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Updated: 21 min 39 sec ago

Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

1 hour 20 min ago

There's an assumption circulating among some in the news media, some American Jews, both on the right and left, and among political-geeks in general that Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is favored by Israelis over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The assumption is rooted in the belief that Trump -- based on his rhetoric (but ignoring his many contradictions) -- will be a more full-throated supporter of Israel than Clinton will be, and so of course Israelis back him over her.

How could they not? The United States is Israeli's most important international protector, so of course Israelis must want the toughest talking candidate.

As a #NeverTrump guy, I think this belief is very wrong. But this post isn't about who Israelis SHOULD support for president of the United States, but who they DO support. (Unless I state otherwise, when I refer to Israelis I'm referring in the main to Jewish Israelis. Israeli Arabs, or Israeli Palestinians, as many prefer to be called, have their own complicated political equations, be they Christian or Muslim.)

So who do Israelis prefer?

Here's a link from May to a Jerusalem Post story reporting on a survey that shows an Israeli preference for Clinton. Note that non-Jewish Israelis are included in this survey. And here's a CNBC analysis, also from May, that puts some meat on the bare-bones Post news report. 

Two salient CNBC paragraphs follow:

But experts in the country who spoke to CNBC said that many Israelis view the contest as a choice between a predictable option in Clinton, the former secretary of state, and an unknown variable in Trump, an abrasive businessman who has not held elected office."With Hillary, she's a safe pair of hands. She has a good knowledge of the region, she has a good knowledge of the players. There's a difficulty to understand what Trump is all about," said Jonathan Rynhold, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and expert in Israeli foreign policy.

Moreover, a late June poll by an Israeli TV station found that while Israelis were statistically even on the question of which candidate they think would be better for Israel (apparently meaning which would pressure Israel less to make concessions to the Palestinians), 47 percent said Clinton would be "better suited" than Trump (31 percent) to lead the U.S. And when asked who they would vote for if they were U.S. citizens, 42 percent said Clinton to Trump's 35 percent.

So why the assumption that Trump would, shall we say, trump Clinton in Israel?

This recent Foreign Affairs essay bolsters the assumption when it argues that a staunchly anti-Arab and anti-Muslim president, as Trump would presumably be, could in the end appeal more to Israelis than a more moderate Clinton administration.

Meanwhile, despite Trump’s foreign-policy incoherence, the Israeli government might  well be  tempted to bet the future of the U.S.-Israel alliance on Republicans, as it did in 2012 when [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu evidently counted on [President Barack] Obama’s eviction from the White House.

Governments and citizens often disagree, of course, and Foreign Affairs is speaking here only of the former. It's important not to conflate the two so as not to have an incomplete picture of what the average Israeli thinks.

It's also a false narrative to assume that because Israeli Jews voted Netanyahu into office they still agree with him on all or most matters, or on who should lead the U.S. Moreover, because Obama and Netanyahu have repeatedly clashed over policy differences does not necessarily mean Netanyahu and Clinton will also repeatedly clash. Also, I doubt the string of Team Trump comments deemed by many Jews to be anti-Semitic is helping him in Israel.

So, again, why the assumption I stated at the onset of this blog post?

For one, there are the respective Republican and Democratic 2016 party platforms. The Republican platform takes a rhetorical hardline in favor of political goals supported by right-wing Israelis; the Democratic platform much less so, and in fact backs liberal Israeli goals. Click here for a comparison of the platforms.

Perhaps fueling the assumption even more than the actual platform differences, was the harsh assessments of Israeli policies voiced by now-defeated candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and some of his supporters on the Democratic platform writing committee.

Another contributing factor is that because Netanyahu is a right-winger, it's presumed he'll naturally feel more comfortable with Trump's foreign policy hawkishness than with Clinton, with whom he's had a long and mostly workable relationship, though it was certainly strained at times when she was Secretary of State.

As for Netanyahu's relationship with Trump, there is none, of course. Just as Trump has no real relationship with any foreign leader, save his rhetorical bromance with Russia's Vladamir Putin. Or perhaps more than merely rhetorical.

But perhaps the single biggest reason for this assumption's staying power is the Republican echo chamber. Israel's largest circulation newspaper is the free daily Israel Hayom (Israel Today), which is owned, not just coincidentally, by Republican, Trump and Netanyahu backer Sheldon Adelson -- the billionaire casino owner who is not an Israeli. Israel Hayom has pumped out story after story lauding Trump. Here's one fawning example.

Of course the general election is still months off and, since anything can happen, Israeli Jews could change their preference for American president as events unfold.

However, this bottom line won't change: If you're a journalist who relies solely on Republican-centric American media for your understanding of what's happening in Israel, you'd do better by reading more widely in the American Jewish and English-language Israeli press (read and understand Hebrew? Even better).

Locals are almost always better at explaining themselves than are outsiders with an axe to grind.

Categories: Main

Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

4 hours 50 min ago

Don’t read this yet. Get yourself a chair. Put down that cup of whatever you're drinking.

The Associated Press reports that -- Dun-dun-DUNN! -- Russia doesn't like gays. And especially pro-gay-rights churches.

I know, right? That might have knocked your socks off.

AP learned this terrible truth as a missionary of the Metropolitan Community Church was arrested, then ordered out of Russia. Try to get through this without fainting:

MOSCOW — Jim Mulcahy was sitting with some Russian friends, munching cookies and talking about Roman mosaics, when the Russian police came and took him away, claiming he was planning to perform a same-sex marriage. Hours later, the American pastor was ordered to leave Russia.Mulcahy’s arrest this month in the city of Samara braids together several of Russia’s most acrimonious issues: gay rights, alleged Western meddling in Russian affairs, and missionary work by religions that don’t have state approval. It attracted particular attention because the arrest was filmed by state-controlled channel NTV, whose reports often take an especially truculent, pro-Kremlin stance.

As the Eastern Europe coordinator for the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches, Mulcahy said he was visiting Samara, Russia, at the invitation of a gay rights group called Avers. He says it was a mere Q&A session at their offices, but the Russian station NTV said he was "performing unspecified ceremonies for homosexuals," AP says. 

The station also said he had "converted to Orthodox Christianity," which he denies. That should have been easy to verify or falsify, just by checking with the Russian Orthodox Church, no?

But no, AP is more interested in milking this story for drama, whether the drama is there or not:

In Samara, Mulcahy said, a group of about a dozen people had just settled around a long table when four uniformed police knocked on the door. They claimed they had received a tip that Mulcahy was performing a gay marriage.One officer took a teacup from Mulcahy’s hand and told him he had to come with them. The officers drove Mulcahy to a police station — threatening to handcuff him if he refused to cooperate. 

What? They took his teacup? They threatened to cuff him? The monsters!

Then the cops "interrogated Mulcahy through an interpreter, who he says spoke limited English." (Mind you, this whole account is told by Mulcahy.) More seriously, they wouldn't let him get his medication back at his hotel; he's diabetic and has prostate cancer, AP says.

But the upshot is that a judge told him to leave Russia for "unspecified religious activity." Oh, and Mulcahy was fined $30.

Never mind that Russia's opposition to gays has been the stuff of news for years and years.  Just last month for instance, two men in Moscow were arrested for holding a sympathy protest after the attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando. The Guardian says that Samara has long had an anti-gay reputation. And AP itself reports that criminals in Russia are blackmailing gays by threatening to out them.

The AP story on Mulcahy does try some contexting, and it thus acknowledges the ongoing dim view of homosexuality in Russia:

The organization is one of the LGBT groups beleaguered by Russia’s growing animosity toward sexual minorities. Although homosexuality is no longer criminalized as it was in the Soviet Union, Russia in 2013 banned the spread of “propaganda” about non-traditional sexual relations to minors. Even before the law was passed, officials routinely denied permission for gay-pride rallies, and those that did take place quickly exploded into attacks by anti-gay protesters who claimed to be following the line of the dominant Russian Orthodox Church. Another recently passed law forbids missionaries and organizations from praying outside of churches or disseminating religious material in private homes — the law exempts the Orthodox church. 

Even that contextualization is porous, though. Who says that anti-gay protesters are following the Russian Orthodox lead? Shouldn't we heard that either from a protester or a church leader?

And if Russia increasingly opposes "sexual minorities," why has it lifted criminal penalties for homosexuality?

Still another thing: If Mulcahy supposedly turned Orthodox, and the Orthodox Church is exempt from the ban on teaching or praying outside churches, wouldn't that make Mulcahy exempt, too? Why was he arrested and expelled from Russia?

OK, maybe I've been a bit cavalier with this. I wouldn't be amused if, say, a Jew or Baptist were arrested just for trying to practice their faith. I fully get the right for freedom of expression for everyone, including those with whom I disagree.

Still, on a scale of religious persecution, the Mulcahy-Samara story rates somewhere below a 2. Cloddish cops, stringent laws, a flinty judge, those are all there. But shootings, hate speech, mass expulsions -- or throat cuttings, as happened to an elderly priest in France yesterday -- this story doesn't come close. I suspect that if it weren't about gays, it might not have gotten AP's attention at all.

Thumbnail image: Metropolitan Community Church logo. By WaDaRoQ [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Categories: Main

Ghost of Darryl Strawberry: Impossible-to-miss (or not) explanation for a star's return to glory

7 hours 49 min ago

From time to time, we at GetReligion reference our "guilt folders."

These imaginary folders are where we stuff all those stories that we'd love to analyze but — for whatever reason — never seem to get around to.

I may set a new record for longest wait to highlight a story with this post as I call attention to one published on July 12, 2013. For those not good at math, that's more than three years ago. I called "dibs" at that time. But something else came along because I never wrote about it.

So why do I mention it now? Because of a new story on the same subject matter that I just came across.

This one is a recent Los Angeles Times interview with former major-league baseball star Darryl Strawberry on his rise and fall — and his rise again:

If Darryl Strawberry didn't exist, a screenwriter would need to invent him.Enduring a hardscrabble childhood in South Los Angeles with an absentee alcoholic father, Strawberry found escape — and greatness — on the baseball field, thanks to a slinky swing that could quickly dispatch balls to the far side of outfield walls.Strawberry arrived in New York as a teenage sensation in the early 1980s with a shiny future. He would go on win a rookie-of-the-year award and then, in 1986, help lead the hometown Mets to a World Series title.That high was soon followed by a series of lows that included a long battle with drugs and alcohol addiction, jail time, an arrest on suspicion of domestic battery and multiple cancer diagnoses. Strawberry was one of the purest talents the game has ever seen. He was also one of its most tabloid-prone.In recent years, Strawberry has rebounded, finding sobriety a‎nd a stable marriage. He's even started a Christian mission devoted to others' recovery.

The Times uses a Q&A format as it visits with Strawberry about his life and how he's portrayed in "Doc & Darryl," an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary. But there's something missing from the conversation about Strawberry's "colorful life and present views." 

Holy ghosts, anyone?

It's obvious that Strawberry's faith is a major factor — the major factor, it seems — in his transformation, but the Times seems intent on ignoring the religion angle.

Consider this section of the interview, for example:

Do you have a sense that this all could have ended more tragically for you? Watching the film,  it reminded me of how many struggles you had, how deep they were, how dangerous they were.The life I lived should have killed me. There were multiple times when I know I shouldn't have lived. I should have been dead. I lost a left kidney. Cancer. Drugs. Alcohol.. For some reason God had grace. I never went to school. He stopped me and said, “You're going to do this; you're going to preach the Gospel.” I kept running and he finally stopped me, brought me to my knees.

Now, at this point, would you think that the reporter might ask a follow-up question about Strawberry's faith journey? Would that not be a reasonable direction for the discussion to take?

Apparently not. This is the next question:

Is there value for you personally in getting this story out there?

Wait, huh!?

Which leads back to that 2013 story that I never critiqued, although I thought that I had. I searched in our archives because I wanted to contrast that interview with Strawberry — by USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale — with the Times version. But when I couldn't locate it in the archive, I found it in my GetReligion story possibilities folder in Gmail (that folder has 10,803 email threads, in case you're wondering).

The USA Today story really did a nice job of covering the role of faith in Strawberry's life. For example, this is how the piece ends:

As for himself, Strawberry says he's certainly not a hero, nor a savior. He's on a mission."We're not into this for publicity," Strawberry says. "We're into it because God called us into ministry. We became who God wanted us to be. We're trying to bring purpose into people's lives, why they're created, so they can fulfill their real purpose and destiny."I'll always be grateful for baseball because it was a tremendous platform that God set up for me. That part of me will never go away. But I will never go back into that world, that lifestyle, the one that most athletes never conquer. You look at A-Rod (the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez), and he'll say, 'I want to do well.' What he's really saying is, 'I want people to like me, but they don't like me, because of the stigma attached to who I am.'"I had all of those issues, too. It was just a different time. A different generation. Here I am, a baseball superstar, falling into the pits, having everybody write you off, and then having God say, 'I'm going to use your mess for a message.'"How beautiful is that?"

The beginning is interesting, too. I'd recommend — particularly if you're a baseball fan — reading it all. I meant to say that earlier but am just now getting around to it, "guilt folder" and all.

Enjoy.

Categories: Main

The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

11 hours 10 min ago

Details continue to emerge about the events surrounding the murder of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest who was killed by ISIS terrorists at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church, France.

One of the worshipers taken hostage -- yes, a nun -- remains in serious condition.

French officials have also confirmed that one of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a known terrorist threat who had twice attempted to travel to Syria. He was being monitored with an electronic ankle tag, but his bail conditions allowed him to roam without supervision between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Mass was at 9 a.m. The follow-up story at The Daily Mail added:

Kermiche and his accomplice -- also known to French police -- forced 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel to kneel before filming themselves butchering him and performing a 'sermon in Arabic' at the altar of the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, according to witnesses.Both were shot dead by police marksmen as they emerged from the building shouting 'Allahu Akbar' following the attack that also left a nun critically injured.Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped, said: 'They told me "you Christians, you kill us". They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror.'

Translated into safer New York Times language, in an obituary for the priest, that sounds like this:

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants -- who were shot dead by the police -- were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

However, this wasn't what some GetReligion readers, via email, and lots of folks on Twitter wanted to know more about yesterday afternoon and last night. They wanted to discuss statements they heard in early television reports, when they said anchors looked into the camera lens and said words to this affect: The attackers "motives are still unknown."

It you search for these statements now, they are gone -- other than a few screenshots on Twitter of stories that have since been updated and the earlier versions spiked.

Yes, if you follow all of those URLs to the story quoted in most of the tweets -- at The Telegraph -- you will not find the following reference.

Telegraph: motives of attackers who slit a priest's throat and shouted "Daesh are unknown pic.twitter.com/5wmLxeCJ5r

— UK Media Watch (@UKMediaWatch) July 26, 2016

That Telegraph URL now leads to an updated story that opens like this:

Isil opened a new front in its war with the West by murdering a French priest on Tuesday in the first such attack on a Christian church in Europe.Two terrorists, proclaimed as “soldiers” by the extremist group, cut the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest, after taking worshippers including two nuns hostage during mass at a church in Normandy.Experts said the atrocity, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen, marked a new departure for the jihadists following a catalogue of attacks on places of worship in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.Father Hamel -- forced to kneel by his two killers who were later shot dead by police -- was last night hailed as a “martyr of faith”.

Readers, of course, assumed that the early details of this terrorist attack -- with attackers shouting "Daesh" and "Allahu Akbar" before they slit the throat of a priest at the end of Mass -- provided enough information to establish a motive for these acts.

What in the world, people wanted to know, were these journalists thinking when they typed, or spoke, the words, "The men's motives are still unknown"? Couldn't journalists look at their screens or teleprompters and say, "What a minute. Say what?"

Here is what I think was going on in the minds of these journalists. To be blunt, I think that they were waiting for official word from a government or police spokesperson that some kind of link to ISIS had been established.

You see, things are real when political figures say they are real, not when eyewitnesses are quoted with details that, well, state the obvious. If you look at the early elite media reports -- such as those in the Gray Lady -- what you see is a parade of statements by official voices, as opposed to eyewitnesses or, later, the nun who managed to escape.

Yes, this bothers me. You see, when I was a journalism student, my college J-prof offered some wise advice in our first reporting class.

At the scene of a crime or accident, he said, it is usually easy to tell the veteran reporters from the rookies. Rookies showed up and immediately started looking for police or even the PR officer for the police. The veteran reporters, meanwhile, quietly walked around talking to bystanders, asking, "Who saw what happened?"

You see, the PR people and officials will take calls later, he said. They have telephone numbers. But that kid hiding behind the tree? That woman crying on a nearby front porch, who just happened to be walking by when this event took place? If you don't talk to them immediately, they are gone. Wise reporters look for eyewitnesses.

Thus, the motives of the attackers were "still unknown" because political people had not released statements stating those motives. Political stuff, remember, is more real than what ordinary people see, say and believe.

So where does this story go, now, other than reports that officials are focusing on possible threats to churches in the UK, as well as in Europe? Might I suggest that reporters consider focusing on religion angles in the aftermath of this horrible event?

For example, the "Woodstock" of young global Catholicism is unfolding right now in Poland. Might the contents of the program at World Youth Day be changed, even at the last moment, as suggested ("Memo to WYD: Forget the program, teach youth about the martyrs") by John L. Allen, Jr., at Crux? Might Pope Francis actually declare Father Jacques a martyr?

Meanwhile, the Catholic News Agency published this news: "French bishops declare day of fasting after priest's murder." It's worth a call to find out if other bishops are following their example.

And what about that video at the top of this piece? It is from this service:

At 1:10pm, I will celebrate the "Mass in Time of Persecution" at St Mary's Cathedral. Fr Jacques Hamel, pray for us. pic.twitter.com/K0Ag4wUqZL

— Archbishop Fisher OP (@AnthonyFisherOP) July 26, 2016

I cannot find a copy of this liturgy online, but patient reporters could watch the entire service right here, on YouTube.

Once again, will any other priests or bishops celebrate this particular Mass, at this poignant time? What if Pope Francis celebrated this rite at World Youth Day?

Would that be a news story?

Categories: Main

Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tear your eyes away from the White House campaign for a moment and consider the coming 50 years in an officially atheistic land with the world’s biggest population.

The surprising question at the top of this post is the headline of a July 14 piece for The Week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a France-based fellow of America’s conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Simultaneously we get the same point from prominent human rights activist Yu Jie, a 2003 convert to Christianity now living in exile near Washington, D.C. Writing in First Things, he contends that “neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism,” nor democracy, nor capitalism, will determine what happens to his homeland. “Christianity is China’s future.”

If that’s possibly so, such a cultural earthquake demands substantive journalism.  Why would Yu or Gobry think such a thing?

First, Yu says, Christianity is “the largest force in China outside the Communist Party.” Probably true, because Communism stamped out normal institutions of civil society.

Second, Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang estimates China’s Christians number 60 million plus.  (Believers often offer higher numbers.) Several million more convert each year, among them a notable number of urban intellectuals. He figures if this growth rate persists by 2030, the mainland’s 200 million would be the largest Christian population in any nation, surpassing the U.S.

Analysts say Protestantism prospers much more under Communism than Catholicism because it operates without a hierarchy. Growth of both registered and illegal "house" churches has defied the atheistic rulers’ harassment and persecution. Not long ago, Mao’s dictatorship tried to exterminate all religions. Currently, the  well-Christianized coastal Wenzhou region is suffering a major drive to destroy churches and public crosses. That’s a sure sign of the regime’s insecurity.

Many observers say Communism’s enforced dogmas, waves of oppression and bloodshed have little credibility so there’s  widespread hunger for a replacement to build lives upon. Indigenous Taoism and folk religions are poorly equipped for 21st Century dynamism. Confucianism, more a philosophy than a religion, has a revered heritage the Communists tried to wipe out but they’re now desperate to co-opt an ersatz version. That leaves two world religions born outside China, Buddhism and Christianity.

With all that in mind, newswriters should read a little-noticed piece by G. Wright Doyle, Ph.D., of the scholarly Global China Center (disclosure: a personal friend of The Guy).  He joined 40 specialists for a scholarly conference on “moral construction in modern China” at the Renmin (“People’s”) University Institute for the Study of Buddhism and Religious Theory. (The existence of such an institute tells us something.)

Doyle’s keynote speech, candidly Christian, built from host Prof. He Guanghu’s lament about the deplorable condition of Chinese society. Western media focus on economic and political strife and military expansionism. But Doyle depicted on a nation unmoored from ethics, rife with selfishness and corruption, and therefore with an unraveling social fabric.

China, he said, needs “clear and authoritative ethical standards,” expressed in “an accessible canon of literature,” with a “realistic” concept of the good and evil in human nature, providing a way for personal peace and morality, fostered by a meaningful community, equipped to heal a polluted natural environment, and fully indigenous within China yet having “worldwide reach.” Wright contended that Buddhism and Confucianism offer some of that but “Christianity alone appears to possess all the required qualifications.”

This and other Global China Center materials are a useful starting point for exploration by journalists looking ahead.

There are many other good resources, including two 2015 books: “China’s Urban Christians” by Brent Fulton (Pickwick Publications) and “A Star in the East” by Rodney Stark and Ziuhua Wang (Templeton Press). Click here for a tmatt interview with Stark about news trends linked to that book.

Categories: Main

Denver Post team flubs a bunch of key details in a simple Catholic funeral story

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A 14-year-old boy who was standing on a sidewalk in south Denver as a car careened in his direction is dead. Denver media have been full of news about this tragedy, as it involved a soon-to-be-eighth grader who got mowed down by an 81-year-old driver who clearly did not need to be at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The tragedy, which happened on July 13, involved a woman with some standing in the community -- since she had been in a hit-and-run a few months before. Not only are locals discussing the boy’s untimely death, but they’re also asking when it’s time to get many elderly drivers off the road. 

His funeral was Saturday. Now, this wasn’t just any funeral. It was a Mass for a 14-year-old that lots of people attended. With all the local interest in this story, you’d hope the Denver Post would send someone to cover the funeral who  has a clue about religion reporting. Alas, that's not what happened with this story. It starts OK:

On the day that relatives left the hospital for the last time after 14-year-old Cole Sukle died, the sky opened up and family members were suddenly pelted by lots and lots of white pellets. It was hail, said Sherri Potter, the boy’s aunt.But the turbulent weather made Potter smile, remembering floors littered with white pellets after Cole would play with family using air-soft guns that shot soft, white pellets. It was one of Cole’s favorite games, she said.“I thought later that maybe my playful dad and my nephew Donnie who went to heaven ahead of Cole were welcoming him, with a crazy game of air-soft,” Potter said. “I’m going to always think of Cole and smile every time I see a hail.”Cole died after he and his friend got hit by a car as they stood along Yale Way in southeast Denver.

But when we get to the service, problems arise.

Hundreds gathered Saturday morning at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church, 2250 S. Harrison St. in southeast Denver to pray and remember Cole. Firefighters who were with Cole on the day of the crash attended the mass.The priest relaxed some of the rituals to welcome and acknowledge the many who attended but might not be Catholic. In his sermon, he asked people to think of religion as not founded in God, but in relationships with the people who make them believe in a higher power. In thinking about it that way, he said, it is natural to feel lost after one person is missing -- especially someone like Cole, who had a way of befriending and helping so many people, he said.

Is there any competent editor working the Saturday shift at the Denver Post?

First, who is “the priest?” Does he have a name? The church’s website shows two on staff. And what is meant by “relaxed some of the rituals?” Is the newspaper implying that non-Catholics were allowed to receive Communion in the Mass (with an upper-case "M," by the way)? Maybe certain prayers were left out?

In the sentence about religions “as not founded in God but in relationships with people,” what does that mean? Even if you're a liberal cleric, that paraphrased sentence is pretty out there, theologically speaking. Would any minister with a brain choose a public funeral as a place to digress on religion not really being about God?

Then there’s the little things, like “he said” showing up twice in the last sentence and then, later in the article, “Mass” is not capitalized, which is a big no-no in the world of Associated Press style. It’s one thing when the reporter is clueless. It’s another when her editor allows a sloppy piece to go in the newspaper.

One wonders if this is par for the course at this paper. It’s been awhile since the Denver Post has covered faith issues adequately. These days, the newspaper seems to go out of its way to ignore it. There are nine topic tabs atop the paper’s web site and most of them have multiple subtopics, ranging from airlines and marijuana to comics and reverb music as pull-downs. There’s nothing that alludes to religion/belief/faith or anything close other than “Hark,” an occasional religion blog written by non-staff writers. 

The Post wrote in 2013 that Colorado is becoming less religious, but even if one accepts their low estimate, one-third of the populace is still a healthy demographic chunk that at least deserves regular coverage.  For every place that is as pagan as Boulder (a great topic to cover), there’s Greeley or Colorado Springs.

A glance at the staff listings shows a small staff that’s been decimated by recent layoffs. Their longtime editor resigned this spring, right before his replacements announced reporters will be expected to produce two stories a day, aka assembly line journalism. So I realize that the remaining reporters are way overworked and I’m not anxious to kick someone when they are down.

Still, a death is a death, a Catholic funeral Mass is a Catholic funeral Mass, and if you’re going to cover it, do it right.

Categories: Main

Path to sainthood: Slain Oklahoman could be first U.S.-born priest beatified, paper reports

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sometimes, old news is worth reporting again.

Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's daily newspaper where I worked for nine years. She had a nice story Sunday on Oklahomans traveling to Guatemala to mark the 35th anniversary of a slain priest's death.

Thirty-five years, huh!?

So why is this front-page news all these years later?:

Front page of Sunday's @TheOklahoman, featuring story by @OKRelig. pic.twitter.com/iP6kxotzoz

— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) July 26, 2016

I'm not privy to The Oklahoman's news meetings, where editors decide what stories to give the most prominent play, but here's my guess: This is a case that many Oklahomans — particularly the state's religious community — have followed for a long time. The editors know that the story of the upcoming pilgrimage will appeal to those readers.

As for those unfamiliar with the Rev. Stanley Rother's death, Hinton shares the history and the path that has led to this week's anniversary commemoration in an extremely compelling way. It's just an interesting weekend read for those with coffee in one hand and the thick Sunday paper in the other:

The Rev. Don Wolf remembers working in his Guymon parish on a muggy summer day in 1981 when he received a telephone call from a friend.“It's all over,” his friend said — and Wolf knew what this meant.His cousin, the Rev. Stanley Rother, 46, had been killed by unknown assailants a few days earlier on July 28, in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, and the sad news was beginning to trickle back to the slain priest's family members, friends and fellow Catholic priests in Oklahoma.“It was a shock to hear, but it wasn't a surprise, because everyone, including him, knew that it was dangerous to go back,” said Wolf, now pastor of St. Eugene Catholic Church in Oklahoma City.Wolf will be among a contingent of 60 people from Oklahoma and Arkansas traveling to Rother's beloved Guatemalan parish Monday to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his death.The quiet, humble yet courageous Rother is a candidate for sainthood, and the coming trip of clergy and laity is a way to keep the Okarche native's memory alive, said the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Oklahoma City archbishop. 

Later in the story, The Oklahoman notes that canonization efforts for Rother began in 2007. But I found myself wishing the paper had provided a few more details on that process. So I decided to make that constructive criticism.

That was before I noticed a sidebar with those exact details:

In 2015, a Vatican commission formally recognized the Rev. Stanley Rother as a martyr, bringing him a step closer to Roman Catholic sainthood.The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Oklahoma City archdiocese, said the determination of martyrdom was a critical step in the archdiocese’s efforts to have Rother beatified, which is the final stage before canonization as a saint.The martyr designation for Rother has special significance for many reasons: If beatified, Rother would be the first Catholic martyr from the United States. He also would become the first priest born in the United States to receive this recognition.Coakley said he is hopeful in the months ahead to receive a “breakthrough” or word from Rome that Rother will be beatified. 

Oh, well. So much for that criticism. I guess I'm stuck with an entirely positive post.

Seriously, this is one of those excellent Godbeat stories that likely doesn't break through the barrage of political, economic and crime news except at a newspaper with a full-time journalist devoted to such reporting. Kudos to Hinton and The Oklahoman for an insightful, interesting feature on old news that is definitely timely again.

Go ahead and read the whole story.

Categories: Main

Priest murdered by terrorists during Mass: Yes, hellish details matter in this story (updated)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

So an elderly Catholic priest was killed by terrorists in France. These basic facts are at the heart of the latest horror story from the very tense continent of Europe.

As you would imagine, a story of this kind will almost certainly include a number of poignant details that, for those with the eyes to see, are loaded with symbolism.

How many of the details should journalists include? To what degree are the religious details relevant and where should they be placed in a mainstream news report?

As you would expect, the religious details were highly relevant to a "conservative" publication on the other side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, they were not as important to editors at America's most elite mainstream publication. Perhaps religion is viewed as "tabloid" material?

For example, let's look at the top six short, punchy paragraphs at the top of the story in The Daily Mail:

An 86-year-old priest has been 'beheaded' by two ISIS knifemen who cut his throat after bursting into a French church and taking nuns and worshippers hostage before being shot dead by police.Five people including the priest, two nuns and two parishioners were held by assailants who raided the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy at 9 am.The clergyman, named as Jacques Hamel, is believed to have been beheaded during the attack while another hostage is fighting for life in hospital.The two attackers were 'neutralised' by marksmen as they emerged from the building, which is now being searched for explosives. French president Francois Hollande said the men 'claimed to be from' ISIS. There were reports the attackers shouted 'Daesh' -- an alternative name for ISIS often used by the French government -- as they ran into the church while at least one of the men was dressed in Islamic clothing.It comes as it emerged that the building was one of a number of Catholic churches on a terrorist 'hit list' found on a suspected ISIS extremist last April.

What details hit you hard as you read that?

The elderly priest was said to have been beheaded, or the attackers attempted to behead him, a very symbolic way to die in this day and age.

The hostages included nuns. The attackers were reported to have been shouting their allegiance to ISIS. At least one attacker was said to be in "Islamic clothing," whatever that means. This church was on an ISIS hit list.

Oh, and the attack took place at 9 a.m., which turns out to be the scheduled time for morning Mass.

Here is the corresponding material from the report in The New York Times. (My quotes are from the original report this morning, it has been updated).

PARIS -- Two men stormed a parish church in northern France on Tuesday morning and took several hostages, killing a priest and critically injuring another person, before the attackers were shot by the police, officials said.President François Hollande said that the Islamic State was behind the attack, the latest in a series of assaults that have left Europe stunned, fearful and angry.Mr. Hollande spoke after traveling with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to the town where the attack occurred,St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen that has about 29,000 inhabitants and is about 65 miles northwest of Paris.Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed horror at what he called “a barbaric attack on a church,” adding: “The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together.”The Interior Ministry confirmed the death of one man and said another person had been critically injured.Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, in a statement from Krakow, Poland, where he and other Roman Catholic leaders were gathered for the World Youth Day celebration, identified the victim as the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the auxiliary priest at the church.

Spot any differences? It's interesting to note the similarities with the BBC video report included at the top of this post.

There are no nuns involved. The priest was killed, and that's that. The ISIS connection is established by a political leader, as opposed to reported details from eyewitnesses.

Late in the story, the Times team did mention that it "was not immediately clear whether the Mass had ended." The story added, with quotes from the parish's main priest, that "Mass begins at 9 a.m. and lasts for about half an hour. Because of the summer holidays, attendance would have been low -- fewer than 10 people."

Clearly, there are sourcing issues here. For example, Reuters quoted a police source as saying "it appeared that the priest had had his throat slit." That story also said -- dramatically -- that the "attack took place during morning mass."

As it turns out, The Washington Post managed to get some of these key details at the top of its report. This wasn't strictly a British press vs. elite U.S. press situation.

PARIS -- Two attackers backing the Islamic State stormed a village church during Mass in northern France on Tuesday, taking hostages and slitting the throat of a 86-year-old priest before police commandos shot and killed the assailants, authorities said.

This report was missing a key detail -- the presence of nuns among the hostages. Imagine the horror if that detail turns out to be linked to this fact reported by authorities:

Another person held by the hostage-takers at the church suffered life-threatening injuries, said Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet.

So what is going on here, especially with the sharp contrast between the tone at the great Gray Lady and The Daily Mail? I can think of several possible explanations.

It could be as simple as this: Times editors may be convinced that their "urban," "liberal" or even "secular" readers don't want to read the religious details, especially since they would spotlight the role of religious convictions and identity in attacks of these kind. Editors at The Daily Mail may believe exactly the opposite, writing for very different readers.

Perhaps this is an issue of journalistic standards, with the Mail team being more comfortable quoting material from other sources, while the Times team wanted to stress its own reporting, mainly via political sources.

But what do you think Catholic readers are thinking, after reading these reports? What questions remain?

I can think of a few symbolic details. Was the priest literally killed in his liturgical vestments, the vestments in which he will be buried? Did he die trying to protect the Sacraments on the altar? Does his death make him, in the church's eyes, a martyr?

What damage was done to the church itself? Were there acts of iconoclasm? Did the attackers desecrate the altar with the priest's blood -- an act that has taken place many times through the centuries -- which would require (at least in Eastern church traditions) the church to be reconsecrated.

Would these kinds of details matter to many readers?

Just asking.

UPDATE: Oh my, check out this classic passive-voice headline @NYTimes

By the way, in this updated Times report editors moved a few religious details higher up, including the fact that nuns were among the hostages. It also mentions, quoting a priest at a nearby parish, that the attackers "jumped on him while he was celebrating Mass."

IMAGE: Screenshot of the Rev. Jacques Hamel taken from the BBC video report.

Categories: Main

Scare-quotes update: Yes, The Telegraph actually put 'pregnant' inside you know what

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

At this point, I would say that GetReligion readers have their "scare quotes" detection meters set on 11. (Yes, that's a reference to the movie "Spinal Tap.")

We are, of course, talking about the difference between laws affecting religious liberty, as in decades of court cases centering on the First Amendment's protection of the free exercise of religious convictions, and "religious liberty" laws that clash with evolving cultural standards on sexual liberty. Scuare quotes equal "so-called" or "allegedly."

You can also have scare quotes on the cultural right, such as conservative websites framing "marriage" in quotation marks in the term same-sex marriage.

Or how about "natural" family planning? Anyone for "physician-assisted suicide"? How about a female Catholic "priest"? Not that long ago you even had editors refusing to print the words "partial-birth abortion" -- even when they were in the name of a bill being debated in Congress.

So here is the latest example that punched buttons for several readers, after the case heated up on Twitter. This is a story straight out of the heart of the religious and cultural tensions in Germany, since we are dealing with an attack by a Syrian refugee on a woman from Poland. Fill in the blanks, since ISIS has been silent (for once).

Here is the headline in question, atop a story published by The Telegraph:

Germany machete attack: Syrian asylum seeker murders 'pregnant' woman in Reutlingen

Say what?

Why is the word pregnant in quotation marks? https://t.co/FDds8HiZBE

— Jeremy Biltz (@JeremyBiltz) July 24, 2016

OK, if you read the story you can see that the quote marks here may be linked to a completely different trend in the news business, these days. I am referring to the rise in newsrooms piecing together "news reports" (yes, with scare quotes) built on quotations from other publications, rather then the reporting of their own journalists.

Look at the top of the piece in question:

A Syrian man has attacked and killed a woman he was reportedly in love with, hitting her with a meat cleaver in the southern German town of Reutlingen. Another woman and a man were also injured in the attack. Local authorities have identified the man as a 21-year-old asylum-seeker from Syria who was known to the police and had previously been charged with causing bodily harm. He attacked the woman with a meat cleaver taken from the kebab shop where they both worked shortly after 4:30 pm on Sunday. The German newspaper Bild reports the woman was pregnant.

In this case, you could argue that the headline was trying to hint that the word "pregnant" was being quoted from another source, as opposed to expressing some kind of doubt about the meaning of the word pregnant, itself. Then again, killing a pregnant woman would imply that the attack claimed two lives, rather than one.

Now, contrast that headline and lede with the top of a Daily Mail story about the same attack. Might the fact that this is a very conservative newspaper have shaped this content a bit?

A Syrian refugee wielding a machete has killed a pregnant woman and injured a man and another woman in Germany before being arrested by police after he was run over by a man driving a BMW.The attack happened in the south western city of Reutlingen near a doner kebab stand in a bus station at Listplatz Square in what has been described as a 'crime of passion'. German media have been reporting that the motive for the attack in the city south of Stuttgart was unclear but the attacker and the 45-year-old Polish victim both worked at the same snack bar.

I looked for coverage that offered information about the woman and her unborn child, in terms of direct attributions to police reports, hospital officials, etc. I didn't find any.

In several cases, reporters simply stated this information as fact, which I would assume mean that it surfaced as part of medical reports about the attempts to save the woman's life. The most straight-forward language (which for me, is usually the best) can be seen in this story from Reuters:

A 21-year-old Syrian refugee was arrested on Sunday after killing a pregnant woman with a machete in Germany, the fourth violent assault on civilians in western Europe in 10 days, though police said it did not appear linked to terrorism.The incident, however, may add to public unease surrounding Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy that has seen over a million migrants enter Germany over the past year, many fleeing war in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

So what am I missing here? Does anyone out there in reader-land have any theories -- JOURNALISM theories, please -- for what happened in this case?

Categories: Main

A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ah, you tame Americans, with your talk about "idols" and "hero worship."  Until you know something of the frenzy around Indian movie star Rajinikanth, you ain't seen nothin'.

Stories abound about the action hero, but few western news media have captured the fevered fervor like the Washington Post. And it does so right from the start, with the headline: "India’s biggest action-movie star isn’t just an actor. ‘He is god.’ "

The religion ghosts are dancing right out in the open, in this report. Why didn't the Post team ask specific questions about that? We will return to that subject.

Meanwhile, one fan speaks of an "unmatchable energy" in a theater during a showing. Another compares viewing a Rajinikanth film with seeing his wife's baby for the first time. And in India, some companies are treating the release of one of his films like a religious holiday:

In Chennai, some companies gave employees the day off Friday so they could go see "Kabali," Rajinikanth’s first film in two years. Others had booked entire cinemas for their staff. Air Asia flew 180 fans to the city for the first-day showing in a plane ­custom-painted with the star’s likeness. One county was giving away free tickets to people who pledged to install an indoor ­toilet, taking advantage of the movie’s popularity to address the issue of widespread public defecation."Rajinikanth is not a human being. He is not an actor. He is [a] god," said S. Thanu, the producer of "Kabali."

And no, the producer isn’t the only one who talks like that.

Indiaglitz calls him a "demigod." 

"He is no less than God for his fans," a film critic tells Firstpost. And a documentary maker tells BBC: "A lot of fans refer to him as God, or as someone who is beyond human desires. So many fans treat the star in ways that are not unlike how people in India treat gurus or spiritual leaders."

Yet none of them get to the bottom of the worshipfulness.  

At first glance, Rajinikanth doesn't seem to exude the kind of spirituality that people would seek in a land rich in rishis and gurus and swamis.  His screen persona is more the Chuck Norris/Steven Seagal type: kicking in doors, whipping out guns, punching out thugs, hurling wisecracks. His newest flick, Kabali, is about an ex-con taking revenge on the gang that framed him.

Despite the trite plot, the film has set off something of an explosion in entertainment, with a release on 10,000 screens worldwide, including 400 in the United States. 

People seem to identify with the actor, whose real name is Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, partly for his rise from a life of menial jobs like railway porter and bus ticket seller. But that wouldn't explain what his biggest devotees do, according to the Washington Post

Religious rituals often accompany the release of Rajinikanth’s films. Fans shave their heads and offer special prayers in temples, distribute sweets, throw coins at the screen when he appears, and bathe his giant cardboard cutouts with milk -- although that last practice is being discouraged this year because of high milk prices.

Rajinikanth's followers may seem fanatical to Americans, but deific humans aren't unheard of in India. The subcontinent cherishes its stories of god-kings like Rama and Krishna. And there is a worldwide network of 700+ temples dedicated to service and worship of a 19th century holy man named Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan.

And that's where the Washington Post and other media come up short. Without some explanations, all the god talk and reports of milk rituals come off more as cheap exotica than an aid to understanding. Why weren't the fans asked their motivation? 

At the very least, the Post could have found some clues online, such as an Associated Press story in October. AP said Hindus believe the goddess Kamdhenu manifested herself as a "wish-granting divine cow." It added:

Hindus use milk and its products for religious purposes because it is believed to have purifying qualities: ghee, or clarified butter, is used in lamps for rituals; milk is used to bathe Hindu idols on special occasions; sweets made from milk or ghee are used as offerings to gods. It accompanies so much of Hindu life, in rituals from an infant's first food to the last rituals after death.

So, when fans bathe Rajinikanth's likeness in milk, are they imparting purity to him? Are they ascribing divinity to him? Other? Their input would have helped this story tremendously.

And despite all the religious references flying like Rajinikanth's cinematic fists, we're given no hint of the man's own faith. In a nation where more than 98 percent of the people belong to some religion, he surely adheres to one himself. Does he consciously inject spirituality into his role? Is he aware of the awe he inspires? How does he keep his head amid all the idolization?

Granted, such a spiritual probe may not be easy. Even a new biography of the man had trouble staying objective, according to a reviewer for The Hindu.

"Considering the near-god-like status Rajini enjoys, it would not have been easy to present any critical writing of his work," Hari Narayan writes. "For a more honest appraisal of Rajini’s flaws and failings, we have to wait for the god’s moment of epiphany when he decides to write about himself."

So answers may be elusive for the Washington Post and others taking on this subject. Still, they stand a better chance at finding answers if they ask a few more questions.

Categories: Main

A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

Monday, July 25, 2016

Is the awkward, passive language intentional or just bad writing?

That's my question about a single line that stands out to me in an Associated Press story on the Boy Scouts of America:

Despite dire warnings, the Boy Scouts are faring well 1 year after easing ban on gay adults. https://t.co/dV400nzfQd pic.twitter.com/G2QvNYSUw8

— The Associated Press (@AP) July 23, 2016

More on the specific sentence in question in a moment, but first a little background: A year ago, the Boy Scouts made headlines when the national organization ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders. 

A few of our posts at that time:

Boy Scouts, church-based troops and the threat of lawsuits. Re: gay leaders: http://t.co/4ZW3BX5WRp pic.twitter.com/NIVch2Ejqn

— GetReligion (@GetReligion) July 28, 2015

Watch the dominoes, journalists. Re: the big vote on gay leaders in the Boy Scouts of America: http://t.co/4ZW3BX5WRp pic.twitter.com/NDTSTiDrtT

— GetReligion (@GetReligion) July 28, 2015

Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way: http://t.co/kBvZDT3Aca @religiongal pic.twitter.com/Xucexf8kGq

— GetReligion (@GetReligion) August 27, 2015

Kudos to the AP for revisiting the decision at the one-year mark. 

However, this is one of those stories that feels squishy — as in broad, sweeping statements supported by quicksand — from the beginning. Throughout the piece, there are more anecdotes than hard data. Feel free to read the whole thing and tell me if I'm wrong.

The lede:

NEW YORK (AP) — There were dire warnings for the Boy Scouts of America a year ago when the group's leaders, under intense pressure, voted to end a long-standing blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. Several of the biggest sponsors of Scout units, including the Roman Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, were openly dismayed, raising the prospect of mass defections.Remarkably, nearly 12 months after the BSA National Executive Board's decision, the Boy Scouts seem more robust than they have in many years. Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations which halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that's in accordance with their religious doctrine.

OK, there were dire warnings. By whom? What exactly was said? Who said it? And what do they say now? AP doesn't engage such questions.

But that's not the awkward, passive language that stands out to me. Instead, see if you can spot it in this next paragraph:

Catholic Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, whose duties include liaising with the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, says he knows of no instances where a Catholic unit — there are more than 7,500 — has taken on an openly gay adult leader since the policy change. Gay sex and same-sex marriage are considered violations of church teaching.

Did you catch that? (emphasis below mine)

Gay sex and same-sex marriage are considered violations of church teaching.

Are they violations of church teachings or not? If they are, why not write this?:

Gay sex and same-sex marriage violate church teaching.

That's much more active and clear, right?

So why did AP write it the way it did? Is there some question on the wire service's part as to whether gay sex and same-sex marriage actually violate church teaching? If so, doesn't the "are considered violations" part of the sentence need attribution?

What other possible reason (or motive) could the AP have for couching the theology in the terms it did? 

Is the awkward, passive language intentional? If so, why?

Or is it just bad writing? 

I don't know. But I'm definitely curious.

Categories: Main

For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

Monday, July 25, 2016

Look at it this way: When it comes to the death penalty, The New York Times is to the left of Sen. Tim Kaine. That appears to have been the key factor in producing a rather nuanced news feature on Kaine that, for many liberal Democrats, may be a sobering read.

Then again, maybe not. The message of the Times story("On Death Penalty Cases, Tim Kaine Revealed Inner Conflict") appears to be that Kaine is a strong Catholic, but when push comes to shove he gives voters what they want. That may comfort Democrats on the left, since the nation (or the courts at least) appear to be swing their way on moral and social issues.

The key -- according to the contents of this story -- is that Kaine's Catholic faith is right where the Times editorial page would want it (other than on the death penalty). It's in his heart and in his campaign ads.

That whole "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" thing? Not so much.

Before we move on, let me confess (once again) that I am a pro-life Democrat who -- believing that life is sacred from conception to natural death -- is opposed to the death penalty. Kaine is, or was, the kind of Democrat who once gave me hope that there might be ways to at least compromise on the hot-button moral issues that have dominated American politics most of my life.

The point of that Times piece is that Kaine remains that guy -- in appearance. That's why Hillary Clinton picked him. But read carefully:

For Mr. Kaine, now a senator and Hillary Clinton’s newly named running mate, no issue has been as fraught politically or personally as the death penalty. His handling of capital punishment reveals a central truth about Mr. Kaine: He is both a man of conviction and very much a politician, a man of unshakable faith who nonetheless recognizes -- and expediently bends to, his critics suggest -- the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represents.He opposes both abortion and the death penalty, he has said, because “my faith teaches life is sacred.” Yet he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. And Mr. Kaine presided over 11 executions as governor, delaying some but granting clemency only once.

Note that 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Now read on:

He cast his decisions in simple terms: As Virginia’s governor, he was sworn to uphold the law -- a message that helped him get elected governor. Calm, never letting his passion overtake reason and open to compromise, Mr. Kaine, 58, is well liked even by many Republicans he has worked with. His centrist appeal is one reason Mrs. Clinton added him to her ticket.

So here is my question, based on the reporting in this piece: What is the definition of "compromise" being used by editors at the Times?

Are they saying that Kaine is consistently willing to compromise his own Catholic beliefs or that he is a Catholic brave enough to push for political compromises in public policies? To be blunt: How does one get a 100 percent favorable Planned Parenthood rating if you are, at the very least, seeking COMPROMISES on moral, religious and cultural issues spotlighted by both the U.S. Catholic bishops and Pope Francis? For example, where is Kaine these days on the First Amendment and the free exercise of religious beliefs?

This is crucial material, since Kaine's Catholic identity will be at the heart of the Clinton-Kaine ticket's attempts to win Catholic swing voters.

You can see the outline of this campaign theme in the new Religion News Service "faith facts" piece about Kaine. Point No. 1 is:

1. He was taught by Jesuits. Kaine was raised Catholic in Missouri. His parents were so devout, Kaine told C-SPAN, that “if we got back from a vacation on a Sunday night at 7:30 p.m., they would know the one church in Kansas City that had an 8 p.m. Mass that we can make.” He attended an all-boys Jesuit high school in Kansas City and worked for a year with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, where he taught welding -- his father’s trade -- and carpentry. He and his wife attend St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, Va., which has a predominantly African-American congregation. He co-founded a men’s study group there.

Then, No. 3 is:

3. He favors allowing women to become priests. When Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C., in September 2015, Kaine attended the pontiff’s historic address to Congress. Before the speech, he issued a statement. “If women are not accorded equal place in the leadership of the Catholic Church and the other great world religions, they will always be treated as inferiors in earthly matters as well,” Kaine said.

This RNS news-you-can-use feature also stresses that "Kaine is a fan of Pope Francis’ 'Laudato Si’ encyclical on global warming and related issues.

That statement, in and of itself, raises interesting issues because of the many ways that Francis links his environmental appeals to "human ecology" -- including some of his strongest language on abortion, the definition of "family" and gender. Surf this Catholic News Agency piece for examples, such as:

It is “clearly inconsistent” to combat the trafficking of endangered species while remaining indifferent toward the trafficking of persons, to the poor and to the decision of many “to destroy another human being deemed unwanted,” the Pope stated. ... Francis also highlighted that concern for the protection of nature is “incompatible with the justification of abortion.”“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” he asked.Once the ability to welcome a new life is lost on the part of individuals and society, other forms of acceptance also “wither away,” he said, warning against a “culture of relativism” that sees an absence of any objective truth outside of our own immediate wants and needs.

How about this take on Planned Parenthood's impact on American foreign policy?

“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.” ... He denounced the fact that developing countries often receive pressure from international organizations who make economic assistance “contingent on certain policies of 'reproductive health.' ”

One more statement from Francis, linked to public debates at gender fluidity:

... Pope Francis also spoke of the importance of accepting and caring for one’s body, since it is through the body that man relates to the environment and to other living things. He cautioned against seeking to exercise “absolute power” over our bodies as if they were something that we own, saying that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.”Accepting and caring for our bodies in their truest nature is essential for human ecology, he said, and stressed that this acceptance includes “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.”

Moving on. Journalists need to understand that Kaine has critics on the Catholic left, as well as the right -- a fact gently suggested by the Times. Will they be silent?

Still, it is clear that one of the slogans of the Clinton-Kaine campaign will be his status as a "Pope Francis Catholic," meaning a Catholic in tune with the Francis "tone" in news coverage, as opposed to the full content of the pope's writings and sermons.

Expect to hear that "Pope Francis Catholic" phrase (as demonstrated in the early Washington Post coverage) early and often, as well as the word "missionary."

That religious message, stressed the Times, has worked for Kaine in the past -- even when he drew flak on his personal opposition to the death penalty.

... Kaine’s team prepared, developing a message that cast the issue in terms of his faith, pointing out his work as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. ...The ads and religious-themed messaging proved a turning point, said David Eichenbaum, Mr. Kaine’s media strategist. “Once many of these voters learned he was a man of deep faith and actually was a missionary,” Mr. Eichenbaum said, “all of a sudden he wasn’t so liberal anymore.”

Stay tuned, to say the least. As always, wooing Catholic voters in swing states will be a major issue in this campaign.

Categories: Main

So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

Sunday, July 24, 2016

After all the the press attention dedicated to Donald Trump's wooing of evangelicals, it's time to get down to what really matters in American politics -- the never-ending battle over Catholics who regularly or semi-regularly visit church pews.

Yes, it helps Democrats if evangelical Protestants are not terribly excited about the GOP nominee and, thus, are more likely to vote with clenched teeth or even to stay home. This time around, Trump has strong supporters among the Religious Right old guard, but he also has strong, strong critics among solid, conservative Christian leaders (as opposed to the small, but press-friendly, world of progressive evangelicals).

But the big game is among Catholic voters. While lapsed and cultural Catholics are solidly in the Democratic Party camp, along with those in the elite "progressive Catholic" camp, the real question is what happens among millions of ordinary Sunday-morning Catholics and the much smaller number of traditional Catholics who are even more dedicated, in terms of participation in daily Mass, Confession and the church's full sacramental life. This is where the true "swing voters" are found. Does Trump have a prayer with those voters? We will see.

What does this have to do with the "evangelical Catholic" tag that has been claimed by Gov. Mike Pence, who got the VP nod from Trump? Hang on, because that connection came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast conversation with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

The term "evangelical Catholic" is highly controversial, for obvious reasons. In the media, this tends to be a negative term, applied either to people who were raised Catholic (see Pence) and are now evangelicals, or to Catholics who stress the church's ancient, orthodox teachings on moral and social issues on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and sex outside of marriage. Thus, these "evangelical Catholics" tend to be more popular with modern evangelicals than with the elite Catholics who often gather with journalists for cocktail parties on or near the Georgetown University campus.

Yes, the 1994 document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" is a good place to start, when digging into the roots of this term. You can also do an online search for these names -- "Chuck Colson" and "Father Richard John Neuhaus."

The key is that, for progressive Catholics, efforts to gather evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics into one tent on social and moral issues are, well, nothing but recruiting campaigns for the Republican Party and that is that. The same goes for the work of Catholic conservatives such as George Weigel, who has argued -- especially in his book “Evangelical Catholicism" -- for a culturally engaged, enthusiastic, doctrinally conservative and, yes, evangelistic Catholicism that can be called "evangelical."

This is what people are talking about when (see this recent GetReligion post) they say that "evangelical Catholic" is merely a cynical political term, a label created by GOP strategists to allow them to go after the maximum number of swing voters in key states with large Catholic and evangelical Protestant populations.

Of course, one could say that -- on the doctrinal left -- that the new "Pope Francis Catholic" label serves a similar purpose, allowing Catholic politicos whose views match the media profile of the current pope (as opposed to the full sweep of his writings and sermons) to reach out to Catholic swing voters, while offending as few secular and religiously unaffiliated voters as possible.

With all that in mind, remember that Trump has said plenty of things (especially on abortion and religious liberty) that are horribly offensive to all Catholics -- period. At the same time, Hillary Clinton has shown unrelenting commitment to each and every doctrine at the heart of the Sexual Revolution, a fact could even trouble some modern Jesuits.

All of this is to say that Catholics who frequent pews face an agonizing choice this year between two candidates with political views, and personalities, that can turn pro-Catechism Catholics into pillars of salt.

All of this takes me back in time to an encounter with pollster and historian John Green of the University of Akron, during a 2008 seminar at the old Washington Journalism Center (click here for an earlier post on that topic):

... Green stood at a whiteboard and described the changes that he was seeing in the landscape of American religion. Everything he said on that day showed up years later, in the 2012 Pew Forum study of the religiously unaffiliated.

On the right side of the American religious marketplace, defined in terms of doctrine and practice, is a camp of roughly 20 percent (maybe less) of believers who are seriously trying to practice their chosen faith at the level of daily life, said Green. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there is a growing camp of people who are atheists, agnostics or vaguely spiritual believers who define their beliefs primarily in terms of the old doctrines that they no longer believe. This is especially true when it comes to issues of salvation and sex. As the old saying goes, on these issues these spiritual-but-not-religious believers reject all absolute truths except the statement that there are no absolute truths.In recent national elections this growing camp of secularists and religiously unaffiliated people have formed a powerful coalition with Catholic liberals, liberal Jews and the declining numbers of people found in America's liberal religious denominations (such as the "seven sisters" of oldline Protestantism). Add it all up ... and you had a growing camp of roughly 20 percent or so on the cultural left.The bottom line: This coalition was emerging as the dominant voice in the modern Democratic Party on matters of culture and religion. Just as Republicans have, in recent decades, had to wrestle with the reality -- the pluses and the minuses -- of the energy found on the Religious Right, leaders in the Democratic Party will now be faced with the delicate task of pleasing the Religious Left and its secular allies. This could, to say the least, shape the party's relationships with the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and other major religious bodies.

Looking ahead to upcoming elections, Green said -- referring to the swing state of swing states, in presidential races -- that all of American politics could come down to which party manages to win the votes of Catholics in Ohio who go to Mass once or twice a month, rather than every Sunday morning or more.

So who offends "normal" Catholics the most, United Methodist Hillary Clinton or mainline Presbyterian Donald Trump? Will "evangelical Catholics" vote for Trump? Can Hillary -- with progressive Catholic Sen. Tim Kaine at her side -- convince Catholic swing voters that her ticket's "tone" is similar to Pope Francis, even though her beliefs on moral and social issues consistently clash with the pope's actual teachings?

Stay tuned. The battle over these labels has just begun.

Enjoy the podcast.

Categories: Main

Rolling Stone, Slate note the lack of God-talk during Donald Trump's victory lap

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Although he threw in everything but the kitchen sink, Donald Trump barely mentioned religion or culture wars themes during his 116-minute speech Thursday night. As the Charlotte Observer noted, were it not for Mike Pence, the God mentions by major speakers at this convention would have been pretty sparse.

Maybe that's because Trump knows that nearly every time he refers to the Bible, he makes some kind of mistake? It's one thing to mess up in front of Liberty University students; it's another to goof up when you're accepting your party's nomination for President. 

For the record, here's the only religion content in Trump's speech:

At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community because I'll tell you what. Because the support they've given me, and I'm not sure I totally deserve it, has been so amazing. And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight. True. So true. They have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views.I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans.

An earlier draft of Trump's speech that got leaked did not have the words “and religious.”

Here's an explanation of that Johnson amendment, courtesy of Politifact. Thursday night was such sparse pickings for anyone looking for divine content that Slate termed it "The GOP's Godless Convention." Fortunately for us, Rolling Stone -- yes, Rolling Stone -- released this analysis Thursday afternoon about infighting among evangelicals over the GOP nominee.

In the 2016 Republican primary, Falwell Jr., the president of the evangelical Liberty University, had a choice of 16 other candidates, including several with impeccable records on the religious right's core issues of opposing abortion and LGBT rights. Every one of them was more rehearsed in public displays of piety and biblical literacy than Trump. By contrast, Trump, who says he's a Presbyterian but has not recently belonged to any church, Presbyterian or otherwise, stumbles over Bible verses and even describing basic tenets of Christianity. One of his most notable gaffes was his August 2015 statement that he has never asked God for forgiveness -- something many evangelicals have apparently either forgotten or forgiven.Falwell's decision to endorse Trump, not as the only man standing at the end of the primary process, but as the best man for the job before a single vote was cast, was seen by many as besmirching his father's legacy. There was "anger, frustration, bewilderment," says one evangelical activist who opposes Trump. "You'd hear comments like, 'If we see the Trump school of business open at Liberty University, we'll know why this happened.'"

This endorsement especially shocked followers of Sen. Ted Cruz, who had desperately hoped for evangelical backing.

He received millions of evangelical votes, but so did Trump. The article continues:

Falwell's endorsement wreaked havoc in the evangelical world by pitting evangelical allies against each other in bitter and unusually public ways. Mark DeMoss, a Liberty alumnus who was Falwell's father's chief of staff, and later an advisor to Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, was asked to step down from the executive committee of Liberty's board after criticizing Falwell's Trump endorsement to a Washington Post reporter.DeMoss, a respected public relations executive specializing in evangelical causes, tells Rolling Stone, "instead of Jerry Falwell and I simply saying publicly, 'This is one we disagree on,' it got very personal and ugly. Some of the reaction, quite frankly, felt to me very Trumpian, the way the Trump campaign treated people, Trump's campaign supporters treat people."

The Rolling Stone piece didn't say a whole lot that we didn't already know but it neatly summed up what's been going on in the faith car on the Trump Train during the past half year. To no one’s surprise, Jerry Falwell Jr. was given a spot on the Thursday night speaker’s list as pointed out by the Los Angeles Times

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also gave a pro-Trump speech on Thursday night, as reported by The Hill. Not a whole lot of religion in that one. 

Elsewhere, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency ran a piece on “Five Jewish Things to Expect from Donald Trump (and Ivanka) on Thursday Night” and got four out of the five right. The wire service suggested Trump would “praise his Jewish family,” and although Trump praised his family, he didn’t call out their religious preferences. It's well known that Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are both Jewish. 

This weekend on PBS stations, look for the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly's wrap-up of the GOP'ers and God that includes a clip of Mike Huckabee playing base guitar at a worship service and an opening prayer led by a Sikh. Although light by normal standards, religion coverage of the Republicans is going to look positively lush compared to the faith desert coming up next week when the Democrats meet in Philly, unless there is a major stress on the Tim Kaine VP nod in an attempt to reach out to Catholic voters.

However, this is the political party that is built on a large concentrations of "nones," So journalists looking for the faith factor may have their work cut out for them.

Categories: Main

'Moderate' rebels once funded by USA behead Syrian boy: Would readers want to know why?

Friday, July 22, 2016

As I have mentioned many times, your GetReligionistas have never figured out what to do with material published at The Daily Beast.

For the most part, it is a liberal publication that focuses on a pushy, but often interesting, brand of openly slanted, advocacy journalism of the old (and returning) European Model. That's fine and I'll keep reading. However, that is not the kind of hard-news work that we like to focus on here at this blog, unless we are pointing religion-news consumers toward a relevant "think piece."

However, the Beast has also been known to produce features -- especially international news -- that are 99.9 percent basic news. If there is advocacy there, it's because these editors are choosing to cover these stories and others are not. To me, that raises just as many questions about the pros in all of those newsrooms that are ignoring these news events.

Take, for example, the horrible news that the Daily Beast published under this double-decker headline:

U.S.-Backed ‘Moderate’ Rebels Behead a Child Near AleppoIt’s the kind of stomach-wrenching brutality you’d associate with ISIS. Except this time, it’s American-armed rebels who are cutting off a boy’s head

No, I don't want to click on video URLs that have anything whatsoever to do with this story. I apologize for needing to run the relatively tame screen-grab image that I did, at the top of the post.

However, once again I want to say -- especially since this glimpse into hell has a strong American hook -- that it's amazing that this story is only running at the Beast and in some publications on the other side of the Atlantic, where editors and/or readers seem to have more interest in global news.

At the center of this story is a so-called "moderate" Syrian opposition group. "Moderate" means they oppose the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, so American leaders have helped support them in the past. Now, readers learn:

The footage surfaced ... of members of Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki and a captured child in Handarat, near Aleppo. The young boy, who appears to be prepubescent, is then executed on the back of a pickup truck.The gruesome videotaped murder of a child drew outrage on social media and the promise of an inquiry from the group’s leadership, which has previously received U.S.-made weapons and American funding. The group no longer gets such backing. But it’s also renewed questions about which rebels the American government has supported in Syria’s ongoing civil war. ...There are two clips from the unsavory events. One shows five militants surrounding the boy. In the second, one of them stands over him on the truck and cuts the boy’s head off with a dull knife. ...

This story does include some solid material that helps readers understand the ties between this group and the American government. It even touches on one of the greatest mysteries in the Aleppo region, one that is of particular interest to me as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Hold that thought.

However, I was left with one urgent question about the Beast story: Why was this child executed?

Was he or his family part of the much-hated, by Sunni and Shia Muslims, Alawite religious sect? If so, that fact alone -- since Assad is part of that religious minority -- might endanger the life of a grown-up. But a child? Was he, perhaps, accused of petty theft? Was he a Christian?

There are print references elsewhere (no, I did not watch the videos), suggesting that his father was a supporter of Assad. If so, why is the child being killed?

The Beast report -- to strong in so many ways -- never addresses this "Why" factor in the traditional Who, What, When, Where, Why and How formula for hard-news journalism. Why, indeed? Did I miss something?

The focus in this story, as I said, is on this "moderate" group's history of support from the United States government, as recently as 2014 and maybe later. Some readers, like me, would take special interest in this reference:An Amnesty International report about human-rights abuses found that Zenka was responsible for torture and forced confessions in Aleppo, where it is based. One media activist who reports on government abuses told Amnesty International that he could hear the sounds of people being tortured while being held by the brigade, though he couldn’t see it happening because of a blindfold. ...More troubling are allegations in the report that the Zenki movement kidnapped Syrian Orthodox bishops on a humanitarian mission and handed them over the the Nusra Front.

This is one of the few times I have seen that link reported. If you are interested in that story -- alas, the hastag #bringbackourbishops never caught on with social-media activists -- then click here for my recent Universal syndicate column on that subject at the time of Orthodox Holy Week. Here is a key piece of background:

The goal, three years ago, was for Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church to help negotiate the release of two priests who had been kidnapped weeks earlier. Then, west of Aleppo, a pack of unidentified armed men attacked. ...

The bishops simply vanished. According to a new World Council of Arameans report: "No one has ever claimed responsibility for the abduction, neither has there been a clear sign of life of the bishops since April 22, 2013." Later reports were "all based on unverified rumors, hearsay and false reports which often contradicted each other."This kidnapping never inspired global news coverage.

The fact that an Amnesty International report included material about this incident would ordinarily be news -- if more journalists and, yes, their readers, cared about the subject.

So this Daily Beast story is much appreciated, even if its contents are so hellish and horrible. It is possible that American Christians, and other supporters of human rights, would want to know about this murder of a child. After all, these rebels may, for all we know, still be fighting with arms funded by U.S. taxpayers.

Just saying.

Categories: Main

Shooting 'devils': What beliefs drove the Baton Rouge police killer?

Friday, July 22, 2016

While the Trumpification of the GOP held the attention of many mainstream media, some were probing the warped mind of Gavin Long, who shot three police officers in Baton Rouge before being shot dead himself. Their chilling discoveries are reported in well-crafted articles, especially in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Here are some of the spiritual currents they found coursing through the killer's mind:

* He returned from a visit to Africa saying that fasting and abstaining from sex, activated his pineal gland and "opened a third eye of wisdom."

* He began calling himself Ausar Setepenra, a reference to two Egyptian gods.

* He claimed membership in a group of African Americans who say they're a "sovereign Native American tribe."

* The world is "run by devils," in his view.

Of the articles, the Post's -- with six reporters writing 1,400 words -- is the most ambitious. It tries to track his movements over his last few weeks:

He stopped in Houston, telling strangers on a sidewalk how he had fasted for two years while abroad — as well as abstained from sex — and how it helped him shed 100 pounds and opened a third eye of wisdom.Then he stopped in Baton Rouge, meandering through the city and recording a rambling video of himself — until the moment Sunday morning when he calmly and deliberately took aim at local police, killing three officers and wounded three others.

WaPo scores a coup in an interview with rapper Felix Omoruyi of Dallas, a close friend of Long's. Omoruyi  says that after Long's trip to Africa, he began "talking passionately about his African roots, Egyptian religious principles and the different stages of spiritual enlightenment":

Long introduced himself as Cosmo Setepenra — a name he had adopted in recent years, according to court records. "He said, ‘I’m on a mission to get my book into the urban community. I’m not charging anything, just giving it away," Douglas said. "People need to know how to eat right, how to see from their third eye."Long again waxed on about Africa, describing his two-year spiritual and physical fast there. "If you detox your body the right way, you get in touch with your third eye and your pineal gland," Douglas remembers him saying. "Being in the motherland gave me life . . . and that’s why I’m going around the U.S. to give that knowledge to other people."

But why was this fine article filed under "Health & Science"? Crime, I could see. Religion, certainly. Maybe "Race and Justice," as a new beat at the Los Angeles Times is called. "Health & Science" is a puzzling choice.

The main science-y link I can imagine is a press conference by a chapter of the Moorish Science Temple. As the Philadelphia Inquirer says, the Temple denies that Long was a member and disavows his beliefs.

"In fact, his ideologies and his actions are diametrically opposed to [our] teachings," Azeem Hopkins-Bey, grand sheik of temple in North Philadelphia, said at a news conference Monday outside City Hall. He says the religion holds all life sacred, including those of the recent shooting victims -- police and black civilians alike. 

Good disclaimer. But then the Inquirer tosses this in: "Moorish Americans are descendants of Moroccans who are born in America, he said. The group is part of the Islamic faith." 'Twould have been good to run that last claim by an imam in Philadelphia. 

Hopkins-Bey was reacting to a spurt of articles that had Long claiming a Moorish-native American heritage. The group is actually called the Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu'ur.

One of the better explanations is in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Washitaw, sometimes spelled Washitah, believe their ancestors were original inhabitants of the New World, who they say were black Africans.They trace their lineage back to the ancient Mississippian culture that lived along the river and Gulf Coast. The Washitaw Nation says their claims to the Louisiana Purchase were not recognized when Napoleon sold the large swath of North America to the United States in 1803. The federal government does not recognize their existence, and court rulings have followed suit.

The newspaper adds alertly that the Washitaw are different from the Ouachita tribe of native Americans.

But the most startling findings are in the New York Times article. NYT mentions not only the Washitaw Nation but Long's composite notion of Egyptian heritage:

Mr. Long filed a form last year in Jackson County, Mo., to change his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra, a name freighted with ancient Egyptian references.Ausar, often rendered as Osiris, was the Egyptian god of the underworld. A group called the Ausar Auset Society, founded in the 1970s, describes itself on its website as being dedicated to reviving the ancient Egyptian religion among Africans and people of African descent.Setepenra, sometimes rendered as Setepenre, or Setep-en-Re, among other variations, meant "chosen by Ra," the Egyptian sun god. The name has been used in modern times by some people affiliated with occult groups that use Egyptian symbols.

The Times says Long got on Twitter in October, starting with "self-help" advice like vegan food and entrepreneurship. He also got militant over racism, especially after being pulled over on April 5 in Los Angeles.

Despite all this excellent journalism -- I count at least 15 reporters among these four stories -- I see several loose ends.

One in the NYT piece is Gavin Long's belief that the world is "run by devils." That partial quote in the lede is the only such reference, not substantiated later in the story, although it's clearly in Long's Dallas video: "You're in a world that's ran by devils. Get this through your hair, right now. Devils run this."

It's also worth asking if he had a religious background. Most African Americans were raised in one of several Baptist or Pentecostal denominations. Did Long rebel against that, or perhaps just discard it? Interviews with blood relatives might have shed light on that.

Finally, I don’t see a coherent picture of the tormented mind of Gavin Long. He had a combative, conspiratorial view of government and race relations. He built a DIY version of Egyptian religion. But did those two beliefs somehow come together? Or did he simply compartmentalize them?

Long's Dallas video has him talking about fighting bullies, "One hundred percent [of oppressed people] have been successful through fighting back, through bloodshed," he says. "Zero have been successful just over simply protesting."

But none of the above stories explain how Long thought it do any good to shoot cops at random. The Baton Rouge shooting, in fact, did the opposite, as an activist tells the Post:

"We had our momentum on," said Arthur Reed, an organizer of the group Stop the Killings who filmed the viral video of Sterling’s death. "[The protests] were our cry to the world, and the world was listening."

Thus, an ironic footnote to the bedeviled life of Gavin Long: While claiming to help black people, he may have harmed them.

Categories: Main

Bravo! Christian Science Monitor's seven-part religious liberty series delivers a punch

Friday, July 22, 2016

Living as I do just east of Seattle, I’ve been waiting for a magazine to do the definitive profile of Barronelle Stutzman, the Richland, Wash., florist who’s getting sued to the nines for refusing to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay friend (and long-time customer).

Whereas the New Yorker and the Atlantic have sat this one out, the Christian Science Monitor team stepped in. Their Stutzman piece, which ran last week, leans over backward to give the facts linked to the florist’s side of the story, as well as the views of her critics.

It is part of an intriguing series of seven stories on religious liberty and gay rights and it’s the best treatment I’ve seen yet. The lead story discusses how gay rights is pushing many religious Americans into a corner where they feel compelled to support behaviors their faith condemns as immoral. Look for the Russell Moore quote about the sexual revolution not tolerating public dissent and the John Inazu quote about what will happen to our society when faith-based organizations -- if stripped of their nonprofit status -- cease to provide social services to the hungry, poor and homeless.

Other Monitor stories include one asking whether wedding photography is art protected under the First Amendment and whether an artist can be compelled to produce a work she disagrees with (in this case art linked to a gay wedding rite). Then there was this story about the hate mail and death threats that wedding cake designers in Oregon, Colorado and Texas as well as Stutzman the florist have gotten after their well-publicized court cases. This is the first time I’ve seen any media bother to cover this angle.

In covering these issues, the Monitor goes deeper and provides more background than anywhere else I’ve read. The Stutzman story was unusual in that it told some of the legal machinations behind her case.

Barronelle Stutzman loved doing custom floral work for Robert Ingersoll. He became one of her best customers, often encouraging her creativity.“Do your thing,” he would tell her when placing an order. And he loved what she did.Over the years, Mr. Ingersoll spent nearly $4,500 on flowers and arrangements by the florist in Richland, Wash.But one day, he made a request that was different from his earlier orders. He asked Ms. Stutzman if she would design the flowers for his upcoming wedding ceremony. The request thrust her into a moral dilemma.

Here is where the piece explains her POV:

Through a thriving nine-year business relationship, the fact that Mr. Ingersoll is gay had never been relevant.But it was now.As a devout Southern Baptist, Stutzman’s involvement in a same-sex wedding would violate her religious beliefs about the sanctity of marriage as a divinely blessed union exclusively between one man and one woman.She did not object to selling flowers or floral arrangements from her shop to Ingersoll, as she’d done many times before. What she objected to was the possibility of a job requiring her personal involvement in the celebration of a same-sex marriage. That would be a denunciation of her faith.

Where this story departs from other narratives is how it characterizes the legal forces arrayed against her:

Now, three years after the brief meeting in her flower shop, the 71-year-old florist is facing the prospect of financial ruin.Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington have filed discrimination lawsuits. In addition to targeting her business, Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., they sued Stutzman personally, ensuring that any assets she might own beyond the flower shop could be taken from her to pay their own legal fees if she lost.

What kind of animus is driving the state AG’s office and the local ACLU?

Soon after, Freed posted a comment on his Facebook page recounting the florist’s refusal. It went viral. According to a sworn deposition filed in the case, the Facebook post generated “overwhelming” support for the couple from across the United States. It also attracted the attention of the media, the state attorney general, and the ACLU.At first, both Freed and Ingersoll thought Stutzman had a right to refuse their business based on her religious beliefs. Ingersoll even confided to a friend shortly after the exchange that he did not plan to file a lawsuit. “Not my thing,” he said in an email.That view changed after conversations with friends and a personal phone call from Attorney General Ferguson. The ACLU also agreed to represent the couple in a private lawsuit against Stutzman and her company.

Really, now? So the ACLU and the state put the couple up to it? That’s an interesting factoid I’ve not seen explained in any Seattle-area media.

The article goes on to describe the legal forces arrayed against Stutzman, at one point calling the ACLU and state moves “litigation hardball” designed to break Stutzman. But she refused to cave. Remember, if she loses the case, she will have to pay the legal fees of the winners, and the ACLU has said theirs is more than $1 million, which will surely bankrupt this woman. When the reporter confronted the ACLU attorney with this:

She downplayed the threatening nature of the lawsuit. “It’s not like we mailed her a horse’s head,” the lawyer says.“We have no interest in Ms. Stutzman’s assets,” she adds. “Look, the ACLU doesn’t litigate to make money. And we don’t litigate cases to drive people into bankruptcy. That is never our goal.”

Is she serious? Do read the whole piece, as it’s quite enlightening in that it took a media outlet based in Boston to unearth facts in a Washington state case that I’ve not seen discussed elsewhere. What’s important, the reporter explains, is this:

In Washington State and beyond, Stutzman’s case is being closely watched because it may establish a framework for how to resolve clashes between LGBT advocates and religious conservatives.

I’m not sure that Stutzman would call suing her a way of “resolving” the clash but the reporter goes on to explain how the case would regulate how people can act out their beliefs in public. The new logic" "Free exercise" of religion takes place in private, as in the space between one's ears.

In ruling against Stutzman in 2015, the state judge drew a distinction between a citizen’s freedom to believe, which he said was absolute, and a citizen’s freedom to act in public on those beliefs, which he said can be regulated by the government.In effect, the judge said that belief is personal, but if individuals seek to express those beliefs in action, the anti-discrimination law would trump any claim for a religious exemption.“The judge told me I could have my faith but I couldn’t practice it -- keep it in the four walls of the church,” Stutzman says. “That’s like me telling Rob and Curt you can be gay, but once you leave your house you can no longer be gay.”

The series also includes a story profiling a network of gay-friendly wedding photographers with the goal of avoiding lawsuits and the embarrassment of one's wedding being turned down for religious reasons.

The writer brings up an interesting twist: What if a photographer is a vegetarian and is asked to shoot a Santeria service involving animal sacrifices? If they are allowed to refuse such an assignment, why aren't Christian photographers allowed to turn down gay weddings?

The entire series was written by reporter Warren Richey and I hope the Monitor submits it to every journalism contest in sight. It deserves plenty of awards. 

Categories: Main

The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Attempting to comprehend the mystery of Donald Trump’s religion, his critics can’t decide whether to blame Peale or Paula.

Some consider that “positive thinking” guru, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), the inspiration for what they dislike. (Reports say Trump, a boyhood Presbyterian, never actually joined  Peale’s New York City congregation, which is part of the Reformed Church in America.) For other skeptics, it’s not Peale who’s appalling but Paula White.

Writers with yahoo.com and then Politico.com have recently profiled White,  a popular broadcaster, speaker, author and since 2012 senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla. This is one of America’s countless high-growth independent congregations with a “Charismatic” or “Neo-Pentecostal” flavor.

White, a 50-year-old grandmother, and her ministries deserve further reportage with two angles, Trump’s creed and a major fissure in the unruly U.S. evangelical movement.

Veteran activist James Dobson alerted media to the White connection by passing along reports that Trump, a “baby Christian,” was led to renewed faith by White. Trump and White were pals long before she helped broker his 2015 and 2016 meetings with evangelical types. Trump endorsed one of her books in 2007 calling her “a beautiful person,” appeared on White’s TV show, and White rents a New York apartment in a Trump building.

So let's turn to Trump’s fiercest evangelical foe, the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, the Washington D.C. voice for America’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention. Does gender foster wariness when we're talking about White? The SBC’s official “Baptist Faith and Message” declares that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

As with the thrice-wed Trump himself, there’s also the marital issue. Charisma magazine reports that White married Dean Knight as a teen but divorced him “after she got saved.” Second husband Randy White is the co-founder and current bishop leading Tampa’s Without Walls International Church that Paula also led for a time. The couple divorced in 2007 and last year she married Jonathan Cain, a rock keyboardist best known for his work with Journey.

But Moore emphasizes that White is a “charlatan” because she preaches the “prosperity Gospel.” Other clergy given that label include Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. This movement, excoriated by mainstream and denominational evangelicals like Moore, argues that those who are generous with God receive in turn economic and physical benefits. Often the implication is that such generosity should fund the preacher’s own ministry.

White herself rejected that label in a scoop interview with the online Christian Post: “I do not believe in the ‘prosperity Gospel’ as I’ve been accused of believing it. I do believe that all good things come from God, and I also believe that God teaches us so much through our suffering.” For herself, “my life has not been an easy one, from my childhood and, at times, in my adulthood.”

So journalists need to take some time, in stories, to define the “prosperity” theology and let expert voices debate whether that term fairly describes White and those other personalities. And then, why do prominent evangelicals spurn this as a biblical heresy?

Regarding Trump, White promoted the would-be president but declined to specify her own role in any purported Christian turn. She said: “I have heard Mr. Trump verbally acknowledge his faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins through prayer, and I absolutely believe he is a Christian who is growing like the rest of us.”

That statement certainly invites follow-up questions.

Categories: Main

Carson, Clinton, Colbert and ... Lucifer? The God-and-politics drama never ends

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder at the Republican convention, the Prince of Darkness showed up. Or at least his ally was in the house, via a prime-time speech reference to none other than Hillary Clinton by one-time GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I am not making this up. Stephen Colbert has even invented a new word: Trumpiness, to describe the state of things in Cleveland, and America in general. More on Colbert later. 

Frankly, I thought most media were fairly subdued in handling what a goofball Carson has become although their headline writers definitely had a holiday. "Did You Stay Awake Long Enough to Hear Ben Carson Call Hillary Lucifer?" Esquire asked

Here's how CNN called it

Washington (CNN) -- Former presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday that he linked Hillary Clinton to a prominent community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who once offered measured praise of Lucifer in a book, to provide "perspective" on what type of president the Democrat would be."Recognize that this is a very famous book -- 'Rules for Radicals' -- and on the dedication page, you acknowledge Lucifer in an admirable way saying he's the original radical who gained his own kingdom," Carson told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day." "What I am saying is that we are talking about electing to the presidency an individual who embraces someone who obviously is not someone who is consistent."Clinton wrote her 1969 Wellesley undergraduate thesis on Alinsky -- though she's said in her own book that she had "fundamental" disagreements with him," according to an analysis of Carson's comments on Politifact.

Now back to what Carson originally said Tuesday night:

At Tuesday's Republican National Convention, Carson asked attendees if they could elect Clinton given her relationship to Alinsky, who critics have long accused of harboring communist sympathies."Let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky," he said. "He wrote a book called 'Rules for Radicals.' On the dedication page, it acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom."Carson asked, "So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model someone who acknowledges Lucifer?"

CNN then added in a tweet from Salman Rushdie and threw in a link from Politfact, which did an analysis of the Hillary-Alinsky-Lucifer triangle.

Politfact actually linked to Alinsky’s book, allowing you to read (in the first two scrolled-down pages) the offending text.

I wish that someone had noted that being a fan of Saul Alinsky is not just the provenance of the ungodly. Jews for Jesus founder Moishe Rosen praised Alinsky in his first book and openly copied Alinsky’s tactics when it came to confrontational street evangelizing in 1960s-era San Francisco. Anyway, Politfact also digs up a New York Times review of Clinton’s undergraduate thesis and quotes from one of Clinton’s memoirs about her relationship with Alinsky. 

Other articles? There’s the Daily Beast’s commentary-disguised-as-news that throws in one detail I’d not seen elsewhere: That Carson had planned to say something else and the Hillary-as-Satanist speech was a last-minute substitute that the Trump campaign could not prevent. This piece has more background on Carson than the other two and reminds us that this is not the first time Carson’s accused Hillary of sympathizing with the devil. 

Forbes.com ran an opinion piece that had some good background on whether Alinsky really was into the Guy Downstairs or not. I never knew there were that many Alinsky scholars out there.

Vanity Fair surely wins the contest for best subhead: “Forget Benghazi,” it reads. “This conspiracy goes all the way to the bottom.” The article closes with this thought:

In a speech that could have been a disaster, it must have been a relief that Carson’s meandering thoughts went straight to hell, and not somewhere closer to home.

After pondering Ben, I turned on Colbert to make sense of it all. "Elections are not about what voters think, he said in this amazing six-minute monologue. "It's about what voters feel." 

Eleven years ago, Colbert continued, he invented the straight-to-the-dictionary term "truthiness," which is believing something that feels true, even if it's not supported by fact. We have, of course, written about this. This week, he has introduced Trumpiness, which doesn't even have to feel true, because people don't care if something is true or not. For instance, who really believes that Trump will manage to build a gargantuan wall on the Mexico border?

"If he doesn't have to mean what he says, then he can say anything," Colbert said.

Lots of folks have written about this. For example, see what the Voltaire quoting Washington Monthly team came up with to describe Trumpiness. For those who wonder how to dissect the hall of mirrors this election has become, and the struggle journalists are having covering it, Colbert is onto something.

Categories: Main

Are you kidding me!? Some Muslims actually support Donald Trump for president

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hey, remember that time Donald Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.?"

It's kind of hard to forget (but if you need refreshment, click here, here, here, here and here).

To read most news reports, Trump is the King of Islamophobia. So it's obvious that no serious, clear-thinking follower of Islam would deign to support Trump for president. Right?

Well, actually ...

There are some interesting stories in the mainstream press this week that quote Muslim supporters of Trump. Reuters, for example, has a story on a campaign to register a million Muslim voters against Trump. But near the end of that piece, the wire service quotes the Muslim who offered a brief benediction Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention:

U.S. Muslim backers of Trump said they were trying to build their own coalitions in swing states.Baltimore businessman Sajid Tarar said he launched American Muslims for Trump because he favored Trump's stance on combating radical Islam."ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State), al Qaeda, Taliban, they have killed more Muslims than anything else, and that's a message Muslims need to hear and understand," he said, referring to various militant groups.

The fact that the Islamic State kills more moderate Muslims than anyone else is, of course, a crucial point and a frequent theme here at GetReligion.

Beyond that single quote, Reuters' bareboned report — typical of wire service stories — doesn't offer any real insight or depth on Tarar's support of Trump.

The Washington Post, on the other hand, has a full story on "the Muslim guy who took the convention stage and prayed for Trump":

Sajid Tarar was the last person to take the stage at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, after Tiffany Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and others had come and gone, and after most convention watchers had started flooding toward the exits.“Let’s pray to get our country back,” he said in his brief benediction, which the cable news channels mostly talked over. He invoked the prophet Muhammad, and said “the values reflected by our leader must reflect the values of our forefathers.” There were some cheers, and some boos too.“God bless America, God bless you, God bless Donald Trump,” he said.Tarar is a Muslim, and he’s a Muslim for Trump. He might seem an unusual choice for a convention speaker, even after prime time, for a presidential candidate who has called for a ban on Muslims.But Tarar considers himself “part of the angry Americans against the traditional politicians, and non-functioning, non-working Washington D.C.” Trump, he said, is "a doer.” He’ll go strong against extremists such as the Islamic State, where Obama has been weak, he said.“And he’s an outsider. He says whatever he feels like. He doesn’t have some staffer writing his speeches. He says whatever he feels like.”

The Post story is no puff piece on Tarar. In fact, it's downright antagonistic, digging into his background and citing public records to question everything from his reported age to his apparent failure to pay bills. Before offering those details, the newspaper quips that "Tarar doesn’t actually believe that Trump said all those bad things about Muslims."

Is the Post piece meant as a fair, balanced news article? Maybe. But it sure has a lot of attitude for a news story, even as it notes Tarar's disdain for the "liberal media." I found myself wondering if a more evenhanded delivery of the facts might have boosted the report's credibility and given media haters less reason to brush it off.

Alas, this story turns into more of a referendum on Tarar than an exploration of Muslim support for Trump.

Fortunately, if you'd like a nuanced, enlightening treatment of that subject matter, Chicago Tribune religion writer Manya Brachear Pashman has an excellent story that quotes a variety of Muslims supporting Trump:

Muslims for Trump speak up: "I look at it not as a Muslim, more as an American" https://t.co/v44RKYlGcG pic.twitter.com/2qytvzFoLZ

— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) July 20, 2016

Just one of the nicely done chunks of the Tribune story:

Since announcing his run for the presidency, Trump has proposed that the government register and track Muslims in the U.S., bar some foreign Muslims from entering the country, monitor mosques and kill the loved ones of terrorists.Some Muslim supporters insist his comments have been taken out of context. Others believe he has sparked a necessary national conversation about radical Islam. And then there are those who think alienating the Muslim community was a misguided move, but that his straight talk about immigration, health care and the economy outweighs his blunders.Saba Ahmed, president and founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, chalks up Trump's offensive rhetoric as nothing more than political bluster with no basis in reality."I know it's illegal and unconstitutional and it will never be enacted, so I tend to ignore it," said Ahmed, who is at the Cleveland convention, adding that Trump's business background and stance on the economy is more worthy of her attention.

Some news stories are so predictable as to be nauseating, such as those Muslim backlash headlines that inevitably follow a terror attack by a follower of radical Islam.

Much more interesting, to me at least, are stories that surprise me — and help me grasp something that doesn't make sense on the surface. Such as, why in the world would a Muslim support Donald Trump?

Read on and find out. Nice job, Tribune.

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