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Press offerings during holy seasons (continued): Contrasting approaches in The New York Times

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Weeks ago, The Religion Guy discussed the perpetual media problem of handling religious holidays and highlighted a godsend (so to speak) for Holy Week 2017,  Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge’s “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.” 

Alas, a quick Google check finds no coverage of her or her blockbuster.

The New York Times, whose top editor recently confessed that “media powerhouses ... don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives,” proved that point with the sort of potshot at tradition one often gets from the mainstream news media during holy seasons. Molly Worthen’s Good Friday piece looked askance at evangelical conservatives’ biblical beliefs and “natural human aversion to unwelcome facts.” 

Then came Easter and a contrasting, surprising Ross Douthat column that meditated on U.S. “mainline” Protestant slippage.

Complaints about religious conservatives are the oldest of old news, so Douthat’s opus was by far the more interesting. In this case a political conservative was preaching to “this newspaper’s secular liberal readers,” and a staunch Catholic was telling cultural Protestants to shape up. The column was part of his mordant “implausible proposals” series, which mingles wry fantasy with sincerity.

 Douthat took an overly familiar theme in a new and unexpected direction. It’s well-known that times are tough for America’s seven ecumenically allied (the "Seven Sisters" camp) and predominantly white “mainline” Protestant denominations known for theological flexibility. Over the past four decades their combined memberships have shrunk 30 percent, from 28,160,000 to 19,590,000. Nothing like this has happened previously in American religion.

(Yes, I am aware that those “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” data are out of date because the National Council of Churches was unable to compile its standard annual the past five years -- a sign of mainline disarray.)

Instead of proclaiming the inherent superiority of conservative religion, Douthat expressed concern that de-churched liberals lack the organizing principles, intellectual coherence and public language to foster the common good. He’d like “liberal post-Protestants” to resume weekly church involvement, for their own sake, their families and their nation:  

“Liberals, give Mainline Protestantism another chance. ... The Mainline churches’ doors are open. They need you; America still needs them.” At, Jonathan Malesic responded that “there is just one problem: belief.” Even a Christian residue will keep mainline dropouts from returning.

Historian Worthen’s item was summarized in the headline: “The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society,” in particular denial of scientific facts. This Trump-Era scenario originated with by up-from Fundamentalism writer Rachel Held Evans. Evangelicals, of course, say their truths are actually true, as do most religions.

A 1,300-word article cannot plumb the varieties within evangelicalism the way Worthen did in “Apostles of Reason” (2013), which was hailed by Evangelical scholars. In the Times, Worthen played “the conservative evangelical war on facts” and distrust of the news media over against beneficent modern science and “peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world.”  

She especially targeted belief in an error-free Bible, but what that means is complicated, witness the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s 4,000-word declaration (.pdf here). Worthen did, though, acknowledge the evangelical legions that shun rigid literalism, embrace empirical science and think geological dating eliminated “young earth” chronology and six-day creation 150 years ago.

By the way, Worthen pursues similar things in the May Atlantic, explaining that President Trump “won over evangelicals -- and won the election -- because he exploited beliefs and fears with origins deep in America’s past.”

Categories: Main

BBC and Easter: If culture is upstream of politics, might doctrine -- for many -- be upstream of culture?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ask most Americans to name the most important day on the Christian calendar and I'm afraid (as a guy who took a bunch of church history classes) that the answer you will hear the most is "Christmas."

That is a very, very American answer. As the old saying goes, the two most powerful influences on the U.S. economy are the Pentagon and Christmas. There's no question which holiday puts the most shoppers in malls and ads in newspapers (grabbing the attention of editors).

But, as a matter of liturgical reality, there is no question that the most important holy day for Christians is Easter, called "Pascha" in the churches of the East. I realize that St. Paul is not an authoritative voice, in terms of Associated Press style, but this is how he put it:

... If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Now, I am not here to argue about doctrine. What "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I talked about during this week's podcast (click here to check that out) was the fact that what religious believers affirm in terms in doctrine often plays a crucial role in how they live and act. Thus, it is often wise for reporters to ask core doctrinal questions in order to spot fault lines inside Christian communities, especially during times of conflict.

Here at GetReligion, I have repeatedly mentioned (some witty readers once proposed a drinking game linked to this) the "tmatt trio" of doctrinal questions that I have used for several decades now. Here is a version taken from some of my conversations with the late George Gallup, Jr.

* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

Note which question is No. 1. Also, note that this question -- in addition to focusing on the resurrection -- raises questions about biblical authority and the trustworthiness of 2,000 of years of Christian Tradition (yes, with a large-T).

This brings us to the recent BBC survey about Easter that was the focus of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate.

Since when is Easter controversial? In this case, BBC asked a doctrinal question that clearly revealed that the resurrection -- as has been the case for 2,000 years -- remains the controversial cornerstone of Christian faith.

First of all, I mentioned that Pope Francis took the unusual step, during an off-the-cuff Easter sermon this year, of directly defending belief in the resurrection, saying:

“Today the church continues to say: Jesus has risen from the dead. ... This is not a fantasy. It’s not a celebration with many flowers,” he said, surrounded by Easter pageantry.Flowers are nice, but the resurrection is more, he added. “It is the mystery of the rejected stone that ends up being the cornerstone of our existence. Christ has risen from the dead."

As for the BBC survey itself, it claimed that many self-identified British Christians have rejected, or watered down, biblical claims that Jesus rose from the dead. The headline on the report proclaimed: “Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians.

Among the survey’s claims, as I stated things in my column:

* Only 17 percent of the participants said they believe biblical accounts of the resurrection are “word-for-word” true.* In all, 31 percent of “Christians” believe the Bible accounts word-for-word, with that total rising to 57 percent among active Christians -- defined as those who attend worship services at least once a month.* Half of the survey participants said they don’t believe in the resurrection at all.

Ah, but who is a "Christian"? The headline was based on the assumption that anyone who called themselves a Christian was in fact a Christian.

Meanwhile, an Anglican priest who is both a theologian and a mathematician dug deeper into the BBC numbers and noted that the beliefs of people who frequent altars every week (or nearly that) are radically different from those who rarely do so. The Rev. Ian Paul concluded:

... On question after question linked to Easter, “inactive Christians look far more like the non-Christians than the active Christians.”

Another outspoken Anglican priest -- who is attempting to leave the Church of England -- went further, in a Telegraph story reacting to the BBC poll. That blunt headline proclaimed: "You can't be Christian if you don't believe in the resurrection, says former Queen's chaplain." Here's the top of that story:

A former chaplain to the Queen has said that the quarter of Christians who say they do not believe in the Resurrection "cannot be Christians". The Rev Dr Gavin Ashenden said in a letter to the Times that a survey which found that one in four self-proclaimed Christians do not believe in Jesus's Resurrection "made the mistake of confusing British culture with Christianity". He said: "Those people who neither believe in the Resurrection nor go anywhere near a church cannot be 'Christians'."As with so many things, the key is in the definition of terms. Discovering the evidence for the Resurrection having taken place to be wholly compelling is one of the things that makes you a Christian; ergo, if you haven’t, you are not."

So what is the journalism takeaway here?

Think of it this way: How many have you seen news reports about "Catholic voters" when there were massive differences in the views of Catholics who are daily or weekly Mass attenders and those who rarely take part in the sacraments of their faith? Should journalists pay attention?

How about in Judaism: Does participation in temple or synagogue worship services have anything to do with intermarriage rates? Should journalists pay attention?

One more: During the 2016 presidential race, remember the emerging evidence that the early Donald Trump enthusiasts tended to be less active in mainstream evangelical churches than those who backed other conservative candidates? Should journalists have paid attention?

What people believe often influences how they live and act. You know the old saying that culture is "upstream of politics"? Well, when you are talking about matters of faith, morality and culture, doctrine is often upstream of culture, which is upstream of politics.

Politics, of course, matter to journalists. So maybe it's time for more journalists to join BBC in asking a few blunt questions about doctrine?

Enjoy the podcast.

Categories: Main

Conservative, moderate, liberal: A few more thoughts on Baylor, Baptists and theological labels

Friday, April 21, 2017

In my post Thursday, I delved into the religious background of Baylor University's first female president — a Baptist supportive of female senior pastors.

In that post, I noted that the Dallas Morning Newsin a front-page story — referred to Baylor as a "conservative Baptist school."

I wrote:

I'm not certain that "conservative Baptist" is the best description for Baylor, particularly in Texas. Longtime observers know that Baylor in the 1990s "survived a fierce struggle between conservatives and moderates at the Southern Baptist Convention." As Christianity Today notes, Baylor maintains a relationship with the moderate (in Baptist terms) Baptist General Convention of Texas, which "selects a quarter of Baylor’s board of regents and provides a sliver of its annual operating budget."

I also suggested that describing Baylor as "conservative" was questionable given its hiring of a president, Linda Livingstone, who has attended churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF, I said, "includes progressive Southern Baptist and former Southern Baptist congregations."

My post drew some excellent feedback from two longtime observers of Texas Baptists — and I wanted to highlight their insight in this follow-up post.

The first comment came from Jeffrey Weiss, the former award-winning Godbeat pro for the Dallas Morning News. Given that Weiss is in the midst of a cancer battle about which he has written eloquently for his own newspaper and Religion News Service, I was especially grateful to hear from him.

Here is what Weiss said:

I would gently suggest that BGCT remains "conservative" if one need not be extreme to justify the word. CBF is a different story, however. Fascinating!

I always appreciate gentle comments from faithful readers. Many thanks, kind sir!

The other response — equally gentle — came from GetReligion's own tmatt, a Baylor alum who grew up in a Southern Baptist household and is now an Eastern Orthodox Christian:

In recent years, the BGCT has -- behind the scenes -- had its share of tensions about Christian doctrines linked to the usual Sexual Revolution issues. Those of us who grew up as moderate Southern Baptists also know that there are differences, of style and substance, on issues linked to evangelism and salvation.But not all CBF and BGCT churches are alike -- that's crucial. There are congregations in Waco that can accurately be described as theologically liberal. There are many "moderate" churches in town that are not liberal.It appears clear that the new president has a long history of connections with Jimmy Carter/Bill Clinton Baptists. Yet her husband, in DC, was a leader in a school with strong and very clear statements on moral issues.There is much for reporters to explore here. Issues of style and substance matter, in a place like Texas.

Trinity Christian School in Fairfax, Va., is the school where Livingstone's husband, Brad, serves as dean of students and teaches history. That school's foundational principles include:

We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female (Exodus 4:11; Psalm 139:14; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). God has purposefully designed each person, in his image, with the biological gender with which he or she was born. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7-12; James 3:9; 2 Corinthians 3:18). One’s biological sex reflects the wisdom of God in creating, and the intent of God in placing the image of God within that particular gender and person. Recognizing our sex, male or female, as a gift from God leads us to understand that conduct designed to redefine the unique, purposeful, God-ordained gender assigned by God to each person is not in accord with biblical teaching (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 22:5; Jeremiah 1:4-5; Psalm 139:13-16; John 1:3; Galatians 3:28). Efforts to adopt an outward identity contrary to a person’s gender, deny God’s creative purpose and providential intention in making us male or female. 

In response to tmatt's comment, I asked:

To what extent would you consider her husband and his school relevant to coverage of HER background?

His reply:

As relevant as LGBTQ activists in the Big 12 sports/TV wars make it. Or the New York Times/Washington Post, in no particular order.

OK, but what would tmatt do? Maybe he'll reply and keep the conversation going. My personal thought: Focus on the new president, not her husband. That's why I didn't mention the above detail in my original post.

Your input would be most welcomed, too, dear reader. Please remember that GetReligion is focused on journalism and media coverage issues.

Categories: Main

Once again, Time magazine's top 100 influential people list shortchanges the religious world

Friday, April 21, 2017

Each year, Time magazine comes out with its “100 Most Influential People” list, which is often clueless about the world of religion.

Well, it's deja vu all over again. This year’s selection did not fail to disappoint.

There were no icons of the religious left, such the Rev. James Martin nor, on the opposite pole, people like the Rev. Russell Moore, who took a lot of heat -- and nearly lost his job -- for criticizing evangelical Trump supporters.

There was no Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the ISIS leader whose butchery and short-lived Islamic  caliphate is still creating international havoc. (He made the short list for Time’s 2015 person of the year, so go figure).

There was no sign of the Rev. Tim Keller, the Presbyterian pastor who, against many odds, started a Reformed congregation in highly secular Manhattan 28 years ago and grew it into a 5,000-member congregation. No less than the New York magazine has called Keller the city’s “most successful Christian evangelist.” It was only recently that he became more widely known after Princeton Theological Seminary announced he’d won its annual Kuyper Prize, then reneged on giving him the award after an outcry from theological liberals.

The only religious leader cited was Pope Francis, in an essay written by Cardinal Blaise Cupich:

 Before being elected Pope, Francis gave a speech to his fellow Cardinals warning against becoming a “self-referential” church, rather than one that goes out of itself to the margins of society to be with those who suffer. That is where God is working in the world and where he calls us to be. This has rung especially true this year, as Francis has spoken out on the need to welcome refugees amid a global crisis.

Yes, there was Chance the Rapper, the Christian hiphop artist, also made the list.

Chance upends expectations about what artists, ­especially hip-hop artists, can do. He streams his albums instead of selling them. He makes music from an unapologetically inspiring and Christian perspective—music that transcends age, race and gender. He gives back to his Chicago community. And he does it all as an independent artist, without the support of a label.

Outside of U.S. borders, I will say the list did include Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, a Hindu nationalist who has made life hell for religious minorities in his country. As the article notes: 

…this Hindu nationalist used Twitter to bypass traditional media and speak directly to masses feeling left or pushed behind by globalization, and he promised to make India great again by rooting out self-serving elites. Nearly three years later, his vision of India's economic, geopolitical and cultural supremacy is far from being realized, and his extended family of Hindu nationalists have taken to scapegoating secular and liberal intellectuals as well as poor Muslims.He’s also selectively targeted Christians

There’s a lot about who made that list I disagree with (Margaret Atwood? Really?)  And Colin Kaepernick? Seriously?) And they left out a lot of good people besides those in the religious world. Why couldn’t Time have chosen some of the spiritual giants from, say, China? How about Zhang Kai, the human rights lawyer, who was jailed the day before he was to have met Rabbi David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom? And then he was tortured for the next six months.

 Or Yu Jie, a Chinese Chistian writer and dissident who was also tortured before he fled to the United States? Come to think of it, did the late and famed Harry Wu,  who endured 19 years in China’s prisons, then spent the rest of his life exposing his country’s human rights abuses, ever make the list?

There are amazing human rights activists from all religions in Pakistan to Persia who could be on that list.

There are other religious personalities around the world. One is Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the erratic foe of American forces in the Middle East and who has long been a divisive figure. Yet he’s got huge sway in Iraq. Or Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who works hand-in-glove with Putin -- except when he doesn't (there's news on both sides of that equation). 

There are probably more and better names worthy of being on this list and I am shooting in the dark by naming just a few. But I see no effort by Time to go out and find the star players among the billions of Earth’s residents who profess a religion.

There were some creative picks on this year's list. Next time, I hope Time skips some of the obvious and puts some time into choosing who are heroes of Earth's many faiths.

Categories: Main

God-talk in Politico: Website gingerly approaches Trump's religiosity in profile

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The late Phyllis Tickle, doyenne of writers about religious publishing, has a warm place in my heart for her 1997 book, "God-Talk in America." (And, yes, it's partly because she said something nice about one of my books therein.)

But when we consider "God-talk" today, much of that discussion must center on President Donald Trump and his administration. A nearly infinite number of pixels have been spilled in the analysis of Trump's references to faith versus the rather coarse lifestyle he embraced in his pre-campaign days. I am sure armies of reporters are checking into any current rumors.

Now, as we approach the 100-day mark of the new administration, Politico jumps into the God-talk arena, asking, "Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?" Here's the opening:

President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks -- calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.He's also taken other steps to further cultivate a Christian right that helped elect him, granting new levels of access to Christian media and pushing socially conservative positions that don't appear to come naturally to him.One of the first interviews Trump sat for as president was with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.“I’ve always felt the need to pray,” Trump said in that late-January interview. “The office is so powerful that you need God even more because your decisions are no longer, ‘Gee I’m going to build a building in New York.’ … These are questions of massive, life-and-death.”“There’s almost not a decision that you make when you’re sitting in this position that isn’t a really life-altering position,” Trump added. “So God comes into it even more so.”

But don't let the semi-friendly tone fool you, gentle reader. 

Politico echoes much of the media in contrasting Trump's words with his alleged non-deeds: POTUS was "a businessman who was known more as a playboy than a practitioner of faith," they note, and -- wait for it! -- he doesn't attend church services regularly, though he did make an appearance at a nearby Episcopal congregation in Florida on Easter Sunday:

But there’s no public knowledge of any other church services Trump has attended, and if he has, it has been without the knowledge of White House pool reporters.The White House did not respond to questions about whether Trump has been attending church as president.

Politico's Matt Nussbaum, apparently eager to dish on the contrasts in Trump's God-talking versus his life, neglects to provide much-needed context, even from his own organization. President Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor, shied away from church attendance, too, but according to a 2014 Politico report, in the heart of 44's second term, that wasn't such a terrible thing:

President Barack Obama rarely goes to church and has spent just one Christmas morning of his presidency in the pews.But that’s not for lack of faith, members of his small circle of religious confidants say. While church isn’t a regular part of Obama’s life, prayer and reflection are, whether he’s meeting with ministers in the Oval Office or spending a few minutes reading an inspirational passage. And, if anything, they argue, his connection with God has intensified during his time in the White House.

There couldn't possibly be any sort of double-standard here, could there? At the end of 2014, the lack of church attendance by a president was No Big Deal. Now, less than three years later and, again, less than 100 days into his administration, Trump is proving some sort of hypocrite, or worse, for not showing up in church each and every Sunday.

Nothing to see here, folks, just move along! Then again, Obama didn't owe his presidency, in large part, to a tsunami of white evangelical Protestants (about half of which truly wanted to vote for him).

In contrast to Politico's take, the Associated Press, in a widely circulated pre-Easter story, notes there might be a good reason why the self-described "down the middle of the road" Presbyterian wouldn't rush over to one of his denomination's outposts for a Sunday respite:

"Churches in D.C. tend, not all, but tend to be a little more liberal. It's a hard sell," said the Rev. Roger Gench, the senior pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House. He said his church has not reached out to Trump, though all are welcome."The policies of Trump are counter to the views of most of the people in the church," he said.

By framing Trump's invocations-versus-attendance as something new and unusual, the current Politico report ignores not only their own previous reporting but also omits vital context. If I knew that a congregation wouldn't welcome me as a worshiper and might even shun me -- the clear implication of the Gench's comments about "most" of his congregants' views -- why would I bother showing up?

Moreover, there's tradition to consider. The AP story correctly notes that President Bill Clinton "frequented a Methodist church" in the District. But that's the exception in the past 17 years. President George W. Bush, also less-than-popular with some in Washington, routinely opted -- with post-9/11 security -- for a chapel service at the White House or Camp David. The Obamas were expected to join a local congregation but never did.

Part of this may reflect the radically different world we've seen since the 1970s when President Jimmy Carter was known for teaching Sunday School classes. There's way more in terms of security concerns to factor in, and it's just easier for a President to have a preacher come to the First Family, even if it misses a nice photo op.

But you won't know that from just reading this latest Politico report, which seeks to make much of a Washington newcomer's behavior without any context or clarity.

Categories: Main

Our Fox News question remains: Was there any real religion factor in career of Bill O'Reilly?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What can I say? People keep asking me if there is some kind of "religion ghost" lurking in the story of the fall of Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly.

After all, he was one of America's leading "conservatives."

O'Reilly also mentioned, from time to time, his Catholic roots. Yes, we will get to that timely handshake with Pope Francis in a minute (Religion News Service report here). As religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling told me, in an email one-liner: "Since O'Reilly made so much of his Catholic identity, perhaps he should have asked Pope Francis to hear his confession when they met at the Vatican?"

But, you see, this is where I need to plead ignorance and seek help from readers. As I have said before, I never watched O'Reilly's show. I don't think I ever watched an episode from end to end, because I truly despised the style and content of his baseball-bat commentary work. His opinion-to-reporting ratio was not my cup of tea. I remain a Brit Hume, Kirsten Powers, Megyn Kelly, Howard Kurtz kind of guy.

So help me here: Did O'Reilly consistently make a big deal out of the CONTENT of his Catholic identity or did he just mention it in passing? Did he quote scripture, the Catholic Catechism or papal documents? I honestly want to know.

I also hear this: What about the whole "War on Christmas" riff that he used year after year after year, world without end?

From what I have seen, that part of his work was based on his anti-political-correctness stance and a kind of marketplace version of civil religion. I never heard him engage in the actual details of church-state debates linked to this important First Amendment topic. He just bashed away, knowing that his audience loved it. Did I miss something?

If there is a valid GetReligion angle to this story it is, in my opinion, the possibility that the very public falls of O'Reilly and original Fox News maestro Roger Ailes offer insights into the moral and political philosophy at the heart of this news operation. This is what I wrote before -- "Tale of two Foxes: What kind, or kinds, of conservative values drive Fox News?" -- about this issue and its possible impact on coverage of religion and public life:

What is missing, in my opinion, is any hint [in news coverage] that there is a major division inside Fox News -- not just between news people and opinion people, but between people who get religion and those who have little or no interest in doing so. Does this have anything to do with a divide between clashing conservative camps, with O'Reilly and the country-club Republicans on one side and the heartland, cultural conservatives on the other? Does this have anything to do with O'Reilly and all of those claims about his, well, anti-Billy Graham Rules way of life?

The New York Times, of course, flooded the zone on the O'Reilly story -- with good cause.

At the same time, that newsroom's coverage basically assumed that a conservative is a conservative is a conservative. Libertarian conservative? Heartland conservatives? Religious conservative? Corporate conservative? New York City conservatives? Lap-dog Republican conservative? Who knows?

Consider this passage in a new Times report, with the obligatory Christmas nod:

For a generation of conservative-leaning Fox News viewers, Mr. O’Reilly, 67, was a populist voice who railed against what they viewed as the politically correct message of a lecturing liberal media. Defiantly proclaiming his show a “No Spin Zone,” he produced programming infused with patriotism and a scorn for feminists and what he called “the war on Christmas,” which became one of his signature themes.The news of Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster came while he was on a vacation to Italy; on Wednesday morning, he met Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Mr. O’Reilly’s tickets to the Vatican were arranged by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York. 

The sort-of-damning reference to Cardinal Dolan is interesting, since it has no attribution. I would assume that it would be important to know, on the record, if and when the cardinal's office made that application. Last week? Several months ago?

As an aging journalist, I also flinched then I hit this reference in the Times:

On his show Wednesday night -- the title shortened to just “The Factor” -- the substitute host, Dana Perino, paid tribute to Mr. O’Reilly, calling him “the undisputed king of cable news.”

Well now, in what sense was O'Reilly producing "news" content on cable TV? What is the meaning of the word "news" in that statement? (Cue: Audible sigh.)

You can see the same issues in this passage from a Washington Post report. I thought it was crucial that this daily story flashed back to show how long O'Reilly has been dealing with these kinds of accusations (some backed with slimy audio recordings).

... “The O’Reilly Factor” has been the network’s flagship show for nearly 20 years, and in many ways has embodied its conservative-oriented spirit.He still seemed to be at the peak of his popularity and prestige only three weeks ago. His 8 p.m. program, which mixes discussion segments with O’Reilly’s pugnacious commentary, drew an average of 4 million viewers each night during the first three months of the year, the most ever for a cable-news program. His popularity, in turn, helped drive Fox News to record ratings and profits. O’Reilly was also the co-author of two books that were at the top of the bestseller lists in April.O’Reilly had previously survived several controversies during his 21 years at Fox, including a lurid sexual harassment case in 2004 that was fodder for New York’s tabloid newspapers. He also beat back a wave of headlines in 2015, when reporters examined his claims about his days as a young reporter and found them to be dubious. All the while, O’Reilly’s audience not only stuck with him, but continued to grow.

So that is all, for now.

For GetReligion, this crucial question remains: Did the frat-house approach of Ailes and O'Reilly have anything to do with Fox News, through the years, doing little or no hard-news coverage (which its cable demographic would surely have welcomed) of events and trends linked to religion? Are some forms of conservatism in America -- think religious conservatives vs. folks in corporate board rooms -- more interested in religious liberty and related issues than others? 

Please fill me in with some URLs and information about O'Reilly and the Catholic factor in his life and work. Don't just pour out opinions, in O'Reilly style. Can anyone help me with some links to real information?

Thanks in advance.

Categories: Main

Baylor again has a Baptist president — its first female head — and other relevant details on her hiring

Thursday, April 20, 2017

By now, you probably heard that scandal-plagued Baylor University has hired a new presidentits first female one.

The lede from the Dallas Morning News' front-page report:

Baylor University has hired its first woman president in its 172-year history, the university announced Tuesday, as the school works to recover from its long-running sexual assault scandal.Linda Livingstone, the dean of George Washington University’s business school and a former faculty member at Baylor, was the unanimous choice of the university’s regents, the school said.She will begin June 1.Livingstone steps in to steer the university after a sexual assault crisis led to the ousting of her predecessor last May. Baylor parted ways with university president Ken Starr, as well as the football coach and the athletic director, in a sweeping reaction to the school’s botched handling of rapes and other attacks, including those by football players.

Obviously, Baylor's decision to hire a woman to deal with its ongoing rape scandal is the major news development.

But GetReligion readers no doubt are interested in specific religious details concerning the new leader of "the world's largest Baptist university" — as the news media and Baylor itself often refer to the Waco, Texas, institution.

Such details are scattered throughout the secular newspaper and Christian media reports that we scanned. When put together, those accounts begin to paint a portrait of Livingstone's faith background.

From the Dallas newspaper:

Livingstone, who has been an advocate for women in the business world, will be charged with guiding Baylor into a new era. The conservative Baptist school in Waco did not allow men and women to dance together until 1996. But after the growing scandal had prominent alumni and donors demanding answers, the university is trying to make profound changes to its policies and culture.“Dr. Livingstone’s experience uniquely fit the profile of the dynamic faith and transformational leader which Baylor needs at this point in time in our history,” Bob Brewton, a 1974 Baylor graduate who led the search for a new president, said in a news release announcing her hiring.

I'm not certain that "conservative Baptist" is the best description for Baylor, particularly in Texas. Longtime observers know that Baylor in the 1990s "survived a fierce struggle between conservatives and moderates at the Southern Baptist Convention." As Christianity Today notes, Baylor maintains a relationship with the moderate (in Baptist terms) Baptist General Convention of Texas, which "selects a quarter of Baylor’s board of regents and provides a sliver of its annual operating budget."

The Dallas Morning News also suggests:

Livingstone is a longtime Baptist, a key criterion for the leader of a university that prides itself on its Christian identity.

Is the Dallas paper saying that being Baptist is a key criterion? If so, that's interesting since the university's last president — Kenneth Starr — came from a Church of Christ background, although he said upon his hiring that he was fine joining a Baptist church.

The Houston Chronicle notes this:

Baylor hired executive consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, based in Chicago, to help it find Starr’s successor. The firm said in a position profile that it sought a “mature, unapologetic, yet growing Christian leader” with financial savvy, communication skills and the desire to lift academic standards.

And this:

Livingstone, he said, “met all our requirements. She, her husband and their family are outstanding, committed Christians.”

But the Houston paper provides no specifics. 

Baylor's hometown Waco Tribune-Herald, however, includes this highly relevant background: Livingstone was a member of Waco's Calvary Baptist Church during her previous time with the university. That church is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — which includes progressive Southern Baptist and former Southern Baptist congregations. In 1998, Calvary Baptist became the first church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas to call a female senior pastor, the Baptist Press reported at that time.

And in a piece of Livingstone's selection as Baylor president, the Waco paper reports:

The Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, former pastor of Calvary Baptist, said Livingstone was co-chair of the pastor search committee when Russell accepted the role in 1998.Baylor’s next president played a large role in the church’s “period of significant renewal and change,” Russell said.“Linda has a considerable capacity to absorb chaos and to give back calm and to speak words of hope,” she said. “She’s able to maintain a hopeful imagination in the midst of difficult circumstances.”

Note to the Dallas Morning News: If Baylor is a "conservative Baptist school," hiring Livingstone is an interesting way to show it.

The Baptist Standard points out:

During her earlier time at Baylor, she was a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco. Most recently, she and her family have been members of First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Like Calvary Baptist, First Baptist in Washington is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, according to its website.

And the D.C. church's pastor also is a woman. In fact, it's the same woman quoted by the Waco paper. Since the beginning of 2016, Pennington-Russell has served as the senior pastor of Livingstone's home congregation in the nation's capital. Coincidence?

Finally, for those interested in how rare it is for a Baptist or evangelical university to hire a woman as president, Christianity Today's Kate Shellnutt offers some interesting background:

Women make up about 16 percent of top leaders at evangelical colleges and nonprofits, while their status in secular organizations is well over double that, according to a 2014 study.Though the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), of which Baylor is an affiliate member, has since named its first female president, fewer than 1 in 10 CCCU schools is led by a woman. Last month, the CCCU gathered more than 600 women at an event focused on female representation in faculty and administrative leadership positions.

What other religious details about Livingstone and Baylor's choice are you seeing, dear GetReligion readers? What else do you want to know?

Categories: Main

When doctrines make news: Why do Hindus believe cows are sacred?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

THE QUESTION: What’s the background on Hinduism’s belief in “sacred cows”? (This question was actually posed by The Religion Guy himself -- not a reader -- because the topic is currently in the news.)


Press reports from India say the government in Uttar Pradesh state is waging a campaign against Muslim slaughterhouses accused of processing cows, which is illegal, instead of buffaloes, which is allowed and constitutes a large industry. Muslim butchers deny the accusations. In Gujarat state, meanwhile, the maximum punishment for killing a cow has been increased from seven years to life in prison.

India is offically non-sectarian but has a lopsided Hindu majority, and the current national government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is Hindu nationalist in character. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat till 2014. The BJP recently won a lrge victory in Uttar Pradesh elections and installed strong-willed Hindu sage Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister. In BJP-ruled Rajasthan state, the cabinet includes a minister for cows.

There’ve been some riots and even a vigilante killing over cow issues during recent years. In times past, regimes even executed cow-killers. Since the 19th Century the nation has seen the rise of militant societies and vigilantes devoted to cow protection. Due to this religious heritage, many cattle roam city streets and the countryside unhindered. For some, reverence extends to bulls and oxen.

Though heavily Hindu, India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan. As with states’ “anti-conversion” laws aimed especially at hindering Christians, crackdowns on Muslims over cows reflect popular feeling among Hindus. Religion News Service reports there’s also sporadic persecution against atheists.

A new Pew Research report on 198 countries judges India to be the world’s fourth worst in “social hostilities involving religion,” exceeded only by Syria, Nigeria and Iraq. It also ranks India in the “high” category for “government restrictions” on religion. Click here for more information.

It’s often said Hindus “worship” cows. At the annual cow festival the animals are bathed and offered garlands and treats amid emotional weeping that for outsiders looks for all the world like devotion to divinities. But Hindu authors say cows are merely venerated, not worshiped, and this because of their close association with the gods, especially Shiva, Nandi, Krishna (a cowherd as a youngster), and with goddesses in general because of cows’ maternal attributes.

Unique to the Hindu faith, cow protection is an example of major religious evolution, since historians tell us that thousands of years ago believers ritually sacrificed cows and ate their flesh. But a ban on those practices gradually spread and then became absolute.

Religious historian Bruce Lincoln of the University of Chicago, among other experts, wrote that the roots of cow veneration are “considerably older” than Hinduism’s broad commitment to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) and corresponding regard for all animals.

In the early second millennium B.C.E., hymns collected in the Rig Veda upheld cows as “beings not to be killed.”

Continue reading "Why do Hindus believe cows are sacred?", by Richard Ostling.

Categories: Main

Politico's attempt to link Trump and Putin via Chabad movement falls as flat as matzah

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Is there a newspaper or television station out there that hasn't been contacted by a representative of the Hasidic Jewish organization Chabad pitching a story about local kids helping to bake matzah dough in the days leading up to Passover?

Ah, p.r. manna -- quickie content that beats having to actually ferret out yet another obligatory pre-Passover holiday feature. And what cute visuals; eager kids working alongside cheerful young men sporting classic rabbinic beards dusted with flour.

But Chabad, also known as Chabad-Lubavitcher, is about way more than quickie Passover stories. In case you're not aware of this, let it be said that Chabad is one of the planet's most powerful and far-reaching Jewish religious organizations.

Like all global religious players, it's deeply involved in political gamesmanship, which it plays with considerable skill. Chabad excels at swimming with political sharks of all sorts -- from Nepal to Nigeria, from Ukraine to Uruguay, from Hawaii to Capitol Hill and the White House.

Its supporters lavish donations and praise -- Chabad was key to the survival of traditional Jewish religious practice during the Soviet Union's darkest days. Its critics attack it for a willingness to work with some pretty vile authoritarian governments, its hyper-competitive and often dismissive stance toward other Jewish religious organizations and, yes, its aggressive promulgation of ultra-Orthodox religious practice in a liberal age.

An example of this criticism is a recent piece published by Politico that sought to link American President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Chabad cast as some shady go between.

I'll of course say more about this lengthy story, including whether it was blatantly anti-Semitic, as some have alleged. But I think I should first disclose that over the decades I've had a series of direct connections with Chabad.

Perhaps most importantly, as a freelancer in the late 1980s I produced various written materials for Chabad's West Coast headquarters in Los Angeles. I've also attended numerous Chabad synagogues in the U.S., as well as in Latin America and Europe, and I've had close friendships with several Chabadniks (as adherents are colloquially known).

All that, however, is past tense. 

Now back to the Politico piece.

The story, headlined "The Happy-Go-Lucky Jewish Group that Connects Trump and Putin," takes a kitchen-sink approach that's, frankly, hard to follow.

It may be a great piece of web research, but no smoking gun proving anything nefarious is evident, in my opinion.

The main connectors it provides to bolster its theory are:

* Over the decades, Trump has had many business connections with super-wealthy Chabad supporters, many of them Russian oligarchs.

* Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, who are Orthodox Jews (she's a convert, of course) also have history with Chabad and currently attend a Chabad synagogue in Washington.

* Chabad's Moscow leadership is close to Putin, a political arrangement that's allowed Chabad to gain official recognition as a representative for Russia's Jews, who still officially number close to 200,000. (There are probably many more who keep their Jewishness on the down low out of fear of anti-Semitism.)

All interesting, but nothing definitive.

The story also suffers from numerous reporting and editing lapses, some big and some small.

For starters, no official Chabad organizational spokesperson is quoted. That's a big one. References to the Reform Jewish moment are all lowercased ("reform") -- an error I frequently see made by mainstream and non-Jewish media. We'll call that a small one.

The story's headline, with its reference to "happy-go-lucky," itself displays what appears to be a profound ignorance of the subject matter.

The only explanation for it's use is a quote about Chabadniks liking to dance at weddings (in keeping with Orthodox Jewish tradition, men and women dance separately, divided by a large partition). I can personally attest to the dancing. I've been to large Chabad weddings and they're energy-packed and great fun, helped along as they are by an abundance of food and alcohol.

But the quote also hints at an utter ignorance of Chabad's -- and the larger Hasidic movement of which it is a part -- origins as a 19th-Century revolt by largely uneducated peasants rooted in mysticism and joyful emotionalism against the severe intellectual elitism that then dominated European Judaism.

The piece contains many more such slip ups, but I think I've made my point. If you think I haven't, read the full story. Read it anyway to reach your own conclusion.

Reaction to the article in the American Jewish and Israeli press has been spotty, but negative.

Here's some of what an Israel-based correspondent for JTA, the international Jewish wire service, wrote.

It’s clear from the article that Chabad is a common thread between Putin allies and the Trump family and its business partners -- in the sense that support for Catholic charities is a common thread among politicians attending the Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. But the article never actually shows what Chabad has to do with any of the ties between Trump and Russia.Did Chabad influence any of the business deals or relationships between Putin’s oligarchs, their friends and Trump? The article never reports any influence. Did Trump meet any of his Russian business partners through Chabad? Not according to the article. Did Chabad play a role in Kushner’s success shepherding Trump’s presidential campaign? If it did, the article doesn’t say so.Despite the article’s info-dump on ties between Trump, Putin and Chabad benefactors, Chabad’s connection to the story emerges as nothing more than incidental. Although the article shows that Trump and Putin allies support Chabad, it does not prove that Chabad has any meaningful role -- let alone an “outsize importance” -- in the Trump-Russia affair.

Finally, is the Politico article anti-Semitic, as argued by a writer for The Federalist, a reporter who also writes for the American Jewish print and online newspaper The Forward?

I don't think so. I'd say that, despite the failed casting of a Jewish religious organization as somehow engaged in underhanded international intrigue, the article is far more about further tarring Trump than it is Chabad.

I'm not one to defend Trump on his still murky dealings with Russia. In truth, I'm not one to defend Trump on any score and I believe that if the full truth on his connections with Russia ever emerges he'll end up looking pretty bad.

But not because of this highly speculative Politico story.

Categories: Main

Hey CNN: To what does this 117-year-old Baptist deacon attribute her long, joyful life?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

As one would expect, journalists paid quite a bit of attention to the recent death of 117-year-old Emma Morano -- believed to be the last living person born in the 19th century. BBC noted that she "attributed her longevity to her genetics and a diet of three eggs a day, two of them raw." She lived through 90 Italian governments.

The people who pay close attention to stories of this kind immediately focused on the next "supercentenarian" -- someone older than 110 -- in the record book. That would be 117-year-old Violet Mosse-Brown of Jamaica, who is believed to be the last living subject of Queen Victoria. Her son is 97. 

It is an unwritten tradition that news stories about the world's oldest humans must include this question: To what do you attribute your health and long life? In the case of Brown, it was interesting to note the role of faith in the coverage.

As one would expect, the denominational Baptist Press jumped into the faith details. And CNN? Using information from a Jamaican newspaper, CNN merely noted:

... There is no secret formula to Brown's long life. "Really and truly, when people ask what me eat and drink to live so long, I say to them that I eat everything, except pork and chicken, and I don't drink rum and them things," Brown told The Gleaner.Raised Christian, she has been a music teacher and church organist for over 80 years. After her husband's death in 1997, she took over his responsibilities and became a record-keeper for the local cemetery, a job she continued well after her 100th birthday.

Brown was merely "raised" as a generic Christian? She was an employee in that church for eight decades? She lives in Jamaica and avoids rum?

On the other side of the pond, The Independent offered a bit more of that, in a quote from the woman herself:

Violet Mosse-Brown, also known as Aunt V, was born on 10 March 1900 in Duanvale, Trelawny, Jamaica. She attributes her longevity to her “faith in serving God “ and her genes. 

Apparently, this woman is not shy when it comes to talking about her faith.

Reporters simply need to ask, with the assumption that her beliefs, well, might have something to do with how she has lived her life. When that life has lasted 117 years, the details might matter. The Jamaica Observer noted:

She was six months in the making at the turn of the 20th century and her parents, Elizabeth Riley (who lived to 96) and John Mosse, welcomed into the world their daughter, Violet, on March 13, 1900 -- born on the same premises where she still lives, 116 years later.“I live by the grace of God and I am proud of my age!” declares Mrs Violet Mosse Brown, the world’s second-oldest living person according to the Guinness Book of Records. ...

Now, back to that detail about avoiding rum. Yes, the odds are good that this colorful detail about this woman's life is linked to her church.

A lengthy, detailed Baptist Press feature made it clear that Jamaican media coverage of Mosse-Brown -- including some of the same online material referenced by CNN and others -- included lots of facts about her local church and her involvement there. Did material from Baptist publications on the island show up in Internet searches?

I would assume so. The question, apparently, is whether these details are worth a line or two of ink. Here is the Baptist Press overture about this believer, who was baptized at the age of 13:

What has the world's oldest person, Violet Mosse-Brown, age 117, done nearly all her life?She has been a faithful, industrious church member, according to the Jamaica Baptist Reporter of the Jamaica Baptist Union. Violet Mosse-Brown, 117, a Jamaican Baptist, is now the world's oldest person. ..."I live by the grace of God and I am proud of my age!" Mosse-Brown told columnist Jean Lowrie Chin of the Jamaica Observer during a May 2016 visit in the home where the mother of six children has lived all her life. ..."I love the church," Mosse-Brown told The Gleaner, another Jamaican publication, in 2010, having made decades of "staunch contribution" at Trittonville Baptist Church in Duanvale.The Waldensia-Trittonville Circuit of Baptist Churches honored Mosse-Brown as "their extra-precious super-centenarian whom they affectionately call Sister Vie or Sister Brown" during a celebration of her then-116 years of life, according to the January 2017 edition of the Jamaica Baptist Reporter."[T]he guest of honor was lauded and cited as a person of exemplary character and an ardent, dedicated and faithful servant of God, who served her church for more than 80 years in varying capacities," the Baptist publication noted. "She was also hailed as a mentor, historian, disciplinarian, business woman, outstanding church and community leader."The Jamaica Baptist Reporter article listed still more accolades, noting that participants at the celebration credited Mosse-Brown "for giving herself fully to the music and Christian education ministries of the church," serving as its organist and choir director "for many years" and as a Sunday School teacher and deacon. (An article amplifying the Jamaica Baptist Union's view of the deaconate also is in the January 2017 edition.)

There's a whole lot more, including the fact that she may have attended a Methodist church for a few years somewhere in there.

Did all of that religious detail need to go in a short report at CNN and elsewhere in the mainstream press?

Of course not. However, was it enough to merely say she was "raised" as a Christian? In particular, I thought it was interesting that she was a deacon and that Jamaican Baptists, just last year, held a celebration of her life. Maybe that was worth a sentence?

So, there is that question again: To what do you attribute your health and unusually long life?

Does the answer matter?

FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from LOOP media video in Jamaica

Categories: Main

Religion plus travel: Are only secular pilgrims walking UK's pilgrimage trails?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Religion and travel are two topics that are rarely combined, yet the Guardian did so –- in a fashion –- with a piece on Britain’s ancient pilgrim routes and how they’ve soared in popularity. The point of the feature was that one need not be religious at all to tread ancient paths that honor everyone from St. Cuthbert, St. Cadfan, St. Werburgh and St. Chad to Saints Wulfad and Swithun.

What results are nature walks with likeminded people with not a nod to the religious history that has traditionally surrounding this activity. Imagine traveling to Mecca for the … architecture? Might religious convictions have something to do with the motives of some of the travelers?

Here’s an account of how secularized Brits are strolling from church to church just to get some peace and quiet.

In one of the smallest churches in England, a couple of dozen people are taking the weight off their walking boots for a moment of quiet reflection in the cool gloom. Outside, an unlikely April sun pours over the South Downs.It seemed, says Will Parsons, a good moment to learn the lyrics of John Bunyan’s To Be a Pilgrim -- perhaps, he adds, adopting neutral terms “to be more inclusive”.The group was soon belting out the 17th-century hymn, drawing curious passersby to peer into the tiny hillside Church of the Good Shepherd, in Lullington. Come wind, come weather, regardless of lions, giants, hobgoblins or foul fiends, “there’s no discouragement / Shall make them once relent / Their first avowed intent/ To be a pilgrim”, they sang.This merry band are part of a new boom in pilgrimage which has seen the re-establishment of ancient routes and the growing participation of people on a spectrum of belief from religiously devout to committed atheists.

The story goes on to say the hikers were walking Lewes Priory to the Holy Well in Eastbourne over two and a half days.

Parsons and Guy Hayward, who founded the British Pilgrimage Trust in 2014, say there is a “buzz” around traveling with purpose among strangers. This year they have doubled the number of public pilgrimages they offer to meet demand. “Bring your own beliefs,” they urge their participants.

The piece then goes into a history of European pilgrimages, including the denizens of “The Canterbury Tales” as well as the ever-popular Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Leslie Gilmour, an atheist who has walked the Camino three times, attributed its growing popularity to a desire for a break from daily life that had a spiritual or contemplative dimension. “Sometimes people are facing big decisions and want time and space to reflect. Sometimes people want to find a community of sorts. Religion is often not the main motivation,” he said.The British Pilgrimage Trust aims to tap into this. “We’ve opened up the definition of a holy place to include prehistoric burial sites, ancient trees, river confluences, hilltops,” said Hayward. “Lots of people simply want to connect with the natural world at a pace at which you can appreciate it.”

This piece reminds me of similar articles on non-religious retreat centers. I am not complaining that this piece totally neglected religion -- there are some hints -- but some background on what these pilgrimages used to entail would have been nice.

Essentially, pilgrimages meant following in the footsteps of holy people who once trod those paths or whose remains inhabit a shrine at the end of the journey. Pilgrimages were also undertaken as penance for sin, as supplication for a favor from God or simply out of devotion.

I appreciate the Guardian’s generous religion coverage and reading this piece has certainly made me want to walk many of these pathways through the UK, (all of which were photographed in sunny weather, which has never been my experience of Great Britain).  

It just seemed odd how the piece was geared totally toward the non-religious, as if to pacify any would-be hiker who's worried that a little piety might rub off on them. 

What amuses me is the assumption that religion is a factor that can be ignored in these travels. If these are truly faith-free zones, should they be called "pilgrimages" at all? Or maybe Britain's Christian heritage isn't so bad? Might there be a story in the travels of pilgrims who are mixing hiking with prayer and fellowship?

After all, C.S. Lewis loved daily walks and early in his career did annual walking tours in places like Ulster, Surrey, Oxford and the Malvern Hills (with J.R.R. Tolkien and friends). Perhaps the British Pilgrimage Trust might consider a trip through the Carlingford Mountains of southern Ireland; the country that inspired much of Lewis' descriptions of Narnia?

It's a thought.

Categories: Main

Here's some of what Reuters missed in its investigation of Brazil's growing evangelical flock

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I've only visited once, but even after a short trip, I understood that faith in Brazil is a complex affair.

These days, the traditionally Roman Catholic population is influenced by all kinds of spiritualistic forces, while at the same time evangelical Protestantism, Pentecostalism, Seventh-day Adventism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are playing increasingly important roles.

Reuters, the global newswire, dropped in on an Assemblies of God congregation in a favela, or slum area, of Rio de Janiero, Brazil's second-largest city, and extrapolated much about the spiritual condition of the entire nation:

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -- Pastor Marcio Antonio stands at the pulpit in a one room evangelical church built precariously above barbed wire fences and illegally hung electrical cables, exhorting his flock in a Brazilian favela to improve their morals.A former drug dealer in Cantagalo, an informally built hillside settlement where most residents lack official property rights, Pastor Antonio and his flock at the Assembly of God Church are part of a growing trend.Evangelical churches are expanding rapidly in Brazil, home to the world's largest Catholic community, especially in poor favelas, experts and parishioners said.These communities, which developed from squatter settlements, often do not have the same services as formal Brazilian neighborhoods in terms of healthcare, sanitation, transportation or formal property registration."The government doesn't help us so God is the only option for the poor," Pastor Antonio, 37, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation following his Sunday sermon.

It is the "Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters," which claims responsibility for the story. The foundation "covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience," and an end note to the piece says the foundation should get the credit for this piece. So noted.

Whoever is responsible, however, I would suggest there are some missing journalistic elements. First, there's a paucity of voices: Only one pastor, Antonio, is quoted, one academic (in London, England, no less), and two of Antonio's parishioners. No one from the Catholic community, no one from the media, no local academics, just four voices. De Tocqueville this ain't.

To his credit, the Thompson Reuters Foundation reporter asked to speak with Rio's mayor, Marcelo Crivella, whom they called "an evangelical bishop" elected to the office in 2016. More properly, Crivella is a Pentecostal, whose uncle, Edir Macedo, co-founded the controversial and powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The mayor didn't grant an interview.

But are there not others in Brazil who could speak on matters of faith? Why, yes, there appear to be several, such as Professor Maria das Dores Campos Machado of the Free University of Rio de Janeiro, who published a treatise on "Evangelicals and Politics in Brazil: the Case of Rio de Janeiro," in the journal Religion, State and Society back in 2012. She might have been a useful resource, one a lot closer to the action than a scholar in London.

Another journalistic issue is in terms of accuracy. The Thompson Reuters Foundation article said Crivella was the founder of his church; that's demonstrably not the case. The reporter also seems unaware that the Assembly of God congregation featured in the piece is part of a larger, global Pentecostal community: he keeps referring to the "Assembly of God Church" as if it were a solo entity.

Indeed, this brushing acquaintance with organizations and people pops up time and again in this piece. Rather than step back and examine the issue, the reporter appears to swoop in, revive old tropes about the rise of evangelical influence (never mind that left-wing politicians have led Brazil for a 13-year period ending in 2016) and move on:

But analysts say [Marcelo Crivella's mayoral] election, along with the impeachment of former left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff, signals a shift to the right in Brazilian politics. This is in turn linked to the growing power of evangelicals who draw disproportionate support from the urban poor, analysts say.Part of the unique appeal of evangelical churches for favela residents is the sense of belonging and security they provide, worshippers said.

While the article names and quotes a church member saying they "are like a family" in the Assemblies of God outpost, the "analysts" are nameless. That makes me wonder if the "analysts" are just cover for the quoted King's College London lecturer Jeff Garmany, but you can call me a cynic.

I also question the bit about evangelicals getting "disproportionate support from the urban poor." I've seen plenty of stories about Brazilians from middle-class backgrounds embracing this or that flavor of evangelicalism.

It's also valid to suggest, I believe, that people who embrace a conservative faith lifestyle, such as that preached by evangelicals, Pentecostals, Adventists and Mormons, tends to raise adherents' economic circumstances. If you're committed to living without alcohol, tobacco, drugs or gambling, for example, you might well direct your efforts (and money) in other ways that improve your lot in life.

There's a lot going on in Brazil's faith sector, and the Thompson Reuters Foundation report took a too-easy road. Next time, perhaps more than a drive-by report would be in order.

Image on this page: Favela of Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by Stanislav Sedov, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Categories: Main

Texas is making it more difficult for women to get abortions, and Politico can't hide its concern

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Politico reports this week on "How Texas is beating the Supreme Court on abortion."

This is a typical mainstream media treatment of abortion, as the news organization tells the story almost entirely from the perspective of pro-choice activists.

Yes, Politico quotes a few pro-life sources. But mostly, the piece frames the issue in terms favorable to the abortion-rights side.

Let's start at the top:

AUSTIN, Texas — When Texas lost a major abortion case before the Supreme Court last year, the state’s conservative lawmakers didn’t back down.Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature responded with about four dozen new anti-abortion bills this session, positioning the state to continue to be one of the most restrictive in the country, where women in large swaths of Texas are hundreds of miles from the nearest provider.One proposal would ban a common second-trimester procedure. Another would bar state funding for abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. A third would require fetal remains to be buried or cremated.Meanwhile, dozens of clinics shuttered under the now-quashed law have remained closed, unable to muster the resources to reopen in a politically hostile, regulation-heavy environment. Texas has become the model for states that want to chip away at legal abortion until it is outlawed, while dodging court precedents that knock down laws.

Did you catch that phrasing in the last sentence?: chip away at legal abortion until it is outlawed. Is the legal really needed there? Why not not simply say chip away at abortion until it it outlawed? Am I reading too much into it or does that single word hint at Politico's pro-abortion mindset on this report?

Throughout the story, the issue is cast in terms of women having to drive farther to terminate pregnancies ... abortion clinics being forced to close down ... and pro-choice activists being galvanized to speak out.

Did anyone at Politico consider a different kind of framing, one focused, say, on the reduced number of abortions in Texas and why pro-life voters welcome this trend? Probably not.

As we've noted repeatedly here at GetReligion, most abortion-related news stories heavily favor the pro-choice side. This is a long-standing and indisputable problem. If you somehow missed it previously, check out the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

This lengthy paragraph in the Politico piece, quoting a Planned Parenthood official named Sarah Wheat, seems to beg for a response from the pro-life side:

Wheat acknowledges, though, that the restrictions still on the books take a toll. When a woman goes to a clinic seeking an abortion, a doctor must ask if she wants to see a sonogram of the fetus. She must wait 24 hours for the abortion — a hurdle as clinics close and women must travel greater distances. And she has to go through and sign a 30-odd page packet of forms and waivers, and get the controversial “Women’s Right to Know” booklet, which makes discredited claims such as the link between abortion and breast cancer.

Alas, Politico does not afford the pro-life side an opportunity to respond.

That's no surprise, really. But it gives fair-minded readers — particularly those who consider abortion the taking of innocent life — a pretty clear idea of how much credence to put into this report.


Categories: Main

NFL star's tragic loss: It's hard to talk about family-man Todd Heap without mentioning the obvious ...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It was hard to avoid the faith element of a story when almost everyone involved in talking about a family tragedy kept mentioning it.

However, some top-flight journalists tried really hard to keep the faith talk at a generic level when covering the tragic accident that claimed the life of the 3-year-old daughter of a former National Football League star. Tight end Todd Heap was a Pro Bowl-level performer for years with the Baltimore Ravens, but finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals -- a career move that was completely logical for reporters who understood his Mormon heritage and his faith.

I thought the best feature about this accident -- a mix of tweets, URLs, material from other news sources and reporting -- ran in The Washington Post, obviously not that far from Baltimore. Let's start there, in material near the top.

Heap, the 37-year-old former Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals tight end, accidentally drove over his 3-year-old daughter, killing her as he moved his truck in the driveway of the family’s Mesa, Ariz., home. She was pronounced dead at a Phoenix-area hospital and, although authorities are investigating, they indicated there was no sign that Heap was impaired or that what happened was anything other than a parent’s worst nightmare.What happened to Heap, a popular player who retired in 2013, moved people in and out of sports, mostly because so many understand how easily such an accident could happen to anyone. Social media reactions often carried emoji of broken hearts and hands folded in prayer. The Ravens may have put the magnitude of what happened best, calling the accident “knee-buckling news” for Heap, his wife, Ashley, and their other four children in a statement.

In quote after quote, players and friends make it clear that faith was and is a key element of the Heap family story. This angle was simply impossible to avoid.

As someone who lived in the Baltimore area for 12 years, I thought this reference was particularly poignant.

O.J. Brigance, the former Raven who is dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, tweeted his heartache for the family, adding, “I pray for God’s comfort during this excruciating loss of life.”

So heartbroken for the Heap family. I pray for God's comfort during this excruciating loss of life.

— O.J. Brigance (@OJBrigance) April 15, 2017

Why is the faith element crucial in Brigance reference? There is more too that then the reference to this former player's own struggle with a crippling disease. Click here for some previous GetReligion material related to this man and coverage his faith.

The Post team didn't put the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the top of the story, but didn't bury that angle either. I thought that was essential because it was clear that Heap's family-man image, and apparently the family reality, was a crucial part of so many of the online tributes.

At some point, in other words, reporters needed to state the obvious. When it comes to family issues, many Mormon families can accurately be called counter-cultural.

Thus, the Post report noted:

Over and over again, people mentioned Heap’s strong faith, with the Cardinals’ statement saying, “Hopefully the prayers, love and support of their incredible group of friends and family provide him the comfort that, along with their strong faith, will lead them through this unspeakably difficult time.”Heap is a devout Mormon who grew up in Mesa and has been active there and in the Baltimore community. In 2007, he pledged $1 million toward a pediatric center that was the first of its kind in Baltimore County. The Todd Heap Family Pediatric Center offers a combined pediatric emergency department and inpatient unit with round-the-clock pediatrician staffing.

They donated the money for an emergency room for children? That's heart-breaking.

The Baltimore Sun featured the family angle in the lede in a totally logical way, with an opening reference to Heap receiving the highest honor that the Ravens organization can give.

When he took his place in the Ravens' Ring of Honor in September 2014, longtime NFL tight end Todd Heap was flanked on the M&T Bank Stadium field by several family members and former teammates."It's all about family," Heap said at halftime of the game between the Ravens and Carolina Panthers. "From day one, you have welcomed my wife and I, our family, into our community, this city. For that, we'll be forever grateful."

I thought, with that material at the top, the Sun would link that emphasis in the family's life directly to its faith. Instead, a reference to Mormonism was delayed until near the end of the story.

ESPN took a similar approach, with stacks of faith-related tweets. Near the end there was a vague reference implying that the Heap connections to the LDS church went back many generations. I would have been interested in the details on that.

Heap is from a Mormon family that stretches its lineage to the early days of the faith. Since 2007, he and his wife have operated a foundation to help sick and disadvantaged children. He talked about family being the most important thing in his life in a 2015 interview with Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president for public and community relations."I just got done jumping on the trampoline with my 2-year-old daughter," Heap told Byrne, "and it's hard to get a bigger smile than that. I took all three of my boys golfing this morning. That was a lot of fun. [My wife] Ashley makes me smile every day. Family and all of the events we do -- that regularly makes me smile."

But this story took place, of course, in Arizona. So how did The Arizona Republic, representing the USA Today network, handle the crucial faith element in this story?

Unless I have missed something online, it appears that the answer is quite simple -- there was nothing in this story at all.

How is that possible in this case?

Categories: Main

'On Religion' meets GetReligion -- tmatt's national column turns 29, with nod to Dean Baquet

Monday, April 17, 2017

A long, long time ago -- 29-plus years to be precise -- several editors at the old Scripps Howard News Service noticed something.

At the time, I was the religion-beat reporter and columnist at The Rocky Mountain News in Denver (memory eternal). The national wire desk in Washington, D.C., noticed that, when they put my national-angle columns on the wire -- as opposed to something completely Colorado-centric -- they would get picked up by quite a few smaller and mid-sized papers.

Plus, there was a pending request from the editor of The Knoxville News Sentinel -- Harry Moskos at the time -- for a weekly Scripps Howard wire piece on religion to serve as one anchor for his newspaper's planned Saturday section on issues of family and faith. Those two subjects, you see, kept showing up near the top of lists about subjects that interested his local readers.

So the national editors worked out a deal with my bosses in Denver to free me up to do a weekly column for the national wire.

Thus, my national column was born 29 years ago last week. An editor asked me what I wanted to call it and I proposed "Get Religion."

That name struck one of the editors as a bit aggressive. You see, he didn't get that I was (wink, wink) linking the old Southern saying that someone "got religion" -- as in got saved, in a revival tent sort of way -- with the modern idea that some people just "don't get it," as in feminist lingo. So they changed "Get Religion" to "On Religion."

Anyway, I rarely run anything from "On Religion" (the column is now carried by the Universal syndicate) here at GetReligion, but I thought I would let readers here see this past week's piece -- as I open my third decade doing that column.

Yes, 29 years is a long time. This particular column is also about -- well, do you remember that turn of phrase used by New York Times editor Dean Baquet?


It was a month after Donald Trump won the presidency and, to be honest, many stunned journalists were still trying to figure out how they missed the tremors that led to the political earthquake.

That was the backdrop for an appearance by New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet on the Fresh Air program at National Public Radio. While the focus was politics and journalism, Baquet also offered a refreshingly candid sound bite about mainstream media efforts to cover religion news.

I think those remarks are worth a flashback this week, which marks the end of year 29 for my syndicated "On Religion" column. You see, I am just as convinced as ever that if journalists want to cover real stories in the real lives of real people in the real world, then they need to be real serious when handling religion.

Quoting a pre-election Times column by Jim Rutenberg, Fresh Air host Terry Gross said: "If you're a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation's worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him? Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century."

For Baquet, this topic was linked to stirred-up populist emotions out in the heartland. Journalists must strive, he said, to understand the "forces in America that led to Americans wanting a change so much" that they were willing to back Trump.

"I want to make sure that we are much more creative about beats out in the country so that we understand that anger and disconnectedness that people feel. And I think I use religion as an example because I was raised Catholic in New Orleans," said Baquet. "I think that the New York-based, and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don't quite get religion. …

"We don't get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives. And I think we can do much, much better. And I think there are things that we can be more creative about to understand the country."

Needless to say, his blunt statement -- "We don't get religion" -- hit home for me as editor of the website that has, for 13 years, produced waves of media criticism focusing on that very topic.  

It's important that Baquet also noted that, while his newsroom contains a veteran religion-news specialist, one pro on this beat isn't enough -- if the goal is to listen to what Americans are saying outside elite zip codes in the urban Northeast.

Thus, it mattered that the New York Times later posted a job notice for a new "faith and values correspondent" to be based outside of New York City.

"In 2017, we'll roam even more widely and dig even more deeply into the issues, both those that animate and those that infuriate Americans," said the notice. Then it added, "We're seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won't need to be an expert in religious doctrine."

Another media critic immediately underlined that reference to doctrine.

"I don't want to read too much into this, and to unfairly knock a good-faith (so to speak) effort," noted commentator Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative. "Certainly a general-news 'faith and values' correspondent doesn't need to be able to give a detailed explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, or parse the finer points of sharia according to the Hanafi school. But the reporter certainly should be able to understand why doctrine matters to religious thought and belief.

"My concern here is that the Times is inadvertently minimizing the importance of religious knowledge, along the lines of, 'You don't really have to understand how religion works in order to report on it in the lives of ordinary Americans.' ''

As I head into my third decade with this column, all I can add is this: "Amen."





Categories: Main

To celebrate Easter, another major news organization flubs the never-ending 'Two Corinthians' controversy

Monday, April 17, 2017

Here we go again.

The whole Donald Trump "Two Corinthians" snafu of January 2016 has made its way back into media coverage of the president's faith.

And yet again — as happened with CNN just last month — a major news organization has fallen short when it comes to accuracy and precision in correcting Trump and his lack of biblical knowledge.

The latest example occurs in The Associated Press' story on Trump and his family attending an Easter service in Palm Beach, Fla. More on that in a moment.

But first, some helpful background: In a front-page feature in 2013, the New York Times mistakenly referred to the biblical book of "Corinthians." That story, still not corrected almost four years later, prompted me to ask here at GetReligion:

Which Corinthians — 1 Corinthians or 2 Corinthians? By my count, this is the second case of GetReligion questioning the Times' failure to specify which book of Corinthians.

Of course, the Trump incident suddenly made Bible experts out of the news media — including the Times. (Sarcasm intended.)

Now, when journalists provide background on Trump and religion, they inevitably mention the "Two Corinthians" controversy. I've got no problem with that. Seriously.

But I wish they'd do a better job at getting it right.

Here's the relevant section of AP's Easter story:

Trump described himself as a "religious person" during his campaign, but often appeared to struggle to affirm his Christian credentials as he worked to woo the Evangelical voters who helped drive him into office.He often carried a copy of his childhood Bible and a photo of his confirmation to provide evidence of his Presbyterian upbringing and made what were seen as several minor missteps, including mistakenly referring to Second Corinthians as "two Corinthians" during an appearance at the Christian Liberty University.

A couple of asides before I comment on Second Corinthians:

• First, the AP Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — calls for "evangelical" to be lowercased, so the wire service gets its own style wrong.

Second, the reference to "Christian Liberty University" is really awkward. It reads like that's the actual name of the university. A phrasing such as "Liberty University, a Christian university" would be clearer. 

But back to my main point: Is it accurate that Trump mistakenly referred to Second Corinthians as "two Corinthians."

We've addressed this question before at GetReligion, noting that Trump didn't really mess up when he used that terminology. Click that link for a full explanation, but here's the gist: Some pretty prominent Bible scholars — particularly British ones — use the same "Two Corinthians" language as Trump did.

So AP — like CNN before it — would do well to follow the lead of Washington Post religion writer Julie Zauzmer, who put the controversy in a better context in a recent report:

This is not the first time Trump has spoken at Liberty. He addressed the school’s convocation in 2012 and again in 2016 during his presidential campaign, when some mocked him for calling a book of the Bible “Two Corinthians” instead of the common American phrasing “Second Corinthians.”

In journalism, accuracy and precision matter.

That's true, believe it or not, even when writing about a president who obviously isn't most reporters' favorite.



Categories: Main

Persecuted Chaldeans: San Diego Union-Tribune delivers an Easter story with content

Monday, April 17, 2017

At the newspapers I used to work on, I was responsible for coming up with a splashy feature each year for Easter day. At one point, I used this opportunity to hit up my employers for business trips, such as a trip to New Mexico in 1998 for the country’s largest pilgrimage at Chimayo, just north of Santa Fe. But it never occurred to me to not have a story, as the big religious holidays were my chance to get above the fold on A1.

So this year, I surveyed a bunch of California newspapers to see which ones had made any effort to provide decent Easter coverage. The Orange County Register covered a cowboy service and a sunrise service; in other words, the minimum. 

The San Bernardino Sun covered how the local Catholic bishop did not preach on the previous week’s shootings that left a student and teacher dead and a student wounded. A story about the Easter Bunny got better play. The Sacramento Bee had an opinion column on the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to foreigners. Chances are those foreigners, like the Chaldeans, knew more about Christ and the Resurrection than the Easter rabbit. 

The San Francisco Chronicle barely gave lip service to two sunrise services while devoting much of its Easter wrap-up to a Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence event featuring a contest for the best Hunky Jesus and Foxy Mary. 

I could find nothing in the Los Angeles Times other than a San Diego Union Tribune story that I’ll get to in a minute. The Ventura County Star had nothing. But the Redding Record-Searchlight had several over the weekend: An account of Easter at two local churches and the recreation of Christ’s walk to the cross by several Hispanic churches. Redding is the site of the enormous Bethel Church so religion is important to much of the local populace.

Back to the Tribune’s story on the local Chaldeans, 60,000 of whom live in their circulation area. Yet, the region has only two churches seating 700 each. The reporter managed to fuse recent international events with anecdotes about how fortunate recent Iraqi Chaldean arrivals felt at being out of the war zone. 

Although a devout Christian, Eva Aboona missed the Palm Sunday church services that launched Holy Week last Sunday.But she triedAt St. Michael’s, one of El Cajon’s two Chaldean Catholic churches, Aboona encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic, a jam-packed parking lot and an overflow crowd of worshippers.“I couldn’t get in,” she said.Her husband tried to take the children to Mass at the other Chaldean church, St. Peter’s. No luck.“There was no room to park,” said Raied Aqrawi, 51, through an interpreter. “We had to drive around and go home.”Lesson learned. For Sunday’s Easter Mass at St. Peter’s, these Iraqi immigrants plan to arrive hours early.

We then learn the family has only been here since Jan. 10. After the Detroit area, San Diego is the second-largest U.S. settlement for these Christian Iraqis.

The Chaldeans have their own flag, bordered by two blue stripes signifying the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The other symbols harken back to ancient Babylon such as an eightfold star representing the sun and two internal circles representing Babylonians'/Chaldeans' contributions to human history in the areas of math and astronomy. 

Four years ago, they celebrated Palm Sunday in their Iraqi village, Alqosh, under threat from nearby ISIS forces. The family fled to Turkey, where their faith was targeted by local officials and neighbors. Last year’s Easter Mass was halted by a bomb.So while they face struggles in their new home, they cherish the freedom of worship they enjoy here, due to the efforts of local Christians and Jews.“Here we feel there is law, there is security, there is protection,” Aqrawi said. “Here we don’t have the fear that someone will come to convert us to another religion.”

I visited Alqosh 12 years ago during my two-week sojourn in northern Iraq. The village was a clean place with dry, sandy mountains just to the north and in town, a combination monastery/orphanage circling a spacious atrium and gardens. The biblical prophet Nahum is buried there.

This is a rapidly growing group. There are now 60,000-plus local Chaldeans, double what this population was in 2010. Yet there are only two Chaldean churches, each with room for 700 worshippers.“The churches are always full, always full,” said Besma Coda, chief operation officer at Chaldean & Middle Eastern Social Services in El Cajon. “We need a new church in El Cajon. There are seven different Masses a day and they are all full.”

The article includes some harrowing descriptions of what it’s like to worship as a Christian church in Turkey, where there are plenty of people willing to bomb your meeting place. The family profiled in the piece endured three Easters like that. 

Newspapers have got to get beyond the send-a-reporter-to-a-typical-Easter-service and invest time thinking up meaty stories several weeks or months before the Easter/Passover season begins. The Union Tribune's story came with a video and seemed well thought-out. It doesn't take that long to strategize and plan for decent Easter coverage. Would that the other newspapers I listed had taken the trouble to do that. 

Categories: Main

Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I guess the big news this Easter is that there isn't any really big news at Easter. Yet.

Obviously, there was big news during Holy Week -- as in the lockdown in Egypt and in other Christian communities across the Middle East in the trembling aftermath of the hellish Palm Sunday bombings. That led to this somber New York Times feature that ran with the headline, "After Church Bombings, Egyptian Christians Are Resigned but Resolute."

It's a fine feature, one that -- as it must -- focuses on the political framework that surrounds the latest wave of persecution of Coptic Christians. After all, this is a tense land in which a near totalitarian Egyptian government that helps lock Christians in their place is also the only force strong enough to weakly protect them from the Islamic State and other truly radicalized forms of Islam.

Orthodox Christians who read this piece may not make it to the end, growing tired of the politics and violence. Where is the ultimate message of Pascha? Where are the voices of those who still believe, who continue to keep the faith despite all the suffering? Aren't they part of the story?

They are. And that theme emerges at the end of the piece -- so wait for it.

The veneration of Christian martyrs is felt most keenly at the monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. There, barren desert has been transformed into a lush compound of gardens and monastic cells around a soaring cathedral. The seven Christians killed in last Sunday’s bombing were taken there for entombment in a martyr’s church under construction for the 2011 bombing’s 23 victims.“The new martyrs will be buried beside the old ones,” Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, leader of the monastery, said as he walked around the site, weaving through a maze of wooden beams. “It is a gift for them to be buried here.” ... Many Coptic clerics are careful of engaging in public debate. Asked what was driving the Islamic State attacks, the monastery’s spokesman, Father Elijah Ava Mina, chuckled dryly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Ask them.”Yet talk of Copts being forced to leave Egypt en masse, as some have suggested, seems overblown. Attendance at Holy Week services at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria soared after the bombing, clerics said, as worshipers defied their fears and crowded into a church whose pillars and altars were shrouded in black cloth.On Friday, George Naseem Fahim stood guard at the church gates. His father, Naseem Fahim, was killed in the blast Sunday, he said, after he directed the suicide bomber away from the main gate and into the metal detector.Now his son took his place.“I’m continuing what he started,” Mr. Fahim said. “Why worry or be afraid? He has gone to heaven, and I am ready to join him if necessary.”


Why doesn't the piece open with the churches that were packed during Holy Week?

Will the Times team update this fine story to report what the mood was during the four-plus hours of the dramatic Pascha Divine Liturgies that began in the late hours of Saturday night and continued on into the morning of Sunday? Did the worshippers process through the streets just before midnight with candles and icons, singing hymns that the resurrection was near?

It's hard to explain to non-journalists, but part of the problem is simply having enough people to cover events on a holiday weekend. I mean, journalists will cover the pope's Easter sermon -- that comes out in printed form and some news organizations still have Rome bureaus.

That's enough Easter, right? I mean, look at this screen shot of the front page of this Easter morning.

I understand the point of view of news consumers who are convinced that mainstream news organizations are biased against Christians, when it comes to covering acts of terrorism in distant parts of the world (like Nigeria).

If you want to know what that point of view sounds like, read this part of a recent Piers Morgan conversation with Fox News talk-show host Tucker Carlson:

CARLSON: "You sent out a tweet right after this [bombing in Egypt] saying: 'This will not get the attention of massacres is Europe, but it should.' Why won't it, do you think?"MORGAN: "I think, unfortunately, if it happens in the Middle East, this kind of atrocity, it just does not seem to attract the kind of media attention in America that it would if it happened, as we've seen with the attacks in Sweden, the last few days, in London two weeks ago. I was there for that -- huge attention in the American Media. In Paris, in Nice, these get huge attention. And yet what happened in Egypt was unbelievably significant.If you look at what ISIS really stands for, what they are carrying out now in the Middle East -- and in Egypt in particular -- is a kind of genocidal attack on Christians and Christianity. They want Christianity eradicated. They want to convert all Muslims to their crusade, they want it to be a holy war; they want Christians gone.And I don't think that narrative is getting the attention it should get in the American media..."CARLSON: "What's so strange is the West is primarily Christian, predominantly -- I mean, that's what makes it the West. And yet there's this sense that it's somehow wrong to root for the home team. When something happens to Christians abroad, it's somehow, I don't know, impolite to mention it because it's self-interested. Have you noticed this?"MORGAN: "Right. ISIS couldn't be more transparent. After the attack in St. Petersburg last week, they made it absolutely clear that this is a war against the Cross. They said that. That was what the statement said. They are at war -- in their heads -- with Christianity. Not just with Christianity -- they're at war with all other religions as well. But they have been singling out, in increasingly virulent terms, that their real war now is against Christians and the Cross...I think this is a huge story. This is the kind of story that ought to be dominating cable news in America; it should be dominating headlines around the world. The press in America should be full of headlines about this. This narrative, to me, is very straightforward. ISIS have declared war on Christianity. I'm not seeing that being covered enough."

It has been said many times: Suffering Christians around the world have the wrong political allies here in America. It's hard for some journalists to see Christians anywhere as victims, when one of the main templates for news here in the U.S. is that conservative Christians are a key reason that Muslims face such hostility in this culture. Right?

I see some logic there. But there are other journalism realities at work, in this case.

The bottom line: A terrorist killing a few people near the British Parliament in the heart of London is going to get more coverage, for days, than an attack on Christians in a land where -- in a tight-budget journalism era -- most major newsrooms no longer have solid teams of professionals on the ground.

So let's see if the Times follows up on this solid report from Egypt. Let's see if reporters were present in the  middle of a dark Holy Saturday night, as the Coptic believers waited for Pascha.

Categories: Main

Ah, those mysterious Protestant Evangelicals, as pondered by our cultural elites

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Just when you thought you’d seen enough analysis of those U.S. Protestant Evangelicals to last a lifetime or two, a major April release is commanding yet more ink: “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster).

Any book from FitzGerald, a boldface author who won the Pulitzer Prize for her Vietnam lament “Fire in the Lake” (1972), gets guaranteed media attention. Her latest, hailed as “masterful” by Time magazine, will surely be mandatory reading for religion writers. This blockbuster has already gained major reviews from highbrow analysts Randall Balmer, Alan Wolfe and Garry Wills (also a Pulitzer medalist).

The Religion Guy has yet to read this 740-pager but is wary after learning that FitzGerald pays so much attention to figures like Rousas Rushdoony. His idiosyncratic theocracy scheme frightens the journalism natives, but is hardly representative of mainstream evangelicalism, or even of its most politicized segments.

Otherwise, the reviews provide  significant cultural indicators of how elitists view a movement that’s somehow so mystifying and unnerving to outsiders, and the way adherents are ogled with condescension, particularly after so many voted for Donald J. Trump. Irredeemable deplorables, anyone?    

Balmer, Dartmouth’s religion chair and the author of a somewhat competing 2016 title, “Evangelicalism in America” (Baylor University Press), says having such a “distinguished author” undertake this topic should be “cause for celebration.” But he finds the result “curiously pinched and narrow.”

One of his criticisms, echoed by others, is that FitzGerald’s narrative omits African-American Protestants. That’s an important choice that the Religion Guy finds justifiable because these believers, as well as Latino Protestants, have such  distinct subcultures. Explaining the larger population of “white” evangelicals is more than enough for one book.

Another Balmer complaint on narrowness is that FitzGerald “dispatches with two centuries of evangelical history” prior to the 1925 Scopes Trial about evolution, and thus underplays the earlier evangelical heritage of “progressive” politics and recent activism typified by President Jimmy Carter -- themes that Balmer’s own writings cherish.  

Wolfe typifies a different professorial lament. He says “so many” believers  are guilty of “overweening pride, lust for power, and idolatry of worshiping the state” and that “will at some point probably doom them.” He joins the liberal legions that put scare quotes around “religious freedom,” charging that cultural conservatives demand “the right to discriminate on religious grounds against other people’s constitutional rights.”

Wills states that “evangelicals are suspicious of establishment, liturgy, elaborated creeds, and standardized piety.” That’s true for many in independent and parachurch circles, but not all of evangelicalism. He emphasizes emotion-laden spectacles, end-times fervor, and the “young earth” variant of creationism – again, part of the evangelical phenomenon but not the whole.

“Religion for them is an experience, not an argument,” Wills thinks, sidelining  the rationalistic forms. To Wills, evangelicalism is merely “revival religion” characterized by three things, “crowds, drama, and cycles.”

Emphasis on style over substance overshadows the biblical convictions that define the movement. The tipoff is Wills’ claim that the late Father Divine was “certainly evangelical,” despite the fact that he was believed to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, opposed evangelistic efforts, and advocated celibacy.

Very often the mass media ignore the lives of actual evangelicals who mostly devote their time, energy, thought and money to basic Christian beliefs, worship, Bible study, and private deeds and donations to help those in need, not headline-grabbing revivals or “religious right” political crusading. Politically-focused writers like FitzGerald and her reviewers, like so many mass media interpreters, are able to grasp only the trunk of the evangelical elephant.

Categories: Main

News story or editorial? Slanted Associated Press report on death penalty stacked with opponents

Friday, April 14, 2017

Apparently, most people in Arkansas support capital punishment.

Amazingly, The Associated Press couldn't find — or didn't want to find — any of them to quote.

AP's own news values and principles maintain that the global news agency abhors "inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions." Yet — based on a story on the wire today — it's impossible not to question whether bias exists in the coverage of the death penalty in the Natural State.

Here's the top of the AP story:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — While outrage on social media is growing over Arkansas' unprecedented plan to put seven inmates to death before the end of the month, the protests have been more muted within the conservative Southern state where capital punishment is still favored by a strong majority of residents.A few dozen people regularly have kept vigil outside Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's mansion for weeks, holding signs that say "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "End the Death Penalty." And the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty hopes to draw hundreds of participants to a Good Friday rally at the state Capitol to protest the executions that start Monday — three nights of double executions, followed by a single one. A judge last week halted a planned eighth execution."Arkansas is known across the world for the Little Rock Nine and all of that atrocity," said the coalition's execution director, Furonda Brasfield, referring to the 1957 desegregation battle in Little Rock involving nine black students. "And now it's the Little Rock eight in 10, and it paints our state in such a horrible light."The group is using the hashtag #8in10 to highlight the executions, although one man has received a stay and the seven lethal injections are scheduled to take place over 11 days, the first on April 17 and the last on April 27. Hutchinson set the unprecedented schedule because a key lethal injection drug expires April 30.

I'm certainly familiar with the historical significance of the Little Rock Nine. In 1997, while reporting on desegregation battlegrounds for The Oklahoman, I wrote a front-page Sunday feature on Little Rock Central High School.

But after 60 years, are the Little Rock Nine really what Arkansas is still known for? Might a different source — perhaps one of the "strong majority of residents" who favor the death penalty — offer a different perspective on the state and whether the executions will paint it in a horrible light? The wire service doesn't bother to ask.

In fact, AP quotes six people by name in this report — five of them death penalty opponents. 

The only supporter quoted is the governor — via prepared remarks:

"The families of the victims have not only had to live with the loss of their loved ones through brutal murders, but they've also had to live with the unending review of these cases year after year after year," Hutchinson said in a statement this week. "Now to suggest, after all of the court reviews have been completed, that they ought to be delayed once again shows an incredible amount of insensitivity to the victims and their families who continue to suffer because of these heinous crimes."

How do the families respond to the opponents quoted by AP? They don't get that chance. 

Disagreement in the faith community is noted near the end of the story. But only one pastor is quoted. Guess which side he takes?:

Death penalty opponents are appealing to Hutchinson's Christian faith, pointing out the executions will happen immediately after Easter. About 200 religious leaders signed a letter asking the governor to commute the inmates' sentences to life in prison without parole. The letter, delivered Wednesday, argued that the executions will have a negative effect on everyone involved."It hurts the executioners, it hurts the witnesses that are going to have to be there next week to watch those men die," said the Rev. Clint Schnekloth, pastor at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. "It hurts the people who are preparing the drugs who are afraid that those men, after they're put to sleep, are still going to be awake and are going to burn inside for 40 or 50 minutes like some men have done when they've been introduced to this same cocktail."

Among the many Arkansas residents who support capital punishment, are there no pastors willing to talk about their personal and theological reasons?

Or did AP simply not want to hear from them — or quote them?

Maybe there's a perfectly logical explanation for the slanted nature of this report. Maybe this story is part of a package, and there's an equally one-sided piece on Arkansas death penalty supporters that I somehow missed in my Googling. And maybe there really is an Easter bunny.

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