Church to boycott Redskins? Not enough to fill a stadium

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The Washington Redskins are changing their name because of its negative connotations, a friend posted on Facebook.

Apparently, the National Football League team will drop the “Washington” and be known simply as the Redskins.

Bah-duh-BOOM!

But seriously, folks, check out this Washington Post lede:

Eleven days before the United Church of Christ will vote on a resolution calling for its 22,000 members to boycott the Washington Redskins, a team official called a top minister and asked him to speak to three Native Americans who support the controversial name.

Does anything about that opening sentence strike you as a little off?  How about the 22,000 members? I mean, I knew that mainline denominations had shrunk in recent decades, but the last time I checked, the United Church of Christ had almost 1 million members across the U.S.

Alas, since the Post functions often as a national newspaper, I assumed that the figure related to the national denomination. Wrong.

Keep reading:

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Same-sex marriage, religious freedom and a liberal twist

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An extremely interesting — and potentially highly important — twist came Monday in the ongoing culture wars over religious liberty.

New York Times religion writer Michael Paulson reports:

In a novel legal attack on a state’s same-sex marriage ban, a liberal Protestant denomination on Monday filed a lawsuit arguing that North Carolina is unconstitutionally restricting religious freedom by barring clergy members from blessing gay and lesbian couples.

The lawsuit, filed in a Federal District Court by the United Church of Christ, is the first such case brought by a national religious denomination challenging a state’s marriage laws. The denomination, which claims nearly one million members nationwide, has supported same-sex marriage since 2005.

“We didn’t bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices,” said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.

The denomination argues that a North Carolina law criminalizing the religious solemnization of weddings without a state-issued marriage license violates the First Amendment. Mr. Clark said that North Carolina allows clergy members to bless same-sex couples married in other states, but otherwise bars them from performing “religious blessings and marriage rites” for same-sex couples, and that “if they perform a religious blessing ceremony of a same-sex couple in their church, they are subject to prosecution and civil judgments.”

The relatively brief Times story quotes Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, which supports same-sex marriage:

“In their zeal to pile on to denying the freedom to marry, North Carolina officials also put in place a measure that assaulted the religious freedom that they profess to support by penalizing and seeking to chill clergy that have different views,” Mr. Wolfson said. “The extent to which North Carolina went to deny the freedom to marry wound up additionally discriminating on the basis of religion by restricting speech and the ability of clergy to do their jobs.”

The report also quotes a same-sex marriage opponent (the same one used by The Associated Press):

But Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, which opposes same-sex marriage, derided the legal action as “the lawsuit of the week filed by those who want to impose same-sex marriage on North Carolina.”

“It’s both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs,” Ms. Fitzgerald said in a statement. “These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.”

Here’s what I find intriguing: If North Carolina can tell clergy that they can’t perform same-sex marriages (regardless of whether the state recognizes them), what’s to prevent states that allow gay weddings from telling clergy that they must perform them? The values coalition source doesn’t seem to answer that direct question.

In a front-page Charlotte Observer story on the lawsuit, religious conservatives also address the rightness/wrongness of same-sex marriage itself:

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Shocker! Liberal clergy back gay rites! (updated)

What we have here is a totally predictable story, to an almost stunning degree. It’s almost a non-story, from the get go.

What has me confused, however, is whether or not The New York Times crew realizes that it is publishing a totally predictable story, a story in which there is not a single new or unpredictable element.

You see, there are quite a few signs in the story that the Times folks know that there is little or nothing new in this piece. Then, at other times, the world’s openly liberal newspaper of record — especially on religious and moral issues, saith former editor Bill Keller — seems to think that this story is important.

The key is the story’s Something Really Big Has Happened Lede, which only sounds big because the newspaper’s editors chose to omit a crucial fact.

More than 250 religious leaders in Illinois have signed an open letter in support of same-sex marriage, which the legislature is likely to take up in January.

“We dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and we work daily to promote justice and fairness for all,” the leaders wrote in the letter, which was released Sunday. “Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples.

“There can be no justification,” they continued, “for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

This is not the first time members of the clergy have endorsed same-sex marriage, but the public nature of the letter and the number of signatures made it an especially strong statement.

Now let me be clear: This is a story. Years ago, it would have been an important one.

What I am arguing is that at this point it is a totally predictable story, for reasons that — to their credit — the Times persons make little effort to hide. The story notes, for example that “many” of the Christian and Jewish leaders who signed this liberal statement noted that “they had long supported same-sex marriage.”

So what does the lede fail to mention? This story does not cite a single clergyperson who, by signing this statement, was changing her or his position on this issue. In fact, the story does not list a single clergyperson whose stance represents a violation of her or his denomination’s stance on the moral status of sex outside of marriage.

In other words: Where is the news?

By the way, I would feel precisely the same about a Times story reporting that a large flock of Catholic, Orthodox, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and evangelical Protestant clergy had produced a statement documenting their opposition to same-sex marriage. The difference, of course, is that the Times would not print that story and certainly would not open that alleged news report with a Something Really Big Has Happened Lede.

Note the denominations that are backing this liberal proclamation:

“It’s not a religious right — it’s a civil right,” said the Rev. Kevin E. Tindell, a United Church of Christ minister at New Dimensions Chicago. “It’s a matter of justice, and so as a Christian, as a citizen, I feel that it’s my duty.” Mr. Tindell, who is gay, is raising three children with his partner of 17 years.

The Rev. Kim L. Beckmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who lives in the Chicago area, said she was drawn into the movement “as my gay and lesbian parishioners were welcomed into our congregation.”

“I have participated in blessings of these unions for longer than we’ve even been talking about marriage,” she said. “I’m thrilled to take this step.” …

The Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chicago said it was a way for religious leaders to say, “I’m a faithful Christian or a Jew or Muslim, and I think that marriage equality is important.”

“It doesn’t have to be a faith issue,” she said. “We understand our Scripture in a different way.”

Now, that quote from the female Episcopal priest raises an interesting question: Did any mainstream Muslim leaders actually sign this letter? Did any Muslims sign the letter, period?

The logical thing to do is to look online and fine the list. However, at the moment, all I can find is news reports about the letter, many of which — unlike the Times story — note another predictable element of this development, which is that most of the women and men who signed this statement are from the Chicago area.

I am several pages into a logical online search and I can’t find the actual list. Surely it is online? Or, perhaps, was the story in the Times meant to serve as the official announcement?

Help me find the list, please. Once we have found it, we can search the list for (a) Muslims, (b) Catholics who are not liberal nuns, (c) Orthodox Jews, (d) evangelical Protestants who are employed by major evangelical denominations, (e) Mormons linked to major Mormon organizations, (f) Anglicans who are not part of The Episcopal Church, etc., etc. In other words, let’s search the list for surprising names, the kinds of signatures that would represent a truly newsworthy development.

Again let me stress: We are talking about a journalism issue here, exactly the same journalism issue that would be raised, let’s say, by a Fox News report trumpeting an anti-gay-marriage statement released by a long list of religious leaders who are part of religious groups that support their various traditions’ ancient doctrines on sex and marriage. That statement wouldn’t be big news either.

UPDATE: Thank you to reader Joyce Garcia. Here’s the link to a .pdf of the list. The list is pretty much what I expected, including its reference to an “Orthodox” parish — a St. Thomas Mission that is actually part of a liberal splinter group. Check the list. Check it twice.

Missing some fundamental facts on Obama and faith

A week or so ago, I wrote a Scripps Howard News Service column about the survey research indicating that secular and self-proclaimed liberal Americans are much more likely to be prejudiced against Mormon political candidates than are evangelical Protestants, the very folks that everyone has been worried about during the Mitt Romney campaign. That column opened like this:

With the White House race nearing an end, it’s time for America’s political pundits to face that fact that millions of voters will in fact be worried about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith on Election Day.

Many will be offended by what they believe are the intolerant, narrow teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on marriage. Others will be worried about Mormonism’s history of opposing abortion rights.

“There really is a large group of people in America who won’t vote for Mitt Romney for president because he is a Mormon,” noted Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, in a recent Institute on Religion and Democracy lecture. “It’s a very large group and there is a name for them — liberals.”

So the column opened with a well-known conservative political insider, who is also a conservative Anglican, making a conservative point based on survey research that digs into the biases of religious and secular liberals. Do the math and add up the number of times the word “conservative” is used in that sentence.

Days later, I started getting response emails from readers from coast to coast (since one of my email addresses is attached to the bottom of my columns in most newspapers). I received a higher rate than normal that Monday.

Each and every one of these emails — every SINGLE one of them — accused me of attacking Mitt Romney while, of course, taking part in the great mainstream-media conspiracy to hide the fact that President Barack Obama is (wait for it) a Muslim.

Against my better judgment, I responded to a few of these emails by citing the facts that I have written about many times here at GetReligion.org and in other columns — that Obama made a public profession of faith and, at a time never precisely confirmed by the congregation, was baptized by a clergy-person in one of America’s most theologically liberal Christian denominations. Along with his family, he was active in that Christian congregation for many years. He has made numerous public professions of his liberal take on the Christian faith since then.

People responded by saying (a) he’s lying or (b) that members of the United Church of Christ — a liberal national denomination that continues to include some quite conservative local congregations — are not real Christians.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why so many people in conservative-church pews and pulpits cannot grasp the fact that Obama is a liberal Christian. Yes, he may be so doctrinally liberal that, when it comes to eternal questions, he believes that there are no ultimate differences between Christians, Jews, Muslims and everybody else — but he is certainly not alone in believing that. The leaders of many denominations believe that. Legions of seminary professors agree with him.

In oh so many ways, Obama is a perfectly normal liberal Protestant Christian.

However, as recent Pew Forum research made clear, the world of liberal Protestantism is no longer at the heart of American life. The old mainline is now on the sideline, to the left of the mainstream. That does not mean that oldline churches are not important or worthy of balanced, nuanced coverage.

This brings me to a recent piece at the CNN Belief Blog called “The Gospel according to Obama“? At one point, that headline read: “Is Obama the ‘wrong’ kind of Christian?” The whole point of the piece is that Obama is a Christian progressive and part of the old mainline Protestant world. Thus, readers are told:

When Obama invoked Jesus to support same-sex marriage, framed health care as a moral imperative to care for “the least of these,’’ and once urged people to read their Bible but just not literally, he was invoking another Christian tradition that once dominated American public life so much that it gave the nation its first megachurches, historians say. …

Obama is a progressive Christian who blends the emotional fire of the African-American church, the ecumenical outlook of contemporary Protestantism, and the activism of the Social Gospel, a late 19th-century movement whose leaders faulted American churches for focusing too much on personal salvation while ignoring the conditions that led to pervasive poverty.

No other president has shared the hybrid faith that Obama displays, says Diana Butler Bass, a historian and author of “Christianity after Religion.”

“The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath of Christians in the U.S.,” says Bass, a progressive Christian. “He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”

There is much to criticize in that passage and in the article as a whole, but the key is this: The CNN team seems to have assumed that today’s mainline Protestantism is essentially the same, doctrinally, as the mainline Protestantism of the late 19th century. Also, there continue to be all kinds of people who, for example, would frame health care as a biblical imperative yet disagree with Obama and modern Christian liberals on a host of other issues, including doctrinal matters that can be framed in creedal terms.

Later on, the CNN team strives to contrast Obama and the believers who support him with — you got it — the world of 20th century Christian fundamentalism. It’s crucial that the article defines the “social Gospel” in ways that appear to contrast it with the beliefs of people who supported, and continue to support, conservative stances on basic Christian doctrines and moral teachings. Thus, readers learn:

The Social Gospel, though, sparked a backlash from a group of pastors during World War I. They were called fundamentalists. They published a pamphlet listing the “fundamentals of the faith:” Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, Adam and Eve. But the fundamentalists lost the battle for public opinion during the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was tried for violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.

Though Scopes lost, fundamentalist Christians were mocked in the press as “anti-intellectual rubes,” and a number of states suspended pending legislation that would have made teaching evolution illegal, says David Felton, author of “Living the Wisdom: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.” The trial drove fundamentalists underground where they created a subculture, their own media networks, seminaries and megachurches, he says.

That’s close, kind of.

The big problem, of course, is that the original “fundamentals of the faith” documents were crafted in that hotbed of anti-intellectualism — Princeton Theological Seminary. They were signed by Anglicans, Presbyterians and others in mainline churches. The purpose was to defend Christian basics, in terms of doctrine, not to reject ministry to the poor. Many did reject, and continue to reject, any belief that ministry to the poor can replace or exclude evangelism and the concern for eternal salvation. Basic, mere, Christianity is a both/and proposition in which it is heresy to deny either side of that equation.

Thus, a GetReligion reader who sent us the URL for this CNN story noted:

Some interesting stuff on President Obama here, but then they totally butcher the history of the development of fundamentalism (and completely misunderstand what fundamentalism was pushing back on among liberalism — that is, not the good works but the rejection of Christ as God), the background of Christian charity works stretching into the First Century, and so forth. Also worth note: they don’t bother to interview any but the most easily caricatured conservative voices, and typically go out of their way to make evangelical believers look like downright rubes. …

This is a real missed opportunity, because so many evangelicals might benefit from seeing how President Obama could share their faith while differing from them. Instead, it ended up being just another chance to rag on evangelicals.

*sigh*

Precisely. This CNN story has some fundamental flaws.


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