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When the Southern Poverty Law Center implodes, why is no one surprised?

When the Southern Poverty Law Center implodes, why is no one surprised?

I’ve been complaining about the Southern Poverty Law Center for a long time and how it makes all the wrong moves in eviscerating conservative and often mainstream evangelical targets in the name of ferreting out hate. Only when it turned its focus on a British Muslim and got his story horribly wrong — resulting in a lawsuit filed against them by the aggrieved Brit — was it obvious to lots of media people that the SPLC was seriously off base.

With the recent dismissal of its co-founder Morris Dees, followed by the resignation of its president, Richard Cohen, various media, almost all of them on the left side of politics, have been piling onto the SPLC with cartloads of venom.

You’d think it was them who’d been tarred with the hate brush. But it wasn’t.

As religious liberty specialist David French, a Harvard Law man, reminds us at National Review:

For those who cared about truth, the SPLC’s transformation from a valuable anti-Klan watchdog into a glorified version of Media Matters for America was plain and obvious. It steadily expanded its definition of “hate groups” to include mainstream Christian organizations such as my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and it labeled as “extremists” men such as American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray.

These decisions had serious real-world consequences. Corporations and employers cut off relationships with groups and individuals targeted by the SPLC, and violent people used SPLC designations to justify attempted murder and assault. Remember the man who tried to commit mass murder at the Family Research Council? He found his target through the SPLC’s list of alleged “anti-gay groups.” Remember when an angry mob attacked Murray at Middlebury College and injured a professor? Because of the SPLC, those protesters thought they were attacking a “white nationalist.”

Recent articles that go after the SPLC include this lengthy read in the New Yorker. The critique majors on the organizations less-than-diverse racial make-up, its finesse as a “marketing tool for bilking gullible Northern liberals” and its place as a “highly profitable scam.”

Although there’s very little about this mess that is directly about religion, there is an emphasis on morality or at least morality that got lost along the way. Part of the problem was the incessant appeals to blue-state America to contribute money so the SPLC could kill off the bogeyman of the Religious Right, along with racism.

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Yes, there are strange religion stories out there: Here's a brief reminder of what GetReligion does

Yes, there are strange religion stories out there: Here's a brief reminder of what GetReligion does

Rare is the day that I do not receive an email or two from readers who want me to write a GetReligion post making fun of something strange that happened in the news.

Some of these letters come from the cultural right. More of them come from the cultural left, asking this blog to blow holes in this or that statement by a Religious Right type.

The key is that they want me to comment on the craziness of the story itself, not whether this news story was handled in an accurate and professional manner. The letters usually include a statement to this effect: If GetReligion was really interested in religion news, you’d be writing what I want you to write about x, y or z.

The problem is that, most of the time, the URLs included in these messages point to perfectly normal news stories about a statement that may or may not be crazy, depending on your point of view. There’s nothing there for your GetReligionistas to note, in terms of really good or really bad religion-news writing.

The key, as always, is this: GetReligion is not a religion-news site. This is a blog about mainstream media efforts — good and bad — to cover religion news. There’s no need for lots of posts that say, in effect: Hey! Look at this absolutely normal news story about something that somebody said the other day.

With that in mind, let’s turn to this question: Did God want Donald Trump to be president?

Let’s start here:

MT. OLYMPUS (The Borowitz Report) — Partially confirming Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s theory of divine intervention in the 2016 election, Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, discord, and strife, revealed on Friday that she had wanted Donald J. Trump to be President.

Speaking from her temple on Mt. Olympus, the usually reclusive deity said that Trump was “far and away” her first choice to be President in 2016.

“I’d been following his career for years,” the goddess of disorder and ruin said. “The bankruptcies, the business failures. There was a lot for me to love.”

Actually, that isn’t a news report. That’s a piece of satire from The New Yorker. However, that sort of demonstrates the tone of lots of the emails that I’ve been getting.

Here, of course, is what that blue-zip-code bible is mocking (care of a Holly Meyer report from The Tennessean in Nashville). The headline proclaimed: “Sarah Huckabee Sanders says God wanted Trump to be president. She's not the only one who believes that.” And here’s the overture:

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Here's the non-news direct from Seattle: An abortion activist video for kiddies

Here's the non-news direct from Seattle: An abortion activist video for kiddies

I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a feed belonging to Dae Shik Kim Hawkins, Jr., a Seattle writer who specializes in religion and homelessness. That’s an unusual combo.

In one tweet, he was applauding a video he helped produce that aired Dec. 28. It markets abortion to kids; a job he called “the Lord’s work.” Only in Seattle is abortion seen as a kids ministry.

So what is the journalism question here? This is another one of those cases in which we are dealing with a story worthy of mainstream coverage, which GetReligion would then critique. However, that would assume that mainstream newsrooms have produced mainstream news coverage of a topic this hot and, to my eyes, controversial.

So what kind of coverage is out there?

Sure enough, conservative media have been fuming about it all. CBN said:

A YouTube channel for kids is facing controversy after posting a video of a pro-choice activist working to convince children it's ok to have an abortion.

Amelia Bonow, the woman who started the social media hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion, appears in the video talking with children about her abortion experience and sharing her views on the issue.

The popular organization known as HiHo Kids has more than 2 million followers on YouTube. HiHo published the video online on Dec. 28 entitled "Kids Meet Someone Who's Had An Abortion." It's already been seen by more than 200,000 people.

In the eight-minute video, young children squirm as Bonow tries to indoctrinate them with her pro-abortion worldview. She compares having an abortion to a bad dentist appointment and a bodily procedure that's "kind of uncomfortable." She also tells one child that she believes abortion is "all part of God's plan."

HiHo Kids, known as a “children’s brand” produced at the Seattle offices of Cut.com (where Hawkins works), provides edgy programming that features different cuisines kids can try plus the occasional Interesting Person kids can meet. The abortion activist was one of a lineup that included a ventriloquist, a gender non-conforming person, a transgender soldier, a person who’s committed a felony, a ballerina, a hypnotist, a deaf person, a drag queen, a gynecologist, a teen mom and, well, you get the idea.

I guess the idea is that by familiarizing these kids with these various life choices or conditions, the youthful listeners will quickly learn to accept them all. Think they ever get to meet a rabbi, priest, pastor, a nun, imam or Mormon elder? I doubt it. That would not be newsworthy. Then again, the production of this video appears to be “conservative news” — period.

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Is Beth Moore really taking on the 'evangelical political machine,' whatever that is?

Is Beth Moore really taking on the 'evangelical political machine,' whatever that is?

I arrived in Houston in 1986 as a freshly minted religion reporter for the Houston Chronicle. This was about the same time as Bible teacher Beth Moore was becoming known as a master teacher of women. This was an era, in lots of evangelical churches, when women weren’t supposed to be teaching men in any way, shape or form.

She wasn’t famous at that point, although I vaguely remember hearing about her. She got her start leading aerobics classes at First Baptist Church in Houston, one of several megachurches in the city. By the time I arrived she was segueing into teaching Bible studies for women and the rest is history.

Well, almost. For 30-some years, she’s been a best-selling Christian author who hasn’t said much that’s controversial — until Donald Trump started running for president. According to a new profile on her in The Atlantic, 2016 was the year when everything changed.

These days, the profile says, Moore is taking on “the evangelical political machine” — singular. But is she really? Is there one group of evangelicals active in American politics, or is the reality more complex than that?

When Beth Moore arrived in Houston in the 1980s, she found few models for young women who wanted to teach scripture. Many conservative Christian denominations believed that women should not hold authority over men, whether in church or at home; many denominations still believe this. In some congregations, women could not speak from the lectern on a Sunday or even read the Bible in front of men. But Moore was resolute: God, she felt, had called her to serve. So she went where many women in Texas were going in the ’80s: aerobics class. Moore kicked her way into ministry, choreographing routines to contemporary Christian music for the women of Houston’s First Baptist Church. …


Her Bible studies were what made her famous.

A publishing career followed, further magnifying Moore’s influence. She was the first woman to have a Bible study published by LifeWay, the Christian retail giant, and has since reached 22 million women, the most among its female authors. Today, her Bible studies are ubiquitous, guiding readers through scriptural passages with group-discussion questions and fill-in-the-blank workbooks. “It would be hard to find a church anywhere where at least some segment of the congregation has not been through at least one Beth Moore study,” Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (and no relation to Beth) told me.

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And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

President Donald Trump hosted a "huge state-like dinner" — as the Christian Broadcasting Network described it — for 100 evangelical leaders invited to the White House on Monday night.

What, you didn't hear about it?

Apparently, the event was not considered particularly newsworthy by major news organizations — which is surprising to me given how often Trump's evangelical supporters make it into headlines. (Hey, did you know that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the brash billionaire?)

Is what the president of the United States says to some of his strongest and most influential supporters not worthy of prominent ink? 

When I looked this morning, I saw mainly stories from conservative media, from Breitbart to the Washington Times.

The Washington Times characterized the dinner this way:

President Trump hosted a dinner of Evangelical leaders at the White House Monday night and told them that he has delivered “just about everything I promised” on policies of religious liberty and defense of life.

“The support you’ve given me has been incredible,” Mr. Trump told the group. “But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised.”

Among those attending the event were the Rev. Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Pastor Paula White, a prominent spiritual adviser to the president.

Mr. Trump said under his administration, “the attacks on the communities of faith are over.” He cited actions to defend the religious conscience of health-care workers, teachers, students and religious employers; executive branch guidance on protecting religious liberty, and proposed regulations to bar taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion.

“Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re standing for religious believers, because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.”

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Saying goodbye to 'The Middle,' a rare Middle Class comedy (and we know what that means)

Saying goodbye to 'The Middle,' a rare Middle Class comedy (and we know what that means)

Anyone who has been alive and watching American television in recent months (or reading mainstream media sources that provide entertainment news), knows that Roseanne Barr has made a spectacular return to the air, with the rebirth of the classic "Roseanne" sitcom.

Whether this is a spectacularly good thing or a spectacularly bad thing depends on how you view the fact that Barr has included some material in the show linked to her belief that Donald Trump is not the Antichrist.

However, some journalists and critics who have attempted to view this phenomenon with a wee bit of objectivity have observed that "Roseanne," the show, is once again offering glimpses of ordinary, Middle and even lower Middle Class American life -- a topic usually ignored by elite Hollywood.

Now, the season finale of "Roseanne" took place about the same time as the farewell episode of "The Middle" after nine years as a successful series that was rarely noticed by critics -- as opposed to millions of American viewers. Variety noticed the timing of these events.

Also, a fine review/essay by Robert Lloyd in The Los Angeles Times dug deep enough to notice that these two shows shared cultural DNA. The headline: "Before 'Roseanne's' revival, 'The Middle' carried the torch for America's heartland." Here is a chunk of that piece:

Set in the middle of the country, or near it, with characters on an economic middle rung, or just below it -- the other "middle" is middle age -- the series stars Patricia Heaton, who had spent an earlier nine years married to Ray Romano on "Everybody Loves Raymond," as Frankie Heck, wife, mother, daughter, dental assistant.

Premiering in September 2009, when the shocks of the Great Recession were still reverberating and the subprime housing crisis was still having its way with the economy, "The Middle" is the sort of show that were it to debut in 2018, would be taken as a network responding to the Trump election. (The series had in fact been in development since 2006.)

The "middle" also refers, of course, to the middle of this nation, as well as the Middle Class.

When you start talking about "Middle-Class values" this is often code language for You Know What. See if you can spot the GetReligion angle in this next passage.

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Old news? The New York Times discovers David Brody and CBN's niche-audience power

Old news? The New York Times discovers David Brody and CBN's niche-audience power

Let's ask some basic questions about the journalism world in which we live.

Is it safe to assume that viewers of Fox News are interested in different kinds of issues and news stories than those who watch CNN?

Can we also assume that MSNBC viewers are interested in different kinds of issues and news stories than those who watch Fox? Things get really interesting if you try to discern cultural and political fault lines between CNN and MSNBC.

But the anwser is obvious, in this splintered age in which we all try to make sense of American public discourse.

Some of what is happening centers on changes in technology, as well as what is happening with changes linked to American generations, young and old. If you want to see a nonpolitical take on that, see this new report in the New York Times: "Why Traditional TV Is in Trouble."

Now, this brings me to another Times piece, focusing on the Donald Trump-era work of David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network -- a niche network focusing on the concerns of many (not all) charismatic and evangelical Protestants. Apparently, the Times team is surprised that the interests of this niche audience shape CBN offerings, in a manner similar to those of MSNBC, CNN, Fox, etc. Oh, and The New York Times, too. Here is a typical passage:

Mr. Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, was not there to inquire about porn stars. It was the National Day of Prayer, and Mr. Brody asked the vice president whether he was tired of defending his anti-abortion views amid “potshots” from comedians, and whether prayer was “alive and well in the White House.” He inquired whether Mr. Pence would attend the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, scheduled to take place Monday.

Mr. Pence smiled and answered each question. Then he invited Mr. Brody to get coffee.

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The holy ghost in House Speaker Paul Ryan's decision not to seek re-election

The holy ghost in House Speaker Paul Ryan's decision not to seek re-election

House Speaker Paul Ryan's surprising decision not to seek re-election?

It's all political.

It's all about the Trump factor.

At least that's the general tone of the mainstream news coverage that I've seen since the Wisconsin Republican announced his plans Wednesday.

But — and this isn't the first time GetReligion has asked this question concerning Ryan — is there a chance there's a holy ghost in this story? Could Ryan's faith just possibly be a factor — perhaps a major one — in his choice? Hang on a moment, and we'll explore those questions.

First, though, the crucial background. 

Here is an important part of what Ryan, 48, said concerning why he won't seek re-election:

This is my 20th year in Congress. My kids weren’t even born when I was first elected. Our oldest was 13 years old when I became speaker. Now all three of our kids are teenagers, and one thing I’ve learned about teenagers is their idea of an ideal weekend is not necessarily to spend all of their time with their parents.
What I realize is if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life.

How did Ryan's desire to be more than a "weekend dad" play on major front pages today?

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New York Times on India: Did Hindu activists make Christmas too dangerous this year?

New York Times on India: Did Hindu activists make Christmas too dangerous this year?

As some of us have gone caroling, Christmas tree decorating or dropped by a candlelit church service lately, we’ve never envisaged a moment where it’d be dangerous to do such activities.

Halfway across the world, in India, they can be life-threatening. 

We're not talking about the scrappy evangelical Protestant missionary groups that have continually given Hindu groups the fits. No, we're referring to Roman Catholics, who aren't known for creating religious tensions there. 

Welcome to the India of 2017. This is a major story, on the global religion scene, but not one American readers see in headlines or on the evening news.

A recent piece in the New York Times provides a door into what is happening.

NEW DELHI -- Tehmina Yadav is a Muslim woman married to a Hindu man. The other night, she was hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree.
In India, a country that is about 80 percent Hindu, Christmas is becoming big business. Airlines play Christmas music, online vendors sell holiday gift baskets, and one especially enterprising young man, Kabir Mishra, rents out a contingent of Hindus dressed as Santa Claus.
“I can provide as many Santas as you want,” he said.
Sitting next to her Christmas tree at home in Delhi, Ms. Yadav said that in India, there was nothing strange about non-Christians celebrating Christmas. Indians have always observed a dizzying number of festivals regardless of religious affiliation, and even though Christians represent only 2.3 percent of the population, Christmas is recognized as a government holiday.

A leftover of its colonial days, the article explains later. But now:

But as far-right Hindu groups have gained traction, India has changed. Christmas has now found itself caught in the cross hairs.

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