Birmingham News

Friday Five: Lent trends, Methodist fight, Alabama tornado, Ira Rifkin update, epic NYT correction

Friday Five: Lent trends, Methodist fight, Alabama tornado, Ira Rifkin update, epic NYT correction

I’m traveling to Israel next week on a tour with a group of religion reporters. So spoiler alert: My next few posts will allow me to clear out some of the items in my “guilt folder” as I analyze a few stories that I’ve been wanting to mention for a while.

If you have a comment or a question about those posts, I’d love to hear them. But it may take me longer than normal to get back to you.

I believe that GetReligion Editor Terry Mattingly also will be traveling a bit next week, as well, and sources say he, too, may be a bit preoccupied (read: playing with grandchildren). So things may be a little bit looser than normal around these parts.

In case you missed it, there’s a piece of major news involving our team. I’ll mention it below as we dive into the Friday Five.

1. Religion story of the week: It’s wonderful to have Sarah Pulliam Bailey back covering religion at the Washington Post.

I’m no fan of paper straws, but I really enjoyed the former GetReligion contributor’s timely piece on “The latest Lent challenge for churches: Give up plastic.”

Other Lent-related stories to give a click this week (Eastern Orthodox churches start Great Lent this coming Sunday) include Kelsey Dallas’ Deseret News delve into “Can a good meal bring people back to church? A growing number of congregations think so” and this Southern California newspaper’s report on a church offering drive-thru ashes, which is turning into an annual feature topic somewhere or another.

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Monday Mix: Church vs. football, religion in schools, scandalized bishops, His (Islamic) Holiness

Monday Mix: Church vs. football, religion in schools, scandalized bishops, His (Islamic) Holiness

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "I think we can all thank the Lord for Saturday night services and TiVo." The Tennessee Titans played the Los Angeles Chargers at 8:30 a.m. CDT Sunday in London (they lost a heartbreaker).

In advance of the odd kickoff time, religion writer Holly Meyer of The Tennessean had a timely, interesting feature on the clash between Sunday morning church and football:

While the extra-early Titans game is atypical, it is not uncommon for late Sunday morning worship services to run past the usual noon-or-later kickoffs in the 17-week regular season.

Die-hard, church-going Titans fans devise game-day routines that ensure they can watch their team and worship their God.

2. "(T)here is more student religious expression today in public schools than probably anytime in the last hundred years." For two decades, Charles Haynes has been a go-to source for journalists (including myself) reporting on the intersection of religion and public schools.

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Friday Five: Aretha's funeral, Trump's evangelicals, Catholic sex abuse, what to call Mormons and more

Friday Five: Aretha's funeral, Trump's evangelicals, Catholic sex abuse, what to call Mormons and more

As we've noted, religion is a vital part of the life story of Aretha Franklin.

Today, prayers and stars filled a Detroit church at the Queen of Soul's funeral, reports The Associated Press.

In advance of the memorial service, the Detroit Free Press published a piece pointing out that Franklin's "spiritual grounding in the black church" would be on display at the funeral. It's a good story but in places paints with broad strokes on "Baptist theology" when it seems to mean black-church theology. Baptists (like a lot of denominations) are all over the place when it comes to worship traditions.

Anyway, R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Franklin is just one of the stories making religion news this week.

For more, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Nearly two years after Donald Trump's election as president, hardly a day passes when a news story or column doesn't ask, "Why do evangelical Christians support Trump?"

Some of the pieces are much better than others.

One published in recent days — by longtime Birmingham News religion writer Greg Garrison — is particularly well done and full of insight (including biblical insight) from supporters and opponents of Trump.

Check it out.

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Intrigue about Bible given to Trump: Southern Baptist Convention president says he didn't sign it

Intrigue about Bible given to Trump: Southern Baptist Convention president says he didn't sign it

One of the interesting developments this week at that White House dinner for evangelical leaders was Paula White's presentation of a Bible to President Donald Trump.

White told the president that the Bible was signed by "over a hundred Christians."

Given that the state-like dinner included about 100 evangelical leaders, many took White's statement to mean that the people in the room had endorsed the message written in the Bible.

That message, according to a White House transcript: 

It says: “First Lady and President, you are in our prayers always.  Thank you for your courageous and bold stand for religious liberty, and for your timeless service to all Americans.  We appreciate the price that you have paid to walk in the high calling.  History will record the greatness that you have brought for generations.”

But at least one prominent evangelical at the dinner — Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear — stressed that he didn't sign the Bible, as noted by Birmingham News religion writer Greg Garrison.

Greear's attendance at the dinner earlier drew criticism from religion writer Jonathan Merritt:

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(Good) Friday Five: #MLK50, #ChurchToo, Sheep Among Wolves and, um, 'Chris is risen?'

(Good) Friday Five: #MLK50, #ChurchToo, Sheep Among Wolves and, um, 'Chris is risen?'

It's Good Friday.

And Passover begins tonight at sundown.

Enter Greg Garrison, longtime religion writer for the Birmingham News, with informative overviews of both religious holidays.

In one piece, Garrison asks, "If Jesus suffered and died, why is it called Good Friday?"

His other helpful primer explores this question: "What is Passover?"

Be sure to check out both articles.

Meanwhile, let's dive into the (Good) Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

In advance of that milestone, Religion News Service national reporter Adelle Banks has an extraordinary story focused on a 75-year-old Memphis, Tenn., sanitation worker who "drives five days a week to collect garbage, even as he spends much of the rest of his time as an associate minister of his Baptist congregation."

A somewhat related but mostly tangential question for the Associated Press Stylebook gurus: Why in the world doesn't Memphis (not to mention Nashville) stand alone in datelines?

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Looking ahead: Pointers for journalists after that tumultuous Alabama Senate campaign

Looking ahead: Pointers for journalists after that tumultuous Alabama Senate campaign

For days and months ahead, pundits will chew on obdurate Republican Roy Moore’s loss by 1.4 percent in Alabama’s tumultuous Senate race. There were religion angles all over the place in this drama.

Should Moore have ducked reporters, or have vanished from the campaign trail the final week? Did Steve Bannon help or hurt? Is President Donald Trump wounded? Will Chuck Schumer run the Senate come 2019? Did 23,000 write-in votes make the difference, and were they cast by anti-Moore Republicans?

Whatever. The Guy will start off with one thought for all journos, then offer some observations for my fellow religion-beat specialists.

Consider: Has polling turned into astrology? You’d think so when three election-eve polls showed Moore up 9 percentage points (Emerson College), or Democrat Doug Jones up 10 points (Fox News) -- a 19-point difference! -- or a tie if Alabama repeated Virginia’s governor turnout (Monmouth University). (Moore was up 2.2 percent across polls averaged by RealClearPolitics.com).

Of course, pollsters coped with a December special election and a unique one at that. It's pretty clear that some Bible Belt voters don't want to tell pollsters (and journalists) what they want to hear. Many simply refuse to cooperate.

Thus, polling nowadays is iffy, and all scribes should ponder the reasons in this sure-footed explanation by Nate Silver. Click here for that.

Turning to the religion beat, there's an unending quest to comprehend the nation’s largest religious bloc, white evangelicals.

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'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

Ever heard of a pot-smoking church?

If you pay attention to the news, such churches seem difficult to miss lately.

When Indiana passed its religious freedom law in 2015, questions — and controversy — arose as to whether the measure would open the legal door to the First Church Of Cannabis.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times gave national coverage to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Centennial, Colo.

And most recently, longtime religion writer Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News and Alabama Media Group profiled a pro-marijuana church (as part of a series on marijuana in that Bible Belt state):

With a stained-glass window behind them, a lineup of speakers stepped to the front of the church and talked about the potential health benefits of legalizing plants that are currently outlawed in Alabama.
"I smoke cannabis on a daily basis for my pain," said Janice Rushing, president of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light in Alabama. "If I did not, I'd be on pain pills."
Her husband, Christopher Rushing, chief executive officer of Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light, says he also uses marijuana routinely.
The Rushings founded the Oklevueha Church in 2015 and claim that it has a legal exemption for its members to smoke marijuana and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote cactus.
At a January forum with an audience of about 30 gathered at Unity Church in Birmingham, which allowed the use of its facilities, speakers discussed the potential benefits of marijuana and other substances for medicinal purposes.
"I had an ungodly facial rash," said Sherrie Saunders, a former U.S. Army medic who is now a member of Oklevueha Native American Church in Alabama.
"We made a cream that completely got rid of that rash," Mrs. Rushing said.
Someone in the audience discussed a heart problem and sleep apnea.
"That could be something that cannabis could help," Saunders said.

Kudos to Garrison for a solid piece of reporting on — believe it or not — "God and cannabis."

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Bible Belt jackpot: Might Alabama lose its religion and approve a state lottery?

Bible Belt jackpot: Might Alabama lose its religion and approve a state lottery?

For now, Alabama remains one of six states without a lottery, according to an ABC News report.

But could that soon change?

As early as the Nov. 8 general election, voters in that Bible Belt state may be asked to approve a lottery to help fund state government and education.

Is there a potential religion angle here? 

You think?

Fortunately for news consumers, veteran Godbeat pro Greg Garrison, who writes for the Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group, already is on top of the story.

Garrison wrote last week:

A Jefferson County ministry group representing dozens of area clergy has issued a statement opposing a state lottery in Alabama.
The Gatekeepers Association of Alabama, a group of about 25 pastors that has met monthly for the past year and has included as many as 41 clergy, said a lottery runs counter to biblical principles.
 "We serve one another; we don't rob another," said the Rev. Jim Lowe, senior pastor of Guiding Light Church in Birmingham. "It's blatantly obvious that countless Alabama families would have a stumbling block placed before them if a lottery passes."
The group quoted Romans 14:13-19, in which the Apostle Paul urges Christians to "make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

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RIP Mother Angelica: Some media were more prepared for this big story than others

RIP Mother Angelica: Some media were more prepared for this big story than others

Mother Angelica probably appreciated the fact that she died yesterday – Easter Sunday – and it was a few savvy folks in the secular media who knew of her fame and quickly posted stories about her death.

Outside of Alabama, NBC News and the Washington Times were the quickest on the ball to note that a giant in the Catholic media world just died. The doughty nun has been bedridden the past 15 or so years but any religion reporter working in the last decades of the 20th century knew of Mother Angelica’s amazing story. 

Mother Angelica died about 5 p.m. CDT on Sunday. By the time EWTN posted news about her death about 90 minutes later, media on the East Coast were wrapping things up for the night. Which is why a quick story on deadline by my former colleague Victor Morton –- who has extensive contacts in the Catholic world -- at the Times was impressive.

Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday.
The Poor Clare nun became the face of Catholic media during the Pope John Paul era by founding Eternal Word Television Network and being its most prominent on-air personality.
EWTN confirmed the death Sunday, almost 15 years after a stroke took the power of speech and the ability to appear on the air from its founder, whose formal religious name was Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation and was born Rita Rizzo. She was 92.

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