Religion on the range: One reporter goes the extra miles to cover faith in Billings, Montana

Religion on the range: One reporter goes the extra miles to cover faith in Billings, Montana

I have a lot of sympathy for folks who work on small newspapers in out-of-the-way states.

Back, when I spent a year in northwestern New Mexico back in 1994-1995, I was the only full-time journalist in the state trying to cover the beat. I was also the city editor of my newspaper, so there wasn’t a lot of free time. Yet, I pulled in a Cassells award the following year for the little I was able to do in a market of that size.

Montana, at half the population of New Mexico, has some similarities: Large, open spaces, beautiful vistas, large populations of Native Americans and small newspapers. The Billings Gazette, at 45,000 circ., is the state’s second largest newspaper after the Missoulian to the west.

One thing the Gazette has that no other newspaper in the state does is a religion reporter.

I’ve never met Susan Olp, but she’s covered religion for more than 20 years for the Gazette in the state’s largest city. She’s committed enough to the beat that she visited Israel in 2011 courtesy of a Lilly scholarship. And she must know -- as I learned in my isolated post in New Mexico -- that religion stories don’t always come knocking at your door. You have to go looking for them.

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Journalists: What do emotions have to do with spirituality? Dalai Lama says a great deal

Journalists: What do emotions have to do with spirituality? Dalai Lama says a great deal

Still not sure about the whole spiritual-but-not-religious-thing?

Fuzzy on how someone can claim to have a transcendent worldview while insisting that organized religion is just not their bag?

Then this recent piece from The New York Times may be of help.

The story details a project backed by global Buddhism's unofficial exemplar, the Dalai Lama. The "simple monk" -- as the Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and all-around pop culture icon of inner-peace and outer-calm often refers to himself -- is the force behind the ambitious Atlas of Emotions.

The project is an attempt to explain the panoply of human emotions and their influence on human actions using the language of Western transpersonal psychology (Full disclosure: In the late 1970s I was a media liaison in India for the International Transpersonal Association.)

The Dali Lama's hope is "to help turn secular audiences into more self-aware, compassionate humans," as the Times article put it.

Here's how the Atlas explains itself:

This Atlas was created to increase understanding of how emotions influence our lives, giving us choice, (at least some of the time) about which emotion we are experiencing, and how our emotions influence what we say and do. While emotions are central to our lives – providing the joy, alerting us to threats, a force for change, a warning against what is toxic, and calling to others for help – we don’t choose what to feel or when to feel it. The Atlas of Emotions was created to give us more awareness of our emotions, and sometimes even some choice about what we are feeling, through better understanding of how emotions work.

The combination of deep self-awareness, emotional self-management as an essential life skill, and compassionate action to a grok degree is as an encompassing definition of the spiritual-but-not-religious (hereafter SBNR) ideal as I've heard.

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Jimmy Carter talks Baptists and racism, but SOUTHERN Baptists missing from the conversation (Updated)

Jimmy Carter talks Baptists and racism, but SOUTHERN Baptists missing from the conversation (Updated)

When a former president talks, we journalists listen.

That's part of why Jimmy Carter still makes headlines 35 years after he left the Oval Office. The other part is, of course, how active he remains. The Atlantic wrote in 2012 about "The Record-Setting Ex-Presidency of Jimmy Carter."

Today's Carter-related news involves the longtime Sunday school teacher's plans for a conference promoting racial unity among Baptists, as reported by the New York Times:

Former President Jimmy Carter, who has long put religion and racial reconciliation at the center of his life, is on a mission to heal a racial divide among Baptists and help the country soothe rifts that he believes are getting worse.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Carter spoke of a resurgence of open racism, saying, “I don’t feel good, except for one thing: I think the country has been reawakened the last two or three years to the fact that we haven’t resolved the race issue adequately.”
He said that Republican animosity toward President Obama had “a heavy racial overtone” and that Donald J. Trump’s surprisingly successful campaign for president had “tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism.”
Mr. Carter conducted telephone interviews to call attention to a summit meeting he plans to hold in Atlanta this fall to bring together white, black, Hispanic and Asian Baptists to work on issues of race and social inequality. Mr. Carter began the effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, in 2007, but it has taken root in only a few cities. The initiative is expanding to enlist Baptist congregations across the country to unite across racial lines.

Later in the Times story, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, enters the discussion:

He pointed out that the evangelicals in the Southern Baptist Convention had aligned themselves with the Republican Party and organized the Moral Majority, a conservative Christian political group, only in the late 1970s, while he was president. Mr. Carter announced that he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, after the denomination solidified its turn to the right and declared that it would not accept women as pastors.

But what's missing from the story? That would be Southern Baptists. 

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RNS focuses on concerns of African Methodists (minus the voices of their critics on left)

RNS focuses on concerns of African Methodists (minus the voices of their critics on left)

While doctrinal fights over sexuality keep grabbing the headlines, anyone who follows United Methodist affairs knows that the real news in this denomination, like so many others, centers on issues of demographics and geography.

While the number of baptisms and conversions sink in America, accompanied by a rapid graying of the surviving people in the pews, the ranks of new Methodists are growing in the lands of the Global South. Since the denomination's General Conferences are global in nature, this means that United Methodists around the world are gaining power, while the Americans slowly fade.

As a rule, journalists covering conflicts inside the United Methodist Church have explained the basic facts of this mechanism. At the 2016 gatherings, most of the weight was carried by Religion News Service, the rare mainstream newsroom that -- in these hard times for journalists -- had a reporter on site.

As things came to a close in Portland, RNS offered a long, interesting news feature that looked at recent events through a global lens, with this headline: "African Methodists worry about the church that brought them Christianity."

I am sure that conservative United Methodists, here in America and abroad, found much to applaud in this piece. However, this was the rare case in which a mainstream newsroom produced a story that had large hole in its content -- on the doctrinal left. While the Africans were allowed to speak, RNS did little to let readers hear the voices of their First World critics.

Does this matter? Yes, it does, because that is where the action is right now.

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Think piece: Has anyone at an Orthodox parish near you heard of St. Moses the Black?

Think piece: Has anyone at an Orthodox parish near you heard of St. Moses the Black?

Every liturgical year, hours after the great feast of Pascha, Eastern Orthodox Christians gather for a unique service called the Agape Vespers -- during which passages from St. John's Gospel are read in as many languages as possible (based on the membership of the parish).

In this highly multi-ethnic Communion, it is common for churches to have readings in six or seven languages. At my family's parish in the Baltimore-D.C. area -- Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, MD. -- we used to hit 16 or more on a rather regular basis.

What's the point? Theologically speaking, The Big Idea is that the church must always remember to proclaim the Gospel to as many people and cultures as possible. In the Orthodox context here in America, it's a regular reminder that the borders of Orthodoxy are not defined by the language and culture of the Old Country (think Greece or Russia), or by the language and culture of the new (think converts here in North America).

Truth is (attention reporters and editors) many, many seeker-friendly Orthodox parishes are becoming quite diverse, when it comes to ethnicity and even languages.

This brings me to an interesting, and quite straightforward, "Have Faith" feature at The Daily Beast that ran the other day. Here was the info-driven, sprawling headline:

The Brotherhood of Moses the Black
It may come as a shock to some, but one surprising religion is making serious inroads into the African-American community.

And here is the feature's overture:

When Karl Berry walked into an Orthodox Church for the first time in 1983, he saw icons of black saints.

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Atheism studies: New York Times scores scoop on a planned program at University of Miami

Atheism studies: New York Times scores scoop on a planned program at University of Miami

If there is a God, he must be smiling on the New York Times.

The newspaper beat everyone else in announcing a planned chair for the study of atheism at the University of Miami -- said to be the first in the nation.

The 1,000-word article suffers, however, from a lack of secular-style skepticism. But let's look at the good stuff first:

With an increasing number of Americans leaving religion behind, the University of Miami received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair "for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics."
The chair has been established after years of discussion with a $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani, a retired businessman and former president and chairman of the modeling school Barbizon International, who has given grants to many humanist and secular causes -- though this is his largest so far. The university, which has not yet publicly announced the new chair, will appoint a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for a scholar to fill the position.
"I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists," said Mr. Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. "So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate."

The article notes a rise of interest in atheism, including conferences, courses and even a journal -- and names names, like the American Humanist Association and Pitzer College's "Secularism and Skepticism" class. Another coup is a phone talk with uber-atheist Richard Dawkins in Britain.

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Sexual assault debates: Journalists weigh in on 'licked cupcakes' at Brigham Young

Sexual assault debates: Journalists weigh in on 'licked cupcakes' at Brigham Young

No college is more averse to bad publicity than a religious school because of its heavy dependence of like-minded donors and the pressure to keep up the appearance of defending the faith. Which is why the recent contretemps about Brigham Young University’s honor code policy and campus rape victims is making the rounds in the mainstream news media.

An honor code -- or lifestyle/doctrinal covenant -- is a set of behaviors a student agrees to before enrolling. At BYU, they include everything from extramarital sex to wearing sleeveless blouses.

Let’s start with how the latest article on the controversy –- from the Los Angeles Times -- handled it:

Madeline MacDonald was a freshman at Brigham Young University when a casual date turned into what she said was a sexual assault.
The Seattle 19-year-old had met a man through the online dating site Tinder. He said he was Mormon, which put MacDonald at ease, and she agreed to meet him for hot chocolate.
They never made it to a cafe, though. Instead, the man drove her up into the mountains, and there, she says, he molested her.
Campus officials opened a sexual assault investigation. But they also opened an inquiry to determine whether MacDonald had violated the private Mormon university’s honor code, which requires that students adhere to the school’s strict rules for proper behavior -- no swearing, coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol or premarital sex.

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And in the end, the #hatecake hoax failed to go viral (So what about the pastor's church?)

And in the end, the #hatecake hoax failed to go viral (So what about the pastor's church?)

So, for those of you who keep sending me links: Yes, I heard that the Rev. Jordan Brown of Austin recently announced that his #hatecake lawsuit against Whole Foods was a hoax.

Well, that wasn't exactly what he said. Hold that thought.

Now, I will admit that I didn't see that hoax story when it went viral on social media -- because it didn't go viral on social media (like the earlier story in which Brown made his accusations). This lack of social-media activity is one of two angles in the story that still interest me.

Wait, maybe this story didn't trend on Facebook the second time around because. ... Oh well, nevermind.

Looking at the small amount of coverage this story received, the Austin American-Statesman report was rather interesting because of what it didn't come right out and say. Take that headline for example: "Pastor to drop lawsuit against Whole Foods over anti-gay slur on cake."

So why is he dropping his lawsuit?

The man who accused Whole Foods Market of writing a homophobic slur on a cake will drop a lawsuit against the grocery chain.

“The company did nothing wrong,” Jordan Brown, a pastor of a small Austin church, said in a statement. “I was wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story.”

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That getting religion thing: 'Religion and the Media' group launched in British parliament

That getting religion thing: 'Religion and the Media' group launched in British parliament

If you have followed GetReligion very long then you are probably aware that questions are also be asked on the other side of the Atlantic about the fact that a high percentage of mainstream journalists just don't understand the basic facts about many religious news events and trends.

In England, a group called Lapido Media is at the heart of most of these "getting religion" discussions. It's work in the field of media literacy has been mentioned quite a bit here at GetReligion in the past.

Now the discussion has moved a notch or two higher, according to a recent notice posted online. To make a long story short, we're talking about the launch of a new "All Party Parliamentary Group on Religion and the Media."

Brainchild of Yasmine Qureshi, Pakistan-born MP for Bolton South East, and moderated by Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, it is part of a range of responses to the Living with Difference Report (.pdf here) published earlier this year by the Woolf Institute’s Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life in Britain.

The theme of an initial round-table discussion was "Is there a perceived lack of religious literacy in the media?" The speaker was a friend of this blog, Lapido Media founder Dr Jenny Taylor.

You can click here to get a .pdf document of her remarks. Please do so. But here is a short taste:

I speak as a journalist who trained with the Yorkshire Post and has worked in news all her life except for the five years of my doctorate which was completed in 2001, before 9/11.
For sure the media has a problem with religion. After all, as Bernard Levin famously quipped: "Vicars rhymes with knickers.’ It’s difficult to take seriously."
It was not until my own eyes became religiously attuned that I realized the West had become a menace to the whole world because of its secularist blinkers.

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