race

Talking about the Virginia train wreck: This hot story is about politics, race and (#shush) abortion

Talking about the Virginia train wreck: This hot story is about politics, race and (#shush) abortion

Who enjoys reporting and writing stories about abortion?

How about this journalism issue: Who wants to write news stories about abortion that offer information and viewpoints from the many articulate believers on both sides of this issue that has divided America for several decades now? Who wants to write about a subject that so bitterly divides Americans, creating painful puzzles for anyone who studies poll numbers?

Yes, there is a media-bias issue here, one that shows up in any major study of the professionals who work in major newsrooms — especially along the crucial Acela corridor in the bright blue zip codes of the Northeast. The evidence was strong when I did my graduate-school research in the early 1980s. It was still there when the media-beat reporter David Shaw wrote his classic Los Angeles Times series on this topic in 1990 (click here for the whole package). Remember the classic opening of Shaw’s masterwork?

When reporter Susan Okie wrote on Page 1 of the Washington Post last year that advances in the treatment of premature babies could undermine support for the abortion-rights movement, she quickly heard from someone in the movement.

"Her message was clear," Okie recalled recently. "I felt that they were . . . (saying) 'You're hurting the cause' . . . that I was . . . being herded back into line."

Okie says she was "shocked" by the "disquieting" assumption implicit in the complaint -- that reporters, especially women reporters, are expected to write only stories that support abortion rights.

But it's not surprising that some abortion-rights activists would see journalists as their natural allies. Most major newspapers support abortion rights on their editorial pages, and two major media studies have shown that 80% to 90% of U.S. journalists personally favor abortion rights. Moreover, some reporters participated in a big abortion rights march in Washington last year, and the American Newspaper Guild, the union that represents news and editorial employees at many major papers, has officially endorsed "freedom of choice in abortion decisions."

This was the subject that loomed in the background as we recorded this week’s “Crossroads” podcast that focused — no surprise here — on the chaos on the Democratic Party in Virginia. (Click here to tune that in.)

Does anyone remember where that train wreck started? Here’s how I opened my national “On Religion” column this week, with a long and rather complex equation.

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Duck and cover: What was the worst misuse of the Bible in history?

Duck and cover: What was the worst misuse of the Bible in history?

THE QUESTION:

Across the ages, what passage in the Bible was the subject of the most heinous misinterpretation and application?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Without doubt, the answer is Genesis 9:18-27.

The use of those verses as biblical support for black slavery was “devastating, and patently false,” says David M. Goldenberg, who wrote the important studies “The Curse of Ham” (2005) and “Black and Slave” (2017). Black History Month is an appropriate season to contemplate a perverse biblical claim long perpetrated by various Christians, Jews and, from a different tradition, Muslims.

This Genesis passage, aptly called “obscure” and “enigmatic” by scholars, records a sordid incident in primeval times. After surviving the great Flood, Noah planted grapes and then (possibly by mistake) became drunk with wine. As Noah lay uncovered in a stupor, his son Ham “saw the nakedness of his father” and reported this to his brothers Shem and Japheth, who then took care to cover Noah without looking upon his naked body.

When Noah awoke and learned what had happened, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan, saying “a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

So this was not a “curse of Ham” so often spoken of, but upon Noah’s grandson Canaan. We are not told that God cursed Canaan, only that Noah did so. Noah then asked God to bless his sons Shem and Japheth while omitting Ham, but God had previously blessed all three brothers equally (Genesis 9:1).

“The Bible says nothing about skin color in the story of Noah,” Goldenberg observes, and others agree. Analysts differ on the geography and ethnicity that might be indicated in the genealogy that follows in Genesis chapter 10 but do agree on one obvious point. The Bible identified Canaan as the ancestor of the Canaanites, Israel’s pagan rivals. The family line in Genesis 11:10-31 designated another of Noah’s sons, Shem, as the ancestor of Abraham and thus the Israelites, as he was also to be of Ishmael and the Arabs.

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Associated Press repeats mantra: Gosh those 'evangelicals' are standing by their man Trump

Associated Press repeats mantra: Gosh those 'evangelicals' are standing by their man Trump

Pardon me for a moment while I (just back from eclipse gazing here in New York City) ponder mortality, as in my own.

If I was hit by a bus tomorrow, there are two or three things that I have done in the world of journalism that I think would be worth future discussion. Yes, there's young Bono talking about faith and Africa, Mother Teresa talking about AIDS in Denver and Carl Sagan saying that he no longer considered himself an atheist or even an agnostic.

But I also hope -- in this age in which the word "evangelical" has been turned into a political label -- that a few people remember what happened when I asked the Rev. Billy Graham, back in the mid-1980s, to define that problematic word. Here's a flashback:

"Actually, that's a question I'd like to ask somebody, too," he said, during a 1987 interview in his mountainside home office in Montreat, N.C. This oft-abused term has "become blurred. ... You go all the way from the extreme fundamentalists to the extreme liberals and, somewhere in between, there are the evangelicals."
Wait a minute, I said. If Billy Graham doesn't know what "evangelical" means, then who does? Graham agreed that this is a problem for journalists and historians. One man's "evangelical" is another's "fundamentalist."

Graham said he defines "evangelical" in terms of doctrines, not politics or anything else. If a person believes all of the doctrines in the Apostles Creed, he said, their view of scripture is high enough to be called an evangelical. What about Pope John Paul II? Graham said the two men had discussed that. Yes, there is more to that story.

This brings me to, alas, Donald Trump, his house evangelicals and the Associated Press headline: "Trump’s evangelical advisers sticking with him amid fallout." The overture:

NEW YORK (AP) -- One of President Donald Trump’s most steadfast constituencies has been standing by him amid his defense of a white nationalist rally in Virginia, even as business leaders, artists and Republicans turn away.

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Race and Southern Baptists II: Why not cover the national meeting of black SBC leaders?

Race and Southern Baptists II: Why not cover the national meeting of black SBC leaders?

If you've been reading this blog all week, you may have noticed an emerging theme.

Julia Duin started things off with a post about how a Religion News Service column about LGBTQ issues and the work of the Rev. Eugene Peterson -- a mainline Protestant author who is popular with evangelicals -- started a digital media storm in news coverage.

The RNS column contained valid news material, but it was clearly a personal column by the pro-gay-rights evangelical Jonathan Merritt. As the news story escalated, Merritt wrote an even more personal second column.

So note that equation: We had an editorial column that made hard news, which was then framed again with more editorial material.

Our own Bobby Ross, Jr., carried on later in the week with a post -- "Race and Southern Baptists: This is why it's so hard to tell difference between opinion, news these days" -- about how an op-ed editorial in The New York Times ended up inspiring hard news coverage in The Nashville Tennessean. The Times piece by the Rev. Lawrence Ware of Oklahoma State University focused on his decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, primarily because of differences over the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ issues and an awkward one-day glitch in efforts to pass an SBC resolution condemning the alt-right.

Yes, Nashville is the home of national SBC headquarters. But Ross wanted to know why this New York Times editorial piece by a part-time Oklahoma pastor was a hook for prominent hard-news coverage in Nashville as opposed, let's say, to newspapers in Oklahoma.

I say "amen" to all of that. Now I would like to add a question or two of my own.

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Not all evangelicals are white (true). What about Democrats who don't like religious groups?

Not all evangelicals are white (true). What about Democrats who don't like religious groups?

News consumers, I want you to flash back to the early stages of the 2016 White House race, near the start of the Donald Trump earthquake.

Remember how we had lots of headlines headlines that kept saying, "Evangelicals love Trump! Evangelicals LOVE Trump!"

Yes, that was sort of true. There were many old-guard Religious Right leaders who bonded with The Donald really early. Eventually, the vast majority of cultural and moral conservatives would vote for the sort-of-GOP standard bearer, with about half of them reluctantly doing so as a way of voting against Hillary Clinton. The mainstream press (with a few exceptions) still has not grasped the significance of that fact.

However, here is something that more reporters figured out early on, since it involved race. They discovered the crucial fact that there are black, Latino and Asian evangelicals. They realized that it was mainly WHITE evangelicals who were supporting Trump. Look at evangelicals as a whole and the picture was quite different.

This brings us to a recent Religion News Service headline about another fascinating blast of numbers from the Pew Research Center team. That headline proclaimed: "Republicans, Democrats divided on impact of religion." And here is some key information near the top:

Overall, a majority of Americans (59 percent) see religion as a positive, compared to 26 percent who say it has a negative impact on the way things are going in the U.S., according to Pew. ...
Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Republicans or those who lean Republican said churches and religious organizations have a positive impact, with 14 percent saying that impact is negative, according to Pew.
Meanwhile, Democrats are split: Half of those who are or lean Democrat believe religious institutions have a positive impact, according to the survey, while 36 percent said they have a negative impact.

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About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

Suffice it to say, I received more than a few emails yesterday asking for my reaction to yesterday's Washington Post story by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey that ran under this long, detailed, dramatic headline: "Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job? Churches threaten to pull funds after months of Trump controversy."

One email late last night, which I will decline to share, offered a 500-word plus dissection of the whole piece focusing on this question that many others were asking: Was it accurate to say that the Rev. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, "indicated" that he was prepared to ask Moore -- the denomination's high-profile point man in Washington, D.C. -- to resign on Monday?

As you would imagine, this quickly morphed into discussions of whether Moore -- a consistent #AntiTrump #AntiHillary voice during the madness of 2016 -- was going to be fired.

Out of all of his blunt quotes about Trump, and there are many, here is one from an op-ed in The New York Times that I think expresses what Moore was consistently saying:

Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.

As you would imagine (and I say this as someone who was openly #AntiTrump #AntiHillary), more than a few people in Southern Baptist circles argued -- in public and behind the scenes -- that Moore's opposition to Trump was the same thing as offering support to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

This brings us to the overture of Bailey's much circulated story, a story that was updated with quite a bit of new material on Monday evening.

Concern is mounting among evangelicals that Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, could lose his job following months of backlash over his critiques of President Trump and religious leaders who publicly supported the Republican candidate. Any such move could be explosive for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which has been divided over politics, theology and, perhaps most starkly, race.

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Painful group memories and the news media's (potentially) curative powers

Painful group memories and the news media's (potentially) curative powers

I've been semi-detached from the dread, anger, loss, and pain that have dominated American and international headlines the past two weeks while my wife and traveled across the Iberian Peninsula's north.

But only semi.

Full detachment is impossible for me (a) because of the electronic communication devices I take with me on vacation, and obviously (b) because of my obsessive newshound personality. The former allows me and the latter impels me to keep up -- at least to some degree -- with humanity's daily dose of self-inflicted trauma.

Spain and Portugal make it even easier for me to stay connected to this irrational state of affairs thanks to their particular histories. They abound with reminders of past injustices heaped upon the region's Jews, with which I fully identity. (Click here: I posted on this at the start of my trip.)

Human history seems a litany of communal hurts we never fully overcome. Not to mention that these hurts are continually updated.

In one Portuguese town -- Viana do Castello, just south of the Spanish border -- I parked next to a stone wall defaced by graffiti. The only parts of the scrawl I could decipher were the swastikas and the word "Sion," or Zion. I doubt the full message was complementary toward Jews or Israel.

Then there was this despicable anti-American, anti-Semitic and blatantly racist cartoon circulated by Spain's United Left political party, which holds eight seats in the nation's 360-member bicameral parliament (Click here for New York Times backgrounder). It was timed to coincide with President Barak Obama's brief visit to Spain last weekend. (Spain and Portugal now offer citizenship to foreign Jews of Sephardic ancestry, meaning those who can prove their families were forced out of Iberia during the Inquisition.)

I mention my experience as a prelude to commenting on a story published by The New York Times that reported international Muslim anger at perceived insufficient Western outrage and compassion toward terror attack victims in Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey during the just completed Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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Black, white and vague: trying hard to decipher Southern Baptist racial unity efforts

Black, white and vague: trying hard to decipher Southern Baptist racial unity efforts

We've said it before, but Associated Press writers face an almost impossible task: providing real depth and insight in wire-service-length news reports.

Yes, the AP goes in depth from time to time — such as religion writer Rachel Zoll's deep dive inside the changing status of evangelicals in America, which I praised last week.

But typically, AP limits stories to 300 to 500 words.

By my quick copy-and-paste count, an AP story out today on Southern Baptists talking racial unity with a black Baptist leader is 532 words.

So perhaps it's no surprise that the piece falls short when it comes to backing up its generalizations and quoting relevant sources.

Let's start at the top:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Ferguson, Missouri, exploded two years ago with racial unrest that spread across the nation, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention was moved to action.
Together with an interracial group of his fellow ministers, the Rev. Ronnie Floyd penned an article that called on Southern Baptist pastors, churches and laypeople to repent of racism and injustice. "Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing," it read.
It was one of the most strongly worded denunciations of racism ever released by leaders of a denomination founded in a split over slavery, and it set in motion events leading to a "national conversation on racial unity" to take place at the SBC's annual meeting on Tuesday.
Speaking to the membership of the nation's largest Protestant denomination will be the Rev. Jerry Young, president of the nation's largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.

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