Politics

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

It's probably appropriate that I came across the following story via Twitter.

CNN reported:

(CNN) -- Online comments are on the way out.
Influential tech blog Re/code announced Thursday that it has shut off the comment forums on its story pages. Instead, the website is steering commenters to social media.
"We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion," co-executive editor Kara Swisher wrote. "But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful."
The announcement was just the latest in a recent wave of prominent websites removing or significantly scaling back their comment sections. Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times have recently nixed comments.
Fairly or not, comment forums have gained a reputation as a haven for Internet trolls. Several of the sites that have banned comments noted the lack of civility in their decisions.

Back in July, Christianity Today announced that it was dropping comments on some articles.

At GetReligion, we still attempt — as best we can — to moderate comments. However, in my nearly five years of writing for this journalism-focused website, I have noticed a decline in both the number and quality of comments. Often, the best feedback and conversations about GetReligion come via social media.

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Don't oppress a stranger: President Obama quotes Scripture in his immigration speech, but which one?

Don't oppress a stranger: President Obama quotes Scripture in his immigration speech, but which one?

There it is — right there on the front page of today's New York Times — a Scripture:

WASHINGTON — President Obama chose confrontation over conciliation on Thursday as he asserted the powers of the Oval Office to reshape the nation’s immigration system and all but dared members of next year’s Republican-controlled Congress to reverse his actions on behalf of millions of immigrants.
In a 15-minute address from the East Room of the White House that sought to appeal to a nation’s compassion, Mr. Obama told Americans that deporting millions is “not who we are” and cited Scripture, saying, “We shall not oppress a stranger for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.”

The White House Blog highlighted that quote, as did many on social media.

But James A. Smith, chief spokesman for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., asked an obvious question:

"Scripture." Which one, Mr. President?

Then again, maybe it wasn't such an obvious question to everyone.

The Times didn't bother to specify which of the 31,173 verses in the Bible that Obama referenced.

Neither did Reuters, NPR or the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which focused on Astrid Silva, a local immigration activist singled out by Obama.

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Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades?

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period.

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

Grumble  if you wish, but in this era of perpetual campaigns it’s nearly time for the usual news media blitz assessing evangelical Protestants’ presidential feelings about the Republicans’ notably God-fearing 2016 list.

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Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

It's logical, if you stop and think about it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, your GetReligionistas focus our time and efforts on news that is published in the mainstream press.

Note: This is news that is PUBLISHED in newspapers, wire services, websites, etc. As opposed to what? News that is NOT published? Precisely.

We do have our "Got news?" thing, which is when we note that something really interesting is happening somewhere in America or the world and the big, elite media (as opposed to, let's say, specialty websites) haven't noticed it yet. Readers send us notes about that kind of thing all the time.

That helps. But let's face it: It's hard to critique coverage that doesn't exist.

With that in mind, let's consider this week's Baltimore Sun coverage of the meetings -- in Baltimore, of course -- of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

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Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

When your family is full of Baylor University graduates, there is a very good chance that someone is going to send you a link to an A1 piece in The New York Times about the president of the school that many refer to as "Jerusalem on the Brazos."

Baylor's current president is one Kenneth W. Starr, a name familiar to people here in DC Beltway-land and a name that may show up in Google searches more often as Hillary Clinton makes a run at (returning to) the White House. Yes, there is a religion ghost in this fine story about Starr.

This particular story focuses on Starr's role in current NCAA debates about the amateur status of the athletes whose skills bring millions of dollars into the bank accounts of American colleges and universities. I love the fine details and close connections in this summary passage near the top of the story:

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Your weekend think piece: Former GetReligionista discusses anti-Catholic story up in Seattle

Your weekend think piece: Former GetReligionista discusses anti-Catholic story up in Seattle

This is one of those stories that could have shown up with a "Got news?" notice in a GetReligion headline. It's rather amazing that this Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog item -- it's hard to tell if it was given serious news treatment -- did not receive more attention from the national press.

It's a classic example of a "mirror image" story. Try to imagine the coverage if a liberal Catholic or a traditional Muslim had been the target of this kind of ad. 

Here's the top of the PI report:

A website erected by local Democratic activists mocked the Catholic faith of Republican state Senate candidate Mark Miloscia, showing a cartoon of Miloscia waring a bishop’s mitre and holding a rosary and claiming that Miloscia represents “the Vatican.”
Democratic opponent Shari Song asked that the posting be taken down. It was, but has been replaced by an equally crude posting entitled “Pope Francis vs. Mark Miloscia,” which appears to argue that Miloscia is opposing the pope by being pro-life and upholding church teaching on same-sex marriage.

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Big Bang and Bobby Jindal: Is Louisiana governor's silence on pope's evolution remarks newsworthy?

Big Bang and Bobby Jindal: Is Louisiana governor's silence on pope's evolution remarks newsworthy?

A regular GetReligion reader alerted us to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender:

Gov. Bobby Jindal has declined to comment on Pope Francis' position that evolution and the Big Bang are real and whether the pope's beliefs will influence his views on the issue going forward.
The pope said last week that God didn't use a "magic wand" to form the universe. He said evolution explains how God allows his creation to develop.
"The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it," the pope said. "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."

The reader complained about the headline's description of Jindal as "silent" on Francis' remarks:

So are Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mark Dayton, Chris Christie and many other politicians. This is one of the dumbest stories I’ve ever read!

My first thought was: Why does an evangelical politician need to respond to the pope? But then I recalled — as the Times-Picayune story notes — that Jindal actually is Catholic. He's an "evangelical Catholic," as media organizations such as the Washington Post have described him.

Given Jindal's religious affiliation, asking him about what the pope said doesn't strike me as terribly offensive. 

In fact, the story explains why the issue might be considered newsworthy,

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Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness?

Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness?

When a man smashed his car into a controversial Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma Capitol recently, it made national news.

Authorities reported that 29-year-old Michael Tate Reed II said "Satan told him to do it," and even though the suspect was taken to a mental health facility, predictable headlines followed.

But did the devil really make him do it? 

Or did mental illness?

My late grandfather Earl Nanney, a Southern Baptist, was a sweet man who rose before dawn on Sundays and played gospel music at an ungodly volume. But he battled mental illness all his adult life. My late grandmother Edith Nanney dealt with Grandpa’s frequent stints in jail and mental hospitals.

My family's experience makes me sensitive to others whose loved ones struggle with mental illness.

I was pleased to see The Oklahoman — in Sunday's edition — dig deeper into Reed's case and produce an in-depth piece of real journalism on the challenges that he and his family have faced.

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Speaking of religion and politics, this is not your run-of-the-mill cause for pastor activism ...

Speaking of religion and politics, this is not your run-of-the-mill cause for pastor activism ...

Same-sex marriage. Abortion. Liquor by the drink.

It's not uncommon for pastors to speak out on controversial public issues — either from a strictly moral perspective or a political angle.

But this one, courtesy of Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader, is new to me (even though I live in a state where the deceased have been known to turn out in large numbers for elections):

There's no "Thou shalt not" on vote buying in the Bible, but it's a sin nonetheless, according to a group of Magoffin County pastors trying to discourage the pernicious practice in a place where it has long corrupted the fabric of politics.
The ministers have asked local candidates in the general election to make a public pledge not to buy votes or provide money for others to buy votes for them, and to report anyone who buys votes for them to Attorney General Jack Conway's office.
The local Salyersville Independent newspaper has been running a copy of the pledge in the paper with the names of those who have signed, and posting photos of the signed pledges on its Facebook page.

Keep reading, and the Herald-Leader provides a nice piece of religious imagery, straight out of Exodus:

Judge-Executive Charles "Doc" Hardin said nearly every candidate for local office has signed the pledge, himself included.
Justin Williams, who pastors Lakeville Baptist Church and helped organize the effort, said the hope was that the pledge "will ultimately lead to a day that when I take my daughters to vote for the first time, that vote buying will be a distant memory in Magoffin County."
That wouldn't qualify as a miracle on the order of parting the Red Sea, but it would be remarkable.

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