Black and white in Georgia: About those two First Baptists that AP discovered in Macon

Black and white in Georgia: About those two First Baptists that AP discovered in Macon

The Associated Press has a series that it has dubbed "Divided America."

The wire service describes the series as "AP's ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions — and in some cases attempts at reconciliation — in American society."

Yes, religion is one of the topics that the series has covered, including veteran AP Godbeat pro Rachel Zoll's in-depth feature this week on two First Baptist Churches in Macon, Ga. — one black and one white.

More on that story in a moment.

But first, a little background: A few months ago, I praised an earlier religion installment in the "Divided America" series, also written by Zoll.

However, not all my fellow GetReligionistas (past and present) were as complimentary of Zoll's piece: 

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ABC News' 20/20 sets record straight on Kayla Mueller's witness to her Christian faith

ABC News' 20/20 sets record straight on Kayla Mueller's witness to her Christian faith

The story of Kayla Mueller, a 25-year-old American aid worker in Turkey whose quick trip over the Syrian border to Aleppo in August 2013 turned into a hellish captivity ending with her death in February 2015, got new life last week when ABC News 20/20 ran an hour-long special: "The Girl Left Behind."

We've reported on how the network, which has been following Mueller’s story for years, has sounded confused as to whether Kayla's faith played a role at all in her travails. Now they've come up with many new details about her captivity, including a tortuous final year where she was forcibly “married” to ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. even though she had not converted to Islam, as has been alleged before. Plus, she had stood up to the notorious “Jihadi John” about her Christian faith.

ABC went out of its way to emphasize the latter with this headline to their story: “Kayla Mueller in captivity: Courage, selfishness as she defended Christian faith to ISIS executioner ‘Jihadi John.’ Here is how the written summary begins:

American hostage Kayla Mueller was tortured, verbally abused, forced into slave labor for ISIS commanders in Syria and raped by the group's top leader, but her fellow hostages say she never surrendered hope, she selflessly put the welfare of fellow captives above her own and she even stood up to executioner "Jihadi John" to defend her Christian faith.
Four former hostages who shared cells with Mueller, speaking publicly for the first time about their shared ordeal for ABC News' "20/20" broadcast, "The Girl Left Behind," airing Friday, say the Prescott, Arizona, humanitarian aid worker was a courageous 25-year-old who inspired them.

The report, narrated by investigative correspondent Brian Ross, had come up with lots of new details and new video (see above) about her 18 months of captivity.

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Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Crude and bigoted, yes. Ignorant, yes. And it violated the very secular principles he embraced when a French restaurateur threw out two diners just for wearing hijabs.

But c'mon -- a "vicious attack"? That's a bit much, even for the Daily Mail

Other mainstream media were less inflammatory, but they committed another sin: skipping over the obvious religious aspect of attire associated with a particular faith. Yep, a classic religion ghost.

The dustup began Saturday when the two women sat down at Le Cenacle restaurant. They were given the usual glasses of water, but then a man -- either the chef or the owner or both, the articles don’t agree -- ordered them to leave.

Here's how the Mail puts it:

Two women wearing headscarves were thrown out of a Paris restaurant after being threatened by its self-confessed racist owner who said ‘Terrorists are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists.’
The disturbing scenes at Le Cenacle follow a series of incidents in which grandmothers and mothers have been thrown off public beaches in France for wearing Islamic looking clothing.
Now a criminal enquiry has been launched into Saturday’s vicious attack at the restaurant in Tremblay-en-France, a north-east suburb of the French capital.

As you can see by the video above, one of the women recorded the confrontation. She captured hateful remarks like "Madam, terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists," "I don’t want people like you in my place," and "It seems like you don’t understand. Now get out!"

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Scare quote alert: Cheers and jeers for that Associated Press primer on 2016 'religious vote'

Scare quote alert: Cheers and jeers for that Associated Press primer on 2016 'religious vote'

Go ahead.

See if you can spot the scare quotes in this Associated Press primer on religion and the 2016 presidential election:

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Donald Trump has told conservative evangelical pastors in Florida that his presidency would preserve "religious liberty" and reverse what he insists is a government-enforced muzzling of Christians.
The same afternoon, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine praised a more liberal group of black church leaders in Louisiana for their "progressive values that are the values of Scripture," and he urged them to see Hillary Clinton as a kindred spirit.
The competing appearances earlier this month highlight an oft-overlooked political reality: The "religious vote" is vast and complex, and it extends beyond generalizations about "social conservatives" who side with Republicans and black Protestant churches whose pastors and parishioners opt nearly unanimously for Democrats.

Did you catch them?

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you know that we have complained time and time again about the news media's love of scare quotes (Dictionary.com definition here in case you're new to the term) around "religious liberty" and "religious freedom."

So if you noticed the scare quotes on "religious liberty" in the AP's lede, you win the prize! (What is the prize? It's a free subscription to GetReligion. Go ahead and read all our posts for free!)

What's wrong with putting "religious liberty" or "religious freedom" in scare quotes? As even a GetReligion critic acknowledged this past spring, the quote marks inject editorial opinion into a news story and "imply something along the lines of: 'Religious freedom? Not necessarily.'" 

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Dear Washington Post editors: Ask some orthodox Catholics why THEY oppose Trump

Dear Washington Post editors: Ask some orthodox Catholics why THEY oppose Trump

You knew this story was coming sooner or later, in The Washington Post as well as in every other mainstream news outlet. The understated Post headline: "Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem."

Of course he does. I mean, let's think it through.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that the majority of Catholics and ex-Catholics who oppose their church's defense of ancient Christian doctrines on sex, marriage, the defense of life from conception to grave and related issues are going to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that Catholics who say they support those teachings, but have not defended these doctrines in public life or even a voting booth since, oh, 1973, are going to vote for Clinton.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that millions of Latino Catholics are going to vote against Donald Trump.

So far, it's easy to do the math. So what is the interesting question in this piece of news? Hint. You will not find the answer in the Post piece that is currently getting lots of promotion. First, here are some key facts right up top:

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

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And this just in: The young, male, video-games crowd doesn't remember the great Ben-Hur

And this just in: The young, male, video-games crowd doesn't remember the great Ben-Hur

First, sorry for the delay on this week's "Crossroads" podcast. We had some technical difficulties, which happens every now and then in the Tower of Babel environment that is the Internet. Every now and then the software gods just don't get along.

The topic of my chat this week with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in) was, on one level, the box-office problems of the latest version of "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ." But my earlier post on this topic also focused on the ongoing interest, in the mainstream media, in Hollywood's quest to tap into the "Christian" movie market, in the wake of the $611 million box office haul taken in by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

It's a great story and a very timely one. Basically, the folks behind the new Ben-Hur made a big-budget religion-niche movie, thinking that the young, male, action-movie demographic would show up for the chariot race scene.

What chariot race scene, you ask? Well, the one that movie scholars -- but not, it's safe to say, today's video-game fanatics -- remember with awe from the 1959 classic.

What were the producers of the new flick thinking?

That would be a great hard-news story, methinks, as opposed to a kind of no-sources analysis thumbsucker like the Atlantic piece I previously discussed.

Well, what do you know? The Los Angeles Times team produced a real news story about this bad, bad summer in Hollywood. The headline: "Hollywood's summer problem? Reboots people don't want."

The opening is pretty brutal:

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Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Covering the transgender bathroom/showers debates has created a few conundrums for the folks here at GetReligion in that we tend to comment on pieces in which religion is a factor or there’s a “ghost;” where religion should be a factor but the reporter –- or editors –- have left it out.

A lot of folks involved in these debates do so for religious reasons, but those reasons aren't often spelled out and instead, as my colleague Bobby Ross has reported, the debate devolves into journalists simply labeling folks "anti-LBGT.".

One side of the debate does seem to get demonized. This case study concerns a Seattle Times food critic who outed a local chef who happens to be providing some of the stadium food available during Seattle Seahawks games.

The chef, known as the “steak king of Seattle,” apparently had a hidden weakness, in that he held unorthodox -- to the new normal -- beliefs on a controversial issue in the public square. Here’s what the Times reporter ran on Wednesday:

Seahawks stadium chef John Howie donated $1,000 to the Washington anti-transgender bathroom group Just Want Privacy in May, and Howie says he also signed a petition opposing transgender bathrooms.
This puts Howie on the opposite side of the issue from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. On Monday, it was reported that Wilson and singer Ciara moved their wedding out of North Carolina due to that state’s anti-transgender bathroom law. Asked about the report today, Wilson said, “I just believe that Jesus loves all people. That’s honestly what I believe.”
Howie says he’s opposed to transgender bathrooms due to concerns about who could gain access to them. “I think that there’s a chance that the law could be abused by somebody,” he says. “I think somebody who is not transgender, a sex offender, could abuse the law -- somebody who is just out to put themselves into a women’s, or a boys’, bathroom, for that matter.

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France's high court clears up burkini's legality; mainstream media still muddy the waters

France's high court clears up burkini's legality; mainstream media still muddy the waters

In France's so-called burkini wars, hypocrisy seems to be one of the few things that mainstream media have teased out well. The latest salvo came from the nation's high court today, striking down a town's law against the modest swimwear for Muslims.

Coverage has been fuzzier or silent on other things, though -- like what the laws say, what the underlying concepts mean, religious views on the matter, even the definition of a burkini.

The Washington Post aptly compares the burkini flap with that against the burqa, banned in France since 2010:

The argument behind both was—and remains—that Muslim modesty somehow impedes the rights of women in the historic French Republic of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
This is why, for instance, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his opposition to the bathing suit in nothing less than the language of human rights: the burkini, he said, was a means of “enslavement.” By the logic of Valls and others, it is the duty of the French state to emancipate Muslim women from the clutches of their religion but also from themselves.

Last week, the New York Times quoted Marwan Muhammad, executive director of France's Center Against Islamophobia, that there is no legal definition of a burkini. But then the newspaper skirted the obvious follow-up question: "Well, is there a religious definition of a burkini? Have any Islamic scholars ruled on this?"  

Tmatt last week quoted former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub for noting the "obviousness of the contradiction – imposing rules on what women can wear on the grounds that it’s wrong for women to have to obey rules about what women can wear." But she then inches out too far on a limb:

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Bookish reporting ahead: J-preps for Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary in 2017

Bookish reporting ahead: J-preps for Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary in 2017

When the Religion Guy worked at Time magazine and The Associated Press, he made every effort to read a book per week. He also vowed to give important books as much publicity as conditions allowed because “mainstream” print media increasingly neglected religion titles. 

That neglect underscores the importance of reporters keeping up with book reviews in religious periodicals, especially the sophisticated, content-rich Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Otherwise, how can busy newswriters sift through those looming piles of review copies and decide which to cover?

Quick tip: No index, no review.

For astute religion writers, the book scene comes to the fore right now due to a huge upcoming story, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. This epochal event deserves careful advance thought about special story packages or series. And that means journalists need some historical reading under the belt to develop the themes to ponder with scholars.

As Thomas Albert Howard of Gordon College wrote four years ago in Books & Culture, the Reformation “has been credited (or blamed) for the rise of the modern nation state, liberalism, capitalism, religious wars, tolerance, America, democracy, individualism, subjectivism, pluralism, freedom of conscience, modern science, secularism, Nazism, and so much else.” He could have added the expansion of literacy, worship in common languages, and the assault on mandatory celibacy.

The agenda includes the title of a 2005 book by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom: “Is The Reformation Over?” Does the old Protestant-Catholic divide still make sense in the secularizing West? What crucial differences remain today?

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