Digging into Islamophobia: CNN's award-winning religion editor does actual reporting

Digging into Islamophobia: CNN's award-winning religion editor does actual reporting

Islamophobia.

It's a term the news media (yes, I know they don't want to be called "the media," but I couldn't resist) seem to love.

Whereas here at GetReligion, stories on "Islamophobia" (scare quotes intentional) more often than not frustrate us. As we've mentioned before, too many of these reports follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism.

So what to make of CNN's new, in-depth piece on "The secret costs of Islamophobia" by religion editor Daniel Burke?

More on that question in a moment. But first, the opening scene:

(CNN) With Adele's song "All I Ask" playing in the background, a Maryland teenager opened her computer and wrote an emotional letter to President Barack Obama.
"I am an American, I grew up here. I say the Pledge of Allegiance every day," Aleena Khan told the President. "And yet, I am a Muslim."
Which one, she asked, is she allowed to be?
Aleena is 17, with a bright smile and dark hair that sweeps across her shoulders. Her mother is Indian-American, her father emigrated from Pakistan. Aleena and her two sisters have lived in Maryland their whole lives.
Last year, as part of an honors research project on identity crises among Muslim-American teenagers, Aleena spent hours online combing through public comments on news articles about Muslims. What she read shocked her.
"Kick them all out and put the rest in detainment camps. Enough with the PC feces," said one commenter.
"The only peaceful and moderate Muslims are the dead ones," said another.
The tweet from the man wearing military camouflage was the worst, Aleena said. "Hard to tell what we should build first. A border wall or a gas chamber for Muslims."

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The Wall Street Journal gets religion and aliens — in Los Angeles

The Wall Street Journal gets religion and aliens — in Los Angeles

This spring, the Wall Street Journal advertised for a Los Angeles-based religion reporter who'd not only cover the beat but pinch-hit on other stories. This pleased those of us who have wondered for years how one of America’s largest newspapers could neglect so huge a beat.

Since the early 1990s, the Journal’s religion coverage has been all over the map. At one point, the paper was running columns by one-time Journal religion reporter Gus Niebuhr down the left side of the front page. At other times, all you could find in its pages was a weekly freelance column called Houses of Worship. I wrote some religion pieces for the Journal from 2012-2014, most of which ended up in the entertainment blog.  

So I was glad to see this ad. I’m guessing the Journal’s religion+breaking news beat out of the L.A. bureau was actually started a year or two ago by Tamara Audi, whose talents were spotlighted last year by my colleague Bobby Ross Jr. When Audi was promoted earlier this year, the Journal wanted to retain the same beat composition. This summer, the paper hired Ian Lovett, a 2006 Amherst College graduate. After a short stint at the Beverly (Hills) Press, he got hired on the Los Angeles bureau of the New York Times as a junior reporter in 2010. Then the Journal hired him this summer. 

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After 75 years, evangelicals in science still debate Darwin, Bible and evolution

After 75 years, evangelicals in science still debate Darwin, Bible and evolution

This past July the annual conference of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of Christians in the sciences, offered a high-powered speaker lineup on the human brain and mind: Justin Barrett, director of the psychological science program at Fuller Theological Seminary; Audrey Bowden, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University; Edward Davis, historian of science at Messiah College; Douglas Lauffenburger, biological engineering professor at M.I.T.; William Newsome, director of Stanford’s Neurosciences Institute; and Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Roger Wiens.

The equally intriguing 2017 conference, July 28-31 at Colorado School of Mines, will focus on environmental science and -- yes –- “climate change.” And on Oct. 11 the organization will be marking the 75th anniversary of its founding with a banquet at Wheaton College in Illinois. The current issue of the ASA quarterly, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (check here), is devoted to the group’s history, and Colorado State University molecular biologist Terry Gray has posted a series of historical articles.

Full membership in ASA is restricted to persons with bachelor’s degrees or beyond in the sciences who affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and belief in “the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct.” Most are evangelical-type Protestants.

Though members’ interests range from chaos theory to entomology to the morality of fracking, the most heated debates usually swirl around Darwin, evolution, creation, the Book of Genesis, origin of the universe and of earthly species and, therefore, what it means to be human.

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Thinking outside the bricks: Sensitive Washington Post piece reports fate of empty church buildings

Thinking outside the bricks: Sensitive Washington Post piece reports fate of empty church buildings

Church rolls may drop, but the buildings don’t always fall to the wrecking ball -- some of them are converted to condos. That trend is the focus of a story in the Washington Post that is at once factual, thoughtful and sensitive.

The smoothly written piece is a massive 1,480 words, yet it reads rather fast. It gives us an overview of the situation across the nation's capital. It offers a few insights on how professionals convert church buildings. And it shows a soothing feel for the concerns of the people who had to leave their sacred spaces.

Church conversions are a kind of gentrification, but with a difference, as the Post points out.

"As churches’ congregations move to the suburbs and D.C. property values soar, increasing numbers of religious institutions are selling their properties in the city, usually with plans to move closer to their congregants," the paper says.  "But … some experts say that a church’s former life as a sacred space requires a particular kind of respect."

The Post gets into the expected issues of restoring a big building with neglected windows, plumbing and HVAC.  It deals also with how to divide up a big room that's built around a pulpit. But it's much more, says writer Amanda Abrams. 

A freelance writer who is not a religion specialist, Abrams might have well gotten caught up in those mundane details. But no, she recalls the reason for the buildings -- and so do her sources:

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New York Times explores Big Apple Sufism; it's real Islam, you see, only with big changes

New York Times explores Big Apple Sufism; it's real Islam, you see, only with big changes

There is much to compliment in the New York Times feature about one of the more mysterious and complex streams of Islam, a story that ran under the headline, "Sufi Sect of Islam Draws ‘Spiritual Vagabonds’ in New York."

The story clearly states, as fact, that many Muslims reject Sufism and it's willingness -- in some settings, at least -- to edit or mold Islam into forms that appeal to spiritual seekers in the early 21st Century, even in some of the edgier corners of New York City.

The the big idea of this piece is perfectly obvious, as stated in this summary statement well into this long story:

... For all its liberal trappings, Sufism cannot be detached from Islam. “Sufism isn’t just a label you wear; it’s a state of being,” said John Andrew Morrow, an Islam scholar and author. “You can’t pick and choose parts of Islam, and you can’t mislead sincere people, drawing them into Sufism without telling them this is fundamentally linked to Islam.”

That's the big question: Can you pick and choose?

The story does not hide the fact that people are, in fact, picking and choosing. There are clear elements of Islamic doctrine that have gone missing, as the Sufi converts in New York City have embraced this faith.

Again, the story does not hide this. In fact, it celebrates it.

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Houston, we have a problem in this stew of a story on a Baptist church's inclusiveness

Houston, we have a problem in this stew of a story on a Baptist church's inclusiveness

The Houston Chronicle had a big story on its front page Sunday on a Baptist church seeking ethnic inclusiveness.

At least I think that was the intended focus.

The problem is that this big story — more than 2,200 words — lacks a true focus.

Is this long-drawn-out piece about racial segregation on Sunday? Is it about the divisive debate over illegal immigration? Is it about conservative Republican politics among white evangelicals?

The Chronicle hopscotches all over the place, awkwardly tying hot topics to the church featured but never really connecting the dots in a cohesive way. 

Often, your GetReligionistas will complain that a story fails to explain where a particular scenario fits into the overall big picture. In this case, there's a whole lot of context — about immigration and Republican politics, for example — but not as much actual insight on the church. Instead of telling a story about the church, the Chronicle turns this report into a politically correct commentary on race and politics.

Let's start at the top:

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Weekend thinker: Yes, turns out we did need another study, more news on 'Nones'

Weekend thinker: Yes, turns out we did need another study, more news on 'Nones'

GetReligion readers: Please raise your hand if you have read a news report that discusses the "Nones."

OK, I imagine that this is 100 percent of you. I would think that 90-plus percent of you have read a piece in the past week or so that references, in some way, the Pew Forum's famous "Nones on the Rise" research. I would be hard pressed to name a religion-news related survey, during the past quarter century or more, that has received more coverage.

"Nones," of course, fits better in a headline than the term "religiously unaffiliated," meaning the rising number of Americans -- especially the young -- who say that they no longer affiliate with any particular religious organization, tradition or even heritage.

One of the big problems with that blast of data in 2012 is that many people see the term "None" and immediately think that it means "none," in terms of people having no religious beliefs at all or interest in their own solo, improvised, evolving version of spirituality. Yes, think Sheila and her tribe.

Personally, I think the religiously unaffiliated numbers are tremendously important and I've been following that trend -- reading scholar John C. Green and others -- for more than a decade.

We need more research on this, especially in terms of how it affects (1) marriage and family demographics and (2) which religious traditions rise and which ones fall. The bottom line: Demographics is destiny.

This brings me to a recent Religion News Service feature that I think needs to stand on its own as a weekend think piece, pointing readers toward a new study building on all of those Pew numbers. Yes, the political spin is justified. Here's how this piece opens:

(RNS) A quarter of U.S. adults do not affiliate with any religion, a new study shows — an all-time high in a nation where large swaths of Americans are losing faith.

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Man, that's a tough question: Why isn't this football coach working on Sundays?

Man, that's a tough question: Why isn't this football coach working on Sundays?

College football Saturdays are back, so let's stop and ponder a journalism mystery linked to the new football coaching regime at the University of Virginia.

The feature at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville is pretty direct, starting with the headline: "Part of the Bronco way is no work on Sunday."

Bronco is not a reference to a mascot, in Wahoo land, but to the school's new head coach -- Bronco Mendenhall. Things are not off to a good start there, so times are a bit tense. Here is the overture:

The day after Virginia’s season-opening loss to Richmond, Ruffin McNeill, the team’s associate head coach and defensive line coach, did what he’s always done. He got up and went to work Sunday morning.
Problem was, when McNeill reached the McCue Center, home of Wahoo football, nobody was there. He went home, came back later, and nobody was there.
Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall told everyone in the program that his philosophy has always been to take Sunday off during the season, and come back refreshed on Monday. McNeill didn’t believe it.
“Coach Ruff went back home and told his wife Erlene, they’re really not there,” Mendenhall chuckled during his weekly press conference on Monday. “He thought the BYU staff was just tricking him.”

So, gentle readers, why does this particular head coach not work on Sundays?

Did you catch that passing reference to "BYU"?

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What does death feel like? The Atlantic gives readers some faith-free answers

What does death feel like? The Atlantic gives readers some faith-free answers

The come-hither title “What It Feels Like to Die” admittedly drew my eyes to the top paragraph of this Atlantic article. Why? I had watched my father slowly die over a period of weeks this past June and it was quite eye-opening (and depressing) watching him slowly shut down. When he even lost interest in his beloved cats,  I knew the end was near.

As the article relates, dying people are in another world weeks before the final moments and they’re not talking about it much with us. Many sense a summons to pack it up here for the big move to the Beyond. As I read through the piece, however, I noticed a gap.

“Do you want to know what will happen as your body starts shutting down?”
My mother and I sat across from the hospice nurse in my parents’ Colorado home. It was 2005, and my mother had reached the end of treatments for metastatic breast cancer. A month or two earlier, she’d been able to take the dog for daily walks in the mountains and travel to Australia with my father. Now, she was weak, exhausted from the disease and chemotherapy and pain medication.  
My mother had been the one to decide, with her doctor’s blessing, to stop pursuing the dwindling chemo options, and she had been the one to ask her doctor to call hospice. Still, we weren’t prepared for the nurse’s question. My mother and I exchanged glances, a little shocked. But what we felt most was a sense of relief.
During six-and-a-half years of treatment, although my mother saw two general practitioners, six oncologists, a cardiologist, several radiation technicians, nurses at two chemotherapy facilities, and surgeons at three different clinics—not once, to my knowledge, had anyone talked to her about what would happen as she died.
There’s good reason. “Roughly from the last two weeks until the last breath, somewhere in that interval, people become too sick, or too drowsy, or too unconscious, to tell us what they’re experiencing,” says Margaret Campbell, a professor of nursing at Wayne State University who has worked in palliative care for decades.

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