Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

A constant commandment for journalists is to “assess thy sources.”

The running debate on “what is an evangelical,” so pertinent for newswriters during this presidential campaign, involves “who speaks for evangelicals” and consequently “who speaks for the Southern Baptist Convention”? The sprawling SBC is by far this category’s  largest U.S. denomination, with 15.5 million members, 46,000 congregations, and $11 billion in annual receipts.

As noted by Jonathan Merritt in Religion News Service, the issue has been pursued with a vengeance by Will Hall, the new editor of the state Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana. Hall targets as unrepresentative the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and its president since 2013, the Rev. Russell D. Moore, 44, who’s the Southern Baptists’ prime spokesman on moral and social issues in the public sphere.

An editorial by Hall charged that Moore’s dislike for presidential candidate Donald Trump in particular “goes beyond the pale, translating into disrespect and even contempt for any Christian who might weigh these considerations differently” while Moore otherwise “has shown apparent disdain for traditional Southern Baptists.”

Moore is certainly outspoken about Trump. In a New York Times op-ed last Sept. 17, he said evangelicals and other social conservatives who back the billionaire “must repudiate everything they believe.”  He joined the 22 essayists in the “Against Trump” package in the Feb. 15National Review. Moore said with Trump, “sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power” that religious conservatives should view as “decadent and deviant.”

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Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

In the midst of humdrum life here and entranced as we were by Lady Gaga’s stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening of the Super Bowl, we often forget how the other half lives many time zones away.

A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times reminded us of a place where schools are a death trap and the martyrs tend to be in their teens.

What Malala Yousafzai went through in 2012 is something other kids are still living through. Every now and then, this madness makes headlines.

On Jan. 20, the Taliban did a raid at a university in Charsadda, northwest Pakistan, that left 21 people, mostly students, dead. It’s hard to imagine the depth of insanity that propels grown men to mow down defenseless girls and boys, but that’s life today in that tense, often splintered, Islamic republic.

The Times reminded us that the security crisis in Pakistan is not going away and how schools and universities are “soft targets” for the Taliban, which strikes at will.

So, how do you keep reporting on a place where massacre follows massacre?

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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?
"No."
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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About that church girl on The Voice: Might faith have something to do with her music?

About that church girl on The Voice: Might faith have something to do with her music?

Anyone who follows GetReligion knows that I am really into music of just about every kind (basically everything except opera and pop-country). I have never, however, been a fan of the whole world of reality TV.

So you put the two together -- pop music and reality TV -- and I would much rather cue up something from my massive Doctor Who library.

However, I do live in East Tennessee and was pretty hard not to notice, in the newspapers at least, when a show like The Voice got down to the final two singers and both of them were from here in the Hills. The winner of season nine was Jordan Smith, from down the valley at Lee University, and the runner-up was a young woman from Knoxville named Emily Ann Roberts.

Now, if you follow those polls to determine America's most religious or "Bible-minded" cities, then you know that Knoxville is not exactly Portland, either Maine or Oregon. Thus, it didn't take a doctorate in sociology to figure out that, here in Dolly Parton territory, young Roberts has spent some time singing in church.

This showed up -- in the vaguest possible terms -- in a recent Knoxville News-Sentinel update on her life and work after the finale of The Voice.

This was not a hard puzzle to figure out, folks. Let's start right at the opening:

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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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Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

The Zika virus is all over the news, right now, so it isn't surprising that journalists are looking for other news stories they can connect to it.

This past week, I received several notes from readers about the following Washington Post "Inspired Life" feature. One came with the traditional trigger warning: "Have tissues ready."

The reader could have added this warning: "Prepare to read about a powerful human drama that is haunted by a religion ghost." The headline: "What this amazing mom of two girls with microcephaly has to say about Zika scare." Here is the classic feature-story overture:

Gwen Hartley’s 19-week sonogram was normal. Her baby girl, her second child, was going to complete her storybook life. She’d married her high school sweetheart, they already had a healthy son, a house and a dog.
When Claire was born, Hartley looked adoringly into her daughter’s big eyes and remembered thinking that she’d forgotten how tiny a newborn’s head was. Then the doctors whisked her baby away. Something was wrong. Something that couldn’t be fixed.

After a series of misdiagnoses, the Hartleys, of Kansas, were told Claire had microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes babies to have extremely small heads and brains, and, in her case, made it unlikely she would live beyond a year. Almost five years later, Claire was defying the odds and, although she couldn’t speak or walk or even sit upright, she was a happy and vibrant child. The Hartleys felt ready to get pregnant again.

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More insight, less bias needed in media coverage of crosses on Texas police cars

More insight, less bias needed in media coverage of crosses on Texas police cars

Some Texas newspaper reports on Gov. Greg Abbott supporting the display of crosses on police cars have been pretty sketchy.

Sketchy as in half there.

Sketchy as in incomplete.

Sketchy as in, well, you know?

Take The Dallas Morning News, for example:

AUSTIN -- After saying ‘In God We Trust’ could be displayed on cop cars last year, Gov. Greg Abbott has now also come out in support of displaying the cross on patrol vehicles.
In a brief sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott wrote that the crosses met the muster of separation of church and state.
“Even under the U.S. Supreme Court’s expansive interpretation of the Establishment Clause’s limited and unambiguous text, the Court has never held that public officials are barred from acknowledging our religious heritage,” Abbott wrote in his brief. “To the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the demographic and historical reality that Americans ‘are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’”
The brief is in response to some controversy surrounding the Brewster County Sheriff’s office, which recently allowed its officers to put bumper stickers of the cross on the back of patrol vehicles. Abbott has already spoken in support of the Brewster County Sheriff.
“The Brewster County deputies’ crosses neither establish a religion nor threaten any person’s ability to worship God, or decline to worship God, in his own way,” Abbott wrote in his brief to Paxton.

From there, the Dallas newspaper provides scathing quotes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, both condemning the governor's brief.

And that's it.

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Christian history flashback: What’s the legacy of the Jesus Movement 45 years later?

Christian history flashback: What’s the legacy of the Jesus Movement 45 years later?

JOSH’S QUERY:

[Referring to Time magazine's 1971 cover story on the youthful "Jesus Revolution"]  A lot has happened since then -- culturally, religiously, movement-wise -- and I’d be fascinated to see you revisit your journalistic and theological mind.

THE RELIGION GUY’S RESPONSE:

This interests Josh because his parents were members of Love Inn, which typified the youth-driven “Jesus Movement” of those days. It was a combination church, commune, Christian rock venue and traveling troupe, based in a barn near the aptly named Freeville, New York (population 500).

As a “Time” correspondent, the Religion Guy figured this revival, which was hiding in plain sight, was well worth a cover story, managed to convince reluctant editors to proceed, and did much of the field reporting including a visit to Love Inn. Arguably, that article -- by the Guy’s talented predecessor as “Time” religion writer, lay Catholic Mayo Mohs -- put the “Jesus freaks” permanently on the cultural map.

The following can only sketch mere strands of a complex phenomenon and offers as much theorizing as hard fact. For some of the history, the Guy is indebted to the valuable “Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism” by Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College.

Quick summary: The Jesus Movement developed pre-existing phenomena into a youth wing that energized and reshaped U.S. evangelical Protestantism as a whole. This occurred just as evangelicalism was clearly emerging as the largest segment of American religion while beginning in the mid-1960s moderate to liberal “mainline” Protestant groups began inexorable decline.

The Jesus Movement was related to and influenced by the “Charismatic Movement,” which first reached public notice around 1960. This wave took a loosened version of Pentecostal spirituality into “mainline” Protestant and Catholic settings and, especially, newer and wholly independent congregations, along with free-floating gatherings akin to the secular Woodstock (August, 1969).

Early “street Christians” clustered around hot spots such as the Living Room in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, the Christian World Liberation Front adjacent to the University of California at Berkeley, Seattle’s Jesus People Army, and His Place on the Sunset Strip (led by Arthur Blessitt who later evangelized his way across the nation pulling an outsize wheeled cross).

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