Tom Gjelten

Friday Five: Tornadoes, Tim Conway's faith, weekend reading list, parents' grief, GOT spoilers

Friday Five: Tornadoes, Tim Conway's faith, weekend reading list, parents' grief, GOT spoilers

Hey folks, it’s been one of those weeks.

Between severe weather warnings here in Oklahoma (aka Tornado Alley) and working on press week deadline at my regular job (The Christian Chronicle), I’ve missed as much religion news as I’ve caught. But I do have a holiday weekend reading list that I’ll share with you.

Speaking of tornadoes, a truck driver caught in the big one in Jefferson City, Mo., credited God with saving him, according to CNN. (There might be a holy ghost or two there.)

Anyway, let’s dive into the preoccupied edition of Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: See earlier caveat, but no single major religion headline really stood out to me this week.

That said, my colleagues here at GetReligion covered a whole lot of interesting territory, as always. That includes — just to cite a few examples:

Richard Ostling exploring the idea of an evangelical crisis.

Julia Duin pointing out another case of the Los Angeles Times suffering from a lack of religion reporting expertise.

And Clemente Lisi highlighting the collision between nationalism and Catholicism in the run-up to European elections.

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In a politically polarized era (think red and blue), what does it mean to be a purple church?

In a politically polarized era (think red and blue), what does it mean to be a purple church?

A daily Google email alerts me to headlines about “evangelicals.” Most days, at least one publication delves into some version of this question: Why do most evangelicals support President Donald Trump?

I know, I know: Haven’t we figured that one out yet?

On the flip side, the supposed “rise of the religious left” in response to Trump is a favorite storyline for some journalists and talking heads.

Ho-hum. Isn’t there anything new on the religion and politics beat?

For anyone as tired as I am of the same old, same old, NPR religion and beliefs correspondent Tom Gjelten’s recent feature on a “purple church” in North Carolina was a refreshing change.

What’s a purple church? It’s a congregation that draws members from both sides of America’s vast Grand Canyon between red and blue, as Gjelten explains:

At a time when Americans are moving apart in their political and religious views, worshippers at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C., have learned to avoid some subjects for the sake of maintaining congregational harmony.

"You wouldn't run up to a stove and touch a hot burner," says DeLana Anderson, a church deacon. "So, I'm certainly not going to do that here."

White Memorial is thriving, with about 4,000 members, while other mainline Protestant congregations are struggling. Just as impressively, it brings together worshippers with disparate political views, both red and blue.

"Raleigh is a purple city. North Carolina is a purple state," notes Christopher Edmonston, the church's senior pastor. "Many of the people who have come to church here in the last 25 years are from other parts of the country, and they bring their ideas, their politics, their viewpoints, with them. So we almost have to be purple if we're going to continue to be open and welcome to any person that wants to come."

The news peg for the NPR report is a recent Barna Group report on the communication challenges that pastors face in a divided culture.

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Deja vu, all over again: Why is the rise of the old religious left an oldie that’s ever new?

Deja vu, all over again: Why is the rise of the old religious left an oldie that’s ever new?

One characteristic of our religion beat is that old story themes never die. Sometimes they don’t even evolve very much.

You know the headlines. “Local family redoes this year’s [pick a religious holiday] or “[Name of denomination] elects first [race or gender] official” or “Sensational find proves [pick your favorite Bible story]”or “Sensational find disproves [your most disliked Bible story]”

Another perpetual theme can be seen in the occasional announcements that a new “religious left” (lower case) is arising to challenge the “Religious Right” (usually upper case). This is rather strange, since through much of the 20th Century, religious politicking was largely liberal and it never disappeared. Activism remained especially central among African-American Protestants.

So the media were caught by surprise when the Rev. Jerry Falwell first joined the political thrum in 1979 with Moral Majority, followed by the Rev. Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, et al. Such upstarts continued to monopolize ink through evident (though uneven) impact, amplified by their opponents’ continual clear-and-present-danger alarms.

Now the man-bites-dog angle works in favor of religious liberals and a good story hunch to keep in mind is whether the religious left might launch an effective counterattack. Which brings us to this January 24 item on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” by veteran, award-winning correspondent Tom Gjelten, now a religion specialist.

“The provocations of President Trump may finally be changing” the religious right’s monopoly, he reported, bringing forth “a comparable effort” by religiously motivated liberals.

Gjelten’s exhibit A is Faith in Public Life (FPL), led by a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, the Rev. Jennifer Butler. Her organization says it has recruited nearly 50,000 local faith leaders and seeks broad support from “mainline” Protestants, Catholics, Jews and those in other religions, in contrast with the right’s narrower religious constituency (as in conservative Protestants, conservative Catholics and many Orthodox Jews).

The FPL website assails President Donald Trump’s “white racist” policies. On immigration, the group opposes adding any miles to the border wall and the hiring of more border agents, wants the 2020 Census to fairly count people regardless of immigration status and fights “Islamophobia.” FPL favors “reproductive rights,” criminal justice reform, voting by felons, and “common sense” gun laws. It works for LGBT protections, and against efforts to “use religious freedom as a justification for discrimination.”

Gjelten admitted that “the religious left, having been largely eclipsed in recent years, has a ways to go before it can match the clout of the religious right.”

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Friday Five: Pastor suicide, religion of Congress, Catholic sex wars, frugal philanthropist, cow holiday

Friday Five: Pastor suicide, religion of Congress, Catholic sex wars, frugal philanthropist, cow holiday

I missed this incredible story in the midst of celebrating Christmas.

A few days before the holiday, the Los Angeles Times published Hailey Branson-Potts’ compelling and important piece on a young pastor who preached about depression then killed himself a few days later.

Speaking of the Los Angeles Times, that paper has been boosting its staff since its $500 million purchase last summer by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who has voiced a desire to compete with the Washington Post and the New York Times.

As far as I know, the Los Angeles Times hasn’t hired a full-time religion writer as part of its revival, but that would be a tremendous step, right? Who wants to organize the petition?

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Congress is getting more diverse, but it’s still dominated by Christians, according to a Pew Research Center study cited by CNN’s Daniel Burke, Religion News Service’s Jack Jenkins, the Deseret News’ Kelsey Dallas, NPR’s Tom Gjelten and others.

In related news, the Washington Post — in a story produced by Godbeat pros Michelle Boorstein and Julie Zauzmer, along with Marisa Iati reported on the swearing in of the nation’s first two Muslim congresswomen.

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Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Is it possible to love Jesus and journalism?

Count me among those who do.

As such, I can’t help but endorse Daniel Darling’s column for Religion News Service this week on “Why Christians should support a free press.”

Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, writes:

Restoring faith in our media institutions is a shared responsibility. Christians should not only see the value of a free press but should support robust reporting, even journalism that reveals the misdeeds and sins in our own communities. Transparency doesn’t hurt the advance of the gospel. After all, the death and resurrection of Christ lay bare the gritty reality of every human heart.

In other words, a newspaper article cannot reveal anything about us that God doesn’t already know.

Meanwhile, the media could learn from some of the criticism of consumers. Too often, in our day, it seems that an undercurrent of bias exists against Christian ideals, even in subtle ways in which stories are reported or given the weight of breaking news or national importance. Too often journalists, especially on social media, seem to cheerlead rather than report.

Amen and amen.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: For the second week in a row, the death of American missionary John Allen Chau occupies this space. I’ll echo my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin, who said earlier this week that she “figured the story would be just a blip in the daily news flow.”

Some of the notable mainstream press coverage since Duin’s post includes NPR religion and belief correspondent Tom Gjelten’s piece titled “Killing Of American Missionary Ignites Debate Over How To Evangelize” and RNS’ in-depth report (by national correspondents Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins) on the same subject.

But some of the must-read material on Chau’s death has come not in the form of news stories but rather first-person opinion pieces. Look for some insightful analysis of that in a think-piece post coming this weekend from GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly.

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Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

So the most newsworthy Southern Baptist Convention in years is history.

Rather than try to analyze all the coverage -- even a fraction of it -- I'm going to offer up a tweetstorm of links and analysis. After all, your GetReligionistas have been all over the coverage of big SBC events for weeks. To catch up with recent events (and some history), click here, here, here and then here. For starters. And there's a podcast on the way, too.

But before today's tweetstorm begins, I want to nitpick a specific word choice by a respected Godbeat pro: Tom Gjelten of NPR.

In this headline, see if you can spot the word I'm talking about:

Pence Speech Riles Some As Southern Baptists' Moderates Gain Strength

A veteran religion writer emailed me the link to that story with this comment: "I don't think moderate means what Tom thinks it means." I hope Gjelten sees this post and responds with a comment on what he thinks it means. I'd welcome that.

Here's how NPR used the term in the context of the story:

In general the meeting showed moderates within the denomination in ascendancy, particularly on immigration issues. Resolutions were passed that called for more acceptance of immigrants, criticized the separation of families at the border and urged more generous treatment of refugees.

The question: Are those pushing for immigration reform accurately characterized as "moderates" in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention?

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Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Everybody loves a sequel, right?

I hope so because this is my third post of the week on the same topic.

But I really believe the information I'm going to share is relevant. Even better, it's at the heart of GetReligion's mission to promote quality news coverage of religion.

Before I get to that, though, please hang with me for just a moment. I need to help everybody who might have missed the first two posts catch up.

1. I began the week with a, shall we say, negative critique of NPR's coverage of the religion freedom issue.

2. But overnight, NPR suddenly "got religion" in a big way, which is to say that Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten tackled the same subject matter in a much better fashion.

My follow-up post gushed all over Gjelten's piece on the religious freedom debate:

Wow!
This latest piece is absolutely fantastic: 1. No scare quotes. 2. No biased language such as "so-called." 3. No favoritism — it clearly explains both sides and fairly represents each side's arguments and concerns.

So why do a third post? Because of the excellent discussion generated by a reader's question about Gjelten's story.

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From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

It seems like just yesterday that we were bashing NPR's flawed coverage of the religious freedom issue.

Because it was just yesterday.

What a difference a day makes!:

Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain
song by Dinah Washington

It's not often that the same news organization — in this case, NPR — fumbles the ball away in the end zone, then immediately returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

However, that's exactly what has transpired in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of the battle pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty.

To refresh everyone's memory, yesterday's post highlighted three problems with NPR's coverage: 1. Scare quotes on "religious freedom." 2. Use of the editorialized phrase "so-called religious freedom bills." 3. Favoritism toward the gay-rights side of the debate.

But this morning, GetReligion reader Darrell Turner pointed me toward a different NPR report covering the same subject matter:

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Prosperity gospel vs. social gospel: What religion means to Trump, Clinton & Co.

Prosperity gospel vs. social gospel: What religion means to Trump, Clinton & Co.

In back-to-back features this week, NPR delves into the faiths of the Republican and Democratic presidential tickets.

It's safe to say that these profiles — by Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten — are not definitive journalism on what Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton & Co. believe.

In fact, these reports are more like CliffsNotes study guides for those interested in a crash course on the candidates' religious backgrounds. But taken as such, these accounts are really nicely done.

On the Republican side, NPR focuses on how positive thinking and the prosperity gospel define Trump's faith outlook.

On the Democratic side, Gjelten explores how Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine are driven by their faith in a social gospel.

In each case, the author allows the candidates to describe their faith in their own words.

Trump:

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