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Friday Five: March Madness miracle, faith at the movies, newspaper layoffs and more

Friday Five: March Madness miracle, faith at the movies, newspaper layoffs and more

Go ahead and enjoy the video.

It's MercyMe's official music video for the "I Can Only Imagine" movie, which opens in theaters nationwide today.

Speaking of which, USA Today has an interesting story on how that song became the biggest Christian single ever (selling 2.5 million copies) and inspired the movie.

Promoters showed the trailer at the Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., last fall, and it looks interesting. The film stars Dennis Quaid, who talked to Parade about finding inspiration in the real-life story.

As we dive into this week's Friday Five, we'll highlight another faith angle on a Hollywood hit.

But first, a bit of March Madness:

1. Religion story of the week: A divine 3-pointer won the game at the buzzer. That's how the Chicago Tribune characterized 11th-seeded Loyola's 64-62 upset win Thursday over No. 6 seed Miami in the NCAA Tournament.

Enter Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, whose fans include former President Barack Obama:

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As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

Buried in a new Pew Research Center poll on a broad-range of American political concerns is a finding that has the potential to radically scramble American Jewry's long association with the Democratic Party. Not surprisingly, the lightning-rod Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of this.

The finding? For the first time, it appears that Americans who are registered Democrats are as statistically likely to favor the Palestinians as they are Israel.

Ladies and gentleman, this is potentially big news -- assuming the polling is accurate.

Not because of the small number of Jewish voters who exist on a national scale relative to the overall number of registered American voters (Jews account for only about 2 percent of the entire American population).

But because of what this could mean for Jewish campaign contributions, Jewish political activism and Jewish voting in future presidential, congressional and other contests in New York, California, Florida and other states with large Jewish concentrations. (I'm referring here to non-Orthodox Jews; the 10 percent of so of American Jews who identify as Orthodox already largely support Republican politicians.) 

Political reporters at mainstream American news outlets, as far as I can tell, paid comparatively little initial attention to the survey finding. I suspect this is because of the avalanche of stories they've been producing on the outgoing Obama presidency and the incoming Trump administration.

Even Israeli and American Jewish outlets initially paid less attention to the Pew finding than I would have imagined, probably for the same reason cited just above.

Hey, religion reporters. Why not pick up the slack?

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New York Times says Pastor A.R. Bernard has evolved on marriage -- but how far?

New York Times says Pastor A.R. Bernard has evolved on marriage -- but how far?

Every decade or two, The New York Times hires a conservative columnist.

There are exceptions to the rule, but most of the time these conservative columnists are what critics refer to as "New York Times conservatives." This means that, while they may be Republicans who lean to the right on economics and global issues, they lean left on the cultural issues that really matter -- such as abortion rights and gay rights.

Is there such a thing as a "New York Times conservative" when it comes to religious leaders, and Christian clergy to be specific?

I raise this question because the Times -- in its Sunday magazine -- has produced a long profile of the Rev. A.R. Bernard, a pastor, author and civic leader who has deserved this kind of attention from the Gray Lady for a long, long time. He is an African-American megachurch star whose clout and fame has completely transcended that community label.

The Times even refers to him as smart and stylish. You can clearly sense this respect in the overture.

One Saturday in mid-September, the Rev. A. R. Bernard took to the blue carpeted stage of the Christian Cultural Center, the 96,000-square-foot megachurch he built 16 years ago at the edge of Starrett City, in Brooklyn, with his usual accouterments: a smartphone, a bottle of water and a large glass marker board that he would soon cover in bullet points drawn from the playbooks of marketing specialists. Mr. Bernard, 63, is tall and slender, and on this day he wore a distressed black leather jacket, a white polo shirt, bluejeans and white tennis shoes -- casual Saturday attire. On Sunday, you would find him impeccably tailored in a light wool suit and tortoiseshell glasses, looking more like the banker he once was than the pastor of a congregation of nearly 40,000.

So why do this piece now? Yes, Bernard has a popular self-help book out at the moment -- "Four Things Women Want From a Man." There are even hints that he is pro-monogamy. Oh my. Hold that thought.

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Digging into Islamophobia: CNN's award-winning religion editor does actual reporting

Digging into Islamophobia: CNN's award-winning religion editor does actual reporting


It's a term the news media (yes, I know they don't want to be called "the media," but I couldn't resist) seem to love.

Whereas here at GetReligion, stories on "Islamophobia" (scare quotes intentional) more often than not frustrate us. As we've mentioned before, too many of these reports follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism.

So what to make of CNN's new, in-depth piece on "The secret costs of Islamophobia" by religion editor Daniel Burke?

More on that question in a moment. But first, the opening scene:

(CNN) With Adele's song "All I Ask" playing in the background, a Maryland teenager opened her computer and wrote an emotional letter to President Barack Obama.
"I am an American, I grew up here. I say the Pledge of Allegiance every day," Aleena Khan told the President. "And yet, I am a Muslim."
Which one, she asked, is she allowed to be?
Aleena is 17, with a bright smile and dark hair that sweeps across her shoulders. Her mother is Indian-American, her father emigrated from Pakistan. Aleena and her two sisters have lived in Maryland their whole lives.
Last year, as part of an honors research project on identity crises among Muslim-American teenagers, Aleena spent hours online combing through public comments on news articles about Muslims. What she read shocked her.
"Kick them all out and put the rest in detainment camps. Enough with the PC feces," said one commenter.
"The only peaceful and moderate Muslims are the dead ones," said another.
The tweet from the man wearing military camouflage was the worst, Aleena said. "Hard to tell what we should build first. A border wall or a gas chamber for Muslims."

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Can terrorists act in the name of religion, or do they follow ‘political’ ideologies, alone?

Can terrorists act in the name of religion, or do they follow ‘political’ ideologies, alone?

Throughout the era defined by 9/11, most journalists in the West have struggled to follow two basic concepts while doing their work.

The first concept is, of course: Islam is a religion of peace

The second would, in most cases, be stated something like this: There is no one Islam. The point is to stress the perfectly obvious, and accurate, fact that Islam is not a monolith. Islam in Saudi Arabia is quite different from the faith found in Iran. Islam in Indonesia is quite different from the faith found in Pakistan. There are competing visions of Islam in lands such as Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan.

The problem with these two concepts is that they clash. Note that Islam, singular, is a religion of peace. But which Islam is that, since there is no one Islam? In the end, many journalists appear to have decided that wise people in the White House or some other center of Western intellectual life get to decide which Islam is the true Islam. The fact that millions of Muslims, of various kinds, find that condescending (or worse) is beside the point.

At times, it appears that the true Islam is a religion and the false Islam is a political ideology. When one looks at history, of course, Muslims see a truly Islamic culture as one unified whole. There is, simply stated, no separation of mosque and state in a majority Muslim culture. The mosque is at the center of all life.

You can see all of these ideas lurking in the background when American politicos argue about what is, and what is not, “terrorism.” As the old saying goes, one man’s “freedom fighter” is another man’s “terrorist.”

As it turns out, the word “terrorism” has a very specific meaning for Western elites. Is the same definition accepted among the minority of Muslims who have adopted a radicalized version of Islam?

Here is what the conflict looks like in practice, in a St. Cloud Times story about that attack the other day in a Minnesota shopping mall. Readers are told that St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson:

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Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion)

Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion)

It’s a familiar journalism strategy during election years: When in doubt, run a poll story.

The leaders of The Washington Post are doing everything that they can do, in terms of social media and online promotions, to trumpet their new 50-state survey of potential American voters. This poll is somewhat different, at this stage in the White House horse race, because it focuses more on the nation’s mood than a single-minded focus on the alleged popularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The big news: America is as divided than ever -- maybe even more divided -- and the vast majority of Americans are pessimistic when it comes to finding a way out of this mess. The exception to this rule: optimistic Americans are part of the coalition that President Barack Obama has favored in his policies and executive orders. 

What’s at the heart of this story? Apparently it's a mysterious something called “values.”

However, since we are talking about the Post political desk, it appears that zero effort was made to see if that word “values” might be attached to moral or religious issues. Here is a crucial chunk of the story, near the top:

Americans also say they fear they are being left behind by the cultural changes that are transforming the country. Asked whether the America of today reflects their values more or less than it did in the past, large majorities of registered voters in every state say the country reflects their values less. … 
The survey is the largest sample ever undertaken by The Post, which joined with SurveyMonkey and its online polling resources to produce the results. The findings from each state are based on responses from more than 74,000 registered voters during the period of Aug. 9 to Sept. 1. The extensive sample makes it possible not only to compare one state with another but also to examine the attitudes of various parts of the population, based on age, gender, ideology, education and economic standing.

Let's see, what might be missing from that list of key variables? Hint, we are talking about a factor that in recent decades -- roughly post Roe v. Wade -- has proven to be a powerful factor in predicting how Americans will behave at the polls.

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Is it possible to discuss U.S. efforts to resettle Syrian refugees without mentioning religion?

Is it possible to discuss U.S. efforts to resettle Syrian refugees without mentioning religion?

The Boss (tmatt, not Springsteen) is playing word games again. I love word games, so I'm delighted.

Perhaps you recall the last time.

This time, the question posed to our GetReligion team concerns the New York Times' front-page story today on Syrian refugees.

The Times' lede:

WASHINGTON -- President Obama invited a Syrian refugee to this year’sState of the Union address, and he has spoken passionately about embracing refugees as a core American value.
But nearly eight months into an effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, Mr. Obama’s administration has admitted just over 2,500. And as his administration prepares for a new round of deportations of Central Americans, including many women and children pleading for humanitarian protection, the president is facing intense criticism from allies in Congress and advocacy groups about his administration’s treatment of migrants.
They say Mr. Obama’s lofty message about the need to welcome those who come to the United States seeking protection has not been matched by action. And they warn that the president, who will host a summit meetingon refugees in September during the United Nations General Assembly session, risks undercutting his influence on the issue at a time when American leadership is needed to counteract a backlash against refugees.
“Given that we’ve resettled so few refugees and we’re employing a deterrence strategy to refugees on our Southern border, I wouldn’t think we’d be giving advice to any other nations about doing better,” said Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York.
“The world notices when we talk a good game but then we don’t follow through in our own backyard,” Mr. Appleby said.

So what was the question that tmatt asked?

Here goes:

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In wake of more terror attacks in Europe, factual reporting of #Brussels news is crucial (updated)

In wake of more terror attacks in Europe, factual reporting of #Brussels news is crucial (updated)

Like many of you, I woke up to news of the terror attacks in Brussels.

Notifications about the bombings flooded my iPad screen as I opened my eyes.

As the disturbing headlines struck me, I saw a note on Facebook from a fellow Christian, Paul Brazle, a missionary to Belgium with whom my Christian Chronicle colleague Erik Tryggestad and I stayed during a 2009 reporting trip.

Brazle's note said:

'Ik ben veilig!' (I am safe - We are safe.)
With this message, folks in Brussels airport or metro can - via Red Cross data centre - inform family or friends who can't reach them that they are OK. Others... are not so lucky, to be able to say that.
As you wake up today to news of Bombings in Brussels....
we want you to know that we are safely well out of any harm's way, but listening to the news carefully and waiting for news of any in our network who may have had reason to be in the airport today, or near the one metro station in the Europa district where bombs went off.

The Associated Press reports that "there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks." Other news organizations — such as NPR and CNN — make no mention of a potential religion angle in their initial accounts.

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'Thank u Lord for the game of baseball' -- A religion ghost in LaRoche exit? You think?

'Thank u Lord for the game of baseball' -- A religion ghost in LaRoche exit? You think?

Here is a heart-strings tugger for you as we move closer to Opening Day in major-league baseball (an event that should receive Upper-Case status as a cultural holy day, as I am sure our own Bobby Ross Jr. would agree).

So Adam LaRoche walked away from his Chicago White Sox contract worth $13 million rather than yield to demands by management -- as in team president Ken Williams -- to drastically cut the amount of time his 14-year-old son Drake spent with him and the team during workouts and in the clubhouse.

Sports fans, you have to be blind as a bat not to see the religion ghost in this one.

I suspect that many sports-news scribes see the religion element, but they are hesitating to suggest that it may have been a factor in this buzz-worthy clash between this dad and the leaders of his team. Here is a chunk of the relevant report from the frequently faith-lite ESPN team:

LaRoche, 36, announced his retirement Tuesday, hinting at the reason behind his decision with the hashtag #familyfirst in a tweet posted that day.
When news of the reason became public Wednesday, Williams addressed the issue with reporters and said that kids are still permitted in the White Sox clubhouse, but they shouldn't be there every day, saying no job would allow that.
"Sometimes you have to make decisions in this world that are unpopular," he said.
The White Sox have always encouraged players to bring their kids into the clubhouse and onto the field, according to Williams. But he said he thought Drake LaRoche was there too much.

That #familyfirst tag is a clue, don't you think? And this tweet referenced in the ESPN report?

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