Evangelicals

'Jesus is not a member of the NRA,' Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014

'Jesus is not a member of the NRA,' Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014

"Jesus is not a member of the NRA."

Of all the words said by all the experts who spoke on all the panels at the information-packed Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting this weekend in the Atlanta area, those may be the most memorable.

Journalists, after all, know a good soundbite when they hear one.

That explains why both religion writers for The New York Times and many of their colleagues tweeted the NRA quote, which came during a session on "God and Guns" at 

Given the number of firearm deaths in America, all five panelists seemed confident that Jesus wouldn't be out advocating for his right to own a gun.

What did the other side — people of faith who oppose gun control efforts — have to say? That was the awkward part. That side was not represented on the panel.

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A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum

A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum

I have a confession to make: I"m typing this in a hurry.

I'm headed to Atlanta for the Religion Newswriters Association's annual meeting (see our 5Q+1 interview with RNA president Bob Smietana, if you happened to miss it, and follow #RNA2014 for live tweeting).

So I'm going to make this post short and sweet. Real sweet.

Earlier, we critiqued some media coverage of a planned Bible museum in the nation's capital and found it lacking — here and here, for example.

But the Washington Post's award-winning religion writer, Michelle Boorstein, has produced an excellent, magazine-length story on the gigantic project.

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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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The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes' front page

The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes' front page

A photo of a crowd at what appears to be a rock concert dominates the front page of today's New York Times.

No, the image has nothing to do Apple's U2 album giveaway, although the Irish rock band makes a cameo appearance at the end of the Times'  Page 1 feature on a "megachurch with a beat."

I'll make a few constructive criticisms (that's why they pay me the big bucks, after all), but it's a solid story overall with a terrific, colorful lede:

LOS ANGELES — A toned and sunburned 32-year-old Australian with the letters F-A-I-T-H tattooed onto his biceps strode onto the stage of a former burlesque theater here and shouted across a sea of upstretched hands and uplifted smartphones: “Let’s win this city together!”
The crowd did not need much urging. Young, diverse and devoted to Jesus, the listeners had come to the Belasco Theater from around the city, and from across the country, eager to help an Australian Pentecostal megachurch that is spreading worldwide establish its first outpost on America’s West Coast.
The church, Hillsong, has become a phenomenon, capitalizing on, and in some cases shaping, trends not only in evangelicalism but also in Christian youth culture. Its success would be rare enough at a time when religion is struggling in a secularizing Europe and North America. But Hillsong is even more remarkable because its target is young Christians in big cities, where faith seems out of fashion but where its services are packing them in.
Powered by a thriving, and lucrative, recording label that dominates Christian contemporary music, it has a vast reach — by some estimates, 100,000 people in the pews each weekend, 10 million followers on social media, 16 million albums sold, with its songs popping up in churches from Uzbekistan to Papua New Guinea

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A medical miracle on NBC News: 'The hand of God at work' in saving Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly

A medical miracle on NBC News: 'The hand of God at work' in saving Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly

The hour-long NBC News special "Saving Dr. Brantly: The Inside Story of a Medical Miracle" aired Friday night.

The report by NBC's Matt Lauer features an exclusive interview with Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the often-deadly Ebola virus while serving as a medical missionary in Liberia.

It's an incredible piece of journalism that includes additional reflections from Brantly's wife Amber, Samaritan's Purse CEO Franklin Graham and doctors and nurses involved in his care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. 

As the special begins, Lauer emphasizes that Brantly's faith will play a major role in this story:

He may be one of the luckiest men alive, and Dr. Kent Brantly probably thinks there are two very good reasons for that.
He attributes his victory over the deadly Ebola virus to a combination of faith and science. 
As a devout Christian and a physician, he’s a man of both.
He was serving as a missionary doctor in Liberia when he became infected, and tonight in an NBC News exclusive, Dr. Brantly and the brave medical team that helped to save his life tell for the first time the extraordinary story of how he was cured.

Seconds later, Lauer begins delving into Brantly's faith.

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Do people who take their own lives automatically go to hell?

Do people who take their own lives automatically go to hell?

TOMMY ASKS:

Does someone go to Hell if they take their own life?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This question was posted shortly before the shocking suicide of superstar comedian and actor Robin Williams during an apparent bout with depression. Following that tragedy, conservative Christian blogger and Williams fan Austin Thompson posted an item of  questionable taste, declaring “with great sadness” that “maybe Robin Williams is in Hell.”

The Guy usually sidesteps his personal opinions, but here would advise Christians never to speculate publicly about the eternal destiny of individuals by name. It seems improper, offensive, judgmental, and lacking in love. Also it’s a total waste of time since, as even Thompson correctly concluded, “only God knows.”

This sort of clergy malpractice occurred during the worst sermon The Guy has heard during decades as a religion reporter attending worship services. The preacher in question told of a troubled youth who had been disrespectful toward him and died soon afterward in a motorcycle accident. The sermon suggested that this lad’s defiance sent him to Hell for eternity, and seemed as upset about insulting the preacher himself as rejection of Almighty God. Moreover, this was a baptismal service, so think of the negative reaction of non-religious family members who were present!

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Pod people: Sports and religion, Tim Tebow and ESPN, Michael Sam and the locker room

Pod people: Sports and religion, Tim Tebow and ESPN, Michael Sam and the locker room

It was a quiet little National Football League story, tucked away in the back headlines of the sports pages. Former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk -- yes, the guy from Harvard -- had been named to one of the quietest, but most influential, slots in pro sports.

The short ESPN report was typical, including the following summary statements:

Matt Birk was named the NFL's director of football development, the league announced Thursday. ...
In his new role, Birk will assist in developing the game at all levels, from players to coaches to front-office personnel. He will guide the evolution of the NFL scouting combine and regional combines as well as the all-star games for prospects, such as the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. Birk will also over see the career development symposium and the Bill Walsh minority coaching fellowship program. ...
Birk, 37, played his first 11 seasons in the league with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Ravens for the final four seasons of his career. He retired after he won his first Super Bowl following the 2012 season. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his excellence on and off the field.

Now, in light of the media tsunami surrounding gay defensive lineman Michael Sam, it showed remarkable restraint that ESPN leaders did not mention that this Matt Birk was also THAT OTHER Matt Birk, the husband of a crisis pregnancy center volunteer, the father of six children, the articulate Catholic whose beliefs on marriage had inspired so many headlines. 

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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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