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American Muslims and guns: The New York Times bursts some stereotypes

American Muslims and guns: The New York Times bursts some stereotypes

Rarely do photographers put together religion stories, but the New York Times just came out with a piece on gun-owning American Muslims that truly stands out.

Egyptian documentary photographer Amr Alfiky, together with Adeel Hassan, who writes for a Times newsletter on race, assembled vignettes on nine such Muslims in Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma and northern Virginia.

It’s the kind of piece that definitely stands stereotypes on their heads. The familiar surroundings (the local gym, the tree-lined neighborhood streets, a university library) in which these folks are photographed convey the idea they could be us.

What these Muslims want to say in this story is they are us. As for the Second Amendment,  they own it.

American Muslims ... say they own guns for the same reasons as anyone else: for protection, for hunting and sport shooting, for gun and rifle collections or for their work.

They also cite another factor: fear of persecution, at a time when hate crimes against Muslims have soared to their highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But owning a gun is no assurance of security. Muslim gun owners are viewed with suspicion by gun stores, ranges and clubs, and occasionally met with harassment. ... Gun ranges and gun shops in several states have declared themselves “Muslim-free zones.”

Guess I had no idea such thing existed. Then again, I googled "Muslims and guns" and saw non-stop images of ISIS, jihad, you-name-it.

What the Times is offering is a whole different side of God and guns.

One gun range owner in Arkansas, Jan Morgan, gained national attention in 2014 when her business was one of the first to declare a ban on Muslims. (She used her newfound prominence to run for governor, losing in the Republican primary last month.)

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God, guns and grace: Sun Myung Moon's sons put their spin on dad's religion

God, guns and grace: Sun Myung Moon's sons put their spin on dad's religion

One of the benefits of working at the Washington Times –- as I did for more than 14 years -– was watching the soap opera that was the family of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, which through its subsidiaries owned the Times.

Not that I ever got to see much of Moon's 14 children. But I sure heard about them, especially when their infighting led to massive budget cuts at the Times in 2009.

One of the older daughters and several of the sons all had similar Korean names (which were anglicized to Preston, Sean, Justin and Tatiana), but it was clear they all had designs on their father’s vast empire.

It was also clear they were going to reinvent the theology that undergirded the Unification movement and create their own religion. What sort of religion that may be comes out in a recent Washington Post Magazine piece on a church pastored by one of the younger sons; a church that encourages members to bring automatic rifles to church services. (By the way, I've also written for the same magazine rather recently). 

Sanctuary Church — whose proper name is World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, but which also goes by the more muscular-sounding Rod of Iron Ministries — stands inconspicuously on a country road that winds through the village of Newfoundland, Pa., 25 miles southeast of Scranton. The one-story, low-slung building used to be St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Before that, it was a community theater, which is why there are no pews, only a semicircle of tiered seats facing the old stage, now an altar.

On a Sunday morning in late February, 38-year-old Pastor Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, entered stage right wearing a white hoodie and cargo pants…One tenet of the Sanctuary Church is that all people are independent kings and queens in God’s Kingdom — a kind of don’t-tread-on-me notion of personal sovereignty. Hence, symbolic gold and silver crowns bobbed on row after row of heads.

Anyone who’s watched any Unification Church ceremonies knows these folks seem to have a fixation with robes and crowns. Sean Moon wears a literal crown of golden rifle shells. Photos show a congregation in white robes and scarves with guns cradled in their arms. 

A key pillar of Sanctuary dogma is the importance of owning a gun, particularly the lethal, lightweight AR-15 semiautomatic, which the National Rifle Association has proclaimed “the most popular rifle in America.” Last fall, Pastor Sean had studied the Book of Revelation. It makes multiple references to how Christ one day will rule his earthly kingdom “with a rod of iron.” Although Revelation was written long before the advent of firearms, Pastor Sean concluded that “rod of iron” was Bible-speak for the AR-15 and that Christ, not being a “tyrant,” will need armed sovereigns to help him keep the peace in his kingdom.

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NRA dog whistles? Israeli paper's charges have impacted American Jewish debate on guns

NRA dog whistles? Israeli paper's charges have impacted American Jewish debate on guns

The recent Florida school shooting has propelled the gun issue to the forefront of the American political drama. It's also grabbed considerable attention in Israel -- providing a lesson in how news outlets with international followings can quickly influence distant debates in our online age.

It also casts light on how a diaspora population -- in this case American Jews -- can be moved by media opinion originating in a nation, despite its distance, with which they have an historical religious or ethnic bond.

So just how did Israeli media become part of the American gun control debate?

Electrifying charges have been appearing in Israeli news media claiming that the National Rifle Association, and its Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in particular, has subtlety employed anti-Semitic code language to rally pro-gun partisans.

Israel’s leading liberal newspaper Haaretz has led the way.

Two of its columnists, as of this writing, have bluntly asserted that LaPierre used subtle anti-Semitic language -- “dog whistles” is the common term -- in his speech at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference gathering.

Let me stress: No such charges of NRA anti-Semitism has shown up in mainstream American media reports on LaPierre’s speech.

That's understandable. Mainstream American media are loath to cast such dispersions unless it's blatantly obvious, which in this case cannot be stated unequivocally. Here, for example, is how The New York Times played the story.

American Jewish media are another matter. They display the same sensitivity toward hints of anti-Semitism as their Israeli counterparts. Within a news cycle or two after the Haaretz columns appeared, similar pieces started to appear in liberal American Jewish media.

Some needed background.

It's easy for Jews to detect even subtle anti-Semitism after centuries of overt Jew-blaming and killing. Plus, American Jews, are general liberal on domestic issues, vote Democratic, and overwhelmingly favor tougher gun controls.

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Thoughts and prayers vs. reality: New York Times offers a Rosetta Stone for gun-control news

Thoughts and prayers vs. reality: New York Times offers a Rosetta Stone for gun-control news

While working my way through what became the farewell to Billy Graham week (which will continue as the funeral approaches), I kept watching the tsunami of press coverage linked to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Frankly, I have been stunned. Faithful GetReligion readers will know that I back many forms of gun control that would infuriate the cultural right. (This is simplistic, but I would like to see guns treated like cars, controlled with a training-testing-license formula. Also, I'm from hunting-crazy Texas, but I don't see why civilians need military level hardware.)

What has stunned me is the degree to which some on the left (think CNN) seem determined to destroy any hope for serious compromise. Please read this David French commentary for one view of where all of this screaming could take us.

What does this have to do with religion and religion-news coverage?

Well, check out this New York Times story that ran several days ago under the headline: "Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat."

As you read it, please ask yourself this question: Is this a news story?

I have been checking, day after day, to see if the principalities and powers at the Times have retroactively put an "Analysis" or even "Commentary" label on this piece. They have not.

If this is a news story (I think it is reported commentary and it should have been labeled as such), then I think it can be considered a kind of Rosetta Stone that media critics of all kinds can use to help break down and interpret much of the "reporting" that is being done linked to this torrid debate.

Once again, we see a basic journalistic formula that can be summarized as "thoughts and prayers" Americans vs. rational Americans who don't want to see students slaughtered.

Think about that. Might there be people out there who believe in the power of prayer, but who also want to see gun-control compromises take place (as well as discussions of mental health, the side effects of many medications, school security improvements, etc.) in this trouble land of ours?

Let me state this as a basic journalism question: If compromise is going to happen -- real change -- then wouldn't it be important to find voices in the middle of the armed camps on the cultural left and right?

Now, with that as prologue, what is happening in this Times sermon?

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'Jesus is not a member of the NRA,' Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014

'Jesus is not a member of the NRA,' Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014

"Jesus is not a member of the NRA."

Of all the words said by all the experts who spoke on all the panels at the information-packed Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting this weekend in the Atlanta area, those may be the most memorable.

Journalists, after all, know a good soundbite when they hear one.

That explains why both religion writers for The New York Times and many of their colleagues tweeted the NRA quote, which came during a session on "God and Guns" at 

Given the number of firearm deaths in America, all five panelists seemed confident that Jesus wouldn't be out advocating for his right to own a gun.

What did the other side — people of faith who oppose gun control efforts — have to say? That was the awkward part. That side was not represented on the panel.

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