Anglicanism

Turtle on a fence post? Concerning Billy Graham, St. Pope John Paul II, Bob Dylan and journalism

Turtle on a fence post? Concerning Billy Graham, St. Pope John Paul II, Bob Dylan and journalism

The Rev. Billy Graham must have told the turtle story a million times, so surely -- somewhere in the tsunami of analog and digital news ink we will see tomorrow -- there will be journalists who include it in their features marking the great evangelist's death.

Graham, 99, died Wednesday morning at the family's rambling log home in the mountains outside Asheville, N.C. They bought the land 60 years or so ago, when it cost next to nothing and that's where Billy and Ruth stayed. What will happen to it now? Getting to spend part of a day there while interviewing him was certainly one of the highlights of my reporting career.

But I digress. Members of the GetReligion team will start looking at the actual coverage of his life and career tomorrow. With only a few hours before deadline, I wrote my own piece on Graham and you can read it right here (with the permission of my Universal syndicate editors).

Please send us links to the good and the bad. Obviously, there is a massive package already at Christianity Today, which Graham founded long ago, and at The Charlotte Observer (main story here). Here is the  main Associated Press story.

But let's return to the turtle and the fence post. Here is how I retold that story soon after the creation of this blog:

For decades, Graham has been asked -- thousands of times, I am sure -- why he has been so remarkably successful, preaching to more people in person than anyone else in history. Why have so many people, from the earliest days of his career, responded to his call to accept Jesus Christ as Savior? What's so special about Billy Graham?
At this point, Graham almost always offers the following explanation. If you are walking down a road, he says, and you happen to see a turtle sitting on top of a tall fence post, what would you assume? You would, of course, assume that the turtle did not climb up there on his own. You would assume that someone far larger than the turtle picked him up and then placed him atop the tall post for some mysterious reason.
Get the point? Clearly Graham did not get on top by his own merits.

That's a perfect example of Graham being folksy and safe, but there is content there if you think about it.

Obviously, Graham was a skilled media personality, with decades of experience in the trenches facing journalists who knew his life and work inside out as well as general-assignment reporters who, believe it or not, were sent to cover him after reading little more than a sheet of PR material.

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Thinking about Justin Welby and the Church of England, in prose blending praise with candid acid

Thinking about Justin Welby and the Church of England, in prose blending praise with candid acid

Let me begin with a note to digital obsessives who care about this kind of thing, since I hear from readers of this kind every now and then.

In the software categories and tags for this weekend's "think piece," I have included the word "demographics," even though this feature from The Guardian about Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Church of England does not include a direct reference to statistics about marriage, divorce, gay marriage, birthrates or other topics of that kind.

No, the goal of this opinion piece by Andrew Brown -- no friend of traditional forms of Christianity -- is to praise Welby for steering Anglicanism in the direction of compromise with the modern world. The headline: "With piety and steel, Justin Welby has the church in his firmest grip." Anyone looking for praise or even constructive criticism of low-church evangelicals or Global South Anglicans can look elsewhere.

However, this piece has its moments of brutal candor about the state of Anglican life, doses of acidic reality mixed in with the praise. The information contained in these passages is especially interesting, since it it comes from a voice on the left. If conservative Anglicans made the same comments, they would be easier for many readers to dismiss.

As an introduction, here is a lengthy summary passage that follows a discussion of Welby's actions in one controversial case linked to alleged sexual abuse of a minor by a famous clergyman.

The whole show was typical of Welby’s style as Archbishop of Canterbury: he combines energy, ruthlessness and a determination to get the church moving, through a mixture of public theatricality and arm-twisting behind the scenes. He has been archbishop for five years and next month will publish a fat state-of-the-nation book that covers almost all the current areas of political and cultural dispute in the church. ...
(H)e loves the work of nudging and manipulation. When he was trying to get the bishops of the worldwide Anglican communion to agree to meet again after decades of wrangling over gay sex and female bishops, he spent much of his annual holiday ringing the heads of the member churches for 20 minutes each -- not how most people would choose to spend their holidays. And though he disclaims the ability to select bishops, ever since he drove through the legislation to make women bishops in 2013, the holy spirit has somehow ensured that half of the bishops appointed have been women, among them Sarah Mullally to the prominent see of London, and Jo Bailey Wells, his former chaplain, to be bishop of Dorking.

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Here is a good question about something familiar: Why do Christian clergy wear black?

Here is a good question about something familiar: Why do Christian clergy wear black?

THE QUESTION: So, the question of why Christian clergy often wear black was posed to The Religion Guy during a conversation a while ago. The thought had never occurred to me. So this is a good example of things we tend to take for granted and don’t think about. Thus it makes a good “Religion Q & A” topic. (Please feel free to submit your own questions at any time by clicking right here.)

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Black is becoming the new black. In recent days we’ve seen members of Congress attending the president’s State of the Union address, and preening showbiz celebrities at the Golden Globe awards, wearing that color (or non-color) to proclaim their solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and the burgeoning #MeToo cause.

The House Democratic Women’s Working Group invited women and men of both political parties to participate. One leader, California Congresswman Jackie Speier, said “this is a culture change that is sweeping the country, and Congress is embracing it.”

One year ago this same Working Group urged members to wear white during President Trump’s address to Congress in order to broadcast their support for “reproductive rights” (the favored euphemism for abortion), Planned Parenthood, equal pay, paid maternity leave, and affordable health and child-care coverage from the government.

The black of 2018 carries a suggestion of sorrow, since black is the color traditionally worn by people in mourning or repenting of their past sins (the biblical sackcloth and ashes having long gone out of style).

Then we have the question at hand, that longstanding tradition of Christian clergy wearing black, not to demonstrate alignments but as everyday garb.

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More Bible battles: The 'old, old story' is ever new and, thus, ever in the news

More Bible battles: The 'old, old story' is ever new and, thus, ever in the news

Pondering Washington’s new Museum of the Bible for the quasi-Jewish Commentary magazine, Williams College art historian Michael Lewis finds it ideologically inoffensive and is therefore perplexed at how fiercely some despise the place.

How come? He says the very claim “that the Bible is a foundational document of our civilization is, to many, an unwelcome one. And as biblical ignorance grows, the claim grows progressively more unwelcome. The Bible seems to be one of those books that the less people know about it, the less they like it.”

Journalists: The professor is onto something that might merit a think piece.

But in this Memo, The Religion Guy instead insists that the Book of the “old, old story” (per that Gospel hymn) is perpetually new, and therefore news. Book-buyers, Internet blabbers and media consumers (also church and synagogue attendees) can’t get enough of it. So here’s the latest twist on the Bible beat.

Religion writers should check the next issue of Christianity Today as it  surveys “lesser-known translations” of scripture, provoking this theme: In the Bible sweepstakes, why pick this one and not that one? Plus there’s a story peg in a current biblical battle between two titans who translated their own one-man New Testaments from the original Greek into English, as opposed to the usual committee editions. The competitors:  

(1) David Bentley Hart, outspoken Eastern Orthodox thinker currently at Notre Dame’s Institute for Advanced Study, with his sharply provocative “The New Testament: A Translation” (Yale).

(2) Bishop N.T. Wright of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, favorite New Testament scholar for legions of U.S. Protestants and his fellow Anglicans worldwide. Wright's “The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation” (HarperOne, 2011) caused England’s Church Times to proclaim him “the J.K. Rowling of Christian Publishing.”

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Thinking about Billy Graham and the Queen: Religion news can be found all over the place

Thinking about Billy Graham and the Queen: Religion news can be found all over the place

Once upon a time, newspaper editors thought that religion was the kind of narrow, insider subject that could be locked into a weekly journalism ghetto called the "church page."

No, honest.

That eventually evolved into the "religion" page, but the idea was pretty much the same. This concept began fading about the time I reached the news biz, in the early 1980s.

Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with having a section or a column dedicated to religion-news topics. I had better think that, since I have been writing that kind of column for 30 years or more. It's nice to have a place in the news format in which you KNOW you can get a religion topic into print.

The crucial point, however, is that religion is a subject that wants to roam all over the place, if journalists take it seriously. It should end up on A1, on the education beat, in the business section, in the sports pages, etc., etc. I have had a lot of fun through the decades (and wrote a book about it) following religion ideas, symbols and trends into the world of popular culture and entertainment.

So with that in mind let me (a) highly, highly recommend a new Sarah Pulliam Bailey piece about the Netflix series "The Crown" that included scenes about Queen Elizabeth's faith and her 1955 encounter with a young American evangelist -- as in Billy Graham. At the same time, I would like to (b) ask people out there in dead-tree-pulp land where The Washington Post editors played this story in the actual newspaper, as opposed to its "Acts of Faith" status online. I sure hope that this ran, in print, in the Style or Entertainment sections. That's where it belongs.

The piece is a must-read, if you have the slightest interest in these two towering figures in 20th Century world culture. This is top-flight popular culture writing that also -- as you would expect -- pays serious attention to the religious content.

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ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

Way back in the late 1980s, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado needed to elect a new bishop.

This led to an interesting series of events, with the various candidates -- there were a bunch -- traveling across that large and diverse state to meet with the faithful and to take questions. As the religion-beat writer at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP), I went along.

It was during that tour that I came up with a set of three questions that I have used, ever since, when probing doctrinal fault lines inside Christian organizations, both large and small. Here at GetReligion, we call these questions the "tmatt trio." One of them is rather relevant to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) and my recent update post on the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org.

But first, here are the three questions, as stated in an "On Religion" column I wrote about the polling work of the late George Gallup, Jr. It opened with a reference to a speech he gave in 1990.

About that time, I shared a set of three questions with Gallup that I had begun asking, after our previous discussions. The key, he affirmed, was that these were doctrinal, not political, questions. ... The questions:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

It is interesting, sometimes, to observe the lengths to which Christian leaders, academics and others will go to avoid giving clear answers to these questions, even the one focusing on the resurrection. The key is to pay close attention to their answers, seeking insights into where they stand in the vast spectrum -- liberal to orthodox -- of Christian life.

Now, look again at the third question: "Is sex outside of marriage a sin?"

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The Guardian digs into faith of one of UK's most private, yet public, Christian believers

The Guardian digs into faith of one of UK's most private, yet public, Christian believers

Some things never change and, even when they do, they may change very slowly.

Journalists tend to focus on the quick, the loud, the, well, "newsy" things that happen in public life. Long, slow stories tend to drive editors a bit crazy.

That's one of the many reasons why important stories on the religion beat are hard to sell to editorial power brokers in the big offices in major newsrooms. Important stories about faith are often built on lots of observations about symbolic words and gestures, unfolding over time.

So kudos to The Guardian for its Christmas story about one of the quiet, but symbolic, moments on the calendar in England -- the Queen's annual Christmas address. The double-decker headline spells things out:

How the Queen – the ‘last Christian monarch’ -- has made faith her message
Over the 65 years of her annual Christmas broadcast, the Queen has begun to take a deliberate turn towards religion

Obviously, Elizabeth II is not your ordinary monarch. Her time on the throne has been extraordinarily long and, thus, she has seen stunning changes in her land and her people. It took patience to document how the content of her messages has been changing and what those changes say about her and these times. Here is the overture:

To the royal household, it is known as the QXB -- the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. To millions of people, it is still an essential feature of Christmas Day. To the Queen, her annual broadcast is the time when she speaks to the nation without the government scripting it. But in recent years, it has also become something else: a declaration of her Christian faith. As Britain has become more secular, the Queen’s messages have followed the opposite trajectory.
A survey of the broadcasts made during her 65-year reign reveals that for most of the time the Queen has spoken only in passing of the religious significance of Christmas. There have been references to presents linking contemporary Christmas to the three wise men, for instance, alongside trips to Commonwealth countries, family events such as weddings and funerals, and there were observations about contemporary society.

However, in 2014 she referred to her Christian faith as the "anchor in my life.” Then, last year, she added words that, on some street corners in today's multicultural England, could cause trouble. The Queen said:

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Franklin Graham isn't preaching in England for another nine months, but already he's getting trashed

Franklin Graham isn't preaching in England for another nine months, but already he's getting trashed

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how one-sided some British newspapers can be, since we're talking about a land in which advocacy, partisan journalism is the norm.

However, I kind of thought that The Guardian was a cut above the rest. But their religion correspondent’s hatchet job on the Rev. Franklin Graham’s upcoming crusade in Blackpool is tabloid-level coverage –- at best.

Last March, I wrote about the alarmist coverage of Graham’s Vancouver, B.C., crusade where everyone from the mayor on down predicted an orgy of anti-gay and anti-Muslim violence would break out on city streets if the evangelist was allowed to speak. When nothing happened, Graham’s detractors vanished and a lot of media simply refused to cover the peaceful event that the crusade turned out to be.

I don’t know Graham and I’ve only interviewed him once in my life, but I do know he’s not one to back down once a coalition of Christian leaders has invited him to show up. Which is why I wonder if all the ruckus in the U.K. is simply grandstanding. Here’s how the piece by Harriet Sherwood began:

Opposition is mounting to a planned visit to the UK by a leading American conservative evangelical Christian who has made Islamophobic and anti-gay statements, with critics saying it will promote prejudice and damage interfaith relations.
Several MPs, including a government minister, have urged the home secretary to consider refusing UK entry to Franklin Graham, with some suggesting his comments contravene British laws on hate speech. A petition against Graham being granted a visa has gathered more than 4,600 signatures.

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Game of fonts: Are questions about Meghan's faith linked to England's past or future?

Game of fonts: Are questions about Meghan's faith linked to England's past or future?

Well, I guess this lofty news source makes things extra, extra official.

Concerning the faith angle in the upcoming royal wedding, Brides.com has proclaimed: "Meghan Markle Has to Be Baptized Before Marrying Prince Harry -- Here’s Why."

Wait a minute: "Has to be baptized"?

Yes, it's time for more British Royals talk, a subject that -- in certain corners of global media -- is even more important than politics. We're talking about the highest possible level of celebrity status and, in the world of click-bait, there is no higher value (check out the three Google News screens of Meghan Markle coverage at Brides.com). That sound you hear is editors and TV producers muttering: "If only Prince Harry had picked a Kardashian."

But the question of Markle's faith is, as I discussed earlier this week ("Royal wedding quiz: Must a 'Protestant' be baptized in order to become an Anglican?"), actually rather interesting.

The bottom line" Since when does some one "have" to be baptized in order to become a member of the Church of England? That would either mean, while consistently being called a "Protestant," she (a) was never baptized in the first place or (b) there was, doctrinally speaking, something flawed about her baptism. If we're talking about the later, that has some interesting implications in terms of ecumenical life.

So this baptism controversy was the issue that host Todd Wilken and I waded into (see what I did there) during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to listen to that).

No, we didn't talk about Brides.com, but the content there would not have addressed any of the questions that we raised. For example:

This bride needs to be baptized! Before marrying Prince Harry, Meghan Markle actually needs to be baptized in the Church of England, which her soon-to-be grandmother-in-law, the queen of England, heads.

Well, that's a complicated question, mixing church and state.

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