Baptists

Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

When your family is full of Baylor University graduates, there is a very good chance that someone is going to send you a link to an A1 piece in The New York Times about the president of the school that many refer to as "Jerusalem on the Brazos."

Baylor's current president is one Kenneth W. Starr, a name familiar to people here in DC Beltway-land and a name that may show up in Google searches more often as Hillary Clinton makes a run at (returning to) the White House. Yes, there is a religion ghost in this fine story about Starr.

This particular story focuses on Starr's role in current NCAA debates about the amateur status of the athletes whose skills bring millions of dollars into the bank accounts of American colleges and universities. I love the fine details and close connections in this summary passage near the top of the story:

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Speaking of religion and politics, this is not your run-of-the-mill cause for pastor activism ...

Speaking of religion and politics, this is not your run-of-the-mill cause for pastor activism ...

Same-sex marriage. Abortion. Liquor by the drink.

It's not uncommon for pastors to speak out on controversial public issues — either from a strictly moral perspective or a political angle.

But this one, courtesy of Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader, is new to me (even though I live in a state where the deceased have been known to turn out in large numbers for elections):

There's no "Thou shalt not" on vote buying in the Bible, but it's a sin nonetheless, according to a group of Magoffin County pastors trying to discourage the pernicious practice in a place where it has long corrupted the fabric of politics.
The ministers have asked local candidates in the general election to make a public pledge not to buy votes or provide money for others to buy votes for them, and to report anyone who buys votes for them to Attorney General Jack Conway's office.
The local Salyersville Independent newspaper has been running a copy of the pledge in the paper with the names of those who have signed, and posting photos of the signed pledges on its Facebook page.

Keep reading, and the Herald-Leader provides a nice piece of religious imagery, straight out of Exodus:

Judge-Executive Charles "Doc" Hardin said nearly every candidate for local office has signed the pledge, himself included.
Justin Williams, who pastors Lakeville Baptist Church and helped organize the effort, said the hope was that the pledge "will ultimately lead to a day that when I take my daughters to vote for the first time, that vote buying will be a distant memory in Magoffin County."
That wouldn't qualify as a miracle on the order of parting the Red Sea, but it would be remarkable.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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New twists in Jahi McMath case -- but same old generic religion in media coverage

New twists in Jahi McMath case -- but same old generic religion in media coverage

Jahi McMath -- the teenage girl from California whose family is fighting to keep her alive against a hospital's brain-death diagnosis -- is back in the headlines.  Yet, even as Jahi's family says she is showing new signs of brain activity,  there is little sign that mainstream journalists feel the need to exercise their brains when describing the family's faith. Instead, they continue to keep the faith angle as generic as possible, chalking up the persistence of the teen's family to vague "religious grounds."

The San Jose Mercury News clearly sees recent developments in McMath's case as newsworthy, highlighting their novelty:

OAKLAND -- Her attorney calls her "Patient No. 1," a groundbreaking test of widely accepted standards defining brain death as a form of irreversible mortality. Indeed, as far as brain-dead patients go, Jahi McMath has entered uncharted territory.
Most families, according to medical experts, come to terms with a medical diagnosis of brain death within days. Loved ones gather to say goodbye as machines are shut off, organ donation decisions are made, funeral services planned.
Not so for Jahi, who would have celebrated her 14th birthday on Friday. Almost 11 months after she was first declared brain dead and became the subject of a national debate, the Oakland 13-year-old remains on machines -- a case unlike any recorded in the United States since the medical establishment first recognized brain death as a form of death in the past century, experts said. ...
Jahi's doctors say original tests performed on the girl were accurate but contend that, over time, the swelling in her brain has receded, and tests now show different results. Videos released by Dolan also show her limbs moving when her mother commands her to move.

The story doesn't link to the videos. Here is one in which Jahi appears to kick her foot at her mother's prompt.

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Generic god urges son of first U.S. Ebola victim to rush to Dallas hospital

Generic god urges son of first U.S. Ebola victim to rush to Dallas hospital

What we have here is another case of what we could call "generic-god syndrome." That's when claims of divine guidance or deliverance are important enough to feature in a mainstream news story, but not important enough to define with facts -- perhaps with a single clause in a single sentence.

Most of the time we see generic-god syndrome in sports coverage, or stories about the Grammy Awards. The stakes are much higher in a news story about Ebola.

As a former GetReligionista put it in an email: "Did the dallas ebola patient have faith? ... Looks like his son did ... maybe that offers a clue?" In this case, our former scribe was talking about material strong enough (yet it still needed to be vague) to provide the human-interest hook for a CBS News story.

Here's a large chunk of the story -- about the death of Thomas Eric Duncan -- to provide context. This comes right after the lede:

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Ghost of Cowtown: That crucial missing question in Texas story on Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity

Ghost of Cowtown: That crucial missing question in Texas story on Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity

Here at GetReligion, we like to go ghostbusting.

Today, I decided to do so deep in the heart of Texas — in Cowtown, to be specific.

This Fort Worth Star-Telegram headline drew me in:

Carters build hope, homes with Habitat for Humanity

Before even reading the story's lede, two things made me wonder if this report would include a religion angle: Jimmy Carter's well-known Baptist faith and Habitat's nonprofit Christian mission of "seeking to put God's love into action."

So I grabbed my hammer, nails and ghostbusting equipment and clicked the Star-Telegram link:

FORT WORTH — Henry Wills never thought he would own a home, much less have a former president help build it.
But on Monday, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, swung hammers and hauled wood with hundreds of other Habitat for Humanity volunteers, including country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, to help build the Willses’ home in Fort Worth’s Central Meadowbook neighborhood.
“I never thought I would be able to work beside a president,” Wills said, grinning. “I am just elated on what is going on. I always wanted my own home, but I never think it would arrive. But God is good.”

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Sorry, that was my 2014 Holy Ghostbusting Sensor (thank you, editor Terry Mattingly, for providing all of GR's contributors with the latest model) going off.

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How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

"Daily Beast stupidity," said the email's subject line.

"I realize this headline might just be dramatic on purpose, but seriously: The church is not a business or something," the tipster wrote to GetReligion.

The headline in question (cue the dramatic music):

Can These Texas Churches Survive Ebola?

And the subhead:

The virus appears to be contained within a Dallas hospital for now, but concerns are spreading fast through local parishes, where congregants may have personal experience with Ebola’s deadly toll.

Clickbait, anyone?

Granted, we at GetReligion have acknowledged our struggle to determine the dividing line between The Daily Beast's progressive advocacy and its news coverage. In this case, the story — unlike the headline — is actually pretty informational and even-keeled.

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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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