Hurricane Irma

A Falwell in St. Martin? Religious charities' aid gets little coverage in post-hurricane news

A Falwell in St. Martin? Religious charities' aid gets little coverage in post-hurricane news

As everyone from President Donald Trump to politicians of all stripes try to make sense of the mess that is Puerto Rico, I’ve noticed little has been written about all the religious groups heading down to the U.S. territory to help.

Why is this? Information about these efforts is all over the place on Twitter and in social media.

So, along with the city of Chicago sending some two dozen firefighters, paramedics and engineers to Puerto Rico, there’s a group of Chicago Catholics sending down supplies as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which uses its storage centers in Atlanta as a staging ground for emergency relief, is also sending folks to Puerto Rico.

Seventh-day Adventist students and professors from the Adventist-affiliated Andrews University in Michigan are likewise showing up. The Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I. is chipping in 10 grand. The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams were finally given permission by FEMA to move in.

You may have heard about President Trump tossing towels at a Calvary Chapel in Guaynabo, but here’s a story about a Calvary Chapel-affiliated church in California that’s trying to get supplies to their brethren some 3,500 miles away.

That story was from the NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo, but most of the stories I’ve seen are from the religious press. Case in point is this Charisma News post about everyone ranging from Paula White Ministries to Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse racing to get thousands of pounds of supplies to the island.

It does seem ironic that while so many have problems with Graham’s style or politics, there’s much less coverage when Samaritan’s Purse pours relief supplies into a devastated area.

Christianity Today also did an overview of which religious charities are doing what.

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Hold on! Tell me again why places of worship are playing a pivotal role in hurricane relief

Hold on! Tell me again why places of worship are playing a pivotal role in hurricane relief

The Associated Press reports out of Houston that many undocumented immigrant victims of Hurricane Harvey are turning to churches for help.

It's a timely, newsy angle and one that immediately drew my attention, especially since I've recently delved into both subjects myself: Harvey relief and Texas immigration.

However, AP's "nut graf" seems like a case of taking a solid story and trying to amp up the volume just a bit too much. I'd still recommend this story — but with a somewhat major caveat. I'll explain in a moment.

But first, the lede sets the scene:

HOUSTON (AP) — Immigrants came from across Houston to a Baptist church gymnasium and stacked dollies with boxes of cereal, orange juice and household necessities like cleaning bleach.
For many of them, the church was the safest place to seek relief after Harvey devastated Houston and left thousands of immigrants fearful of turning to the government for help amid fears they would get deported. A similar response was seen in immigrant-heavy sections of Florida after Irma swamped the state.
“We have to come together as churches to help the undocumented,” Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor Raul Hidalgo said while mingling with victims and volunteers on the church gymnasium’s parquet floor.

Good stuff.

But see if anything strikes you the wrong way — as it did me — in this next highly important sentence. This is where AP attempts to explain the big picture and boil down why this news matter:

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Yes, the 'faith-based FEMA' is crucial to the recovery effort after disasters such as Harvey, Irma

Yes, the 'faith-based FEMA' is crucial to the recovery effort after disasters such as Harvey, Irma

Yes, the "faith-based FEMA" is crucial to the recovery effort after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. 

After deadly tornadoes struck my home state of Oklahoma in 2013, I wrote a piece for Christianity Today on how various Christian groups aided victims based on what each denomination does best.

That story noted the important role of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. National VOAD, as it's known, is an umbrella group for denominational relief agencies and secular charities.

From that story, which is mostly hidden behind a paywall at this point:

National VOAD works to avoid duplication of services by FEMA and faith-based groups—a collaboration that has caused few church-state concerns because no money changes hands, said Robert Tuttle, a George Washington University professor of law and religion.

Fast-forward to this week, and I was pleased to see a national publication highlight the faith-based coordination.

The publication? USA Today.

The reporter? Washington correspondent Paul Singer. 

If that name sounds familiar, it's because we interviewed Singer just last week about why he came to the Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., looking for faith and religion stories.

Singer's piece on faith groups providing the bulk of disaster recovery, in coordination with FEMA, is a good one:

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This is why the media just can't resist a chainsaw-wielding nun helping after Hurricane Irma

This is why the media just can't resist a chainsaw-wielding nun helping after Hurricane Irma

It's clickbait.

Take that back — it's chainsaw bait.

As NPR put it, "(N)o one, it seems, can resist a story about a chainsaw-wielding nun."

And you know what? I don't blame them. What's not to like about this story?

The basics from Emily Miller at Religion News Service:

(RNS) — Now here’s something you don’t see every day: A Carmelite nun, in full habit, cutting trees with a chainsaw.
Sister Margaret Ann, principal of Miami’s Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, caught the attention of an off-duty police officer, who posted photos and video of her at work on the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Facebook page on Tuesday (Sept. 12).
The post said acts of kindness like hers “remind us all that we are #OneCommunity in #MiamiDadeCounty” and included the praying hands emoji for good measure.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, snagged an interview with the nun:

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It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

Good morning, journalism class. Today's topic is the question of the voice in writing, specifically news writing.

No, we're not talking about active voice versus passive voice, Rather, let's look at the voices -- the "subject matter experts" as the phrasing goes -- selected by a reporter and a media outlet to speak to a given item.

For this question, we can thank The New York Times and their recent feature titled, "Apocalyptic Thoughts Amid Nature’s Chaos? You Could Be Forgiven." While the subject itself is interesting, it was the voices heard in the story -- as well as those not heard -- that caught my attention.

Here we go:

Vicious hurricanes all in a row, one having swamped Houston and another about to buzz through Florida after ripping up the Caribbean.
Wildfires bursting out all over the West after a season of scorching hot temperatures and years of dryness.
And late Thursday night, off the coast of Mexico, a monster of an earthquake.
You could be forgiven for thinking apocalyptic thoughts, like the science fiction writer John Scalzi who, surveying the charred and flooded and shaken landscape, declared that this “sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now.”

We go on to a survey -- written and published before now-Tropical Storm Irma made its first U.S. landfall as Hurricane Irma -- the thoughts of several experts about the relationship, if any, between environmental disasters and the End of All Things.

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Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.

Those who can’t find lodging are bunking up with friends or in churches

Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)

The website Mic.com has especially concentrated on mosques, such as this feature about an Orlando mosque offering shelter from Irma and this piece about Houston mosques offering shelter from Harvey.

The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account

TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.

Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship?

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