Podcasts

So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

Earlier this week, I pled with readers to pay attention to Washington Post feature about the problems -- that seems like such a weak word in this case -- the Islamic State is causing for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other companies in the freewheeling world of social media.

What's at stake? Well, obviously, there are thousands and thousands of lives at stake. The future of ancient Christian communions are at stake, along with other minority religious groups in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere in the region.

Oh, right, and the First Amendment is at risk, too. That's all.

I'm happy to report that readers responded and, apparently, passed the URL for that post (here it is again) around online, because it was one of our most highly read articles so far this month. Thank you. It will not surprise you that this topic also served as the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast, as well. Click here to tune in on that discussion.

Now, several times during the discussion, host Todd Wilken asked me what I think social-media professionals should do in this situation. What should First Amendment supporters do, as ISIS keeps managing to stay one or two steps ahead of attempts to control their use of technology to spread both their images of violence and, in some ways even worse, their emotionally manipulative and even poetic messages that target the emotions and faith of potential recruits to their cause?

The bottom line: I have no idea. This is one of those times when free speech liberals, such as myself, face the negative side of the global freedoms that digital networks have unleashed in the marketplace of ideas. How do you ban twisted forms if Islam, when other forms of this world faith use the same terms and images in different ways? How can a search engine detect motives and metaphors?

And what about the ability of individual ISIS members to use social media, while acting as individuals? I mean, look at this amazing, horrifying case as reported in The Daily Mail!

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How did 'Christian' — as an adjective in mass media — come to mean shallow and lousy?

How did 'Christian' — as an adjective in mass media — come to mean shallow and lousy?

On one level, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is a follow-up discussion of my recent blog here about the New York Times article that, allegedly, tried to look for Jesus at Comic-Con 2015. That event in San Diego is, as I described it in my discussion with Todd Wilken, the great annual gathering of the pop-culture tribes for a "sacred dance" of hero worship and, of course, marketing.

The Times team apparently went to this event looking for evidence that the emerging mini-industry of films and television miniseries targeting "Christian" consumers -- in this case, "Christian" clearly means "evangelical" -- just isn't with it, or cool enough, when it comes to competing in the pop-culture major leagues. But that article, I argued, really didn't pay attention to (a) the work of Christians in mainstream media and (b) the ongoing debates, decade after decade, about aith questions raised in franchises such as "Star Wars," zombie movies, the X-Men, Doctor Who, etc., etc., etc.

In the end, the podcast ended up focusing on how the term "Christian" -- used as a adjective for marketing purposes -- has in our times become another way of saying shoddy, cheap, shallow and derivative. This led to some obvious questions.

Was J.S. Bach a "Christian" composer? Is Christopher Parkening a "Christian" classical guitarist?

Was J.R.R. Tolkien a "Christian" novelist?

How about C.S. Lewis? How about Jane Austen? How about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? When Fyodor Dostoyevsky sat down to write, was he thinking to himself, "How can I please the 'Christian' marketplace?" How about Flannery O'Connor? By the way, her work was the subject of my "On Religion" column for Universal this past week.

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#LoveWins #JournalismFails — Some old media-bias battles (think Kellerism) go public

#LoveWins #JournalismFails — Some old media-bias battles (think Kellerism) go public

This was the rare week that my column for the Universal Syndicate grew directly out of what was happening online here at GetReligion. It doesn't take a doctorate in journalism history to figure out the topic for all of the chatter. Correct?

That discussion led to this week's "Crossroads" podcast with the team at Issues, etc. Click here to tune that in.

The whole thing felt kind of hall-of-mirrors meta, with host Todd Wilken and I discussing figures in the mainstream media discussing whether many mainstream journalists had proven their critics right by waving all of those cyber rainbow flags in the heady hours after the 5-4 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

That decision, no surprise, led to a blitz of posts and debates all over cyberspace, including here, here, here, here, here and, especially, here at GetReligion. But the key to podcast was this post -- "From old Kellerism to new BuzzFeed: The accuracy and fairness debate rolls on" -- in which I noted that this new debate about the new news was actual linked to old debates that have been going on for some time.

So have we seen a historic change in American journalism? I still need some help from GetReligion readers trying to parse the following quote from BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, as he defended (click here for transcript) his news site's open celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court decision during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt:

BS: I don’t really think there, I mean, I guess I don’t really think there was much of a controversy, or at least I didn’t see. There were like, I’ve been tweeting with three people today -- Tim Carney and a guy named, just, I mean, but I’m not sure like three or four people make a controversy. But I think we have, we drafted and published a Standards Guide and an Ethics Guide several months ago, and I think we’ve been wrestling with something I’m sure you think about a lot, which is, although I think I probably come down somewhere a bit differently from you, which is you know, is it possible to, look, what is the tradition that used to be called kind of objective journalism, mainstream media journalism, the tradition the New York Times and the Washington Post come out of, which is the tradition I come out of?

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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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Can anyone explain celebrity news to me? #ConfusedAboutCurryTebowDuggarsDunham

Can anyone explain celebrity news to me? #ConfusedAboutCurryTebowDuggarsDunham

Let me start with a personal confession. I love sports, college and pros. I love almost all kinds of jazz and popular music. I love old movies, and a few modern ones, and while I'm not a fan of most mainstream television, I love series mini-series from BBC and now the "binge" television era in cable land.

So I am a media-savvy guy, in some ways -- but not others. They key: I have absolutely zero understand of "celebrity culture" at the level of entertainment-news shows, the morning talk shows on major networks, the grocery store tabloids, etc. In other words, I don't know anything about anyone whose last name is or has ever been "Kardashian."

You get the picture?

So with that in mind, let me ask the following question -- which is directly linked to this week's "Crossroads" podcast about recent media storms, large and medium-sized in this case, about the Duggars and Tim Tebow. Click here to tune that in.

My question: In terms of actual talent and importance in American culture at this moment in time, name the hottest, the most significant, "celebrity" powerhouse brand out of the following three options (hyperlinks are to recent GetReligion posts):

(1) Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

(2) Tim Tebow.

(3) Stephen Curry.

Ah, you say, but Curry is not a "Christian" celebrity.

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News question? What should church folks say, or not say, to guests who visit pews?

News question? What should church folks say, or not say, to guests who visit pews?

As most GetReligion readers know, I am in my 27th year writing a weekly national religion column commenting on what's going on in the news. At the same time, when your syndication deadline is pretty early in the week, and most people read your work in weekend pages, it's often hard to precisely define what "news" means.

Every now and then you can find spot something with some real newsy bite and get to it ahead of the crowd that is writing on a daily deadline or, in the Internet age, with a deadline that's mere minutes into the future. Most of the time, I try to write about speeches or events or online debates that other people have missed or written off. Sometimes -- this is no surprise to readers of this blog -- there are angles in religion-news events that I think deserve more attention that many other scribes.

But here is a simple fact that led to this week's "Crossroads" podcast discussion with host Todd Wilken (click here to tun that in). During the past quarter century, some of the columns that have inspired the most reactions from readers were not about "news" at all, but focused on facts and trends about what goes on in ordinary sanctuaries week after week, month after month, year after year, etc.

You want to start a war in the pews? Yes, you can preach about the Iraq war or the mysteries of marriage and sex. Or you can change the hymnal or the worship band. Oh boy, play that one wrong and you're sure to cause eyebrows to rise and checkbooks to snap shut.

So my United syndicate column this week grew out of reading a column by a Southern Baptist leader named Thom Rainer, whose Twitter connections pull in thousands and thousands of readers all the time (less than half of them Southern Baptists, apparently). While his LifeWay Christian Resources people do all kinds of interesting research, much of this commentary focuses on the basic DNA of daily church life in a changing world. In this case he wrote about "Ten Things You Should Never Say to a Guest in a Worship Service."

The preacher's kid in me was intrigued by that one, in part because I've followed -- since the late 1980s -- the whole "seeker-friendly worship" debates about what appeals to, or offends, modern people who are "unchurched" or who have been outside the church for some time (maybe even those about to become "nones").

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Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Got style?

In a couple of recent posts, I've delved into the nitty-gritty of religion news writing.

In one post, I focused on the specific language used in a USA Today story on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

In another post, I tackled the subject of scare quotes — a term that is familiar to regular Get Religion readers.

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss both those posts. Click here to tune in.

Besides addressing those posts, my interview with Wilken turns into a conversation about another recent post — this one on the use of the adjective "controversial" in journalism.

Trust me, it's fascinating stuff.

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Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Like many of our readers, I have been digging into tons of coverage of the new Pew Forum study (full .pdf document here) offering an update on the growth of the "nones" and the cultural-left coalition of religious liberals, agnostics, atheists, "spiritual but not religious" believers and simple unaffiliated people.

As our own Julia Duin noted the other day, the basic theme in the mainstream coverage is that the number of self-proclaimed "Christians" in America is falling, quickly. That's a totally valid, if a rather old and much-reported story.

Also, I noted another old story, which is the fact that the number of religious believers who say they are actively PRACTICING their faith seems to be rather stable. The numbers are level in some pews, slightly down in some (think Southern Baptists), way down in others (think liberal Protestantism and cultural Catholics) and actually rising in a few (think Pentecostalism). The importance of growing ministries to Latinos, African-Americans and Asians is another news story, at the moment.

This was, as you would imagine, the subject of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. However, after host Todd Wilken and I talked -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that there is another way to frame this debate. In part, Christian leaders are arguing over whether churches grow when they are (a) culturally modernized and less doctrinally demanding or (b) when they hold firm to ancient doctrinal standards and, in many ways, reject trends in the modern world. Then, after that, it hit me that many modern churches -- think evangelical megachurches -- seem to be striving to look and sound modern, while claiming to stay orthodox at the level of morality and doctrine. So that is, kind of, a (c) approach, in their eyes.

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Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

This week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) focused on one of those nasty Godbeat topics that I have been wrestling with since, oh, 1980 or so. The question: Does the press hate religion and/or religious people?

This subject, of course, came up in a post here at GetReligion recently, in which I reacted to a classic M.Z. Hemingway piece at The Federalist that ran under a flaming headline: "Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell."

In her piece, M.Z. made a reference to the "modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions, and religious liberty in general." While affirming the rest of her piece, I stressed that I remain convinced that the majority of elite American journalists believe that there are good religious groups and bad religious groups and that the goods tend to be led by clergy and intellectuals "whose moral theology fits naturally with Woodstock and the editorial pages of The New York Times."

As William Proctor -- a Harvard Law graduate and former legal affairs reporter for The New York Daily News -- put it in his book "The Gospel According to The New York Times," the world's most influential newsroom doesn't reject all forms of religion, but does reject what he called the "sin of religious certainty." They reject claims by Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., who claim that their faiths affirm eternal, transcendent, revealed truth.

Now, is this a debate that has something to do with core journalism discussions of accuracy, objectivity, truth telling, etc.?

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