Black Lives Matter

Praying during NFL chaos: Ray Lewis pleads with journalists to pay closer attention

Praying during NFL chaos: Ray Lewis pleads with journalists to pay closer attention

Who knew that journalists would ever need instant-replay technology in order to cover what is, and what is not, taking place during pre-game performances of the national anthem?

I don't watch much National Football League action these days, not because I've cut the cable TV cord or because I am involved in some kind of boycott. No, I'm an ex-Baltimore guy who no longer gets to watch his team (no way I'm buying an NFL cable package). I do watch the Tennessee Titans, and that's pretty much that.

However, I have been tuning in some of the games long enough to follow the protests. I have noticed something that I think is interesting, something that might be of interest to sports journalists (and even religion-beat reporters). There might be a news angle here.

What? Some of the players' lips are moving. Yes, some are singing along to the national anthem. But others are clearly saying things and not to each other. Some of these players are kneeling. Some of them are standing.

Trigger warning to paranoid NFL officials: These players may be praying.

For example, take a close look at the video at the top of this post. Please watch the whole thing.

What do you see? Well, there are Ravens players with their hands lifted. In some religious traditions, especially among charismatic or Pentecostal Christians, this is a symbol of prayer. But let's play special attention to retired linebacker Ray Lewis, who is -- to say the least -- an outspoken Christian and social activist.

Early in the video, Lewis is shown kneeling -- on one knee -- with other Ravens players. However, pay close attention a minute and a half (1:25) into the video. Lewis is now on both knees and, read his lips, it is pretty clear that he is praying.

So, has Lewis joined the Black Lives Matter protest against police violence or not? This is a crucial, and newsworthy, issue. You can see this in the Sports Illustrated report that ran with this headline: "Added Security Posted Near Ray Lewis Statue After Lewis Kneels for Anthem." The key: It is stated as fact that Lewis took part in the protest by players.

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Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

It's a question I have heard over and over during the nearly 14 years that GetReligion has been online. It's a question that I am hearing more and more often these days, as the reality of online economics shapes what we read, see and hear.

The question: Why doesn't GetReligion address journalism issues in opinion pieces, as well as in hard-news stories?

After all, major news organizations keep running more opinion pieces about major events and trends in the news, often in place of actual news coverage. Why does this keep happening?

There are several obvious reasons. First, as your GetReligionistas keep noting, opinion is cheap and hard-news reporting is expensive. All kinds of people are willing to write opinion pieces for next to nothing, while reporting requires lots of time and effort by professionals who, you know, need salaries.

Opinion pieces are also written to provoke and, most of the time, to make true believers shout "Amen!" before they pass along (click, click, click) URLs on Twitter or Facebook. You can usually tell a news organization's worldview by the number of opinion pieces it runs that lean one way or another, while appealing to core readers. In the South this is called "preaching to the choir." Check out the opinion-to-news ratio in the typical "push" email promo package sent out each morning by The Washington Post.

It also helps that it's hard to blame news organizations for the slant or content of opinion pieces they publish. Editors can say, and this is true: Hey, don't blame us, that's his/her opinion.

Finally, there is a deeper question behind this question: How does one critique an opinion piece on issues of balance, fairness and even accuracy? After all, it's not real news. It's just opinion.

Yes, I am asking these questions for a reason. Yesterday, my Twitter feed was buzzing with reactions to an "Acts of Faith" essay published by The Washington Post. It was written by Michael Frost, an evangelism professor who is the vice principal of Morling College, a Baptist institution in Sydney, Austrailia.

The headline: "Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees."

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Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why has U.S. politics became so rancid in tone and so harshly polarized?

Analysts have pinned the blame variously on talk radio and cable news, social media and the Internet, gerrymandering of U.S. House and state legislative districts, the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling, suspicion of authorities and cultural rebellion since the 1960s, a general coarsening of culture, economic woe, and much else.

Now comes prominent liberal analyst Peter Beinart with a striking thesis in the April issue of The Atlantic (which alongside its Web site has emerged as the most interesting source of religion coverage and commentary among general-interest magazine companies). He contends that what ails the fractured republic has much to do with the serious slide in church involvement over recent years.

His scenario deserves major media attention, with  responses from fellow pundits and Christian conservatives who will dislike his anti-Donald Trump slant and  resent any connection with the “race-and-nation” movement.

Beinart, who is Jewish, is an old-school New Republic editor turned journalism professor who writes for The Atlantic and others. He notes that some analysts welcomed the increase of “nones” who lack all religious affiliation, figuring this would foster greater tolerance and social harmony. Beinart’s view is precisely the opposite.

Yes, there’s more acceptance of gay marriages and legalized marijuana, he says. But the slide in organized religion is “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal” and contributes to the rise of the “alt-right,” and  “white nationalism,” pitting “us” against “them” in “even more primal and irreconcilable ways.” The older “culture war over religious morality” has been succeeded by a “more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war” that is worse.

Beinart piles up survey research to back up that claim.

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'Respect the culture' of family of black man shot dead by Tulsa police — but what culture?

'Respect the culture' of family of black man shot dead by Tulsa police — but what culture?

Once again, an unarmed black man has been shot dead by a police officer — this time in Tulsa, Okla.

Once again, there's a graphic video of the shooting.

And once again, there's a flood of media attention and speculation concerning exactly what happened and who's to blame.

The local newspaper — the Tulsa World — has been all over the story of Terence Crutcher's tragic death, which dominates today's front page.

In the "Family requests peaceful protests" story, there's a quote that caught my attention — and made me wonder if there might be a religion ghost:

Tiffany Crutcher asked for any protests that result from viewing the video, which she called “quite disturbing,” to be carried out peacefully.
“Just know that our voices will be heard,” she said. “The video will speak for itself. Let’s protest. Let’s do what we have to do, but let’s just make sure that we do it peacefully, to respect the culture of (the Crutcher family).”

I wonder: What exactly is meant by the term "culture" in that quote? Might it have something to do with the family's religion?

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Los Angeles Times gets it right with piece on Black Lives Matter vs. the black church

Los Angeles Times gets it right with piece on Black Lives Matter vs. the black church

A lot of folks, including reporters, don’t know what to make of the Black Lives Matter movement. They provide lots of colorful copy although they seem to disdain the media along with many other institutions, plus they’ve been accused of racism themselves.

Churches have likewise been confused on what to do. Some say churches aren’t involved enough with the BLM folks and others say the BLM movement has alienated those in black churches who have wanted to help only to be shouted down and treated rudely. I’ve written before on the disconnect one Seattle activist felt about her church. 

And now here comes an interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times about why those in the black church – have dismissed Black Lives Matter: 

For decades, they’ve been catalysts for civil rights activism, occupying an important niche at the center of protests over police misconduct and racial flashpoints in Los Angeles, from the Rodney J. King beating to the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
But some black churches in Los Angeles, and the traditional African American clergy who lead them, have kept a decided distance from the new breed of activism represented by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Many church leaders have been cool to the brash, in-your-face tactics of Black Lives Matter. Ministers have spoken out forcefully about the way blacks are treated by police, but few have openly supported the group. For their part, Black Lives Matter organizers have turned to street protests and social media to get their message out rather than relying on the pulpit.

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Black and white in Georgia: About those two First Baptists that AP discovered in Macon

Black and white in Georgia: About those two First Baptists that AP discovered in Macon

The Associated Press has a series that it has dubbed "Divided America."

The wire service describes the series as "AP's ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions — and in some cases attempts at reconciliation — in American society."

Yes, religion is one of the topics that the series has covered, including veteran AP Godbeat pro Rachel Zoll's in-depth feature this week on two First Baptist Churches in Macon, Ga. — one black and one white.

More on that story in a moment.

But first, a little background: A few months ago, I praised an earlier religion installment in the "Divided America" series, also written by Zoll.

However, not all my fellow GetReligionistas (past and present) were as complimentary of Zoll's piece: 

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In the worst of times, the faith that sustains Dallas Police Chief David Brown

In the worst of times, the faith that sustains Dallas Police Chief David Brown

Dallas Police Chief David Brown is a man of faith.

Even if you've followed the major media profiles of Brown in the wake of Thursday night's sniper ambush that claimed the lives of five officers in Dallas, you might have missed that.

Holy ghost, anyone?

With a notable, praiseworthy exception — and we'll get to that in a moment — the stories on Brown that I've seen have overlooked or downplayed the religion angle.

That's the case even with stories that are, otherwise, extremely compelling, such as this Washington Post piece highlighted by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Yes, a quote in the Post profile cites Brown's "professionalism and faith," but that's as far as it goes.

Other stories leave out "faith" entirely:

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'The end is coming': Is there a religion angle in Dallas suspect's cryptic words?

'The end is coming': Is there a religion angle in Dallas suspect's cryptic words?

"The end is coming."

Dallas Police Chief David Brown attributed those cryptic words to a slain suspect in Thursday night's killings of five police officers.

Is there any kind of religious connotation to those words? It's too early to know. But it certainly seems like a valid question.

ABC News reports:

One of the suspects in the ambush-style shootings in Dallas that left five police officers dead overnight served in the U.S. Army Reserve. The suspect told a hostage negotiator that he was upset about the recent police shootings of two black men and that he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said at a news conference this morning.
The suspect, who was killed by police when they detonated a bomb delivered by robot, was identified today as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.
Johnson served as an Army reservist until April 2015. He was trained and served in the Army Reserve as a carpentry and masonry specialist, defense officials said.
The suspect "wanted to kill officers" and "expressed anger for Black Lives Matter," Brown said.
"None of that makes sense," Brown said.

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In some news reports, Oregon gunman's motives were bloody specific, but in others...

In some news reports, Oregon gunman's motives were bloody specific, but in others...

Another day, another gunman, another mass shooting. Once again, when government authorities consistently declined to discuss possible motives, it was hard not to assume that the religion shoe was going to drop, sooner or later.

By this morning, journalists have had quite a bit of time to look for witnesses and to sift through social-media looking for clues and quotes. At this point, it's almost like journalists in key newsrooms were not covering the same tragedy. 

Let's look in New York City, for example. That did The New York Times have to say about the religion angle? The world's most powerful newspaper opened with the basic facts and then, five paragraphs in, added:

Law enforcement officials identified the gunman Thursday night as Chris Harper Mercer, and said he had three weapons, at least one of them a long gun and the other ones handguns. It was not clear whether he fired them all. The officials said the man lived in the Roseburg area.
They said one witness had told them that Mr. Mercer had asked about people’s religions before he began firing. “He appears to be an angry young man who was very filled with hate,” one law enforcement official said. Investigators are poring over what one official described as “hateful” writings by Mr. Mercer.

Did he ask anything specific, when it came to religion? Were members of one faith, or no faith, more at risk than others? And those "hateful" writings -- on social media, perhaps -- were about what?

Writing for a radically different audience than the TimesThe New York Post went straight to the point with the religion angle bannered on its website a few hours after the massacre. The most recent version of that story now states, drawing on material from news and social media:

A gunman singled out Christians, telling them they would see God in “one second,” during a rampage at an Oregon college Thursday that left at least nine innocent people dead and several more wounded, survivors and authorities said.

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