sermons

A broken nation hears, according to elite press, vague sermons on unity and reconciliation

A broken nation hears, according to elite press, vague sermons on unity and reconciliation

As America wrestled with bitter realities in Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and the St. Paul, Minn., area, editors of The Washington Post and The New York Times reached the same conclusion -- this was a good time to send reporters to church, as in black and white churches in these troubled communities.

I agree with that decision, in part because I reached the same conclusion during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when I was teaching at Denver Seminary. Let me pause, for a second, to explain what that was all about.

The seminary had created a unique seminar -- it was planned long before the riots. Half of the students were black and half were white and our goal was to combine a class on the Old Testament prophets and my mass-media-framed class, "The Contemporary World and the Christian Task."

When the riots broke out, I decided the syllabus outline needed an update. I told the white students to contact black churches and find out (a) what the pastors had preached about on Sunday (days after the riots) and (b) what biblical texts they used. I asked the black students to call white churches, talk to the ministers, and ask the same questions.

So what did our students learn? Before I tell you, let's find out what happened when -- under very similar circumstances -- reporters at these two elite newspapers took on, sort of, the same assignment. Let's start with the Times story, "On a Somber Sunday, ‘One Nation Under God Examines Its Soul.' "

First things first: Times reporters covered several services focusing on justice and racial reconciliation. However, it appears that none of the services included spoken prayers or references to scripture, even when white pastors preached on the sins of white racism and the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile on Minnesota. Here is a typical anecdote:

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Houston, we have a church-state controversy: Sermons, subpoenas and the First Amendment

Houston, we have a church-state controversy: Sermons, subpoenas and the First Amendment

So, the other rocket blasting off in the news this week?

It's social media in the wake of the City of Houston subpoenaing pastors' sermons. Twitter, not for the first time, is abuzz with outrage and opinion.

Amid all the noise, the challenge for a journalist is to present the key facts and details in a fair and unbiased manner — and to help readers understand the relevant legal and constitutional questions.

For example, is a sermon about the moral issues involved in a law (the Houston equal rights ordinance, in this case) a political statement or an application of life to faith? 

On a national level, two former GetReligionistas — Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service and Mark Kellner of the Deseret News National Edition — are among the Godbeat pros seeking to bring clarity to the issues involved.

The Houston Chronicle gave the story front-page treatment today, albeit not a banner headline.

 

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