Daily Beast

Hopping on, once again, the old GetReligionista merry-go-round ...

Hopping on, once again, the old GetReligionista merry-go-round ...

If there really is "nothing new under the sun," I suppose a return to GetReligion isn't really "news," however pleasant it might be for a particular writer.

But here I am again, friends, happily climbing into the saddle to critique -- well, whatever tmatt and company permit.

There will be one exception. I will not be taking on the Deseret News, where I served 20 months as a national team reporter covering faith and freedom. That's a fine paper with good people, but having been in their employ, I can't be as fair-minded as you should expect a GetReligionista to be.

There remains, of course, a ton of material out there to examine, so, the Good Lord willing, I won't be short of subjects.

Take, for example, that religious freedom divide. That very timely subject -- though I agree with the crew here that we could all do without the "scare quotes," please -- is a particular interest to me. This blog has always been concerned with First Amendment issues, on both sides of the equation (religious liberty and freedom of the press).

So, too, is the way the media does (or doesn't) understand religious movements with which they are unfamiliar.

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From Muslim to Christian: The Atlantic offers sensitive look at Berlin community

From Muslim to Christian: The Atlantic offers sensitive look at Berlin community

When you share lentils and rice pilaf with people; when you attend church with them and talk to their pastor; when you pay a follow-up visit weeks later; you naturally convey a more intimate feel for your topic.  This traditional wisdom of journalism is used to great effect in The Atlantic's feature on Muslim converts to Christianity in Germany.

The writer, Laura Kasinof, talks to three Iranian refugees in Berlin. She gets an overview with their pastor, a Lutheran minister, as well as an interchurch leader. She conveys the jubilant mood at a worship service. And she attempts to hint at the size of the trend of conversion, although she doesn't get comprehensive figures.

Kasinof did the story on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Whatever the sum, it was well spent. Her article is sensitive and thoughtful, and vastly superior to a similar piece in the Daily Beast this spring. As my colleague Julia Duin said then, the Beast somehow managed to link the trend to the U.S. presidential elections. Almost like clicking a nation-level selfie.

Astonishingly, the Daily Beast article has no quotes from any actual refugees, except those it borrowed from a newspaper. The Atlantic article doesn't neglect that vital facet:

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Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Never thought I'd write a post like this.

At GetReligion, we complain all the time about "ghosts" -- religious or spiritual angles to stories that news media miss or downplay. But in one report on the torching of a mosque in Florida, one religious angle may have been actually overplayed.

Just after midnight Monday, someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the home mosque of Omar Mateen, who shot 49 people on June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Wednesday, officers announced the arrest of Joseph Michael Schreiber, who they said confessed to the crime.

Schreiber left a lot of clues. Aside from surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses, he'd posted Facebook messages saying that "ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL" and that its followers should be considered terrorists and "crimanals" (sic). He also has a record of theft and robbery.

So far, so routine. But then comes the Daily Beast, which says Schreiber "describes himself as a Jew for Jesus, a religious sect that believes Jesus is the messiah."

Says the Beast:

The first clues to Schreiber’s religious beliefs also come from his Facebook page, where his cover photo features the seal of messianic Judaism. It shows a menorah and a Jesus fish intersecting to form the Star of David. 
Many of Schreiber’s three dozen Facebook friends also self-identify with Messianic Judaism, either proclaiming themselves members of the faith in their profiles, or saying that they work at Messianic Jewish synagogues.
Previous media reports described Schreiber, who spewed anti-Muslim hate on Facebook, as Jewish. But Messianic Jews, colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, occupy a nebulous space in the religious landscape. (Jews for Jesus is also a recognized nonprofit organization that promotes a type of Messianic Judaism.)

The Beast alertly quotes Rabbi Bruce Benson of Temple Beth Israel in Fort Pierce, who says that messianics are “outside the parameters of accepted Jewish thinking."  Benson says Schreiber studied Torah there awhile, and that Schreiber's late grandfather was once a member of the temple.

Interesting details. So, how do they play into Schreiber's hostility toward Islam and Muslims? That's where the article falls silent. It fails to show that messianic Jews tend toward hatred of Muslims.

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Apologizing to gays: Pope Francis' latest quotes send news media into a frenzy

Apologizing to gays: Pope Francis' latest quotes send news media into a frenzy

So you thought Pope Francis began a storm of news 'n' views three years ago, when he said, "Who am I to judge" gays? Well, brace yourself for the summertime blizzard of news and commentary with his latest remark -- that the church should apologize to gays, women, children, the poor and, apparently, anyone who likes weapons.

It was on another of those in-flight press conferences, like the one in 2013 when he dropped his non-judgmental bomb. Mainstream media love to pounce on Francis' off-the-cuff remarks, but few of them recognize the conversations flowing just under the surface -- even when they occasionally break into the open.

Yesterday, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service asked Francis if the church should apologize to gays in the wake of Omar Mateen's shooting spree, killing 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. She was asking because Cardinal Reinhard Marx had said the church had marginalized gays.

The pope answered with, well, an apology spree. Says the Associated Press:

Francis responded with a variation of his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment and a repetition of church teaching that gays must not be discriminated against but treated with respect.
He said some politicized behaviors of the homosexual community can be condemned for being "a bit offensive for others." But he said: "Someone who has this condition, who has good will and is searching for God, who are we to judge?"
"We must accompany them," Francis said.
"I think the church must not only apologize ... to a gay person it offended, but we must apologize to the poor, to women who have been exploited, to children forced into labor, apologize for having blessed so many weapons" and for having failed to accompany families who faced divorces or experienced other problems.

Does this signal the dawn of a "progressive" era in the church? Not according to a particular Dawn -- Catholic scholar and GR alumna Dawn Eden:

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Floods of Muslim converts to Christianity? The Daily Beast scratches the surface

Floods of Muslim converts to Christianity? The Daily Beast scratches the surface

It’s not the first article out there about Muslim immigrants to German converting to Christianity but it’s almost certainly the most recent. But the Daily Beast, in reporting on the trend, predictably managed to link this trend to the U.S. presidential elections.

Which was unfortunate, in that the story of thousands of Muslims jettisoning their faith to become Christian is a continuing saga and a decent story in its own right.

Lots of outlets, ranging from the Daily Mail and the Times of Israel to Catholic World Report and NPR (click here for previous GetReligion posts) have reported on Muslims converting by the thousands, especially those from countries like Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan where conversions from Islam into another religion means an automatic death sentence. This is the first time these folks have been able to choose their own religion or no religion.

We’re talking statistics like 600 Persian converts descending on one church in Hamburg. So, the Daily Beast has waded in with the inevitable political angle:

AMSTERDAM -- Hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans have been lining up at a local swimming pool in Hamburg, Germany, to be baptized as Christians. In the Netherlands and Denmark, as well, many are converting from Islam to Christianity, and the trend appears to be growing. Indeed, converts are filling up some European churches largely forsaken by their old Christian flocks.
All of which raises a question, not least, for the United States: If American presidential candidate Donald Trump gets elected and bars Muslims from entering the country, as he says he will, would the ban apply to Christians who used to be Muslims? How would one judge the quality of their faith?

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Silence on sex abuse? Nope, 'The Vatican' didn't tell that to its bishops

Silence on sex abuse? Nope, 'The Vatican' didn't tell that to its bishops

It's doubly nice to see a concise, incisive media critique like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League wrote yesterday. Nice to have someone do some of our work on a frantic Friday afternoon. Also nice to remind us at GetReligion that we're not the only ones who notice these things.

Donohue took mainstream media to task for saying the Vatican has told its new bishops they don’t have to report instances of sexual abuse. The flap revolves around remarks of a French monsignor, and whether he was spelling out church policy.

The highly cited Guardian, for instance, reported on this new "Vatican document":

The Catholic church is telling newly appointed bishops that it is “not necessarily” their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.
A document that spells out how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse, which was recently released by the Vatican, emphasised that, though they must be aware of local laws, bishops’ only duty was to address such allegations internally.
“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document states.

Things are no different on this shore of the Atlantic.  

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Are most religious kids really 'jerks'? Depends on how you read a survey

Are most religious kids really 'jerks'? Depends on how you read a survey

Headline writers had a field day last week with a story about an international survey involving the attitudes of religious versus non-religious kids. They ranged from “Religious Kids are Jerks” from the Daily Beast to the Oregonian’s “Religious kids are harsher and less generous than atheist ones, study says.”

The survey came out of the University of Chicago, but involved scholars (and kids) from six countries: Turkey (Istanbul), South Africa (Cape Town), Canada (Toronto), Jordan (Amman), China (Guangzhou) and Chicago itself. It involved 1,170 5-to-12-year-olds.

Now for those of us whose experience of grade school was akin to "Lord of the Flies," the thought of interviewing first through sixth graders for proof of moral grounding is pretty laughable. Why not slightly older children who've had a few more years of formation in their family's religion?

Here is how the Oregonian report began:

When it comes to teaching kids the Golden Rule, Sunday school might not be the best bet.
A new study in the journal Current Biology found children in religious households are significantly less generous than their non-religious peers.
At the same time, religious parents were more likely than non-religious ones to consider their children empathetic and sensitive to the plight of others.

Now I took a graduate-level research methods class two years ago, which taught me a bit more about looking to see how studies are conducted. What I found wasn’t quite what certain media described the situation as being.

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A cult? A sect? What do you call a church that murders its own?

A cult? A sect? What do you call a church that murders its own?

Their faces look like something out of some grade B film: the wife looking like some hick gun moll and the white-bearded husband appearing like a cross between an Old Testament patriarch and Idaho survivalist.

The locale, it turns out, was upstate New York; New Hartford, to be exact, where several people have been arrested for the beating death of a 19-year-old and the near beating death of his younger brother.

Media have descended upon the town in the past week, talking with neighbors, attending the arraignment, polling the local Catholic priest and even wandering about the building itself. Was this group a church? A Christian sect? A doctrinal cult? A sociological cult? A compound? A commune? The phrases “reclusive church,” “ultra-secretive,” “shadowy,” “sect” and “cult” sprinkle multiple reports of a congregation gone off the rails.

Memories of other congregations run amok (Waco, anyone?)  mark yet a notch in the popular imagination of religion as inherently dangerous. We’ll start first with the Daily Beast's take:

On Sunday night, an ultra-secretive New York church turned into a living hell. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten -- one of them to death -- by their own family members and fellow churchgoers who wanted them to “confess” to their sins, authorities say.
Police charged the boys’ parents with manslaughter and four other participants with assault in the chilling incident that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and left his 17-year-old brother, Christopher Leonard, in serious condition.
To neighbors, New Hartford’s Word of Life church is a “cult.” Those who live nearby point to the fence separating the red brick building -- a sprawling former high school -- from the community. Some say they’ve heard chants late at night and glimpsed men wearing long black trench coats. Others claim the gated church was breeding dogs, which were constantly barking.

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A tale of two stories: How the Mormons come off in AP and in The Daily Beast

A tale of two stories: How the Mormons come off in AP and in The Daily Beast

Mormon origins have long been a center of public curiosity.  So an LDS press conference this week, unveiling an early edition of the book -- with photos of the "seer stone" that the church says Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon -- drew a lot of coverage.

Unfortunately, with the opinion-laden text that infects mainstream media, attitude makes all the difference. Let's compare two: from the Associated Press and the Daily Beast.

The press conference was actually on the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon, an interesting artifact in itself. But the book's photos of the stone, a solid object dating to the birth of the faith, were a natural emphasis in the stories.

The AP account, run by Huffington Post and others, plays it fairly straight. Despite its taste for breathless, 40-word sentences, the wire service writes a good lede, with outline, a couple of details and a hint of context:

The Mormon church's push toward transparency about its roots and beliefs took another step forward Tuesday with the first published pictures of a small sacred stone it believes founder Joseph Smith used to help translate a story that became the basis of the religion.
The pictures of the smooth, brown, egg-sized rock are part of a new book that also contains photos of the first printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the photos at a news conference in Salt Lake City.
The religion's drive in recent years to open its vaults and clarify sensitive beliefs is aimed at filling a void on the Internet for accurate information as curiosity and scrutiny increased as church membership tripled over the last three decades, Mormon scholars said.

The 800-word story adds background on the fate of the stone, indeed of the manuscript -- which is the property of the Community of Christ, which split off when the main group trekked to Salt Lake City in the mid-1800s. AP notes that leaders of both bodies were at the press conference, indicating that "the two faiths have moved on" -- though I wouldn't have used the term "past squabbles," as the article did.

AP quotes a satisfying four scholars for the story. One of them, Terry Givens of the University of Richmond, offers this observation:

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