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Devil in the details: Oklahoma religion writer shows how to report a controversy

Devil in the details: Oklahoma religion writer shows how to report a controversy

Devil's advocate? Carla Hinton of The Oklahoman didn't go quite that far in her story about an archbishop versus a Satanist group. But she did talk to both sides and showed how a principled, professional religion writer works.

At issue was a lawsuit by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City to halt a planned "black mass" in a public hall. His complaint was that the mass would include a desecration of the Host, or consecrated Eucharistic bread -- and argued that the bread must have been stolen.

In a couple of crisp paragraphs, Hinton and contributing writer William Crumm lay out the issues:

Coakley is asking the court to require the Oklahoma County sheriff to obtain the Eucharistic host from the Satanist group and deliver it to him as the local leader of the Catholic Church. The lawsuit states that in order for an unauthorized individual to have a consecrated host, he or she would have had to obtain it through illicit means such as “theft, fraud, wrongful taking or other form of misappropriation, either by Defendants or by someone else.”

In the lawsuit, Coakley said the consecrated host — typically a small unleavened wafer of bread — is considered sacred by Catholic Christians. It is an integral part of the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion.

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Agitprop from NPR? Concerning Evangelical culture wars in Brazil

Agitprop from NPR? Concerning Evangelical culture wars in Brazil

Is National Public Radio (NPR) biased? 

Ask its supporters -- many of whom are on the political left in the United States -- and they will tell you the publicly funded network is a model of balance and journalistic integrity. Ask its critics -- many of whom are on the political right – and they will tell you it is hopelessly biased in support of progressive causes.

An August 1, 2014, story on the network’s All Things Considered show on the influence of America and evangelicalism on Brazilian politics gives credence to conservative claims of bias. It is hard not to see this NPR story as being anything other than mendacious agitprop. Unbalanced, lacking in historical and legal context and factually challenged -- this story is a mess.

The charges of bias at NPR are not new.

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Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

I don't know about you, but I am still thinking about that soft, disturbing voice inside the haunted head of superstar Robin Williams. That's why Todd Wilken were still talking about that topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

As I discussed in my first post on the actor's suicide, Williams was very open -- during his entire adult life -- about the troubling nature of the voices he heard that made his improvisational genius possible, along with the voices that urged him to end it all -- either slowly, through substance abuse, or quickly, through suicide. Remember the quotes that were included in so many of the mainstream obituaries?

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump!' " he told ABC News.

Or maybe this one:

 "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

Now, one does not need to leap into religious talk-radio land, where some people oh-so-compassionately suggested that Williams was possessed by demons, to recognize that Williams was being quite candid about the presence of evil and temptation in his life. It appeared that he took that very, very seriously.

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It's a 'miraculous day' for Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly, but what role did prayer play?

It's a 'miraculous day' for Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly, but what role did prayer play?

Here at GetReligion, we frequently refer to holy ghosts.

Holy ghosts are important religious elements of news stories that often go unnoticed or unmentioned by the mass media.

In watching today's news conference on the release of Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, the faith angle was impossible to miss.

“Today is a miraculous day," Brantly said. "I’m thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

He also said: "I can tell you, I serve a faithful God who answers prayers. … God saved my life, a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.”

Just a few weeks ago, after Brantly contracted the often-deadly virus while serving as a medical missionary in Liberia, a fellow doctor characterized his prognosis as "grave." But "thousands, even millions" of people around the world prayed for him, Brantly said at the news conference.

But will Brantly's focus on prayer make it into news reports?

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Now with extra-added unblocking power: BBC on Pope's support for Romero sainthood

Now with extra-added unblocking power: BBC on Pope's support for Romero sainthood

The BBC reported this week on comments that the Pope made concerning Oscar Romero's candidacy for sainthood, claiming Francis has "unblocked" the cause of the Latin American archbishop:

Pope Francis has lifted a ban on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For years, the Roman Catholic Church blocked the process because of concerns that he had Marxist ideas.

An outspoken critic of the military regime during El Salvador's bloody civil war, Archbishop Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980.

Beatification, or declaring a person "blessed", is the necessary prelude to full sainthood.

The bishop was one of the main proponents of Liberation Theology - an interpretation of Christian faith through the perspective of the poor.

There are a number of things wrong with this story from the get-go.

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NYTimes story blurs issues in minister's employment problems

NYTimes story blurs issues in minister's employment problems

Many a reporter has started one kind of story that turns into another.  You can either break it into two or more stories -- or, as the New York Times recently did, stitch them together.

That’s my guess for why a Times article begins as a piece on problems of a young minister, then blurs it with several paragraphs on problems of young ministers in general -- then makes it about problems of a young, black female minister.

The main character is a Brooklyn minister who is doggedly pursuing her calling, despite money and employment issues. She served as an unpaid associate pastor and worked as a hospital chaplain, and she still couldn't make it work. Why she couldn't is the muddled matter.

To read the Times, Atchison is a commanding, evocative presence, blending vocal skills, body language and inspirational sermons:

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Baltimore Sun sing-along: We are one in the spirit (with a lower-case 's')

Baltimore Sun sing-along: We are one in the spirit (with a lower-case 's')

Anyone who has had any contact -- post-Jesus Music era -- with American evangelicalism will know the lyrics of the classic campfire song, "We are One in the Spirit." Some people may know this song under a different title, "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love."

One thing is for sure, no doubt about it. The word "Spirit" in this song definitely has an upper-case "S," representing -- even under Associated Press style rules -- a reference to the Holy Spirit, one Person in the traditional Christian Trinity. The first verse of this famous song goes like this: 

We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. 
We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. 
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, 
Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.

Now, I bring this up because of a very interesting musical reference at the end of the latest in a long list of Baltimore Sun stories written as tributes to brave progressive Christian congregations -- defined as those with doctrines acceptable to editors at the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- that are fighting to remain alive here in Charm City. In this case, we are dealing with a story about three congregations that are sharing a building in West Baltimore, in an attempt to make ends meet.

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God and journalism: American reportedly beheaded by ISIS wrote about his faith

God and journalism: American reportedly beheaded by ISIS wrote about his faith

What absolutely crushing news.

Amid all the brutal headlines involving the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria (important background here) came a YouTube video Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Most of the initial news stories I've read — including those by the Washington Post and the New York Times — ignore Foley's own faith background.

But in the city where Foley graduated from Marquette University — a Catholic and Jesuit institution — the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nails the faith angle. 

The Journal Sentinel notes that Foley previously was among "four journalists kidnapped by Moammar Gadhafi loyalists in Libya in April 2011." The Milwaukee story describes a letter Foley wrote to his alma mater after 44 days in captivity.

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Touching story from Globe tells of once-doomed Haleigh's new life

Touching story from Globe tells of once-doomed Haleigh's new life

From a reader comes word of a Boston Globe feature from earlier this month that we missed: "A New Life for Haleigh: For Child at the Center of an End-of-Life Battle, Family Created a Loving World." "A good story about Christians who walk the walk" is how the tipster describes the piece. I couldn't agree more.

The nearly 3,000-word article by award-winning Globe staff writer Patricia Wen begins with a scene that, in a sense, gives the entire story in microcosm:

WESTFIELD — The minister winds up his welcome to some 400 people, and soon lyrics flash karaoke-like on a large screen. A spirited Christian pop song, “Blessed be Your Name,” fills the Westfield Evangelical Free Church.
In the back row, a young woman, sitting in a wheelchair next to her adoptive parents, lights up.
Though she can’t read all the words, she sways to the music and claps her hands, the nails painted pink with white polka dots. She loves cheerful tunes and a crowd, and on this Sunday, she has both.
Keith and Becky Arnett could have predicted that Haleigh, 20, would brighten at this part of the service.

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