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Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

It's time for another weekend of preseason National Football League games -- those meaningless revenue generators in which the league's top players try to get ready for the new season, while doing everything they can (praying even) not to get hurt.

This brings us, whether most sports reporters know it or not, to centuries of debates about the sovereignty of God.

Yes, one of the hottest topics in sports news this past week (click here to scan the nearly 2,000 news articles) was whether Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin was crazy when he said superstar Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury had something to do with God's plan for his life. Looking at this from the viewpoint of Packer fans, you could even say this was another one of those stories that centered on "theodicy" questions (previous GetReligion discussions here) about why God allows evil to exist.

From a journalism perspective, what this sad case study demonstrates is that there are times when it is simply wrong to yank one tiny simplistic soundbite out of a long, complex quotation about a complex topic.

Here is the top of an ESPN feature examining the wreckage in this case:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin defended himself ... after his comment about the injury to Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and the will of God caused a backlash in social media.
Quin, when asked ... about Nelson's injury, said he respected Nelson and hated to see him hurt. But as part of the answer, Quin also said "God had meant for Jordy to be hurt." The comment was part of a bigger answer on what Quin believes about how and why injuries happen. ...

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Haunted: Jehovah orders troubled reporter to avenge Charleston with race war?

Haunted: Jehovah orders troubled reporter to avenge Charleston with race war?

It was not the kind of place that you expected to see violent images from hell.

This bizarre selfie-style massacre took place in a lovely community tucked into a corner of the Shenandoah Valley up against the Blue Ridge Mountains, off exits I have driven past many times on the way from the land of small towns and cities to the frequently troubled world of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

It's the kind of place where journalists, when they lose two colleagues, can huddle together and sing "Amazing Grace and recite the Lord's Prayer, as well as the 23rd Psalm.

As the stories rushed in yesterday, I asked the GetReligionistas to help me watch for the religious, moral and cultural angles that were almost certain surface. Acts this horrible tend to be haunted by religion ghosts.

As seems to be the norm, it was a British newspaper that took the blunt route. This massive, rambling early headline from The Daily Mail summed up the key details:

Revenge race murder: Bitter black reporter who gunned down white ex-colleagues live on air and posted the video online blames Charleston shootings and anti-gay harassment in manifesto

The Daily Mail wasn't able, apparently, to squeeze in the part about the gunman saying that God told him to do it.

The key to the reporting was the lengthy, carefully prepared suicide manifesto that Vester L. Flanagan II -- who used the name Bryce Williams in his small-market journalism career -- sent to a higher authority, a national television news network.

In terms of religious and moral issues linked to this crime, some editors appear to have been worried about how much of this material to share with readers.

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Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, I wrote a column reflecting on covering the "storm of the century" for The Christian Chronicle:

NEW ORLEANS — I see the faces, and the memories come rushing back.

Since Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, I’ve made repeated trips to report on the faith and resiliency of God’s people — both victims and volunteers. 

I’ve lost track of the exact number of times I’ve traveled to New Orleans. However, the faces — and experiences — remain fresh in my mind.

From my personal experience in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, I know the "faith-based FEMA" were a key piece of the recovery — in some cases, the key piece.

In Katrina's wake, thousands of volunteers motivated by faith in God housed, fed and clothed evacuees, cleaned up muck and debris, rebuilt homes and businesses and helped in a million other ways.

Given that, I am curious to see if God will show up at all in the anniversary coverage of Katrina making landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

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New York Post scrimps on lots of important facts in Womenpriests story

New York Post scrimps on lots of important facts in Womenpriests story

The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is something lots of people feel strongly about. Opinions range from it being the best thing ever to happen to Catholicism, very broadly defined, to it being utter fraud.

Debates about press coverage of this movement have fueled waves of GetReligion posts over the years, far too many to list them. I am not joking. For starters, is it Women Priests, women priests, WomenPriests or Womenpriests? The group's own website says the latter. The words "Roman Catholic" are in the organization's name, even though these women have received ordination into their own movement, which has no standing with canonical Catholicism.

Partisans on both sides might agree that if a mainstream reporter writes about the movement, it helps to know the basics. A few days ago, a New York woman, who was ordained within the movement in 2014, had acid thrown in her face.

No, this was not South Asia, where such outrages happen in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh along with Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This was New York. The New York Post began as follows:

The man who attacked and seriously burned a Queens woman Wednesday night-- splashing her in the face with a Drano-like substance -- snuck up and ambushed her as she walked alone to her car, law-enforcement sources said.
“Can I ask you something?” the assailant said, before hurling an off-brand drain cleaner in the face of Dr. Alexandra Dyer, an ordained priest who has devoted her life to helping others.

The writer doesn’t identify Dyer’s denomination anywhere high in the story, leaving one to wonder if she was an Episcopalian, Lutheran or in some other category. Things get more confusing further on.

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Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Days after former President Jimmy Carter shared details of his battle with cancer, reporters followed the nation's most famous Sunday school teacher to church Sunday.

As I clicked news story links, here's what I wanted to know: Would news reports reflect the actual biblical content of Carter's lesson?

CNN's Sunday story opens like this:

Plains, Georgia (CNN) They arrived at this sleepy Georgia town in droves, from places as far away as Africa. Some spent the night in line just to ensure a seat.
Ordinary fare, if it were a rock concert or major sporting event -- but not for a Sunday school Bible talk.
But this is no ordinary Sunday school: Its teacher has a Secret Service detail.
For decades, former President Jimmy Carter has been teaching Sunday school here at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
But this Sunday's lesson -- Carter's 689th, according to his grandson Jason -- commanded attention far beyond the worshippers who packed the pews and overflow rooms in the wake of the revelation that the 90-year-old Carter is battling cancer.

OK, that lede sets the scene.

But what was the lesson about?

There are 31,101 verses in the Bible. Surely Carter referenced at least one or two of them. But CNN mentions not a single passage — either directly or indirectly.

As tmatt noted here at GetReligion the other day, religion is key to who Carter is.

 

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So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

As long-time GetReligion readers know, I am a conflicted Baylor University graduate. I had great times there and rough times, as well. The later were almost all linked to attempts by student journalists, including me, to do journalism about subjects that cause tension on all campuses (think Penn State), but especially at private, religious colleges and universities.

What kinds of subjects? Well, like sexual assaults. Hold that thought.

These ties that bind have led to lots of GetReligion work because Baylor is frequently in the news. Open the search engine here, enter "Baylor" and you will find pages of material about press coverage of complicated events at my alma mater. Here's how one early post opened:

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world's largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call "Jerusalem on the Brazos." It didn't take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Or how about this language, drawn from one of my national "On Religion" columns?

Every decade or so Baylor University endures another media storm about Southern Baptists, sex and freedom of the press. Take, for example, the historic 1981 Playboy controversy. It proved that few journalists can resist a chance to use phrases such as "seminude Baylor coeds pose for Playboy." ...
I know how these Baylor dramas tend to play out, because in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which students tried to write some dangerously candid news reports. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire.

So now we have another Baylor controversy in the news, potentially a scandal, that involves sin, sex and, wait for it, college football. As you would expect, there has been coverage. But has the word "Baptist" played a significant role? This is an important question, since Baylor has plenty of critics that consider it a hive for right-wing fundamentalists, while others believe it has compromised and modernized too much.

In terms of hard news, the key story is from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

 

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Jimmy Carter calmly faces death, for reasons that some scribes still find mysterious

Jimmy Carter calmly faces death, for reasons that some scribes still find mysterious

Whatever you think of the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the odds are good that those views have now blended into some kind of appreciation for some of the work accomplished during his long and complex ex-presidency. Note the double use of the word "some" in that sentence.

However, even the most negative evaluations of his work usually show some respect for what Carter has done with a Bible in one hand and a hammer in the other, working on countless projects at home and abroad to help the least of these.

Carter's Baptist beliefs have, of course, continued to evolve, moving him to the doctrinal left on most moral and cultural issues. But there are still times when you can hear him arguing with himself on these matters. Soon after he left the White House, I interviewed him and watched him interact with a group of Lutheran young people meeting in Denver. He began crying as he described the frustrations he felt trying to place any kinds of legal limits on abortion in America, but he kept trying because he knew what science said about when life begins, as well as what his faith told him to do.

Like him or not, Carter is the man who made history by pulling millions of evangelical Protestants into the political arena, either to support him or to oppose him.

This brings me to the mainstream media coverage of Carter's press conference dealing with his current battle with cancer, including small melanoma cancers in his brain. Watch the video at the top of this post and then think about this Twitter comment by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post (who, of course, used to write for GetReligion):

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Famous church choirmaster and organist dies and, oh yeah, faith helped shape his work

Famous church choirmaster and organist dies and, oh yeah, faith helped shape his work

Let me confess, straight off, that this post is personal for me. I have, you see, been a church musician longer than I have been a journalist -- dating back to singing soprano in a classical boys choir. In college I was blessed to sing under the great Anglican choirmaster Robert H. Young (yes, at Baylor University) in his classical touring choir and I missed only two rehearsals in six years of undergraduate and graduate work. There is no way to express what sacred choral music means to me.

Thus, I know first hand the tensions that exist between the standards of classical performance and the singing done by normal church sanctuary choirs. I have known my share of elite choir snobs. At one point I was an elite choir snob.

So I read with great interest the New York Times piece on the recent death of the great organist and choirmaster John Scott, an Anglican who most recently was director of music at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The article -- as it should -- emphasized his achievements as a performing artist on both sides of the Atlantic. He had just returned from recitals in Europe and was poised to begin the second leg of that tour. His second wife is expecting their first child in a few weeks. There is much to report about his life and career:

Mr. Scott played at the Boston Early Music Festival in June. His last American appearance was a Bach recital at St. Thomas on June 20.

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