salvation

Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what

Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what

At this point, I think reporters have no choice but to dig into the Calvinist themes in the manifesto published by John Earnest, the accused shooter at Chabad of Poway.

It’s crucial to find out, of course, what he learned during his many hours in the pews at Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It would appear that Earnest then blended pieces of Calvinist theology into the white supremacist beliefs that he says that he learned elsewhere.

Here is the key question at this point, as I see it: Was there an online website (a specific writer, even) that twisted Calvinist doctrines into the form that Earnest blended into a radicalized, violent white nationalism that embraced some things that he heard at church, while rejecting others?

Let’s take this one step at a time, starting with the following, from my first GetReligion post on this subject:

Yes, reporters … need to note that Earnest said, in that same manifesto, that he didn’t soak up this twisted version of Christianity while frequenting church pews with his family. His hateful, deadly heresies grew out of a private, secret life online, listening to true radicals. Church members tried to talk to him, but he turned away.

Nevertheless, there is no question that reporters will have to deal with two clashing versions of Christianity when covering this story — that white supremacist brand proclaimed in this digital testimony and the Orthodox Presbyterian — uppercase “O” is part of the name — faith taught in his family’s congregation. In this case, the accused gunman did everything that he could to put the word “Christian” into play.

This brings us to two Washington Post stories that can — by savvy readers — be read together. They cover two parts of the same equation.

Here’s the headline on the first one I’d like readers to study: “Ancient hatreds, modern methods: How social media and political division feed attacks on sacred spaces.” And here is the overture, which covers the crucial ground:

Inspired by the devastating impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and enabled by the largely unchecked freedoms of social media, individual extremists have launched a steady series of assaults on religious institutions around the world, the latest at a California synagogue. …

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CNN offers another big-media PR feature backing Rob Bell in his old wars with evangelicalism

CNN offers another big-media PR feature backing Rob Bell in his old wars with evangelicalism

About six years ago, the Rev. Rob Bell was -- in terms of mainstream news -- hotter than hell.

In other words, lots of reporters thought he was totally cool because he was turning the world of megachurch celebrity culture inside out with his headline-friendly attacks on centuries of Christian doctrine about heaven, hell and salvation (plus some other predictable topics linked to faith, culture and politics).

It's all part of a news-media equation that is familiar to all public-relations professionals who promote religious books to the mainstream. If an evangelical writer wants great press, all he or she has to do is attack the core beliefs of evangelicalism. The same works for Catholics, Anglicans (Newark Bishop Jack Spong wrote the book on this), Mormons and pretty much everyone else.

The bottom line: Rebellion against conservative orthodoxy is almost always news. So Bell's "Love Wins" book was a big deal, for many.

So Bell took his post-congregation revival tour to Atlanta the other day and CNN.com was all over it, producing a long, long, print feature with this headline: "Outlaw pastor Rob Bell shakes up the Bible Belt."

Let me stress that an update on Bell is a valid subject for a feature story, even if the former megachurch pastor is no longer making headlines. Also, there have been lots of interesting responses to Bell's redefinition of heaven and hell, some of them book length (see "God Wins"), which means that it would ultra-easy for CNN editors/reporters to find articulate responses -- from a variety of theological perspectives -- to what Bell is still saying.

No, honest. Don't laugh. It would have been so easy for CNN to produce an interesting, complex, accurate, balanced news feature on this Bell event.

Want to guess what happened?

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Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

JOEL’S QUESTION:

[Explanation:] The pastor of a New Jersey Protestant congregation sent in several “questions that have come up here.” One of them is how to understand the passage in the New Testament letter of 1st Peter about Jesus Christ preaching to “the spirits in prison.”

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Bible’s major teachings are clear enough. But Joel and his parishioners shouldn’t be embarrassed if they’re confused about this particular New Testament head-scratcher. Even Martin Luther (who so energized Bible study 500 years ago by sparking the Protestant Reformation) said it’s “certainly a more obscure passage than any other in the New Testament. I still do now know for sure what the apostle means.” Robert Mounce, president of Whitworth University, agreed that this section is “widely recognized as perhaps the most difficult to understand in the New Testament.”

Here’s the text at issue: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah . .  .” (1 Peter 3:18-20a, RSV translation).

The following analysis relies especially on commentaries by Mounce, an American, the German exegete Leonhard Goppelt, and England’s J.N.D. Kelly. Scholars candidly admit that each explanation has problems. Among them:

(1) Between his death by crucifixion and bodily resurrection, Christ visited the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s wicked contemporaries. That was the view of early church “Fathers,” notably Clement of Alexandria.

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What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

BARBARA’S QUESTION:

My son is in his 20s. He’s a devoted Christian. He also loves motorcycles. I hate them, and have seen too many young people killed on them. He says ‘Mom, if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ How can I caution him and make him take me seriously? I think the Lord gives you the good sense to make good decisions.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

“Religion Q and A” usually avoids personal issues on which mere journalists have little to offer. But Barbara raises an important topic to examine: What in fact does Christianity say about protecting yourself from physical harm?

Mom certainly has a point, given National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. On a per-mile basis, U.S. motorcyclists are killed in traffic 27 times more often than those using other vehicles, and they’re 6 times more likely to suffer injuries short of death. The latest report last August said 2015 motorcycle fatalities jumped 8.3 percent from the prior year, to 4,976, with 1,365 of these involving alcohol impairment. The proportion of motorcyclists among all traffic deaths was 11 percent in 2006 and increased to 14 percent in 2015.

As politicians and the media popularize expanded marijuana usage, on top of the huge and lethal problem of drunk driving, all categories of highway homicide may well increase. A 2013 report showed 10 million people age 12 and up admitted driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We lack good numbers on how often pot or other drugs cause deaths with motorcycles or otherwise because police lack a reliable roadside test, and those who die often combine drugs with alcohol so it’s impossible to say which substance was to blame.

One thing about motorcycling, though. At least the hands are engaged so riders aren’t distracted with text messaging, an increasing and deadly plague.

All of the above, combined with the son’s cavalier and immature remark about death and danger, bring us to the broader theme of what his Christian religion teaches.

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The big question: What does Christianity say happens to believers after death?

The big question: What does Christianity say happens to believers after death?

PAULA’S QUESTION:

When people say their loved one went to heaven, why doesn’t the preacher tell them that no-one goes straight to heaven? If they did, what would be the reason for the resurrection?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Christian doctrine says that after death a believer’s soul enters the presence of God in the blessedness of heaven, and then in the end times will be reunited with a transformed body. Christianity contrasts with Eastern religions’ belief in reincarnation, a long series of rebirths into varied conditions and biological species based upon performance in the prior life.

With typical Presbyterian precision, the Christian teaching is spelled out in the 17th Century Westminster Confession, accompanied by citations of 14 Bible texts:

“The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption, but their souls, (which neither die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.” Then at “the last day ... all the dead shall be raised up with the self-same bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls forever.”

The modern-day Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the same: “In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection” at “the end of the world” when Christ returns.

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Deseret News covers heaven: But how many voices does this story need to include?

Deseret News covers heaven: But how many voices does this story need to include?

Anyone who has spent some time on the religion beat knows that religious organizations like to hold conferences about big, complex, interesting topics.

Covering one of these things is a great way to spend a day. Most of the time when you are sent to one, you end up hearing all kinds of articulate people talking about all kinds of interesting angles on what is usually a very interesting subject (at least it's interesting to members of the flock that staged the conference).

But there are challenges. For starters, what do you do if there are two really interesting presentations going on at the same time? Also, you can end up with dozens of interesting points of view competing for the lede of your story. How do you pick a winner? How does one decide which voice is the most newsworthy?

In the end, reading competing news accounts of the same conference tells you just as much about the reporters involved in the coverage as it does the content of the actual event.

If you want to see a perfect example of this syndrome, check out this recent story from The Deseret News about a conference focusing on a subject that is certainly interesting and potentially even newsworthy. But the topic is so massive, and the event drew so many interesting experts, that the result is kind of -- well, I'll let you be the judge of that.

How big is the subject? Let's start with the lede:

PROVO -- What lies beyond the grave?

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Crucial missing 'a' in this debate: Did Pope Francis judge Trump's soul or his behavior?

Crucial missing 'a' in this debate: Did Pope Francis judge Trump's soul or his behavior?

If I was a headline writer in a major newsroom right now, looking at the tsunami of social media and news reports about the dynamic duo of Pope Francis and Billionaire Donald Trump, I would be very worried about writing something definitive that contained the article "a."

What am I talking about?

Let's take some of the early headlines on this showdown in the public square. The New York Times, in a very typical wording, offered: "Pope Francis Suggests Donald Trump Is ‘Not Christian’."

An early Reuters report offered this headline: "Pope says Trump 'not Christian' in views, plans over immigration."

Would it have been different if these early headlines -- with a telltale "a" -- had reported that the pope said "Trump is 'not A Christian' " because of his views on immigration and the Mexico-United States border?

In other words, was the pope making a judgment on the state of the GOP candidate's SOUL or stating that he believes Trump is not behaving like a Christian? This is picky, yes. But it's a crucial point.

That Reuters' report, for example offered this summary right up top:

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is "not Christian" because of his views on immigration, Pope Francis said on his way back to Rome from Mexico.

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Bizarre Kellerism debate: Was Bobby Ross Jr. calling for bias in favor of Jeffrey Dahmer?

Bizarre Kellerism debate: Was Bobby Ross Jr. calling for bias in favor of Jeffrey Dahmer?

Every week or two -- either in private emails, on Twitter or perhaps in our comments pages -- I get involved in a debate with a reader about an issue that's at the heart of GetReligion's work. The hook is usually a post in which the press, when covering a controversial issue, has focused almost all of it its attention on the views of one side of the argument while demoting the other side to one or two lines of type, usually shallow, dull information drawn from a website or press release.

The reader, in effect, is defending what we call "Kellerism" -- click here for a refresher on that term -- and says that there is no need to give equal play to the voices on both sides because it is already obvious who is right and who is wrong. The reader says that GetReligion is biased because we still think there is a debate to be covered (think Indiana), while we believe that it's crucial to treat people on both sides of these debates with respect and cover their views as accurately as possible.

My slogan, shared with students down the years: Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you.

This cuts against a popular "New Journalism" theory from the late '60s and the '70s arguing that balance, fairness and professional standards linked to the word "objectivity" are false newsroom gods and that journalists should call the truth the truth and move on. Some may remember a minor dust-up a few years ago when a powerful news consumer seemed to affirm this "false balance" thesis in a New York Times story:

As president, however, he has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country’s political discussion. ...
Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

This brings us, believe it or not, to our own Bobby Ross Jr. and his much-discussed (and trolled) post on the state of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's soul.

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