Mother Jones

Is Lucy McBath the new religious star of the Democratic Party?

Is Lucy McBath the new religious star of the Democratic Party?

Unless you live in Georgia, you probably don’t know who Lucy McBath is. Yet, she is the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s 6th congressional district, facing incumbent Karen Handel.

On July 24, she beat another Democrat to be the party's nominee. She has an appealing story and several publications have tried to tell it. But only one mentioned her faith, and that was Mother Jones.

When CNN did a piece on her, there was no mention of her faith. Neither did the Washington Post nor did the Atlantic. So here’s what Mother Jones ran.

On a Friday morning in December, a freak storm has sent snow billowing down the wide streets of Marietta, Georgia. But despite icy roads and an accident-related traffic jam near her house, Lucy McBath comes walking through the ’50s-style double doors of the Marietta Diner, a smile spread across her face.

As she settles into a booth beneath Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling, it’s clear no storm will stop her. “I have 100 percent security in the fact that God will lead me where I need to be,” she tells me. “I will continue to go through any door that he opens for me because that will allow me to make the best and the most important impact for serving people.”

The past five years of McBath’s life have been a series of doors opened by a terrible tragedy. The day after Thanksgiving in 2012, her 17-year-old son was shot while sitting in a car with a group of friends at a gas station following a dispute with another driver over the volume of the teens’ music. The gunman, a 45-year-old white man named Michael Dunn, fired 10 shots at the teenagers. Jordan Davis was hit three times. His best friend tried to pull him away from the gunfire, but Jordan’s body just fell into his lap. He died at the scene.

The teens were black, and the shooting happened nine months after another black teen, Trayvon Martin, was gunned down by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, causing national outrage. The week after Jordan’s death, McBath’s ex-husband got a text from Trayvon’s father: “I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in.”

A deeply religious woman, McBath spent the next year seeking justice for the son she had named for a biblical crossing of the Jordan River.

What’s fascinating about this woman is how her grief helped her to become a national spokeswoman against gun violence. In 2015, she appeared in a documentary co-starring a conservative evangelical Protestant minister.

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Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Catholicity wasn't a huge factor in first-day coverage

Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Catholicity wasn't a huge factor in first-day coverage

Well, there was no lack of faith talk during President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday of his Supreme Court justice pick, and all of it was perfectly normal.

We heard the name of the Catholic parish nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends and the fact that he coaches a Catholic Youth Organization basketball team. We heard a little bit about his inspirational Georgetown educational ties.

The bottom line: I wondered why the nominee was so upfront about his faith. Some media outlets picked this up, but a lot did not.

Mother Jones got the same impression I did in an intriguing piece about the nominee's subliminal efforts to appeal to the social justice crowd.

Kavanaugh’s speech diverged from his predecessors in one key aspect: extensive reference to his Catholic faith, including a special shout-out to one of Washington, DC’s most beloved religious leaders, Monsignor John Enzler. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who attended the same Jesuit high school as Kavanaugh, vaguely thanked “my family, my friends and my faith” but failed to mention his Catholic upbringing when he accepted Trump’s nomination last year. Neither did Chief Justice John RobertsJustice Sonia Sotomayor, or Justice Clarence Thomas in their first remarks as nominees. Not even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a proudly devout Catholic who counted a priest among his sons, mentioned religion during his swearing-in ceremony.

Kavanaugh brought up Catholicism at several points in his 857-word speech, but reserved special attention for John Enzler, known as “Father John,” a legend in DC Catholic circles. 

America Magazine, with its Jesuit ties, offered the best summary of the nominee’s Catholic bonafides: 

During his remarks, Mr. Kavanaugh highlighted his Catholic faith and Jesuit connections.

 “The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘men for others,’” Mr. Kavanaugh said, referencing Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he graduated in 1983. “I have tried to live that creed.”


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Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Trying to dissect the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to religiously minded employers to cut birth control from their health plans is like tackling an elephant. But one has to start somewhere.

Just for review, we have covered this topic before here, here and here

As I scanned various articles on the topic, I noticed how few articles explained why some people and employers have religious objections to contraceptives. Do those in the media think we know these reasons already, so it’s no using re-explaining them? In other words, how do you understand this story without talking to people in the faith-based schools and ministries that are at the heart of the decision?

The most cogent piece was from the Atlantic:

Faced with setbacks on the legislative front, the Trump administration is going it alone on taking apart the Affordable Care Act piecemeal.
On Friday, the administration made one of its boldest moves yet, with two memos from multiple agencies that would dramatically curtail women’s access to birth control through their employers. The new regulations, effective immediately, would exempt all employers and insurers from covering or paying for coverage of contraceptives if they object “based on its sincerely held religious beliefs,” or have other “moral convictions” against covering such care.

 Mind you, this is not all employers, but it is those who have religious objections to it contraceptives being included in their employee health coverage. We’re talking about 71 companies here, according to Mother Jones.

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Mike Pence will not meet alone with a woman, so the online left flips out?

Mike Pence will not meet alone with a woman, so the online left flips out?

When does a rather ordinary news profile turn into a mass-media panic?

Apparently, when it’s in a Washington Post feature about Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence.

I covered this two days ago in that finally -- after zillions of fawning pieces about Hillary and Michelle -- a major newspaper had profiled the Second Lady. I had no idea that one sentence in the story would create a Twitter mob scene. Part way down the story, a Post reporter mentioned that Mike Pence has a policy of never dining alone with a woman nor attending an event where alcohol is served without Karen by his side.

Ka-boom. The mockery began.

Social media went nuts, excoriating Pence for being such a Neanderthal and worse. There were references to sharia law, for example. BBC asked: “Are Mike Pence’s Dining Habits Chivalrous or Sexist?” Clara Jeffery, editor of Mother Jones, fired off at least 15 angry tweets on the topic during a period of high dudgeon on Wednesday afternoon. Naturally, The Onion weighed in

Jezebel.com had something so unprintable, I’m declining to link to it. Guess I get tired of media slinging the F-bomb around like it’s candy from a parade. That was pretty common during this Twitter tsunami.

The comments cascaded to a point that the Post did two pieces solely on reaction to the article. Gotta make click-bait hay while the digital sun shines. 

Here's the original Tweet:

 

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Sold on sanctuary: Most journalists giving decent coverage to grassroots movement

Sold on sanctuary: Most journalists giving decent coverage to grassroots movement

The drama surrounding President Donald Trump’s immigration policies hasn’t died down as thousands –- or millions -- of illegal immigrants figure out what to do next.

Like a phoenix out of ashes, the once obscure sanctuary movement has sprung back to life in churches and networks of religious activists.

Several publications have been visiting churches that have decided to host illegal immigrants in their basements, much like some were doing in the 1980s to asylum seekers from the killing fields of Guatemala or El Salvador. I first reported on the uptick in coverage in November.

The movement briefly stirred back to life in 2007 near the end of the George W. Bush years and I wrote about it in a four-part series for the Washington Times. A lot of the energy in the current movement seems centered on the West Coast. What I wrote about the movement in Seattle sounds eerily the same now that the Seattle Times is covering it 10 years later. As I read their recent piece, some of the same folks I interviewed a decade ago are still involved:

With President Donald Trump’s new policies prioritizing millions for deportation, people who entered the country illegally are feeling an urgent need to get their affairs in order. And their advocates want to help.
El Centro de la Raza (in Seattle’s Beacon Hill district), catering primarily to Latinos with services such as preschool and a food bank, is holding daily walk-in sessions like this one through March 4 to help people draw up emergency plans.
Houses of worship are also preparing to step in, readying their buildings as safe havens. In Los Angeles, religious leaders are going so far as to form an underground network of private homes to try to hide families. ...
The Church Council of Greater Seattle has been reaching out to its 320 member congregations, as well as to local synagogues and mosques, to explore ways to support immigrants and refugees. That could include providing “long-term hospitality,” said Executive Director Michael Ramos.
While those conversations are just beginning, he said, “The energy is high.”

One of the religious groups involved in the Seattle effort is the Episcopal Church, including St. Mark’s Cathedral, pictured with this article.

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Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

It’s been about three weeks since Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and we’re no closer to figuring out what makes him tick, spiritually. However, there have been a few jabs at trying to gauge the spiritual temperature of his family's parish in downtown Boulder, Colo..

The most aggressive reporting has been by a British outlet, the Daily Mail, whose reporters have shown up at Gorsuch’s parish, St. John’s Episcopal. The Mail has also been sniffing about Oxford University (pictured above), which is where Gorsuch apparently became an Anglican during his studies there. It was also where he met his future wife Marie Louise. Her family is Anglican and the Mail explains that all here and here.

Very clever of them to nail down his wife’s British background and that of her family and to have interviewed Gorsuch’s stepmother in Denver.

They too see a dissonance in Gorsuch’s purported conservative views and the church he attends:. 

He has been described as 'the heir to Scalia' and is a religious conservative whose appointment to the Supreme Court was greeted with jubilation on the pro-gun, anti-abortion Right.
But DailyMail.com can reveal that Neil Gorsuch's own church, in Boulder, Colorado, is a hotbed of liberal thinking -- and is led by a pastor who proudly attended the anti-Trump Women's March in Denver the day after the President's inauguration.
Another member of the clergy at St. John's Episcopal Church is outspoken about the need for gun control, and helped organize opposition to a gun shop giveaway of high-capacity magazines in the run-up to a 2013 law that banned them from the state of Colorado…
And in a twist that may surprise religious conservatives who welcomed Gorsuch's appointment, church leader Rev. Susan Springer, 58, has said she is pro-gay marriage and offers blessings to same sex couples.

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Reporting Betsy DeVos: Journalists can't seem to get a handle on details of her faith

Reporting Betsy DeVos: Journalists can't seem to get a handle on details of her faith

Betsy DeVos, who President Donald Trump has nominated to be education secretary, will be voted on Tuesday by a Senate committee. She has never been a household word in America and neither have her Calvinist roots, which have been tripping journalists up ever since she was nominated. 

Can this woman, who’s been an advocate of private Christian education and who’s never attended public school (nor have her children), be the new education secretary? A lot of people think not, including 700 students and alumni at Calvin College, her alma mater, according to this Washington Post piece. Others point out that former President Barack Obama never attended public school, either. 

In 2013, Philanthropy Roundtable interviewed her about school reform in a piece that didn’t mention Calvinism or her faith at all. But once she was nominated, everyone was suddenly intensely curious about her beliefs.

Is it true that she wants America’s schools to build “God’s kingdom,” as alleged in a Mother Jones piece? Or is the general media hyperventilating about DeVos’s 15-year-old comments, as our own Bobby Ross asked in December regarding a piece in Politico? 

Politico has circled back to write more on DeVos and even claims some expertise on the nominee as evidenced by the presence of one of its reporters on this talk show. But they've got some major blind spots as to any decent qualities this woman might have. Even the New York Times is saying that she's been sympathetic to gay marriage all along -- a factoid that Politico completely missed.

So, let’s turn to this lengthy profile which has the headline “How Betsy DeVos used God and Amway to take over Michigan politics.”

On election night 2006, Dick DeVos, the bronzed, starched 51-year-old scion of Michigan’s wealthiest family, paced to a lectern in the dim ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in Lansing to deliver the speech that every candidate dreads.
The Michigan gubernatorial race that year had been a dogfight of personal attacks between DeVos, the Republican nominee, and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. Gloomy, bleached-out b-roll of shuttered factories in anti-Granholm ads made the governor’s sunny economic promise that “You’re gonna be blown away” sound less like an aspiration than a threat. Anti-DeVos ads cut closer to the bone, with one depicting a cartoon DeVos cheering a freighter hauling Michigan jobs to China. It was an unsubtle reference to DeVos’ time as president of Amway, the direct-sales behemoth his family co-founded and co-owns, when he eliminated jobs in Michigan while expanding dramatically in Asia. DeVos ended up personally spending $35 million on the race—the most expensive campaign in Michigan history—and when the votes came in, lost by a crushing 14 points.

Then it zeroes in on the wife.

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Media report a spike in anti-Muslim crime since San Bernardino — where's the hard data?

Media report a spike in anti-Muslim crime since San Bernardino — where's the hard data?

If you follow the news, you've probably seen a headline or two — or 50 — proclaiming that anti-Muslim crime has spiked since the San Bernardino massacre. Similar reports followed the Paris attacks.

The narrative of a backlash against Muslims makes sense, of course, given the Islamic extremist ties to last week's California massacre and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's strong rhetoric.

But from a journalistic perspective, where is the hard data? 

As #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches trended on Twitter back in July, we urged caution in the reporting:

A half-dozen church fires in such a short period sounds like a lot. But is it really? Journalists must be sure to put the fires — and the number of them — in context.

A similar dose of discretion would seem appropriate in the case of anti-Muslim incidents.

Instead, many journalists seem to be quite comfortable equating anecdotal evidence with a solid trend.

Take the Los Angeles Times, for instance:

Attacks on mosques appear to have become more frequent and threats against Muslims more menacing since the terrorist attacks in Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino.
“A pigs head at a mosque in Philadelphia, a girl harassed at a school in New York, hate mail sent to a New Jersey mosque … I can’t event count the amount of hate mail and threats we have received,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

The defining moment of my journalism career came 20 years ago when I stepped off The Oklahoman's eighth-floor newsroom elevator, heard a loud boom and saw smoke in the distance.

Suddenly, my Oklahoman colleagues and I found ourselves covering the biggest story of our lives, even as we joined our community in shedding tears over an unfathomable tragedy.

In all, 168 people lost their lives in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

I am reminded of the personal and professional turmoil of that time as I follow the exceptional local coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

Mother Jones suggests that Charleston's hometown newspaper is "putting awful cable news to shame." 

I can't vouch for that because I don't, as a rule, turn on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. I know you're jealous of me. (I do enjoy the excellent reporting and writing of CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke, as I've mentioned before.)

But this part of what Mother Jones says rings true to my experience:

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