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Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Check out the byline on this Washington Post "Acts of Faith" analysis piece covering the long-expected Episcopal Church decision to approve same-sex marriage rites in its sanctuaries.

Well, actually, in some of its sanctuaries. Can you say "local option," as in a flashback to the early days of female priests? More on this angle in a moment, because this is a crucial element in this local, regional, national and global Anglican story.

The byline in question belongs to one George Conger, as in the Father George Conger who spent several years as the foreign-news analyst here at GetReligion and with the Global Media Project. The Post simply identifies him as a scribe who "reported on the Anglican/Episcopal world for almost 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in England, the United States and Australia. He also serves as an Episcopal priest in a parish in Florida."

Now, that note states that this piece is a work of "analysis," which is appropriate, I think, since George has tons of experience in publications and websites -- like GetReligion -- that openly mix news and commentary. His work is followed closely by conservative Anglicans around the world. He is part of this story.

Ah. But here where things get interesting. Let's contrast Conger's "analysis" with the omnipresent hard-news report from the Associated Press. Which story actually gives more attention to the concerns and words of leaders on the ruling Episcopal Church left? In other words, which story provided the most hard-news balance and context?

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United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

Hello almost elderly GetReligion readers: How many of you out there remember the Ed Sullivan Show? Well, you may recall that his variety-show broadcasts always opened -- even if the top act consisted of people spinning plates on tall sticks -- when the host's pledge that he would be offering viewers a "really, really big show," with that final word sounding rather like "shoe."

In a strange way, that's kind of like the annual parade of summer meetings by America's various religious denominations. The agenda always looks like a big deal -- especially when arguments about sex are on the docket, as they have been for decades.

One way or another, religious leaders always manage to find a way to coat their actions in doctrinal fog, allowing the show to continue the following summer. This frustrates editors no end, especially in this age of tight travel budgets, a squeeze that for religion-beat pros began back in the mid-1980s. I'm not joking about that.

America's liberal Christian denominations have also been known to make headlines -- especially in The New York Times -- by taking prophetic actions on another hot-button issue. That would be economic or political sanctions against Israel.

One of the cutting-edge crews on this issue is the leadership of the United Church of Christ, the bleeding-edge liberal flock (remember those famous and very edgy television ads?) that includes, in its membership, President Barack Obama.

This brings us to another Times report about the ongoing debates about Israel. Read the top of this 850-word story carefully:

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New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

What was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney's ultimate goal in life? What drove him to do what he did?

One thing is clear, early on, in the recent New York Times news feature on the slain pastor of the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in the heart of Charleston, S.C. From the beginning, Pinckney was ambitious -- but saw his future through the lens of the church.

This figures into the simple, but touching, anecdote that opens the story. However, the story quickly takes this image and hides it behind a bigger vision -- Pinckney's work in politics showed that he was headed to "higher things."

Really now? Did the man himself see his calling in that way? Did he automatically assume that politics was a higher calling than the ordained ministry? Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

RIDGELAND, S.C. -- The morning worship had ended at St. John A.M.E. Church, and as Clementa Pinckney walked through the simple country sanctuary with its 10 rows of pews, he was startled to hear a disembodied voice. It was soft, almost whispery, and yet clearly audible. “Preach,” it said. “I have called you to preach the Gospel.”
He was only 13. But, in a story he often repeated, he discerned it to be the voice of God, and within months he stood before an audience of hundreds of African Methodist Episcopal pastors to present himself as a candidate for ministerial training. The bishop, the most powerful official in the state, asked what he hoped to become. The boy did not hesitate. “A humble bishop of the A.M.E. church,” he answered, with no hint of a smile.

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Sunday at 'Mother Emanuel': What happened to the 'J-word' in many news reports?

Sunday at 'Mother Emanuel': What happened to the 'J-word' in many news reports?

Talk to African-American pastors for any time at all -- as a journalist -- and you will almost certainly hear a common theme emerge.

Many of these preachers and civic leaders are tired of having their work and ministry reduced to political language. In particular, they are fascinated that reporters seem so afraid of specific words that are repeated over and over in worship in their churches, words such as "Jesus," "Lord," "Redeemer" and "Savior."

So if you want to understand where these preachers are coming from, watch the sermon at the top of this post -- start about 9 minutes in -- and then dig into some of the national news coverage. In particular, look for the phrase "in the name of Jesus." Cue up the key passages at 15 minutes and, again, near the end at the 25-minute mark.

So I was worried when I opened up the New York Times report this morning on the first service at Emanuel African American Episcopal Church and read this passage:

In the front pews of Emanuel, Nikki R. Haley, the Indian-American Republican governor of this state, sat among Democrats -- Representative Maxine Waters of California, who is black, and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, who is white -- and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is black and a fellow Republican. In the back of the church, an unlikely pairing sat next to each other -- Rick Santorum, the conservative Catholic and Republican presidential hopeful, and DeRay McKesson, a liberal activist who is black and gay.
The service beneath Emanuel’s vaulted barrel roof opened with an emotional hymn as nearly the entire congregation stood and sang, “You are the source of my strength, you are the strength of my life,” rounded out with a big “Amen” that was followed by a standing ovation.

You see, the name of that Gospel song in the second paragraph -- after the inevitable (and necessary) litany of political names -- is "Total Praise" and the key lyrics, as commonly used in worship, go like this:

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That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?

Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing? 

Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?

Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?

People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.

For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted:

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Logical Southern question for Dylann Roof: Young man, where do you go to church?

Logical Southern question for Dylann Roof: Young man, where do you go to church?

Lord have mercy. I have spent the past three days moving from Baltimore to the hills of Tennessee and, while no one can unplug completely from news in the age of smart phones, I have been packing in a house with no WiFi, at the wheel of a car and finally unpacking in a house with no WiFi. I have been as unplugged as I have been in ages.

So, first, a word of thanksgiving to the other GetReligionistas for carrying on during two amazing days of religion news at the national and global levels. And much of my personal email, of course, has come from friends and colleagues concerned, and praying, about the vision of heaven and hell that unfolded in that Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Of course I have questions and, yes, the word "theodicy" in relevant.

Most of my questions concern the actual content of that Bible study, the hymns, Bible talk, prayers and fellowship that, briefly, made Dylann Roof think twice about his mass-murder "mission." What was the religious content of this nearly one-hour gathering? At the very least, what was the Bible passage or passages they were studying? Wouldn't that add context and details to his stunning drama?

it's clear that the press, so far, has been -- understandably -- locked in on the basic, human details of this scene, with hints of spirituality. The top of a new Washington Post story shows this approach, starting with the Bible study itself -- in vague terms -- and its leader, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney:

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Palestinian BDS movement: Getting a handle on a complicated story ahead of deadline

Palestinian BDS movement: Getting a handle on a complicated story ahead of deadline

So you're taking a group of art students to Paris and you want to sign them up in advance for a group tour of the Louvre.

No problem.

Unless the students are Israeli. Then, unexpectedly, the world's most visited museum is too busy to accommodate 17 more visitors. Ironically, it seems not to matter one bit that the Louvre relies on Israeli technology for its in-house security.

This incident is one of a slew of similar situations reported daily in Israeli and American Jewish media and ascribed to the impact of the Palestinian-led "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" movement. BDS, as it's commonly known, is designed to pressure Israel to ... well ... just what is its intent is the subject of this post.

What are BDS's tactical and strategic goals? What motivates its leaders? How do journalists keep from getting lost in the rhetoric clouding this issue?

As in most places, but perhaps even more so in the largely dysfunctional and terribly sad Middle East, the answers are highly subjective. Is BDS a nonviolent effort to help Palestinians gain an independent nation? Or is it a tactic designed to help isolate, undermine and eventually destroy Israel?

As I said, the answer depends upon the speaker. Here's a link to Wikipedia's exhaustive attempt to address the issue in an even-handed manner, -- to the degree that's actually possible.

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An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

In a poignant New York Times Book Review piece, Leon Wieseltier said our hyper-networked culture creates journalism "in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability." And yet the Religion Guy insists that those covering our complex field must write on reflective, bookish themes, and thus passes along three tips that helped his career: obtaining a master's degree in religion (slogging through night classes while working full-time), trying to read a book per week, and investing in key reference works not available in newsrooms.
 
On the third point, note the valuable second edition of "The Jewish Study Bible" from Oxford University Press, which is about all you need to know given that publisher's reputation.

Why did a rewrite seem necessary a mere 10 years after the acclaimed first edition? The preface explains that Bible scholarship is "ever-changing." All 24 essays on Bible interpretation are new or revised, as are many annotations printed alongside the Jewish Publication Society's 1999 Bible text.
 
Chief editors Adele Berlin (University of Maryland) and Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University) report that "Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship" with its "critical approaches" only really took off in the 1960s. They say even during this past decade Jews have become more sophisticated about "how the Bible came to be," the "many voices reflected (or suppressed)" in Scripture, and what later editors "imposed on" prior biblical materials.

The new edition shows journalists the ways liberal Protestant and secular thought is reshaping Judaism.

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Ain't-A That Good News? Historic African-American sanctuary now museum — period

Ain't-A That Good News? Historic African-American sanctuary now museum — period

It's kind of hard to write a story about a people restoring a church without talking much about religion, but the editors at the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- for a few more days -- managed to pull it off.

Of course, the whole idea of this Baltimore Sun report is that this particular historic church is now being turned into a museum, yet the story makes it clear that the worship space is being restored to his previous state, or close to it. So this raises -- at least for me -- a question: Will this be enforced as a secular space or, from time to time, might people in African-American churches (or anyone else, come to think of it) be able to use it for rites that link them to, well, the cloud of witnesses in this place?

The overture makes at least two references to this facility as a worship space, using terms linked to church life:

Summer sun streaming through large windows into the small chapel illuminates panel walls lined with black-and-white, poster-sized photographs of African-American life over the years.
The small, airy room is empty of pews for now, but there's a podium from which to preach God's word.

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