Bobby Ross Jr.

5Q+1 interview: RNS writer David Gibson on the Godbeat, falling into journalism and his conversion to Catholicism

5Q+1 interview: RNS writer David Gibson on the Godbeat, falling into journalism and his conversion to Catholicism

First of two parts

On his Twitter profile, Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson describes himself as a Catholic convert, a Vatican veteran, a faith fan and an alliteration addict.

His RNS bio notes that he has written two books on Catholic topics, including a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gibson was honored recently as the Religion Newswriters Association's Religion Reporter of the Year for large newspapers and wire services. His winning entry included "The story behind Pope Francis' election," "Is 'Just War' doctrine another victim of the Syrian conflict?" and "The 'Breaking Bad' finale was great. But was it good?"

GetReligion has both praised Gibson's work and — sometimes — questioned why RNS publishes his "analysis" pieces without labels identifying them as such.

What I like about Gibson is that he seems to enjoy the give and take and not take it too personally.

Case in point: his willingness to do this interview.

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Islamic extremism role in Australia? Facts sketchy in Sydney hostage crisis

Islamic extremism role in Australia? Facts sketchy in Sydney hostage crisis

As I type this, the possible role of Islamic extremism in the Sydney hostage crisis remains unclear.

 

The latest from The Associated Press:

SYDNEY (AP) -- Five people escaped from a Sydney cafe where a gunman took an unknown number of hostages during Monday morning rush hour. Two people inside the cafe earlier held up a flag with an Islamic declaration of faith that has often been used by extremists, raising fears that a terrorist incident was playing out in the heart of Australia's biggest city.
The first three people ran out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney six hours into the hostage crisis, and two women sprinted from a fire exit into the arms of waiting police shortly afterward. Both women were wearing aprons with the Lindt chocolate logo, indicating they were cafe employees.
As the siege entered its 12th hour Monday night, basic questions remained unanswered. Police refused to say how many hostages were inside the cafe, what they believed the gunman's motives might be, whether he had made any demands or whether the hostages who fled the cafe escaped or were released.
"I would like to give you as much as I can but right now that is as much as I can," New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. "First and foremost, we have to make sure we do nothing that could in any way jeopardize those still in the building."

The AP report notes:

Television video shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass, and two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.
The Shahada translates as "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger." It is considered the first of Islam's five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord's Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.

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Islamic State's reign of terror named top religion story of 2014 by Religion Newswriters Association

Islamic State's reign of terror named top religion story of 2014 by Religion Newswriters Association

The No. 1 religion news story of 2014?

The extremist Islamic State's reign of terror narrowly edged the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in balloting by Religion Newswriters Association members.

The results were announced Thursday.

For the second straight year, Pope Francis was chosen as the Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

The full top 10 (actually three, since there were three ties), via an RNA news release:

1.  The self-styled Islamic State expands a reign of terror into Iraq and Syria, driving out the Iraqi army from Mosul and exiling ancient Christian communities, Yazidis and other religious minorities on threat of death. The United Nations, Christians and many Muslim groups strongly condemn the videotaped beheadings of American journalist James Foley and other hostages as inhumane and un-Islamic.
2.  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rules that two closely held companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga — can claim religious objections to contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling is considered a victory for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and is highly controversial.

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Five glimpses of faith in Time's story on 'The Ebola Fighters' as 2014 Person of the Year

Five glimpses of faith in Time's story on 'The Ebola Fighters' as 2014 Person of the Year

Is there a religion angle on Time magazine's selection of "The Ebola Fighters" as the 2014 Person of the Year?

 

In her explanation of the selection, Time Editor Nancy Gibbs notes:

Ask what drove them and some talk about God; some about country; some about the instinct to run into the fire, not away. “If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda,” says Iris Martor, a Liberian nurse, “then why can’t I?” Foday Gallah, an ambulance driver who survived infection, calls his immunity a holy gift. “I want to give my blood so a lot of people can be saved,” he says. “I am going to fight Ebola with all of my might.”
MSF nurse’s assistant Salome Karwah stayed at the bedsides of patients, bathing and feeding them, even after losing both her parents—who ran a medical clinic—in a single week and surviving Ebola herself. “It looked like God gave me a second chance to help others,” she says. Tiny children watched their families die, and no one could so much as hug them, because hugs could kill. “You see people facing death without their loved ones, only with people in space suits,” says MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu. “You should not die alone with space-suit men.”

Likewise, Time's in-depth story on "The ones who answered the call" reflects the key role of faith, starting right up top:

On the outskirts of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on grassy land among palm trees and tropical hardwoods, stands a cluster of one-story bungalows painted cheerful yellow with blue trim. This is the campus of Eternal Love Winning Africa, a nondenominational Christian mission, comprising a school, a radio station and a hospital. It was here that Dr. Jerry Brown, the hospital’s medical director, first heard in March that the fearsome Ebola virus had gained a toehold in his country. Patients with the rare and deadly disease were turning up at a clinic in Lofa County—part of the West African borderlands where Liberia meets Guinea and Sierra Leone. “It was then that we really started panicking,” says Brown.

 

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Holy ghost? New York Times offers a faith-free profile of an American doctor who survived Ebola

Holy ghost? New York Times offers a faith-free profile of an American doctor who survived Ebola

In an interview with six U.S. Ebola survivors right before Thanksgiving, NBC's Matt Lauer noted the deep religious faith of many of them.

Various posts here at GetReligion have highlighted that angle.

This week, The New York Times published a big scoop on its front page — the first interview with Ebola survivor Dr. Ian Crozier:

PHOENIX — The medical record, from an Ebola case, made for grim reading, but Dr. Ian Crozier could not put it down. Within days of the first symptom, a headache, the patient was fighting for his life. He became delirious, his heartbeat grew ragged, his blood teemed with the virus, and his lungs, liver and kidneys began to fail.

“It’s a horrible-looking chart,” Dr. Crozier said.

It was his own. Dr. Crozier, 44, contracted the disease in Sierra Leone while treating Ebola patients in the government hospital in Kenema. He was evacuated to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Sept. 9, the third American with Ebola to be airlifted there from West Africa. He had a long, agonizing illness, with 40 days in the hospital and dark stretches when his doctors and his family feared he might sustain brain damage or die. His identity was kept secret at his request, to protect his family’s privacy.

Now, for the first time, he is speaking out. His reason, he said, is to thank Emory for the extraordinary care he received, and to draw attention to the continuing epidemic.

But the Times presents Crozier's story with no mention of faith or terms such as "God" or "Christian."

That prompted a GetReligion reader who emailed us to suggest that a holy ghost might be haunting the piece.

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A pastor reports death threats for performing same-sex marriages, and guess who a Kansas newspaper decided to quote?

A pastor reports death threats for performing same-sex marriages, and guess who a Kansas newspaper decided to quote?

This is basic Journalism 101 stuff.

A news story should give all the relevant parties an opportunity to speak and — if accused of wrongdoing — a chance to defend themselves.

So what happened when The Wichita Eagle reported on a pastor who reported death threats against her for performing same-sex marriages?

Of course, the Kansas newspaper quoted the pastor:

A Wichita minister says she has received death threats for performing same-sex weddings after the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge last month.
The Rev. Jackie Carter, pastor of the First Metropolitan Community Church, said the church has been getting at least one phone call a day threatening to kill her or to perform acts of violence against her congregation. The church belongs to a denomination that embraces the gay and lesbian community.
Carter said she had received threats before the ruling, but they have escalated since she performed a wedding ceremony for 15 same-sex couples on the steps of the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Nov. 17.
“Monday was probably the most scary time for me,” Carter said. “The phone rang and I went to answer the phone and it was just somebody heavy breathing on it. Then somebody rang the door bell and then somebody started throwing rocks at the windows.”

The Eagle also contacted the police (who declined to comment) as well as Wichita's mayor.

But what about opponents of same-sex marriage? Don't they deserve a voice in the story since — ostensibly — their side is being accused of a crime?

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5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Lilly Fowler on covering faith and the front lines in #Ferguson

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Lilly Fowler on covering faith and the front lines in #Ferguson

"Everyone has an agenda."

That's one lesson Lilly Fowler said she has learned covering faith and the front lines in Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb engulfed in racial unrest and sometimes violent protests 

Less than a year ago, Fowler joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as its full-time religion writer.

Born in Mexico and raised on the border of Arizona and Mexico, Fowler earned two master's degrees: one in theology from the University of Notre Dame and one in journalism from the University of Southern California. 

And she shared this personal note: "I like punk and psychedelic music!"

Q: What has been your role on the Ferguson story? What kind of hours has this required? 

A: I’m the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, so my primary role has been to find the faith angles in Ferguson. But this has been an all-consuming story, with the entire newsroom working long hours, so I’ve often been deployed to cover stories outside the realm of religion. I recently covered Black Friday protests related to Ferguson, for example.

 

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Washington Post seeks an expert on 'homegrown American extremist' tied to Christian identity hate group

Washington Post seeks an expert on 'homegrown American extremist' tied to Christian identity hate group

Dig a little deeper.

That's a common refrain expressed here at GetReligion concerning mainstream media coverage of religion news.

When the Austin, Texas, police chief this week linked a gunman who shot up downtown buildings and tried to burn the Mexican Consulate with a Christian identity hate group, most news reports stuck to the barest of basic details about the group.

But the Washington Post dug just a little deeper, contacting an expert to provide insight on the Phineas Priesthood:

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Post that the Phineas Priesthood is a “concept” that originated with “Vigilantes of Christendom,” which came out in 1990. The group takes its name from a story about the biblical figure of Phineas in the book of Numbers.
In the story, Phineas slays an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who were together in a tent. “To the extreme right, this [story] is a biblical injunction against race mixing,” Potok said. Phineas Priests would also use the passage to justify violent acts in the name of their beliefs.  “It’s very much a self-calling,” Potok said of those who would identify as Phineas Priesthood members.  “If you commit a Phineas act…you can be considered a Phineas priest.” 
In a backgrounder, the Anti-defamation league wrote that “the Phineas Priesthood is not a membership organization in the traditional sense: there are no meetings, rallies or newsletters.” The ADL added that “extremists become ‘members’ when they commit ‘Phineas acts:’ any violent activity against ‘non-whites.’” Potok noted that the affiliation does not have a national structure. ...
Its members identify themseves (sic) as Christians, however, “they are really not Christians in any sense that a christian (sic) would accept,” Potok added. Most mainstream American Christians, he said, would find a Phineas Priest’s reading of scripture to be “heretical."

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As D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors, where are the opposing religious voices?

As D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors, where are the opposing religious voices?

The Washington Post reported this week on the D.C. Council unanimously banning gay conversion therapy of minors.

The Post boils down the measure this way:

The bill, authored by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), bans efforts by licensed mental health providers to seek to change a minor’s sexual orientation “including efforts to change behaviors, gender identity or expression, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same sex or gender.” It was opposed by the Family Research Council and some religious organizations.
“While steps toward remedying the counterproductive anti-homosexual mindset have been taken,” Alexander wrote, “this measure will serve as a crucial step in that long battle.

Besides highlighting the possibility of legal challenges, the short piece makes room for a quote from a gay-rights group:

In a statement, Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign, praised the decision but cast it as incremental step.
“While the LGBT youth in our nation’s capital will soon be protected once this bill is signed into law,” Warbelow said, “HRC is committed to making sure these kinds of protections are secured throughout the entire nation.”

From a journalistic perspective, what's missing?

That would be any explanation of why the Family Research Council and "some religious organizations" opposed the bill. Moreover, the Post fails to identify the organizations with concerns.

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