Snip, snip? The symbolic clout of Sikh man nodding approval for (a) Trump or (b) Schumer

Snip, snip? The symbolic clout of Sikh man nodding approval for (a) Trump or (b) Schumer

Anyone who knows anything about America in the past half century or so knows that we live in a culture that is increasingly dominated by visual images and the emotions they produce.

Images were crucial as modern print journalism evolved. It goes without saying that images are crucial in visual storytelling in television, past and present. 

Today? While words matter in social media, nothing grabs people quite like that punchy, ironic, cute, infuriating or poignant image that seems to sum up (a) whatever is happening in the real world at the moment or (b) whatever we are consuming in order to be able to ignore whatever is happening in the real world at the moment.

Thus, a former GetReligionista sent the current team an email the other day -- with the simple headline, "Hmmmm" -- containing the item at the top of this post.

What's the point? The question has been asked many times: Why do so many people get confused and think that Sikhs are Muslims? Is there something compelling about the Sikh turban (the dastaar) that makes journalists think "foreign," "exotic," maybe "Arab" and, thus, "Muslim" or someone who would be accused of being a "Muslim terrorist"?

Ah, but the turban is VISUAL and it all but screams "diversity," "other world religions" and "multiculturalism."

At the moment, is the whole point -- in terms of journalism shorthand -- that a Sikh believer looks like the kind of man that the angry, fact-challenged, Islamophobic Donald Trump voter is supposed to want to (a) beat up and then (b) accuse of being a "Muslim" terrorist? 

Well, a few key facts are all wrong. But, hey, the point is to make a point. Right?

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Think piece: Has anyone at an Orthodox parish near you heard of St. Moses the Black?

Think piece: Has anyone at an Orthodox parish near you heard of St. Moses the Black?

Every liturgical year, hours after the great feast of Pascha, Eastern Orthodox Christians gather for a unique service called the Agape Vespers -- during which passages from St. John's Gospel are read in as many languages as possible (based on the membership of the parish).

In this highly multi-ethnic Communion, it is common for churches to have readings in six or seven languages. At my family's parish in the Baltimore-D.C. area -- Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, MD. -- we used to hit 16 or more on a rather regular basis.

What's the point? Theologically speaking, The Big Idea is that the church must always remember to proclaim the Gospel to as many people and cultures as possible. In the Orthodox context here in America, it's a regular reminder that the borders of Orthodoxy are not defined by the language and culture of the Old Country (think Greece or Russia), or by the language and culture of the new (think converts here in North America).

Truth is (attention reporters and editors) many, many seeker-friendly Orthodox parishes are becoming quite diverse, when it comes to ethnicity and even languages.

This brings me to an interesting, and quite straightforward, "Have Faith" feature at The Daily Beast that ran the other day. Here was the info-driven, sprawling headline:

The Brotherhood of Moses the Black
It may come as a shock to some, but one surprising religion is making serious inroads into the African-American community.

And here is the feature's overture:

When Karl Berry walked into an Orthodox Church for the first time in 1983, he saw icons of black saints.

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How much longer might British headlines exclaim, 'God save the Queen'?

How much longer might British headlines exclaim, 'God save the Queen'?

The Telegraph, a United Kingdom center-right broadsheet, recently ran this headline: "Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is, says judge."

It topped a story about the findings of a two-year study on the place of religion in official British life in today's multicultural milieu. The judge referred to is an ex-judge, who's also a baroness, who chaired the study conducted by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, a non-government body.

Good piece of work, I thought the first time I read the head (an abbreviation cherished by newspaper copy editors in a universe fading, alas, into the far, far past). Then I read the story. And I concluded that, as with so many headlines that try to compress a complicated story line into a few words, it actually mislead.

Journalism truism: Headline writing is much more difficult than it looks.

OK, enough with the Journalism 101 stuff. Let's get to the meat of the story.

Yes, British churches have witnessed a steep decline in attendance. Nearly 60 percent of the British population still calls itself Christian, but only 25 percent say they are religious, according to a 2011 national census report.

Church of England attendance decline has been particularly steep. Sunday attendance was reported in 2012 to be about half of what it was 45 years earlier.

But where the aforementioned headline failed is in its conflating traditional Christian belief and practice with the more nebulous, and harder to measure -- but still critically important -- touchstone of cultural Christianity. Cultural Christianity may fall short in the minds of church officials and traditional believers, but it's still the ground of self-identity for the majority of Brits.

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Concerning the Church of England, the Lord's Prayer and the Star (culture) Wars

Concerning the Church of England, the Lord's Prayer and the Star (culture) Wars

It was a question that nagged defenders of the English monarchy for years: If and when he ever became king, would Prince Charles declare himself to be the "Defender of Faith," as opposed to "Defender of the Faith"?

In a way, the chance that the crucial "the" would go missing was the perfect symbol for decades of tense "multiculturalism" debates in Britain. Drop the "the" and the implication was that Christianity, and the Church of England in particular, would have lost its status as a foundation for English life and culture. The monarch would henceforth defend the IDEA of faith, as opposed to a particular faith. Theological pluralism would be the new norm.

It didn't help, of course, that the Church of England was on the decline, in terms of worship attendance, baptisms, marriages and just about any other statistic that could be cited. Meanwhile, Islam was on the rise. Wasn't dropping this telltale "the" simply a nod to the new reality?

Prince Charles has, fairly recently, stated that his title would remain "Defender of the Faith." However, the cultural identity debates roll on, as witnessed in the stark message of the new report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life entitled "Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good (click for .pdf)." Its bottom line: England isn't Christian. Get over it. Reactions? Click here for commentary from veteran religion-beat specialist Ruth Gledhill and here for analysis by Jenny Taylor of the Lapido Media religious literacy project.

These painful debates loomed in the background during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. This time around, host Todd Wilken and I discussed the many implications of the decision -- by the principalities and powers of the movie theater business -- to reject the use of that Church of England ad featuring the Lord's Prayer before screenings of the new Star Wars epic. Click here to tune in our discussion of all of this.

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