Race

Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

By now, many GetReligion readers will have already seen some or all of the video at the top of this post, the one in which Toya Graham of Baltimore offered some blunt guidance to her son as he was poised to throw rocks at police during the Baltimore riots.

In online coverage and commentaries, the 42-year-old Graham is often known as the "Hero Mom" and police and civic leaders have praised her for trying to control her child, while noting that they wish there were more parents around who would do the same.

The Baltimore Sun did a very interesting and complex profile of Graham and covered almost all of the bases relevant to this story, including some interesting material about her church ties. Still, by the end, I was left asking a familiar question: What would the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a giant of the Democratic Party in the late 20th Century say about this sad urban scene?

I suspect that, like many readers in commentary boxes on reports about this incident, he would ask a basic question linked to faith, family and culture -- Where is this young man's father? Moynihan, of course, is famous for producing a 1965 report (50th anniversary news feature alert) in which he argued that in the future the key factor in poverty in America would no longer be race, but whether children were raised in intact homes, with a father as well as a mother.

Is that a question with religious and moral overtones? I suspect that many, but perhaps not all, leaders in the black church would say that it is.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What's so controversial about those generic pre-game NBA chapel services?

What's so controversial about those generic pre-game NBA chapel services?

I'm going to dig into my GetReligion file of guilt for this post, in part because it's another weekend of NBA playoffs action and I have hoops on my mind.

The New York Times recently ran an interesting feature story about one of those new old trends that may have been around for many years but, once it's in the pages of the Times, its relevant again. In this case, we are talking about something controversial -- NBA players meeting for Bible study and prayers, as opposed to staying out late at night enjoying the bright lights and the other pleasures common among multimillionaire sports stars.

The headline: "N.B.A. Pregame Routine: Stretch. Tape Ankles. Join Hands in Prayer."

At the heart of the story is Andrew Lang, a former NBA player who now serves as a team chaplain -- which makes me wonder if he is now actually the Rev. Andrew Lang, an ordained minister. Why does Lang not receive a clergyperson's title, under Associated Press style? I don't know for sure, but I have noticed that this seems to happen more often with African-Americans than with white clergy, for some reason. Here's the opening:

ATLANTA -- Like so many of his N.B.A. peers, Andrew Lang chose to stay close to the game when his playing days came to an end. But the second act of his career did not relocate him behind a front-office desk or onto a coach’s chair or inside a broadcast booth.
It brought him, instead, to a small auxiliary locker room at Philips Arena, bare except for some padded folding chairs. There, before every Atlanta Hawks home game, Lang fulfills his responsibilities as the team’s chaplain, taking prayer requests and imparting a prepared message to players before they step onto the court.
Some nights, Lang might sit there alone. Some nights, he might find himself holding hands and praying with nearly a full N.B.A. squad. Whether or not anyone shows up, Lang has made it his duty for the last 14 years to be there, ready to help.

Truth be told, this story is surprisingly positive and well researched. But there are important holes in it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Having worked as both a copy-desk editor and as a reporter, I am well aware of the fact that the scribes who write news stories rarely get to write the headlines that, for many angry readers, define the heart of what the stories say.

However, experienced reporters do get to write the vast majority of their own ledes.

So that's what I was thinking the other day when I read the top of that Washington Post news feature about Dr. Ben Carson that angered several GetReligion readers, who sent me emails containing the URL. For starters, there is that headline: "As Ben Carson bashes Obama, many blacks see a hero’s legacy fade." The vague word "many" is always a bad place to start.

Raise your hands, cyber-folks, if you are surprised that scores of black Democrats are upset with Carson. Ditto, of course, for the leaders of African-American churches that march under the banner of progressive politics, progressive doctrines, or both.

Carson is a person who, in addition to his excellence as an world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon, is best understood in the frame work of his religious and cultural beliefs, rather than his political views, strictly defined. Yes, this is one reason that some people -- including some admirers -- think he should not be running for president (as opposed to running for vice president or a chair in the cabinet). Hold that thought.

It is significant, this time around, that the story's lede and summary material has the exact same tone as the headline:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

I ended my "Crossroads" podcast post this weekend with a bit of a challenge to the editors who produce the newspaper that (for a few more weeks) lands in my front yard here next to the Baltimore beltway.

To be precise, I said: "Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots? We will see."

Now, I am sure that my challenge had little or nothing to do with what showed up in the newspaper today (although there is at least one GetReligion reader in the newsroom). However, I am happy to say that The Baltimore Sun team sent several reporters out into the city's pews and came back with an A1 story that noted the political overtones, of course, but stressed basic issues of prayer, worship and faith.

The logical church -- Fulton Baptist Church -- served as the door into the story and then as the exit door as well. This 111-year-old sanctuary has burned in the past and it almost burned again, since it was doors away from the CVS store torched by looters with the whole world watching. Here's the point where the opening anecdote flows into -- of course -- a reference to the political context.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Church on the street: New York Times shows ministers trying to calm Baltimore

Church on the street: New York Times shows ministers trying to calm Baltimore

Church leaders have popped in and out of coverage of the current riots in Baltimore. The New York Times, however, spotlights their brave though as yet inconclusive efforts to keep a lid on the violence.

The 1,100-word story visits three churches -- Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, nondenominational -- and talks to ministers as well. One of them even claims to be an early member of the Black Guerrilla Family, one of the three gangs -- the others are the Crips and Bloods -- blamed for the violence in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.

The Times quotes a wide range of people, among them a gang member and a local politician. We hear also from the much-quoted Rev. Jamal Bryant on the need to show the world the more peaceful side of Baltimore. They walk the streets to calm crowds and urge them to keep the curfew. A teacher serves snacks in a church basement, while getting children to talk out their feelings about the rioting.  And a pastor brings rival Bloods and Crips into his office to complain of problems and suggest solutions.

Just to have the gangsters sitting down, when they have long shed each other's blood nationwide, must be a major victory in itself. As the story says:

But in a city abuzz with public speeches, meetings and demonstrations, perhaps nothing was more surprising than the outreach to gangs, and some gang members’ positive response. Gang fights accounted for some of violence in a city that recorded 211 homicides last year. Gangs run some of the thriving drug trade, and the Black Guerrilla Family was accused by prosecutors of a virtual takeover of the city’s jail, leading to corruption charges against many correctional officers. And earlier this week, the police warned that the Crips and Bloods were uniting to plan attacks on officers, though members of both gangs have denied any such plans.
That history warranted skepticism about a lasting turnaround by gang members, and there was plenty. But ministers who were involved in the discussions said the turmoil offers an opening that should not go to waste.

"Part of the goal is political" for the activism, the story reports: an attempt to refocus attention away from the street crimes and back onto police conduct. The Times also quotes a minister saying bluntly that he wanted to help the city's prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, who has promised to address the police issue.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Looking for pastors on Baltimore front lines and, back at church, on their knees

Looking for pastors on Baltimore front lines and, back at church, on their knees

As you would imagine, I am receiving quite a few emails from friends and readers who are asking variations on this question: What is going on in Baltimore?

A few personal comments: First of all, I have very little experience covering politics and the police beat, the two subjects that, for better and for worse, are currently at the heart of the coverage of this story. Second, I live on the Baltimore beltway south of downtown (in a blue-collar, interracial suburb with roots back to Colonial times) and I am not an expert on urban life in this complex city. I do know that -- as some journalists are noting -- there is a special poignancy to seeing smoke and flames rising from neighborhoods that still haven't recovered from the 1968 riots after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many locals, I spent hours yesterday watching the news and trying to keep up with the social-media hooks in this story. As of this morning, talk radio is full -- as it was yesterday -- of reports of another wave of "purge" notices calling for more violence this afternoon. True?

Of course, I have been watching and listening as a religion-beat specialist and there has been much to note. Another question people keep asking me is why embattled Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake didn't call for a curfew LAST night. Well, the locals can tell you that Baltimore is a city that doesn't have massive resources and they were stretched to the total limit last night. There weren't enough police and firefighters to go around, on a night with about 140 car fires and major action in neighborhoods in the west and east. Could a curfew have been enforced?

So who was there to respond, until the National Guard and back-up firefighters rolled in from outside of town? If you watched CNN, Fox and other networks last night, you know the answer to that -- clergy and activists from black churches, that's who.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy