorney for church elder Lyle Jeffs. He argued that seized texts and genealogies considered holy by the FLDS should not become part of any court cases if they don’t directly relate to crimes.

Tom Green County District Judge Barbara Walther agreed that with help from an independent special master, the group should have the right to review evidence — for example, to ensure that attorney-client privilege is not violated if the evidence contains correspondence between attorneys and members of the sect.

I think Bustillo did a great job with the story, answering so many of the legal questions that have been raised. One minor point is that the temple had multiple beds, not the singular one that he mentions in the lede. Bustillo wrote an engaging story without falling into some of the overheated langauge we’ve seen in other reports.

For those still wondering about whether the term “compound” is appropriate, read the search warrant and let us know what you think.

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