conversions

Losing my religion (or gaining a new one): This is what's surprising about conversions in America

Losing my religion (or gaining a new one): This is what's surprising about conversions in America

The best stories contain surprising twists.

I already was fascinated with "Convert Nation," an interview piece by Emma Green in The Atlantic.

But then Green served up not one but two satisfying twists — and before the story barely got started.

Let's start with the first two paragraphs:

Jane Picken didn’t know much about religion growing up. Her parents were Christians, but she was orphaned at a young age, and the person who helped raise her “utterly rejected” revealed religion. Years later, when she met Abraham Cohen at a party, they really hit it off—they were engaged within three weeks. But first, they had a religion problem to fix.
Cohen was the son of a cantor, or worship leader, at a Philadelphia synagogue. His father wasn’t comfortable with him marrying someone who wasn’t Jewish. At first, Cohen didn’t want to push his faith on his fiancée, but Jane really loved Jewish rituals like lighting Shabbat candles and eating with family on Friday nights. She decided to convert, taking the name Sarah.

That anecdotal lede seems pretty standard for an article with a subtitle pointing to one-third of Americans identifying with a religion different from the one with which they grew up.

But then the third paragraph slaps you in the face and declares, "Hey, this scenario isn't as simple as it first appeared":

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So many journalism questions remain, about current status of evangelism and missions in India

So many journalism questions remain, about current status of evangelism and missions in India

Why is Compassion International closing its doors (for now) in India?

That was the question at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which explored some of the themes in my post this week that ran under the headline, "Compassion International and India: The New York Times leaves a UN-shaped hole." I would urge you to click here and read the original Times piece on this topic.

Does the Times piece tell us why Compassion is leaving India? Well, it does and it doesn't. And that is where things get complicated, for readers and listeners who have never worked in a newsroom.

Patience please, as we try to walk through this.

You see, there is evidence in this important Times piece that various officials in India are saying different things. The evidence offered can be interpreted in a number of different ways and it's pretty obvious that the Times team was asking questions that the authorities in the Bharatiya Janata Party didn't want to address. So, as public officials often do, they declined to answer questions.

So what do we know? Let's look at four different options.

(I) At one point, it appears that Compassion is being pushed out because of accusations that its work led to people converting to Christianity. The charity, to use Times language, was suspected of "engaging in religious conversion."

(II) However, at another another point, Compassion officials deny accusations that they are --

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Compassion International and India: The New York Times leaves a UN-shaped hole

Compassion International and India: The New York Times leaves a UN-shaped hole

If you have followed news in India in recent years, you know that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party -- commonly known as the BJP -- has continued its efforts to promote "Hindutva," or Hindu-ness, which essentially argues that Hinduism is an essential component of what it means to be a citizen of India.

Thus, it's goal is to defeat secular pluralism and the recognition of a valid role for other faiths in public life. The side effect has, in many cases, been a crackdown on many of the activities of other faiths in India -- especially ministries linked to foreign groups.

Tensions between Muslims and Hindus remain a fact of life. Meanwhile, attacks on Christians -- including a much-publicized gang rape of a 71-year-old nun -- have risen by 20 or 30 percent in recent years.

This brings us to a detailed New York Times report on the latest battle in this conflict, which ran with this headline: "Major Christian Charity Is Closing India Operations Amid a Crackdown."

The key is that officials in India are accusing a major ministry of evangelism, of converting people to Christianity.  What the story never addresses are these questions: As a matter of human rights, do citizens in India have the right to convert to another faith? Do members of one faith have a right to discuss their faith with others? Here is the overture:

NEW DELHI -- India’s crackdown on foreign aid will claim its most prominent casualty this month, as a Colorado-based Christian charity that is one of India’s biggest donors closes its operations here after 48 years, informing tens of thousands of children that they will no longer receive meals, medical care or tuition payments.
The shutdown of the charity, Compassion International, on suspicion of engaging in religious conversion, comes as India, a rising economic power with a swelling spirit of nationalism, curtails the flow of foreign money to activities it deems “detrimental to the national interest.”

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Parade of 2016 yearenders: Christianity Today offers lists blitz, including election Top 10

Parade of 2016 yearenders: Christianity Today offers lists blitz, including election Top 10

So how many 2016 yearender lists did the Christianity Today news, commentary and, well, devotional team crank out?

Frankly, I'm not sure that I got them all.

Unless I missed it somehow, what you will not find here is a traditional Top 10 list of the year's major religion news stories and trends. Did I miss that somehow? If I did, someone let me know. Just leave a comment with the URL and I will update this.

I especially appreciated the list offering the magazine and website's top 2016 stories focusing on the persecution of the church around the world -- a topic that trends to point to a wide variety of important topics linked to the safety of religious minorities in general.

You also have the Top 10 CT articles of the year, the Top 10 conversion stories, a list ranking the year's cover stories, the year's top news-blog items and even the Top 10 Christmas stories.

But you knew that this one was coming, right? There is also a Top 10 list of Christianity Today's most-read articles about the 2016 elections. Here are a few of those headlines to scan.

Click here to read the whole list.

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Testaments Old and New? Bob Dylan's story is baptized in all of that, chapter and verse

Testaments Old and New? Bob Dylan's story is baptized in all of that, chapter and verse

Want to watch a really interesting fight?

Put a bunch of Bob Dylan fans -- true believers -- in a room with a really good sound system. Make sure the flock includes old-guard Rolling Stone subscribers, a couple of academics with doctorates in literature, some born-again Christians and some Jews -- cultural Jews and Jews who practice the faith.

Ask this question: Is Bob Dylan (a) a Jew, (b) a Christian, (c) some other brand of believer, (d) a mystic who has faith in faith, period, or (e) all of the above.

Each person gets to play three songs to help make his or her case. Let the arguing commence. Yes, the arguments will only get louder after Dylan the poet receives his Nobel Prize.

I'll state my prejudice right up front. I have never interviewed Dylan, but I have talked to people close to him (including a family member) and here is what I think: I see no evidence has Dylan has lost faith in God. I see no evidence, in this public remarks, that he has lost faith in Jesus. I see lots of evidence that he has lost faith in Bob Dylan.

How do you write about Dylan without exploring the religious themes in his work? Beats me, but here is a New York Times super-short summary of his art, in a hard-news story about the Nobel Prize announcement:

Within a few years, Mr. Dylan was confounding the very notion of folk music, with ever more complex songs and moves toward a more rock ’n’ roll sound. In 1965, he played with an electric rock band at the Newport Folk Festival, provoking a backlash from fans who accused him of selling out.
After reports of a motorcycle accident in 1966 near his home in Woodstock, N.Y., Mr. Dylan withdrew further from public life but remained intensely fertile as a songwriter. ...
His 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks” was interpreted as a supremely powerful account of the breakdown of a relationship, but just four years later the Christian themes of “Slow Train Coming” divided critics. His most recent two albums were chestnuts of traditional pop that had been associated with Frank Sinatra.

Christian themes? That's it? What about the Jewish roots of much of his art?

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Alabama Muslims: Feature on converts doesn't ask many (or any) follow-up questions

Alabama Muslims: Feature on converts doesn't ask many (or any) follow-up questions

Confession time: I used to write stories almost as wide-eyed as yesterday's feature on Muslim converts in Alabama.

I wrote up Muslim criticisms of Christianity. I retold their feelings about baleful attitudes from other Americans. I did, however, try to look critically at their claims of up to seven million believers in the U.S.

But see, it's two decades later, and mainstream media should have moved on. And I suggest that the Alabama Media Group, with seven regional editions, carries a heavy responsibility for perceptive reporting, not just writing up notes.

This particular article starts as a sensitive, detail-rich feature of the Alabaman Muslims: how they live, how they view presidential candidates, how they think other Americans view them. Al.com even finds a counter-intuitive lede:

Allie Larbi sounds like a Donald Trump supporter.
The Mobile resident supports building a giant wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and scrapping birthright citizenship. Syrian refugees, in her own words, should either be blocked from entering the United States or let in only to be housed in isolated refugee camps.
"I have what I like to turn around and call American views," said Larbi. "This is a great country and it needs to stay that way."

Larbi naturally takes offense at some of Trump's other statements, like "mandatory registration for Muslims, a ban on Muslim travel to the United States, or shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood."  We'll get back to her in a moment.

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NPR trips on 'evangelical,' while covering big story on converts in Germany

NPR trips on 'evangelical,' while covering big story on converts in Germany

If you were going to pick a major news outlet that was high on the distrust/hate list of cultural conservative in America, it would have to be National Public Radio.

You know the old saying: How can you can tell when a Republican in Washington, D.C., has lost his soul? When the first button on his car radio is set to NPR. Or how about this one: What is the Episcopal Church? It's National Public Radio at prayer.

This is all quite sad, because a decade or so ago NPR's religion-beat work (as opposed to religion-linked coverage by political or cultural pros) was actually very good. If you know the history of the Godbeat there, you'll get my drift.

Anyway, it's interesting to get an email from a GetReligion reader that starts out like this, discussing an NPR feature about Muslims converting to Christianity in Germany:

As someone who tends to listen less and less to NPR, disillusioned with what I perceive as an absurdly left-wing bias in much of their reporting, I was pleasantly surprised by their attempt to cover several sides of the issues.

We will come back to this reader in a bit. But let me start off by saying that I was also impressed at the kinds of voices that were featured in this piece. This is a very complicated and emotional subject, as I stressed in a recent post about this topic that ran with the headline: "Muslims fleeing to Europe: Yes, press can find religion angles in this ongoing tragedy." This NPR report is way better than the norm.

Here is the start of the NPR piece, setting up the major themes:

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Delving into CNN's 'dirty little secret' about religious conversions and Ben Carson

Delving into CNN's 'dirty little secret' about religious conversions and Ben Carson

My Christian Chronicle colleague Erik Tryggestad wrote a column from New Zealand recently in which he lamented his somewhat pedestrian decision to give his life to Jesus:

I’ve always found my own story to be lacking in drama, I told the group. I grew up in the church with great, godly parents. When I was 14 I was baptized. My salvation was an assumption — an expected journey, hardly worth sharing.

Tryggestad's not-so-boring reporting adventures have taken him to 60 countries. ("Plus, y'know ... Canada," he told me. And yes, I'm including that comment just to agitate my friends north of the border.)

Apparently, my Chronicle colleague is not alone in wishing he had a better conversion story.

Enter CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke with the "Religion News Clickbait Headline of the Week":

The dirty little secret about religious conversion stories

(Here at GetReligion, we're much too sophisticated to ever resort to such a headline. Obviously, we'd never put "dirty little secret" in a title just hoping to gain a few extra clicks. But anyway ... )

Like the CNN headline, Burke's lede takes ample creative liberty (as opposed to an inverted-pyramid approach):

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