Religion

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

A decade ago, while working for The Associated Press in Dallas, I wrote a feature on frequent-flier rabbis.

I was reminded of that story when I came across an NPR report this week on "roving rabbis."

NPR's descriptive lede: 

Mountains and forests surround the little town of Show Low, Ariz. It's home to only 10,000 people, but the heavily Mormon community is still the biggest place for more than hour in every direction.
It's not the kind of setting that typically fosters a thriving Jewish community — which is exactly why Hasidic rabbinical students Zalman Refson and Yaakov Kaplan are here.
Residents of the rural West have historically relied on the talents of people passing through — traveling doctors, traveling circus performers and traveling preachers. So-called roving rabbis like Refson and Kaplan are carrying on that tradition, meeting rural Jews who otherwise might rarely interact with others of their faith.
They're two of the hundreds of rabbinical students who travel to rural places all across the globe each year. These roving rabbis make these journeys in the name of Chabad, a movement within Orthodox Judaism.
Young, bearded and dressed in black pants and long-sleeved white shirts, even in the Arizona heat, the two men stick out in Show Low. Kaplan says being a roving rabbi is all about helping Jews reconnect to their faith.

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Another Kellerism case? Or a priest refusing to violate the seal of confession?

Another Kellerism case? Or a priest refusing to violate the seal of confession?

Every now and then, a longtime reader sends your GetReligionistas a note that, in addition to the URL to a mainstream news story, includes their own commentary that almost writes a post for us.

That was the case with a note about a recent report from The Billings Gazette about yet another clash between a Catholic priest who is attempting to defend the doctrines of the church and one or more progressive Catholics who see themselves as loyal, practicing Catholics, even though they openly reject one or more specific teachings of the faith.

At first glance, this story looks like a classic "Kellerism" case of advocacy journalism, with a team of journalists doing everything they can to stack a story with materials that back the brave, faithful Catholics who want to see doctrines changed or ignored, while turning the orthodox side of things into a small circle of grim canon lawyers and literalists. 

Thus, the opening of the story:

LEWISTOWN -- The first thing you need to know about Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff is both are lifelong Catholics.

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A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

If there are readers out there in cyberspace who have been reading GetReligion for a decade-plus, the odds are good that they have heard of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 18. That's the one that proclaims, in the name of the United Nations:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Long ago, this statement was considered a cornerstone on the political and cultural left. However, that is no longer (alas) always the case today. Here at GetReligion I have been asking the following questions in recent years, while probing some of the shallow labels that journalists often use with little or no thought. They are:

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of speech?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of association?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of religion?

I'm not sure what the correct answer is, these days, but anyone familiar with the history of political thought in the West will know that the correct answer is not "liberal."

Why bring this up right now? Well, because of an absolutely bizarre statement at the end of a recent BBC report that ran under this strange (it's almost a fragment) headline: "Sudan apostasy woman Mariam Ibrahim 'to campaign'."

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So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

THE RELIGION GUY interrupts this blog’s usual answers to posted questions and feels impelled to highlight a development that ought to receive far more attention than it has.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Sep. 24, President Obama said “it is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIL” (the group also called ISIS or “Islamic State”).

As if in response, that same day 126 Muslim leaders issued a dramatic 15-page “Open Letter” to ISIL’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers that denounced them on religious grounds.

Implicitly, the letter targets as well the tactics of al-Qaeda, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and similar terrorist movements claiming Islamic inspiration. The technical argument relies on dozens of citations from the Quran, Hadith (accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds), and Sharia (religious law).

The signers of this blunt challenge, all from the faith’s dominant Sunni branch, come from 37 nations including the U.S. 

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Beheading in Oklahoma: In this case, the religion ghost is right out in the open

Beheading in Oklahoma: In this case, the religion ghost is right out in the open

At the moment, it's easy to read the mainstream coverage of the beheading in Moore, Okla., and sense the tensions that journalists are feeling as they try to decide which post-9/11 news template to apply to this heartland drama.

There's the "workplace violence" template. This is used (think MSNBC) when a story has, you know, a religious angle that public officials really do not want to talk about. This template exists, in part, because -- with some justification -- officials fear that coverage of the attacker's connections to radicalized Islam will lead to unfair criticism of ordinary, mainstream Muslims. 

Then there is the "global terrorism" template. This is used (think Fox News, initially) when there is even the slightest reason to connect what could be a lone-wolf attacker to Jihadist networks at home or abroad. In this Oklahoma attack, here is what that kind of story looks like -- care of Breitbart.com.

Often, there is good cause to run with either of these templates. The key, however, is whether journalists are able to keep digging -- without prejudice -- for the basic facts that point one way or the other.

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Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

The "Money for Nothing" video accompanying this post has only a tangential connection to the subject matter.

Alas, I'm a child of the '80s, and that three-decade-old hit by the British rock band Dire Straits seemed like a good tune for a Friday afternoon.

As I noted earlier this week, about 300 members of a Chicago church received money for something — $500 each to spend, invest or give away.

In the post, I pointed out that WGNtv.com seemed to bury the lede at the end, reporting with no explanation that the church involved has a $50,000 budget deficit. 

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss the Chicago story. 

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Time on decline of marriage among the young: What's God got to do, got to do with it?

Time on decline of marriage among the young: What's God got to do, got to do with it?

Even frequent critics of the various institutions linked to the Pew Research empire usually complain more about how Pew insiders parse and explain their data, as opposed to questioning the importance of the survey numbers they collect. In particular, news consumers can almost always count on the Pew scholars to pay attention to the religious, moral and cultural implications of trends they believe they have documented. When it comes to religion, Pew people consistently get it.

This is not always the case with people who try to spot the most newsworthy trends in all of those surveys and statistics. I make this observation at this time because of the Time magazine report that just ran, online, under the headline, "Why 25% of Millennials Will Never Get Married."

To be blunt, there is no religion content in this Time essay, no exploration of its religious implications. That is not the case when one looks at the actual Pew Research numbers and the executive summary. 

Moral implications, as opposed to mere economics?

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Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

While most of her Godbeat colleagues were in Atlanta enjoying #RNA2014 this past weekend, The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor Carla Hinton remained in her home state of Oklahoma to cover a big news story.

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you've seen our past posts on the national media attention leading up to Sunday's Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City.

For good background on the black mass, check out Tulsa World religion writer Bill Sherman's excellent interview with the Satanic organizer. Sherman produced a good story, too, on Monsignor Patrick Brankin, a Catholic exorcist who reports increasing demonic activity. From that story:

Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa said the practice of exorcism is gaining ground in the Catholic Church.

This summer the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Catholic exorcists to which Brankin belongs. Exorcism conferences are held at the Vatican.

When Slattery arrived in Tulsa 20 years ago, he said, the diocese was getting about one call a year concerning demonic activity, and those callers were determined to have psychological problems, not demon possession.

“But in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,” he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that “open the door to the demonic.”

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Planned Bible museum gets an intelligent, literate look from WaPo

Planned Bible museum gets an intelligent, literate look from WaPo

Last week, my colleague Bobby Ross Jr. briefly praised Michelle Boorstein's long-form feature in the Washington Post on the planned Museum of the Bible. In my own admiring review, let me count the ways.

Boorstein gives details on the look and feel and content of the museum, planned for Washington, D.C. by 2017. She presents the truly celestial numbers: a $50 million price for the 430,000-square-foot Washington Design Center, to be stocked with 44,000 biblical artifacts in Green's personal collection; the need to deal with a "dozen or so agencies" in starting the museum.

She offers an engaging look at Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby store chain, who expects to pay $800 million for the museum.

She traces how Green's vision for the museum has shifted, from promoting the truth of the Bible toward a scholarly, nonsectarian approach.

And  (insert Hallelujah Chorus) she spends only two of the 63 paragraphs to the Supreme Court case that won Hobby Lobby the right not to insure some forms of birth control. Some writers would have digressed and obsessed over that case, adding enough text to fill a Bible.

Boorstein often puts us into the scene with vivid wording. In one example she says the future museum building is close to the National Mall: "It’s just two blocks away, and from the roof it feels as though you can take a running leap onto the U.S. Capitol."

Here is the kind of intelligent, searching content you get when an actual religion writer like Boorstein writes a religion story. She avoids taking sides, yet compels you to read further:

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