Race

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

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South Carolina blind spot: Revisiting media's (lack of) coverage of faith in police shooting death

South Carolina blind spot: Revisiting media's (lack of) coverage of faith in police shooting death

In a couple of recent posts (here and here), we highlighted holy ghosts in media coverage of Walter Scott's police shooting death in South Carolina.

As we pointed out, the faith of Scott's parents was impossible to miss in major network interviews, even as those asking the questions seemed intent on ignoring the religion angle.

Host Todd Wilken and I discuss the coverage in this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast. Click here to tune in.

During my conversation with Wilken, I mentioned a comment that tmatt made on one of my previous posts. Tmatt pointed to a classic quote from Peter Jennings, the late ABC anchor, about the media's blind spot in such cases. The setting was a 1993 conference on religion and the news at Columbia University in New York.

Tmatt recalled Jennings' observations in a 2005 column:

The anchorman tried to blend in, but a circle formed around him during a break. It was easy to explain why he was there, he said. There is a chasm of faith between most journalists and the people they cover day after day. Six months later, I called him and asked to continue to conversation.
Anyone who has watched television, said Jennings, has seen camera crews descend after disasters. Inevitably, a reporter confronts a survivor and asks: "How did you get through this terrible experience?" As often as not, a survivor replies: "I don't know. I just prayed. Without God's help, I don't think I could have made it."
What follows, explained Jennings, is an awkward silence. "Then reporters ask another question that, even if they don't come right out and say it, goes something like this: 'Now that's very nice. But what REALLY got you through this?' "
For most viewers, he said, that tense pause symbolizes the gap between journalists and, statistically speaking, most Americans. This is not a gap that is in the interest of journalists who worry – with good cause – about the future of the news.

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Was there a spiritual component to the funeral for Walter Scott, the black man shot by a South Carolina police officer?

Was there a spiritual component to the funeral for Walter Scott, the black man shot by a South Carolina police officer?

Racism.

That was the obvious lede from Saturday's funeral for Walter Scott, the black man whose videotaped shooting by a South Carolina police officer sparked national outrage.

 

The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and USA Today all focused on that angle — and rightly so — after the victim's pastor said he had no doubt Scott's death "was motivated by racial prejudice."

But here's my question: Was there a spiritual component to the funeral?

Beyond the Rev. George D. Hamilton's remarks about race, did he say anything about faith? Did he read any Scriptures? Did he pray?

The AP hinted at religious elements to the service — but just briefly:  

Scott was remembered as a gentle soul and a born-again Christian. "He was not perfect," the minister said, adding that nobody is.
The two-hour service included spirituals and remembrances of the 50-year-old Scott.

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Ghosts in South Carolina: 'The Lord is my strength,' says mother of black man shot to death by police officer

Ghosts in South Carolina: 'The Lord is my strength,' says mother of black man shot to death by police officer

Watch any of the major network interviews with the parents of Walter Scott — the black man shot to death as he ran away from a South Carolina police officer — and their faith is impossible to miss.

As Judy Scott visits with CNN's Anderson Cooper, for example, it's almost humorous the way she keeps trying to talk about God while he presses for details related to her son's shooting.

"The Lord is my strength," the mother tells Cooper, when asked how she's holding up. She describes "knowing God as my personal savior."

Asked what she thinks of Feidin Santana, the Dominican immigrant who captured her son's death on video, Judy Scott replies, "He was there. God planned that. He's the ram in the bush. I truly believe that."

"Ram in the bush" is a biblical reference, but Cooper doesn't ask the mother to explain.

Later in the CNN interview, there's this exchange:

Judy Scott: "I mean, I’m supposed to be really angry and upset and raging and all that. But I can’t. Because of the love of God in me, I can’t be like that. The Bible let me …"
Cooper: "But you don’t feel that in your heart?"
Judy Scott: "No, I feel forgiveness in my heart. Even for the guy that shot and killed my son."
Cooper: "You feel forgiveness?"
Judy Scott: "Yes, for him."

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Mirror, mirror: Press wrestles with a clash between open discrimination and rare acts of conscience

Mirror, mirror: Press wrestles with a clash between open discrimination and rare acts of conscience

A wise journalism professor once told me that it always helps, when trying to think through the implications of a controversial story, to try to imagine the same story being seen in a mirror, in reverse.

So let's say that there is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.

Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event -- the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Whose religious rights are being violated? Can both sides find a way to show tolerance?

This is, of course, a highly specific parable -- full of the unique details that tend to show up in church-state law and, often, in cases linked to laws built on Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) language. It's clear that the gay Christian businessman is not asking to discriminate against an entire class of Americans. He is asking that his consistently demonstrated religious convictions be honored in this case, one with obvious doctrinal implications.

Is there any sign that reporters covering the RFRA madness in Indiana and, eventually, in dozens of states across the nation are beginning to see some of the gray areas in these cases?

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Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

You can take M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion (although I am still struggling to get used to that), but it does appear that you can't take those GetReligion instincts out of Mollie the journalism critic.

Consider for a moment what is actually going on in this recent short written by the GetReligionista emeritus over at The Federalist. It focuses on that whole Starbucks (with help, believe it or not from USA Today) #RaceTogether campaign that has been getting so much mainstream news ink and commentary lately. Here's the headline on her piece: "With Race Together, Starbucks Is Using Worst Of Evangelical Practices."

Evangelicals? Wait for it.

Now, lots of that commentary has been either nervous or critical or both. Is it really a good idea for a major corporation to try to push its customers -- people who just trying to mind their own business while buying a cup of overpriced coffee -- into a hot-button conversation that may or may not be constructive in the long run?

Still, Starbucks is one of those urban prestige brands that must be taken seriously buy the press. Right? Mollie's insight, if you read between the lines, was to ponder what kind of press reception this campaign would have received if attempted by another institution on another hot-button topic. What kind of reception would, let's say Hobby Lobby, have received with a #TalkMarriage campaign or even a safer #TalkParenting effort?

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Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters gets an A for spotting an emergency chaplaincy team by the Billy Graham organization in Ferguson, Mo. For execution, though, Reuters gets a C-minus at best.

Mainstream media ignored Graham's Rapid Response Teams, which sped to the city twice -- first after the shooting of teenager Michael brown, then after two police officers were shot. Someone at Reuters evidently saw the same and assigned the story. But between the motion and the act, as T.S. Eliot said, falls the shadow: in this case, a shadow of clichés and vagaries.

The article does get some things right. As Reuters reports, the chaplains talked people down, both among the police and the protestors. They grabbed a woman away from an angry crowd. And they even won over a gang leader, who lent them her protection while they ministered on the streets.

Reuters also cites some helpful numbers: 1,800 volunteer chaplains, who have "chalked up more than 250 deployments, from tornadoes and hurricanes to shootings." If only the rest of the story was like that.

Instead, it too often tosses in a stock word or general phrase in place of actual reporting. For instance:

Soon, uniformed Graham chaplains emerged from the mobile conference room parked across the street, talking people down and even dragging a woman by the wrist from an angry crowd.
Over the course of the day, the chaplains invited people into the truck, offering snacks and prayer.

What were people doing? Shouting? Throwing things? What did the Graham people say to talk them down? What was the crowd threatening against the woman? And why her?

And that's just one paragraph. Elsewhere in the story, we get:

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Paging Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The ghost that, with race, still haunts Baltimore

Paging Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The ghost that, with race, still haunts Baltimore

There has been, in the past week or two, a ripple of discussion in journalism circles (start with Rod Dreher) about the book "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis," by liberal Robert D. Putnam. With good cause, methinks, because -- tragically -- the roots of poverty in this prosperous nation in a topic that is relevant year after year.

The big question remains the same: Is this cultural crisis best discussed in terms of economics and politics, or culture and even morality? Here is moral conservative Ross Douthat, in The New York Times:

The American economy isn’t performing as well as it once did for less-skilled workers. Certain regions ... have suffered painfully from deindustrialization. The shift to a service economy has favored women but has made low-skilled men less marriageable. The decline of unions has weakened professional stability and bargaining power for some workers.
And yet, for all these disturbances and shifts, lower-income Americans have more money, experience less poverty, and receive far more safety-net support than their grandparents ever did. Over all, material conditions have improved, not worsened, across the period when their communities have come apart.

Over on the left, at Slate, there is this timely headline:

Yes, Culture Helped Kill the Two-Parent Family. And Liberals Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Admit It.

All of this discussion, of course, can be seen as intellectual ripples from a Big Bang nearly 50 years ago -- the social sciences research of the great Democratic Party statesman Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York (a frequent topic of GetReligion discussion). He said that America was entering an era in which racism would remain a force in American life, but that the primary cause of poverty would be linked to the destruction of the two-parent family. The key factor: Who has a father and who does not.

This leads me to a massive front-page feature in The Baltimore Sun focusing on recent arguments about the impact of racism here in Charm City.

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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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