Race

Grand unified theory in Acela zone: Selfish Jesusland yokels just don't know what's good for them

Grand unified theory in Acela zone: Selfish Jesusland yokels just don't know what's good for them

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, a few newsroom managers sent reporters into the backward lands between America’s coastal super-cities in an attempt to understand what was bugging the yokels in flyover country.

Every now and then one of the big newspapers runs another National Geographic-style feature of this kind — since the odds are good that Jesusland voters will reject the 2020 candidate chosen by the Democratic National Committee and the Acela Zone chattering classes. It’s important to know what the great unwashed multitudes are thinking, since that’s an important source of material for late-night comics.

From a GetReligion point of view, these pieces almost always yield edgy examples of how many journalists see little or no difference between “political” beliefs and convictions that are rooted in ancient or modern forms of religious faith. Repeat after me: All things “political” are real. “Religion” is sort of real, or it is real to the degree that it affects “real” life, as in politics or economics.

This brings me a perfect example of this equation, a New York Times opinion essay by Monica Potts, who is currently doing research for a book about low-income women in Arkansas. This piece zoomed into the weekend must-read lists in many progressive corners of cyberspace. Here’s the double-decker headline:

In the Land of Self-Defeat

What a fight over the local library in my hometown in rural Arkansas taught me about my neighbors’ go-it-alone mythology — and Donald Trump’s unbeatable appeal.

As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not critique opinion pieces of this kind. So why mention this one?

To make a long story short, I could not resist noting a specific passage in this essay that serves as a kind of grand unified theory of how many journalists view the American heartland and the truly despicable — or at the very least lost and sad — people who live out there.

This long essay includes next to nothing, when it comes to reporting and writing about religion.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Do Africans need to repent for slave trade? This Wall Street Journal piece suggests they should

Do Africans need to repent for slave trade? This Wall Street Journal piece suggests they should

The era of slavery on American shores began 400 years ago this year when the first boatload of slaves landed in Virginia and much has been written about that anniversary. But slave ships from Great Britain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and other countries didn’t do their work unaided.

There were hundreds if not thousands of African middlemen who procured the slaves for these ships. Are they not just as guilty as the white merchants who put them on their ships? Do these middlemen have descendants and if so, do they feel any shame at what their ancestors did?

Armed with a journalism grant, a Nigerian journalist set out to find those descendants and what she found was published Sept. 20 in the Wall Street Journal headlined “When the Slave Traders Were African.”

Not only that, but many of those descendants are bringing their faith into the question. The segment I am reproducing is long, but the Journal’s paywall makes it harder for people to read it otherwise.

This August marked 400 years since the first documented enslaved Africans arrived in the U.S. In 1619, a ship reached the Jamestown settlement in the colony of Virginia, carrying “some 20 and odd Negroes” who were kidnapped from their villages in present-day Angola. The anniversary coincides with a controversial debate in the U.S. about whether the country owes reparations to the descendants of slaves as compensation for centuries of injustice and inequality. It is a moment for posing questions of historic guilt and responsibility.

But the American side of the story is not the only one. Africans are now also reckoning with their own complicated legacy in the slave trade, and the infamous “Middle Passage” often looks different from across the Atlantic.

Records from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by historian David Eltis at Emory University, show that the majority of captives brought to the U.S. came from Senegal, Gambia, Congo and eastern Nigeria. Europeans oversaw this brutal traffic in human cargo, but they had many local collaborators. “The organization of the slave trade was structured to have the Europeans stay along the coast lines, relying on African middlemen and merchants to bring the slaves to them,” said Toyin Falola, a Nigerian professor of African studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Europeans couldn’t have gone into the interior to get the slaves themselves.

The anguished debate over slavery in the U.S. is often silent on the role that Africans played. That silence is echoed in many African countries, where there is hardly any national discussion or acknowledgment of the issue.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

From Azusa Street to Memphis: Sometimes reporters have to tell old stories to new readers

From Azusa Street to Memphis: Sometimes reporters have to tell old stories to new readers

I do not go out of my way, as a rule, to praise the religion-beat work of one of my former students in the old Washington Journalism Center (which has now evolved into the New York City Journalism semester at The King’s College).

But it’s time to break that rule.

I say that because of a feature story by Katherine Burgess — a name to watch on the religion beat — that ran at The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The headline: “Bishop Mason built COGIC out of revival, the faith of former slaves.

In roughly 40 years of religion-beat work, I know of no organization that is harder to cover than the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). As a result, this massive Pentecostal flock receives way less coverage than it deserves. I don’t think the denomination’s leaders are hostile to the press (although I have encountered one or two who were), but they certainly do not seek out the attention.

How many news-consumers in West Tennessee, white and black, know the history of this important institution or even know that it is based in their region? Thus, Burgess needed to start at the beginning, with the story of one man:

He preached in living rooms, in the woods and in a cotton gin.

When he returned from the Azusa Street Revival speaking in unknown tongues, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason was followed by just 10 churches out of more than 100 in the split over the theological disagreement.

Today, the denomination founded by Mason, the son of former slaves, is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, with more than 6.5 million members.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Thinking about Africa, Pope Francis: While seeing through eyes of BBC and The New York Times

Thinking about Africa, Pope Francis: While seeing through eyes of BBC and The New York Times

In my opinion, the world’s two most powerful and influential news outlets are the BBC and The New York Times.

Needless to say, both of these news organizations have offered coverage of Pope Francis and his latest visit to Africa. It’s interesting to note some consistent thin spots — doctrine-shaped holes, really — in the background coverage explaining why this trip matters so much, in terms of certain demographic realities in the modern Roman Catholic Church.

Consider this crucial passage in the BBC advance feature that ran with this headline: “Pope Francis in Africa: Is the continent the Catholic Church's great hope?” This three-nation trip to Africa will be:

… his fourth visit to the continent since he became the head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, compared to the two his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, made during his eight-year papacy. 

The importance of Africa to the Catholic Church can be summed up in a word — growth. 

Africa has the fastest growing Catholic population in the world, while Western Europe, once regarded as the heartland of Christianity, has become one of the world's most secular regions, according to the US-based Pew Research Center. And many of those who do identify themselves as Christian in Western Europe do not regularly attend church.

Here is a stunner of a statistic, care of the Center for Applied Research.

Start here. The number of Catholics in the world increased by 57% to 1.2 billion, between 1980 and 2012. However, growth in Europe was just 6%. Frankly, I am surprised to hear that Catholic numbers rose in Europe at all. I would be interesting to see a comparison of Western and Eastern European nations.

Meanwhile, the Catholic population rose 283% in Africa.

So why is that happening? Thinking like a religion writer, the first things that leap into my mind are (1) African Catholics are having more babies and (b) they are making more converts. Both of those factors have major doctrinal components in the post-Vatican II Catholic world. You could also note that the African church is raising up many more priests than the somewhat frozen European churches.

The BBC team, I think it’s safe to say, saw zero doctrinal component in the African church’s growth.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New York Times get close, oh so close, to doctrinal discussion in story on interracial wedding refusal

New York Times get close, oh so close, to doctrinal discussion in story on interracial wedding refusal

Close.

Oh so close.

The New York Times reported this week on the case of a Mississippi event hall initially declining to host an interracial wedding.

And yes, there is a strong religion angle up top — so strong that I was hopeful the Times would actually delve into the doctrinal question involved. Care to hazard a guess whether that happened?

Let’s start at the top:

The owners of an event hall in northeastern Mississippi apologized on Tuesday for refusing to host a wedding for an interracial couple — an exchange captured in a widely viewed video — saying that they incorrectly believed that interracial marriage went against their Christian beliefs.

The sister of the groom, LaKambria Welch, said her brother, who is black, and his fiancée, who is white, had been in touch for about a week with Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Miss., about having their wedding there. But then the couple received a message, according to Ms. Welch, that said that they could not proceed because of the owners’ personal beliefs.

Keep reading, and the story notes that Welch, 24, went to the venue with her mother and filmed an exchange over the refusal.

This is key:

Please respect our Commenting Policy