Baton Rouge

Concerning that drive-by Washington Post story about Rod Dreher and 'The Benedict Option'

Concerning that drive-by Washington Post story about Rod Dreher and 'The Benedict Option'

If you care about issues of religious faith and public life, then you probably know that there has been a tsunami of writing in the past year (here's a current Google News search) about Rod Dreher and his bestseller "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation."

As you would expect, there has been way more argument and commentary than news coverage focusing on what Dreher is saying and why he is saying it. That's the age we live in. Opinion is cheap and quick. Information is expensive and takes time.

During this media storm, I have come up with a quick test to determine whether I think a critic or journalist has read Dreher's book: Does the review-story-essay discuss Vaclav Havel? Why is that so important? Read the book and find out. Hint: It has something to do with the mantra among some critics that Rod wants orthodox believers in ancient faiths to flee to the hills, abandoning cities, public life, core institutions and culture.

I have avoiding writing about all of this at GetReligion for a simple reason: It's hard to critique coverage of someone who has been a good friend for more than two decades. I mean, I know Rod's strengths and weaknesses and, trust me, he knows mine. We share many friends and I was one of his online associates who watched the Benedict Option material develop through the years.

So why discuss the new Washington Post Style section piece? That's the one with this rather snarky headline: "Rod Dreher is the combative, oversharing blogger who speaks for today’s beleaguered Christians." Well, I have two reasons.

First, while this article passes the Vaclav Havel test (barely), there is little evidence that reporter Karen Heller has read "The Benedict Option" or is interested in its thesis. Instead, this feature is kind of a new old New Journalism thing about her personal reaction to Dreher. There are glimpses of Rod in this piece, but they are edited and warped to fit her view of the man.

Second, you can get a look behind the curtain on this journalism process because another writer -- Frederica Mathewes-Green -- has posted reactions to how her views of Rod were handled in the Post piece.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Red Cross won't let Louisiana cop pray with flood victims? Please, news media, tell us more

Red Cross won't let Louisiana cop pray with flood victims? Please, news media, tell us more

In flood-stricken Louisiana, the American Red Cross has got trouble — with a capital "T."

Rebekah Allen of the Baton Rouge Advocate outlines the issues in an excellent news story.

Among the general concerns are claims, which the Red Cross denies, that the organization has kept donated supplies from evacuees and even allowed victims to go hungry. You really need to read the full story to understand what's happening.

But the nugget that drew our attention surfaces about two-thirds into the in-depth report.

Beyond the questions over meals and supplies, yes, a religious freedom question arises.

Check out these three paragraphs:

Capt. Clay Higgins, a reserve Lafayette city marshal who is running for Congress, posted a video of himself on Facebook saying he had tried to visit with evacuees and pray with them at the Heymann Center in Lafayette and was asked to leave by the Red Cross.
"Red Cross people here are great, but they have Red Cross rules they have to follow," he said in the video. "A man can't walk around the shelter and offer love and prayer for people who have been displaced." 
(Nancy Malone, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross) acknowledged that the organization does have a policy intended to be respectful of all faiths, but she said if Higgins had approached managers they would have accommodated him. 

A hat tip to Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher, who first posted about this story on his blog at the American Conservative:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

After that devastating flooding in Louisiana, there's hope — but apparently no faith

After that devastating flooding in Louisiana, there's hope — but apparently no faith

In the wake of the Louisiana flooding, a number of my Facebook friends posted about that Deep South state's heroic people coming together and showing their resiliency amid a major disaster.

But here's what I was curious about: how to mesh that totally appropriate narrative with the recent racial protests and violence in that same state.

I wanted to see journalists explore the big picture in Louisiana.

So here's the good news: The Washington Post did exactly that in an 1,800-word takeout on Sunday's front page. Well, sort of.

And that segues to the bad news: The more I read, the more something seemed to be missing. Something big. Something that just might have to do with all those evangelical Christians and Catholics who make up such a large proportion of Louisiana's population. 

Holy ghosts, anyone?

Let me share the crux of the Post story — dateline Baton Rouge — and then explain what I mean:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Shooting 'devils': What beliefs drove the Baton Rouge police killer?

Shooting 'devils': What beliefs drove the Baton Rouge police killer?

While the Trumpification of the GOP held the attention of many mainstream media, some were probing the warped mind of Gavin Long, who shot three police officers in Baton Rouge before being shot dead himself. Their chilling discoveries are reported in well-crafted articles, especially in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Here are some of the spiritual currents they found coursing through the killer's mind:

* He returned from a visit to Africa saying that fasting and abstaining from sex, activated his pineal gland and "opened a third eye of wisdom."

* He began calling himself Ausar Setepenra, a reference to two Egyptian gods.

* He claimed membership in a group of African Americans who say they're a "sovereign Native American tribe."

* The world is "run by devils," in his view.

Of the articles, the Post's -- with six reporters writing 1,400 words -- is the most ambitious. It tries to track his movements over his last few weeks:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

For slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson, 'it was God, family and police force'

For slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson, 'it was God, family and police force'

First, Dallas.

Now, Baton Rouge.

After yet another massacre of police officers, some of the most chilling words came from one of the slain Louisiana officers, Montrell Jackson — in a Facebook post he wrote earlier this month:

"I'm tired physically and emotionally. Disappointed in some family, friends, and officers for some reckless comments but hey what's in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate takes too much energy but I definitely won't be looking at you the same. Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me or my wife it was needed and much appreciated. I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me at threat. I've experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity you realize they don't really know you at all. Look at my actions they speak LOUD and CLEAR. Finally I personally want to send prayers out to everyone directly affected by this tragedy. These are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I'm working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you."

Jackson's mention of both God and prayer immediately made me wonder if he might be a man of faith.

That certainly appears to be the case, based on this quote from an Associated Press story:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy