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Baltimore Sun still ignoring obvious national Episcopal Church story in its own back yard

Baltimore Sun still ignoring obvious national Episcopal Church story in its own back yard

Obviously, my personal relationship with The Baltimore Sun has changed in the past few weeks.

As I sit here at my home office desk, looking out into an East Tennessee forest, I no longer have a copy of the Sun sitting nearby, retrieved from my front yard. Every few days, I get one of those computer-driven emails from the Sun circulation department proclaiming, "We want you back!" or words to that effect. I filled out my ex-subscriber online feedback form the other day and it was totally about cyber-issues, without a single question on news content.

Nevertheless, I am trying -- sorting through the online summaries and waves of pop-up ads -- to keep up with some of the important, ongoing religion stories in Maryland.

Take, for example, the obvious Baltimore angles in the national Episcopal Church gathering out in Utah. I have been looking for references to two important Episcopalians -- former bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook and current Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton. You just know that Episcopalians have been talking about the DUI bishop case and the state of legal affairs in Maryland. Right?

The Sun team did, leaning on Associated Press wire copy, run a short story about the election of the church's new presiding bishop, noting a strong Baltimore connection. That little story began like this:

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, the first African-American to lead an Episcopal diocese in the southerm United States and a former rector in Baltimore, will become the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

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Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Journalists who took the time to dig into the history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- all the way back into ancient times, as in the Clinton White House -- will have run into references to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case called Employment Division v. Smith.

That case focused on this question: Did Native Americans -- in this case workers at a private drug rehabilitation group -- have the right to take peyote as part of a religious ritual linked to similar rites in their heritage dating back centuries? The conservative side of the court said "no," while liberals dissented and said the decision denied Native Americans the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

Justice Antonin Scalia famously said that this kind of religious liberty appeal would "open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind."

A nearly unanimous U.S. Congress begged to differ and passed RFRA, backed by a stunningly broad church-state coalition -- basically everyone from Pat Robertson to the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a law inspired by some strange and messy legal cases, but as my graduate-school mentor at Baylor University's Church-State Studies program used to say: Your religious liberty has been purchased for you by people with whom you might not want to have dinner.

In other words, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause is very powerful and, unless you are dealing with fraud, profit or a clear threat to life and health, courts are not supposed to mess with religious doctrines and practice, even when dealing with messy cases.

If you are following the news right now, you know where I am headed: Bill Levin and his First Church of Cannabis in Indiana.

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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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Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Earlier this week, I touted the strong coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church massacre by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

If you want one more reason to skip the national headlines and rely on the local coverage, compare how The Associated Press and The Post and Courier handled Thursday's first funerals for victims of the massacre.

This was the lede on the AP's national story:

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church.
The increased security comes amid a heated debate over the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy around the South and elsewhere. A monument to former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had the phrase "Black Lives Matter" spray-painted on it Thursday in Richmond, Virginia, the latest of several monuments to be defaced around the country.
The first funeral was for 70-year-old Ethel Lance, a Charleston native who had been a member of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for most of her life. Police say a gunman walked into the church during a Bible study June 17 and opened fire in a racially motived (sic) attack.

Yep, the national story is security. It's the Confederate flag controversy (which we discussed here at GetReligion yesterday). It really isn't the funeral or the victim, although if you keep reading, AP provides a few scarce details about each.

Meanwhile, this is the front page of today's Post and Courier:

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Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

If you want a friend, be a friend, the saying goes. In religion coverage, that might translate to, "If you want attention from faith groups, pay attention to them."

And when you don’t do that, they don't talk about major locla stories -- like the resignation of a prominent pastor after confessing to an affair.

The Washington Post broke the story Sunday night that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, stepped down from the pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The local newspapers, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, were caught off guard.

Why were they caught off guard? Because they'd lost their religion writers and didn't name successors. (Early disclosure: I was one of those writers, laid off by the Sun Sentinel in 2012.)

The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey must have been tipped on the scandal, because she got a lengthy statement from Tchividjian himself:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

Bailey, a GetReligion alumna, also got a counter-statement from Kim Tchividjian, his wife, saying Tullian's remarks "reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own." Rob Pacienza, executive pastor of Coral Ridge, produced another statement: "Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit."

Evidently, neither Kim nor Rob elaborated.

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Just keep swimming, just keep swimming? When reporters fear talking about prayer

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming? When reporters fear talking about prayer

Faithful readers of GetReligion may recall the interview I did years ago with the late Peter Jennings of ABC News in which we talked about the failure of many major news organizations to, yes, "get religion." For a few years, Jennings attempted to get his elite newsroom to take religion news more seriously, with mixed results.

This interview came up the other day when I received a call from columnist Jay Evensen of The Deseret News, who was acting on a research tip from former GetReligionista Mark Kellner.

Evensen was doing a follow-up column on an amazing story about the survival of two girls after a boating accident on Bear Lake in Utah. This drew the attention of Good Morning America over at ABC News. Yes, this was a classic case of "How did you survive this ordeal" syndrome. Here is a slice of the online ABC news text.

Hang on, because we will get to the "Finding Nemo" angle in a moment.

Tiffany Stoker and Tylinn Tilley credit their friendship with helping to keep them alive. ...
The Utah girls, both 13, survived a deadly boating accident that claimed four lives after they swam for hours, singing songs and shouting prayers as they fought exhaustion in the 53-degree waters of Bear Lake.
The teens were on a ski boat with family friends Lance Capener, his wife Kathy, their two daughters and another friend from school. The weather took a turn for the worse, bringing 76-mph winds and 10-foot waves.
The boat capsized, throwing all seven people into the water. All on board were wearing life jackets, but the waves separated Tiffany and Tylinn from the group. The two tried to swim the 6 miles to shore, treading water for hours. They chanted songs and said prayers, even massaging each others' cramps.

The key to Evensen's column, and the sense of outrage felt by the families of these girls, is what appears to a fictional addition to the actual video report featured on Good Morning America (see the video at the top of the post).

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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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RIP John S. Carroll: Author of classic memo defending old-school, balanced journalism

RIP John S. Carroll: Author of classic memo defending old-school, balanced journalism

The late John S. Carroll was known, among American journalists, as a strong advocate of investigative journalism, a famous Vietnam War correspondent, a White House beat reporter, a great headline writer and, in the end, a man who was willing to be shown the exit door at The Los Angeles Times rather than obey a Tribune Co. order to radically cut his staff.

Carroll was an old-school American journalist, by all accounts, who led The Baltimore Sun before heading to Los Angeles. He also spent time as the metro editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, among his many jobs in the top ranks of his craft.

The Sun began its obituary like this:

John S. Carroll, former editor of The Baltimore Sun and The Los Angeles Times who became a seminal figure in American journalism and operated on the principle that no detail was too small when it came to producing a great newspaper, died Sunday at his Lexington, Ky., home of a rare, non-treatable disease. Mr. Carroll was 73.

Here at GetReligion, however, Carroll is remembered for another reason -- one that I should have mentioned 11 years ago in our "What we do, why we do it" overture on Day 1. It was Carroll who, in 2003, wrote a memo to his staff about media bias that inspired me to start thinking about creating a site about the mainstream press and its struggle to, well, "get religion."

The memo -- dated May 22, 2003 -- focused on the editor's concerns about media bias in a Los Angeles Times story focusing on debates about alleged links between induced abortions and breast cancer. Carroll sent the memo to his section editors, but the full text soon surfaced in The LA Observer. Here is the heart of the letter.

The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring "so-called counseling of patients." I don't think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it "so-called," a phrase that is loaded with derision. 

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Was there a religion ghost in the life and haunted film career of Sir Christopher Lee?

Was there a religion ghost in the life and haunted film career of Sir Christopher Lee?

Sir Christopher Lee was not able to attend the New York City press events held just before the 2002 release of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," but it sure seemed like he was there, based on the number of times members of the cast and creative team made references to him.

There were members of Peter Jackson's team -- especially co-writer Philippa Boyens -- who knew the fine details of J.R.R. Tolkien's worldview and masterwork, including the ways in which his Catholic faith influenced its symbols and substance. In one famous quote, the author called the trilogy a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work."

However, various members of the team agreed that Lee was, in many ways, the official keeper of the Tolkien flame during the filming, the person whose knowledge and love of the books made him care, fiercely, about getting key details right so that the spirit of the books would soak into the movies. Several people said that they thought Lee was, himself, a Catholic.

Was Lee a believer and, if so, of what stripe? I thought that this detail might surface in the obituaries over the past day or so, but apparently journalists were not interested in the role that explorations of good and evil -- incarnate evil, especially -- played in his life and work. Alas, this didn't happen.

Now I really regret that he wasn't at those NYC round-table interviews. What did Lee say years earlier? I'll come back to that.

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