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What kind of religious stuff provoked interest the past 22 months?

What kind of religious stuff provoked interest the past 22 months?

This is the 100th “Religion Q and A” posting. So instead of answering the usual weekly question The Guy pauses to scan what sort of religious stuff provoked interest since December, 2012. That’s when this blog began posting non-sectarian answers to anonymously posted questions on “any old thing about any and all faith options,” after a strategic boost from Terry Mattingly of the estimable www.getreligion.org.

The Guy, as a journalist, naturally wants current topics in the mix, and thus recently dealt with: new movies, the career of Chick-fil-A’s pious founder Truett Cathy, the Supreme Court ruling on birth control under “Obamacare,” suicide and the Robin Williams tragedy, religious conflict in Ukraine, and the disputes about tax exemption, civic prayers, legalized marijuana, and same-sex marriage.

Yet check the handy archives on the blog’s home page and you’ll see less timely topics predominate. A prime principle in education is that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, and The Guy welcomes queries about basic information. Many others will have asked themselves the same thing. So The Guy examined Catholic intermarriage policy, whether military service is sinful, a deceptively simple query on “what is faith?” and this golden oldie: “When does life begin?” (the blog’s very first question).

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Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything.

The maxim is as true in acting as it is in writing.

What set Jack Benny (pictured) or Groucho Marx apart from their peers was not the quality of their material, but their delivery. Great comedians, as well as actors, singers, writers and other performers are masters of rhythm and tempo – delivering their lines at the right moment, with the right emphasis that conveys the external and internal meaning of their lines.
 
Timing is also important in journalism. One of the marks of superior journalism is its auricular qualities: It sounds as good as it reads. And there is also the timing of sources and material in constructing a story.  This gratification of eye and ear is what sets the great above the commonplace reporters.

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Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Anyone who has worked in journalism for any time at all knows that some of the biggest, the most important news stories are the ones that are hardest to see -- because they unfold very slowly in the background, like shifting tectonic plates.

This is really, really true when it comes to changes in religion and culture.

Thus, if you care about religion news in postmodern America, then you need to read the short think piece (if that is not a contradiction in terms) that Tobin Grant posted the other day at the Corner of Church and State blog over at Religion News Service.

There is no way to briefly summarize the info in this short story, but there is a good reason for that. Reality is complex. Here is the start of the essay, which -- from a Baptist perspective -- offers the bad news. But hang on, things are going to get complicated really quick.

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Taking gay-rights fight to Bible-Belt Mississippi? Round up the usual bad guys

Taking gay-rights fight to Bible-Belt Mississippi? Round up the usual bad guys

One of the most interesting parts of journalism, in my experience, is the never-ending search for new and unique voices to pull into familiar stories. It's like that famous scene in one of my all-time favorite movies: It's easy to run out and round up the usual suspects, but why should journalists settle for that?

So here is the story for today: Editors at The Washington Post national desk decided to do a profile of an emerging hero in the gay-rights fight in Mississippi, which is one of those states that, as the story stresses, "embodies the values of the Bible Belt."

The man in the spotlight is Rob Hill, who until recently was a secretly gay pastor serving at the altar of United Methodist congregation in a part of the country where most bishops defend the teachings of their global denomination. Now he has left the closet, left the ministry, rarely goes to church and is the face of the gay-rights movement in Mississippi, working as a representative of the Human Rights Campaign. This powerful network,  which is based in Washington, D.C., is pouring $9.5 million into a countercultural effort to promote gay rights in the Deep South. 

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Why did WaPo run a vague musician profile? It's, well, complicated

Why did WaPo run a vague musician profile? It's, well, complicated

Musician Michael Taylor has a "complicated faith," the Washington Post says. He can slide chords and sing about quests for meaning. Just don’t pin him down.

And the Post's  profile feature on him doesn't try. It collects a lot on the music, family and lifestyle of the indie artist who calls himself Hiss Golden Messenger. His spiritual beliefs, not so much, even though the newspaper headline it "Complicated faith: Searching for God in the songs of Hiss Golden Messenger."

The story reads rather fast despite its 1,600 words. It tells of Taylor's journey from a Southern California upbringing to his current home in Durham, N.C. -- a musical trek from punk to folk-rock to "still-water folk" (a term, however, that isn't defined).

Richards praises Taylor's new album, Lateness of Dancers, though he has trouble pinning down its virtues: "The songs on it feel both ambiguously sweet and deeply personal, but ultimately confident in their own vagueness."

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Women as clergy: The stained-glass ceiling and one-sided journalism

Women as clergy: The stained-glass ceiling and one-sided journalism

For the Chicago Sun-Times, the question of whether to ordain women as preachers has only one right answer.

In a story headlined "Female ministers find obstacles on path to pulpit," the Sun-Times makes it clear which direction it leans:

Carol Jamieson Brown was in her early 20s when she told her pastor she had answered a call from God to pursue ministry and enrolled in seminary.
But he put the brakes on her plans — he didn’t acknowledge women ministers.
“He had been my pastor since I was 5 years old,” Brown said. “So it was like your father telling you that God didn’t call you. He had to be right, and I had to be wrong. There was no room for him to be wrong in my life.”
Many years later, she found room. Today she is pastor of First Baptist Church of Park Forest and among those who’ve made cracks in a stained-glass ceiling that continues to block women clergy and is nowhere close to being shattered.

In this story, "progress" is defined in terms of whether churches allow women in the pulpit or not.

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Yes, this is The Onion: Why do newspapers publish PR pieces for some churches?

Yes, this is The Onion: Why do newspapers publish PR pieces for some churches?

OK, so the graphic over there is wrong. This is a GetReligion post about an alleged religion "news" item from The Onion.

On one level, that makes no sense. We try to critique the mainstream press, so why bother our readers with an item from a satirical, pretend newspaper?

Well, your GetReligionistas also, from time to time, like to write about op-ed page pieces and commentary essays that are clearly linked to life on the religion-news beat. Most of those are pretty serious.

Obviously, that is not the case this time around.

In fact, I am not sure WHAT is going on in this piece of pseudo-news. But I do have some theories and I'd like to know what GetReligion readers think.

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Suds in the bucket: More on dirty laundry and faith-based outreach

Suds in the bucket: More on dirty laundry and faith-based outreach

In a post last month titled "Can a laundromat replace the traditional church?" I reviewed an NPR story out of California.

I ended that critique like this:

How exactly is the laundromat an alternative to church? Are there any spiritual aspects to the ministry — such as praying or reading the Bible? Does (organizer Shannon) Kassoff really come to the laundromat instead of going to church, or is the interviewee speaking metaphorically?
NPR does not provide answers to such basic questions — leaving the reader's (or listener's) clothes dripping wet after a half-done wash cycle.

My sarcastic tone drew the attention of my friend Dawn Shelton, who attended Oklahoma Christian University with me and later worked in broadcast media. 

Dawn's basic question to me: Couldn't you be nicer?

"NPR did a faith-based story. BOOM," Dawn wrote in a message that she gave me permission to share. "I loved it when I heard it on the air. I imagine the number of Christians in the entire NPR outfit is close to ZERO."

In other words, people of faith should be happy that NPR attempted a religion story but not expect too much out of it.

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Faith and gambling: Story exploring one city's 'false god with a small g' hits the jackpot

Faith and gambling: Story exploring one city's 'false god with a small g' hits the jackpot

A few years, I covered a meeting of preachers in Las Vegas and wrote a story titled "Saving Sin City." 

In reporting that piece, I was fascinated by how local church leaders and members approached the all-encompassing gambling industry in their home city.

I was reminded of that story when I read a front-page Philadelphia Inquirer report this week on clergy members supporting casino workers about to lose their jobs in Atlantic City, N.J. 

The newsy lede:

ATLANTIC CITY — When gambling was being proposed for Atlantic City 38 years ago, most religious denominations opposed casinos. They viewed gambling as a vice that could destroy families and communities.
Now, many of the same churches are standing firmly by the casino workers, a number of whom fill their pews on Sundays, who are expected to lose their jobs in massive numbers, starting Labor Day weekend with the closure of the Showboat and Revel.
Many houses of worship are offering counseling for the affected workers, increased food pantry hours, or just someone to pray with.
"There are going to be a lot of people hurting," said John R. Schol, bishop of the United Methodist Church Greater New Jersey Conference, based in Ocean Township, which has 572 member churches. "No matter what industry, we want to be there to support them."

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