So you are a journalist and you think there is more to the Charlottesville tragedy than political word games. Where to you think this story will go next?
Oceans of ink will, of course, be spilled covering news linked to President Donald Trump and what he does, or does not, say about that alt-right and white supremacy. Political reporters will do that thing they do and, in this case, for totally valid reasons. Please allow me to ask this question: At what point will major television networks -- rather than sticking with a simplistic left vs. right strategy -- spotlight the cultural conservatives who have been knocking the Trump team on this topic from the beginning?
In terms of religion angles, our own Julia Duin wrote an omnibus piece that this this morning and I would urge readers to check it out. Lots of people in social media urged pastors to dig into issues of hate and race in their sermons. Now I'm looking for coverage of that angle. Has anyone seen anything? Just asking.
The latest report from The New York Times -- "Far-Right Groups Surge Into National View in Charlottesville" -- raises some very interesting issues about this event. I came away asking this question: Who were the marchers and where did they come from (and get their funds)? Once reporters have asked that question, they can then ask: Who were the counter-protestors and where did they come from (and get their funds)? I think both angles will be quite revealing, in terms of information about the seeds for the violence.
I thought the following was especially interesting:
George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists, said that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. ...
The counterprotesters included members of the local Charlottesville clergy and mainstream figures like the Harvard professor Cornel West. As the rally erupted into violence Saturday morning, the First United Methodist Church on East Jefferson Street opened its doors to demonstrators, serving cold water and offering basic medical care.
Dr. Hawley said he believed the far-left activists, known as antifa, were welcomed by the white nationalists. “I think to an extent the alt-right loves the antifa because they see them as being the perfect foil,” he said.
That drew a response from one of the local organizers -- Laura Goldblatt, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia:
... Ms. Goldblatt, while not addressing those leftists who resorted to violence, said that some kind of response in the street was necessary. History, she said, has shown that “ignoring white supremacy, in terms of shutting your doors and not coming out to confront them, has been a really dangerous strategy.”
The question, of course, is: What is the most effective form of counter-protesting? This might be a good time for leaders on the left to brush up on basic strategies in the writings of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. When in doubt, pray for your enemies and then sing hymns really loud. Stand tall.
This story is, of course, packed with dangerous land mines from a journalism point of view. The leaders of the alt-right WANT the public to think that they speak for lots of Christians and even, let me stress this, Southern conservatives who are proud of some parts of their culture and heritage (while being bluntly candid about the sins of the past).
I greatly appreciate the ethics and style think piece posted with appropriate urgency at Poynter.org -- "How journalists should handle racist words, images and violence in Charlottesville." It was written by journalism gurus Al Tompkins and Kelly McBride.
The bottom line is something stressed by your GetReligionistas: Never settle for simplistic labels. Report the details. McBride and Tompkins write:
... Describe what protesters were doing, what they were saying and what they were demanding. Be precise. It is not enough to simply call the marchers White nationalists. Explain that they chanted Nazi slogans including "Sieg Heil," a victory salute used originally by Nazis at political rallies. ...
The "Unite the Right" label, which demonstrators use to describe their protest, is too broad to use without explaining that the word "right" does not automatically include racism. It's not fair to the entire conservative movement. To some, "right" means people who embody views that include opposing abortion, endorsing gun ownership rights, reducing government intervention and endorsing fundamentalist religious principles.
Religion-beat pros: Let me urge you to investigate the efforts being made in major denominations -- think the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God -- to encourage the growth of churches that look like the communities in which they live.
Here is a good piece to print out and show your editors, one that was written by one of America's best-known leaders in conservative Protestantism -- Thom Rainer (a man with a massive following in social media). Rainer was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and he is now president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He's a graduate of University of Alabama.
The headline on his post-Charlottesville post: "Why Many of Our Churches are still One Color." It opened with a question about church growth, and the lack of it. A church leader asked Rainer why his church was in decline.
I showed him the demographics of the church’s community. Over 40 percent of the area was non-white and growing, but the church was above 95 percent white. My response was simple. “You are not connecting with your community. The ethnic and racial diversity of the community is not reflected in the church."
Why? Rainer has blunt answers, including his No. 1 cause:
Racism still exists. Racism has not gone away. The events of this weekend in Virginia remind us of that tragic reality. Some pastors are still fired because they encourage racial and ethnic diversity in their churches. Other forms of racism are more subtle, but no less toxic.
Journalists! Note the potential story hook about pro-diversity pastors being fired. And there's more:
The leadership of the church is not diverse. If the ministry staff and lay leadership do not reflect the diversity of the community, the church is sending a clear message. The diverse community cannot have a true voice in the church if it is not represented in the leadership of the church.
Many church leaders and members do not know what takes place in their own communities. Many times when I have met with church leaders and shared the demographics and realities of the members of their community, they express total surprise at what is taking place. Their church is a bubble. Or to use another metaphor, the congregation is an island of sameness in a community of diversity.
Read it all. There are stories there that have little or nothing to do with anyone named Trump.