racial unity

New York Times' 20th anniversary piece on East Texas dragging death is powerful, yet disappointing

New York Times' 20th anniversary piece on East Texas dragging death is powerful, yet disappointing

The New York Times' front page Monday featured a "beautiful and powerful story" — as one top journalist described it — on the 20th anniversary of James Byrd Jr.'s racially motivated dragging death in the East Texas town of Jasper.

Emotional and compelling, the piece is expertly written and filled with riveting details.

It even contains several references to faith.

So why am I about to give this story — which I mostly liked and really hoped I could praise — a negative critique? The simple answer is that the Times, in an otherwise excellent piece of journalism, fails to answer basic questions tied to religion. 

Up high in the story, the newspaper hints strongly at a religion angle when it mentions church and notes that Byrd's family forgave his killers:

JASPER, Tex. — Sometime after church but before dinner, Sgt. James Carter of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office knocked on the front door of James and Stella Byrd’s home. He stepped into the living room, removed his white cowboy hat and bowed his head. Then, with a somber look on his face that the Byrds still remember years later, he delivered the news that their son James Byrd Jr. was dead.

The horrific circumstances surrounding his death they would learn later: Chained by his ankles to a pickup truck by three men, he had been dragged three miles, murdered before the sun rose that Sunday morning 20 years ago.

“I just knew something was terribly wrong,” Betty Boatner, 63, one of Mr. Byrd’s younger sisters, whispered as she sat on a picnic bench at a memorial park now named in his honor. “It’s such a small town that we had already heard the rumors that a black man was found dead, but we didn’t know who it was. Until the knock on our door.”

The family forgave Mr. Byrd’s three killers long ago and made peace with Jasper, the small East Texas town where they have lived for three generations. But as the nation faces a spread in bias crime incidents, the family wants to ensure the public remembers one of the worst hate crimes of the 20th century. In the years since Mr. Byrd’s death, both state and federal hate crime laws bear his name.

As I kept reading, I expected — or at least hoped — that the Times would elaborate on the family's forgiveness of the killers and the reasoning, which I suspected would include religion, behind it. But that explanation never comes.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Evangelicals face Trump-era exits by blacks: This may have something to do with religion

Evangelicals face Trump-era exits by blacks: This may have something to do with religion

Ever since the Promise Keepers movement in the late 1990s (remember the giant rally on the National Mall?), one of the most interesting stories in American religion has been efforts at racial reconciliation in some (repeat some) evangelical and Pentecostal churches and denominations.

Pentecostalism, of course, began as a racial integrated movement and, ever since, that movement has been more multicultural and interracial than any other form of church life. Evangelicals? Not as much. However, it has been hard to miss the Southern Baptist Convention wrestling with its demons in the past decade, in particular.

This brings me to a must-read piece that ran the other day in The New York Times: "A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches."

You will be shocked, I am sure, to know that the answer to that "why?" question is (wait for it) -- Donald Trump.

You'll also be shocked to know that, at the heart of this story, is the white evangelical monolith theory stressing that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and were very happy to do so (yes, ignore the coverage in Christianity Today). It ignores that Trump's take on immigration and his tone-deaf (at best) language on race infuriated many evangelical leaders.

All that said, I think this Times story gets the political half of this painful equation just about right. However, the editors aren't very interested in what is going on in terms of religion. I know -- it's shocking. Plus, where’s the hard reporting? Can you base a long feature like this on anecdotes, alone?.

The story is unfolds through the eyes of Charmaine Pruitt of Fort Worth, explaining why (sort of) she began attending the giant predominately white Gateway Church, led by the Rev. Robert Morris. Then it explains why she left. Here is a key piece of framing material:

In the last couple of decades, there had been signs, however modest, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning might cease to be the most segregated hour in America. “Racial reconciliation” was the talk of conferences and the subject of formal resolutions.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

AP reports churches transcend racial barriers after Mississippi arson — but do they really?

AP reports churches transcend racial barriers after Mississippi arson — but do they really?

Being a media critic means sometimes asking pesky questions about warm-fuzzy storylines. 

Please forgive me for being that guy, especially on the day before Thanksgiving.

And if I'm just being a crank, feel feel to tell me so. In fact, this is one of those rare cases where I'd love to be persuaded that I'm wrong.

But here's the deal: The Associated Press has a story out of Mississippi today with this inspiring headline:

2 Mississippi churches transcend racial barriers after arson

However, after reading the story, my annoying question is this: Are they really transcending racial barriers? 

The lede sets the scene by highlighting the racial divide in many churches nationwide:

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Back in the 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America, a fact that remains true in many communities today.
But three weeks after their church in the Mississippi Delta was mostly destroyed by arson and someone spray-painted "Vote Trump" outside, an African-American congregation has been welcomed into the church of its white neighbors.
The bishop of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Clarence Green, says the generosity of First Baptist Church of Greenville demonstrates that "unlimited love" transcends social barriers. And his host, First Baptist's senior pastor James Nichols, says their brothers and sisters in Christ are welcome to stay as long as they need a home.
The Hopewell congregation, about 200 strong, is holding services a mile away at 600-member First Baptist. The guests are using the chapel, a space with dark wooden pews and bright stained-glass windows where small weddings and funerals are usually held. It's on the downtown campus of First Baptist, a few steps from the larger main sanctuary.

Please respect our Commenting Policy