Should some marriages be scare-quoted?

Many moons ago, when I was asking questions about why Religion News Service put “religious liberty” in quotes, defenders of the practice said it was just a way of signaling that while some people believe that a given issue deals with religious liberty, others do not. It’s a way to indicate that one is not taking sides on the matter. Astute readers noticed that if this were the policy, than we should see quotes around abortion “rights” and same-sex “marriage.”

But we never see such quotes in mainstream media stories, even though the key to abortion battles is whether there is, in fact, a “right” to abortion. And with marriage issues, it’s the same thing. Supporters of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples obviously think it’s a possibility that marriage law can be so changed while many opponents believe that it’s an ontological impossibility to have two people of the same sex in a marriage. And yet putting quotes around abortion “rights” and same-sex “marriage” would not be seen as neutrality at all, would it?

All that is background to a piece a reader sent in from the BBC this week, headlined “Kenyan trio in ‘wife-sharing’ deal.”

The quotes are all over the place in the article about two Kenyan men and the woman they both desire to marry:

Two Kenyan men have signed an agreement to “marry” the same woman…

Lawyers said the “marriage” would only be recognised if they could prove polyandry – a woman having more than one husband – was part of their custom…

People have reacted with shock to the “marriage”, arguing that it is not acceptable in terms of their culture, religion or the law, he says.

Defending the “marriage”, Mr Mwendwa told the BBC Focus on Africa programme that while he may acting in breach of the law, he had decided to enter into a contract with Mr Kimani to end their rivalry.

Later, though:

Community policing officer Adhalah Abdulrahman persuaded the two men to marry the woman after he saw them fighting over her in Mombasa county, the local Daily Nation newspaper reports.

The reader who sent it in:

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Off to war again. But a just one?

Everyone ready for another war? Ready or not, it appears that we are about to go to war with Syria. Or, as the Washington Post says:

An imminent U.S. strike on Syrian government targets in response to the alleged gassing of civilians last week has the potential to draw the United States into the country’s civil war, former U.S. officials said Tuesday, warning that history doesn’t bode well for such limited retaliatory interventions.

It’s all happening rather quickly and there are lots of angles to cover — the intelligence situation, the lack of Congressional approval, the political outcomes expected, etc. — but what about the religion angles? Of the many religion angles in this story, one deals with whether this war can be considered “just.” The Huffington Post hosted a piece by Maryann Cusimano Love, an associate professor of International Relations at Catholic University of America who serves on the Core Group for the Department of State’s working group on Religion and Foreign Policy, which notes:

St. Thomas Aquinas never imagined a world in which chemicals could kill thousands of people in a breath, but these old moral codes can still provide guidance in modern warfare. [Just War Theory] is a centuries-old guide to thinking about when and how it can ever by morally justifiable to violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” JWT holds that even during warfare we are still capable of moral behavior, and still obligated to protect human life and dignity. JWT stakes out the middle ground between realpolitik, which always allows war, and pacifism, which never allows war.

What are the arguments that bombing Syria is just? What are the debates surrounding whether this would be a just war? Well, I haven’t seen a particularly thorough treatment of the issue, but I did want to highlight a couple of pieces that did a great job introducing some discussions. The first comes from Religion News Service and begins:

WASHINGTON (RNS) As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.

And we get a series of responses from folk such as Stanley Hauerwas, professor emeritus of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, and Qamar-ul Huda, senior program officer in the Religion & Peacemaking Center of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Here’s one sample response:

The Rev. Drew Christiansen

Jesuit priest and visiting scholar at Boston College and longtime adviser to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on international affairs

My problem is that I don’t see why this kind of chemical attack matters so mightily when 100,000 civilians have been killed in Syria already. It seems to me that you’ve had massive attacks on civilians — with the world standing aside — that should have been the reason for intervention. But there’s also a question of proportionality and success, and I think that there are good reasons to think you might make things worse by a military attack.

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Religion and the 1963 March on Washington

August 28 is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. There’s a huge rally down at the Lincoln Memorial today and media coverage has been ramping up in preparation. One of the complaints we’ve gotten about that coverage is that it has oddly avoided mention of the religious component of the original march and of continued civil rights efforts. And that has been missing from some coverage.

But let’s look at some of the coverage that did cover that angle, and covered it well. First up is (friend of the blog) Hamil Harris’ piece in the Washington Post headlined “Civil Rights leaders lift up prayers marking March on Washington.”

I stole this picture from Harris’ twitter feed. He said of it that William Allison,92, came to the march with same sign in 1963.

The story is full of great quotes, including:

Rev. Kendrick E. Curry, pastor of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, told the crowd of several hundreds that the “prayer and praise service grounds the 50th anniversary march so that it can become transformative.”

“ If we simply gather without the very rooting that the original march had, and the spirit that King had, then we are forever off course and out of order,” Curry said.

and:

Rev. Barbara Williams Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network and a spiritual advisor to President Obama, gave the closing charge for the evening. She she said that it was important to remember that march began in a sanctuary.

“It suggests that prayer and worship was behind the civil rights movement,” Skinner said in an interview. “It was then and it is now. Without the power of God we won’t get anywhere, we won’t have voting rights… we won’t have anything that we are really seeking.”

Frequently reporters don’t include such religious language in stories about this and other mass efforts, even though people allude to and specifically reference their religious motivation. Kudos for simply reporting some of these powerful quotes.

While we’re looking at Post coverage, here’s an interesting essay by one of the original reporters who covered the march. It’s about how the paper was trying to get a story about some type of problem breaking out at the march. By focusing on that, it missed the major news of the day — the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But I couldn’t help but think it’s also about how much difficulty many media outlets continue to have about covering a march. Part of that is cultural — the coverage of early Tea Party protests was so tonally off as to be offensive — particularly the hungry efforts to find “problems” at the march. You didn’t see similar efforts at ideological protests from cultural bedfellows, such as the Colbert/Stewart rallies. But you can still sense the confusion and misguided efforts at covering massive annual pro-life marches. Perhaps the essay should be required reading in newsrooms. A snippet:

We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made.

My favorite religion news angle on the March anniversary events comes from Religion News Service. Adelle M. Banks and Corrie Raye Mitchell interviewed tons of participants in the march and Banks and Sally Morrow compiled photos and videos to make a fantastic multi-media presentation. It’s fun to just wander through the package, with interviews of:

 

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Americans prejudiced against Al Jazeera?

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The new cable news channel Al Jazeera America is drawing a lot of major media attention.

USA Today asks in a relatively meaty story:

Al Jazeera America: Will U.S. viewers buy it?

A chunk of that report:

While journalists may be eager to join a news outlet that promises to air in-depth coverage, media analysts wonder how excited American viewers will be about a Middle Eastern-owned news operation with a controversial past and a programming approach that avoids shrill partisan voices. The fact that it’s backed by owners who seem to have put profit on the back-burner gives the network’s experiment a better shot, company watchers say.

“Al Jazeera enjoys the best economic model you can possibly have,” says Philip Seib, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, who has written books on Al Jazeera. “They have a lot of money. They want to be a global player. They want Qatar to be a global player. And to be a true global journalistic force, you have to reach the U.S.”

Al Jazeera’s executives aren’t running from “the perception issue” or the fact that its unflinching airing of Osama bin Laden’s tapes is just a few clicks away on YouTube.

Al Shihabi says lingering audience hostility toward the channel will fade as viewers become familiar with its format and focus. “Do we have competitors or those who want to attack us from different angles? Of course,” he says. But, he adds, pointing to its American management and staff, “It is an American channel for the American audience.”

The headline at the New York Times:

Al Jazeera America Promises a More Sober Look at the News

From that story:

The Al Jazeera name still arouses deep suspicion in some Americans, mostly because of the period immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Al Jazeera broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden and was demonized by Bush administration officials as anti-American.

Al Jazeera America officials rebut questions about whether its brand name will hurt its chances on cable by invoking other foreign brands, like Honda, that are now viewed favorably in the United States.

For now, some big sponsors appear to be skittish; Al Jazeera declined to name any major advertisers.

To read both those reports, you get the idea that perhaps there’s a reason why Americans would be suspicious — at least initially — about that network.

But over at Religion News Service, in a story that reads more like an editorial, the reason for the steep climb faced in the U.S. market is clear: “deep-seated prejudices.”

The top of the RNS report:

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Godbeat losing one of its best and brightest

Usually, we critique religion news here at GetReligion.

Occasionally, we report on significant developments on the Godbeat.

This is one of those times, although — as lightning fast as news travels in the social media age — many of you probably already heard this.

Bob Smietana, a regular GetReligion reader and commenter and the award-winning religion writer at The Tennessean, is leaving the secular news business.

Here’s the note that Lisa Green, Bob’s editor, sent to the staff:

He’s covered snake-handling preachers and mosque arson, lawbreaking charities and babies named Messiah. He’s introduced us to the guy who quit his job over 666 and the clergyman who says God doesn’t care if you smoke weed. And now I’m sad to announce that Bob Smietana will be leaving The Tennessean and taking his talents elsewhere. Bob has been our religion writer since 2007 and has been racking up awards all the way through – claiming first place just last month in the Tennessee Press Association contest for both feature writing (the snake handlers story) and best personal column, for his first-person account of his battle with diabetes. He has broken news both locally and nationally with his key connections on a passion-topic beat. He’ll be going across the railroad tracks to LifeWay, where he will be writing about research on church and cultural trends for Facts and Trends magazine. His last day with us will be Aug. 30. Please join me in wishing Bob well. We will miss him greatly. – Lisa Green

The snake-handling story drew praise from GetReligion, as did the diabetes column and a host of other Smietana bylines.

Bob’s impact on religion news has extended far beyond Nashville, as many of his stories have found a way to USA Today — also owned by Gannett — and Religion News Service, giving his work a strong national presence.

Bob shared his thinking with me:

It’s a big move. The reasons are mostly personal. Journalism is 24/7 right now and I can’t give it all my attention.

Being a husband and dad is my first priority. Am (I am) also excited about writing about religion research — am intrigued by sociology of religion.

Plus, (Ed) Stetzer and LifeWay Research do good work — respected by secular news pubs.

I personally consider Bob a friend, although he and I have sparred occasionally on this website. A time or two, we even have found it necessary to apologize to each other “off camera.” I attribute our few disagreements to the passion that we share for quality journalism and religion news.

Bob’s departure comes on the heels of USA Today religion writer Cathy Lynn Grossman taking a buyout earlier this year. If USA Today has hired a new religion writer, I have not heard about it.

And now Smietana’s impending departure leaves a big hole at The Tennessean — a newspaper that serves a city some refer to as the “buckle of the Bible Belt.”

Stay tuned.

Hey, you put your opinion in my news!

One of the many products offered by Religion News Service is its daily round-up of news items, a chatty summary that is almost always infused with opinion. Here’s an example from earlier this month:

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit civil liberties group, posted on its website last week that it had discovered that six people chosen to review biology textbooks for the state had ties to creationism. That was later amended to four. Still.

Still … what? I mean, I have no idea how the much abused term “creationism” is being defined in this coverage of a biology textbook writing controversy, but I do believe God created the heavens and the earth. Was this RNS item an attack on religious adherents like me? It seemed oddly hostile.

Last month the round-up included this bit:

Yesterday we wrote in this space about how two of our guest commentators — Barry Lynn and G. Welton Gaddy — did not mince words when decrying the assertion that there is a war against Christians in the military. But the Rev. Tom Ehrich has set the bar for higher  today — adding a healthy dose of outrage to his candor. His column begins:

It is tragic to watch contemptuous right-wingers declaring war on America.

Not that everyone doesn’t want to parse the fine points of distinction between the views of Barry Lynn and C. Welton Gaddy, much less between them and the Rev. Tom Ehrich, but is there room for another perspective in the opposite direction? Or as one observer asked:

Any chance for coverage of views on the other side, on the equal access side?

That’s not the only religion angle in play. I wrote a fairly middle-of-the-road take on evangelism in the military for the Wall Street Journal recently but there are views far to the other side of those featured by RNS.

And then today there was a tweet from RNS that read:

#RowanWilliams tells #Christians in the West who feel persecuted to “grow up.” ‘Bout time someone said it. http://ow.ly/nZo4h

With the caveat that I’d gotten in a bit of a dust-up with the great Alan Jacobs on just this issue this morning (because I sometimes forget, in the absence of coffee, to avoid battles with people far wiser than I could every hope to be), this ” ’bout time” sneering left a bad taste in my mouth.

I wrote: “Wow. Disdain much?”

Ted Olsen of Christianity Today responded “Gotta agree with Mollie. I don’t quite get RNS’s move toward mixing opinion and reporting. Esp. odd post-RNA merger.” And our own Bobby added, “With its snarky daily roundups and tweets, @RNS does seem increasingly willing to voice its opinion. Is this on purpose?”

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Pope Francis’ 1st miracle: media coverage of mercy

A day after Popocalypse 2013 happened, we have the actual transcript of the remarks that got journalists worldwide going. And it’s safe to say that a quick read of it gives a different impression than the headlines or tweets that blasted out the news.

But, hey, we are a culture of tweets and headlines, not contextualized remarks, so does it even matter? If it matters to you, here’s the relevant discussion on the Vatican’s “gay lobby.” Actually, let’s go ahead and look at them here:

The question posed to Pope Francis was:

Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question.  Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life.  I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question.  How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

Here is Pope Francis’ answer:

Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation.  And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.  We found none of that.  That is the answer.  But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing.  That is the first question.  Then you spoke of the gay lobby.  Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!

So many interesting things to reflect on, upon seeing a bit of context. For example, why did so many media outlets omit the few words between “If a person is gay” and “who am I to judge that person?” Or why was his appeal to the catechism elided or ignored? Not the biggest deal in the world, but interesting. My point, made yesterday, seems vindicated with Francis’ line “This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.”

Very Christian stuff here. Breaking: Pope Catholic. So let’s look at how the New York Times views these remarks:

On Gay Priests, Pope Francis Asks, ‘Who Am I to Judge?’

ROME — For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as “an intrinsic moral evil,” in the words of the previous pope.

In that context, brief remarks by Pope Francis suggesting that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, made aboard the papal airplane on the way back from his first foreign trip, to Brazil, resonated through the church. Never veering from church doctrine opposing homosexuality, Francis did strike a more compassionate tone than that of his predecessors, some of whom had largely avoided even saying the more colloquial “gay.”

For those readers paying attention at home, yes, Francis really used the English word “gay” while speaking otherwise in Italian. It’s an interesting lede, eh? More for what it says about the Times than what it says about Francis. The same story could have begun: “Condemning homosexuals acts as sinful, Pope Francis repeats the call of previous popes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to treat homosexuals with dignity.” That it doesn’t say that tells us something interesting about journalists’ reaction to Francis.

Elizabeth Scalia had a really interesting take on that over at First Things where she praised the media coverage, in a way.

[N]othing Francis actually said about homosexuality was new. In fact, in these two quotes Francis is doing nothing more than pronouncing long-standing Catholic teaching on homosexuality, sin, and the mercy of God.

Let that sink in for a moment: A pope is teaching the Christian faith, and the press is accurately quoting him, in blazing headlines that everyone will read.

I completely agree with Scalia. It’s kind of cool that Francis is getting the media to report on Christian teaching of the forgiveness of sins. For that miracle alone, he should be canonized in a few decades. For just one example of this, check out this NBC News report.

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Some RNS cheerleading for gay marriage

A poor outing from Religion News Service this week in its article about the passage of the British government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. While it is a wire service story and cannot be held to the same standards of depth of reporting as a story prepared in house by a newspaper, it nonetheless should strive for accuracy and provide context — and refrain from cheer leading in support of one side of the story.

The version that appeared in the Washington Post under the title “Queen approves same-sex marriage bill in England, Wales” appears to be in trouble from the start. The Queen in the person of Elizabeth did not approve the bill — the Crown or the Sovereign did. This is a small thing, but it signals the direction of the story. It begins:

England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave “royal assent” to a same-sex marriage bill. Under the new law, gay men and women will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

The article walks back the headline, but what does RNS mean by saying England and Wales are two countries? Is this an eruption of Welsh nationalism on the part of RNS? Parliament in Westminster passed the bill — not the Welsh Assembly. While Wales has a cultural and linguistic identity and a devolved legislature that addresses some issues, it is not a country.

The article continues by quoting the government minister responsible for shepherding the bill through Parliament and her political allies. It then states:

The bill’s passage saw many angry exchanges. It had the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron, despite the consternation of many in his own Conservative Party. The leaders of two other main parties, the Liberal Democrats and New Labour, also backed it. But some political commentators predict Cameron’s gay-friendly attitudes will cost him at the next election in 2015.

Without seeking comments from opponents of the bill the article then moves to a negative response from the Catholic Church — glossing over the fact that a majority of Conservative MPs voted against the bill. The facile comment about “gay-friendly attitudes” distorts the political facts. It fails to identify who believes the Conservatives will take a drubbing at the next election nor does it say why — other than alluding to hostility to homosexuals. The Coalition for Marriage — one group that fought the bill predicts Cameron will pay a political price for pushing gay marriage — but it is not likely to recognize its views being presented by this article.

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