Interviews

U2 is 'secretly Christian'? Say what? How long must we sing this song?

U2 is 'secretly Christian'? Say what? How long must we sing this song?

It's not a news piece, but there is a lot of chatter out in mainstream media right now about that Joshua Rothman essay in The New Yorker that ran under the headline "The Church of U2."

I'll be honest. I have no idea what that piece is trying to say, just in terms of the on-the-record facts about the band's history. It's like the last three or four decades of debate about what is, and what is not, "Christian" music never happened. It's like Johnny Cash, Bruce Cockburn, T-Bone Burnett, Mark Heard, Charlie Peacock, etc., etc., never happened. 

Here are the opening paragraphs, including the buzz term that everyone is discussing -- "secretly Christian."

A few years ago, I was caught up in a big research project about contemporary hymns (or “hymnody,” as they say in the trade). I listened to hundreds of hymns on Spotify; I interviewed a bunch of hymn experts. What, I asked them, was the most successful contemporary hymn -- the modern successor to “Morning Has Broken” or “Amazing Grace”? Some cited recently written traditional church hymns; others mentioned songs by popular Christian musicians. But one scholar pointed in a different direction: “If you’re willing to construe the term ‘hymn’ liberally, then the most heard, most successful hymn of the last few decades could be ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ by U2.”

Click pause for a moment. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

The Mirror  interviews an ISIS jihadi -- believed to be connected to those who killed photographer James Foley -- and reminds us all of the appeal of Fleet Street newpapers. The article also shows the risks of ignoring religious statements.

First, the achievement. The Mirror  took an audacious step in publishing the interview -- apparently a text-based conversation via an "obscure messaging app" -- with an avowed jihadi inside Syria. If true -- and it would be tough for others to verify -- the story is a 1,000-plus-word look into the mind of a man who would chop off another's head.

The man is named as Abu Abduallah al-Britani, one of the so-called "Beatles," a trio of British men who left the U.K. to join the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria. And The Mirror gets max mileage out of it -- right from the headline, " 'I’m ready to behead next enemy': Chilling message from Briton willing to kill for jihad."

In true Fleet Street style, the article is peppered with sensational adjectives like "fanatic," "warped," "horrific" and ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Coping with a gay daughter: Nashville Tennessean goes retro

Coping with a gay daughter: Nashville Tennessean goes retro

The Tennessean's feature on a mother's relationship with her gay daughter is a timely, up-to-the-minute feature. Or it would be, if this were the 1980s.

Seriously, how do you run 1,500-plus words on something like this in 2014? A sympathy piece on a devout woman who learns that her daughter is gay, then supports her against the prejudices of her church? A topic that was strip-mined years ago?

Mark Kellner, a friend of this blog, aptly calls this story "GR (GetReligion) bait." All of it is reported from the viewpoint of the mother. Not a word from the father or the son, or the daughter herself. And no one from church -- either the church that the mother attends or the one she left.

Purely from a writing standpoint, I can see why the story would interest an editor. Its terse, taut style would have made Hemingway proud:

Dawn Bennett thought she knew herself.

Wife. Mother of three. Devout Christian.

She thought she knew her daughter.

Guitarist. Softball player. Girl of unfaltering faith.

She didn't really know either.

Raising a gay child has taught her that.

In the six years since 19-year-old Erica Duclos looked into her mother's eyes and spoke openly about her sexuality, Bennett has fought fear, endured questions about God and grace, and struggled toward acceptance.

She loves her daughter, and she loves her God. Every day, her family and her faith collide. But the path forward is less about conflict than fortitude.

A promising lede, to be sure. But it doesn't deliver. Nor, as I've suggested, does it attempt anything like a balance.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The 'lite' is on for Cardinal Wuerl at the WaPo

The 'lite' is on for Cardinal Wuerl at the WaPo

The Washington Post's Sunday magazine features a light -- and I mean l-i-t-e light -- interview with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.

The interview is the latest installment of the magazine's "Just Asking" feature, in which reporter Joe Heim asks a few short questions, often humorous, to someone prominent in local politics or culture, with the aim of showing his or her human side. With Wuerl as the subject, that means,

"A moral question: Should the Washington Redskins change their name?"

And the hard-hitting follow-up: 

"But is saying that [the Redskins should make the "right call"] sort of the same as saying they should change their name?"

A few thoughts on the piece:

1. Given that the Washington Post has severely cut its Godbeat reporting since dumping "On Faith," it's good to see any kind of coverage of religion in the paper that is not occasioned by a political issue or controversy (Redskins aside).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The purge of Christians from Mosul in northern Iraq -- home to thriving Christian communities almost since biblical times -- is a historic human rights abuse. Yet mainstream media have done comparatively little coverage on it, probably because they're stretched thin with the twin stories of the airline shoot-down in Ukraine and Israel's invasion of Gaza. Also, of course, the Islamic State is in no mood to allow access to the "kafir" media.

Still, some reports have emerged, and some are brave, sensitive and frank on what the Christians are suffering.

The New York Times is often tone-deaf on religion in the U.S., but the newspaper has distinguished itself in stories like this one. Tim Arango's newsfeature opens with an anecdote on the loss shared by Iraqi Christians and many Muslims:

BAGHDAD — A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

The warm scene here was an unusual counterpoint to the wider story of Iraq’s unraveling, as Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gain territory and persecute anyone who does not adhere to their harsh version of Islamic law. On Saturday, to meet a deadline by the ISIS militants, most Christians in Mosul, a community almost as old as Christianity itself, left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

The article logs the outrage over the Islamic State's brutality, from leaders as diverse as Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations. Arango plays up the angle that the militants are enemies of most Iraqis, not just Christians:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Concerning the latest (alleged) interview with Pope Francis

Concerning the latest (alleged) interview with Pope Francis

So how would you like to be a press officer for the Vatican these days? Honestly, they should be getting combat pay. Here is the question that I have been asking, during the latest round of the game called, "What did the pope say and who says that he said it?"

In terms of basic journalism craft and ethics, what is an "interview"? Here is the top of a Reuters report that shows why I am asking this:

ROME, July 13 (Reuters) -- About 2 percent of Roman Catholic clerics are sexual abusers, an Italian newspaper on Sunday quoted Pope Francis as saying, adding that the pontiff considered the crime "a leprosy in our house".

But the Vatican issued a statement saying some parts of a long article in the left-leaning La Repubblica were not accurate, including one that quoted the pope as saying that there were cardinals among the abusers.

The article was a reconstruction of an hour-long conversation between the pope and the newspaper's founder, Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist who has written about several past encounters with the pope.

And what precisely is a "reconstruction of an hour-long conversation"? Here is some additional information:

The Vatican issued a statement noting Scalfari's tradition of having long conversations with public figures without taking notes or taping them, and then reconstructing them from memory. Scalfari, 90, is one of Italy's best known journalists.

While acknowledging that the conversation had taken place, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a statement saying that not all the phrases could be attributed "with certainty" to the pope. Lombardi said that, in particular, a quote attributed to the pope saying cardinals were among the sex abusers was not accurate and accused the paper of trying to "manipulate naive readers."

So this was a private conversation and the journalist did not -- perhaps as an homage to Truman Capote -- take notes or use an audio recorder. Instead, he left the hour-long conversation and then, with his razor-sharp (we can only hope) 90-year-old memory, he "reconstructed" the verbatim quotations from this event.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Pope's abuse apology: Media did a fair job, surprisingly

Pope's abuse apology: Media did a fair job, surprisingly

Mainstream media didn't pile onto Pope Francis. I know that sounds cynical -- something like "Johnny's trumpet recital didn't suck!" -- but in the story of Francis' personal apology to victims of priestly abuse, reporters actually reported. They left pontifications to the pontiff.

Francis, of course, has apologized before for the abuses that his predecessors allowed to persist. In April, he vowed to impose sanctions for the "evil" done by churchmen. But many media have seen the broader, more severe tone of his latest remarks -- in which he compared abuse to a "cult" or "satanic mass."

One example is a 1,000+-word piece in The Guardian:

"It is something more than despicable actions," Francis said of clerical sex abuse. "It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence."

He added: "There is no place in the Church's ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not."

It is not the first time that Francis has condemned abuse, but his words delivered at the Santa Martha guesthouse on Vatican grounds were particularly pointed towards those clerics who may have enabled the abuse to be "camouflaged with a complicity".

"I beg your forgiveness … for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk," said Francis, according to a translation made available by the Vatican.

The Wall Street Journal saw Francis' remarks as a kind of escalation. Its coverage says that although he has apologized for abuses in the past, this is the first time he has included the bishops:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Irish children's deaths: Media may be returning to sanity

Are cooler heads finally prevailing in that story of the children who died at a nun-run home in Ireland? There are some signs. But the temp is not yet back to normal. As you may recall from a previous column of mine, a local historian determined that hundreds of children died at St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, between 1925 and 1961. She couldn’t find their graves in nearby cemeteries, and she concluded that most of the children were buried on the premises.

That birthed an avalanche of stories about mass deaths, mass graves, even mass dumpings of dead babies into a septic tank. A headline on the radio station Newstalk even quoted a media priest screaming that “Tuam mass grave like ‘something that happened in Germany in the war’.”

Numerous articles at the start of June also parroted the accusation that babies born inside Irish mother-daughter homes were “denied baptism” and, if they died there, were “also denied a Christian burial.” As Kevin Clarke of America magazine points out, the claim is repeated with no attribution or attempt to prove it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

And the Godbeat goes on: Yet another veteran is forced out

Insult + injury? It could look that way, but it was probably just a blunder by the Tampa Tribune. The newspaper set out a tradeshow table at a community event May 15, prominently showing a poster of Faith and Values writer Michelle Bearden — six days after she was laid off. “Perhaps this means I got my job back and no one told me,” Michelle commented dryly on her Facebook page.

Her layoff, one of six from the newsroom that week, ends a much-honored specialty career of 20 years just in Tampa. By my estimate, Michelle was also the last fulltime veteran newspaper religion reporter in Florida.

Michelle will be hard to replace with her several hats. Besides the print edition, she did a weekly segment, Keeping the Faith, for WFLA-TV. She also did video presentations and interactive items for TBO.com, the newspaper’s online version.

Please respect our Commenting Policy