WPost ponders mysterious secular surge in support for U.S. action against ISIS

WPost ponders mysterious secular surge in support for U.S. action against ISIS

Faithful readers of this blog over the past decade or so will know that your GetReligionistas rarely write about the contents of mainstream news blogs or op-ed page columns, even as the line between news coverage and commentary continues to blur.

However, every now and then someone writes a piece that is highly relevant to work on the religion-news beat or offers a fresh insight into how mainstream journalists are covering an important religion event or trend. This brings me to a new piece in "The Fix," the self-proclaimed "top political blog" at The Washington Post.

In this case, the headline states the issue facing political writer Aaron Blake:

Americans strongly opposed airstrikes in Syria last time. Why would it be different now?

So what has happened in, oh, the past year or so in this region -- Iraq and Syria -- that may have changed the minds of many Americans? 

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Faith and gambling: Story exploring one city's 'false god with a small g' hits the jackpot

Faith and gambling: Story exploring one city's 'false god with a small g' hits the jackpot

A few years, I covered a meeting of preachers in Las Vegas and wrote a story titled "Saving Sin City." 

In reporting that piece, I was fascinated by how local church leaders and members approached the all-encompassing gambling industry in their home city.

I was reminded of that story when I read a front-page Philadelphia Inquirer report this week on clergy members supporting casino workers about to lose their jobs in Atlantic City, N.J. 

The newsy lede:

ATLANTIC CITY — When gambling was being proposed for Atlantic City 38 years ago, most religious denominations opposed casinos. They viewed gambling as a vice that could destroy families and communities.
Now, many of the same churches are standing firmly by the casino workers, a number of whom fill their pews on Sundays, who are expected to lose their jobs in massive numbers, starting Labor Day weekend with the closure of the Showboat and Revel.
Many houses of worship are offering counseling for the affected workers, increased food pantry hours, or just someone to pray with.
"There are going to be a lot of people hurting," said John R. Schol, bishop of the United Methodist Church Greater New Jersey Conference, based in Ocean Township, which has 572 member churches. "No matter what industry, we want to be there to support them."

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Slain U.S. journalist James Foley was 'living his faith,' and the media take notice

Slain U.S. journalist James Foley was 'living his faith,' and the media take notice

In our post last week on slain American journalist James Foley, we highlighted a letter he wrote describing how prayer helped sustain him during a previous captivity.

We noted that most initial news reports ignored Foley's religious background — with the major exception of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In recent days, though, Foley's faith has received quite a bit of attention.

Daniel Burke of CNN's "Belief Blog" had an insightful piece contrasting Foley's beliefs with those of the radical Islamic militant group that executed him:

The ISIS militant, a man with an apparent British accent, said that Foley’s murder was payback for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq. On Monday, President Barack Obama said the American operation has helped drive ISIS from strategic cities and infrastructure in northern Iraq, which apparently angered the Muslim militants.
“Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny Muslims liberty and safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” the ISIS militant said in the video.
The man in orange, kneeling. The man in black, wielding a knife. One asked God to cross the “cosmic reach of the universe” and soothe his family. The other claimed to kill in the "name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful."
Admittedly, we know relatively little about Foley's faith and even less about the ISIS militant in black. But the contrast between the two religious paths — one led a journalist to cover conflicts, the other a jihadist to create them — is jarring.

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Who is in charge of judging Mark Driscoll, other than The New York Times?

Who is in charge of judging Mark Driscoll, other than The New York Times?

As the story of Mars Hill Church and the Rev. Mark Driscoll continues to unfold, I want to flash back to the very important New York Times story that yanked this drama onto the national front burner (other than for evangelical insiders).

This story was quite good, with few examples of usual jarring advocacy language pointing readers toward the progressive social doctrines advocated by the Times. In particular, note that this story often featured the views of conservative Christians who are now critical of Driscoll's leadership style and some of the actions that may or may not have grown out of it. Even though this story travels into moral and cultural issues, there are very few traces of "Kellerism" in it.

However, this report does have one major problem, from my point of view. It is clear that Driscoll is facing the judgment of evangelical Protestant leaders from coast to coast. However, the story never really states the degree to which Mars Hill Church is, itself, an independent body that has few ties binding it to any denomination or tradition.

In other words, if Mars Hill is a kind of mini-denomination of its own, who has the legal, as well as the doctrinal, right to investigate and then pass judgment on its founder?

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Yes, a religion 'ghost' haunts NYTimes feature on Michael Brown Jr.

Yes, a religion 'ghost' haunts NYTimes feature on Michael Brown Jr.

The New York Times produced a long profile on Michael Brown Jr., the young black man shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo. It's a deep, sensitive, nuanced piece -- except, unfortunately, for you-know-what.

The story opens with a tantalizing "ghost": a spiritual experience by Brown, who was laid to rest on Monday:

FERGUSON, Mo. — It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.

“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”

And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.

In the weeks afterward, until his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, they detected a change in him as he spoke seriously about religion and the Bible. He was grappling with life’s mysteries.

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That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

Christmas has come early for the Australian press. The case of Gammy, the child born with Down syndrome to a surrogate Thai mother on behalf of an Australian couple, is everything an editor would desire during the dull news days of August.

This gift keeps on giving.

A very bad thing has happened. The press knows it. We readers know it. 

Yet no one appears to have explained why this is wrong. Is this another example of viewing the world from an Anglo-American mindset?  Or are there universal values and ethical considerations that do not need to be explained?

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Baltimore Sun covers prayer rite for Iraq, without noticing absence of Eastern churches?

Baltimore Sun covers prayer rite for Iraq, without noticing absence of Eastern churches?

If you have been looking at the big picture in Iraq and Syria, you know that one of the key elements of the Islamic State's rise to power has been its horrific persecution -- slaughter, even -- of the religious minorities caught in its path, as well as Muslims who disagree with the ISIS view of the faith and the need for a new caliphate. 

All of that is horrible and needs continuing coverage. However, the crushing of the ancient churches located in the Nineveh Plain region is a truly historic development, a fact that has begun to bleed into the mainstream-news coverage.

Many religious leaders are concerned and are crying out (click here for New York Times op-ed by major Jewish leader) for someone to do something to help the churches of the East, who have worshipped at now-crushed altars in their homelands since the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Needless to say, I was not surprised to pick up The Baltimore Sun and see a front-page feature on a major interfaith prayer service addressing this crisis. Alas, I was also not surprised to see a huge, glaring hole in this report.

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With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

The Mirror  interviews an ISIS jihadi -- believed to be connected to those who killed photographer James Foley -- and reminds us all of the appeal of Fleet Street newpapers. The article also shows the risks of ignoring religious statements.

First, the achievement. The Mirror  took an audacious step in publishing the interview -- apparently a text-based conversation via an "obscure messaging app" -- with an avowed jihadi inside Syria. If true -- and it would be tough for others to verify -- the story is a 1,000-plus-word look into the mind of a man who would chop off another's head.

The man is named as Abu Abduallah al-Britani, one of the so-called "Beatles," a trio of British men who left the U.K. to join the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria. And The Mirror gets max mileage out of it -- right from the headline, " 'I’m ready to behead next enemy': Chilling message from Briton willing to kill for jihad."

In true Fleet Street style, the article is peppered with sensational adjectives like "fanatic," "warped," "horrific" and ...

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Ice scream: Boston.com unleashes snark vs. Catholics & others opposing 'Bucket Challenge'

Ice scream: Boston.com unleashes snark vs. Catholics & others opposing 'Bucket Challenge'

Occasionally it happens that a mainstream news organization publishes a story so blatantly biased that it seems incredible it should appear under the label of "news" rather than "commentary." That, I am afraid, is the case with a Boston.com piece on Catholics and others who refuse to support the ALS Association's "Ice Bucket Challenge" because it funds embryonic stem-cell research.

The headline of the article by Boston.com staff reporter Sara Morrison (who calls herself a "noted Internet snark woman")  says it all: "There’s a New Anti-ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge." Normally, your GetReligionistas don't call out reporters by name, but this case is rather obvious.

Right away, according to Boston.com (an online subsidiary of the Boston Globe), the pro-lifers who oppose the viral fund-raising campaign are painted as an "anti-ALS Association" -- as though they were not only against destroying embryos, but were even against the association's mission of curing ALS.

Am I exaggerating? You tell me whether the story's first few paragraphs paint pro-lifers as cold and heartless:

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