God

Concerning the familiar journalistic need to seek out history (and a Catholic angle to July 4th)

Concerning the familiar journalistic need to seek out history (and a Catholic angle to July 4th)

A trip to Washington, D.C., especially around the time of Independence Day, is always a good way to get the history juices flowing. It’s also a good way to get story ideas if you’re an editor or reporter looking for a new angle to this annual holiday.

Walking around the nation’s capitol is also a reminder of how much religious faith and this nation’s founding are connected, in terms of personalities and big themes. God is everywhere in this country’s past and the monuments that populate this wonderful city are a reminder of it.

One statue that many often ignore or neglect to focus on is that of Charles Carroll located in the National Statuary Hall collection. Not only is his life an excuse to cover July 4th through a new lens, but also gives readers the chance to learn about our country’s religious origins.

Who was Carroll? It’s a question not too many people have asked, in recent decades. It is one that editors and reporters should be flocking to cover. If anything, it would allow for news coverage to get away from the standard tropes that include fireworks, grilling recipes and mattress sales. Carroll was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and its longest-living signer. That alone would be reason enough to focus some of the coverage on this man, especially in Maryland media — in the state where he lived and died.

Crux did a wonderful feature in 2016 on Carroll, complete with tons of history and interviews with experts who studied Carroll’s life. This is how the piece opens:

On July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence — one of the most amazing coincidences in U.S. history unfolded. On that day, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author, and John Adams, perhaps its greatest advocate, died within hours of each other.

David McCullough’s masterful biography John Adams tells the poignant story of how the two patriots he called “the pen” and “the voice” of the Declaration, who had helped forge liberty in their new nation later became bitter political rivals but in their old age corresponded as friends.

But their rivalry even extended to their dying moments, as McCullough noted that Adams on his deathbed in Massachusetts whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Yet earlier that afternoon, Jefferson had died in Virginia.

And then there was one.

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A refresher course for journalists: What to do when you hear words like 'God,' 'prayer' and 'faith'

A refresher course for journalists: What to do when you hear words like 'God,' 'prayer' and 'faith'

Sunday’s front page of The Dallas Morning News featured side-by-side profiles of the two candidates for mayor of the city of 1.4 million people: Eric Johnson and Scott Griggs.

I was particularly interested in the piece on Johnson since the publication where I work, The Christian Chronicle, reports on Churches of Christ, and he is a longtime member of Churches of Christ.

I was curious to see if the Dallas newspaper — which, as we often lament, has no religion writer — would delve into the faith angle.

This profile, after all, was a “window into his soul” kind of profile aimed at giving voters an idea of what makes Johnson tick. The candidate talked about growing up poor in Dallas, and the reporter interviewed and one of his elementary school teachers as well as childhood friends and a former law professor.

See anybody missing from list of interviewees?

How about a minister or Sunday school teacher or fellow churchgoer?

“Well, maybe his faith didn’t come up in the reporting,” someone might protest.

Actually, that’s not true.

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How many times is too many to mention 'Jesus' in a prayer? That's the controversial question in Pa.

How many times is too many to mention 'Jesus' in a prayer? That's the controversial question in Pa.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is drawing fire for a prayer in which she referenced controversial figures, including Jesus, God and Donald Trump.

In fact, she mentioned “Jesus” 13 times and “God” six times in less than two minutes, noted a critic who tweeted about the “offensive” nature of the legislative prayer.

Here’s how The Associated Press summarized the fuss in a national news story:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A freshman Republican’s opening prayer Monday in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives drew complaints that it was inappropriately divisive.

Rep. Stephanie Borowicz began the day’s session with a Christian invocation that thanked Jesus for the honor and President Donald Trump for standing “behind Israel unequivocally.”

“At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord,” said Borowicz, elected in November to represent a Clinton County district.

Her remarks also brought up George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

A quick aside: Since we’re counting words, AP uses “remarks” three times to describe what Borowicz said in the prayer. Given that she was praying (read: talking to God) and not making a floor speech (although I guess that’s open to interpretation), I wonder if there’s a better term AP could have used in the story.

But back to the main point: Was the prayer divisive? Or did the lawmaker simply pray — as she claims — like she always does?

Courtesy of the Friendly Atheist blog, which transcribed the prayer, here is exactly what she said:

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Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

One of the central truths of religion-beat life is very hard to explain to editors, who primarily award news-value points based on whether a story is linked to partisan politics (these days, that means Donald Trump) and/or sexuality.

However, people who sweat the details at pew level know that, if you want to cause mass confusion (no pun intended), then what you need to do is change the hymnals and liturgical rites used by the faithful.

While this reality affects several flocks, Episcopal Church battles over The Book of Common Prayer have drawn the most ink in the past. The relatively modest coverage of recent debates among Episcopalians over same-sex marriage rites and the gender of God was probably a sign of how much the liberal Protestant brand has faded, in terms of providing sure-fire news hooks. Many journalists may be waiting for the upcoming United Methodist showdown.

However, the Washington Post, to its credit, did offer modest coverage of recent Episcopal Church efforts to further modernize the denomination's worship. As is usually the case, the Episcopalians managed to move forward -- in terms of progress for the doctrinal left -- while being careful at the same time, so as not to frighten elderly donors.

If you were a secular editor who didn't know the players and the rules of the Episcopal game, what would you make of this story's overture?

After more than a week of debate among church leaders about whether God should be referred to by male pronouns -- and about the numerous other issues that come up when writing a prayer book -- the Episcopal Church has decided to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that Episcopalian worshipers hold dear.

The question now is when it will happen.

At the denomination’s triennial conference ... leaders considered a plan that would have led to a new prayer book in 2030. They voted it down.

“There’s no timeline for it,” said the Very Rev. Samuel Candler, chair of the committee on prayer book revision. “There’s no A-B-C-D plan. ..."

So, did the convention vote to create a new prayerbook, complete with gender-neutral language for God and official same-sex marriage rites, or not?

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Gender-neutral God story: Have we hit the point where wins on Episcopal left are not news?

Gender-neutral God story: Have we hit the point where wins on Episcopal left are not news?

Old people on the religion beat (my hand is raised) will remember the 1980s, back when the mainline Protestant doctrinal wars over sexuality started breaking into elite headlines -- big time.

Year after year, some kind of mainline fight over gender and sexuality would score high in the annual Religion Newswriters Association poll to determine the Top 10 stories. More often than not, the Episcopal Church led the way in the fight for feminism and eventually gay rights.

These national headlines would, of course, inspire news coverage at the regional and local levels. Some Episcopal shepherds went along and some didn't. All of that produced lots of news copy, no matter what Episcopalians ended up doing.

At one point, while at the Rocky Mountain News, I told Colorado's Episcopal leader -- the always quotable former radio pro Bishop William C. Frey -- that a few local religious leaders were asking me why the Episcopal Church kept getting so much media attention.

Frey laughed, with a grimace, and said that was a strange thought, something like "envying another man's root canal."

Eventually, however, the progressive wins in Episcopal sanctuaries stopped being news, at least in mainstream news outlets.

Take, for example, that recent leap into gender-neutral theology in the District of Columbia, an interesting story that drew little or no attention in the mainstream press. Thus, here is the top of the main story from the Episcopal News Service:

The Diocese of Washington is calling on the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to consider expanding the use of gender-neutral language for God in the Book of Common Prayer, if and when the prayer book is slated for a revision.
He? She?

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Do Christians, Muslims, Jews all worship the same God? Is it a public school's role to say?

Do Christians, Muslims, Jews all worship the same God? Is it a public school's role to say?

"The same God? That's for a school to say?"

That comment atop a Facebook post by my friend Jim Davis, a former GetReligion contributor, caught my attention.

Davis linked to a story from The Courier-News, an Elgin, Ill., hometown newspaper that is a part of the Chicago Tribune family. The story concerned a protest by some Christians over an assignment at a local public school.

The lede:

Dozens of people spoke out Monday against a homework assignment made at an Elgin-area U46 school in which it was asserted Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths all believe in the same God.
One month after the assignment was criticized by U46 school board member Jeanette Ward, people who identified themselves as part of the Christian community attended the school board meeting Monday to add their opposition.
Several people attacked the assignment, quoting Bible and Quran verses to support their argument that Christians do not follow the same God as Muslims. Some of those who spoke live outside the U46 boundaries, including one person who came from Florida.
"To say that Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same is simply absurd," said Art Ellingsen, a church pastor from Arlington Heights.

Last month, the same school board heard from religious leaders with a different perspective, as the newspaper noted then:

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Bible, God and Protestants: Another pesky question for the style gurus at The Associated Press

Bible, God and Protestants: Another pesky question for the style gurus at The Associated Press

Here at GetReligion, we don't mind "talking nerdy," as my friend Prof KRG puts it. I'm referring to discussions about the nitty-gritty intricacies of news writing and style.

For example, we wondered aloud what was up when the Wall Street Journal lowercased "bible" instead of capitalizing it.

Similarly, we called attention to it when we started seeing "god" — as opposed to "God" — in news reports.

For today's post, I couldn't help but notice that The Associated Press lowercased "protestant" not once but four times in a story on what Republican Roy Moore's loss in the Alabama Senate election might mean for the abortion issue in 2018.

From the AP story:

Religious influence sharpens voters’ leanings further. White evangelical protestants are the most likely religious group to oppose abortion rights: 70 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Majorities of Catholics, black protestants and mainline protestants all support more access, while unaffiliated voters lean overwhelmingly toward legality.
A state like Alabama, where Republican nominees usually win at least 60 percent of the vote and where half the population is white evangelical protestant (as opposed to a quarter nationally), is more fundamentally anti-abortion than many other states now under Republican control, such as Ohio or Wisconsin, which have far fewer evangelicals proportionally and are typically presidential battlegrounds.

So what's the problem?

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Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Yes, I heard you.

There is no question that the think piece for this week was that amazing cover story at The Atlantic that ran with that fascinating double-decker headline that caused several of you to click your mouses, sending me the URL.

Normally, "think pieces" are non-newsy essays that offer information or commentary on a subject that I think will be of interest to religion-beat pros and to faithful consumers of mainstream religion-beat news.

This one is different. Let's start with that headline:

How America Lost Its Mind
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history

Now, before we move on, please CLICK HERE (this is really important) and look at the illustration that ran at the top this essay by Kurt Andersen, an essay that was adapted from his soon-to-be-released book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire -- A 500-Year History. This is, of course, an image of crazy America.

So what do we see? Well, there's bigfoot and a church steeple, Mormons and hippies, Fox News and a burning witch, UFOs and Disneyland. Oh, and several symbols of Donald Trump's base. Wait, I guess that should be several OTHER symbols of Trump's base, because all of that craziness is linked to the rise of The Donald. And that craziness has been around in American since The Beginning.

Now, the question that I heard this week from several readers was this: Is this piece at The Atlantic telling us what American journalists think of the American people and, in particular, Americans who are conservative religious believers? Or, is this just what Andersen thinks and the powers that be at The Atlantic simply ran it on the cover as a way to fire up their base, their core readers (kind of like "War on Christmas" stories at Fox News, only in reverse)?

Now, I would stress that it is never helpful to say that journalists in America are some kind of cultural monolith. That's just wrong.

Trump was clearly out of his mind with populist rage when he said that journalists (or the "news media") are the enemy of the American people That's simplistic. As I said over and over on Twitter, it would be more accurate to say that many, perhaps even a majority, of elite journalists on the left and right coasts are the enemies of about 20-25 percent of the American people.

OK, so what does the piece say?

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Yes, that AP style issue again: OMg! That Christian McCaffrey guy is a real threat!

Yes, that AP style issue again: OMg! That Christian McCaffrey guy is a real threat!

Remember that Christian McCaffrey guy, the do-everything running back for Stanford University who is named “Christian” for some pretty obvious reasons?

Right, ESPN folks?

It seems that it is pretty hard to talk about this guy’s talents without references to near miracles and other religious topics. You can see that in the headline in a recent Los Angeles Times story, the one with this headline: “USC hopes for more tackling, less praying, against Christian McCaffrey.”

While this is pretty much a run-of-the-mill advance story for an upcoming game, there is a reason for that headline. You can see that in the opening anecdote:

When USC Coach Clay Helton saw the play develop during last season’s Pac-12 title game, he started to pray.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford’s All-American running back, had angled out for a pass and darted to the middle. USC was caught covering him with an inside linebacker.
“I’m like, ‘Please god, don’t throw it to him,’ ” Helton said. “And they did.”
McCaffrey took the third-down pass 67 yards to the seven-yard line, setting up the touchdown that erased USC’s lead and sprung Stanford to the Pac-12 title.

Yes, here we go again.

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