Baptists

America's hidden nightmares: Where did Wes Craven's haunting visions come from?

America's hidden nightmares: Where did Wes Craven's haunting visions come from?

Does it really matter that the Rev. Billy Graham and Hollywood shock-master Wes Craven are both products of Wheaton College, one of America's most important and symbolic evangelical Protestant institutions of any kind?

Well, that depends. On one level -- as someone who has taught in Christian colleges -- I find it interesting that a school as good as Wheaton has not produced legions of excellent screenwriters, journalists, directors, popular musicians, etc. However, the school (and this is normal for the evangelical world) has produced many fine thinkers and scholars, along with armies of people who work in Christian magazines, Christian publishing, Christian video production, Christian public relations, etc.

In a lecture on faith and vocations linked to the creation of culture, I always ask my students to name 10 famous evangelical Hollywood film directors. Then I ask them to do the same with Catholic film directors (devout and struggling). It's not a fair fight.

But back to Craven. At the heart of his most famous work was an image of a monster created by the sins of PARENTS, coming back to slice and dice their CHILDREN, who are attacked while they are, as one critic put it, safe in the "womb" of sleep. And what are those things on the monster's fingers? Surgical curettes?

Craven insisted that the key to his success was an understanding of what Americans fear the most, the subjects that cause intense nightmares of guilt, pain, shame and terror. Children dying because of the sins of their parents? Now that's an interesting vision right after, oh, 1973 or so.

Thus, I was rather stunned that The Los Angeles Times obituary for Craven (1) does not even include a reference to his famous alma mater and (2) did so little to explore the creative urges of this particular superstar director. And the New York Times? Hold that thought.

Here's the key material from the Los Angeles Times piece:

For Craven, making a scary movie was far more than simply a matter of delivering cheap shocks. It was an exercise in societal catharsis, a foray into the audience's collective unconscious.

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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.

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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?

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Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Days after former President Jimmy Carter shared details of his battle with cancer, reporters followed the nation's most famous Sunday school teacher to church Sunday.

As I clicked news story links, here's what I wanted to know: Would news reports reflect the actual biblical content of Carter's lesson?

CNN's Sunday story opens like this:

Plains, Georgia (CNN) They arrived at this sleepy Georgia town in droves, from places as far away as Africa. Some spent the night in line just to ensure a seat.
Ordinary fare, if it were a rock concert or major sporting event -- but not for a Sunday school Bible talk.
But this is no ordinary Sunday school: Its teacher has a Secret Service detail.
For decades, former President Jimmy Carter has been teaching Sunday school here at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
But this Sunday's lesson -- Carter's 689th, according to his grandson Jason -- commanded attention far beyond the worshippers who packed the pews and overflow rooms in the wake of the revelation that the 90-year-old Carter is battling cancer.

OK, that lede sets the scene.

But what was the lesson about?

There are 31,101 verses in the Bible. Surely Carter referenced at least one or two of them. But CNN mentions not a single passage — either directly or indirectly.

As tmatt noted here at GetReligion the other day, religion is key to who Carter is.

 

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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.

 

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Jimmy Carter calmly faces death, for reasons that some scribes still find mysterious

Jimmy Carter calmly faces death, for reasons that some scribes still find mysterious

Whatever you think of the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the odds are good that those views have now blended into some kind of appreciation for some of the work accomplished during his long and complex ex-presidency. Note the double use of the word "some" in that sentence.

However, even the most negative evaluations of his work usually show some respect for what Carter has done with a Bible in one hand and a hammer in the other, working on countless projects at home and abroad to help the least of these.

Carter's Baptist beliefs have, of course, continued to evolve, moving him to the doctrinal left on most moral and cultural issues. But there are still times when you can hear him arguing with himself on these matters. Soon after he left the White House, I interviewed him and watched him interact with a group of Lutheran young people meeting in Denver. He began crying as he described the frustrations he felt trying to place any kinds of legal limits on abortion in America, but he kept trying because he knew what science said about when life begins, as well as what his faith told him to do.

Like him or not, Carter is the man who made history by pulling millions of evangelical Protestants into the political arena, either to support him or to oppose him.

This brings me to the mainstream media coverage of Carter's press conference dealing with his current battle with cancer, including small melanoma cancers in his brain. Watch the video at the top of this post and then think about this Twitter comment by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post (who, of course, used to write for GetReligion):

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Backpacker heads out into the woods and gives Trail Life USA a fair shot

Backpacker heads out into the woods and gives Trail Life USA a fair shot

There is the Boy Scouts of America story, which is complex and getting more so every minute -- especially among decision-makers for American Catholics and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Journalists are covering these stories, of course.

Then there is another story that could be covered, one that focuses on the people in religious flocks that are not interested in compromising on centuries of basic doctrines about marriage and family. There have been a few stories about these folks, but, so far, they have been rather thin and packed with stereotypes.

The former Boy Scout in me is interested in knowing what happens to the folks who have left. I'm interested -- as an Eastern Orthodox layman -- in some of these other options because I know that many members of Orthodox parishes are starting to look for ways out of the Boy Scouts. But do they want to join some kind of hyper-Evangelical Protestant alternative?

I'm happy to report that a freelancer linked to Backpacker Magazine -- a bible, of sorts, for people who wear out more than their share of hiking boots and rain slickers -- has turned out a serious story about Trail Life USA, one of the largest of the faith-friendly alternative camping-and-outdoors operations.

The key: This story focuses more on what boys are doing in these troops out in the woods, as opposed to what their lawyers are saying in courtrooms. There are sections of this piece that will make the palms of Unitarian Universalists or urbane Episcopalians sweat.

I also appreciated that reporter Patrick Doyle, who works out of Pittsburgh, didn't focus on a Trail Life unit in, let's say an evangelical megachurch in Bible Belt, Mississippi. He focused on a troop in a northern setting, based in a mainline Protestant flock. Here is the overture, focusing on the roots of this troop:

Boy Scout Troop 452 has been meeting at Concord United Methodist Church in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, as long as there’s been a troop, nearly 70 years.
But this isn’t the usual weekly gathering of the boys and their scoutmaster, Richard Greathouse. This meeting is just for their parents.

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News? Handful of Democrats float a pro-woman plan to defund Planned Parenthood

News? Handful of Democrats float a pro-woman plan to defund Planned Parenthood

So, in terms of politics (as opposed to undercover videos), was there anything really new in the U.S. Senate debates over funding for Planned Parenthood and the mainstream media coverage thereof? What else can bored journalists (meaning those that have elected to ignore dozens of issues linked to quotations in those undercover videos) look forward to covering in other Hill debates on this topic?

Well, there was one small -- critics would say "tiny" -- wrinkle that might prove interesting, in the event of a close vote in the future.

As always, Republicans who are willing to take this dangerous political step will need to find a few allies on the other side of the aisle. Yes, honest. They need to talk to at least a few Democrats.

Thus, I found it interesting that Baptist Press -- yes, a conservative wire service -- ended up paying attention to some proposals by Democrats for Life. (Confession: Yes, I am a pro-life Democrat and have a donor's bumper sticker in my office.)

We live in a day and age in which the number of pro-life Democrats is so small that the mainstream press considers the actions of this group "conservative," even when its proposals are in some way economically progressive. Thus, Democrats for Life draws little or no mainstream ink, but is covered by the alternative conservative press (surf this Google file, if you wish).

So what did Baptist Press report as the key element of this proposal?

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Hard-hitting journalism on Baptist church's acceptance of same-sex marriage? Not exactly

Hard-hitting journalism on Baptist church's acceptance of same-sex marriage? Not exactly

"Hard-hitting religion journalism," said the subject line on an email from a GetReligion reader.

Methinks that reader enjoys the fine art of sarcasm.

The friendly correspondent shared a link to a front-page story in today's Greenville News in South Carolina.

The story concerns a Baptist church — which disassociated itself from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999 — deciding to embrace same-sex marriage.

At 1,900 words, the Gannett newspaper's report on "One church's journey" is long enough to be considered in-depth. But hard-hitting journalism it most definitely is not.

If newspapers wrote love songs instead of news articles, this is how one might go — complete with the reporter tweeting unabashedly about the church's "amazing transformation."

Here's the first verse:

The conversation at First Baptist Church Greenville took place well before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to legalize same-sex marriages.
The dialogue was bold — particularly for one of downtown Greenville’s influential legacy churches that in its earliest years served as a birthplace for revered Southern Baptist institutions.
Would the congregation be willing to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church?
To ordain gay ministers?

 

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