10 years of GetReligion: Women and the Godbeat

My 14-year-old daughter sits next to me as I type. Kendall often does this, curious about the day’s subject matter.

More often than not, she is interested (and I like to think it’s more than the caramel lattes I make us). She can identify with and wants to learn more about the issues and stories of today. But beyond that, she sees relevance as we talk about people and news and faith issues. Even before society will allow her to drive or vote, she knows she is permitted to think and reason and form opinions, changing them as she matures. That, as she would say, “is really cool.”

I’m thrilled by her interest in media, especially its coverage of religion and related topics. But a larger question looms when I think of her generation. And mine, and my mother’s and grandmothers’: Are we doing right by women when it comes to religion coverage, on both sides of the press? Does our industry have enough female Godbeat writers, and are we as women spending a proportionate amount of time reading and discussing stories with religious themes or context?

GetReligion has been blessed with a number of extraordinary writers during its 10-year history, and I walk in the oh-so-stylish shoes of some gifted female journalists. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans come immediately to mind because of the questions they asked during their time here and the myriad ways in which they made religion news coverage better.

Might another woman join our conversation soon? I’d love it. We’ve come far, but I know the best is still ahead, thanks to the wonderful gift of perspective and courtesy of one of my previous gigs.

When I became religion editor for The Oklahoman in 2000, I inherited a solemn-looking Rolodex filled with dozens of sources, contacts and phone numbers from my predecessor (also a woman). Probably 95 percent of those handwritten cards had men’s names. I didn’t give it a second thought then, but now it seems antiquated — and not just in the organizational sense.

I only knew of a handful of female religion writers back then, and none personally. It was almost like being a female sportswriter, always feeling like you had to work harder to make inroads. And the female sources were slim pickings — most either were a stretch or overused.

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Concerning AP and the Vatican’s ‘glass ceiling’ for women

Your GetReligionistas received several angry emails this past week about the following Associated Press story, each of them triggered by a single unattributed term in the piece. In The Washington Post, this piece ran under the following headline:

Pope: Women should play expanded role in Church

Nothing unusual there of course, unless you, like me, were surprised to see the Post copy desk go with an upper-case “C” on the word Church, which is Catholic tradition but not AP style.

No, what set our readers off — some of them non-Catholics, by the way — was a pair of words near the top of this alleged work of straightforward news copy.

Can you spot the red flag?

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis … lauded women for their sensitivity toward the society’s weak and “gifts” like intuition, insisting they take on greater responsibilities in the Catholic church, as well as in professional and public spheres.

Francis was full of praise about female talent and untapped potential in a speech at the Vatican to an Italian women’s group. But the pope gave no sign that the Vatican glass ceiling against ordaining women for the priesthood might see some cracks during his papacy.

From day one of his papacy in March, Francis has been trying to make the Catholic church more welcoming, but it forbids women from becoming priests, arguing among other things, that Jesus and his apostles were men.

Actually, there are several groaners in there, including the fact that anyone would need to argue about the fact that Jesus and the 12 apostles were all males.

Argue? Isn’t that something like someone needing to “argue” about whether the moon travels around the earth or that the Mother of God was a woman? (Personal note: Yes, I am an Eastern Orthodox layman and accept the teachings of the ancient church on this matter, although that was not the case when I was a Protestant.)

What the AP team meant to say is that arguments about women serving as priests center on what that historical fact MEANS and whether or not 2,000 years of tradition in the ancient churches is still binding on modern believers.

So there is that.

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NYTimes late to the story on ‘Women at the Pulpit’

Proving that when there isn’t really news, one can perhaps manufacture some, The New York Times is, once again, late to the story on a topic of religious significance. When last GetReligion examined the Times‘ timing on a story, George Conger found the Gray Lady, as the paper is known, to have just discovered the rise of Calvinism in non-Calvinist precincts — a good five years of so after many other media outlets had done so.

Now, the Times has made another one of these startling discoveries: there are women folk — yep, females! — in some of New York City’s pulpits! They’re actually preaching and leading congregations! The Times even has pictures! (Although, to be candid, the image shown here, of the late Aimee Semple McPherson, who was definitely a woman and definitely not a New York City pastor, isn’t among those photos.)

My gripe isn’t so much with the story itself, per se, but rather the “newness” of this, not to mention the tremendous assumptions buried in a paragraph such as this one:

Contributing to the growing numbers of women becoming pastors are real estate and denominations. Churches formed in nontraditional spaces, like storefronts, offer aspiring pastors more opportunities to preach. And in Holiness and Pentecostal churches, ordination and authority often come directly from the Spirit, said the Rev. Dr. Dale T. Irvin, president of the New York Theological Seminary.

Now that is quite a mouthful, isn’t it? They’ve had storefront churches in New York City for, what, 50 or 60 years at least? And only now are women empowered to preach in them? I’m sorry, but as a native of New York City (born in Manhattan in 1957 and having lived in the borough of Queens, chiefly, through 1985) who has returned scores of times since leaving, I recall lots of situations involving women in preaching situations long before this sudden “boom.”

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