Baptists

Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

MICHAEL-ANN ASKS:

Businesses like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A overtly follow Christian principles and thus promote Christianity. Is it profitable for them to have this ‘brand,’ or do you think the CEOs have some deeper evangelical goal?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

These two remarkable corporations are the largest in the U.S. that operate on an explicitly “Christian” basis, and both have been in the news lately.

The Hobby Lobby craft store chain won U.S. Supreme Court approval June 30 of the religious right to avoid the new federal mandate to fund certain birth control methods the owners consider tantamount to abortion.

Sept. 8 brought the death of S. Truett Cathy, billionaire founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire. His New York Times obituary said that to some he was “a symbol of intolerance” and “hate.” Such journalistic labeling stemmed from Cathy’s son and successor Dan criticizing same-sex marriage on biblical grounds in 2012. Afterward, the firm cut donations to groups that back traditional marriage. No-one claimed Chick-fil-A discriminates against gays in hiring or customer service.

With both companies, Christian commitment is accompanied by prosperity, and the question suggests their religious image may be calculated for “profitable” advantage. 

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Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Anyone who has worked in journalism for any time at all knows that some of the biggest, the most important news stories are the ones that are hardest to see -- because they unfold very slowly in the background, like shifting tectonic plates.

This is really, really true when it comes to changes in religion and culture.

Thus, if you care about religion news in postmodern America, then you need to read the short think piece (if that is not a contradiction in terms) that Tobin Grant posted the other day at the Corner of Church and State blog over at Religion News Service.

There is no way to briefly summarize the info in this short story, but there is a good reason for that. Reality is complex. Here is the start of the essay, which -- from a Baptist perspective -- offers the bad news. But hang on, things are going to get complicated really quick.

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Taking gay-rights fight to Bible-Belt Mississippi? Round up the usual bad guys

Taking gay-rights fight to Bible-Belt Mississippi? Round up the usual bad guys

One of the most interesting parts of journalism, in my experience, is the never-ending search for new and unique voices to pull into familiar stories. It's like that famous scene in one of my all-time favorite movies: It's easy to run out and round up the usual suspects, but why should journalists settle for that?

So here is the story for today: Editors at The Washington Post national desk decided to do a profile of an emerging hero in the gay-rights fight in Mississippi, which is one of those states that, as the story stresses, "embodies the values of the Bible Belt."

The man in the spotlight is Rob Hill, who until recently was a secretly gay pastor serving at the altar of United Methodist congregation in a part of the country where most bishops defend the teachings of their global denomination. Now he has left the closet, left the ministry, rarely goes to church and is the face of the gay-rights movement in Mississippi, working as a representative of the Human Rights Campaign. This powerful network,  which is based in Washington, D.C., is pouring $9.5 million into a countercultural effort to promote gay rights in the Deep South. 

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Death of the Chick-fil-A patriarch: A classic religion-news story with two sides

Death of the Chick-fil-A patriarch: A classic religion-news story with two sides

It's safe to say that Chick-fil-A patriarch S. Truett Cathy was famous, or infamous, for two very different reasons with two radically different flocks of people. After his death, mainstream news organizations faced an obvious news question: What's the lede? What's the angle on this remarkable entrepreneur's life that deserved the spotlight at the top of the story?

You can see that struggle in the summary paragraphs near the top of The New York Times obituary:

Mr. Cathy, who died on Monday at 93, was by all appearances a humble Christian man from Georgia with little education who sold a simple sandwich: a breaded, boneless chicken breast on a soft, white, buttered bun with nothing more than a couple of pickles for garnish.
But as the founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire, he was also a billionaire several times over and, as a conservative Christian who ran his business according to his religious principles, he was at once a hero and a symbol of intolerance. Many admired him for closing his outlets on Sundays and speaking out against same-sex marriage. Others vilified his the chain as a symbol of hate.

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Southern-fried stereotypes? Surprise, but this faith-and-football story serves up real meat

Southern-fried stereotypes? Surprise, but this faith-and-football story serves up real meat

When I saw the headline on the Washington Post's in-depth feature on college football as a Southern religion, I braced myself for plenty of Belt Belt cliches and stereotypes.

To be sure, there's some of that in this 3,000-word sports opus.

But mainly, the writer, Kent Babb, weaves a fascinating tale full of colorful characters and compelling scenes. Along the way, he peppers the Southern-fried narrative with a diverse variety of voices, both pro and con.

Some of the meat-and-potatoes up high:

In this part of America, college football fits somewhere between pastime and obsession, and like church, it is more than a weekend activity. Nothing says more about a Southerner than the team he cheers on Saturdays and the church he attends on Sundays — “the two things we love the most,” says author Chad Gibbs, Auburn fan and Methodist. To many, the merging of cultural forces feels natural; to others, the most stark instances are uncomfortable — maybe even inappropriate.
Throughout most of the United States, church attendance is on the decline, but according to a “religion census” sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, eight states in the South, including Mississippi, saw increases between 2000 and 2010 — in some cases dramatically

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Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

"Gospel with a little twang" was how The Dallas Morning News billed its front-page Sunday story on cowboy churches.

The writer, Charlie Scudder, had a whole lot of fun with that little bit of twang.

The result: a nice trend feature (accompanied by video interviews and an excellent photo gallery) that took readers inside two western-themed congregations in Fort Worth:

FORT WORTH — At high noon in the Stockyards Station, just after the
longhorn cattle drive down Exchange Avenue and just before the
gunfight show, a congregation comes to worship.

Pastor George Westby has been leading services here at the Cowboy
Church at the Fort Worth Stockyards for 23 years. His services attract
visitors from all over the country as well as a handful of regulars.

But just off Exchange Avenue, down in the old horse-and-mule barn
where there’s real manure and fewer vacationing families, a second
cowboy church is here for the same reason.

The Cowtown Cowboy Church, led by pastor Sonny Miller, started meeting
in spring 2013 on a dirt patch under the vaulted ceilings of the old
stables.

The newer church is part of the Western Heritage Ministry of the Texas
Baptists, a group of more than 200 churches statewide that embrace the
Gospel with a little twang.

Next, the Morning News provides a nut graf designed to put the Fort Worth churches into a larger context.

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Women as clergy: The stained-glass ceiling and one-sided journalism

Women as clergy: The stained-glass ceiling and one-sided journalism

For the Chicago Sun-Times, the question of whether to ordain women as preachers has only one right answer.

In a story headlined "Female ministers find obstacles on path to pulpit," the Sun-Times makes it clear which direction it leans:

Carol Jamieson Brown was in her early 20s when she told her pastor she had answered a call from God to pursue ministry and enrolled in seminary.
But he put the brakes on her plans — he didn’t acknowledge women ministers.
“He had been my pastor since I was 5 years old,” Brown said. “So it was like your father telling you that God didn’t call you. He had to be right, and I had to be wrong. There was no room for him to be wrong in my life.”
Many years later, she found room. Today she is pastor of First Baptist Church of Park Forest and among those who’ve made cracks in a stained-glass ceiling that continues to block women clergy and is nowhere close to being shattered.

In this story, "progress" is defined in terms of whether churches allow women in the pulpit or not.

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Members mourn Atlanta church; why don’t they talk?

Members mourn Atlanta church; why don’t they talk?

When a congregation has to leave its church building, it's like moving away from home. Members remember all the things that happened there. They think of fun and funny anecdotes, and the crises they weathered. They recall what the church meant to the community. All that is even more intense when the church is 152 years old, as is Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta. Which makes a New York Times story on its last service all the more puzzling.

The story has not a single quote from any longtime members, although it says that up to four generations of members were at the farewell service. It offers some appetizers on the church's influence, but doesn't serve the main course. And even after three readings, I didn't see a clear reason the building was to be demolished.

Not that the story lacks some telling details. The lede paints Atlanta as a city so proud of its racial harmony that it neglects its heritage:

So it was perhaps not surprising that Friendship Baptist, the city's oldest African-American Baptist church, founded by former slaves with help from whites and still thriving, found itself in the path of bulldozers that will raze the Georgia Dome as its replacement rises next door. The church is to be taken down, as early as Monday, 152 years after it was established.

Friendship, one of two churches whose multimillion dollar relocation/reconstruction tab will be covered by the city, is steeped in history. Two historically black colleges, Morehouse and Spelman, held classes in its basement, Morehouse moving into the church from Augusta in 1879 and Spelman starting there two years later. Trained musicians led the flock in song, with an emphasis on preserving old Negro spirituals. Nine other houses of prayer spun off Friendship, earning it the appellation "mother church."

Kneeling at its pews were up to four generations of families; one longtime worshiper died recently at age 108. Prominent judges, politicians, educators and entrepreneurs attended, filling the collection baskets to the brim. (The church's security guard said he saw a check for $50,000, someone's annual tithe.)

The article notes ironically that the church is being displaced by the Atlanta Falcons' new stadium, although the previous stadium was built only in 1992 and Friendship Baptist was born just after the Civil War. A sensitive passage has people weeping or "pumping a fist to the music" as the pipe organ plays -- an organ that was recently refurbished for $300,000.

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Pod people: Are all political liberals also on moral left?

Pod people: Are all political liberals also on moral left?

Every now and then, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken take and I off in one direction when doing a "Crossroads" podcast and then -- boom -- we will suddenly veer off in what at first seems like a totally different direction. Radio is like that, you know. That is certainly what happened this time around, big time. Click here to check out the podcast.

Wilken started out by repeating that question that I have been asking over and over during recent weeks, as the media storm over the so-called Hobby Lobby case has raged on that on.

You know the one: What should journalists call people in American public life who waffle on free speech, waffle on freedom of association and waffle on religious liberty?

The answer: I still don’t know, but the accurate term to describe this person -- in the history of American political thought -- is not “liberal.” Defense of basic First Amendment rights has long been the essence of American liberalism.

So what happened during the discussion?

Well, while we talked it suddenly hit me that this topic was, in a way, the flip side of the topic that I took on this week in my "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate. That piece focused on some fascinating information -- at least I thought it was fascinating stuff (as did Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher) -- found in the new "Beyond Blue vs. Red" political typology study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

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