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When it comes to press coverage, why do some persecuted believers get more ink than others?

When it comes to press coverage, why do some persecuted believers get more ink than others?

When it comes to life inside the D.C. Beltway, veteran scribe Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard (RIP) has seen a thing or two — to say the least.

So when Barnes describes a political scene as one of his favorite Washington vignettes, that’s saying something. In this case, a classic Barnes anecdote is a great way to introduce readers to this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focuses on media coverage — or the lack of coverage — of the persecution of religious believers.

Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes and sign up to follow our podcasts.

It’s pretty clear that many journalists, perhaps following the lead of government officials, consider some stories about religious persecution to be more important than others. So why do some stories leap into A1 headlines or the top of evening newscasts, while others receive little or no digital ink at all (other than coverage by the religious press)?

So our symbolic mini-drama takes place in 1994, when President Bill Clinton and his political team was working to improve trade, and thus political ties, with the People’s Republic of China. The strategy was to focus less attention on human rights issues and more attention on communication and, well, bartering. I like the wording in this Slate article, noting that the “Clinton administration made a sudden about-face, declaring it would ‘delink’ Chinese trade policy from human rights.”

One would expect political liberals to protest this heresy. Correct? And one would expect that Republicans would welcome anything that improved the lives of American corporate leaders. Correct?

There was, however, a subject that changed the dynamics in this story — religion.

Many conservatives — that’s the Religious Right, in pressthink — opposed these Clinton moves because of rising concerns about the persecution of China’s growing underground churches (Catholic and Protestant). At the same time, many mainstream liberals were not comfortable clashing with a Democrat in the White House, especially if that meant standing next to religious fanatics.

However, there were still idealists on the cultural far left — think Hollywood, in particular — who stood their ground, due to their fury over China’s treatment of Tibetan Buddhists.

So the setting for this Barnes anecdote was a protest rally near the Clinton White House. On the rally stage, activist Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council approached another speaker — actor Richard “Pretty Woman” Gere.

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Just for fun: A look at journalism word games and RIP for The Weekly Standard

Just for fun: A look at journalism word games and RIP for The Weekly Standard

The Religion Guy Memo usually explores religion beat issues, tips of the trade, or stories and sources worth consideration.

But this non-religious item, just for fun, regards word games that journalists enjoy, including a farewell to a verbally clever magazine, The Weekly Standard. Actually, come to think of it, the Standard was a news-and-commentary magazine often paid close attention to religious and cultural trends.

The New Yorker’s obituary proclaimed the Standard to be America’s “most influential, and often the most interesting” conservative periodical. (Yes, The Guy also consumes ample liberal journalism.)

Most coverage blamed the weekly’s demise on its consistent criticisms of President Donald Trump. True, former editor William Kristol was an outspoken #NeverTrump voice. However, it’s more accurate to say TWS was favorable when the president backed its longstanding conservative or hawkish or Republican principles, and hostile on the numerous occasions when he did not.

Politics aside, The Guy hails the magazine’s original reporting alongside the usual thumbsucking, stylish authors, and its Lincoln-esque exploitation of humor, a cherished commodity amid drearily earnest and self-important political journalism.

We’ll miss the back page Parody and occasional Not A Parody, pungent Ramirez cartoons, devilish caricatures on the cover, and the continual ribbing of liberal cant, including squibs up front in The Scrapbook, e.g. the immortal “Articles We Tried Not to Read,” and “Sentences We Didn’t Finish.”

TWS should not vanish without also noting the astute cultural coverage, for instance a Dec. 24 disquisition on the word “schadenfreude.” The Dec. 10 edition served up this gem, an amusing 10-page history of proper word usage per the popular “American Heritage Dictionary” and its advisory panel. Author David Skinner was a panel member before the publisher abolished it “without ceremony” last February.

Back in 1961, elitists were aghast when the unbuttoned third edition of “Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged” radically reduced “slang” labels and abolished “colloquial.”

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Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

If journalists really want to grasp the importance of the splits that the Donald Trump era is causing among religious conservatives, there are some logical places to look.

Obviously, they can look at the world of evangelicalism and, yes, even inside the complex world of white evangelicalism. Please start here.

Then they can narrow that down by looking at the generational and gender tensions inside the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock.

Journalists can also look at what is happening in Utah — starting with Trump’s astonishing — well, maybe not — personal shot at Rev. Mia Love, the GOP’s only black woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here is the top of a report from The Salt Lake Tribune:

President Donald Trump praised Republicans for expanding their majority in the Senate on Wednesday, while offering harsh criticism to GOP House members — including Utah’s Rep. Mia Love — who failed to wholeheartedly embrace his agenda.

Trump said Love had called him “all the time” asking for help freeing Utahn Josh Holt, who had been imprisoned in Venezuela. But her re-election campaign distanced itself from his administration, the president said, which led to her poor performance in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

“Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” Trump said. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Part of what is going on in that Utah vote is the increasingly important rural vs. urban divide in American life (check out the voting pattens in that district). Also, see this recent New York Times feature about some of the nuances in this particular Congressional race.

By the way, Trump served up his political kill shot on Love while votes are still being counted in Utah’s fourth district.

So, back to the Utah context. This president is even less popular in the urban Salt Lake City area than he is in the rest of deep red, Republican Utah — where politics are soaked in the conservative, but more gentle, style of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Catholic crisis thinkers: What details change, when looking from the left and then the right?

Catholic crisis thinkers: What details change, when looking from the left and then the right?

This weekend’s think piece is two think pieces in one.

As a bonus, I think I have found a foolproof way to determine how editors of a given publication have answered the crucial question: What is the decades-old Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal all about?

Well, let me qualify that a bit: This journalistic test that I am proposing works really well with the drama surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, since he has been accused of several different kinds of sexual abuse with males of different ages.

The editorial test: Search an article for the word “seminary” or variations on that term.

Let’s start with the Atlantic essay that ran with this headline: “The Sex-Abuse Scandal Is Growing Faster Than the Church Can Contain It.” Here’s a sample of the language:

“Many strands are coming together,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian of Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “It does seem like we are reaching a watershed moment.” By Thursday, there had been so many new developments that she said she was having a hard time keeping up — and that the leaders at the Vatican probably were, too. “I think they’re scrambling. The news is coming on so many fronts. I think they don’t know quite what to do.” Here is some of what they nevertheless did this week.


The article does mention the controversial public testimony published by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, without really getting into the details other than to its call for Pope Francis to resign.

There is another summary statement later:

Pope Francis on Wednesday summoned bishops from around the world to a first-of-its-kind meeting in Rome in February. The focus will be on protecting minors, and bishops will reportedly receive training in identifying abuse, intervening, and listening to victims.

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New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

Here's something that I didn't know before I read the rather ambitious New York Times feature that ran with this headline: "Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why."

Apparently, if you ask young Americans why they are not choosing to have babies -- even the number of babies that they say they would like to have -- you get lots of answers about economics and trends in what could be called "secular" culture.

That's that. Religion plays no role in this question at all.

For example: In a graphic that ran with the piece, here are the most common answers cited, listed from the highest percentages to lowest. That would be, "Want leisure time," "Haven't found partner," "Can't afford child care," "No desire for children," "Can't afford a house," "Not sure I'd be a good parent," “Worried about the economy," "Worried about global instability," "Career is a greater priority," "Work too much," "Worried about population growth," "Too much student debt," etc., etc. Climate change is near the bottom.

You can see similar answers in the chart describing why gender-neutral young adults are choosing to have fewer children than "their ideal number."

Now, what happens if you ask people why they ARE choosing to have children? If the question is turned upside down, do issues of faith and religion show up?

It's impossible to know, since it appears that -- for the Times team and the Morning Consult pollsters -- religious questions have nothing to do with the topic of sex, marriage (or not) and fertility. Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

So what do Times readers find out about the reasons people give to have more children, even more than one or two? While it appears that no questions were asked about this issue, it's clear some assumptions were built into this story. This summary is long, but essential. Read carefully:

“We want to invest more in each child to give them the best opportunities to compete in an increasingly unequal environment,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and has written about fertility. At the same time, he said, “There is no getting around the fact that the relationship between gender equality and fertility is very strong: There are no high-fertility countries that are gender equal.”


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Can New York City survive Chick-fil-A invasion? Let's look at Manhattan history!

Can New York City survive Chick-fil-A invasion? Let's look at Manhattan history!

On a personal note: I just finished one of my two-week sojourns teaching journalism at The King's College in New York. As I have mentioned before, if you add up my various duties here I live in lower Manhattan just over two months a year.

I'm not a New Yorker, but I hang out with them a lot -- even in local diners and fast-food joints.

Anyway, at the end of my final seminar session last night one of the students gave me a thank-you card and the perfect gift to sum up life in this neighborhood right now.

It was, of course, a Chick-fil-A gift card.

Don't worry, I will be able to use that card in Oak Ridge, Tenn., even though our town has only one Chick-fil-A sanctuary, compared to New York City's three (with more on the way as part of the much-discussed Bible Belt invasion of the Big Apple).

The bottom line: If was the perfect end to the week. And you will not be surprised that we also talked about the now infamous New Yorker sermon about Chick-fil-A -- "Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City" -- during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

In my GetReligion post about this whole kerfuffle ("The New Yorker stirs up a storm with analysis of Chick-fil-A evangelism in the Big Apple"), I tried to avoid -- for the most part -- some of the most common themes in the Twitter madness about this piece. Here are three of the more low-key, constructive tweets from that amazing storm:

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(Good) Friday Five: #MLK50, #ChurchToo, Sheep Among Wolves and, um, 'Chris is risen?'

(Good) Friday Five: #MLK50, #ChurchToo, Sheep Among Wolves and, um, 'Chris is risen?'

It's Good Friday.

And Passover begins tonight at sundown.

Enter Greg Garrison, longtime religion writer for the Birmingham News, with informative overviews of both religious holidays.

In one piece, Garrison asks, "If Jesus suffered and died, why is it called Good Friday?"

His other helpful primer explores this question: "What is Passover?"

Be sure to check out both articles.

Meanwhile, let's dive into the (Good) Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

In advance of that milestone, Religion News Service national reporter Adelle Banks has an extraordinary story focused on a 75-year-old Memphis, Tenn., sanitation worker who "drives five days a week to collect garbage, even as he spends much of the rest of his time as an associate minister of his Baptist congregation."

A somewhat related but mostly tangential question for the Associated Press Stylebook gurus: Why in the world doesn't Memphis (not to mention Nashville) stand alone in datelines?

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CNN: Was 'The Last Jedi' officially Buddhist or a dose of Hollywood existentialism?

CNN: Was 'The Last Jedi' officially Buddhist or a dose of Hollywood existentialism?

Not long ago, my daughter and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie. The content has always been New Agey and I’ve been under no illusions as to it being otherwise.

So I was interested to see how CNN’s Dan Burke dissected “The Last Jedi” in terms of its religious content, or lack thereof.

You may ask if this is really a "news" subject. Look at the size of the "Star Wars" audience and its influence over multiple decades. Next question?

Burke sees this new movie as a symbol of a higher indifference to traditional forms of religion found among today’s Millennials and suggests that this attitude got picked up by the filmmakers. I’m not so sure the makers of “Jedi” thought it through to that point. Still, read on:

"Star Wars" has always kept its fingers close to America's spiritual pulse. 
In the '70s and '80s, the interstellar saga explored Eastern traditions, mainly Buddhism and Taoism, just as many "spiritual, but not religious" dabblers were doing the same. 
At the turn of the millennium, "Star Wars" caught the McMindfulness craze. "The Phantom Menace" opens with two Jedi talking about the benefits of meditation. Riveting, it was not. 
But the latest film in the saga, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," touches on trends in American religious life in some surprising ways, especially for a franchise that's so nakedly commercial. ("The Last Jedi" was the highest-grossing movie in the United States last year and raked in nearly $1.3 billion worldwide.) 
"It is very much a movie of this time," said the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a Buddhist teacher, social justice activist and "Star Wars" aficionado who lives Berkeley, California. "It draws on ancient teachings, as well as what is happening in this country right now."

Is the movie trying to make a statement about organized religion or its demise? And if “Star Wars” really kept its finger on America’s pulse, it sure didn’t reflect any of the Christian revivals that happened in that same period. And there was a lot more going on in America amongst the monotheistic religions than the non-theistic ones.

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One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

I know we’ve been running a lot about bakers of wedding cakes, gay customers and court cases, but I wanted to draw your attention to a related case I've written about that’s been dragging through Oregon’s legal system for the past few years.

It’s the “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” case that began when a chance comment from a baker infuriated two lesbians to where they filed a lawsuit alleging all sorts of emotional harm. Oregon’s labor commissioner, who’s never hid his LGBTQ-friendly sentiments, slammed the bakers with a $135,000 fine that the defendants are still fighting to this day.

It’s become a running sore of a case to both sides of the argument. After the Oregonian ran the latest news on an appeals court verdict, there were 4,413 comments attached to it by the time I saw the piece several days later. Obviously there’s lots of strong feelings about this case on both sides.

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a decision by Oregon's labor commissioner that forced two Gresham bakers to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple for whom the bakers refused to make a wedding cake.
Melissa and Aaron Klein made national headlines in 2013 when they refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian beliefs. The Bowman-Cryers complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying they had been refused service because of their sexual orientation.
An administrative law judge ruled that the Kleins' bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, violated a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places that serve the public. Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, affirmed heavy damages against the Kleins for the Bowman-Cryer's emotional and mental distress.

The Oregonian knew all about the latter, as it had run a nearly 4,300-word piece in August 2016 about the two women with the headline: “The hate keeps coming: The pain lingers for lesbian couple denied in Sweet Cakes case.” It went into great detail. 

But why wasn’t there similar treatment accorded the Kleins? 

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