Migrant children crossing the border: the religion angle

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Amid the ongoing headlines – mostly political – over the thousands of migrant children crossing illegally into the United States, I’ve been pleased to come across some excellent reports on the religion angle.

New York Times national religion reporter Michael Paulson produced a thorough overview of U.S. religious leaders embracing the cause of immigrant children:

After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”

When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.

The United States’ response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant children, many of them fleeing violence and exploitation in Central America, has been symbolized by an angry pushback from citizens and local officials who have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.

“We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help. He said that in his own congregation, some were comparing the flow of immigrant children to the Kindertransport, a rescue mission in the late 1930s that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Britain for safekeeping.

From there, Paulson notes the broad spectrum of religious leaders — from left to right — speaking out:

The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, who have long allied with Republican politicians against abortion and same-sex marriage, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right.

The NYTimes piece links to other recent stories, including a Chicago Tribune report on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago seeking to house child refugees, a Boston Globe report on Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts tearfully citing the Bible in suggesting that migrant children could be temporarily housed at military bases in his state and a Dallas Morning News report on Catholic bishops in Dallas and Fort Worth calling for lawyers to represent the children at immigration proceedings.

The Dallas Morning News featured a front-page story Sunday on religious groups rallying to help the migrant children:

Piles of Superman underwear sit among the pyramids of protein formula in the atrium of the First United Methodist Church of Dallas. Soon, the stash will be trucked to South Texas to help with relief efforts for the influx of children and teenagers from Central America.

Down the street on Ross Avenue, welcome boxes sit in an office of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. So many people called the church wanting to help that a parishioner organized a welcome-box drive. She asked for toiletries, a small toy and a handwritten note.

“Esperamos que te guste el juguete! Con cariño, tus amigos en Dallas.” We hope you like the toy, with affection, your Dallas friends, one reads.

Across North Texas, across political divides and theological differences, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and others in the local faith community are stepping up with assistance for the children who have crossed the border illegally without a parent. Congregations moved by the plight of the children are finding practical ways to help, even as governments and politicians argue and scramble over solutions.

“It’s a beautiful illustration of loving thy neighbor,” said the Rev. Linda Roby, an associate minister at First Methodist, patting packets of pajamas.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, distributed an Abilene Reporter-News story on a ministry helping at the border:

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Hero or troubled soul: Dallas pastor takes his life

Right from the start, a long Page 1 story in The Dallas Morning News portrays the Rev. Charles Moore as a hero.

The headline on the weekend story:

In dying act, minister hoped to inspire social justice

The top of the 1,750-word story:

From segregated churches of East Texas to destitute slums of India, the Rev. Charles Moore fought for human rights.

He delivered sermons about racism and sexism. He stood vigil against the death penalty. He went on a hunger strike to protest discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But during retirement, the United Methodist minister questioned whether he had done enough. He saw the broken world around him.

So how did Moore — according to the Morning News — take his final, courageous stand?:

On a Monday afternoon in June, Moore, 79, drove from his home in Allen to Grand Saline, the town of his childhood about 70 miles east of Dallas. He traveled along country roads near fields of wildflowers and grazing cattle. In a strip-mall parking lot, outside a dollar store, beauty salon and pharmacy, he knelt down, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.

As flames engulfed him, he screamed and tried to stand. Witnesses rushed to put out the blaze with shirts, bottled water and, finally, an extinguisher.

He was flown unconscious to a Dallas hospital, where he died from burn injuries.

Keep reading, and the Dallas newspaper uses Moore’s own terminology — self-immolation — to describe the nature of his death:

Moore had intended his act to be a grand but selfless gesture in the manner of Buddhist monks who have done the same before him.

“I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others, but I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service,” he wrote in one of the notes he left behind.

The Morning News does not explain the term, but Wikipedia defines self-immolation as “a ritualistic suicide practice” that refers to “killing oneself as a sacrifice.”

In an earlier story headlined “Madman or Martyr: Retired minister sets self on fire, dies,” the Tyler Morning Telegraph used the term “suicide” up high:

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Did Washington Post offer reporting or cheerleading?

The religious left gets sympathetic treatment, not only from a new report by the Brookings Institution, but by a Washington Post article on it.

The story uncritically quotes the report, though it also offers some background on the Old Left, including its religious wing. And it doesn’t ask for reactions from anyone on the right, or even the moderate middle.

Instead, the article starts out by choosing the good guys:

The religious left was never as cohesive and effective as the religious right. But a new report based on interviews with religious progressive leaders finds that the Obama era may have further weakened Democrats’ interest in the non-secular.

The report, released Thursday by the Brookings Institution, argues that religious progressives could be heading for a renaissance if they can focus on what some see as the civil rights issue of today: economic justice.

We’ll leave aside how the Post knows the religious left was “never as cohesive and effective as the religious right.” Instead, we’ll note the first signal of bias: the simple title “the Brookings Institution.” If the article was about, say, the Heritage Foundation, the newspaper would have likely tacked on “the conservative.” But as a liberal organization, Brookings is simply a normal, moderate think tank. The good guys don’t get labels.

The story does look honestly at reasons for the decline of the religious left, as indeed the 56-page report itself does. Among them:

*More diversity, less homogeneity within the ranks.

*Ambivalence and suspicion from secular leftists toward religion.

*Decline of the unions, once a strong ally of religious groups.

*Disagreement on whether the poor are helped better by the govt or by churches and private foundations.

Fair enough, all of it. But the Washington Post apparently didn’t ask about other possibilities for the decline — from a conservative viewpoint. I can think of a few myself:

*Boosting practices like abortion and same-sex marriage as private rights, then pushing them as social and political issues.

*Sapping doctrinal authority in the name of relativism, then campaigning for social issues in the name of truth.

*Preaching equality for everyone, then pitting groups against each other with the rhetoric of class warfare and racial privilege.

The Post article also suffers from a lack of definitions. It throws around “progressive” and “economic justice” as if they’re household terms, although the report itself explains the latter. And the Post docilely quotes the Brookings report for saying the leftists may benefit from a “broadly felt need for a new social contract” — without explaining the terms of such a contract or offering evidence that the need is, in fact, broadly felt.

There’s at least one other way to write about the Brookings report, and the Dallas Morning News took it.

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Final Four ghosts in long story on Kentucky’s Julius Randle

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While in Arlington, Texas, on Monday for my beloved Rangers’ season opener at the newly named Globe Life Park, I noticed a big banner outside the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium next door.

Apparently, Jerry Jones’ gigantic shrine to losing football is hosting some sort of college basketball tournament this weekend. If I understand correctly, it’s called the NCAA Men’s Final Four and involves a malady known as “March Madness.”  Hopefully, there’s a cure, but everyone involved probably would appreciate our prayers.

Speaking of the aforementioned tournament, The Dallas Morning News has a big profile — 2,000-plus words — out today on one of the teams’ players. Julius Randle, who played high school hoops in Texas, is a big star for the Kentucky Wildcats and, it seems, could win a lottery ticket from the NBA. (I’m not endorsing gambling. I’m just reporting what I read.)

In all seriousness, there’s a lot to recommend about the Morning News’ profile, headlined “How a Dallas billionaire helped Plano’s Julius Randle become Kentucky’s biggest star.” On one level, the writer does an excellent job of digging below the surface and helping readers understand the unique path that Randle has taken to tonight’s big stage:

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Visibly drained, Julius Randle ambled into Kentucky’s $30 million basketball facility. Reporters awaited. Randle knew the drill.

Towering above his inquisitors, he leaned his 6-9, 250-pound frame against a wall, the one facing eight national championship banners. It
was a surreal contrast from his very first interview, with his hometown Dallas Morning News.

Back then he was 6 foot, 145 pounds. He was 11.

“Yeah, I remember,” he said with a soft laugh.

On Saturday night, the local kid will re-emerge in North Texas as a 19-year-old man in the grandest possible basketball homecoming, with Kentucky facing Wisconsin in the Final Four semifinals before an expected crowd of 80,000 at AT&T Stadium.

A national TV audience no doubt will be reminded that Randle is the only locally produced player among a Final Four of out-of-state teams, having led Plano Prestonwood Christian to three TAPPS state titles, the most recent in March 2013.

Later that month, having already signed with Kentucky, he attended the South Regional at AT&T Stadium, watched Michigan beat Florida to make the Final Four and visualized himself playing in the vast stadium this year.

But as I read the otherwise compelling piece, I found myself frustrated by the religion ghosts (if you have no clue what a religion ghost is, check out GetReligion’s primer on “Why We’re Here”).

In keeping with the theme, I’ll rank my Final Four ghosts:

No. 4 seed:  Mention of Plano Prestonwood Christian.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that an extremely talented basketball player would be recruited to play at a Christian school and that there would be no real religion angle. But Randle’s association with a school that’s a ministry of Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch, made me wonder.

A quick Google search might even turn up this Baptist Press headline:

Randle takes ‘solid’ faith into Final Four

– No. 3 seed: Mention of billionaire Kenny Troutt’s vision going beyond basketball:

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Surprise! Dallas Morning News finds a Methodist to quote

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Once or twice (or maybe three or four or five times) in recent weeks, we have criticized The Dallas Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote who supports the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The Methodist bishop for the region, Michael “Never Can Be Reached for Comment” McKee, hasn’t helped matters any, from a journalistic perspective. Whether there’s a history between the bishop and the Morning News or he just doesn’t want to be quoted on this matter, I have no idea. Perhaps he silenced his phone during church and forgot to ever turn it back on?

But rather than settle for a “no comment,” GetReligion has made the case that the Morning News needs to find a voice on the “other side” in its coverage of a retired Methodist minister who presided over the wedding of two gay men earlier this month. That is, unless the Dallas newspaper wants to practice advocacy journalism.

In one of our posts, I got snarky and said:

So we’re left — still — with explaining to a Pulitzer-winning newspaper how it might practice balanced journalism and treat all sides of a divisive issue such as this fairly.

Alas, there’s been a new development on this story: the minister who conducted the same-sex wedding has been suspended by the bishop.

Did the Morning News continue its trend of quoting only one side? To the Dallas newspaper’s credit, no. (Perhaps the Morning News took GetReligion’s constructive criticism to heart?)

From the latest story:

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Pod people: There really are two sides to every story, folks

The stories we critique here at GetReligion usually fall into one of two categories. First we have the good stories: well-written pieces that are fair, balanced, properly sourced and complement the outlets they represent. The second category is comprised of the opposite kind of story, the poorly written ones. These pieces have problems such as ghosts, bias, unexplored angles, poor attribution, inadequate sourcing, vague terminology, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Which would you think would be the more difficult posts for your GetReligionistas to write? If you said the well-written ones, you get a cookie. Or a sugar-free lollipop, since that’s more politically correct.

The well-written stories take much more time and thought and energy and work (at least for this girl) to post about for the very reasons they take longer to write. When a journalist does the job correctly, the story is a veritable treasure chest of information. It features colorful writing and multiple angles. Sources are plentiful, selected thoughtfully and allowed to speak without the journalist inferring or labeling or categorizing for them. When I encounter a good story, I read it multiple times — each time I flesh out a new detail or appreciate a particular pattern of thought. Writing about these gems is an extension of reading them. (And then I have to take a timeout to Google the author, if I don’t recognize the byline. Just to give the writer a virtual high-five.)

Todd Wilken and I discussed the contrasts between good stories and incomplete ones on this week’s edition of “Crossroads,” the GetReligion podcast. In particular, we looked at my part of a three-post journalistic train wreck from The Dallas Morning News. Three stories about two elderly gay men and one maverick Methodist minister preparing to marry them — and zero quotes from anyone affiliated with the United Methodist Church who might speak to the denomination’s official stance on gay marriage. I feel like I know this couple quite well, as do I all their friends and supporters, after the trilogy. What we don’t know, as Todd astutely pointed out, is why no one bothered to walk inside one of the many, many Methodist churches that line the streets of Dallas and interview someone who felt differently about gay marriage than the journalist, the couple, the rogue minister and those who know and love them.

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Giving both sides a voice in Methodist same-sex debate

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Maybe you’ve noticed, but your normally friendly GetReligionistas get grumpy when newspapers write one-sided stories.

We might even go so far as to use terms such as “advocacy journalism.”

Three times in the last few weeks — here, here and here — we raised a stink over The Dallas Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote concerning the United Methodists’ stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Well, a major story on that same topic broke Monday in The New York Times’ back yard:

The head bishop of the United Methodist Church in New York on Monday committed to ending church trials in his region for ministers who perform same sex-marriages, essentially freeing them to conduct a ceremony still prohibited under his denomination’s laws.

As the first sitting United Methodist bishop to publicly make such a pledge, Bishop Martin D. McLee instantly became a leading figure in a decades-old movement within the United Methodist Church, the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, to extend equal recognition and rights to gay and lesbian members. Though Bishop McLee said that he hoped his approach would heal the church’s deep divisions over homosexuality, more conservative Methodists warned that his actions would push the denomination closer to an irrevocable split.

Bishop McLee’s pledge came as part of a resolution announced Monday with the Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, a Methodist minister and retired dean of Yale Divinity School who had faced a church trial after he officiated the wedding of his gay son in 2012. The trial had been scheduled to begin on Monday.

As I kept reading, my question was this: Would the Timesnot always known for its journalistic balance on social issues — allow both sides an opportunity to speak?

To my delight and the Times’ credit, the answer was yes:

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Dallas Morning News advocacy journalism, the prequel

Pardon me, Dallas Morning News. We underestimated you.

I’ll explain what I mean in a moment. But first, a little background — OK, it may turn out to be a big chunk of background:

Twice in the last week — here and here — we at GetReligion posted on the Texas newspaper’s advocacy journalism on a retired Methodist pastor conducting a wedding ceremony for two elderly gay men. In each case, we lamented the Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote supporting the United Methodists’ stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Instead, a newspaper that likes to tout its nine Pulitzer Prizes since 1986 settled each time for a “no comment” from the region’s presiding Methodist bishop.

In our last post, I opined:

But if the bishop won’t talk, are there no other Methodist leaders — in Texas or the nation — that the Morning News might quote to help readers understand why the “other side” believes what it does?

Or is the Dallas paper content to advocate for one side and make only a cursory effort to give the “other side” a voice? Barring any evidence to the contrary, that certainly appears to be the case.

That post prompted Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher — who once worked at the Morning News — to write at The American Conservative:

Same-sex marriage is a big deal within the Methodist Church nationally. The church officially doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, but as you’ll see from the AP story I linked, activists within the national church have undertaken guerrilla actions to defy church teaching because they haven’t gotten their way nationally. They are destroying church unity, but they believe they’re doing it for a good cause. The point is, at this juncture in the struggle within the Methodist church, traditionalists are still in control, and set policy for all Methodist churches. There ought to have been balance in the News stories.

I lived in Dallas, and I know Methodists there. It is absurd to think that it’s impossible to find a Methodist in Dallas who stands with tradition, which is, for the time being, the United Methodist Church’s official teaching. For heaven’s sake, you’ve got a major Methodist divinity school there in town. I’ve never been a religion reporter, but I know at least one professor there who would have given a defense of the church’s teaching — if the reporter from the News would have cared to have learned it. That’s the rub, though. If the reporter and her newspaper don’t believe the other side has a right to be heard, they won’t be heard, and the false impression is given that there is only one side to the story.

That brings me to the reason for this post. It turns out that we were wrong about the Morning News writing two one-sided stories on this issue.  Perusing the newspaper’s online religion page this morning, I found a third. 

Let’s call it the prequel, as it ran back in January:

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