One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

Do you remember that old journalism parable, the one about the cynical poster that is supposedly hanging in a wire-service newsroom somewhere?

The poster, supposedly, explains how the U.S. press covers disasters, in terms of the number of deaths. To be blunt: 1,000 people dead in Afghanistan equals 500 dead in Egypt, which equals 250 dead in Mexico, which equals 100 dead in Japan, which equals 50 dead in France, which equals 25 dead in Canada, which equals 10 dead in Texas, which equals one celebrity/politician dead in Hollywood or Washington, D.C. Or words to that effect.

So why is the death of one Catholic priest at an altar in rural France so symbolic? Why were we still talking about Father Jacques Hamel on this week's Crossroads podcast? (Click here to tune that in.)

I thought of that when I read this summary material in an interesting report at FoxNews.com:

In 2015, more than 2,000 Christian churches in Africa were attacked by terrorists, and more than 7,000 Christians were killed, according to the advocacy group Open Doors USA. Those figures show terrorist groups like ISIS, which claimed credit for Tuesday's attack, as well as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, will not hesitate to kill inside a house of worship.
"News of the murdered priest in Normandy has shaken many to the core,” David Curry, president and CEO of Christian Watchdog group Open Doors USA told FoxNews.com. “While in Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every Sunday, this is the first documented case of Western Christians being attacked by ISIS during a worship service."

Five churches attacked every Sunday. In Africa, that would include Catholics, but also Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostal believers and others. The story notes that, in 2015 alone, 2,400-plus Christian churches were struck by terrorists in Africa. Yes, many of those attacks were by forces aligned with Boko Haram and, thus, the wider Islamic State.

That's a lot of desecrated churches. There must be thousands of victims and eyewitnesses to these scenes of hellish violence. Are we hearing those voices in our newspapers and on our 24/7 digital screens? Are we seeing those images?

Not very often. Yet the death of Father Hamel is part of that ongoing story around the world. That's story No. 2. for those with the eyes to see.

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Journalism f-word alert: New York Times serves up classic hit piece with Tim LaHaye obit

Journalism f-word alert: New York Times serves up classic hit piece with Tim LaHaye obit

You may have heard of hit pieces, which is journalism aimed at taking a person down. Here is a hit obituary -- The New York Times’ article on the passing of evangelical superstar Tim LaHaye.

Check out the headline: "Tim LaHaye dies at 90; fundamentalist leader’s grisly novels sold millions." That gives you an idea of where this article is headed.

Now tmatt has, through the years, written time and time again urging journalists to heed the advice of the Associated Press Stylebook and to avoid most uses of that particular f-word, along with Mollie Hemingway and others in the GetReligion pantheon.

Now, it is certainly true that LaHaye went to Bob Jones University, a campus that has long embraced the "fundamentalist" label, but he also led a Southern Baptist church and most members of America’s largest non-Catholic Christian denomination would never call themselves fundamentalists. Also, his audience as a writer and speaker was much larger than the "fundamentalist" niche.

Guess the Times didn't get that memo. Here’s how the piece starts:

The Rev. Tim LaHaye, a leader of the Christian fundamentalist movement and co-author of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic novels prophesying mass slaughters and the end of the world, died on Monday in a San Diego area hospital. He was 90.
His death, days after he had a stroke, was announced on the website for his Tim LaHaye Ministries.
In an age of seemingly endless natural and man-made disasters, the action-packed tales by Dr. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins struck readers as all too realistic, even if they were based on biblical accounts of the Second Coming, the appearance of an Antichrist and multitudes leaving a calamitous dying world for heaven.

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Catholic Church in Poland: 'Powerful' and 'conservative,' except when it isn’t

Catholic Church in Poland: 'Powerful' and 'conservative,' except when it isn’t

World Youth Day is under way in Poland, with up to 1.5 million expected at the main events. American news readers, of course, have learned to expect something else on such occasions: a long, ponderous look at church and state by the New York Times.

And the Gray Lady comes through, with nearly 1,500 words on the church in Poland -- mainly how cozy it is with Polish conservatism and, of course, how out of step its traditional faith is with that of Pope Francis:

WARSAW -- When Pope Francis arrives in Poland this week to attend World Youth Day, one of the major events on the Catholic calendar, he will face a politically powerful church closely tied to the country’s new right-wing government. The church here carries a deep strain of social conservatism that does not always align with the pope’s more open and welcoming views.

Is there a contest for the number of liberal catch-terms in a single paragraph? Because it looks like the Times is trying to win it. You gotcher "right-wing." You gotcher "politically powerful." You gotcher "conservatism" -- a word used in various forms four times, including the headline: "Pope Francis Will Encounter a Socially Conservative Church in Poland."

One of our Faithful Readers fumed over what she saw as a "prism of anti-Catholic bias." She saw "socially conservative" as the Times' semi-curse term that means "following church teachings." 

Actually, I liked the article better than that. For one, it quotes Polish sources instead of using the "sources say" phrase, which often covers for a reporter's own opinion. The seven named sources include church leaders, a theologian and leaders of Poland's political parties. 

The Times also establishes the prominence of faith in Polish history and society. It says 92 percent of Poles identify as Catholic, and 40 percent attend weekly -- higher than other Catholic countries.

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What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

In the aftermath of the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, there are two stories unfolding in France and, to a lesser degree, the rest of postmodern and post-Christian Europe. Let me stress that both stories are valid and deserve coverage.

One story is about the crime itself and the investigation into how it happened. At the heart of this story is the official dilemma facing the powers that be in government, which is how to stop as many terrorist acts as possible before they happen. The symbolic detail: One of the attackers -- 19-year-old Adel Kermiche -- was a known ISIS ally who was already wearing a monitoring device around his ankle.

The other story, of course, is a religion story. It is about an attack on a Catholic parish -- St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray -- named in honor of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, a connection I have only seen mentioned in the Catholic press. At the heart of this story is the murder of the elderly Father Jacques Hamel, who -- during Mass -- was forced to kneel at the church altar, where the attackers slit his throat. The terrorists critically injured one nun and tried to use other nuns as human shields, before police were able to kill the attackers.

The symbolic details in this story? If you want more on that, may I suggest following two hashtags on Twitter. The first is #IAmJacquesHamel, an obvious homage to the #IAmCharlieHebdo campaign after terrorists attacked the Paris staff of the famous satire magazine. The second hashtag is #santosubito. We will come back to that.

Which of these two stories are you seeing, when you open your local newspaper or click to the 24/7 news channels on your digital screens? I would argue that you should be seeing both. Are you?

It is likely that you are seeing language similar to this, care -- once again -- of The New York Times:

France is officially secular but Catholicism is deeply embedded in the country’s culture. That has made the shock and symbolism of the killing of the Rev. Jacques Hamel all the greater.

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Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

Israelis back Donald Trump because of his anti-Muslim talk, right? Well, actually...

There's an assumption circulating among some in the news media, some American Jews, both on the right and left, and among political-geeks in general that Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is favored by Israelis over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The assumption is rooted in the belief that Trump -- based on his rhetoric (but ignoring his many contradictions) -- will be a more full-throated supporter of Israel than Clinton will be, and so of course Israelis back him over her.

How could they not? The United States is Israeli's most important international protector, so of course Israelis must want the toughest talking candidate.

As a #NeverTrump guy, I think this belief is very wrong. But this post isn't about who Israelis SHOULD support for president of the United States, but who they DO support. (Unless I state otherwise, when I refer to Israelis I'm referring in the main to Jewish Israelis. Israeli Arabs, or Israeli Palestinians, as many prefer to be called, have their own complicated political equations, be they Christian or Muslim.)

So who do Israelis prefer?

Here's a link from May to a Jerusalem Post story reporting on a survey that shows an Israeli preference for Clinton. Note that non-Jewish Israelis are included in this survey. And here's a CNBC analysis, also from May, that puts some meat on the bare-bones Post news report. 

Two salient CNBC paragraphs follow:

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Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

Anti-gay arrest in Russia: AP blows a minor incident into a major issue

Don’t read this yet. Get yourself a chair. Put down that cup of whatever you're drinking.

The Associated Press reports that -- Dun-dun-DUNN! -- Russia doesn't like gays. And especially pro-gay-rights churches.

I know, right? That might have knocked your socks off.

AP learned this terrible truth as a missionary of the Metropolitan Community Church was arrested, then ordered out of Russia. Try to get through this without fainting:

MOSCOW — Jim Mulcahy was sitting with some Russian friends, munching cookies and talking about Roman mosaics, when the Russian police came and took him away, claiming he was planning to perform a same-sex marriage. Hours later, the American pastor was ordered to leave Russia.
Mulcahy’s arrest this month in the city of Samara braids together several of Russia’s most acrimonious issues: gay rights, alleged Western meddling in Russian affairs, and missionary work by religions that don’t have state approval. It attracted particular attention because the arrest was filmed by state-controlled channel NTV, whose reports often take an especially truculent, pro-Kremlin stance.

As the Eastern Europe coordinator for the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches, Mulcahy said he was visiting Samara, Russia, at the invitation of a gay rights group called Avers. He says it was a mere Q&A session at their offices, but the Russian station NTV said he was "performing unspecified ceremonies for homosexuals," AP says. 

The station also said he had "converted to Orthodox Christianity," which he denies. That should have been easy to verify or falsify, just by checking with the Russian Orthodox Church, no?

But no, AP is more interested in milking this story for drama, whether the drama is there or not:

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Ghost of Darryl Strawberry: Impossible-to-miss (or not) explanation for a star's return to glory

Ghost of Darryl Strawberry: Impossible-to-miss (or not) explanation for a star's return to glory

From time to time, we at GetReligion reference our "guilt folders."

These imaginary folders are where we stuff all those stories that we'd love to analyze but — for whatever reason — never seem to get around to.

I may set a new record for longest wait to highlight a story with this post as I call attention to one published on July 12, 2013. For those not good at math, that's more than three years ago. I called "dibs" at that time. But something else came along because I never wrote about it.

So why do I mention it now? Because of a new story on the same subject matter that I just came across.

This one is a recent Los Angeles Times interview with former major-league baseball star Darryl Strawberry on his rise and fall — and his rise again:

If Darryl Strawberry didn't exist, a screenwriter would need to invent him.
Enduring a hardscrabble childhood in South Los Angeles with an absentee alcoholic father, Strawberry found escape — and greatness — on the baseball field, thanks to a slinky swing that could quickly dispatch balls to the far side of outfield walls.
Strawberry arrived in New York as a teenage sensation in the early 1980s with a shiny future. He would go on win a rookie-of-the-year award and then, in 1986, help lead the hometown Mets to a World Series title.
That high was soon followed by a series of lows that included a long battle with drugs and alcohol addiction, jail time, an arrest on suspicion of domestic battery and multiple cancer diagnoses. Strawberry was one of the purest talents the game has ever seen. He was also one of its most tabloid-prone.
In recent years, Strawberry has rebounded, finding sobriety a‎nd a stable marriage. He's even started a Christian mission devoted to others' recovery.

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The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

Details continue to emerge about the events surrounding the murder of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest who was killed by ISIS terrorists at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church, France.

One of the worshipers taken hostage -- yes, a nun -- remains in serious condition.

French officials have also confirmed that one of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a known terrorist threat who had twice attempted to travel to Syria. He was being monitored with an electronic ankle tag, but his bail conditions allowed him to roam without supervision between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Mass was at 9 a.m. The follow-up story at The Daily Mail added:

Kermiche and his accomplice -- also known to French police -- forced 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel to kneel before filming themselves butchering him and performing a 'sermon in Arabic' at the altar of the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, according to witnesses.
Both were shot dead by police marksmen as they emerged from the building shouting 'Allahu Akbar' following the attack that also left a nun critically injured.
Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped, said: 'They told me "you Christians, you kill us". They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror.'

Translated into safer New York Times language, in an obituary for the priest, that sounds like this:

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants -- who were shot dead by the police -- were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

However, this wasn't what some GetReligion readers, via email, and lots of folks on Twitter wanted to know more about yesterday afternoon and last night.

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Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Can Christianity save China? There might be more to that question than westerners imagine

Tear your eyes away from the White House campaign for a moment and consider the coming 50 years in an officially atheistic land with the world’s biggest population.

The surprising question at the top of this post is the headline of a July 14 piece for The Week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a France-based fellow of America’s conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Simultaneously we get the same point from prominent human rights activist Yu Jie, a 2003 convert to Christianity now living in exile near Washington, D.C. Writing in First Things, he contends that “neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism,” nor democracy, nor capitalism, will determine what happens to his homeland. “Christianity is China’s future.”

If that’s possibly so, such a cultural earthquake demands substantive journalism.  Why would Yu or Gobry think such a thing?

First, Yu says, Christianity is “the largest force in China outside the Communist Party.” Probably true, because Communism stamped out normal institutions of civil society.

Second, Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang estimates China’s Christians number 60 million plus.  (Believers often offer higher numbers.) Several million more convert each year, among them a notable number of urban intellectuals. He figures if this growth rate persists by 2030, the mainland’s 200 million would be the largest Christian population in any nation, surpassing the U.S.

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