Godbeat

Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

This week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) focused on one of those nasty Godbeat topics that I have been wrestling with since, oh, 1980 or so. The question: Does the press hate religion and/or religious people?

This subject, of course, came up in a post here at GetReligion recently, in which I reacted to a classic M.Z. Hemingway piece at The Federalist that ran under a flaming headline: "Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell."

In her piece, M.Z. made a reference to the "modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions, and religious liberty in general." While affirming the rest of her piece, I stressed that I remain convinced that the majority of elite American journalists believe that there are good religious groups and bad religious groups and that the goods tend to be led by clergy and intellectuals "whose moral theology fits naturally with Woodstock and the editorial pages of The New York Times."

As William Proctor -- a Harvard Law graduate and former legal affairs reporter for The New York Daily News -- put it in his book "The Gospel According to The New York Times," the world's most influential newsroom doesn't reject all forms of religion, but does reject what he called the "sin of religious certainty." They reject claims by Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., who claim that their faiths affirm eternal, transcendent, revealed truth.

Now, is this a debate that has something to do with core journalism discussions of accuracy, objectivity, truth telling, etc.?

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CNN's Daniel Burke survived a GetReligion interview, but will his 'Friendly Atheists' story endure our critique?

CNN's Daniel Burke survived a GetReligion interview, but will his 'Friendly Atheists' story endure our critique?

That there title is what is known as clickbait.

I know you people: You fancy a nice train wreck. You crave a good, no-holds-barred professional wrestling match. You love GetReligion the most when we're whacking some incompetent "journalist" (hey, how do you like those scare quotes, media person!?) over the head with a 2-by-4.

Sadly, today I come to praise CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke, not to bury him. 

And I knew you wouldn't dare click if I said something vanilla like "CNN produces a really nice piece of religion journalism." (Yawn.)

Come to think of it, Burke didn't really write about religion, did he? If you read my 5Q+1 interview with him the other day, you know that he produced a 10,000-plus-word opus on atheists.

Hmmmm, "Religion editor can't find religion to write about." Maybe that's my angle.

I kid. I kid.

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Has the Associated Press hierarchy officially changed its style for references to 'God'?

Has the Associated Press hierarchy officially changed its style for references to 'God'?

Flash back with me, if you will, to my recent GetReligion "guilt file" post on the religious-liberty showdown between an Assemblies of God chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, and the principalities and powers at the modern U.S. Navy.

There was a reference in the Military Times account to a Navy document listing the chaplain's offenses, one of which was that he:

Told a female that she was "shaming herself in the eyes of god" for having premarital sex.

I raised a style question about that claim, asking if the lower-case "g" on the reference to "god" represented a change in news style for Gannett or if the modern Navy has now changed to using lower-case references to the Deity.

After posting that, I had a kind of nagging sensation that I was forgetting something. Perhaps there was another news item related to this Godtalk issue buried even deeper in my massive folder of GetReligion guilt material?

Sure enough, there was, one dating back to the Academy Awards coverage. A film critic friend of mine sent me this note:

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5Q+1 interview: Daniel Burke on CNN Belief, 'The Friendly Atheists Next Door' and the next big religion story

5Q+1 interview: Daniel Burke on CNN Belief, 'The Friendly Atheists Next Door' and the next big religion story

Daniel Burke is religion editor for CNN.

His mission: to cover the faith angles of the day's biggest stories.

Before joining CNN two years ago, Burke spent seven years with Religion News Service, where he covered everything from Amish funerals to the Zen of Steve Jobs. 

He earned master's degrees in journalism and comparative religion from Columbia University.

"Before that, I went to Georgetown University, where a course on 'The Problem of God' set me on the path to religion reporting," he wrote on his LinkedIn page.

In a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion, Burke discussed CNN Belief, his 10,000-plus-word longread on "The Friendly Atheists Next Door" and what he sees as the next big religion story.

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Charlotte Observer offers a mega nice gesture to its local megachurch

Charlotte Observer offers a mega nice gesture to its local megachurch

Is the Charlotte Observer trying to be nice to Elevation Church?

Sure looks that way in two articles: a friendly feature last weekend, with a shorter item this past Saturday.

The first one is 1,500 words of mostly "Huzzah!" on the megachurch's 13-campus expansion, 17,000 attendees, weekly income of $484,000, and explosive growth since its first 121 people in 2006. We get stats a-plenty from chief financial officer "Chunks" Corbett. We learn from Outreach magazine that Elevation is the nation's 11 fastest-growing Protestant church and its 15th largest.

And we get some reasons for the growth, starting with Pastor Steven Furtick:

The main draw is Furtick, whose dynamic preaching style, casual persona and fluency with Bible verses and pop culture references are popular with many people, including teenagers and those in their 20s, who are turned off by more formal and traditional churches. Elevation’s congregation also appears to be more racially diverse than most Charlotte churches.
Other attractions: The Christian rock music, its investment in multimedia messaging, and its history of funneling several million dollars and many volunteers to charities such as Crisis Assistance Ministry.
Plus, like a lot of megachurches, Elevation tries to steer its regulars into small groups that meet and pray in homes. Each site has its own full-time campus pastor, its own live band, and a staff that works with children during the weekend services.

The follow-up column, about 350 words, appears to be what people in the trade call a "Reporter's Notebook": bits and pieces that are interesting but didn't survive trims in the larger story. It has bulleted paragraphs on the symbolism of the church logo, the origin of Corbett's nickname "Chunks," and the fact that the newest site was bought from members of the family that launched the Amway company.

Ah, but something is missing in this lovefest: quotes from Furtick himself. As the Observer acknowledges, he hasn't given the newspaper an interview since 2008.

Thereby hangs a tale.

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Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

You can take M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion (although I am still struggling to get used to that), but it does appear that you can't take those GetReligion instincts out of Mollie the journalism critic.

Consider for a moment what is actually going on in this recent short written by the GetReligionista emeritus over at The Federalist. It focuses on that whole Starbucks (with help, believe it or not from USA Today) #RaceTogether campaign that has been getting so much mainstream news ink and commentary lately. Here's the headline on her piece: "With Race Together, Starbucks Is Using Worst Of Evangelical Practices."

Evangelicals? Wait for it.

Now, lots of that commentary has been either nervous or critical or both. Is it really a good idea for a major corporation to try to push its customers -- people who just trying to mind their own business while buying a cup of overpriced coffee -- into a hot-button conversation that may or may not be constructive in the long run?

Still, Starbucks is one of those urban prestige brands that must be taken seriously buy the press. Right? Mollie's insight, if you read between the lines, was to ponder what kind of press reception this campaign would have received if attempted by another institution on another hot-button topic. What kind of reception would, let's say Hobby Lobby, have received with a #TalkMarriage campaign or even a safer #TalkParenting effort?

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Edgy advocacy reporting on San Francisco's quasi-Christian church counterculture

Edgy advocacy reporting on San Francisco's quasi-Christian church counterculture

When I joined GetReligion almost a month ago, it was with the idea that I’d concentrate on religion reporting in newspapers west of the Rockies. With the exception of Utah, the Godbeat is a bit sparse in these parts. The Religion Newswriters Association list for members out this way lists none in Nevada, the Dakotas, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, west Texas and Wyoming. Other states had maybe one member listed and some -- California and Colorado are examples – didn’t include anyone from the major state newspapers.

Which is why I've been plying the alternative weeklies, of which there are tons on the Left Coast. Opinion and reporting merge in these publications, but you can locate stuff here that no one else is covering. The San Francisco Weekly, just ran this piece on San Francisco’s counterculture churches:

When I drive up to the foot of Twin Peaks on a Sunday morning to attend the Liturgy of the Divine Feminine at herchurch, the congregation inside is friendly and welcoming. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that I'm a newbie, fresh meat, a potential recruit. Among the roughly 50 adults in the sanctuary, fewer than 10 are men. The 90-minute service is structured much like the traditional Catholic services of my youth, except that this one includes soft acoustic folk music, a prayer with a Tibetan bowl and bell, and an ecstatic call-and-response in an indigenous language that sounds like a Pentecostal channeling the Spirit. ...
Herchurch is technically Ebenezer Lutheran, a 131-year-old congregation. But earlier this century, the church altered its theological orientation to a degree that might rival, say, an early Christian basilica replacing a wine-soaked temple of Dionysus. While still part of the large and fairly liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, herchuch's minister, the Rev. Stacy Boorn, says she felt challenged by the overt masculinity in the language of Scripture.

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You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

Here at the Washington Journalism Center, the full-semester program I lead at the DC center for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, we have a number of sayings that are repeated over and over that they turn into journalism mantras. I imagine that will be true when we reboot the program next year in New York City at The King's College.

One of these sayings goes like this: Everybody in this city knows more stories than you do. I also like to stress this: The most important skill in journalism is the ability to accurately state the views of someone with whom you disagree. And then there's one that is discussed here frequently, in this Keller-istic, Twitter-driven age in which the digital line between newswriting and editorializing is often quite faded and hard to spot: Opinion is cheap; information is expensive.

Then there is another WJC mantra that moves us closer to some news sure to intrigue those interesting in religion-beat coverage in the mainstream press. This one isn't very snappy, but it's a concept that is crucial for young journalists to grasp. Here it is: In the future there will be no one dominant business model (think newspaper chains built on advertising, mixed with the sale of dead-tree pulp) for mainstream journalism, but multiple approaches to funding the creation of information and news.

I warned you that it wasn't short and snappy.

Obviously, one of the crucial emerging models right now is the growing world of non-profit and foundation-driven journalism.

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Here’s a hot story many have missed: Cost of those 91 Episcopal Church lawsuits

Here’s a hot story many have missed: Cost of those 91 Episcopal Church lawsuits

Sometimes a news story drags on bit by bit, piece by piece, over the years and becomes so tedious that reporters miss the dramatic cumulative impact. It also doesn't help that long, slow-developing, nuanced religion stories have been known to turn secular editors into pillars of salt.

So it seems with the lawsuits against conservative congregations and regional dioceses that have been quitting the Episcopal Church, mostly to join the Anglican Church in North America, especially since consecration of the first openly partnered gay bishop in 2003.

The Religion Guy confesses he totally missed the eye-popping claim last year that the denomination has spent more than $40 million on lawsuits to win ownership of the dropouts’ buildings, properties, and liquid assets. If that’s anywhere near accurate it surely sets the all-time record for American schisms. And that doesn’t even count the millions come-outers have spent on lawyers. For more info, click here.

Note immediately that these elaborate data were pieced together by an obviously partisan if qualified source, “Anglican Curmudgeon” blogger A.S. Haley. He’s an attorney who specializes in church property law and represents the departing Diocese of San Joaquin in central California.  No reporter should simply accept Haley’s say-so and recycle his data unchecked. But a full accounting, working through his numbers with Episcopal officials, would make a good piece.

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