Terry Mattingly

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

It's time for another weekend of preseason National Football League games -- those meaningless revenue generators in which the league's top players try to get ready for the new season, while doing everything they can (praying even) not to get hurt.

This brings us, whether most sports reporters know it or not, to centuries of debates about the sovereignty of God.

Yes, one of the hottest topics in sports news this past week (click here to scan the nearly 2,000 news articles) was whether Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin was crazy when he said superstar Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury had something to do with God's plan for his life. Looking at this from the viewpoint of Packer fans, you could even say this was another one of those stories that centered on "theodicy" questions (previous GetReligion discussions here) about why God allows evil to exist.

From a journalism perspective, what this sad case study demonstrates is that there are times when it is simply wrong to yank one tiny simplistic soundbite out of a long, complex quotation about a complex topic.

Here is the top of an ESPN feature examining the wreckage in this case:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin defended himself ... after his comment about the injury to Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and the will of God caused a backlash in social media.
Quin, when asked ... about Nelson's injury, said he respected Nelson and hated to see him hurt. But as part of the answer, Quin also said "God had meant for Jordy to be hurt." The comment was part of a bigger answer on what Quin believes about how and why injuries happen. ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Holy smoke! Did Baptist News Global spot a ghost in that BBC barbecue report?

Holy smoke! Did Baptist News Global spot a ghost in that BBC barbecue report?

As you would expect, I get lots of email about religion- news stuff. That tends to happen when you've been in the religion-columnist business -- in one form or another -- since 1982. All that old snail mail on dead-tree pulp turned into email. Turn, turn, turn.

I still receive quite a bit of material from denominational wire services and independent religious publications, both large and small. That's one of the places that I find all those "Got news?" items about valid and interesting news stories that are out there, but not in the mainstream press.

During the decades since the great Southern Baptist civil war, I kept reading both the SBC operated Baptist Press and the Associated Baptist Press wire linked to the "moderate," or doctrinally progressive (some would say liberal) Baptist congregations that remain in the larger convention, and a few that have fled. ABP has evolved into a broad, basically mainline-Protestant wire called Baptist News Global. Both Baptist wires are must reading for journalists following the religion beat.

One of the most interesting things Baptist Global News does is offer, in its regular "push" digest online, a selection of links to interesting religion items from other newsrooms. The other day -- right there with retiring Presbyterian leaders, a key Southern Baptist voice calling for more countercultural Christianity and other items -- was a link to a long, interesting BBC report about the fact that America's pop-culture boom linked to barbecue culture seems to have skipped over African-American pitmasters.

 So, as the East Tennessee mountains guy that I am, I dug right into this story -- assuming that it would eventually have an interesting religion hook. After all, why would Baptist News Global have this piece in its news elsewhere list?

I read on, and on. This is about as close as I came to hitting a religion theme:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Haunted: Jehovah orders troubled reporter to avenge Charleston with race war?

Haunted: Jehovah orders troubled reporter to avenge Charleston with race war?

It was not the kind of place that you expected to see violent images from hell.

This bizarre selfie-style massacre took place in a lovely community tucked into a corner of the Shenandoah Valley up against the Blue Ridge Mountains, off exits I have driven past many times on the way from the land of small towns and cities to the frequently troubled world of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

It's the kind of place where journalists, when they lose two colleagues, can huddle together and sing "Amazing Grace and recite the Lord's Prayer, as well as the 23rd Psalm.

As the stories rushed in yesterday, I asked the GetReligionistas to help me watch for the religious, moral and cultural angles that were almost certain surface. Acts this horrible tend to be haunted by religion ghosts.

As seems to be the norm, it was a British newspaper that took the blunt route. This massive, rambling early headline from The Daily Mail summed up the key details:

Revenge race murder: Bitter black reporter who gunned down white ex-colleagues live on air and posted the video online blames Charleston shootings and anti-gay harassment in manifesto

The Daily Mail wasn't able, apparently, to squeeze in the part about the gunman saying that God told him to do it.

The key to the reporting was the lengthy, carefully prepared suicide manifesto that Vester L. Flanagan II -- who used the name Bryce Williams in his small-market journalism career -- sent to a higher authority, a national television news network.

In terms of religious and moral issues linked to this crime, some editors appear to have been worried about how much of this material to share with readers.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Looking inside Pew numbers: It appears that black churches are not fading away

Looking inside Pew numbers: It appears that black churches are not fading away

This morning I was doing some search-engine work on African-American churches for my piece on the long, but totally faith-free, news feature about the Rev. Al Sharpton that ran in The Los Angeles Times. In the middle of those searches I hit a link that reminded me of a recent Religion News Service story that I had wanted to bring to the attention of GetReligion readers.

As you would expect, considering the subject material, this piece was written by one of this website's favorite veterans on religion-news beat, Adelle Banks. I do not write about her work as much as I would like, simply because she was a long-time lecturer -- nearly two decades -- in the journalism programs I ran in Washington, D.C., for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

In this case, Banks focused in on a newsworthy wrinkle in a recent tsunami of religion "landscape" numbers from the Pew Research Center. This is one of those cases where church decline made the headlines, but she found an positive exception to the rule. Here is the overture for her report, setting the stage for the summary:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (RNS) At Alfred Street Baptist Church, the pews start to fill more than half an hour before the service begins. White-uniformed ushers guide African-Americans of all ages to their seats. Some stand and wave their hands in the air as the large, robed choir begins to sing.
In September, after using a dozen wired overflow rooms, the church will start its fourth weekend service. So many people attend, church leaders are now asking people to limit their attendance to one service.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Los Angeles Times presents the Rev. Al Sharpton, with zero signs of God or faith at all

The Los Angeles Times presents the Rev. Al Sharpton, with zero signs of God or faith at all

A few years ago, I got out a notepad and wrote a list of the "seven deadly sins" of religion writing in the modern mainstream press. 

Right near the top of the list is the tendency among reporters to assume that all religious issues are, in reality, political issues when push comes to shove. It's a kind of militant materialism that assumes the political life is the ultimate reality for all people, since that happens to be the case for legions of people (but not all) in elite newsrooms.

It is especially easy to see this principle at work in mainstream news coverage of the African-American church. Am I the only person that has noticed that major news organizations have started omitting the term "the Rev." when printing the names of many black clergy?

Of course, it must be noted that clergy have -- for generations -- provided crucial public leadership for the entire black community, including in politics. The fact that this is true does not, however, mean that the work these pastors do in the public square has nothing to do with their faith and their role as church leaders.

This brings us to the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Pentecostal preacher turned Baptist whose high-profile work in politics and mass-media career have made him a controversial figure, including among African-American clergy. It is common to hear his critics say that he doesn't deserve the title "the Rev." -- which, in my opinion, only makes it more important for journalists to provide basic facts about who this man is, what he believes and to whom he relates as a minister. The bottom line: He is ordained and he is making faith claims, as well as political claims, when he speaks and/or preaches.

The Los Angeles Times times recently offered up a lengthy news feature on Sharpton that is a perfect, five-star example of all of this. Click on this link and do some searching. Here are some words you will not find in this piece -- "God," "Jesus," "faith," "religion," "Bible" and "ordained." The only reason "church" appears is that there are descriptions of rallies held in churches.

Is this a comment about Sharpton, the Los Angeles Times or both?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Few gaps in fine New York Times look at hospice and common fears among African-Americans

Few gaps in fine New York Times look at hospice and common fears among African-Americans

Let's face it. The religion-news beat is amazing. I have never understood how many journalists consider this a fringe topic that doesn't deserve mainstream coverage.

Decades ago, I interviewed scores of newspaper editors for my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and you want to know the two most common reasons they gave for avoiding religion? Religion was (a) boring and (b) too controversial. That's the problem, you see, the world is just full of boring, controversial religion stories.

I think any professional who works on this beat for multiple decades -- which describes all the current GetReligionistas -- lives in a state of amazement at how complex new stories, and new angles on old stories, just keep showing up.

That's how I felt reading a very interesting New York Times feature about the struggle to promote hospice in African-American churches. Once again, it is amazing what the Times can do when a religion topic doesn't touch on the Sexual Revolution and, thus, clash with the core doctrines of Kellerism. Here is the key summary material near the top of this fine story, which opens with tragic events in the lives of the Rev. Vernal Harris and his wife Narseary, who have lost two sons to sickle cell anemia:

Hospice use has been growing fast in the United States as more people choose to avoid futile, often painful medical treatments in favor of palliative care and dying at home surrounded by loved ones. But the Harrises, who are African-American, belong to a demographic group that has long resisted the concept and whose suspicions remain deep-seated.
It is an attitude borne out by recent federal statistics showing that nearly half of white Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in hospice before death, compared with only a third of black patients. The racial divide is even more pronounced when it comes to advance care directives -- legal documents meant to help families make life-or-death decisions that reflect a patient’s choices. Some 40 percent of whites aged 70 and over have such plans, compared with only 16 percent of blacks.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Did you hear about ISIS razing an ancient monastery and desecrating saint's tomb?

Did you hear about ISIS razing an ancient monastery and desecrating saint's tomb?

What is there to say about the never ending Islamic State horrors being reported out of Syria? Clearly the soldiers of ISIS are equal-opportunity oppressors, when it comes to the lives and cultures of religious minorities unfortunate enough to cross their path.

When it comes to crushing truly ancient, irreplaceable wonders linked to the lives and histories of apostates, the ISIS jihadists may view one ruin or sanctuary as the same as the next.

The same, however, cannot be said of how most American journalists view these horrors. Apparently, some travesties are more important than others. Things are quite different on the other side of the Atlantic, however.

Right now, for example, journalists on both sides of the pond are -- as they should -- devoting quite a bit of coverage to the destruction of a priceless ruin in Palmyra. These was the news insiders had been fearing for weeks, especially after the shocking and disgraceful beheading of antiquities expert Khalid al-Asaad.

This solid Washington Post report -- pointing to the BBC -- was typical:

The Islamic State has reportedly destroyed another significant landmark in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.
The temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain, as the BBC reported. Destruction of the site would be directly in line with the Islamic State’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. 
“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year. After the Islamic State captured Palmyra in May, Baal Shamin seems to have fallen to the group’s philosophy.

As I said, this is major news that deserved solid coverage. We've been dealing with the complexities of these topics for weeks, as in this Ira post.

However, did you hear about the destruction of the irreplaceable frescos and sanctuaries at the Mar Elian monastery?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

As long-time GetReligion readers know, I am a conflicted Baylor University graduate. I had great times there and rough times, as well. The later were almost all linked to attempts by student journalists, including me, to do journalism about subjects that cause tension on all campuses (think Penn State), but especially at private, religious colleges and universities.

What kinds of subjects? Well, like sexual assaults. Hold that thought.

These ties that bind have led to lots of GetReligion work because Baylor is frequently in the news. Open the search engine here, enter "Baylor" and you will find pages of material about press coverage of complicated events at my alma mater. Here's how one early post opened:

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world's largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call "Jerusalem on the Brazos." It didn't take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Or how about this language, drawn from one of my national "On Religion" columns?

Every decade or so Baylor University endures another media storm about Southern Baptists, sex and freedom of the press. Take, for example, the historic 1981 Playboy controversy. It proved that few journalists can resist a chance to use phrases such as "seminude Baylor coeds pose for Playboy." ...
I know how these Baylor dramas tend to play out, because in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which students tried to write some dangerously candid news reports. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire.

So now we have another Baylor controversy in the news, potentially a scandal, that involves sin, sex and, wait for it, college football. As you would expect, there has been coverage. But has the word "Baptist" played a significant role? This is an important question, since Baylor has plenty of critics that consider it a hive for right-wing fundamentalists, while others believe it has compromised and modernized too much.

In terms of hard news, the key story is from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

 

Please respect our Commenting Policy