Evangelicals

Powers that be at NBC-TV placed a big bet on the Bible, and sorta lost

Powers that be at NBC-TV placed a big bet on the Bible, and sorta lost

What’s the future for quality, religiously themed dramas on U.S. broadcast television? That story theme, which reporters could develop with help from entertainment industry analysts, emerges from the track record  of “A.D.: The Bible Continues.” This NBC miniseries about the birth of Christianity, drawn from  the biblical Book of Acts,  wrapped on June 21.

Broadcasters often relegate religious fare to the Christmas and Easter seasons and the rest of the year may depict devout characters in bit parts that are not always flattering to faith.  However, NBC placed a big bet on a reverential series that was adjudged “handsomely mounted” but “thuddingly earnest” by Variety, the showbiz bible. The first episode ran on Easter Sunday and the programs were then granted another consecutive 11 Sundays in prime time including the May ratings “sweeps.” That’s coveted TV real estate.

NBC’s  innovation made commercial sense, you’d think, given past box-office results and hoped-for viewership among millions upon millions of U.S. churchgoers. Moreover, star producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey had scored an impressive surprise hit on cable TV with their similar 2013 miniseries “The Bible” on the History Channel (jointly owned by ABC-Disney and Hearst).  The first episode drew 13.1 million viewers, others consistently posted above 10 million, and the Easter Sunday conclusion had an audience of 11.7 million. It was the second most popular miniseries the channel has ever carried.

However, NBC’s 2015 outing was a different matter, which probably underscores the difference between cable and broadcast in this era of fragmentation and specialized niche audiences.

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How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

The 4,600-word story that ran this weekend in the New York Times about how ISIS is -- or was -- recruiting a confused 20-something woman in rural Washington state was so gripping, I read it several times. So much was disturbing: The cluelessness of this young woman; the vapid response by her pastor and the details describing the 24/7 worldwide network of online ISIS recruiters working to get people like this woman to join up.

The article starts off with an eight-minute video that shows “Alex,” her face shaded to remain anonymous.

“The first thing they told me,” she begins, “was I was not allowed to listen to music.” Then her online friends love-bombed her with Tweets, Skype conversations and CARE packages of Islamic literature, head scarves, money and chocolate. These folks don’t want her involved in a local mosque. They want her involved with them. In Syria. Start here:

Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.
For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online -- the most attentive she had ever had -- who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.
One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.
But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

Fallout is still, well, falling out from the Supreme Court's declaration of gay marriage as a constitutional right. Most are also lagging behind the New York Times, which set the pace on Thursday with its advance story on conservative fears of the implications of the decision.

The Times lengthened its lead over the weekend, with a story on the flurry of efforts to carve out religious exemptions.

The Times gets right to the topic in the lede:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

The article then cites governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on their determination to fight gay marriage in their states. Jindal, of course, is also a candidate for president.

The Times then reviews the Supreme Court documents: first, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that religious groups may still teach their beliefs; a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., warning that the high court will likely start getting cases where religious and gay rights clash.

But the newspaper hits the nail in quoting Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore:

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#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

I grew up in the South.

My dad's work with the Air Force and as a preacher kept us on the move, and my elementary school years were split among Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

As a boy, I don't know that I thought much about race. My best friend in the fourth grade was black. My parents were surprised (and proud) the first time I brought Tyra home from school because I'd talked incessantly about him but never mentioned his color.

Some of my earliest memories of my Papa and Grandma Ross — who lived in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel — involve a light blue church bus that drove all over the countryside, picking up children and taking them to worship. Only years later did I learn that not everyone had appreciated Papa and Grandma’s bus ministry. You start filling a white church’s pews with black children, especially in the 1970s, and people talk.

I trace my exposure to the Confederate flag to watching "The Dukes of Hazzard" on Friday nights and seeing General Lee — Bo and Luke Duke's red 1969 Dodge Charger with the flag emblem atop it — fly through the air.

But honestly, I've never really taken the time to confront or understand the emotions associated with the Confederate flag — on all sides. 

That is, until the issue burst into the news in the wake of last week's shooting massacre at the Emanuel  African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.:

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Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

BRAD’S QUESTION:

Why don’t Catholics have a problem with the graven images that surround them in church?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Brad is obviously Protestant in his cultural outlook. That is, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches encourage religious art in church, seen as aids to devotion.

Protestants’ policies vary (as on most things!) but they broadly unite with Judaism in limiting visual images in worship settings to avoid any association with idolatry. Some Protestants prohibit all art in sanctuaries. Others allow abstractions and symbols but not human or animal forms. Some may depict Jesus Christ or saints, typically in stained glass, rarely in statues, and never as the objects of veneration. Further, some forbid flags in church to prevent idolatry toward the nation.

The discussion begins with this from the Bible’s venerable Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8 and summarized elsewhere, e.g. Leviticus 16:1). “Graven image” means a stature or carving, while “any likeness” covers any and all visual representations.

Jewish scholars say the ban applies to art only in worship contexts due to the “bow down” and “serve” phrasing along with the immediately preceding statement that “you shall have no other gods before me.”

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Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

If you want a friend, be a friend, the saying goes. In religion coverage, that might translate to, "If you want attention from faith groups, pay attention to them."

And when you don’t do that, they don't talk about major locla stories -- like the resignation of a prominent pastor after confessing to an affair.

The Washington Post broke the story Sunday night that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, stepped down from the pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The local newspapers, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, were caught off guard.

Why were they caught off guard? Because they'd lost their religion writers and didn't name successors. (Early disclosure: I was one of those writers, laid off by the Sun Sentinel in 2012.)

The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey must have been tipped on the scandal, because she got a lengthy statement from Tchividjian himself:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

Bailey, a GetReligion alumna, also got a counter-statement from Kim Tchividjian, his wife, saying Tullian's remarks "reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own." Rob Pacienza, executive pastor of Coral Ridge, produced another statement: "Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit."

Evidently, neither Kim nor Rob elaborated.

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That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?

Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing? 

Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?

Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?

People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.

For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted:

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With Rachel Dolezal's story, Huffpost fishtails all over the info-highway

With Rachel Dolezal's story, Huffpost fishtails all over the info-highway

Give Huffington Post credit for not driving the already-worn road on what a liar Rachel Dolezal is, claiming to be black when she's really white. Instead, at least in this story, Huffpost takes the road less traveled: the religious/spiritual facet.

Unfortunately, the story fishtails all over that road. In working the religion angle, Huffpost adds all kinds of things that don’t fit, however it tries.

For those who came in late, Dolezal is former president of the NAACP in Spokane, Wash. As Huffpost reports, her white parents publicly accused her last week of posing as a black woman in order to rise through the ranks of the civil rights organization.

My comments here are no defense of Dolezal's attempt to claim a different race than the one in which she was born. I'm frankly puzzled at her stated belief that she might have been less effective as a white NAACP officer; after all, most of the founding members were white. Furthermore, Donald Harris, president of its Maricopa County chapter, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he works his job just fine as a white man. And as Huffpost reports, regional NAACP leaders stated that "racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership."

No, my focus here is the classic GR fixation: how religion is treated in mainstream media coverage. Huffpost quickly identifies the parents as "deeply conservative evangelical Christians" who raised Rachel -- and their four adopted black children -- in the same beliefs.  Ruthanne and Larry tell the publication that Rachel's social justice advocacy is an extension of the values she learned at home.

Then the article awkwardly tries to link "fundamentalism" with Rachel Dolezal's drive for social justice:

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