Late, but still timely: Complex realities hidden in '81 percent of evangelicals' love Trump myth

Late, but still timely: Complex realities hidden in '81 percent of evangelicals' love Trump myth

So, did you ever think that American evangelicals would — in terms of their public, mass-media “face” — have an option worse than the Rev. Pat Robertson?

I know, I know. That’s a high bar to clear, or a low one — depending on your point of view.

It seems that lots of journalists — no, not ALL of them — get an idea stuck in their heads every decade or so and they start acting like some vast, complex group of Americans can be accurately represented by one person (Robertson, for example) or even one statistic (81 percent of white evangelicals voted for You Know Who).

Here’s the irony: It’s kind of like what Donald Trump has done with America’s journalists, taking biases and inaccuracies that can be found in a few cases and turning them into a simplistic vision of the whole. Thus, Trump often stomps on the First Amendment-protected role that journalism is supposed to play in American public discourse.

Oh, I do realize that Robertson is still out there, cranking out soundbites (like this).

But that’s really not the topic we covered during this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in). The goal was to discuss WHY some journalists seem so anxious to play this game. With that in mind, let’s flash back to a journalism think piece that I wrote in 2005 for the Poynter Institute. The headline: “Excommunicating Pat Robertson.” Here’s the overture:

Let's pretend it is Oct. 1, 2005.

After a long, long September of storms, Hurricane Wilma misses the Keys and veers into the Gulf of Mexico. It heads straight for Louisiana.

After a long, long day in the newsroom, you sit on the couch flipping from one cable news channel to another. Then you see a familiar face in an MSNBC tease and hear, "We'll be back, live, with the Rev. Pat Robertson, who says that this new hurricane is more evidence that God is angry at New Orleans because ..."

Pause for a minute. When you hear these words do you experience (a) an acidic surge of joy because you are 99.9 percent sure that you know what Robertson is going to say, or (b) a sense of sorrow for precisely the same reason?

If you answered (a), then I would bet the moon and the stars that you are someone who doesn't think highly of Christian conservatives and their beliefs. If you answered (b), you are probably one of those Christians.

In other words, we have reached the point where some journalists are happy to see Robertson's face on television screens, because every time he opens his mouth he reinforces their stereotype of a conservative Christian.

Wow. The more things change, the more that they stay the same.

So, GetReligion readers, how do you feel when a news organization hits you with yet another reference to the fact that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election?

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Will the 'God gap' persist on Nov. 6? What else should religion-news pros look for?

Will the 'God gap' persist on Nov. 6? What else should religion-news pros look for?

Election Day 2018 culminates the universally proclaimed “year of the woman” in American politics. The media will be totaling up victors among the unprecedented number of female candidates and checking whether exit polls show a Donald Trump-era widening of the “gender gap” between the customary majorities of women for Democrats and men for Republicans.

Except for pondering evangelicals’ GOP fealty, the media often ignore religious factors that sometimes rival or exceed the impact of that male-female divide.

This time around, will the usual religious alignments persist? Intensify? Reporters should include this in the agenda for post-election analyses.

The related “God gap” came to the fore in 2004 when Democrat John Kerry scored 62 percent with voters who said they never attended religious services vs. churchgoers’ lopsided support for Republican George W. Bush. (Through much of U.S. history there was little difference in basic religiosity between the two major parties, while Protestants leaned Republican and Catholics Democratic.) State-by-state exit polls are unlikely to ask about that and data won’t come till later.

Since 2004, religiously unaffiliated “nones” have increased substantially in polling numbers. Pew Research says they made up fully 28 percent of Democratic voters in the 2014 midterms, outpacing all religious blocs in the party's coalition. Democratic nones neatly balance out evangelicals’ perennial Republican enthusiasm, but pundits say it’s tough for Democrats to organize them on campaign support and turnout.

Now, something new may be occurring.

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Just in time for Holy Week: BBC asks if modern Brits still believe in the resurrection

Just in time for Holy Week: BBC asks if modern Brits still believe in the resurrection

What we have here is a unique -- but to my mind interesting and valid -- variation on the whole tradition of major newsrooms publishing news reports just before Easter that strive to undercut the most important doctrines in ancient Christianity.

In this case, BBC leaders commissioned a survey asking 2,010 adult Brits what they do and do not believe about the resurrection of Jesus, the central doctrine of the Christian faith. The headline that resulted delivers some sobering news for small-o orthodox Christians: "Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians."

This raises a logical question: Is someone a Christian if he or she does not believe in the resurrection? In this case, the pollsters working with BBC on this survey simply punted, in terms of trying to answer that question. Here is the overture:

A quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, a survey commissioned by the BBC suggests.
However, almost one in 10 people of no religion say they do believe the Easter story, but it has "some content that should not be taken literally".
A fifth of non-religious people believe in life after death, the poll suggests.
The Church of England said it showed many people held religious beliefs.

Wait, the whole Church of England answered? In chorus? I would assume that this was a quote from a press agent for the Anglican establishment, a PR pro who really had to reach in order to find that silver lining!

Now, the first thing that jumped into my head when I saw this was that if you combine the "Christians" who do not believe in the resurrection with the secular people who do not believe in the same doctrine, then you have a really good picture of the size of a religious and secular left coalition in modern British culture.

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New Washington Post shocker: Christian bookstore chain wants CDs with 'clean' language! Film at 11

New Washington Post shocker: Christian bookstore chain wants CDs with 'clean' language! Film at 11

You can imagine that when one of we happy, few Get Religionistas writes a snarky headline, there's more to follow.

Thus, I trust you won't be disappointed as we join the Washington Post on a voyage of discovery. The find? The shocking development here: Folks who run Christian bookstores respond quickly when customers complain about the content of a product they're selling.

(Your correspondent has direct, personal experience in this matter. I'll get to that in a moment.)

Here, now, the "news." Sho Baraka is an African-American hip-hop artist with a highly creative mind, and a love for Jesus. He's been popular in Christian circles after finding faith a few years back, and his latest album, "The Narrative" (promotional video above) hit the shelves at LifeWay Christian Bookstores, a chain owned by the Southern Baptist Conventions. Then, it appears, some folks listened to the songs, which then alarmed those hearers.

Take it away, Washington Post:

Popular hip-hop artist Sho Baraka has taken aim at Southern Baptist retailer LifeWay Christian Stores for dropping his album for including the word “penis,” a move that shows a growing tension between the black artist and his white evangelical fans.
A spokesman for LifeWay confirmed the retailer’s decision, saying in an email that customers complained about the language, but the representative declined to provide further details.
Christian bookstores don’t usually place rap albums by black activist artists front and center on their shelves. But in recent years, white evangelicals have embraced several black hip-hop artists such as chart-topping rappers Lecrae and Trip Lee, whose albums are sold on LifeWay’s website. Baraka, who was once part of Lecrae’s Reach Records label, said he upset LifeWay customers by including the anatomical reference in his album.

Here's a stunner, right?

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Latest Amy Grant controversy: This tale has a new chapter that some have missed

Latest Amy Grant controversy: This tale has a new chapter that some have missed

Baby, baby, how long have I been writing about controversies involving Amy Grant and fights about what is and what is not Christian music?

Well, so long that I cannot link to the "On Religion" column I wrote about the topic a quarter of a century ago. You see, the World Wide Web didn't really exist at the time for normal people -- so that column isn't stored anywhere online, at least not where I can get to it.

But back in 1991, people started worrying about whether Grant's "Heart in Motion" album (containing "Baby, Baby," which led to that controversial music video) was "too secular" and part of the "crossover" trend that would undercut Grant's public witness, etc., etc.

Well, now Grant is back in the news and, alas, it appears that some people have not noticed that lots of water has gone under the bridge and there are new issues in play. This brings us to the top of the story in the singer's local paper, The Tennessean:

LifeWay Christian Resources will not be selling Amy Grant's new Christmas album this year, and the manager for the Nashville-based singer says it's because it's not Christian enough for the Southern Baptist retailer.
Manager Jennifer Cooke said in an opinion piece for the Washington Post that LifeWay's decision not to carry "Tennessee Christmas" reignites a debate about how Christian a product needs to be in order for Christian retailers to sell it.
"'Is it Christian enough for Christian retail to support?' LifeWay Christian Resources, the large Southern Baptist retailer, decided it was not. It’s their choice, and it’s okay," said Cooke, in the column posted Tuesday.
LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, confirmed its retail stores are not carrying the album, but would not comment on the reasons for the decision.

Of course, the Southern Baptist Vatican, as the locals call it, is in Nashville, so this is a local story on every possible level.

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Halloween church show: Washington Post peeks at the trend without passing 'judgment'

Halloween church show: Washington Post peeks at the trend without passing 'judgment'

I don’t usually jump into a story without an intro, but the Washington Post's lede on Judgement House is pretty vivid:

SOUDERTON, Pa. — She stepped into the pitch-dark room, illuminated only by eerie flames, as the sound of moans and shrieks rose over the ominous music. A hooded figure, dressed in black, leapt from the darkness to hiss in her ear.
Shadeilyz Castro burst into tears.
When the shaken 10-year-old left the room, clinging to her aunt, she was not talking about witches or goblins — she was talking about the Bible. "I have to read it more," Shadeilyz said. "With my brother. I have to talk to him. He doesn’t read it much."
Judgement House did its job.

The Post, in turn, does a more-than-decent job of telling the literally torturous story of Judgement House programs -- "all sorts of earthly tortures (kidnapping, child abuse, drug abuse, a hidden pregnancy)" -- through the lens of Immanuel Leidy’s Church, near Philadelphia. It's intense, maybe shocking -- and a bit flawed -- but not cynical.

The last is not unimportant: This topic is ripe for ridicule, if the reporter is so inclined. But WaPo tells the story, quotes the people on their feelings, and rejects the usual "trip to the zoo" contempt of many secular media:

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Question for reporters, politicos and citizens: Is it dangerous to talk about religion?

Question for reporters, politicos and citizens: Is it dangerous to talk about religion?

Several years ago, I took what I thought was a liberal course of action on a day when Facebook users were signaling, or shouting, their political and cultural views at one another. I changed the banner photo on my page to a red, white and blue semi-flag image that contained the text of the First Amendment.

Trigger warning: Here is that text again.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

At that point something interesting happened. I received several emails and messages, including several from former students, accusing me of hate speech for waving, so to speak, the First Amendment flag. It was clear, they said, that I did this to promote religious liberty.

What they were saying was perfectly captured the other day in a "Peaceful Coexistence" document released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This document played a key role in my "On Religion" column this week, as well as the latest GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

The bottom line: The commission argued that "civil rights" now trump the First Amendment. As I noted in my column:

The commission stressed: "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."
In a quote that went viral online, commission chair Martin Castro added: "The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance."

Castro added:

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News in the 2015 Southern Baptist statistics: Baptisms, babies and crucial ethnic churches

News in the 2015 Southern Baptist statistics: Baptisms, babies and crucial ethnic churches

As you would expect, reading the Religious News Service story about the continuing decline in Southern Baptist Convention membership statistics is rather different than reading the Baptist Press feature on the same trends.

This is exactly as it should be, since one is a secular wire service and the other is a denominational press office. However, it's interesting to note that neither of these stories buried the bad-news lede and both included interesting secondary issues that could point toward important news angles in the future.

Truth is, the slow decline of the SBC is several news stories rolled up into one.

Let's look at the very short RNS story first, starting with the hard-news lede:

(RNS) The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, but it continues to lose members and baptize fewer people each year.
The latest statistics, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources from church reports, show membership has dropped by more than 204,000, down 1.3 percent to 15.3 million members in 2015. It’s the ninth year in a row there has been a membership decline. Baptisms, which have declined eight of the last 10 years, totaled 295,212, a 3.3 percent drop, researchers said Tuesday (June 7).

So what is happening here? For starters the RNS report notes that another doctrinally conservative denomination -- the charismatic Assemblies of God -- experienced some growth in 2015.

This raises questions about the "Why?" element in this news story.

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