Race

No ghosts here: Powerful, insightful profile of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley a must read

No ghosts here: Powerful, insightful profile of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley a must read

Forgive me for turning into a fanboy.

But in case you hadn't figured it out, I've really enjoyed Jennifer Berry Hawes' coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting.

Once again, I'm here to praise the Pulitzer Prize winner's excellent journalism — with strong religion ties — for The Post and Courier, Charleston's daily newspaper.

Of course, I'm not the only one with kind words for Hawes' Sunday profile of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

As the best ledes do, this one immediately puts the reader in the middle of the gripping action:

The horror began with a late-night text from her chief of staff, then a phone call from the State Law Enforcement Division’s head. There had been a shooting at a Charleston church.
It was Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s church. Multiple people had been shot.
Gov. Nikki Haley quickly hung up.
“And then I called Sen. Pinckney.” She left a voice mail he never heard. “This is Nikki. I’ve heard about the shooting. I’m sending my full SLED team down there. Call me.”
Throughout the night, until 4:30 a.m., she spoke with SLED Chief Mark Keel as sickening details emerged. Each call “was one more kick in the gut,” she recalls.

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Must read: Baltimore Sun explores rich world of ushers, in black church traditions

Must read: Baltimore Sun explores rich world of ushers, in black church traditions

During my two decades -- sort of -- teaching journalism in Washington, one of the sharpest and most talented journalists I got to know was Hamil Harris of The Washington Post.

Now, this ultra-energetic man -- a student once called him Hurricane Hamil -- is talented in so many ways. Name me another former Florida State University gridiron lineman who is a great multi-platform reporter, speaks Russian, is a talented Gospel musician, has worked as a tech aide (hope I got that right) in emergency room surgery and has a theology degree. Does he fly airplanes too? I forget.

I could tell so many Hamil stories. But the key for this post today is his constant emphasis, speaking to my students, on never losing sight of the human element in reporting. Journalism is about people, their voices, their stories, their pain, their joy and, yes, the information in their heads and at their fingertips. Journalism is often about famous people, but wise journalists know that everyone they meet knows something about some story, information that could be crucial in the future. Treat them right. Respect them. Listen to them.

That's Hamil talking. This brings me to his insights, through the years, into the role that ushers play in African-American church life. They are more than doorkeepers. Ushers are a crucial part of what these churches do, both in worship and in community building. They are the eyes and ears of the body of the church.

So I thought of Hamil when The Baltimore Sun ran a fine news feature the other day under the somewhat bland headline: "Ushers serve as 'doorkeepers' to worship." The opening anecdote captures the "eyes and ears" concept.

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Concerning Hispanic evangelicals and the death penalty: Dig a little deeper, please

Concerning Hispanic evangelicals and the death penalty: Dig a little deeper, please

In my days covering the state prison system for The Oklahoman, I witnessed a handful of executions — some high profile and others not.

Given that experience, headlines concerning public support for — and opposition to — capital punishment always catch my attention.

A front-page story by the Houston Chronicle this week tackled a compelling angle: Hispanic evangelicals forming what the newspaper described as a "new front in the battle against the death penalty."

The Chronicle's lede:

For years, Samuel Rodriguez, a California Assemblies of God preacher, accepted both views as gospel truth.

But then came nagging doubts about capital punishment's effectiveness in deterring crime and a growing belief that "African-Americans and Hispanics disproportionately are on the wrong end of the injection." After a decade of soul-searching, Rodriguez reached a startling conclusion: To truly be pro-life means to support life "inside and outside the womb."

Today, Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Hispanic evangelical group, has become emblematic of a new wave of conservative Christians rallying opposition to the death penalty. Rodriguez fought to spare
the life of schizophrenic Texas double-killer Scott Panetti — a federal court stayed the execution — and, in a Time magazine essay, decried a botched Oklahoma execution.

In March, a second Hispanic group, the New York-based National Latino Evangelical Coalition, became the first evangelical association to call for capital punishment's end.

"The idea that the evangelical church gives rubber-stamp approval to the death penalty is no longer applicable," Rodriguez said. "More and more, Bible-believing individuals, theological conservatives, Christ's followers in America, are beginning to sway away from capital punishment."

Keep reading, and the Houston newspaper makes the case that Hispanic evangelicals "are entering a contentious debate that for decades has split American believers":

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Shocker! Press discovers that QB Russell Wilson is still a traditional Christian believer

Shocker! Press discovers that QB Russell Wilson is still a traditional Christian believer

Good grief. Have we really reached the point where journalists are shocked, shocked that traditional Christian believers strive to follow 2,000 years of doctrine asking them to hold off on sex until after they have taken their wedding vows?

Or, are the world-weary journalists who cover pop culture (that includes sports, most of the time) predestined to roll their eyes when really hot superstars -- in multiple senses of that word -- affirm traditional doctrines on sex when asked awkward questions in public?

Call it Tim Tebow syndrome, for obvious reasons.

In this case, the man on the hot spot is the unusually composed quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. I give you the elite journalistic work of professionals at People:

Russell Wilson ended months of speculation about whether he is dating Ciara during an interview with Pastor Miles McPherson at San Diego's Rock Church on Sunday. But the bigger surprise from the interview was the news that the couple is abstaining from sex for religious reasons.

"I said to her -- and she completely agreed -- 'Can we love each other without that?' " the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, 26, said in the interview. "If you can love somebody without that, then you can really love somebody."

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Los Angeles Times tries to listen to African-American Christians on life after Obergefell

Los Angeles Times tries to listen to African-American Christians on life after Obergefell

First things first: The editors of The Los Angeles Times are to be commended for going where relatively few journalists have been willing to go in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 Obergefell ruling approving same-sex marriage. They published a lengthy and, at times, quite solid news feature on how doctrinally conservative African-American church leaders are reacting to the ruling.

The dramatic headline proclaimed: " 'Satan is subtle,' same-sex marriage foes warn as they prepare to fight court ruling."

The problem with this story is that it contains evidence that Times journalists failed to listen carefully to what these religious believers said or, at the very least, failed to accurately report what they said. Perhaps reporters and editors needed to think twice and then, as an act of journalistic humility, ask some follow-up questions?

At the center of many debates in this topic is an effort on the cultural left to make an iron-clad link between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a link that, when allowed to vote on this matter, African-Americans have consistently rejected. As you would expect, that issue came up in the Times piece, as well as discussions of how black church leaders feel about the actions of President Barack Obama.

Read the following passage carefully, since it yielded the key image in the headline. This chunk of the story was built on interviews during a Bible study at Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Houston. One participant -- Daryl Fisher -- is said to have "clutched a Bible in one hand as he spoke." Now, was he "clutching" it, or merely "holding" it?

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5Q+1 interview: Pulitzer winner Jennifer Berry Hawes on the Godbeat, the Charleston shooting and black church fires

5Q+1 interview: Pulitzer winner Jennifer Berry Hawes on the Godbeat, the Charleston shooting and black church fires

Just a few months ago, veteran religion writer Jennifer Berry Hawes celebrated winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Hawes, a projects writer for the The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., worked on the team that produced "Till Death Do Us Part," a project on domestic violence that earned journalism's top prize. (She discusses the Pulitzer in the video above.)

About 10 years ago, Hawes and her colleague Doug Pardue proposed creating the Post and Courier's Faith & Values section "because religion and values-based coverage was so important to our readership, yet we weren't writing about it as much as needed," she recalled.

"I covered religion on and off after that until joining our projects teams about six months ago," Hawes told GetReligion. "The beat was one of the most difficult and rewarding ones I have tackled because people care so much about it, yet for that reason I dealt with some extremely thin-skinned people who really struggled to understand why we would present faiths and views that weren't 'right' in their minds.

"It honestly made me question my own faith at times to see how human the church is with infighting and backstabbing," added Hawes, a former winner of the Religion Newswriters Association's Cornell Reporter of the Year Award and a finalist again this year. "On the other side, I also met the most incredibly inspirational people of faith in our community who demonstrated the beauty of the human spirit and the strength of what faith could achieve."

In a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion, Hawes reflected on her ongoing coverage of the June 17 shooting massacre that claimed nine lives at a historic black church in Charleston.

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Los Angeles Times isn't sure what to do with 'honey-smooth' Christian activist

Los Angeles Times isn't sure what to do with 'honey-smooth' Christian activist

Every so often, an article runs in a major publication that is so awful, one wonders if the copy desk was on strike that day. Such is a Los Angeles Times piece about a black activist who opposes gay marriage. The headline: “Christian activist decries ‘evil’ gay marriage with a honey-smooth voice.” Am I the only one out there to whom the “honey-smooth” adjective brings to mind something deceptive, fawning or false? Check this online thesaurus to see what I mean.

The article starts thus:

In a state where 86% of voters cast ballots for a ban on gay weddings in 2004, and where opposition is fierce to last week's Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, Meeke Addison stands out from the fire-and-brimstone preachers and politicians usually associated with the fight against gay marriage.

Her view of marriage came from divorce. It was her mother's divorce, and according to family lore, it came after Addison's father handed his wife a pearl-handled pistol, told her to use it on anyone who tried to break into their apartment, and walked out.

Despite being left with five children to raise, Addison said, her mother trumpeted the value of marriage and instilled in her a passion for the institution that has turned Addison into one of Mississippi's most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.

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For journalists, three crucial things to consider linked to #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

For journalists, three crucial things to consider linked to #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches is trending on Twitter.

The bright orange flames and charred remains in images shared by major news organizations tell part of the story.

As social media fans the flames, however, journalists intent on reporting the full story must focus on the basics.

Here are three important considerations:

1. Facts are crucial.

Even as speculation — on Twitter and elsewhere — fixates on the possibility of arson or hate crimes, news organizations must be careful to report what they know. No more. No less:

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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