global warming

Podcast thinking: Why do many reporters avoid theological news on religious left?

Podcast thinking: Why do many reporters avoid theological news on religious left?

Back in the fall of 1993, I made — believe it or not — my first-ever trip as an adult to New York City. I had covered many important news stories in American and around the world, but had never hit the Big Apple.

I stayed in a guest room at Union Theological Seminary, since I would be attending what turned out to be, for me, a pivotal religion-beat conference at the nearby Columbia University School of Journalism. But that’s another story for another day.

Here is the story for this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), which is linked this week’s Twitter explosion in which Union Seminary students confessed their environmental sins to some plants and sought forgiveness.

On that beautiful New York Sunday morning, I decided to head to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I was, at the time, an evangelical Episcopalian (with high-church sympathies) at I was trying to run into my wife’s favorite author — Madeleine L’Engle (click here for my tribute when she died). She was writer in residence at the cathedral, but later told me that she worshipped at an evangelical parish in the city.

Why did she do that? Well, in part because of services like the “Missa Gaia (Earth Mass)” I attended that Sunday. As I wrote later in a piece called “Liturgical Dances With Wolves”:

In the Kyrie, the saxophonist and his ensemble improvised to the taped cry of a timber wolf. A humpback whale led the Sanctus.

Skeptic Carl Sagan preached, covering turf from the joyful “bisexual embraces'' of earthworms to the greedy sins of capitalists. The earth, he stressed, is one body made of creatures who eat and drink each other, inhabit each other's bodies, and form a sacred “web of interaction and interdependence that embraces the planet.'' … The final procession was spectacular and included an elephant, a camel, a vulture, a swarm of bees in a glass frame, a bowl of blue-green algae and an elegantly decorated banana.

The key moment for me?

Before the bread and wine were brought to the altar, the musicians offered a rhythmic chant that soared into the cathedral vault. … “Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens. Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens. Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life. Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life. Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors. Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.” …

Then the congregation joined in and everyone sang “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.' “

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Chris Pratt uses MTV as pulpit for his faith: Were his 'nine rules for living' news or not?

Chris Pratt uses MTV as pulpit for his faith: Were his 'nine rules for living' news or not?

There are many ways to calculate who is a "player" in Hollywood and who is not.

However, Chris Pratt has to near the top of any current list of performers whose name on a marquee will inspire millions of ordinary Americans to shell out cash for movie tickets. Where would Hollywood be, in the summer of 2018, without his clout at the box office?

Now, Pratt made some comments the other day that lit up Twitter, but not conventional news outlets -- especially print sources. For me, this raised a variation on an old, old question that I hear all the time from readers: Why are some unusual public statements or events considered news, while others are not?

So what are we talking about, in this case? Well, CNN did offer a short report on what Pratt had to say. Here is the top:

(CNN) Preach, Chris Pratt.

The actor received the Generation Award at the MTV Movie & TV Awards on Monday night and used his speech as an opportunity to share some wisdom with the event's younger viewers.

"I'm going to cut to the chase and I am going to speak to you, the next generation," Pratt said. "I accept the responsibility as your elder. So, listen up."

What followed was a list of Pratt's nine rules for living. 

The choice of the word "preach" in the lede hints at what happened here.

Basically, Pratt -- mixing toilet humor with understated theology -- served up what seemed like at rather crass sermonette by a church youth pastor. A few lines were certainly not pulpit-safe material, but Pratt also was surprising blunt when expressing some of his views as a rather outspoken evangelical Christian (at least in the context of Hollywood).

So here is my question: Were hi remarks "news"?

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Media warming: How to — and how not to — report on evangelical skepticism on climate change

Media warming: How to — and how not to — report on evangelical skepticism on climate change

Many journalists were less than thrilled with President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. In fact, a commentary writer for the right-leaning Washington Examiner suggested that the news media "dropped all pretense of objectivity" in bemoaning the decision. 

A short USA Today story — published before Trump's announcement — illustrates the "It's settled science" approach to climate change coverage that's so common.

The report concerns a Michigan congressman who said he believes God can take care of any global warming.

The headline:

GOP congressman on climate change: God will 'take care of it' if it's real

And the lede:

WASHINGTON — Michigan GOP Rep. Tim Walberg isn’t concerned about the effects of climate change — if it exists — because God will “take care of it.”

Am I the only one who finds that headline and lede a little snarky?

Keep reading, and — to its credit — the national newspaper includes Walberg's full quote. That is helpful because it allows readers to assess for themselves what he said:

“I believe there’s climate change,” Walberg said, according to a video of the exchange obtained first published by the Huffington Post. “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.”
“Why do I believe that?” he continued. “Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

But USA Today's short piece of clickbait offers next to no background or context on Walberg, the climate change debate or — this is a biggie — why a statement from one of 535 members of Congress is national news.

For readers interested in more serious reporting, Religion News Service had a nice roundup of various religious leaders' reactions to Trump's decision.

Moreover, The Washington Post's all-star religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey — a former GetReligionista — produced a quintessential take on "Why so many white evangelicals in Trump’s base are deeply skeptical of climate change."

 

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Changing climate -- of church views on the environment

Changing climate -- of church views on the environment

USA Today has been eroding its standard of short, shallow stories. And for a complex newsfeature like its recent story on religion and global warming, that is an exceedingly good thing. The article focuses on the effort to sell global warming to church people. Religion and the environment is an evergreen topic -- I wrote a long feature on it more than a decade ago -- but USA Today writer Gregg Zoroya takes the interesting tactic of leading with a rabbi in Kansas:

Rabbi Moti Rieber travels the politically red state of Kansas armed with the book of Genesis, a Psalm and even the words of Jesus to lecture church audiences, or sermonize if they'll let him, about the threat of global warming.

"My feeling is that I'm the only person these people are ever going to see who's going to look them in the eye and say, 'There's such a thing as climate change,'" Rieber says. "I'm trying to let them know it's not irreligious to believe in climate change."

He is at the vanguard of religious efforts — halting in some places, gathering speed elsewhere — to move the ecological discussion from its hot-button political and scientific moorings to one based on theological morality and the right thing to do.

An admiring nod not only to the canny rabbi, for combining verses from both testaments of the Bible, but also to Zoroya for grabbing our attention right from the lede.

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