Alton Sterling

A broken nation hears, according to elite press, vague sermons on unity and reconciliation

A broken nation hears, according to elite press, vague sermons on unity and reconciliation

As America wrestled with bitter realities in Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and the St. Paul, Minn., area, editors of The Washington Post and The New York Times reached the same conclusion -- this was a good time to send reporters to church, as in black and white churches in these troubled communities.

I agree with that decision, in part because I reached the same conclusion during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when I was teaching at Denver Seminary. Let me pause, for a second, to explain what that was all about.

The seminary had created a unique seminar -- it was planned long before the riots. Half of the students were black and half were white and our goal was to combine a class on the Old Testament prophets and my mass-media-framed class, "The Contemporary World and the Christian Task."

When the riots broke out, I decided the syllabus outline needed an update. I told the white students to contact black churches and find out (a) what the pastors had preached about on Sunday (days after the riots) and (b) what biblical texts they used. I asked the black students to call white churches, talk to the ministers, and ask the same questions.

So what did our students learn? Before I tell you, let's find out what happened when -- under very similar circumstances -- reporters at these two elite newspapers took on, sort of, the same assignment. Let's start with the Times story, "On a Somber Sunday, ‘One Nation Under God Examines Its Soul.' "

First things first: Times reporters covered several services focusing on justice and racial reconciliation. However, it appears that none of the services included spoken prayers or references to scripture, even when white pastors preached on the sins of white racism and the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile on Minnesota. Here is a typical anecdote:

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They're praying, singing after Alton Sterling shooting. But what are they praying, singing?

They're praying, singing after Alton Sterling shooting. But what are they praying, singing?

I haven't watched the graphic video of Alton Sterling's shooting this week by police in Louisiana.

Truthfully, I don't want to see it (or the one of last night's shooting of Philando Castile by police in Minnesota).

The sobbing images of Sterling's 15-year-old son, Cameron, are painful enough to witness.

At its heart, the news out of Baton Rouge, La., is about law and justice — and state and federal authorities have pledged a full investigation to determine the facts, as reported on the front page of today's New York Times.

But there are hints, too, of holy ghosts in the coverage of this story. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's check out the Times' lede:

BATON ROUGE, La. — The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation on Wednesday into the fatal shooting of a black man by the Baton Rouge, La., police after a searing video of the encounter, aired repeatedly on television and social media, reignited contentious issues surrounding police killings of African-Americans.
Officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards to the local police and elected officials vowed a complete and transparent investigation and appealed to the city — after a numbing series of high-profile, racially charged incidents elsewhere — to remain calm.

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