Race

What does she really believe? AP takes a shallow dive into Hillary Clinton's faith

What does she really believe? AP takes a shallow dive into Hillary Clinton's faith

The headline is nice.

The headline stirs my curiosity.

The headline entices me to click.

As I dive into this week's Associated Press story on Hillary Clinton's faith, I'm hopeful of learning more about what makes the Democratic presidential frontrunner tick — from a religious standpoint.

Here at GetReligion, of course, this topic has come up before.

In the latest story, the lede sets the scene:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Sunday mornings at Baptist churches fall right into Hillary Clinton's comfort zone.
"This is the day the Lord has made," Clinton said recently at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York, as sunshine streamed through the stained-glass windows and hit the packed pews. "Being here at this church with these beautiful people, knowing how grateful I am for this spring day. I feel blessed and grace is all around us."
Black Baptist churches may not seem like an obvious match for Clinton, a white Methodist from the Chicago suburbs. But the Democratic presidential candidate, who's been criticized for her tentative, even awkward political skills, often seems most at ease in houses of worship. It's where she's shared her faith for many years and earned a loyal following.
"One thing not a lot of people really understand about her is the central role of faith in her life," said Mo Elleithee, Clinton's spokesman in her 2008 White House campaign.

OK, you have my attention. Please tell me more.

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Yes, the Austin American-Statesman sent a reporter to the Rev. Jordan Brown's church

Yes, the Austin American-Statesman sent a reporter to the Rev. Jordan Brown's church

For those who are curious, The Austin American-Statesman did send a reporter to the anticipated Sunday Church of Open Doors service to see if the Rev. Jordan Brown or any members of his "We've taken tradition and religious doctrine and thrown them out the window" flock decided to attend.

Even though the news report that resulted was short, and rather grammatically challenged, it did yield some interesting information for journalists and news consumers attempting to follow up on the hate-cake incident.

As I said in an early post (and in this past week's "Crossroads" podcast) I am convinced journalists covering Brown's lawsuit, and the resulting counter-suit by the legal team at Whole Foods, need to know if this shepherd does, in fact, have a flock. If so, who are the lay leaders who oversee his ministry?

So here is the top of the report in The American-Statesman:

A traditional Sunday gathering led by an Austin man who targeted Whole Foods Market with controversial, viral allegations that backfired last week didn’t hold its usual services today.
Jordan Brown, who said he pastors a small group, the Church of Open Doors, didn’t have their usual meeting out of his East Austin apartment complex Sunday.

Now, take out the word "traditional" and then substitute "congregation" for "gathering" and that lede makes some sense. I really don't know what happened in the second sentence. It seems that something is missing.

The key fact here is that journalists still have had zero contact with anyone from the congregation.

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After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

Is there anything new to say, at this point, about the Rev. Jordan Brown, his Church of Open Doors and the mysterious case of the alleged Whole Foods hate cake?

The short answer is, "no." Of course, that tells us something about these viral, digital media storms that blow up on Twitter and then fade away. At some point, there is real reporting that needs to get done.

The key, is this point, is that there is little evidence that the same mainstream media that ran with the story early on -- The Austin America Statesman, for example -- are interested in exploring the next stage of the drama. In a post the other day, and in our "Crossroads" podcast this week, I suggested that it would be important to find out more about Brown's congregation -- such as whether it's alive and viable. (I just noticed that it's last schedule worship service was at noon on April 3 -- the week after Western Easter).

So what happens this Sunday?

Now, a GetReligion reader went online and dug out some basic, very helpful information that would have added some depth to the tsunami of early online items about this alleged hate crime:

I am not a journalist but I did do some checking on the Church of Open Doors. The "congregation" meets in the community room/area of an apartment complex. The official mailing address is a post office box at an establishment named "Drive Thru Postal". On the "church" website, there is no mention of governance or oversight.
According to Facebook link, the "church" utilizes MailChimp, I went to MailChimp and found the archive of emails for the "church" and the majority of them are pleas for money. This is the most recent:

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The artist named Prince: Was he ultimately a rebel for, or against, the Sexual Revolution?

The artist named Prince: Was he ultimately a rebel for, or against, the Sexual Revolution?

So, in the end, was Prince Rogers Nelson a hero of the Sexual Revolution or someone who, as he grew more mature, was a heretic who -- in the name of a controversial faith -- rejected many of the sexy doctrines he previously celebrated?

I'm not sure that there's a definitive answer to that, especially when talking about someone as complex as Prince (or TAPKAP). But I do think that it was crucial for journalists to let their readers know that this was an important question to ask.

In the first stories about the artist's death, the emphasis was totally on Prince the gender-blurring hedonist. But as the day went on, a few counter themes began to emerge.

You could see the struggle (and that's kind of a compliment) most clearly in The Washington Post, where the first news reports about Prince were baptized in his sexy '80s glory, while a sidebar openly discussed changes linked to his decision to join the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In the final obit, the Post team hinted early and, at the very end, mentioned that many seemed afraid to mention. Here's the solid lede:

A musical chameleon and flamboyant showman who never stopped evolving, Prince was one of the music world’s most enigmatic superstars. He celebrated unabashed hedonism, sang of broken hearts and spiritual longing and had a mysterious personal identity that defied easy definition.

The obit hit all of the fine details of the sexy Prince, from erotic guitar eruptions to skimpy costumes. It was difficult, at times, to tell what was happening when, in terms of his music and stage personas. If he never stopped evolving, then it's crucial to be precise about the young prince vs. the mature Prince.

At the very end, the news story offered this:

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Honoring Harriet Tubman, a Methodist, Republican, evangelical woman for the ages

Honoring Harriet Tubman, a Methodist, Republican, evangelical woman for the ages

After considerable backing and forthing, the Obama administration  announced April 20 that it will put Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill. She’ll be the first African-American honored on U.S. currency, and one of very, very few women to be given this honor -- even briefly. Martha Washington and Pocahontas briefly held this distinction, and Susan B. Anthony dollar coins remain in circulation, but are no longer minted.

Tubman, the famed savior of slaves via the “underground railroad” and a Republican, supplants Democratic President Andrew Jackson, who’ll be relegated to the bill’s back along with the continuing White House image. The quip of the week prize goes to conservative economist and columnist John Lott, who tweeted: “On $20 bill, Ds replace Andrew Jackson, a founding father of D Party, w Harriet Tubman, a black, gun-toting, evangelical Xn, R woman.”

Also fast on the draw was Religion News Service, issuing “5 faith facts” about this devout Methodist in a format the wire has used to good effect with various 2016 candidates. The facts:

Tubman was nicknamed “Moses” after the biblical rescuer because she led  hundreds of slaves to freedom and attributed such bravery to faith in God. She experienced many vivid dreams and visions that she believed came from God.

Her favorite song in a personal hymnal she collected was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” She believed that God directed her to go on the hunger strike that raised $20 to free her own parents from slavery. Her death-bed words in 1913 quoted Jesus Christ, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

It will be interesting to see how much the mainstream news-media coverage notes the powerful religious faith that drove this activist to glory.

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Interracial family faces prejudice: Whoa! That generic 'church' reference just isn't enough

Interracial family faces prejudice: Whoa! That generic 'church' reference just isn't enough

So, is the following statement true: A church is a church is a church is a church?

In other words, are all churches the same? When reporters cover stories about controversies linked to "a church," shouldn't it be a standard part of their journalistic marching orders to provide some kind of modifier or brand name in front of the word "church"?

I think most GetReligion readers would say "yes." Why pin some kind of blame on a vague institution when, with one or two questions, a journalist could dig out specific information to provide to readers?

You will see what I mean in the following story from The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. The headline -- "Mississippi RV park owner evicts interracial couple" -- doesn't point to the religion angle, so hang on. Here is the overture:

TUPELO -- A Mississippi RV park owner evicted an interracial couple because of the color of their skin.
“Me and my husband, not ever in 10 years have we experienced any problem,” said Erica Flores Dunahoo, who is Hispanic and Native American and whose husband, a National Guardsman, is African-American. “Nobody’s given us dirty looks. This is our first time.”
More than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred discrimination on the basis of race, Gene Baker acknowledged asking the interracial couple to leave his RV park near Tupelo. Baker, who lives in Aberdeen, said he only did it because “the neighbors were giving me such a problem.”

The on-the-record reaction from Baker is crucial.

Later on in the story, readers are given this crucial information linked to Baker, which pulls the church angle into play:

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Hailing the valor of number 42 -- with something crucial missing from the story

 Hailing the valor of number 42 -- with something crucial missing from the story

Star documentary producer Ken Burns’s latest PBS show this week was a two-parter hailing Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), one of history’s great African American heroes -- period.

Years before the civil rights movement, Robinson famously broke the color line not only in baseball but all major league athletics, since professional football, basketball and hockey remained all-white years after his Brooklyn Dodgers debut on April 15, 1947. All MLB teams annually honor him by wearing his number 42 on that date.

Before addressing the main theme here, a Dodgers fan of that era would like to list some facts: Named the first Rookie of the Year in 1947. In 1949 the National League’s Most Valuable Player ranking #1 in both batting average (.342) and stolen bases (37), and  #2 in hits (203) and runs batted in (124). All-Star in six of his 10 seasons. In the top 1 percent of career batting averages at .311. The league’s leading second basemen in turning double plays four years running and in three of those years also the leader in fielding accuracy. 

In other words this was one fabulous athlete, not to mention he was the first man to letter in four varsity sports at U.C.L.A. (adding basketball, football and track to baseball). He had to be superior to survive vicious racism and threats hurled at him in the early phase with the Dodgers, as Burns’ telecast and the fine 2013 movie “42” depict.

Both the TV and film treatments portray the deep Christianity of Branch Rickey, the Dodgers president who took the big chance of hiring Robinson from double motives of racial justice and baseball prosperity. In the movie Harrison Ford, impersonating Rickey, quips to an advisor worried about backlash over a black ballplayer: “I’m a Methodist. Jackie’s a Methodist. God’s a Methodist. We can’t go wrong.”

The movie said little about Robinson’s own religion and Burns provided nothing.

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So what cause brought the Rev. Larry Russell Dawson (with a gun) to the U.S. Capitol?

So what cause brought the Rev. Larry Russell Dawson (with a gun) to the U.S. Capitol?

So here are the basics about that tense drama that unfolded yesterday at the U.S. Capitol, in which a protestor pulled a gun and was shot by police.

The protestor was an African-American pastor who leads a small congregation in Nashville that is highly involved in a specific political cause -- to the degree that it's website includes a video appeal for funds to help him travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby for this cause.

So here is the question you need to ask as you look at the mainstream coverage of this story: What was the cause that, according to this pastor, brought him to the U.S. Capitol? Why wasn't this information included in most of the coverage?

You can look, without success, for that information in The New York Times, in a story that does not even identify the Rev. Larry Russell Dawson as the elder of his church. Ditto for The Los Angeles Times, which did include a brief reference to an incident last fall in which Dawson (no reference to him leading a church) disrupted work in the U.S. House of Representatives by shouting that he was a "prophet of God"? But what else was he shouting about?

The Associated Press "Big Story" report that will appear in most American newspapers included a few additional details, but, once again, omitted the man's church ties and information about the cause that kept bringing him to Washington, D.C.

According to court documents, Dawson was arrested at the U.S. Capitol in October after he stood up and shouted Bible verses in the gallery of the House chamber. An online court record says he was charged with disorderly and disruptive conduct on the grounds of the Capitol and assaulting, resisting or interfering with a police officer. He was also ordered to stay away from the building and grounds.
Dawson did not return for a scheduled hearing in November. In a letter filed with his case, he says he will "not comply with the court order, nor will I surrender myself unto your office."

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Dear New York Times editors: Did Harper Lee's faith have anything to do with her art?

Dear New York Times editors: Did Harper Lee's faith have anything to do with her art?

If you know anything about the South, then you know that there are, literally, United Methodist churches everywhere you go in the Bible Belt.

You also know that United Methodist churches down South are usually not as "conservative" as, say, their Southern Baptist counterparts, but they tend to be more conservative -- "evangelical" in some cases -- than UMC flocks in other parts of the country.

Thus, it is certainly interesting that the celebrated, and ultra-private, author Harper Lee was an active member in her local United Methodist congregation down in Alabama. That detail made it into the New York Times story about her funeral, since it's hard to cover a funeral without saying where it was held. However, the story managed to avoid any of the details of that rite of worship or of the implications of her faith for her life's work.

It's interesting to note that the very first pages of "To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960, include references both to Methodism and to its founder, the Rev. John Wesley. Hold that thought.

The Times funeral story does include this information about the setting:

MONROEVILLE, Ala. -- Friends and family from around the corner and across the country gathered here on Saturday to pay final respects to Harper Lee, the author whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racial inequality in the South during the Jim Crow era inspired generations of readers.
A dense fog that had shrouded this small town lifted as mourners filed into the First United Methodist Church, which Ms. Lee attended for many years, for a simple, private service that lasted about an hour.

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