Worship

Rites of mourning in Ukraine, as well as that Chernobyl verse in the Book of Revelation

Rites of mourning in Ukraine, as well as that Chernobyl verse in the Book of Revelation

If you want to spend a sobering day -- but a fascinating one as well -- then you need to pay a visit to the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum in Kiev. I have been there twice and, if I returned a third time, I am sure that I would discover more layers of information and symbolism that I missed the first two times around.

Technically speaking, it's a very simple facility, with few of the multi-media bells and whistles that are now the norm in the museum world.

What hits you is the power of the, literally, the parables, icons and relics on display. The contents are simply overwhelming, for those with the eyes to see.

So if you ever enter the museum, look up at the ceiling above the main staircase and search for an explicit reference to the Book of Revelation. Here's what I described in a 2012 column:

KIEV -- The apocalyptic visions begin just inside the doors of the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum and many of them lead straight into the Book of Revelation.
The final pages of Christian scripture are full of angels, trumpets, flames, thunder, lighting, earthquakes and catastrophes that shake heaven and earth.
In this museum, the key is in the eighth chapter: "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."
When Ukrainians translate "wormwood" into their own language it becomes "chernobyl."

Didn't see that one coming, right?

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CNN offers fine look at Prince the believer (while missing a key Jehovah's Witness belief)

CNN offers fine look at Prince the believer (while missing a key Jehovah's Witness belief)

It is perfectly normal for mainstream journalists to have to explain complicated subjects to their readers. It's part of the job.

At the moment, political reporters are trying to explain the differences between country-club Republicans, libertarian Republicans, neoconservative Republicans, Log Cabin Republicans, culturally conservative Republicans and Donald Trump. This is tough work. A few years ago I read a newspaper story that managed to explain the off-sides rule in soccer. Amazing!

But when it comes to stories that involve religious doctrine, journalists often stumble or punt. How many solid articles have you seen that explained the crucial doctrinal differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

This brings me to two news features about the final years of Prince, the time in which he retreated even further from public view after joining the Jehovah's Witnesses. CNN offered a fine piece, but omitted a crucial piece of doctrine at the heart of controversies about this religious movement, which many Christians consider a sect or even -- in doctrinal terms -- a cult. The Los Angeles Times, however, managed to give readers a short description of this doctrinal clash.

The CNN piece was quite solid in its fine details about the singer and the believers who knew him as another believer in their flock. Here is the overture:

(CNN) The world knew Prince as a pop star with a flamboyant, larger-than-life stage presence, overtly sexual songs and videos and gifted musical genius. But at the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, St. Louis Park congregation, Prince was just an understated man in a simple black suit.
"He was exceptionally shy," recalled congregation secretary Bruce McFarland.
Here they called him Brother Nelson and remember him slipping in after the opening song in the Sunday morning service, dutifully holding up his hand, clutching his Bible marked with post-it notes, patiently waiting his turn to discuss the Scripture.

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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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After the hate-cake blitz: It may be time for reporters to visit the Church of Open Doors

After the hate-cake blitz: It may be time for reporters to visit the Church of Open Doors

Let's pause, for a moment, and set aside in-depth discussions of Whole Foods security-camera footage and the strategic location of UPC labels.

Ditto for the zoomed-in analysis of high-definition photos that may show clashing colors in cake icing and the width of the letters on top of what is currently America's most controversial "Love Wins" cake.

There is also the irony that this story is unfolding in the people's republic of Austin, which is both the official capital of the state of Texas and the proudly weird Mecca of folks who want to live in Texas, without really living in Texas.

What I want to do is meditate, for a moment, on the difficulty of covering totally independent, nondenominational churches. During the blitz of hate-cake coverage yesterday, very few journalists paused to ask any questions about the Austin pastor at the center of this controversy and his "church plant," the Church of Open Doors.

One of the convenient things about covering large religious institutions, and religious denominations in particular, is that they offer reporters a chance to verify key facts when a minister and/or a congregation hits the headlines, for positive or negative reasons.

This basic reporting work is harder to do with independent congregations (and there are thousands of them and that number is rising all the time). Right now, it's clear that hardly anyone knows much of anything about the Rev. Jordan Brown and his flock. And let me ask again: Why do so many journalists decline to use the normal Associated Press style -- "the Rev." -- when dealing with African-American pastors?

There is Facebook, of course, where one can learn, in addition to the fact that 27 people have visited, that the church's slogan is: "We've taken tradition and religious doctrine and thrown them out the window."

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Washington Post follows trail of Donald Trump's charitable giving everywhere -- almost

Washington Post follows trail of Donald Trump's charitable giving everywhere -- almost

Frequent consumers of mainstream news may recall that Citizen Donald Trump traveled to Liberty University back in January to deliver one of his fire-from-the-hip speeches in his White House campaign. This was the Two Corinthians speech. It was all the rage in the news biz.

You may also recall that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., delivered a long, long, long introduction for Trump that left little if any doubt who he -- as opposed to his university -- would be endorsing in this race.

One of the major themes in this Falwell speech was that Trump the man is radically different than Trump the media figure. Falwell said this other Trump has hidden, even secret, virtues that would appeal to many Christian believers who might be turned off by his brash, super-confident, Playboy role model public image. In particular, Trump was reported to be a great family man who took his faith seriously and was quite generous to those in need.

One version of these Falwell's remarks -- as repeated on Fox News -- can be found at the end of a Washington Post essay -- "Missing from Trump’s list of charitable giving: His own personal cash" -- that is creating quite a bit of buzz.

“His limousine broke down one time, a couple stopped and helped him. He paid off their mortgage a few days later. These are all things that you never hear about Donald Trump,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said on Fox News’s “Hannity” in January. ...
In a telephone interview, Falwell, who has endorsed Trump, was asked: Did you ever ask Trump if that story was true?
“I never did,” Falwell said. “But, Trey, didn’t you search that on Google?”
“I didn’t,” his son Trey said. “But somebody did.”
“It was in some publication in 1995,” the elder Falwell concluded. “But I forget which publication.”

This is, in the Post piece, offered as another example of a popular American folk legend -- the tale of the "Grateful Millionaire."

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Yes, another God and football story: ESPN ignores Catholic faith in Harbaugh's life

Yes, another God and football story: ESPN ignores Catholic faith in Harbaugh's life

It is very easy to be cynical about a lot of the Godtalk that goes on in the world of sports.

You know what I'm talking about. There are a few players and coaches, not many, who really do think God is on their side and wants them to win games. Personally, I have noticed that the more devout players are -- meaning that they are actually active in faith groups week after week -- the more likely they are to say that their prayers focus on the well-being of other athletes and requests that they all play -- safely -- to the best of their abilities.

Take, for example, those prayer circles that form on the field after National Football League games (the ones the networks never show on television). They involve players from both teams -- together. What do you think they are praying about? Are the winners praying, "Dear God, thank you for giving us the power to kick these other losers' butts." Probably not.

Now, I bring all this up because of an interesting comment a reader made the other day on my post about Stephen Curry and his decision to leap from the Kingdom of Nike to the Under Armour brand. His new company, you may remember (click here to catch up on that), let him put some faith-centered material on his Curry-branded shoes. We're talking about the 4:13 and "I can do all things" references that point to Philippians 4:13, which states, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (KJV)." Thus, "BlueOntario" asked:

I wonder if you are on to something. What is driving the several stories documented here of ESPN avoiding "the religion angle?" Is there actually a top-down driven policy, probably never in writing, that states what the lines are regarding religion that ESPN stories can never cross?
Pattern or coincidence?

This brings me to a story that I have been thinking about for awhile, a piece -- yes, at ESPN -- focusing on Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and his unique approach to working in today's bottom-line-driven NFL culture.

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News trends in latest numbers from Italy: What is going to happen to all those churches?

News trends in latest numbers from Italy: What is going to happen to all those churches?

Several years ago, I had a chance to go to Italy for a quick first visit. The work I was there to do involved lots of churches, naturally, and riding around in a van that seemed to pass 100 churches for every church that we went in.

For two days, I kept thinking the same thing: In a land with a sinking birthrate of about 1.40 -- that number would be lower for non-immigrant populations -- who was going to be worshiping in all of these lovely sanctuaries? You know, the whole demographics (and doctrine) is destiny equation.

This led to another thought: If there were no people to worship in these buildings, then what (Hello P.D. James) was going to happen to these treasures?

So with that in mind, reporters in the audience, look at this amazing little Religion News Service story from the other day.

ROME (RNS) -- Italy may be the spiritual home of 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church around the world, but a new poll shows only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic.
The poll, published in the liberal daily L’Unita ... challenges long-held perceptions that Italy is a ”Catholic” country, despite the popularity of Pope Francis and the historic role of the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.

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ESPN's epic on Nike losing Steph Curry: Yes, that 4:13 Bible reference is part of the story

ESPN's epic on Nike losing Steph Curry: Yes, that 4:13 Bible reference is part of the story

The Golden State Warriors won another NBA game last night, which is not newsworthy in and of itself since the team has been winning at a 90-plus percent rate this year.

However, this was a tough road game against the Utah Jazz and this win makes it highly likely the Warriors -- with a string of home games ahead -- will break one of the most famous records in sports, the 72-10 season by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

Golden State is led, of course, by reigning MVP Stephen Curry, the baby-faced gunner whose long-range shooting is changing the balance of power in pro basketball. Clearly, The Stephen Curry Moment (click here for my take on the New York Times piece on that) is not over, as you can see by taking a quick trip to ESPN's "Nothin' But Steph" page.

As you would expect, Curry's commercial value is soaring along with his fame. This brings us to an amazing ESPN story -- "You won't believe how Nike lost Steph to Under Armour" -- that ran the other day about how, yes, the powerful, but lazy, gods of Nike basically shunned Curry as a client, with the young megastar jumping into the shoes of the under-dog Under Armour. This 5,000-plus word ESPN epic was so buzz-worthy that The Washington Post ran a story about the story.

GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn there was a religion angle in this story, one consistent with Curry's strong and very public Christian faith.

GetReligion readers will also be shocked, shocked (not) to learn that this angle is nowhere to be found in the ESPN piece. This is rather hard to do, in light of the fact that Curry has -- since arriving at Under Armour -- been allowed to use "Charged by Belief" as the motto for his brand. Another hint: You will find a "4:13" reference on the Curry shoes, but not in the ESPN feature. Hold that thought.

So how did Nike lose Curry as a client?

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