public prayer

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Playoff or prayoff? Media still muddying matters over praying at a stadium

Playoff or prayoff? Media still muddying matters over praying at a stadium

Geez, the months-long fracas with Cambridge Christian School lends new meaning to the term "political football."

And like a hotly contested game, much of the coverage has moved the ball up and down the field, without a goal.

At least an NPR outlet in Florida has spelled out the basic constitutional conflict that could affect freedoms for the rest of us. With a few glaring omissions, which we'll get into later.

The immediate issue is over prayer. As a Christian school, the Tampa-based Cambridge does a lot of it. So does its football team, the Lancers, including over stadium sound systems.

That brought them toe to toe after regional playoffs in December. Just before the championship game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (aka the Citrus Bowl), the Lancers wanted their amplified prayer time. The Florida High School Athletic Association said no.  Now the matter is in court.
 
What's new in the NPR story is clarity: having an outside expert explain the clashing values in the nation's founding document:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Tampa football team sues to pray, but media still don’t score a touchdown

Tampa football team sues to pray, but media still don’t score a touchdown

The Lancers of Cambridge Christian School may have lost their championship game; but in court, they have just begun to fight. The Tampa school this week made good on its threat to sue for the right to lead public prayer before a game.

In January, the Florida High School Athletic Association denied them the mic and speakers at Orlando's Citrus Bowl, even though they were facing another Christian school -- University Christian of Jacksonville. Mainstream media coverage varied greatly, as I wrote in a January GR post.

Unfortunately, they did little better this time around.

The fracas turns on whether the FHSAA, as a "state actor" -- commissioned by the state legislature to regulate high school sports -- is responsible for speech flowing through public-address systems at stadiums like the Citrus Bowl (renamed Camping World Stadium). If so, they argue, they can't allow religious talk like prayer.

Cambridge Christian, as you can guess, is standing on the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion.  They argue also that the athletic association is doing the opposite of the First Amendment by opposing religious free speech.

In January, the Tampa Tribune did much better than the Tampa Bay Times. Now that the Times has bought the Trib, their better side seems to have taken over -- at least with this story:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Jesus man': Franklin Graham backs Phil Robertson prayer and Charlotte Observer growls

'Jesus man': Franklin Graham backs Phil Robertson prayer and Charlotte Observer growls

Oooooooo, two trigger words: "Jesus" and "man." That brought the usual howls of outrage from the likes of the New York Daily News, which said Robertson "goosed at least half the country" with his prayer. And from the Sporting News, which said that allowing Robertson's prayer made NASCAR "look like a confederacy of dunces."

We could ask: When you request a public prayer from a backwoods fundamentalist supporter of Ted Cruz, what did you expect? But more disappointing to me is how the otherwise responsible Charlotte Observer held up for derision not only the prayer, but evangelist Franklin Graham for defending it.

In an article mysteriously bearing the byline of Godbeat pro Tim Funk, the Observer first joins those who read a ton into Phil's prayer:

Robertson, who has endorsed Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for president, would seem to have ruled out a Democrat in his prayer: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a Methodist but not a man, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a man but not a Christian (he’s Jewish).
Various racing writers criticized Robertson for using his prayer before the Texas Motor Speedway’s Duck Commander 500 to further his own political agenda.
"There are Democrats who enjoy NASCAR," wrote one of them, Associated Press auto racing writer Jenna Fryer. "Jews and atheists and women, too."

Then the article segues into a kind of syllabus of errors, protesting the religio-political pronouncements on Graham's Facebook page. It tells how Graham defends a 1994 federal crime bill, criticizes Bruce Springsteen for canceling a concert in Greensboro, and endorses a bill in Alabama to recognize the fetus as a person.

Oh, and the Observer also notes Graham's support of a North Carolina law branded a "bathroom bill" by opponents. The law declares all government lockers and restrooms, including schools, to be used by people of their biological gender. It sparked anger in Charlotte for overturning that city's LGBT ordinance.

This is all written up as if it's freakish to see someone write his beliefs on Facebook. And it was all in a newspaper article labeled only "Religion" -- not "Opinion" or "Commentary" or any other warning to "Brace yourself for 700 words of my views."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Oh no he di-int! Major city's council shocked by prayer mentioning Jesus and the devil

Oh no he di-int! Major city's council shocked by prayer mentioning Jesus and the devil

Government-sanctioned prayers at the beginning of public meetings don't typically draw a lot of attention. Generally, journalists sleep right through them. 

As you might imagine, it takes a humdinger of a prayer to grab the attention of a major newspaper like the San Antonio Express-News.

So, give Theo Wolmarans credit for that.

Wolmarans' secret for making headlines with his prayer? Hold onto your britches: He mentioned Jesus and the devil.

Stop the presses!

A local pastor who prayed Thursday at the start of the City Council meeting declared only two types of people exist on Earth — those who work for God and those who work for the devil.
The invocation, the standard kickoff to all Thursday council meetings, typically is an inclusive prayer.
Religious leaders from various denominations and religions are invited by individual council members and the mayor. The pastors, rabbis, imams and others mostly invoke God for his wisdom. Some mention Jesus in passing.
Rarely do they offer prayer that excludes entire groups of people. But Pastor Theo Wolmarans from Christian Family Church of San Antonio seemed to do just that in his brief invocation.
“Father, we thank you for the privilege we have for being your children. We know that there are many different races and colors and creeds and languages in our world, of which you are the creator of all of these,” he said during the brief invocation. “But even so, out of all of your creation are your children because only those who accept Jesus as their lord and savior are born into your family.
“And so, when you look down upon us today, you see two kinds of people only — those who believe in you and those who don’t know you. Those who believe in you are your children, and you work through your children to bring peace and love and blessing to the earth,” he said. “And the devil works through those who don’t know you to bring confusion and strife and division, the work of the enemy, because he came to steal, to kill and to destroy.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Jerusalem crisis: Jews keep offering secret, generic prayers on holy Temple Mount

Jerusalem crisis: Jews keep offering secret, generic prayers on holy Temple Mount

Let me state my journalistic prejudice right up front.

If I am covering an event, in any faith, that centers on worship then I think it is relevant to quote some of the words being said by the worshipers. More often than not, in my experience, there are references in the worship texts themselves that are linked to the theme or event that has made this particular worship service newsworthy.

Does this make sense? If a worship rite followed a great tragedy, what were the prayers said in mourning? Were scripture readings chosen that offered some kind of commentary on the event? Using quotes from these texts can serve as a way to pull readers into the story.

I would argue that this principle would certainly apply if the worship itself is considered controversial. And what if the prayers are controversial or even -- imagine this -- illegal?

This brings me to a recent USA Today story -- focusing on the most controversial piece of land in the world's most controversial city -- that left me shaking my head. Here is how the story opens:

JERUSALEM -- In a move that could further inflame recent Palestinian violence, Jewish activists are defying Israeli law by secretly praying at a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.
On a recent Sunday at the hilltop complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, dozens of religious Jews shoved ahead of a line of tourists. While being closely monitored at the site by security guards, who questioned anyone suspected of engaging in prayer, a number of visitors from a group of about 15 mumbled prayers quietly as they pretended to speak on their cellphones and cupped their hands over their mouths. They recited the prayers from memory, as they had been instructed to leave behind their prayer books before entering.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dear Sun editors: Do you favor a state-endorsed faith or not?

Anyone who has been paying attention to American public life in recent decades knows that lots of people are getting very uncomfortable with that whole First Amendment thing. Many people are especially uncomfortable with free, even offensive speech about religion in any setting connected with government, public life, tax dollars, etc. Some even act as if religious speech is uniquely dangerous, in comparison with speech about other topics.

This is a serious issue and one that journalists cannot avoid covering, in these times.

The key church-state principle is that the government is not supposed to favor a particular religion. Thus, state officials are supposed to avoid getting involved in decisions — “entangled” is the big word — about which religions and doctrines are acceptable and which ones are not. They are supposed to err on the side of free exercise, but without allowing officials to openly favor one set of religious doctrines over another.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Half-naked dancers and public prayers in Oklahoma City

My friend Randy Roper, the preaching minister for my home congregation in Oklahoma, came up with that winning slogan in a 2009 contest sponsored by the Oklahoma City Thunder. As a result, Roper earned a free trip to New York for the NBA Draft Lottery. (That was, of course, before the Thunder emerged as one of the league’s top teams.) At least once a season since then, the Thunder have asked Roper to lead the public prayer that precedes each home game.

I thought of my friend when I read a New York Times sports feature this week headlined “Praying for the Home Team in Oklahoma City.” The top of the 2,000-word story by NBA writer Andrew Keh:

OKLAHOMA CITY — Before the plumes of smoke and the shimmering pyrotechnics and the two dozen or so dancers gyrating in microscopic shorts and the hip-hop and the hairy mascot on stilts and the sponsorships — “Tonight’s free throws are brought to you by Hooters!” – there is prayer.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Grossman's blog is back: Faith & Reason 2.0 at RNS

One of the first signs that the religion beat was in trouble at USA Today was the decision to shutter veteran scribe Cathy Grossman’s “Faith & Reason” weblog.

Please respect our Commenting Policy