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Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 47, is facing new scrutiny as the flavor of the month in Republican presidential politics.  Among various disputes in play, he’s an evangelical Protestant and thus needs to be prepared for skeptical questioning about religion and pesky  “social issues.”           

While in London, Walker was asked if he’s “comfortable with” or believes in evolution. He said “that’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Skewered for ducking, he quickly followed up with a vague faith-and-science tweet.  He also ducked when asked whether President Obama “loves America” after Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts about that, and then again when asked if the President is a fellow Christian.

Walker would be a Preacher’s Kid in the White House, the first since Wilson, so reporters will be Googling a Jan. 31 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece on this, datelined Plainfield, Iowa  (population 436).

When Scott was young his father Llewellyn was the pastor of Plainfield’s First Baptist Church on -- yes -- Main Street and a town council member.  Llewellyn was also a pastor in Colorado Springs, Scott’s birthplace, and Delevan, Wisconsin, where Scott completed high school.

The father, now retired, served in the American Baptist Convention (now renamed American Baptist Churches USA), which has a liberal flank but is largely moderate to moderately evangelical.  The Journal-Sentinel missed that the current Plainfield pastor endorsed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, which vows bold Christian opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, human cloning research, and same-sex marriage.

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Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga

Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga

Wait, wait, wait. I am sure that I have read this news story before. This hot, sweaty New York Times news feature -- which just screams alternative spirituality at the top of its gray lungs -- sounds so familiar.

LOS ANGELES -- He is the yoga guru who built an empire on sweat and swagger. He has a stable of luxury cars and a Beverly Hills mansion. During trainings for hopeful yoga teachers, he paces a stage in a black Speedo and holds forth on life, sex and the transformative power of his brand of hot yoga. “I totally cure you,” he has told interviewers. “Whatever the problem you have.”
But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru, Bikram Choudhury. He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.

Let's see, we have a story about a pseudo-guru whose teachings are handed on to this disciples, teachings (doctrines maybe) about sexuality (perhaps the word tantra is used), healing, spiritual transformation, philosophy, anatomy and the meaning of life.

Now there is trouble in paradise. Where have I heard this before?

Maybe it was back in 2012 in The Washington Post?

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Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

"To live at all is miracle enough," in the words of poet Mervyn Peake. And sometimes, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the miracle is in how someone can endure suffering -- and her friends endure with her.

The sensitive feature story tells of the crisis in Rhonda Hill's life as the devout laywoman develops a brain hemorrhage. The 1,000-word article speaks of miracles, but it's more about suffering and trust.

Hill, a Lutheran official in the Milwaukee area, is the type of woman who would spend 14 weeks studying a single Bible book, Acts, with other women. She and her friends are the type to quote scripture and sing hymns all the time.

And they see God's benevolent hand, no matter what. Even at the start, when Hill started vomiting and collapsing into a chair at work.

Her friends take her to the emergency room; then the story takes a startling turn:

It was the first of many miracles, Hill, her friends and her family say. They see the hand of God — alongside those of her physicians — in every positive development, every piece of good news. Had they taken her home, as Hill had insisted, she could have lapsed into a coma, doctors told her. She could have had a stroke, or bled to death.
"One of the doctors came in here and told her she had a miracle," said Shirley Stewart, Hill's 73-year-old grandmother, who had been holding vigil in her room around the clock for days.

While the doctors test and treat, Hill's friends -- and her grandmother, a Pentecostal pastor -- hold a round of prayers, hymns and Bible readings at the hospital. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Hill's support circle spans denominations, with bishops and pastors joining laity in the vigil:

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What are the odds? Dr. John Willke as seen by his foes (and a few pro-lifer friends)

What are the odds? Dr. John Willke as seen by his foes (and a few pro-lifer friends)

Before we consider the mainstream news obituaries for the man who, for millions of activists, is best known as the father of the modern pro-life movement, let's pause and consider the top paragraphs of The New York Times obituary for one Margaret Sanger.

TUCSON, Ariz., Sept. 6 -- Margaret Sanger, the birth control pioneer, died this afternoon of arteriosclerosis in the Valley House Convalescent Center. She would have been 83 years old on Sept. 14. ...
As the originator of the phrase "birth control" and its best-known advocate, Margaret Sanger survived Federal indictments, a brief jail term, numerous lawsuits, hundreds of street-corner rallies and raids on her clinics to live to see much of the world accept her view that family planning is a basic human right.
The dynamic, titian-haired woman whose Irish ancestry also endowed her with unfailing charm and persuasive wit was first and foremost a feminist.

Now here is the question: Might the gatekeepers of news back in 1966 have considered -- at the very top of the story, in the lede -- making some kind of reference to famous Sanger quotations about race and eugenics drawn from her public writings and remarks? You know, such as this passage on the negative effects of excessive philanthropy:

Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying … demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism …

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Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

One of the big ideas here at GetReligion is that we live in an age in which many of our comfortable journalistic labels are becoming more and more irrelevant. They simply don't tell readers anything.

For example, there is this puzzle that I have mentioned before. What do you call people who are weak in their defense of free speech, weak in their defense of freedom of association and weak in their defense of religious liberty (in other words, basic First Amendment rights)? The answer: I don't know, but it would be totally inaccurate -- considering the history of American political thought -- to call these people "liberals."

There are other religious and moral puzzles out there on the religion beat, these days. What to do? When in doubt, don't label people. You ask them very specific questions, especially when dealing with religious issues, and you quote what they say.

With this in mind, consider the following slice or two of a short think piece. My question, for journalists who read this: What is the proper cultural label for the speaker? I will ID the speaker at the end.

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Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

A decade ago, the editors of Time magazine decided -- during one of the many "Who the heck are these born-gain people?" moments in the recent life of the mainstream press -- to do a cover story focusing on the 25 most influential evangelical Protestants in American life.

It was an interesting list. However, one name in particular raised many eyebrows -- Sen. Rick Santorum. The issue? Santorum was and is a very conservative Roman Catholic.

This struck me as interesting, so I did some background research on this issue. The consensus was that the Time team realized that Santorum was not a Protestant -- and thus, not an evangelical -- but the larger truth was that he, well, "voted evangelical."

Frankly, I have no idea what that means -- in terms of doctrine. The point seemed to be that "evangelical" was a political term, these days. Moving on.

This brings me to an article that has been in my "GetReligion guilt file" for some time, a stunning recent Washington Post story about Rick and Karen Santorum and what they have learned about marriage, family and faith during the life of their daughter Bella, who was born with Trisomy 18, a usually lethal condition also known as Edwards syndrome, which is caused by a error in cell division.

It's complicated. However, most infants born with this condition -- many parents choose abortion when this defect is detected -- live a few days, weeks or at most months. Bella will soon turn seven.

There is much to praise in this very human and even raw story. However, it is obvious that at the heart of the piece is -- to be blunt -- the right-to-life beliefs that anchor this family. Thus, while dealing with faith issues in many ways, it is very strange that the piece never mentions that the Santorum are, you guessed it, Catholics.

What is the message there?

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David Carr funeral story: A blunt priest, an A-list congregation and a strangely (still) anonymous brother

David Carr funeral story: A blunt priest, an A-list congregation and a strangely (still) anonymous brother

It's a simple fact of life, when reading news coverage of celebrity funerals, that the list of famous people who attended is going to be a higher priority than the state of the soul of the deceased.

So, to get to the important stuff, actress Lena Dunham did attend the funeral Mass of superstar media scribe David Carr of The New York Times. I do not know how she dressed for the occasion. Stephen Colbert was there too and lots of other folks who were included in a list in the second paragraph of the New York Times report.

However, I thought the high point of the story came much later, when the go-to priest in mass media today -- Jesuit Father James Martin -- addressed the elephant in the sanctuary, which was that Carr had lived a complex life (including his time as a drug addict, before evolving into a suburban dad) and had a complicated relationship to the Catholic church. Readers were told:

In the homily, the Rev. James Martin said Mr. Carr was “a complicated man” who had had faith as well as doubts. But he said he did not want to “claim him as a kind of prize for the church, or trumpet his faith, or even point to him as the model Catholic or the model Christian; he wasn’t.”
“But, then again, no one is,” Father Martin continued. “All of us are imperfect, flawed, even sinful.”
“And more to the point, all of us have been addicted in our own ways to different things. If it’s not alcohol, it may be status. If it’s not drugs, it may be power. If it’s not crack, it may be money. But we are also, all of us, beloved children of God, loved by God in spite of our failings -- maybe loved even more for them, much as a parent loves a child more intensely when he or she is in trouble.”

How in the world do you run that last quote lower than the celebrity list?

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NPR's Diane Rehm enters right-to-die debate, with 'Kellerism' assist from Washington Post

NPR's Diane Rehm enters right-to-die debate, with 'Kellerism' assist from Washington Post

Any list of National Public Radio superstars would have to include Dianne Rehm, who is, of course, a commentator and, thus, someone who is perfectly free to speak her mind. Her decision to use her clout on behalf of the "death with dignity" cause -- that's physician-assisted suicide, for those on the other side -- is a newsworthy development in this national life-issues debate.

So let's be clear that this post is not about Rehm and her right to speak out on this subject. It's about a Washington Post feature story -- yet another example of "Kellerism" evangelism -- about Rehm's highly-personal and passionate campaign on this hot-button issue. For a quick refresher on that "Kellerism" term, click here and especially here.

The key to the story is the pact that the 78-year-old Rehm had with her late husband, John, to help him die. She was not legally able to do that, as he neared the end of his fight with Parkinson's Disease. The Post report notes:

The doctor said no, that assisting suicide is illegal in Maryland. Diane remembers him specifically warning her, because she is so well known as an NPR talk show host, not to help. No medication. No pillow over his head. John had only one option, the doctor said: Stop eating, stop drinking.
So that’s what he did. Ten days later, he died.

The religion theme?

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Anchor for his soul: NBC's Lester Holt described as 'a humble and loving Christian'

Anchor for his soul: NBC's Lester Holt described as 'a humble and loving Christian'

Lester Holt, who is filling in for suspended NBC anchor Brian Williams, is generating some media attention of his own.

A source in a New York Times story described Holt as "a total pro, pleasant, unflappable, intelligent." 

USA Today cited Holt's "versatility and zeal to jump on assignments." 

A producer quoted by the Washington Post characterized Holt as "a terrific anchor ... an excellent reporter and a great team leader."

Over at "The Deacon's Bench," blogger Greg Kandra — a Roman Catholic deacon who spent three decades as a writer and producer for CBS News — was curious about Holt's religious background:

When Lester Holt took over for Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News last week, little was said about his personal life — or one aspect of it that plays a prominent role: his faith.
I was curious about what his religious background might be, so did a little Googling and came upon this interview from a few years back. I have to say: I’m impressed. This sort of unabashed piety and public profession of faith is rare in journalism — and, I think, almost unprecedented for the anchor of a network news cast.

Kandra linked to a 2010 story from The Christian Chronicle headlined "Anchor for his soul: Lester Holt reflects on faith and journalism."  I'm familiar with that story because I wrote it. 

 

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