Bobby Ross Jr.

How to fix children's Sunday school? Get rid of the Bible, Wall Street Journal reports

How to fix children's Sunday school? Get rid of the Bible, Wall Street Journal reports

At my home congregation in Oklahoma, a dedicated volunteer named Mrs. Camey has taught the kindergarten Sunday school class for two-plus decades.

After 12 months in Mrs. Camey's class, these kindergartners — typically 25 to 30 of them — can recite all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, name the 12 apostles and tell you the fruits of the Spirit (giggling when their teacher teasingly asks if these fruits include oranges and pineapples).

Most Sundays, Mrs. Camey will read a story to these 5- and 6-year-olds straight from the Bible — and then they'll use colorful markers, scissors and glue to make a craft that helps them remember that week's lesson. About midway through the year, the children will start thumbing through their own Bibles to locate various books with the help of Mrs. Camey and her two teaching assistants.

In late July, after 12 spiritually rewarding months in Mrs. Camey's class, these students will don caps and gowns and graduate to the first grade — and a new group of kindergartners will arrive the next Sunday morning to start the process all over again.

My church's experience — with the kindergarten class and other grade levels — is a far cry from what I read about in a recent Wall Street Journal story.

As best I can tell, this Journal feature makes the case for improving Sunday school by, um, eliminating the Bible.

Go ahead and read the lede, and tell me if my synopsis is an exaggeration:

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$15 million lawsuit threat: Muslim 'clock boy' Ahmed Mohamed looking to strike it rich?

$15 million lawsuit threat: Muslim 'clock boy' Ahmed Mohamed looking to strike it rich?

Muslim "clock boy" Ahmed Mohamed is back in the news.

You may recall that we first highlighted media coverage of the Texas teen after his disputed arrest back in September.

The 14-year-old made headlines again in October after his family decided to move to Qatar.

The latest news has dollar signs (15 million of 'em) written all over it.

For an editorialized spin on this new development, Fox News (as always) is happy to oblige:

Ahmed Mohamed is looking to strike it rich before the clock strikes midnight on the “clock kid” story.
Attorneys for Mohamed, 14, and his family want $15 million in damages and apologies from several officials stemming from Mohamed’s September 14 arrest, when he brought to school a homemade clock that a teacher flagged as a possible bomb.

CNN provides a less tilted lede:

(CNN) Fifteen million dollars and apologies from the mayor and police chief.
That's what an attorney says the family of Ahmed Mohamed is demanding from city and school officials in Irving, Texas, or they say they'll file a civil suit.

And The Associated Press goes old-school inverted pyramid (not a bad approach at all on a story such as this):


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Three things to know about 'Spotlight,' the new movie about journalists investigating clergy sexual abuse

Three things to know about 'Spotlight,' the new movie about journalists investigating clergy sexual abuse

I saw "Spotlight" over the weekend and loved it.

Of course, I'm a journalist, so I obviously would appreciate a film in which all the actors dress as crummily as me.

Seriously, I identify with the reporters and editors who meticulously dig to tell an important story. They knock on doors to interview key players, sue for access to crucial court documents and develop relationships with inside sources.   

With cheap ink pens and notepads as their major tools, they change the world. That's journalism at its best.

For Godbeat watchers, here are three important things to know about "Spotlight":

1. It's a great movie.

A Wall Street Journal reviewer gushed:

To turn a spotlight fittingly on “Spotlight,” it’s the year’s best movie so far, and a rarity among countless dramatizations that claim to be based on actual events. In this one the events ring consistently — and dramatically — true.
The film was directed byTom McCarthy from a screenplay he wrote with Josh Singer. It takes its title from the name of the Boston Globe investigative team that documented, in an explosive series of articles in 2002, widespread child abuse by priests in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, and subsequent cover-ups by church officials. The impact of the series, which prompted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper, was cumulative and profound — what began as a local story ramified into an international scandal. Remarkably, Mr. McCarthy, his filmmaking colleagues and a flawless ensemble cast have captured their subject in all its richness and complexity. “Spotlight” is a fascinating procedural; a celebration of investigative reporting; a terrific yarn that’s spun with a singular combination of restraint and intensity; and a stirring tale, full of memorable characters, that not only addresses clerical pedophilia but shows the toll it has taken on its victims.

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Here's what's missing in that Associated Press story on America's Little Syria

Here's what's missing in that Associated Press story on America's Little Syria

Talk about false advertising.

In the title, I made it sound like I'd tell you what's missing in that recent Associated Press story on America's Little Syria.

But here's the deal: I'm not entirely sure I know what's missing. Or if something really is. How's that for wishy-washiness?

I've read the AP report three times — going on four — and each time at the end, I find myself going, "Hmmmmm."

Maybe you can help me figure this out? 

Let's start at the top:

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A few days ago, a pastor asked Syrian-born restaurant owner Marie Jarrah to donate food to a welcoming event for recently arrived Syrian refugees. Jarrah, who said she regularly helps people in need, declined.
Like many of Allentown's establishment Syrians, she doesn't think it's a good idea to bring refugees to the city. She clung to that view even before last week's terrorist attacks in Paris. "Problems are going to happen," said Jarrah, co-owner of Damascus Restaurant in a heavily Syrian enclave.
As debate intensifies nationally over the federal government's plan to accept an additional 10,000 refugees from war-ravaged Syria, a similar argument is taking place in Allentown — one with a sectarian twist.
Pennsylvania's third-largest city is home to one of the nation's largest populations of Syrians. They are mostly Christian and, in no small number, support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a dynamic that's prompting some of them to oppose the resettlement of refugees, who are Muslim and say they fled violence perpetrated by the Assad regime.

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Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

In recent weeks, I've started reading the Houston Chronicle on my iPad — via an e-replica app that affords me all the joys of the print edition but leaves no ink stains on my fingers.

For the record, I'm totally fine with no ink stains, although I do miss the sweet smell of newsprint! 

Even though I'm a relatively new Chronicle subscriber, I'm already becoming a bigger fan of religion writer Allan Turner. I had, of course, praised some of his stories in the past. But I didn't follow his work on a regular basis (in part because of the Houston newspaper's paywall.)

In today's City-State section, the lead item is a commentary by the Chronicle's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg (with whom I worked at The Associated Press in Texas in the early 2000s) suggesting that banning Syrian refugees plays into terrorists' hands. My thanks, by the way, both to Falkenberg and Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy for retweeting the link to my post yesterday concerning media coverage of the refugee issue (Kennedy even quoted me in a column).

To be clear, I wasn't calling out the Texas lieutenant governor. I was making the journalistic point that reporters should dig deeper when a politician such as Patrick cites "Judeo-Christian values." 

But I digress: Back to Turner and the reason for this post.

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'Would Jesus take in Syrian refugees?': Washington Post asks the right question

'Would Jesus take in Syrian refugees?': Washington Post asks the right question

In a post yesterday afternoon on the Paris attacks, U.S. politics and Syrian refugees, I pleaded for introducing a little theology into the discussion.

My main points, in case you missed them:

Not that every story quoting a Christian must ask "What would Jesus do?" But I'd be curious to know how the folks quoted — presumably Christians — balance their politics with their theology: Did Jesus say anything about how to treat one's enemies? If so, does what he said have any application to the refugee situation?
Along those same lines, does the Bible say anything about how Christians are to treat refugees? Does tightening one's borders fit the theological content of the Scriptures? Why or why not? On social media, Christians certainly are asking those sorts of questions (and yes, coming to different conclusions).
Given the big news in Paris — and beyond — now would seem like prime time for reporters to engage such discussions.

About the same time my post went live (so, unfortunately, I can't claim credit), The Washington Post published a story by Godbeat pro Michelle Boorstein that asks:

Would Jesus take in Syrian refugees?

That's definitely the right question, if you ask me.

The Post's lede:

For many American Christians, the Paris attacks have revealed a conflict between two priorities: The cause of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians and a hard line on security.
Following reports that one of the Paris attackers had a Syrian passport and had allegedly registered as a refugee, multiple GOP presidential candidates called for bans on Syrian refugees. On Monday, multiple GOP governors joined in. Considering the United States has absorbed fewer than 2,000 Syrians, this may seem like political posturing, but Congress is set later this year to debate funding for another 10,000 who President Obama has said he wants to admit. 
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Sunday that Christians only, not Muslims, should be allowed in. Ben Carson said accepting any Syrian refugees requires a “suspension of intellect.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Donald Trump and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also said the country shouldn’t take any more Syrian refugees.
Over the weekend, prominent evangelist Franklin Graham repeated calls he’s made before to scrutinize Muslim refugees. ...
The question is particularly complicated for conservative Christians, who have become increasingly concerned in the last few years about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and simultaneously are often the most guarded about border security and increased immigration.

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In story on Paris attacks, U.S. politics and Syrian refugees, is there any room for theology?

In story on Paris attacks, U.S. politics and Syrian refugees, is there any room for theology?

Since the Paris attacks, my Facebook feed has filled up with two things:

1. Temporary profile pictures in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.

2. Friends debating the pros and cons of allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S.

Michael, a minister, sparked 100-plus comments when he declared:

I know a lot of people will strongly disagree with this, but I think terrorists within our borders is the price we must be willing to pay if absolutely necessary for showing Christ-glorifying love and help to Syrian refugees who live with this evil every day. A sovereign God has called us to help and defend the cause of the immigrant, regardless of the costs. "Your kingdom come, your will be done..."

Phil, also a minister, seemed to take a different position with this status:

The attack on France included at least one Syrian refugee. What will happen to us when we take them in? Do we want to invite our enemies into our house and support them?

Enter Donald Trump into the discussion, courtesy of The Washington Post.

Read the Post's lede, and many of the issues my friends are debating on social media emerge:

BEAUMONT, Tex. — For John Courts, the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 132 people provided more evidence of something he has long suspected: Syrian refugees are not to be trusted.
“I think they’re wolves in sheeps’ clothing,” said Courts, 36, a police officer in this industrial town in southeast Texas who attended a political rally for Donald Trump on Saturday. “Bringing those refugees here is very dangerous. Yeah, they need help, but it’s going to bring terrorism right into our front door.”

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Wow! Wall Street Journal demonstrates how to cover gay rights vs. religious liberty

Wow! Wall Street Journal demonstrates how to cover gay rights vs. religious liberty

When it comes to gay rights vs. religious liberty, framing is frequently an issue in mainstream news reports.

Too many journalists — unable to keep their personal worldviews to themselves — ditch impartiality for advocacy on this subject matter.

The funny thing is, unbiased reporting makes for much better reading. Right?

I mean, who doesn't enjoy a story with real-life nuance, conflict and intrigue? Enter The Wall Street Journal with a six-month update on the "Utah Compromise": 

Every morning for about the past year, Angie Rice woke up to go to work as a special-education teacher at Roy Elementary School near Salt Lake City, sat on the edge of her bed, and wept.

She then layered four men’s shirts and put on baggy cargo pants to hide her changing shape—and arrived for work in her old identity as a man named Art.

But this fall, because of a new Utah law that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, Ms. Rice, who over the past four years had transitioned from a man to a woman, felt comfortable going to school as herself for the first time.

“That law saved my life,” said Ms. Rice, 53 years old.

In the same county as Ms. Rice’s school, Ricky Hatch, a clerk who opposes same-sex marriage, has been able to continue in his job without performing weddings. A provision in a companion law passed on the same day as the antidiscrimination measure lets him appoint others to perform weddings as “clerk designees”; all have agreed to perform same-sex weddings.

“I don’t want to discriminate as an elected official, but I also don’t want to violate my religious conscience, and this law allows me to do that,” said Mr. Hatch, 48.

Six months after the “Utah Compromise” antidiscrimination law took effect, both gay-rights activists and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say the law helps preserve the rights of religious believers who oppose same-sex marriage while protecting LGBT people from discrimination. At the same time, new church policies last week barring young children of gay couples from church membership, and requiring disciplinary action for Mormons in same-sex marriages, illuminate the church’s complicated path in its “fairness for all” approach that attempts to separate its teaching from its politics.

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Delving into CNN's 'dirty little secret' about religious conversions and Ben Carson

Delving into CNN's 'dirty little secret' about religious conversions and Ben Carson

My Christian Chronicle colleague Erik Tryggestad wrote a column from New Zealand recently in which he lamented his somewhat pedestrian decision to give his life to Jesus:

I’ve always found my own story to be lacking in drama, I told the group. I grew up in the church with great, godly parents. When I was 14 I was baptized. My salvation was an assumption — an expected journey, hardly worth sharing.

Tryggestad's not-so-boring reporting adventures have taken him to 60 countries. ("Plus, y'know ... Canada," he told me. And yes, I'm including that comment just to agitate my friends north of the border.)

Apparently, my Chronicle colleague is not alone in wishing he had a better conversion story.

Enter CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke with the "Religion News Clickbait Headline of the Week":

The dirty little secret about religious conversion stories

(Here at GetReligion, we're much too sophisticated to ever resort to such a headline. Obviously, we'd never put "dirty little secret" in a title just hoping to gain a few extra clicks. But anyway ... )

Like the CNN headline, Burke's lede takes ample creative liberty (as opposed to an inverted-pyramid approach):

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