U2 is 'secretly Christian'? Say what? How long must we sing this song?

U2 is 'secretly Christian'? Say what? How long must we sing this song?

It's not a news piece, but there is a lot of chatter out in mainstream media right now about that Joshua Rothman essay in The New Yorker that ran under the headline "The Church of U2."

I'll be honest. I have no idea what that piece is trying to say, just in terms of the on-the-record facts about the band's history. It's like the last three or four decades of debate about what is, and what is not, "Christian" music never happened. It's like Bruce Cockburn, T-Bone Burnett, Charlie Peacock, etc., etc., never happened. 

Here are the opening paragraphs, including the buzz term that everyone is discussing -- "secretly Christian."

A few years ago, I was caught up in a big research project about contemporary hymns (or “hymnody,” as they say in the trade). I listened to hundreds of hymns on Spotify; I interviewed a bunch of hymn experts. What, I asked them, was the most successful contemporary hymn -- the modern successor to “Morning Has Broken” or “Amazing Grace”? Some cited recently written traditional church hymns; others mentioned songs by popular Christian musicians. But one scholar pointed in a different direction: “If you’re willing to construe the term ‘hymn’ liberally, then the most heard, most successful hymn of the last few decades could be ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ by U2.”

Click pause for a moment. 

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Francis's feast is media's famine: Key detail omitted from coverage of Vatican wedding

Francis's feast is media's famine: Key detail omitted from coverage of Vatican wedding

In the media's rush to draw conclusions from the mass wedding at the Vatican last Sunday, where some of the couples being wed had been cohabiting, one point seems to have been overlooked by nearly everyone: Pope Francis's choice of date for the nuptials.

On the Catholic calendar, the Church is currently in the midst of what is called ordinary time. During all of this July, August, and September, there is only one Sunday in which a feast takes precedence over the normal Sunday liturgy.

Pope Francis had his pick of Sundays to preside over the mass wedding, and he chose that very Sunday. It would seem, then, that he wished that the couples would, from then on, remember that feast every year as the one upon which they were married. There is something about the nature of that feast that Pope Francis wanted the couples to associate with their vows.

What feast was it? The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

I believe the pope's choice of date is significant. Currently the media is abuzz with speculation concerning the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, particularly with regard to a push among certain cardinals to permit Holy Communion for civilly divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Much of the debate concerns the question of how much the Church should expect members of the faithful to sacrifice. This was also an issue at the time of the contraception debate during the 1960s. At that time, those favoring relaxation of doctrine argued that it was simply too difficult for Catholic couples to follow the Church's ban on artificial methods of birth control. Pope Paul VI responded with Humanae Vitae, in which he quoted Jesus' words in Matthew 7:14: "the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life."

Perhaps Francis is indicating a similar attitude to that of Paul VI by officiating at the mass wedding on the feast marking Jesus' self-sacrificial outpouring, and by making the Cross the center of his homily.

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Biden and nuns on the bus get (mostly) free ride from NYTimes

Biden and nuns on the bus get (mostly) free ride from NYTimes

Do nuns' habits have coattails? To read a New York Times story out of Des Moines, Iowa, the vice president is trying hard to hold onto them.

His latest effort, on Wednesday, was at a stop for the 2014 "Nuns on the Bus" tour -- not coincidentally, a prime stop also for presidential campaigning. It was a natural to link arms with nuns who have promoted liberal causes like Obamacare.

Biden's reported attitude toward their boss, though, was another matter:

DES MOINES — At a Vatican meeting a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly asked Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for some advice. “You are being entirely too hard on the American nuns,” Mr. Biden offered. “Lighten up.”
Last year, Mr. Biden seized on an audience with Pope Francis as another opportunity to praise the sisters who remained the target of a Vatican crackdown for their activism on issues like poverty and health care.
And on a visit to Iowa on Wednesday, Mr. Biden literally, as he might put it, got on board with the nuns.
“You’re looking at a kid who had 12 years of Catholic education,” Mr. Biden, wearing a white shirt and a red tie, said before a backdrop of the gold-domed Iowa statehouse and a “Nuns on the Bus” coach bus. “I woke up probably every morning saying: ‘Yes, Sister; no, Sister; yes, Sister; no, Sister.’ I just made it clear, I’m still obedient.”

In what ways he's been obedient after lecturing two popes isn't clear. The story does note that obedience is the issue also with Network, the nuns' group on the tour. They're a subset of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which, as the Times reports, is under a Vatican crackdown.  

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A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum

A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum

I have a confession to make: I"m typing this in a hurry.

I'm headed to Atlanta for the Religion Newswriters Association's annual meeting (see our 5Q+1 interview with RNA president Bob Smietana, if you happened to miss it, and follow #RNA2014 for live tweeting).

So I'm going to make this post short and sweet. Real sweet.

Earlier, we critiqued some media coverage of a planned Bible museum in the nation's capital and found it lacking — here and here, for example.

But the Washington Post's award-winning religion writer, Michelle Boorstein, has produced an excellent, magazine-length story on the gigantic project.

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NYTimes (surprise) covers Mormon sexual ethics, without talking to Mormons

NYTimes (surprise) covers Mormon sexual ethics, without talking to Mormons

There are people out there in cyberspace (and in our comments pages from time to time) who think that, here at GetReligion, "balance" on stories about moral and cultural issues is all about finding the right number of voices on the right to say nasty things about the views of people on the left side of things.

Well, I would prefer to say it this way: When journalists cover controversial moral, cultural and religious issues, the journalistic thing to do is to talk to informed, representative voices on both sides of these hot-button debates. Of course, this journalistic approach assumes that journalists are willing to concede that there are two sides in these debates worth covering with respect.

This brings us once again to the term "Kellerism," a GetReligionista nod to those famous remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller. The Times ran a story the other day -- "Social Worker Spreads a Message of Acceptance to Mormons With Gay Children" -- in which it was crucial for readers to understand the moral doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the view of those who disagree with them.

A GetReligion reader offered this critique:

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Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

I wrote in this space on Tuesday that the New York Times' coverage of the Archbishop Sheen body battle was missing information on why relics are important to Catholics. By contrast, a recent article by Anne-Gerard Flynn at MassLive.com, although light on theology, captures the sense of the faithful who see in relics a living connection to saints.

Flynn seeks to capture the atmosphere of devotion among those venerating a relic of St. Anthony of Padua on loan to a local parish. She begins with an adept verbal snapshot of one woman paying her respects to the 13th-century Franciscan friar:

Springfield resident Brenda Madison was among the first area residents to venerate the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, and the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary containing the bone fragment of the saint, born in Portugual in 1195, left her in an emotional state.
"I teared up. I was just so happy. All of these years I have prayed to Anthony, and now I got that close to a part of the saint," said Madison, who attended a brief prayer service, Sept. 6, marking the reception of the relic into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Flynn's line about how "the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary ... left [Madison] in an emotional state" is subtle and powerful. Instead of asking an expert in Catholic theology about what it means to venerate a saint, she is trying to capture in words what such veneration means to the believer: physical contact with a person who, although dead to this present world, is alive in heaven.

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5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

Godbeat pros will convene in Atlanta this week for the Religion Newswriters Association's 65th annual conference.

In advance of the national meeting of religion journalists, RNA President Bob Smietana did a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion. I'll sprinkle a few #RNA2014 tweets between Bob's responses.

Q: For our readers unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about your journalism career and your background in religion writing. And catch us up on how your beloved Red Sox are doing after winning a third World Series title in 10 years last season.

A: I’ve had a pretty fun career. I wrote a weekly religion column in college then decided to go out and save the world by working at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. Turns out I was terrible at saving the world.

So, in my mid-30s, I became a writer instead. I started small — my first freelance religion story paid $35 — and then landed a job writing for a small religious magazine in Chicago called the Covenant Companion, where I stayed for eight years. One of my big breaks came in 2001, when I got the chance to spend a summer at Medill, studying religion writing with Roy Larson.

Eventually I became religion writer at The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, which I loved. Spent six great years there. Now I write about research and church trends for Facts and Trends magazine here in Nashville.

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Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Truth be told, I have been sitting out the "black mass" media storms. I have no doubt that, for the ancient churches, we are dealing with sacrilege of the highest order. At the same time, I am very close to being a First Amendment absolutist and oppose blasphemy laws.

So why write about the following ABC News report (as run at Yahoo!) about the new brouhaha in Bible belt Oklahoma?

When you read the story, try to forget the whole black mass thing. Instead, focus on the facts in the story's material about the Catholic Mass itself. Just to keep things straight in some of these quotations, a key voice in this story is the leader of the devil-worshiping group, one Adam Daniels of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu.

The first strange reference is actually pretty mundate.

The upcoming event has generated controversy because black masses  mock Christianity and the rituals that make up their services but organizers see it as an integral part of their religion.

Yes, ignore that "Christianity" is singular and, thus, clashes with the plural reference -- "their services" -- a few words later.

Obviously, a black mass is offensive to all Christians, but that's almost beside the point. The dark rite mocks the belief of Catholics, and other ancient Christians, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. The whole point is to desecrate what has been consecrated. 

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Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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