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Try telling this NBA player's story without mentioning his faith? Actually, The Ringer did

Try telling this NBA player's story without mentioning his faith? Actually, The Ringer did

God talk silenced on the sports page?

No, it’s nothing new.

But still, it can be jarring. Especially when a journalist attempts to profile an athlete for whom faith is a crucial part of his story — without ever, you know, mentioning his faith.

Such is the case with The Ringer’s recent feature on Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans.

For those familiar with Holiday, the story’s compelling opening seems to hint at the holy ghosts that become clear by the end:

If you ever need to borrow $25,000, Jrue Holiday is your man. It’s a running joke between his wife, Lauren, a retired midfielder for the United States women’s national team, and her former teammates: If they were in a pinch—say, a quarter-of-a-hundred-grand kind of pinch—they’d just ask her husband. Holiday wants to help, always. Help you, help me, help his teammates on the Pelicans. He’d say yes in a heartbeat, the joke goes. Holiday is the mom of his friend group, the hype man for his family. “The supportive one,” Lauren said. A $25,000 loan is a bit hyperbolic, sure. At least, I’m assuming it is. That’s the joke. This is the point: Jrue, I’m told, will always come through. It’s his campaign slogan, should he ever run for office. But that’s the other thing about Holiday, the thing that assures me he’d never want to run for any office of any kind: Jrue Holiday does not want this—does not want anything—to be about Jrue Holiday.

“I like to assist people,” he told me in his backyard by the pool. It was August and 87 degrees in Santa Rosa Valley, California, where the Holidays spend the offseason. He leaned back into the patio chair, squinted at the sun, and smirked. “That was a pun. But no, I like to assist people.” Holiday is a starting combo guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. His game is often described in terms of what he does for others. Lobs and dimes, help defense and spacing, deflections and blocks. Assistance is where Holiday earns a living. And for the past six years, superstar Anthony Davis was his main beneficiary.

The Ringer touts Holiday as “the NBA’s Best-Kept Secret.”

The reader who shared the link with GetReligion wondered, though, how The Ringer managed to keep Holiday’s Christian faith a secret.

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Reporters delve into Dallas judge giving Amber Guyger a Bible and urging her to read John 3:16

Reporters delve into Dallas judge giving Amber Guyger a Bible and urging her to read John 3:16

The judge did what?

I posted last week about the “hug seen around the world” — that of 18-year-old Brandt Jean embracing the ex-police officer convicted of murdering his older brother, Botham Jean.

But I acknowledged surprise about the other stunning development in that Dallas courtroom.

I wrote:

I wonder if there’ll be a letter in the mail soon from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And honestly, I’d love to hear from legal and constitutional experts on that exchange. It’s fascinating to me.

That letter came quickly, and so did a number of news stories delving into whether what the judge did was appropriate.

Before I get to those stories, I’ll jump ahead and note that The Associated Press has a must-read interview with the judge herself that was published today.

My biggest takeaway from the AP story: The judge’s actions didn’t come in a vacuum. As Judge Tammy Kemp explains it, she opened up about her Christianity and gave Amber Guyger a Bible only when the convicted murderer herself discussed questions of faith and forgiveness.

From AP:

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Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

In many ways, it was the perfect “white evangelical” horror story.

So you had an African-American sixth-grader who reported that she was bullied by three boys who taunted her with racial insults and cut off some of her dreadlocks. This took place at a “Christian” school where Karen Pence, as in the wife of Donald Trump’s loyal vice president, has taught off and on for more than a decade.

It’s a story that, in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I explored on three levels, as in the three parts of a click-bait equation.

First, there is the story of the accusations of an alleged assault, which turned out not to be true, according to the girl’s family.

That was a tragic local story. What made it a national story?

That’s the second level of this story — the key click-bait link to Trump World. That was especially true in a rather snarky NBC News online report (which even worked in an LGBTQ angle, due to the school’s doctrinal statement on marriage and sex).

But that wasn’t the angle that interested me the most. No, I was interested in the school itself. I imagine that lots of readers much have thought to themselves (I will paraphrase): What in the world is a black girl doing enrolled at the kind of white evangelical Trump-loving alleged Christian school that would Mrs. Mike Pence would be teach at for a dozen years or so?

Thus, I was interested in the following paragraph of factual material that was included in two Washington Post stories about this case:

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Friday Five: Forgiveness and justice, Scouting and faith, Tree of Life anniversary, Eric Metaxas

Friday Five: Forgiveness and justice, Scouting and faith, Tree of Life anniversary, Eric Metaxas

I’m back home in Oklahoma after a two-week trip that took me from Las Vegas (for the Religion News Association annual meeting) to Searcy, Ark. (for the 96th Bible lectureship at Harding University, the alma mater of Botham Jean).

Other stops along the way included Los Angeles, a Rust Belt town in Ohio and Chick-fil-A drive-thru lines in at least three states.

I’m looking forward to resting up a bit this weekend.

First, though, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: I highlighted the viral story of “The hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother” in a post Thursday.

I focused on a splendid front-page story in the Dallas Morning News. Among the plethora of coverage by major media, another good piece was this one in the Washington Post looking at the debate over forgiveness that the hug ignited.

My post noted that the brother wasn’t the only person to hug convicted murder Amber Guyger. The judge did, too, and gave her a Bible.

I wrote:

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Hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother

Hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother

Stunning.

Absolutely stunning.

That’s the only way to describe what happened in a Dallas courtroom Wednesday.

If you pay attention at all to the news, you know what I’m talking about, of course: the hug seen around the world.

The hug, as you know, followed an amazing gesture of forgiveness that nobody — absolutely nobody — saw coming.

Here’s how it played out on the front page of today’s Dallas Morning News, the local newspaper that has covered this story so well from start to finish.

I was driving home from Harding University — the Searcy, Ark., college where Botham Jean earned his accounting degree — when I stopped for gas and briefly checked Twitter.

That’s when I learned that Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer convicted of murder in Jean’s 2018 shooting death, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. She had faced five to 99 years in prison.

I learned, too — and this part was more surprising — that Jean’s younger brother, Brandt, had made an incredible victim impact statement in which he forgave Guyger, urged her to follow Jesus Christ and then asked to hug her.

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False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

On one level, what we have here is another sad, tragic, case of a person of color making false accusations of racism — violent racism in this case — against other people.

That’s an important story. But wait! There was a chance to link this attack to Donald Trump and his White House team. That makes it a bigger story, right? Maybe even a national story. #Obviously

We will deal with those issues rather quickly, because I think there is another interesting news story hidden inside this case study. It’s an angle that The Washington Post didn’t dwell on, but managed to handle in a way that was accurate and fair. NBC News, on the other hand, settled for stereotypes and politics.

Let’s start with NBC and this dramatic double-decker headline, before this story took a dramatic twist:

3 boys at Christian school where Karen Pence teaches allegedly cut black girl's dreadlocks

"They said my hair was nappy and I was ugly," the sixth-grade girl said.

That headline does say “allegedly,” which is important since the 12-year-old girl has now said the attack never happened. Her family says she made it up. That’s really all we need to say about that, methinks.

What interests me is how NBC handled the school involved in this story. This whole situation is newsworthy, of course, because Karen Pence teaches at this Christian school.

So, a black girl is bullied — with racist taunts — in a Christian school that is, somehow, connected to the white evangelical empire of Donald Trump.

Many readers probably asked: Why was this African-American student attending a white evangelical school? She was doomed from the start, since this has to be a white evangelical school if Karen Pence is teaching there. Right? All of those evangelical “Christian” schools are for white people, you know.

Now let’s turn to the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: “Virginia sixth-grader now says she falsely accused classmates of cutting her hair.” Here is the crucial statement from the family:

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One-sided story about Mike Pence needing to find his conscience is true enough -- for today's journalism

One-sided story about Mike Pence needing to find his conscience is true enough -- for today's journalism

A snippet from Mike Pence’s life as vice president has appeared twice in recent major-media writing about him, both times at the end of a piece and both times as though this information offers keen insight into an empty soul.

As has become too common in journalism today — especially when The New York Times discusses Donald Trump’s White House — journalists need to look carefully at the origins and attribution of one person’s subjective experience.

This story seems the most damning in the version passed along by Peter Baker of the Times, reviewing reporter Tom Lobianco’s book “Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House”:

When an evangelical pastor who once prayed with Pence in his congressional office ran into him at a ceremony last year, he told him: “You know, Mr. Vice President, more than anything, we need you to find your conscience, the country desperately needs you to find your conscience.”

“It’s always easier said than done,” Pence replied cryptically, and then walked away.

The mind reels. Who was this unnamed evangelical pastor who once prayed with Pence? Franklin Graham? Pat Robertson? Fellow Catholic-turned-evangelical Larry Tomczac? Did this language about Pence finding his conscience have a context? Was it focused on a specific moral issue? Would readers like to know if this pastor is a conservative or progressive evangelical?

Maureen Groppe, describing the same book 20 days earlier for USA Today, named the pastor and grounded the confrontation in a specific event:

Robert Schenck, who had prayed with Pence in his congressional office years before, watched his old friend administer the oath of office in 2018 to Sam Brownback, Trump’s new ambassador for religious freedom. 

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Mr. NBA Referee goes to Catholic seminary: what's great (and not so great) about WSJ's story

Mr. NBA Referee goes to Catholic seminary: what's great (and not so great) about WSJ's story

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting feature over the weekend on a veteran National Basketball Association referee who went to seminary and became a Catholic deacon.

Overall, I enjoyed the piece. I’d encourage you to read it.

But it’s one of those features where I finished reading it and wasn’t totally satisfied. I still had unanswered questions. And yes, they related to the religious nitty-gritty. I’ll explain more in a moment.

First, though, let’s set the scene with the lede:

Near the end of his long career as an NBA referee, Steve Javie took a summer vacation with his wife. They decided to burn his unholy amount of frequent-flier miles and Marriott points on a trip to Saint Thomas. He was thinking about retirement, and this seemed like an ideal place to settle down. Javie could play golf, hit the beach and live in a tropical paradise.

It did not quite work out that way. Instead he would spend the next seven years committing himself to Catholicism.

"The calling comes and you go, 'Uh oh, I gotta listen,' " he said.

Javie officiated his last NBA game in 2011. He soon began studying at his local seminary. He was recently ordained as a deacon by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And this unexpected turn of events is how he found himself in church one Sunday morning wearing elaborate vestments to deliver a homily. He began with a confession.

"I'm a sports guy," he said.

Keep reading, and the Journal offers more background on Javie’s referee career as well as his high-profile ongoing gig as ESPN’s rules analyst.

Then the story returns to some crucial religion details:

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God's judgement in Times Square, and soon Richmond: Does 'Rumors of War' mean anything?

God's judgement in Times Square, and soon Richmond: Does 'Rumors of War' mean anything?

Under normal circumstances, it’s important to pay attention to the name that an artist carves into a giant work of public art.

In this case, we are talking about a statue — both majestic and ironic — by the African-American artist Kehinde Wiley of New York City. I will let The Washington Post describe that statue in a moment, in this lengthy feature: “With a brass band blaring, artist Kehinde Wiley goes off to war with Confederate statues.”

The key, in this case, is that an African-American artist has made a statement judging the long history of art in the American South that pays tribute to the region’s Civil War heroes and, in the eyes of critics, supports the “Lost Cause ideology” that tries to justify their actions.

I chose that word “judging” carefully, because the artist is making a moral statement on a grand scale. And the name he chose for this statue? He called the statue “Rumors of War.”

My question: Did journalists who covered the unveiling of this statue realize that, with this title, Wiley was adding a very specific note of BIBLICAL judgement with a direct reference to Matthew, chapter 24? I am referring to these famous words of Jesus:

… Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

It would be hard to find a piece of scripture with greater relevance to discussions of a civil war.

But did journalists the Post, and The New York Times, get the point? Remember: We are talking about the NAME of the statue. Here is a quote from the overture in the Post arts-beat feature, describing the event last Friday in Times Square:

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