Evangelicals

Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

EDITOR'S NOTE: Veteran religion-beat reporter Julia Duin – now a journalism professor who is active writing books and in magazine journalism – is joining us here at GetReligion. She will focus her work on the American West, which is her home territory. Make her welcome, please. -- Terry Mattingly.

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You might say I got into religion reporting while a high school student in the Seattle area. I saw the huge readership -- and tons of letters -- that Earl Hansen received for his religion columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I thought, I can do that. And so my first religion piece ever was for the Covenant Companion, a denominational magazine, about my bike trip around Puget Sound with the youth group from a local Evangelical Covenant church.

While majoring in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I came to know the religious community in western Oregon pretty well. I also could not believe what a poor job the local papers did of covering the religion beat. I soon got a job as a reporter at a small daily just south of Portland where the editor told me I had to choose one page to edit: agriculture or religion. I chose religion and have not stopped covering it ever since. I also began corresponding for Christianity Today at that point in an era when women rarely wrote for that publication. 

I then moved to south Florida for a few years, covering religion among other beats and my work at CT and a first place in an RNA competition for religion reporting for small newspapers caught the eye of The Houston Chronicle. They hired me as one of two full-time religion writers in 1986. Those were the salad days of covering the beat: the Jim-and-Tammy-Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart "Pearlygate" scandals, Pat Robertson running for president, a local United Methodist bishop dying of AIDS, Pope John Paul II’s swing through the southern USA and Oral Roberts’ claim that God would “take me home” if he was not able to raise $4.5 million. It was rich. 

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Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

This week's "Crossroads" podcast focuses on the Frankenstein question in American public life that has left journalists shaking their heads and muttering, "It's alive, it's alive!"

I am referring, of course, to the whole Gov. Scott Walker and the "Is President Barack Obama a Christian?" thing. Then that media storm -- click here for my previous post -- led into the silly "Does Scott Walker really think that he talks with God?" episode.

Then again, am I alone in thinking that some rather cynical political reporters are creating these monsters and trying to keep them alive? Whatever. I remain convinced that Obama is what he says he is: A liberal Christian who made a profession of faith and joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long represented the left edge of free-church Protestantism.

Anyway, host Todd Wilken and I ended up spending most of our time talking about the subject that I am convinced is looming behind the whole "Is Obama a Christian" phenomenon, especially this latest flap with Walker. Click here to listen in on the discussion.

Believe it or not, this brings us to a discussion of a question that quietly rumbled through the Southern Baptist blogosphere the other day: Forget the question of whether the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State should be declared as Christian martyrs? Were they actually Christians in the first place?"

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Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 47, is facing new scrutiny as the flavor of the month in Republican presidential politics.  Among various disputes in play, he’s an evangelical Protestant and thus needs to be prepared for skeptical questioning about religion and pesky  “social issues.”           

While in London, Walker was asked if he’s “comfortable with” or believes in evolution. He said “that’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Skewered for ducking, he quickly followed up with a vague faith-and-science tweet.  He also ducked when asked whether President Obama “loves America” after Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts about that, and then again when asked if the President is a fellow Christian.

Walker would be a Preacher’s Kid in the White House, the first since Wilson, so reporters will be Googling a Jan. 31 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece on this, datelined Plainfield, Iowa  (population 436).

When Scott was young his father Llewellyn was the pastor of Plainfield’s First Baptist Church on -- yes -- Main Street and a town council member.  Llewellyn was also a pastor in Colorado Springs, Scott’s birthplace, and Delevan, Wisconsin, where Scott completed high school.

The father, now retired, served in the American Baptist Convention (now renamed American Baptist Churches USA), which has a liberal flank but is largely moderate to moderately evangelical.  The Journal-Sentinel missed that the current Plainfield pastor endorsed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, which vows bold Christian opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, human cloning research, and same-sex marriage.

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Death row women find God; ABC News promptly loses him

Death row women find God; ABC News promptly loses him

Whoosh!

What was that?

Oh, just a flock of faith words sailing over the heads of ABC News.

ABC maven Diane Sawyer interviewed two female death row inmates for a special (scheduled for 10 Eastern Time tonight, Feb. 27). According to the online text and preview video, she looks at their life under threat of death. She gets them talking about their youthfulness (they're two of the youngest women on death row). And the story decries the unfairness of sentencing practices.  

What doesn't the report get to? As a GR reader, you must have surely guessed: the many religious and spiritual references in their quotes.

Part of Sawyer's "Hidden America" series, the show visits Tiffany Cole and Emilia Carr at a prison in Ocala, Fla., where they await execution for separate murders. The 1,200-word article says much about their cases and lets them say their boyfriends really did the murders.

The women admit making bad life choices but say they’ve changed. Carr says she suffered extreme stress before she "came to know God."  And Cole says: “I am not the same person anymore. I have peace, I have joy. I have a sound mind.”

Cole's quote has at least two Bible references. Romans 14:17 says the kingdom of God is a matter of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."  And II Timothy 1:17 says that God imparts a spirit of "power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

Didn't Sawyer or any of her expert assistants recognize the verses? Or were they just uninterested? Hate to say it, but I'd guess the latter. Because ABC says Carr and Cole read about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. And the two say "religion" has helped them cope behind bars.

Which religion? Well, let's hear some more clues:

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#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

Oh my. How time flies when there is lots of work to do.

Has it really been a decade plus since sociologist Christian Smith published his infamous Books & Culture essay that ran under this grabber headline?

Religiously Ignorant Journalists
In search of Episcopals and evangelists.

As you would imagine, that piece received quick attention from the new-born GetReligion.org and we have pointed readers to it several times, including this 2010 post by GetReligion emeritus M.Z. Hemingway which noted an interesting, and sadly not that unusual, grammatical innovation in the following NPR passage:

Some 3,000 evangelical Christian Cubans attend an open-air service in Havana to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their public service in 1999. Evangelism is among the fastest-growing religions in communist -- and formerly atheist -- Cuba.

Now, that first reference to "evangelical" is fine. But the second one? Clearly, that was supposed to say "evangelicalism." Thus, as MZ noted:

... It's clear that this is a copy editor or copy-editing problem. And certainly the industry struggles to hire editors who are both technologically savvy and literate. But, as the reader who submitted this notes, this is embarrassing. Evangelism is not a religion. Evangelicalism is a movement within Christianity and evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

What do you know? Four years later and NPR still hasn't fixed the vague headline: "Cubans Flock To Evangelism To Fill Spiritual Vacuum." Uh, that is still "evangelicalism."

Now, I have a new reason to bring this issue up, yet again. We will get to that in a moment. First, here is a flashback to the original Smith essay, which opened like this:

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Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

If you're interested in social media's influence on 21st century political reporting, a scholarly paper by CNN's Peter Hamby contains excellent insight.

Published in 2013, the 95-page report is titled "Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?: Searching for a better way to cover a campaign."

Among the issues Hamby explores: the incessant snark — in 140 characters or less — that characterized media coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Speaking of snark, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard unloaded a big ole slab of cheese Tuesday on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential Republican presidential candidate.

Click the Onion-esque link, and Goddard makes light of Walker's inability to provide “a copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any other form of deity.”

Strangely, though, not everyone on Twitter shared Goddard's sense of humor.

Eventually, Goddard cried uncle.

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Fired fire chief fires back at Atlanta: Washington Post produces fine indepth piece

Fired fire chief fires back at Atlanta: Washington Post produces fine indepth piece

In a time when mainstream media are constantly telling us which opinions matter, it's refreshing to read the Washington Post's detailed, lucid piece on the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran.

In writing up Cochran's lawsuit against the city, alleging that his firing was over his religious beliefs, the Post has an indepth report worthy of the name. The story cites the allegation that Cochran was canned over his published views on homosexuality. It also cites a city investigation and a source for the mayor, saying he was actually fired for misjudgment and mismanagement.

The article is well researched, with six quoted sources and links to 13 articles and other documents. It also has a couple of stumbles and doesn't clear up all questions. But more on that later.

Here's a decent summary high in the story:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in January that Cochran’s firing was over his “judgment and management skills,” and that “Cochran’s personal religious beliefs are not the issue.” The city had suspended Cochran in November, after questioning whether the book’s passages on homosexuality violated the city’s non-discrimination policy.
But that is not at all how Cochran and his growing number of supporters see things.
“To actually lose my childhood-dream-come-true profession – where all of my expectations have been greatly exceeded – because of my faith is staggering,” Cochran said in a statement released with news of the lawsuit. “The very faith that led me to pursue my career has been used to take it from me.”

There's a fair amount of rhetoric like that, and the Post makes Cochran sound like an actual human rather than a talking head. The story offers some history, including a recent letter from six members of Congress on Cochran's behalf. It spends two paragraphs on whether Cochran got permission from the city's Board of Ethics to publish the book. And it shows how the case has become a cause celebre for both sides.

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Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

A decade ago, the editors of Time magazine decided -- during one of the many "Who the heck are these born-gain people?" moments in the recent life of the mainstream press -- to do a cover story focusing on the 25 most influential evangelical Protestants in American life.

It was an interesting list. However, one name in particular raised many eyebrows -- Sen. Rick Santorum. The issue? Santorum was and is a very conservative Roman Catholic.

This struck me as interesting, so I did some background research on this issue. The consensus was that the Time team realized that Santorum was not a Protestant -- and thus, not an evangelical -- but the larger truth was that he, well, "voted evangelical."

Frankly, I have no idea what that means -- in terms of doctrine. The point seemed to be that "evangelical" was a political term, these days. Moving on.

This brings me to an article that has been in my "GetReligion guilt file" for some time, a stunning recent Washington Post story about Rick and Karen Santorum and what they have learned about marriage, family and faith during the life of their daughter Bella, who was born with Trisomy 18, a usually lethal condition also known as Edwards syndrome, which is caused by a error in cell division.

It's complicated. However, most infants born with this condition -- many parents choose abortion when this defect is detected -- live a few days, weeks or at most months. Bella will soon turn seven.

There is much to praise in this very human and even raw story. However, it is obvious that at the heart of the piece is -- to be blunt -- the right-to-life beliefs that anchor this family. Thus, while dealing with faith issues in many ways, it is very strange that the piece never mentions that the Santorum are, you guessed it, Catholics.

What is the message there?

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Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

HAEVEN ASKS:

I’m beginning to fast and was wondering if I should hide it from people because of the verse that says to. I don’t know if I can tell people without the intent to show off.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

We’re heading into Lent 2015, the annual season when Christians are most likely to undertake fasting, which is part of most religious traditions though now somewhat neglected in the West. For Christians, such times of abstinence from food are a spiritual discipline intended to foster communion with God, purification from sin, and love toward others.

Haeven is referring to words of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18): “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Let’s unpack some of what New Testament experts tell us about this.

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