Interviews

Wall Street Journal ably captures Tim Keller's voice, and little else

Wall Street Journal ably captures Tim Keller's voice, and little else

Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church blends a good nature, a nimble mind, leadership in evangelical circles, and a pastoral heart toward fellow New Yorkers.  A lengthy profile in the Wall Street Journal captures much of that, yet leaves much unsaid. And it says a couple of things that should have been left unsaid.

The 1,870-word profile has several strengths. It briskly marches out the basics: 5,500 attending Keller's services, 300 church plants around the world, regular members under 35 years old. It also clearly summarizes Keller's message:

“Everyone has a God, everyone has a way of salvation, we just don’t use the term,” he says. “St. Augustine would say: What makes you what you really are is what you love the most.” Mr. Keller adds that he likes “to show secular people that they’re not quite as unreligious as they think. They’re putting their hopes in something, and they’re living for it.” For ambitious, driven New Yorkers, it’s often a career, he says. “I try to tell people: The only reason you’re laying yourself out like this is because you’re not really just working. This is very much your religion.”
If there’s no God, he says in sermons, then everything you do at work will be forgotten, and nothing you can do in your career will earn lasting significance. But if Christianity is true, then “every good endeavor,” he likes to say, no matter how small, “can matter forever.” One tough part for people, he says, is coming under “God’s authority,” because “you have to find your identity in Christ, and not in just fulling yourself,” That “completely collides with what the culture is telling people.”

In classic profile fashion, the Journal fills in personal details: Keller's glasses, his 6-foot-plus height and the church’s offices in midtown Manhattan. He "looks less like a pastor than a professor," the writer says.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Anyone who knows their religion-beat history knows this byline -- George W. Cornell of the Associated Press.

When he died in 1994, the national obituaries called him the "dean of American religion writers" and that was precisely the role that he played for decades, especially for those of us who broke into the religion-news business back in the 1970s and '80s.

However, when I did a series of interviews with him in 1981, for my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ("The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets") he simply described himself as the AP's religion writer for all of planet earth. How would you like to try to handle that job? (The Vatican bureau didn't count, he explained, because editors tended to view that as a political and international-news bureau.)

George had a private tradition in which, every year, he analyzed the Associated Press list of the world's top 10 stories and counted the ones that -- seen through his veteran eyes -- were built on facts and history rooted in religion. He never saw a year with fewer than five of these stories, he told me, and frequently there would be more than that.

Ah, he explained, but were the religion facts and angles in these stories (a) covered accurately, (b) presented in a way that could be understood by the general public or (c) covered AT ALL?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Trying to hear the voices of faith in the Ray and Janay Rice story

Trying to hear the voices of faith in the Ray and Janay Rice story

It must be real challenge to cover the domestic-violence drama of Ray and Janay Rice -- the actual story of the human beings themselves, as opposed to the melodrama within the bazillion-dollar kingdom called the National Football League -- without including some of the Godtalk.

Mr. and Mrs. Rice continue to talk about sin, forgiveness and redemption. The same goes for the Ravens head coach, who is an outspoken Christian, and ditto for the general manager. The team's director of player development (and moral issues) is an ordained minister. Many of Ray Rice's closest friends among Ravens players -- like wide receiver Torrey Smith -- are Godtalkers as well.

How do you quote these people without covering the religion angle?

Faithful GetReligion readers know that the team at The Baltimore Sun is up to that challenge.

Thus, I was curious to see what would happen when Rice won his battle with the NFL powers that be and was reinstated as an active player in the league. It's the hottest storyline of the pro-football weekend and, here in Baltimore, local news channels ran BREAKING NEWS! alerts onscreen during regular programming for two or three hours, which wouldn't happen if there was a peace settlement in Syria.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Who rescued Rusty? Art? God? Prison? Dallas newspaper doesn't clear it up

Who rescued Rusty? Art? God? Prison? Dallas newspaper doesn't clear it up

"Lord, have mercy," Leonard "Rusty" Medlock says twice in a profile in the Dallas Morning News. Let's all pray the same as we puzzle over the newspaper's article.

On the one hand, Medlock is quoted several times saying that only God's grace awakened his artistic talent in prison, where he was serving time for a drug conviction. On the other hand, the newspaper says Medlock's very incarceration -- or his own talents -- turned his life around.

This dichotomy starts with the first two paragraphs:

No one has to sell Leonard “Rusty” Medlock on the idea of giving people second chances.
The same situation that threatened to marginalize him in society — a prison term for drug-related felonies — liberated him in a Texas prison.

See it wasn’t God, it was prison that liberated Medlock.

But wait, the headline says: "Set free by art in prison, ex-convict paints a new life for himself." So, it was neither God nor prison, it was art.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh

Peter Smith has spent the last several months reporting on immigrant religious communities in Pittsburgh, carving out time for the special project between daily assignments.

After 13 years on the Godbeat with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Smith joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as its new religion writer last year. He previously freelanced for Religion News Service.

His work with the Post-Gazette earned him the Religion Newswriters Association's 2014 Religion Reporter of the Year Award. That prize recognizes excellence in religion writing for metropolitan newspapers.

In all, Smith boasts 30 years of experience as a reporter and editor.  He earned a bachelor of arts in English at Oral Roberts University and a master of arts in religion from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Smith discussed his first year in Pittsburgh — including the immigrant religion project — in an interview with GetReligion.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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