The Philadelphia Inquirer

Happy birthday to ... Oh nevermind. Back to critics and supporters of drag-queen story hours

Happy birthday to ... Oh nevermind. Back to critics and supporters of drag-queen story hours

It was on the first day of February in 2004 that GetReligion co-founder Doug LeBlanc clicked a mouse and put the first version of this website online. That post — “What we do, why we do it” — is still up, for those who have never seen it.

That was the day after my birthday, the last day of January. That was a coincidence, back in 2004, and that fact has never been all that relevant.

But now it is, because today is my 65th birthday and, as old folks know who read GetReligion, for many people that starts all kinds of clocks ticking. In my case, that means I am one year away from retirement as editor of GetReligion.

That doesn’t mean that I will vanish. After all, for a decade GetReligion was my part-time work, while I was a full-time professor in West Palm Beach, Fla., and then Washington, D.C., while also writing my “On Religion” column for Scripps Howard and then the Universal syndicate.

But Jan. 31, 2020 will mean changes at GetReligion, of one kind or another. That’s fine with me, since the realities shaping news and commentary work about religion have radically changed, over the past decade and a half. Still, I hope to keep doing some GetReligion-esque work at this site or whatever evolves out of it. I’d like to do more writing, for example, about the religious content of popular culture — one of the topics that pulled me into teaching back in 1991, at Denver Seminary.

But back to the our digital world and the American Model of the Press. Consider, for example, the current mini-wave of coverage of drag queen story hours.

Yes, Julia Duin just wrote a post on this topic: “Drag queens: Reporters can't comprehend why many parents don't want them in kid libraries.” I would urge you to read it. Here’s a key quote:

Just what is the religious case against drag queens, as it would be articulated by people who hold that point of view? Is there one?

Think like an old-school journalist. Wouldn’t it have been nice if we could have heard more about what that is, like there was an actual debate taking place?

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Sacred cows: Philadelphia Inquirer delves into a Hindu man's love for his 'ragtag herd of cows'

Sacred cows: Philadelphia Inquirer delves into a Hindu man's love for his 'ragtag herd of cows'

“Can being nice to cows save the world?” the Philadelphia Inquirer asks. “A Hindu man in the Poconos would like to believe so.”

On one level, the Inquirer’s feature on Sankar Sastri is simply an interesting read — a human- interest feature about a man with a unusual approach to life.

On another level, it’s a religion story.

The piece excels more at the former than the latter, although it’s not entirely devoid of doctrine.

The lede certainly paints a revealing portrait, albeit one with, um, some smelly stuff on the profile subject’s footwear:

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — Every day, a joyful man in dung-covered boots tries to balance the world's karma by dishing out love, compassion, and the occasional fried Indian delight to his ragtag herd of cows.

Sankar Sastri loves Sri, the shaggy Scottish highlander with eyes like jewels, and adores Lakshmi, a little black Brahman with horns pointing north and south. The mighty Krishna, a tall and hefty Angus, appears to be a favorite, but Sastri said each of his 23 cows is equally beloved at his Poconos sanctuary.

"Ah, Krishna, look at how big you are. You are the boss, Krishna," Sastri said to the cow on a recent cold November morning.

Sastri, 78, is wiry, bespectacled, and constantly smiling, and wears a blazer over his farm clothes while he walks around his 90-acre Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Monroe County. Sastri still resembles a college professor, albeit one who fell in mud. He grew up in Chidambaram, by the Bay of Bengal in Southern India, moved to the United States in 1964 for grad school, and spent 28 years teaching engineering  at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.

The Inquirer goes on to explain:

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Monday Mix: Failure at the top, heartbreaking ties, Sutherland Springs anniversary, black churches

Monday Mix: Failure at the top, heartbreaking ties, Sutherland Springs anniversary, black churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Four weekend reads

1. “The bishops simply do not have anyone looking over their shoulder. Each bishop in his own diocese is pretty much king.”

A massive story broke over the weekend in the Catholic Church’s ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal: a joint investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe concerning American bishops’ failure to police themselves.

The stunning finding:

More than 130 U.S. bishops – or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe examination of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment.

2. “It was an attack on America because it challenges our right to assemble and worship our God in the way we want. It has continued a downward spiral of hate, one that’s prevalent in all corners of the United States.”

After another hate-fueled shooting at a house of worship, an African Methodist pastor from Charleston, S.C., and a Conservative rabbi from Pittsburgh are bound together by “the unspeakable grief of two unconscionable desecrations.”

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'The murder of souls' -- Covering massive Pennsylvania sex abuse doc = brutal assignment

'The murder of souls' -- Covering massive Pennsylvania sex abuse doc = brutal assignment

We’ve been bracing ourselves for this all summer.

Yesterday, a massive grand jury report (full text here) was released covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses of 1.7 million parishioners. It was the largest such report ever done in this country.

There’s not a whole lot out there that can shunt the horrors of the Cardinal McCarrick affair onto a back burner, but this report fits that bill. It is a stunning summary of degradation and evil that reporters have known about for years and have been waiting to dissect all year. I'm predicting it will be the religion story of the year in the annual Religion News Association poll.

The grand jury subpoenaed a half million pages of church internal documents. Think about that. Then they came down upon a number of bishops for going out of their way to hide these horrors over a 70-year period of time. And when did things begin to change?

When the media, starting with the Boston Globe, began reporting on this story in 2002. Think about that next time you hear Donald Trump bloviating about all journalists being the "enemy of the people."

First, listen to the video of the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s R-rated press conference in Harrisburg that introduced this report. It’s atop this blog post.

We’ll start with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s reporting, the lead story of which was written by their courts reporter, Paula Reed Ward. (She posted on her Twitter feed early yesterday a photo of all the media lining up for the press conference at which the report was released).

The 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury identified more than 1,000 child victims from more than 300 abusive priests across 54 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties…

In a scathing introduction that provides excruciating detail of only a handful of instances of abuse, the introduction explains the grand jury's purpose, its findings and its ultimate recommendations.

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Jehovah's Witnesses and sexual abuse: The Philadelphia Inquirer lays it out

Jehovah's Witnesses and sexual abuse: The Philadelphia Inquirer lays it out

Late last month, a crime and justice reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer came out with the kind of religion-and-sex-abuse story that’s sadly become all too familiar these days. What’s unusual about this story is that it’s about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Witnesses are one of the toughest religious groups to cover. In the years I spent in religion reporting, I can only remember one time that the Witnesses cooperated with me as I reported a news story. That was when, as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, I went door-belling with the Witnesses sometime in the late ‘80s.

Now, they also tried to convert me, but that’s just a typical day in the life of a religion reporter, believe me.

I was amazed at how rude people were to the Witnesses. I connected with them during that time, but since then, I’ve never had any luck getting any response from the Witnesses for any other story. That is why I was impressed when an Inquirer reporter did this lengthy piece on sexual abuse in this very private, even secretive, religious group.

A second was all it took. A second was all he needed.

The little girl was 4, round-faced and freckled and dressed in her Sunday best. She was fidgeting next to her father inside the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Red Lion, York County -- a safe, familiar space for a family that spent nearly all of its free time preaching and praying.

Martin Haugh was momentarily preoccupied, doling out assignments to his fellow Witnesses for their door-to-door ministry work. When he looked down for his daughter, she was gone. Haugh plunged into the slow-motion panic of every parent's worst nightmare.

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Who succeeds Billy Graham? Reporters are all over the map trying to answer that question

Who succeeds Billy Graham? Reporters are all over the map trying to answer that question

Even though it's been three days since Billy Graham died, you'll be hearing more about him for at least one more week. His funeral preparations alone are worthy of a head of state, starting with a 130-mile procession from Asheville to Charlotte, N.C., where he’ll lie “in repose” for two days.

Then he’ll be flown to Washington, DC to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. That’s totally unprecedented for a minister. The most recent private citizen to receive that honor was Civil Rights Movement matriarch Rosa Parks in 2005.

A “private” funeral will be held March 2 back in Charlotte although it’s unknown how private an event for 2,300 invitees can be. 

Along with all the tributes comes the inevitable question that the experts have been asking for decades: Who –- if anyone –- can replace this man? A few publications have already run “what next” articles.

Ed Stetzer, in an opinion piece in USA Today, said replacing Graham in impossible, possibly a snub toward heir-apparent and oldest son Franklin Graham.

In a culture always looking for the "next Michael Jordan" or "the next John Wayne," there will undoubtedly be articles asking who will fill Graham’s shoes, and inherit his legacy. There is no next Billy Graham. There are and will be many effective preachers of the Christian gospel, but Billy Graham’s ministry of influence will forever be unique and unparalleled.

Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer foresaw this question and tackled it last May. His answer -- care of one of the go-to Graham experts for journalists -- was essentially what Graham himself has been saying for several decades.

“I don’t think any single person will be ‘the next Billy Graham,’ ” says William Martin, author of “A Prophet with Honor,” long considered the definitive biography of Graham. “That’s in part because evangelical Christianity has become so large and multifaceted -- in significant measure because of what Graham did -- that no one person can dominate it, regardless of talent or dedication. It’s just not going to happen.”…

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Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Although 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door, there’s another religious anniversary -– a centennial -– this past Friday that got far less publicity.

Oct. 13, 1917, is the date when some 70,000 people, including a few newspaper reporters, witnessed the “miracle of the sun” in Fatima, a town north of Lisbon in central Portugal.

Many dismiss this as outdated Catholic lore, but the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima was a big deal for St. Pope John Paul II, who was nearly assassinated on May 13, 1981. He attributed his escape from death to Our Lady of Fatima.

Yet, I found very little about this anniversary in the secular media. The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of the exceptions, possibly because the local archbishop, Charles Chaput, made its observance a priority.

Throughout the year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million Catholics have been observing the anniversary with special services, lectures, movie screenings, retreats, and pilgrimages.  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will preside over a consecration service at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
Fatima is among the three most popular Marian apparitions, including one reported in 1858 by St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France (Our Lady of Lourdes), and another in 1531 by St. Juan Diego and his uncle on the Hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City (Our Lady of Guadalupe), according to Jason Paul Bourgeois, an assistant professor at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of  Dayton in Ohio.
Messages of prayer, penance, reparations for sin, and devotion to Mary are oft-repeated in Marian sightings, but Our Lady of Fatima’s three secrets — prophecies and apocalyptic visions of specific events to come — set it apart.

The story is quite complete, going into the history of the three secrets of Fatima as well as other Marian apparitions. My only complaint is that it gave too much credence to those debunking the “miracle of the sun” -- in that how does one deceive 70,000 people? The skeptics never explain that one.

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Philly.com's coverage of the black Muslim singles scene includes shout-out for polygyny

Philly.com's coverage of the black Muslim singles scene includes shout-out for polygyny

When I saw a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer on black Muslim women seeking mates, I was drawn to it right away. It’s tough for women of any religious persuasion to find mates, as houses of worship tend to have far more women than men in them.

There’s a reason why books like Lee Podles’ Church Impotent were written in response to lots of men avoiding church. But this is a piece on the scarcity of men in mosques. That's new territory.

This intrigued me because of all the major religions, Islam was reputed to be the one that skewed heavily male according to recent Pew data.

So here is the crucial question: Is it the Muslim factor or the black factor that is causing the problematic ratios?

Naeemah Khabir, a 35-year-old devout Muslim who works for the Department of Veteran Affairs in Philadelphia, has attended matchmaking events from New Brunswick, N.J., to Queens, N.Y. She has used several matchmaking services. Khabir, of Elkins Park, who has a master’s degree from Syracuse University, even hired a private matchmaker for nine months until the counselor assigned to her conceded that race was part of her problem.
“When you look at all Muslims, of all races and ethnicities, who has it the hardest? Black women unequivocally have it the worst. Black men have it bad, too, but black women have it the worst,” Khabir said. “Everyone knows it, but it goes unspoken.”
Muslims say there’s an epidemic of educated, professional women older than 30 struggling to find suitable matches among Muslim men, who are often less bound by a biological clock and societal expectations, and more likely than Muslim women to marry younger and outside their culture or religion.

I don’t doubt Muslims are saying this, but how about quoting an expert or two? Are there any studies to back this up?

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A trend worth reporting: Philadelphia Inquirer explores multisite churches

A trend worth reporting: Philadelphia Inquirer explores multisite churches

Ten years ago, I wrote a trend story for Religion News Service on the rise of megachurches with satellite locations:

OKLAHOMA CITY — Most weekends, Pastor Craig Groeschel preaches at 23 services in five church locations across Oklahoma.
His schedule isn’t quite as busy as it sounds, though. The founder of LifeChurch.tv, a nontraditional church, Groeschel delivers only five of the messages in person. Technology takes care of the rest.
Welcome to the electronic church, live via satellite.
In the reality TV age, perhaps it’s no surprise that fast-growth churches increasingly use cameras to put their pastors in two places — or three or four or more — at the same time.

A decade later, multisite churches remain a fertile topic for Godbeat attention.

So this headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer this week caught my attention:

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