Interviews

BBC: Confused about the difference between a bishop and a book writer

BBC: Confused about the difference between a bishop and a book writer

It seemed like a dream interview: BBC wanted to quiz our GetReligionista-on-leave Dawn Eden on a revised version of her 2006 book The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On

The pre-recorded interview was cut to a five-minute segment, then spliced onto a discussion with several British panelists who were to react to Dawn’s words and chat about whether people could realistically be expected to be sexually abstinent in this day and age. 

And everything was going just right until the voiceover by host Audrey Carville that identified Dawn as “a former rock journalist hoping to be a bishop.”

Problem is: Dawn, a very doctrinally traditional, observant Catholic woman, has no plans to become a bishop. That would be, you know, an act of rebellion against the church.

What she had explained to Audrey is that she’d privately consecrated herself to lead a celibate life and that she hoped to formalize her vow in a future ceremony with a bishop. I’m assuming what she has in mind is something similar to the consecration of virgins ceremony recently explained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dawn has made it very clear she is no virgin, so a different rite would be called for. 

Anyway, BBC got it completely wrong as you’ll see from the following Twitter feed:

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Digging in: Yes, this is another headline containing the all-important search term 'Duggars'

Digging in: Yes, this is another headline containing the all-important search term 'Duggars'

I realize that, in the current Washington Post effort to organize and increase its religion coverage (we applaud, of course) the flag headline "Acts of Faith" has become a kind of logo and catch-phrase to attract readers.

Still, I wonder if anyone at the copy desk stopped for a second before producing the following double-decker head on the tabloid-esque story of the week, producing some rather painful content when read in one flow:

Acts of Faith
Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter, parents tell Fox News

Hang on, because we will get to the content of the Post story, which was actually quite straightforward and subdued -- in contrast to the take-no-prisoners tone of some of the other coverage.

Religion News Service also produced a rather flat, sensible news piece, but as is the norm in the edgy social-media age, felt the need to wave the editorial flag with this bite of snark in the promo headline atop the daily email newsletter:

Duggars keep digging

As in the Duggars keep digging their own grave, of course.

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Evangelizing Muslims: The Oklahoman barely skims departing pastor's plans

Evangelizing Muslims: The Oklahoman barely skims departing pastor's plans

A pastor announces he's leaving after eight years to become a missionary to Muslims -- a pretty unusual move -- and the local newspaper story leads off with clichés.

"The Rev. Mateen Elass looks back on his extraordinary faith journey with the firm conviction that the Lord has been preparing him his whole life for 'such a time as this'," says the first paragraph in The Oklahoman.  Only in the third and fourth paragraphs does it get to the point:

Elass, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, is leaving the pastorate to devote his time to preaching the Christian Gospel to Muslims. He also wants to help equip the Christian Church to effectively do the same.
Sunday, Elass will preach his final sermon as leader of his church.

His is the only voice in this story of nearly 1,000 words. We're told that many members of the church were surprised to hear he's leaving, while others "weren’t shocked at all." We also read that many Christians say Elass has a "unique perspective about Islam," having come from that world. But none of those people are named or quoted directly.

And some crucial questions go unanswered.

Instead, we get press-release stuff like "Elass said he is motivated and passionate about his new divine assignment." What else would he say? That he's jaded and apathetic? And nearly half the text is taken with Elass' beliefs on the need for Christians to serve, not just consume.

He talks about plans to blog, go on TV and radio, even speak at debates and forums. And he plans to train other Christians to reach Muslims as well. Will he work alone or with an organization? Will he train Americans or Middle Eastern Christians?  How much will it cost per year? How will he raise funds -- crowdsourcing, private appeals, other?

And where will Elass work -- in the U.S. or elsewhere? Granted, Christian missionaries often have to be quiet about where they work, given the hostility of many Muslims toward evangelization. But even mentioning the continent or region -- Africa, the Middle East, North America, etc. -- would give us readers something.

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Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd channels religion beat into nones, spirituality and migration

Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd channels religion beat into nones, spirituality and migration

When you’re Canada’s top religion writer and you’ve been on the beat for umpteen years and you want to take religion reporting in one of the continent’s most beautiful cities in a new direction, what do you do?

You become a “spirituality and diversity columnist.”

You start a blog called “The Search” that is described thusly: “Douglas Todd delves into topics we’re taught to avoid: religion, ethnicity, politics, sex and ethics.”

The Vancouver Sun’s erstwhile religion writer has showed up at many a Religion Newswriters Association meeting to spirit off some top award for his stylish prose chronicling the spiritual side of British Columbia’s largest city. In recent years, his work has taken an unusual turn because of the multifaith direction of this metropolis sounded by water and mountains. A May 8, 2013, article on the city explains more:

Metro Vancouver and the rest of B.C. break a lot of records when it comes to religion and the lack thereof.
The West Coast is a place of extremes in regards to Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated, according to a major 2011 survey by Statistics Canada.
New data released Wednesday suggests pluralistic B.C. is traveling in several religious directions at once. Many residents are becoming more devout following a great variety of world faiths. But other residents are endorsing secular world views and drifting into private spirituality.

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NPR road trip to study bizarre citizens of North Dakota feels like a visit to the zoo

NPR road trip to study bizarre citizens of North Dakota feels like a visit to the zoo

Last week, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast the results of their recent road trip through North Dakota, one of a decreasing number of states (currently at 13) with laws opposing same-sex marriage. (Many more states had them, but courts have struck them down). In interviews around the southeastern corner of the state, reporters talked with people who were pro and con on homosexual marriage.

NPR pitched this series as “People thinking out loud about gay rights and same sex marriage.” In other places on their web site, they said it was about “religion and gay rights in North Dakota.”

In their intro, NPR quoted a Gallup poll as saying North Dakota is the ‘least gay’ state in the country at 1.7 percent of the population identifying themselves as homosexual. Washington, DC, by the way, was the ‘most gay’ in terms of people who self-identify as such at 10 percent.

The series explains itself as follows:

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Was it cynical to ask Walker if Obama is a Christian? (Yes) Was it a valid political question? (Yes)

Was it cynical to ask Walker if Obama is a Christian? (Yes) Was it a valid political question? (Yes)

Perhaps Gov. Scott Walker should have just said, "Who am I to judge?"

In a way, it appears that this may have been what he was trying to say, or at least that's one reading of his problematic remarks to The Washington Post.

Or perhaps he should have just said, "Of course Barack Obama is a Christian. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., confirmed that Obama was baptized in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago sometime during the early 1990s, although it doesn't appear that the church recorded the date. Some people think that it was in 1988, but no one is sure."

Republicans who are asked this gotcha question in the future will know that -- while the doctrinal specifics of Obama's faith remain a mystery, and he has never joined a church inside the DC Beltway -- this is a man who has testified, as follows:

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

As David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network candidly put it: "That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a conversion experience."

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What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

About a third of a century ago, back when I was doing graduate work in mass communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I started calling up editors and asking them a simple question: Why doesn't your newsroom -- mostly newspapers, back then -- do more to cover religion news?

These interviews ended up being part of my graduate project, which was edited down and ran as a massive cover story -- "The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets" -- at the professional journal called The Quill

Editors gave me all kinds of reasons for their limited coverage of the Godbeat, but there were two reasons that I heard more than any other:

(1) Religion news is too boring (and no one wants to cover it).

(2) Religion news is too controversial (and causes our readers to get too riled up and they write too many leaders to the editor).

And there you had it: The world was just full -- too full, it seemed -- of boring, controversial religion stories. Between the lines, these journalists seem to be saying that religion was boring to THEM, yet they could not figure out why THEIR READERS seemed to care so much about it. Thus, the strange blend of boredom and controversy.

I thought about that this week when "Crossroads" podcast host Todd Wilken and I were talking about that controversial speech that President Barack Obama gave at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

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Brian Williams, Saint John Paul II, Charlton Heston, Kevin Bacon and, well, me

Brian Williams, Saint John Paul II, Charlton Heston, Kevin Bacon and, well, me

Remember that game that was so hot a few years ago, the whole "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" thing? One of the fun things about hanging out with experienced journalists is that you can play a similar game, based on who has interviewed who.

For example, as a religion writer I have interviewed Billy Graham. That puts me one degree of separation away from, what, half of the famous people in world culture in the second half of the 20th century? Or, in music, I have interviewed Dave Brubeck. Stop and think about that one, in terms of links to music royalty dating back into the early 20th century.

However, journalists do like to sweat the details.

For example, I have asked Tom Hanks a question in a live press conference. Is that the same thing as "meeting" Hanks? Perhaps you shook hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked a quick question. Is that the same thing as "interviewing" him? How about a telephone interview with Robert Duvall? Twice? Is that the same as "meeting" him?

I attended the 1987 meeting between St. John Paul II and media leaders in Hollywood and greater Los Angeles, sneaking in with a pass from a Rocky Mountain News editor (a national officer in a press association) who was not able to attend. At the end, the pope moved down the aisle greeting people and shaking hands. I had a chance to shake his hand but, well, I let Charlton Heston get in front of me. You can't fight the voice of God, right? I did speak a greeting to the pope and he nodded. But is that "meeting" the pope?

Where am I going with this? To the latest wrinkles in the sad story of Brian Williams, of course.

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RIP David Carr: A struggling Catholic voice at The New York Times is gone

RIP David Carr: A struggling Catholic voice at The New York Times is gone

If you closely followed the career of media critic David Carr, then you knew that he was a practicing Catholic, yet he also made it clear that he wasn't sure if he was a faithful Catholic. For many readers -- fans and critics -- this made him the perfect New York Times Catholic.

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote about some of this in a GetReligion post back in 2011 and, in one of her first bylines at The Washington Post, she produced a quick piece on the religion-angle in Carr's death. Try to ignore this, from the new Post piece:

New York Times journalist David Carr, who died Thursday, had a complicated relationship with religion. In his 2009 book “The Night of the Gun,” Carr wrote about his father’s faith compared with his own.
“My father is a man who swears frequently goes to church every day, and lives his towering faith,” Carr wrote. “I am a man who swears frequently, goes to church every Sunday, and lives in search of faith. He is a man who believes that I am not dead because nuns prayed for me. I am a man who believes that is as good an explanation as any.”

A kind of brass-tacks, but vague, faith shows up again in the most famous passage from that book, in which Carr rips into his own life, exposing a man so hooked on drugs that he would place his own children at risk. How many of you have already seen a piece today in which the following passage -- with good cause -- is featured?

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