Bobby Ross Jr.

Southern evangelicals dwindling?: RNS blogger examines the numbers behind The Atlantic's claims

Southern evangelicals dwindling?: RNS blogger examines the numbers behind The Atlantic's claims

Is the South losing its "cultural Christianity," as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler describes it?

New research indicates that "the percentage of Alabamians not affiliated with a specific religion surpasses the percentage of white mainline Protestants, ranking it third among 'religious' groups," Alabama Godbeat pro Carol McPhail recently reported.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic made a big splash on social media this week with this provocative headline:

Southern Evangelicals: Dwindling—and Taking the GOP Edge With Them

However, the stats reported by Jones made Religion News Service blogger Tobin Grant's "spidey-sense start buzzing," as he put it. Grant decided to examine the numbers behind the numbers.

 

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'Magic underwear' is offensive term, but AP uncritically accepts church's PR spin on Mormon undergarments

'Magic underwear' is offensive term, but AP uncritically accepts church's PR spin on Mormon undergarments

On the positive side, an Associated Press story this week on Mormon underclothing — sacred attire derided by critics as "magic underwear" — handles the subject matter with discretion and respect.

On the negative side, the widely distributed wire service report uncritically accepts the church's public relations spin.

Let's start at the top:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon church is addressing the mystery that has long surrounded undergarments worn by its faithful with a new video explaining the practice in-depth while admonishing ridicule from outsiders about what it considers a symbol of Latter-day Saints' devotion to God.
The four-minute video on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' website compares the white, two-piece cotton "temple garments" to holy vestments worn in other religious faiths such as a Catholic nun's habit or a Muslim skullcap.
The footage is part of a recent effort by the Salt Lake City-based religion to explain, expand or clarify on some of the faith's more sensitive beliefs. Articles posted on the church's website in the past two years have addressed the faith's past ban on black men in the lay clergy; its early history of polygamy; and the misconception that members are taught they'll get their own planet in the afterlife.
The latest video dispels the notion that Latter-day Saints believe temple garments have special protective powers, a stereotype perpetuated on the Internet and in popular culture by those who refer to the sacred clothing as "magical Mormon underwear."

The video contains 90 seconds of explanation about the underclothing and does not address the markings on the garments. I'm not certain I would characterize that as "explaining the practice in-depth." 

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Religious liberty in Idaho: Going to the chapel, and we're going to get married ... maybe

Religious liberty in Idaho: Going to the chapel, and we're going to get married ... maybe

Earlier this month, I dinged Reuters for a "two-sided news story" that really only told one.

I argued that the piece on "a new battleground of religious freedom" was framed almost entirely from the perspective of same-sex marriage activists.

This week, Reuters reported on two Idaho pastors opposed to gay marriage:

(Reuters) - Two pastors in Idaho, who fear they could be penalized for refusing to perform newly legal gay marriages at their private wedding chapel, have filed a lawsuit, saying an Idaho anti-discrimination law violates their right to free speech and religious liberty.
Donald and Evelyn Knapp, who run the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d'Alene, are asking a federal judge to temporarily bar the city from enforcing a local ordinance that bans discrimination tied to sexual orientation in businesses that are used by the public, their attorney said on Monday.
The couple, both ordained Christian ministers, say that under the ordinance, they could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine each time they decline to wed same-sex couples in line with their religious beliefs.
"The government has no business compelling ministers to violate their beliefs and break their ordination vows or risk escalating jail time and fines," said the Knapps' attorney, Jeremy Tedesco.

Alas, Reuters does a much better job this time of fairly representing the arguments of those with religious freedom concerns.

What's missing? Once again, it's the other side.

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As the Hillsong world turns, questions about sex, the media and what a pastor said

As the Hillsong world turns, questions about sex, the media and what a pastor said

Leaders of the Australia-based Hillsong Church — described by Religion News Service as "one of the most influential religious brands across the globe" and by The New York Times as "one of the more influential global megachurches" — held a news conference in New York last week.

The Christian Post apparently didn't like the questions asked by mainstream reporters.

NEW YORK — Brian Houston, senior pastor of Australia-based Hillsong Church, was hit with a series of critical questions during a press conference in New York City on Thursday, just hours before he was to take the stage at Madison Square Garden to preach before more than 5,000 Hillsong Conference attendees.
Houston, 60, appeared visibly nervous as he sat alongside his wife and Hillsong Church co-pastor Bobbie Houston and his son and Hillsong United frontman Joel Houston, who also pastors at Hillsong NYC with Carl Lentz. Lentz rounded out the quartet of church representatives at the press conference, where the group welcomed local media to probe them about the conference kicking off that night and issues related to their ministry work through the multi-city megachurch.
Once the floor was opened up for questions, however, it became clear that some members of the press were more interested in hearing about the sex abuse committed by Brian Houston's father in the 1970s, how Hillsong Church spends its money, and how the senior pastor handles cultural relevancy, specifically when it comes to issues of sexuality.

As regular GetReligion readers may recall, The New York Times just last month published a front-page story on Hillsong's international appeal and its place in the modern American religious scene.

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'Where's the beef!?' in TV station's report on Oklahoma petition asking Muslims to 'go home'

'Where's the beef!?' in TV station's report on Oklahoma petition asking Muslims to 'go home'

"It certainly is a big bun."

"It's a very big bun."

"A big, fluffy bun."

"It's a very big, fluffy bun."

Readers of a certain age will remember the old Wendy's commercial in which two gray-haired ladies admire the size of a hamburger bun, while a third woman asks the obvious question about the tiny patty: "Where's the beef!?"

I was reminded of that question when I saw an Oklahoma television station's report on a purported petition in my home state asking Muslims to "go home." I avoid as much local TV news as I can, so I came across the story link via Tennessee-based Godbeat guru Bob Smietana's Twitter feed.

The top of the story:

DEL CITY, Okla. – A metro woman says fear about her religion led to an unusual encounter this week.
The Muslim woman says a woman asked her to sign a petition asking that all Muslims “go home.”
The run-in took place this week outside a gas station in Del City.
“Muslims are a peaceful people,” said Deb Beneta. “I wish people would see us as humans and not this mythical Muslim monster.”
Unfortunately for Deb, fear of the religion may be near an all-time high.

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Big scoop for Sarah: Former GetReligionista scores exclusive on Mark Driscoll resignation

Big scoop for Sarah: Former GetReligionista scores exclusive on Mark Driscoll resignation

We're proud to say we knew you way back when, Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

The former GetReligionista scored a major scoop Wednesday with her Religion News Service report on the resignation of Mars Hills Church pastor Mark Driscoll:

(RNS) Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church Tuesday (Oct. 14), according to a document obtained by RNS.
The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family — even physically unsafe at times — and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.

Other major news organizations quickly jumped on the story, including CNN.

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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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Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

While working on a story on Christians and immigration a few years ago, I witnessed a mother's tearful farewell to her son, who was being deported.

CHICAGO — On a dark street, a mother weeps. 
At 4:45 a.m., she stands outside a two-story brick building surrounded by razor wire, her sobs drowning out the drum of machinery at a nearby factory. 
The Spanish-speaking woman just said goodbye — through a glass panel at a federal deportation center west of Chicago — to her son Miguel, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. 

Recalling that emotional scene, my interest was piqued by a front-page Chicago Tribune story on Roman Catholic Archbishop-Designate Blase Cupich making immigration reform a top priority.

The top of the Tribune's meaty, 1,300-word report:

Immigrant rights activists are hailing Chicago's next Roman Catholic archbishop, hoping that Blase Cupich's outspoken advocacy for their cause translates to meaningful changes to local and state laws that would make Illinois the friendliest state for immigrants.
"It's always very encouraging to hear your faith leader calling on what you believe is a human rights issue," said Erendira Rendon, a lead organizer for the Resurrection Project, a Pilsen-based community development organization. "We've been grateful for Cardinal (Francis) George's support of immigration reform, but it's exciting to see the new archbishop is going to make it a priority."

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5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass outside a Packers game, Holly Meyer has the Godbeat covered

5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass outside a Packers game, Holly Meyer has the Godbeat covered

Holly Meyer cheers for the Green Bay Packers, eats a lot of cheese and tells stories about northeast Wisconsin.

Meyer, a reporter for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., splits her time between early-morning breaking news and the Godbeat.

Her religion writing earned her the 2014 Cassels Religion Reporter of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at small-sized newspapers.

She grew up in rural Illinois and started her reporting career at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s student newspaper.

"That’s where I learned you can get paid to do this really neat job," said Meyer, a 2009 graduate.

Her first professional gig was at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, where she spent about three years and covered everything from ranch families to police shootings. She joined The Post-Crescent's metro team in 2012.

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