Baptists

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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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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