Hillary Clinton takes to Flint, Mich., pulpit, and New York Times brings its King James language

Hillary Clinton takes to Flint, Mich., pulpit, and New York Times brings its King James language

I traveled to Flint, Mich., over the weekend to report for The Christian Chronicle on that city's lead-tainted water crisis.

While meeting with a source Sunday afternoon, she mentioned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had come to Flint that day to speak at a black Baptist church. We decided to swing by the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church, and I snapped a picture of Clinton leaving that I posted on Instagram.

Since I didn't actually hear Clinton speak, I was curious what she said and checked the news coverage — my GetReligion antenna up and ready to spot any holy ghosts.

Clinton's description of the poisoned water in Flint as "immoral" was the soundbite that caught the media's attention — and rightly so.

This was the lede from NBC News:

FLINT, Michigan — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for "action now" to combat the toxic water crisis here Sunday in a speech to a packed congregation.
"This has to be a national priority," Clinton said at the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church. "What happened in Flint is immoral. The children of Flint are just as precious as the children of any part of America."

And from the Detroit Free Press:

FLINT — Solving the problems of contaminated water in Flint has to remain a local, state and national priority for the foreseeable future, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told city residents gathered in a Baptist church Sunday afternoon.
"Clean water is not optional, my friends. It’s not a luxury," she said. "This is not merely unacceptable or wrong. What happened in Flint is immoral. Children in Flint are just as precious as children in any part of America."

So was there any spiritual component to Clinton's remarks at the church? We noted last month that Clinton, a United Methodist, doesn't often discuss her faith on the campaign trail.

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Vice Sports lets Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., preach about Cam, sports and maybe even God

Vice Sports lets Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., preach about Cam, sports and maybe even God

Unless you have been on another planet, you are aware that the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl L.

You also probably know that National Football League MVP Cam Newton was sacked six times, knocked down a dozen-plus times and ended the game in a state of frustration and even rage. This followed, of course, weeks of public discussion of whether many fans don't approve of his joyful, edgy, hip-hop approach to celebrating life, football, his team and his own talents.

This led to the press conference from hell, when Newton -- forced by the NFL to take questions in the same space, within earshot, of the Broncos' victory pressers -- had little to say, while his eyes said everything. A sample:

What's your message to Panthers fans?
"We'll be back."
Ron [Rivera] said Denver two years ago had a tough time and they bounced back. Do you take that to heart?
Can you put a finger on why Carolina didn't play the way it normally plays?
"Got outplayed."
Is there a reason why?
"Got outplayed, bro."

You get the idea. With that as a backdrop, let's move into GetReligion territory -- in the form of a long, long Vice Sports piece by Eric Nusbaum about the Newton family and, especially, a Sunday morning spent listening to the superstar's Pentecostal preacher dad, Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., of the Holy Zion Center of Deliverance. The headline: "The House that Built Cam."

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South Carolina caucus: Post and Courier tells us more about GOP than Democrats

South Carolina caucus: Post and Courier tells us more about GOP than Democrats

Gotta pinch myself sometimes when I read the respectful treatment this year for evangelicals -- especially in matters like the Wisconsin caucus last week. And in a more recent advance in the Post and Courier for the South Carolina vote.

The story not only takes a courteous tone, but shows a seasoned view on politics and religion around the state. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. But it's sharper on the Republican/evangelical side than the Democratic/mainline side. Especially when it comes to black churches.

Just as New Hampshire polls as the least religious state, "almost 80 percent of all voters identify as Christians" in South Carolina, the Post and Courier says. "And what they hear in the pews often affects what they do at the polls." With that terrain established mapped out, we're prepared for the broad outlines:

On the GOP side, evangelical voters make up a super-majority of the party’s base, and they are attuned to where candidates stand on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. However, experts note they don’t always settle on a single candidate who they feel best advances their cause.
The state’s black voters make up most of the Democratic Party’s base, and for them, churches have served as a galvanizing force to advance civil rights and other shared goals.

We read a short advance on a Faith and Family rally at Bob Jones University, to be attended by all the GOP candidates except Donald Trump. Oran Smith, director of the sponsoring Palmetto Family Alliance, reveals a surprising paradox: Because of the very dominance of evangelicalism in South Carolina, "they are more apt to consider economic and security issues along with social issues."

Another deft touch: The Post and Courier says Smith holds a degree in political science from Clemson University -- then quotes a sitting political science professor at Clemson for some valuable background:

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Charleston paper covers first sermon by Mother Emanuel's new pastor, except for what she said

Charleston paper covers first sermon by Mother Emanuel's new pastor, except for what she said

Mother Emanuel AME Church has been through more than you know, even if you’ve seen many of the news reports about the horrendous shootings of nine members there in June. But yesterday, the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier wisely concentrated on the first sermon of its new pastor.

It's a heartfelt, moody news feature that gets inside the thoughts and feelings of the pastor. But while reminding us of the terrible events that brought the church there, the newspaper somehow leaves out most of what her sermon said.

And that wasn't so wise. From reading the overture to this report, the sermon was supposed to be the main topic of the story. For starters, it has the Rev. Betty Deas Clark "trembling and scared" her first time in the pulpit at Emanuel:

She’d had less than 24 hours to prepare the first sermon she would deliver to her new congregation. She wrote from the heart but agonized over every word -- praying she would be able to minister to the needs of people she had yet to get to know.
It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, addressing a congregation, but there was something different about this time. Maybe it was because members of Mother Emanuel were still healing after the June 17 slaying of nine worshippers during a Bible study by a self-proclaimed white supremacist. Maybe it was because the church had been in a type of “limbo” for more than half a year in the aftermath.
Either way, Clark knew there was one message everyone could relate to: hope.
"In my heart I felt that it was the right word," she said after the church service. "I did not want to dwell too heavily on the past, but I wanted to embrace the reality of the present and the future."

As one nitpick, we'll note that it doesn't say why Clark had less than 24 hours to prepare. The reason is that she was appointed just the previous day; that was explained on Saturday but not in this story. The main question here is: How did she develop the theme of hope? What did she offer to help the congregants move forward? One would assume that this sermon had something to do with a passage of two from the Bible?

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Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

I had a strange flashback this week, as I was watching the long, long introduction by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., as he welcomed New York City billionaire and reality-television icon Donald Trump back to the campus of Liberty University.

This flashback took place when Falwell spoke the following words (as I framed them in my "On Religion" for the Universal syndicate):

Trump used blunt words crafted for populists angry about losing and tired of watching politicians break their promises. Claiming outsider status, Trump endorsed their anger.
Yes, Trump is not a Sunday school candidate, admitted Falwell. Then again, he said, "for decades, conservatives and evangelicals have chosen the political candidates who have told us what we wanted to hear on social, religious and political issues only to be betrayed by those same candidates after they were elected."

Read that quote again. Is this tense, even angry Falwell quote aimed at President Barack Obama?

No way. It is aimed at the GOP mainstream. This brings me to the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

That Falwell anger reminded me of what I heard long ago -- 1997 to be precise -- when I served as a commentator for MSNBC during the network's daylong coverage of the "Stand in the Gap" Promise Keepers rally that covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The mainstream journalists who covered that event, as a rule, framed it as a protest against the lifestyle left and President Bill Clinton (and, yes, they thought it may have had something to do with fathers, husbands, families and racial reconciliation).

Seriously? It was news that some cultural conservatives were upset with Clinton?

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An elite newspaper kisses President Obama's liberal brand of Christianity, but here's what they left out

An elite newspaper kisses President Obama's liberal brand of Christianity, but here's what they left out

"Merry Christmas! Our president is too Christian for America!"

That's how one person — in an email subject line to the GetReligion team — boiled down today's mammoth, front-page Washington Post story on "The quiet impact of Obama's Christian faith."

Now, the fact that an elite, inside-the-Beltway newspaper seems to really love Obama's brand of faith won't trigger any breaking news alerts.

Obama is, after all, the kind of Christian even a non-Bible-thumping journalist could love. GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, has described the president this way: "a liberal believer who made a profession of faith and joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long represented the left edge of free-church Protestantism." 

What prompted today's 3,000-word Post homage to Obama's faith? There appears to be no strong time element. Instead, this is one of those evergreen stories on which the writer noted on Twitter that he worked for a while.


"Hope it is revealing," the writer said in that same tweet.

Is it revealing? Yes and no. 

On the positive side, I enjoyed reading the Post story and appreciated the behind-the-scenes insight into some of Obama's perspective concerning his Christianity and its role in his policy approaches. I found myself thinking: This story would make a great "West Wing" episode. 

Imagine this opening scene, only with real-life Obama instead of the fictional President Josiah Bartlet:

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Washington Post visits the enemy's camp: Oh those wild, dangerous Ben Carson voters

Washington Post visits the enemy's camp: Oh those wild, dangerous Ben Carson voters

If you read journals of political news and opinion, then you are very familiar with a feature-story format that I like to call "visiting the house (or camp) of the enemy." What kind of advocacy publication are we talking about? Let's say the old New Republic or Rolling Stone, on the left, or The Weekly Standard or National Review on the right.

In this story, a reporter -- acting like a National Geographic staffer -- visits a strange and exotic type of person and tries to describe them and their tribe in their natural habitat, talking about their strange and maybe scary customs and beliefs.

A key element of this format is that they rarely include the voices of people on the other side of controversial issues that are discussed. The members of the exotic tribe talk and talk and talk and there is never really a response.

Why is this? Because the reporter is the representative of the opposing side and everything the members of the enemy tribe say is being filtered through the worldview of their opponents, framed in ways that make the words extra threatening or ridiculous. You are reading the Rolling Stone version of a gathering of pro-life activists or The Weekly Standard version of a gathering of postmodern gender-studies scholars.

Let me stress that I know this format well because I read, and appreciate, these kinds of publications. When you read In These Times you are reading a liberal point of view that is so strong that it often makes the left uncomfortable. Ditto for World magazine on the right. I appreciate this kind of journalism.

The question for today is this: What is this format doing in The Washington Post?

With these issues in mind, let's look at a few passages from a classic "visiting the house of the enemy" feature that ran under the headline: "Fear, faith and the rise of Ben Carson." Let's start with the lede, which takes a member of the Post national enterprise team deep into the wilds of the Bible Belt:

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What’s the faith background of the Episcopal Church’s new leader?

What’s the faith background of the Episcopal Church’s new leader?


Can you tell us something more about the presiding bishop of our [Episcopal] Church? I’ve heard only upbeat things about him from people who have met and heard him. Will he be a Marco Rubio -- a very effective speaker who can connect with people?


Perhaps so. Here’s some information about the personable Michael Bruce Curry, 62, who was installed this month as the new presiding bishop of America’s troubled Episcopal Church. Some U.S. denominations lack such a solo head while the Episcopalians grant their chief unusually centralized power and, moreover, his term runs till 2024.

The questioner’s pitch for Republican Rubio brings to mind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 hope to become the nation’s first woman president following its first African-American president. The Episcopalians have done the opposite. Curry, the first African-American to head this rather elite and overwhelmingly white church, succeeds its first female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Jefferts Schori was a surprise choice in 2006 because she never led a prominent parish or diocese. She spent only five years as bishop of Nevada (currently with 5,444 souls). By contrast, Curry has 15 years of seasoning as bishop of the Raleigh-based North Carolina diocese, the nation’s sixth largest with 50,218 active members.

Rather like Barack Obama’s notable keynote speech to the Democrats’ 2004 convention that helped win the 2008 nomination, Curry delivered a rousing sermon at the church’s 2012 convention and was elected presiding bishop at the next one.

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Pope Francis in Kenya: AP gets some details, but misses the 'big idea,' in his message

Pope Francis in Kenya: AP gets some details, but misses the 'big idea,' in his message

Pope Francis has been on the road, again, which means that it's time for more stories about the political implications of his sermons and off-the-cuff remarks to the flocks of people who gather to pray and worship with him.

This is business as usual, of course. Want to play along and see how this works in a typical Associated Press report?

OK, first we'll look at the many excellent details from one of the Kenya talks that made it into the AP report, which ran in The Washington Post with this headline: "Pope calls slum conditions in Nairobi an injustice."

As you read several chunks of the story, ask yourself this big-idea question: What does this pope believe is the ultimate cause of this injustice?

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Visiting one of Nairobi’s many shantytowns on Friday, Pope Francis denounced conditions slum-dwellers are forced to live in, saying access to safe water is a basic human right and that everyone should have dignified, adequate housing. ...
In remarks to the crowd, Francis insisted that everyone should have access to water, a basic sewage system, garbage collection, electricity as well as schools, hospitals and sport facilities.
“To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need,” he said.

Now, I think it is fair to ask: Is safe water the "big idea" in this talk, or is the pope saying that safe water is a symptom of larger problems? Hold that thought, as we head back to the AP text:

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