GOP, churches, corporations, courts

One of the ongoing themes here at GetReligion is that it is hard to jam the MSM into either a pure liberal or pure conservative camp. Here’s a sample of that from a few weeks ago. Instead of old-fashioned left and right, what the media research finds is a consistent pattern of libertarianism on moral and social issues. Thus, the constant tension between the MSM and traditional religious believers.

This divide exists — big time — inside the Republican Party, more so than among Democrats. The heart of the modern Democratic Party is the sexual revolution. That’s where you find the issues on which the party cannot compromise and, thus, we see that pattern in the MSM.

Now, the yin-yang Republicans can compromise on all kinds of things and this often shows up in news reports (often when someone like James Dobson threatens to walk out). But the GOP knows that the religious traditionalists have no place to go, sort of like the labor people in the Democratic Party. So a George W. Bush can court the country club at the same time as the traditional sanctuary.

For a great example of this, see the current Newsweek article on the teams working behind the scene at the Supreme Court war. You think the following paragraph from the Howard Fineman and Holly Bailey essay isn’t being handed around in Colorado Springs? You think the Dobson squad isn’t worried about the likes of Ed Gillespie?

Keeping Republicans and their conservative kin together won’t be easy. For the first time in a nomination fight, corporate lobbyists are determined to play a leading public role. They are concerned that an obsessive focus on abortion and gay marriage will jeopardize what they regard as a once-in-a-generation chance to unshackle commerce from the grip of federal regulators. To hold their hands, they have not only Gillespie—whose lobbying firm maintains a roster of big-business clients—but former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, the actor-lawyer-lobbyist, who signed on as the “sherpa” who will walk at least one Bush nominee through the confirmation process (think Virgil in Dante’s “Inferno”).

I think the word “obsessive” sort of jumps out, don’t you think?

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Is a flock of 200 big or small?

The staggeringly in-depth conservative Anglican website TitusOneNine has an interesting take by a reader named Karen B. dissecting a New York Times report about the escalating Episcopal Church warfare in Connecticut.

To read the original Stacey Stowe news story, click here. To dig into Karen B.’s critique, click here.

As always, this wrestling match is linked to the Bible and sex outside of marriage. However, Karen is interested in how newspapers can actually bias a story with a highly nuanced, or uninformed, use of statistics.

Here is the Stowe paragraph that sent Karen to the web for some interesting research and statistics.

The Vassar College Episcopal chaplain, the Rev. Susan McCone, is now the priest in charge of St. John’s, a church with fewer than 200 members. A retired priest from western Massachusetts has been leading Sunday services. . . .

Seems innocent enough. But wait: What is the percentage of Episcopal parishes that average fewer than 80 to 100 in worship?

Read it all.

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Department of oops?

Now this is a fine scandal. One Zaki Badawi, head of the Muslim College in London, was refused entry to the United States on Wednesday. He was scheduled to speak in New York, but the U.S. gatekeepers had other ideas. According to The Guardian, Badawi’s response was remarkably well mannered:

“The people I was speaking to were very junior people and they are just executing things they were told. They were very, very embarrassed and I felt sorry for them. America is a lovely country. There is no reason why it should behave like that,” he said.

The interesting thing about this story is where it goes from here. Unlike many who have been turned away under America’s terrorist watch lists and other secretive mechanisms of airport security, Badawi is not obscure and has the sort of profile that just screams “international incident”:

Dr Badawi has visited the US several times, most recently in 2003. He was given an honorary knighthood, and in 2003 was a guest of the Queen at a state banquet for the US president, George Bush. Earlier this week, Dr Badawi joined other British religious leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, in publicly condemning the London bomb blasts, which killed at least 54 people.

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Was Blair snipped by the BBC?

I think this comment needs to come out front for more discussion, something that we do here from time to time.

Are there any other GetReligion readers out there who want to either confirm or contest this? I will also start hunting for the Guardian URL for the Tony Blair text. But I would assume that we are talking about this text, which is found at the prime minister’s homepage.

Now, here is some of the post from a reader who calls himself JohninLondon:

New comment on your post #905
“BBC wrestling with the “T” word”

On Monday afternoon Tony Blair made a statement to the Commons, referring to the bombers as terrorists and to their deeds as terrorism. He used the T word 10 or more times.

In its main story that afternoon, the BBC news home page and the linked London-Bombs-In-Depth page carried a report on his statement which EXCISED all these T word references.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4670945.stm

At that time the BBC did not post the full text of the statement. I and others found the full text at the Guardian website and the stark contrast became clear. It was outrageous of the BBC to edit all the PM’s words in this way — to fit their T-word policy. . . . I have seldom seen the BBC sink so low.

The Blair text is full of quotes that have been in the MSM since it was delivered. Here is one sample. He uses the word “terror” more than “terrorist,” but it is clear that he is being both blunt and careful.

It seems probable that the attack was carried out by Islamist extremist terrorists, of the kind who over recent years have been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, of course in New York on September 11th, but in many other countries too.

The BBC used “terror” and “terrorist threat” in the online story, but not “terrorists.”

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WWROD: Four kinds of Anglican Bibles

Godbeat veteran Richard Ostling of the Associated Press — he of this blog’s WWROD tribute — is best known for his hard-news, brass-tacks approach. You want clear, fair writing about complex stories? This is your man.

But Ostling does do analysis pieces, too. Here is an example in which he sets out to do the impossible, as in explaining — in about 666 words — the four basic approaches to the Bible being used in the worldwide Anglican wars over sexuality.

And what, you ask, are those approaches? Ostling lists them this way — dismissal, perplexity, renovation and
traditionalism. The big two turn out to be “renovation” and “traditionalism.” Here is the summary of two papers at the latest Anglican academic showdown (but you really need to see the essay to see the Bishop Spong section, etc.):

The two papers typified debates within many mainline Protestant groups.

The Episcopal Church’s report compared full inclusiveness for gays with the New Testament church’s opening to Gentiles. It cited Acts 10, where Peter receives a vision allowing nonkosher foods and then commends baptism for Gentile converts; and Acts 15, where a council sets policy toward Gentiles.

The traditionalist paper said that in Acts 15 the church eliminated Jewish strictures on diet and circumcision for Gentiles, “but there was to be continuity in the moral sphere,” since the council upheld Jewish sexual morals by warning Gentiles against “unchastity.”

The Episcopal report said ancient Jewish prohibitions in Leviticus were part of a “holiness code” written to sustain Israel’s distinctiveness and national survival. It said the code “makes no distinction between ritual and moral regulations,” implying the gay ban is as outmoded as, say, rules against blending textiles.

The traditionalists responded that while early Christianity eliminated ritual rules, Jewish teachings against “immoral behavior” remained in force. For instance, the Leviticus passage condemns incest. And New Testament verses endorse Jewish sexual standards.

And so forth. Next up, Romans 1:26-27.

I did have one question, however. Anglicanism maintains that it is a blending, a compromise, of both the ancient church (read Catholic and Orthodox) and the Protestant Reformation. When Ostling says that “traditionalists” looked to “early Christianity” for input on how to read these controversial Bible passages, does that mean they actual quoted the early Church Fathers? I assume someone there played the trump card of 2,000 years of unbroken Christian tradition on marriage and sex?

This is a minor, minor complaint, and it probably has more to do with the competing Anglican teams than with Ostling. As always, Ostling has jammed mucho info into this piece.

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Teddy the K

TeddytheK2Yesterday, Ted Kennedy . . . ah, you’ll never believe this one no matter how much I explain it. Let’s go to the AP:

In a rare personal attack on the Senate floor, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy accused Sen. Rick Santorum on Wednesday of being self-righteous and insensitive for a column he wrote three years ago linking Boston’s liberalism to the sex abuse scandal in its Catholic diocese.

Santorum, R-Pa., wrote in the July 2002 column for Catholic Online that promoting alternative lifestyles feeds such aberrant behavior as priests molesting children.

“Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture,” Santorum wrote. “When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.”

I searched in vain to find the column in question on Catholic Online (if a GetReligion reader finds it, please post the link in comments). A cynic [That's you! -- ed.] might say that Kennedy took this long to bring up the piece because Santorum wasn’t up for reelection in 2002.

The only quibble I would have with the AP’s coverage is when the reporter tried to squeeze a comment out of the governor of Massachusetts: “Mitt Romney, a Republican who — like Santorum — has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008, called the remarks unfortunate but did not ask for an apology, said spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.”

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Questions about rentapriest.com

As the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc often says, there are times when you are interested in a story, yet you just have trouble “drawing a bead” on it. I think that is a violent, gun-related metaphor, which is kind of strange for Doug, but it is still appropriate.

For the past week, I have been trying to figure out what bothers me about Elizabeth Mehren’s story in the Los Angeles Times about the growing number of “married priests” in the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps I am having trouble with that handy URL in the story — rentapriest.com.

Then again, perhaps I am stuck on one phrase in particular. Can you guess which one? Here is the opening of the story.

BOSTON — The priests came from three states, converging on a suburban park one Sunday to conduct an outdoor Mass. Wearing white vestments with rainbow-hued stoles, they led the worshippers in prayer and song. They stuck closely to traditional Roman Catholic liturgy.

But as they raised their arms in blessing, the five men revealed unmistakable proof of defiance: All wore wedding bands.

These men, who still consider themselves Roman Catholic priests, have wives, children — and unflinching commitments to their 2,000-year-old faith. As married priests, they say, they are not heretical anomalies but, instead, are following a model set by priests and popes in the earliest days of their church. They are part of a growing national network of thousands of deeply religious men who believe marriage does not compromise their ability to serve as spiritual ministers.

No it’s not the “rainbow-hued stoles.” And it isn’t that off phrase that the clergy “stuck closely to traditional Roman Catholic liturgy.”

No, what gets to me is the phrase “unflinching commitments to their 2,000-year-old faith.”

Now, please understand that — bias confession again — I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, so I worship in a church that has maintained the ancient tradition that priests can marry, before they are ordained, but that bishops are chosen from celibate monastics or parish priests. I understand some of the Roman arguments for celibate clergy. I just don’t happen to agree with them.

What has been bothering me about this story is that Mehren does not seem to notice that many of these “married priests” have other major differences with basic Catholic and ancient Christian doctrines. In other words, many are rebels about marriage, but they have trouble with other doctrinal issues as well. See any clues?

Yet the story — early on — stresses that these men have held on to “unflinching commitments to their 2,000-year-old faith.” Isn’t that a rather loaded statement? The facts reported in the story seem to suggest otherwise. Read it and let me know what you think.

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Blowing up children is wrong! Maybe

suicide2Michael Landauer of the Dallas Morning News editorial pages is underwhelmed by the report in his own newspaper offering muted hosannas about a statement (text here) released by a collection of powerful imams and Islamic scholars. The gathering — organized by Jordan’s King Abdullah II — condemned the use of violence against fellow Muslims and against some infidels.

I wish I could link to Landauer’s post, but the newspaper’s excellent editorial page blog still does not allow outside bloggers a permalink option. Nevertheless, here is a chunk of what Landauer had to say:

Imagine if Thomas Jefferson had been so timid: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that some men are created equal.

Or MLK: When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from some villages and some hamlets, from enlightened northern states and the occasional big city, we will be able to speed up that day when a good number of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, many of us are free at last!”

And forget that it is not very inspiring to condemn “some” violence, it’s also just not very well-grounded from a moral sense. Shouldn’t morality have a ring of universality to it? If not, then let’s embrace a few other strong statements of morality: Thou shalt not steal . . . very much. Thou shalt not commit adultery . . . regularly. . . .

C’mon. Is it that hard to say that killing innocent people in the name of religion is wrong? Every time? Always?

Wait a minute: is he suggesting that there are moral absolutes that apply in all cultures? The Ten Commandments, even?

Anyway, the story itself — by Godbeat veteran Jeffrey Weiss — attempts to navigate a dangerous and even deadly minefield. Clearly, the newspaper’s editors think this document is terribly important and a positive statement about mainstream Islam.

Yet, Weiss also has included key details that let the reader know that some of the clerics involved do not fit smoothly into any of the West’s definitions of “moderate.”

For example, it is clear that Muslim-on-Muslim violence is almost always wrong.

During 14 centuries of Muslim history, dozens of wars and battles have been religiously justified by one side declaring the other excommunicated, or takfir. But the Jordan document says that those who follow any of eight long-standing schools of Islamic jurisprudence cannot be declared outside the faith.

What about the status of innocent infidels?

The document says that only fatwas that are consistent with the traditions in the eight defined schools are valid. That means only fatwas that are consistent with traditional interpretations of the Quran are acceptable. Critics of Mr. bin Laden and other Muslims who use Quranic “proof texts” to justify attacks on Christians and Jews say that many of those texts are being used in ways that violate the traditional understanding of those passages.

But the communiqué did not outlaw all violence by Muslims, even by implication. Some leaders whose authority is recognized by the Jordan document, such as Sheik Al Qaradawi, have offered religious support for attacks on Israel, which they regard as self-defense.

The document is notable in what it does not say. It doesn’t mention Mr. bin Laden or any “fake” fatwa by name. The words “violence” or “terrorism” don’t even appear.

So the anti-terrorism statement does not mention terrorism.

The News blog shows (go quick and scroll down) that this story inspired strong debate in the newspaper’s editorial meeting today. Good. At what point will that debate begin to influence the hard news coverage in this newspaper, a frequent religion-beat award winner? What do Muslim leaders in Dallas have to say about this statement? How do both progressive, mainstream and Islamist leaders in the Dallas area answer some of the questions raised by the Abdullah document? I hope more coverage is forthcoming.

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