Manhattan

Bad vibrations: Riverside Church war offers perfect case study of @NYPost vs. @NYTimes

Bad vibrations: Riverside Church war offers perfect case study of @NYPost vs. @NYTimes

This certainly was not your typical media storm about a Baylor University graduate who achieved fame in the ministry by heading to Washington, D.C., and then to New York City.

However, the fall of the Rev. Amy Butler from the high pulpit of of Manhattan’s world-famous Riverside Church offers readers a classic journalism case study illustrating the differences between New York Post readers and New York Times readers. It’s also educational to note that the religious themes in this controversy played little or no role in either report.

Starting with a classic A1 headline, the Post editors knew what would zap readers awake while reading in their subway cars:

The reason for her ouster is far more stimulating than any sermon this pastor could have delivered.

The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, the first woman to lead Manhattan’s famed Riverside Church, lost her lofty post amid complaints that she brought ministers and a congregant on a sex toy shopping spree and then gave one of them an unwanted vibrator as a birthday gift, The Post has learned.

On May 15, Butler allegedly took two Riverside assistant ministers and a female congregant to a sex shop in Minneapolis called the Smitten Kitten, during a religious conference, according to sources familiar with the out-of-town shopping excursion.

At the store, the pastor bought a $200 bunny-shaped blue vibrator called a Beaded Rabbit for one minister — a single mom of two who was celebrating her 40th birthday — as well as more pleasure gadgets for the congregant and herself, sources said. The female minister didn’t want the sex toy, but accepted it because she was scared not to, sources said.

The great Gray Lady, on the other hand, knew that the readers in its choir would want a story rooted in sexism, patriarchy and workplace politics. The headline, as you would imagine, was a bit more restrained: “Pastor’s Exit Exposes Cultural Rifts at a Leading Liberal Church.”

The sex toys angle made it into the Times story, with a nod to Post coverage, but readers had to wait a few extra paragraphs to find that angle. Here’s the overture:

When the Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler was hired to lead Riverside Church in Manhattan in 2014, she was hailed as a rising star, the first woman to join a distinguished line of pastors at one of the pre-eminent progressive Protestant congregations in the United States.

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Terror in Lower Manhattan: On the second day, news coverage of religion questions remains strong

Terror in Lower Manhattan: On the second day, news coverage of religion questions remains strong

In GetReligion's initial post on news coverage of the terror attack in Lower Manhattan, tmatt noted that "journalists appear to be asking the big religion questions early and often."

This is, he pointed out, a welcome change from how news organizations used to approach such stories.

In looking at some of the second-day reports on the suspect — Sayfullo Saipov — that positive trend continues.

The key second-day New York Times story on Saipov is strong.

Some of the crucial facts up high:

As with any attack like this, there is no single reason Mr. Saipov reportedly decided to kill innocents, mostly tourists enjoying a blustery fall day, 56 degrees with blue skies. He had come to the United States as a moderate Muslim with dreams of making it. He married another Uzbek immigrant and fathered three children. But life did not work out the way Mr. Saipov had wanted. He could not find a job in the hotel business, in which he had worked back home. He developed a violent temper. He lost jobs. An imam in Florida worried that Mr. Saipov increasingly misinterpreted Islam.
“I used to tell him: ‘Hey, you are too much emotional. Read books more. Learn your religion first,’” said Abdul, the imam, who did not want his last name used because he feared reprisals. “He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community.”
In Tashkent, Mr. Saipov grew up in a well-off family who practiced traditional Islam and never embraced extremism, the Uzbek government said on Wednesday. His neighbors there said Mr. Saipov never raised suspicions and “always carried himself in a measured and friendly way,” according to the government statement. He never crossed paths with the police.

Keep reading, the Times offers more insightful background — this from his time in Ohio:

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Terror in Lower Manhattan: Reporters started asking religion questions early and often

Terror in Lower Manhattan: Reporters started asking religion questions early and often

It's a tragic reality that, over the years, I've had many, many opportunities to spot patterns in the questions asked by news consumers in the hours right after an act of terrorism here in America or somewhere else in the world.

I used to notice a common theme in complaints found in reader comments (and in notes sent to your GetReligionistas): Lots of people complained, often with good cause, that journalists seemed to go out of their way to bury information about religion, and Islam in particular. This often meant ignoring the testimony of eyewitnesses (click here for some examples).

But somewhere along the line, things changed. If you scan the coverage of yesterday's truck-terror attack in Lower Manhattan, it's clear that many reporters jumped straight into questions that must be asked in each and every story of this kind. Who was the attacker (that includes the name)? Where did this attacker come from? Was there evidence of motive, in word or deed? Did the attacker act alone? Is there evidence of ties to radical religious or political groups?

Obviously, readers around the world headed straight to The New York Times after this attack. We are talking location, location, location and resources.

If you are looking for the basics, including details about religion, it's hard to complain about this early report. (So far, I have found one potentially significant detail in another report that is not in this Times story, and I'll come back to that.) Here is the Times overture:

A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001.
The rampage ended when the motorist -- whom the police identified as Sayfullo Saipov, 29 -- smashed into a school bus, jumped out of his truck and ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before he was shot in the abdomen by the officer. He remained in critical condition on Tuesday evening.

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You think? There may be faith angles in all those stories about fading flocks in urban America

You think? There may be faith angles in all those stories about fading flocks in urban America

Frankly, it's one of the biggest religion-news stories in America these days.

You are going to be reading these news stories over and over in newspapers from New York City to Los Angeles and every major urban area in between. Thousands of people are involved, along with millions and millions of dollars.

We are talking about prime urban real estate -- specifically the sale of land (and sometimes the reuse of facilities) belonging to dying churches, synagogues and other religious institutions.

News organizations have to cover these stories, of course. It's an old doctrine of news, as well as real estate: Location, location, location. The question is whether editors and reporters will be interested in the totally valid religion-news angles in these stories, as well as the financial ones.

Yes, it's valid to focus these stories on newsy questions like: What happens next, in terms of the people and the properties? Who gets the money? What happens to the art, pipe organs, pews, altars, burial chambers and other items inside these sacred spaces?

However, journalists may also want to ask these kinds of questions: Why are some urban churches -- take New York City, for example -- closing while others are not? Why are there thriving churches in urban areas, while others are dying? Why do some have lots of members, converts and new children, while others do not? Might there be religious factors at play here, as well as relevant "secular" factors? Might demographics and doctrine be linked?

OK, I'll ask another question that some readers may be thinking: Do your GetReligionistas plan to keep noting these faith-shaped holes in all these real-estate stories, over and over and over? Good question: I think the answer is still "yes."

The New York Times recently covered religious real-estate issues in a pair of unrelated stories that ran August 6-7. Here is the overture to the first one, that ran with the headline, "Struggling to Survive, Congregations Look to Sell Houses of Worship."

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News angles abound, as Evangelicalism’s unlikely missionary to Manhattan leaves his pulpit

News angles abound, as Evangelicalism’s unlikely missionary to Manhattan leaves his pulpit

On February 26, the Rev. Timothy Keller, 66, announced to parishioners at eight Sunday services that he’ll retire July 1 as the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller is no publicity-seeking celebrity preacher, but if U.S. evangelicals were to create a Mount Rushmore Keller’s carved visage would deserve a place.

So far as The Religion Guy can discover, national media and even reporters in Keller’s own town didn’t cover this milestone, so there’s ample room for follow-ups. A good place to begin research would be solid features in The New York Times (2006) and New York Magazine (2009).

When Keller began Redeemer with a handful of people in 1989, a Manhattan mission startup was considered so dicey that two prior candidates had rejected the job offer. Keller seemed an odd choice because his only pastoral experience was in far different Hopewell, Va. Moreover, latitudinarian “mainline” Protestantism would have seemed far more marketable in Gotham than the strict orthodoxy of Keller’s Presbyterian Church in America. Yet eventually thousands of young professionals were flocking to Redeemer each Sunday.

Significant themes reporters could pursue: While many evangelical congregations have forsaken downtown for the ease of suburbia, Redeemer offers dramatic proof that city centers are not only spiritually hungry places but that biblical conservatism can thrive there under the right conditions. Against stereotypes of evangelicalism, Redeemer members volunteer time and donations with 40 organizations to help society’s marginalized, and Keller shuns Religious Right politicking and pulpit-pounding, offering instead calm, content-rich sermons. Explore this link, for example.

Then this: While many congregations sit on their successes, Redeemer is all about fostering new congregations, including ones in New York City that could provide competition.

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'Kellerism' case on the conservative -- even Chick-fil-A eating -- side of news business?

'Kellerism' case on the conservative -- even Chick-fil-A eating -- side of news business?

Every now and then, I hear from a GetReligion reader who asks a variation on the following question: "How come you never write about cases of Kellerism in conservative media?"

Note that -- if you follow the logic of this statement -- the assumption is that we are constantly writing about examples of Kellerism (click here and here for the roots of this GetReligion term) in "liberal" media.

Actually, our goal here is to write about news coverage in mainstream media. So by definition, "Kellerism" is when mainstream newsrooms publish stories about controversial issues -- almost always about issues of religion, morality or culture -- and do little or nothing to fairly and accurately represent the views of one side in the debate, which the editors have clearly decided in advance is wrong.

Thus, you can't have Kellerism in an op-ed column, an editorial essay or a story in an advocacy publication like The New Republic, Rolling Stone or at MSNBC.com (unless they run an Associated Press report, or similar material). The same thing is true on the political and cultural right. When I ask upset readers to send me URLs for their "conservative" Kellerism nominees, they always send me commentary items from Fox News, National Review, the op-ed pages at The Washington Times or similar locations.

I tell them the same thing I tell conservative readers who are complaining about "bias" in editorials on the left: Commentary writers and scribes in advocacy newsrooms are PAID to openly slant their coverage. This is why their organizations exist.

However, the other day I saw a mainstream Associated Press story (origins at The Daily News in Murfreesboro, Tenn.) that covered what I am sure would have been a controversial event for many readers in America. It's safe to say that some readers considered this story offensive, especially since it took place in a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

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How to fix children's Sunday school? Get rid of the Bible, Wall Street Journal reports

How to fix children's Sunday school? Get rid of the Bible, Wall Street Journal reports

At my home congregation in Oklahoma, a dedicated volunteer named Mrs. Camey has taught the kindergarten Sunday school class for two-plus decades.

After 12 months in Mrs. Camey's class, these kindergartners — typically 25 to 30 of them — can recite all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, name the 12 apostles and tell you the fruits of the Spirit (giggling when their teacher teasingly asks if these fruits include oranges and pineapples).

Most Sundays, Mrs. Camey will read a story to these 5- and 6-year-olds straight from the Bible — and then they'll use colorful markers, scissors and glue to make a craft that helps them remember that week's lesson. About midway through the year, the children will start thumbing through their own Bibles to locate various books with the help of Mrs. Camey and her two teaching assistants.

In late July, after 12 spiritually rewarding months in Mrs. Camey's class, these students will don caps and gowns and graduate to the first grade — and a new group of kindergartners will arrive the next Sunday morning to start the process all over again.

My church's experience — with the kindergarten class and other grade levels — is a far cry from what I read about in a recent Wall Street Journal story.

As best I can tell, this Journal feature makes the case for improving Sunday school by, um, eliminating the Bible.

Go ahead and read the lede, and tell me if my synopsis is an exaggeration:

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Nostalgia time for the Religion Guy, with observations from an American town

Nostalgia time for the Religion Guy, with observations from an American town

This Memo, more personal than others posted by the Religion Guy, scans a nostalgia-drenched week that demonstrated several American trends.

First, hundreds of alums marked the end of the Time and Life Building as the Time Inc. magazines move to lower Manhattan, due to cost-cutting that afflicts all print media. 

Then there was a visit to hometown Endicott, New York, for the 100th anniversary of Union-Endicott High School. This American village of 13,392 typifies the hollowing out of U.S. industry, and religious phenomena seen elsewhere. 

Background: The Endicott Johnson Corporation, now defunct, was once the nation’s biggest or one of its biggest shoe manufacturers. E.J. fended off union organizers with medical services and other remarkable “square deal” benefits given line workers, many of them Americanizing immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe. International Business Machines, all but vanished locally, originated in Endicott and had major operations there through much of the 20th Century.

Endicott was incorporated in 1906 and later absorbed the older town of Union. The reigning Johnson family gave the land for First Methodist Church to build in 1902, the Religion Guy’s own First Baptist Church in 1905, and the original Catholic parish, St. Ambrose, in 1908. The Johnsons also donated the Baptists’ pipe organ, still in use, and provided many other community services.

The Guy’s boyhood village was roughly half Catholic and half Protestant, with a high invisible wall between. The ecumenism fostered soon afterward by the Second Vatican Council was virtually non-existent.

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Talking Trump & God, in a tall building in the Big Apple that Trump doesn't own

Talking Trump & God, in a tall building in the Big Apple that Trump doesn't own

So are you had your fill of talking about God and Donald Trump?

I realize that I wrote an "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate about the alleged armies of evangelicals who think The Donald is the candidate blessed by God to get this nation back on the path to something or another, something EPIC, something GREAT, again.

Then we did a GetReligion podcast on this subject (click here to listen) and then I turned around and backed that with a GetReligion post offering more background. It was all pretty shameless.

Then I came to New York City to spend two weeks teaching at The King's College, the home of the rebooted version of the full-semester student journalism program that I ran for years in Washington, D.C. We are at Broadway and Wall Street and, thus, around a corner or two from, you got it, the Trump Building in lower Manhattan.

Right, but there hadn't really been a GetReligion-linked exploration of Trump and God that included lots of '70s dance music and one-liners. In other words, early this week I hopped on the R train and headed to the Empire State Building to spend an hour with my friend Eric Metaxas on his national radio show.

Want to listen? Click right here.

This was right after Metaxas -- a very funny man in a Yale University sort of way -- bombarded Twitter with all kinds of jokes riffing on what the Bible would sound like if Trump had written it.

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