Good grief, Los Angeles Times: Site of Texas shooting linked to Muhammad cartoon contest is no 'small town'

Good grief, Los Angeles Times: Site of Texas shooting linked to Muhammad cartoon contest is no 'small town'

When you hear "small town," do you think of Mayberry, U.S.A.?

Or do you think of a sprawling Dallas suburb with a quarter-million residents?

The Los Angeles Times' answer might surprise you.

According to the Times, Garland, Texas — site of Sunday night's shooting outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest — is a "small town."

The Los Angeles newspaper uses that description in this lede:

GARLAND,  Texas — Pamela Geller is a 56-year-old Jewish arch-conservative from New York, a vehement critic of radical Islam who organized a provocative $10,000 cartoon contest in this placid Dallas suburb designed to caricature the prophet Muhammad.
Elton Simpson was a 30-year-old aspiring Islamic militant from Phoenix who fantasized to an FBI informant about “doing the martyrdom operations” in Somalia and was convicted in 2010 of lying to the FBI about his plans to travel to the volatile eastern African nation.
Their lives intersected Sunday in this small town in north-central Texas, an unlikely venue for a violent collision of cultures. After a Sunday evening shootout outside the contest site between police and Simpson and another man firing assault rifles, both gunmen lay dead in the street. And Geller quickly posted a defiant blog: “This is a war on free speech. ... Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

Just how "small town" is Garland?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it's a little larger than Mayberry — with an estimated population of 234,566.

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How, and why, did St. John the Baptist baptize Jesus?

How, and why, did St. John the Baptist baptize Jesus?

GERALD’S QUESTION:

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, what would the baptismal formula have been? “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” wasn’t used until the 2nd Century.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Even a highly skeptical scholar like John Dominic Crossan considers it historical fact that Jesus inaugurated his public ministry with baptism performed by his cousin John the Baptist, who was “preaching in the wilderness.” There’s also wide agreement that John would have used full immersion in the waters of the Jordan River (those loud amens you hear are coming from Baptists). But as for what words John recited, the Bible doesn’t say though, yes, it doesn’t seem plausible he would have spoken Christianity’s familiar invocation of the triune God that Gerald quotes.

The Acts of the Apostles depicts three baptisms during the earliest phase of the Christian movement, each performed in the name of Jesus and not the Trinity (which is the practice of modern-day “Oneness” Pentecostals). However, the Gospel of Matthew, written in the same time frame as Acts, suggests belief in the three divine persons in the Trinity in its account of Jesus’ baptism  (3:13-17, paralleled in Mark 1 and Luke 3). As Dale Allison comments, “the Son is baptized, the Father speaks, and the Spirit descends.” Then the Trinity becomes explicit in Matthew 28:19 as Jesus directs his followers to make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

So invocation of the Trinity quickly emerged in the 1st Century as a permanent feature of Christian baptism. 

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OK, we will ask: Why isn't Baltmore Sun nailing local angles in DUI Episcopal bishop story?

OK, we will ask: Why isn't Baltmore Sun nailing local angles in DUI Episcopal bishop story?

The case of the DUI bishop is, in one sense, over -- in that Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook is no longer a leader in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. In fact, she is no longer an Episcopal bishop at all, nor is she an Episcopal priest or deacon.

That shoe has dropped and has been covered pretty clearly in the newspaper that lands (for several more weeks) in my front yard near the Baltimore Beltway. But what about the rest of the story?

You see, the timeline that looms behind the story of the rise and tragic fall of Cook -- charged with criminal negligent manslaughter, using a texting device while driving, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and three charges of drunken driving -- reveals that this is actually two or three stories unfolding at the same time. There is more to this than the dominoes that began falling in her career after her car struck bicyclist Thomas Palermo.

First of all, there is the issue of her election as bishop, including the "what did they know and when did they know it" facts about her documented struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Then there is the impact of this case -- financial, legal and professional -- on either the leaders of the local diocese, the national church, or both.

However, if you read The Baltimore Sun coverage of Cook's case, it's hard to know what is going on at the diocese and national levels. Meanwhile, The Washington Post coverage has included developments at all levels -- personal, diocesan and national. Remember this scoop when the Post caught details in a newly released Cook timeline document that were missed by the Sun?

So what is going on here? Why isn't the Sun staff interested in crucial LOCAL details about the fallout from this tragedy?

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Controversy over Serra sainthood: Not all media settle for reporting

Controversy over Serra sainthood: Not all media settle for reporting

Ever hear people arguing past each other? Each makes seemingly good points, but doesn't answer those raised by the other.

If they only had someone -- oh, like a reporter, for instance -- to put some questions to them. Then, they could understand each other, and the rest of us could understand them both.

Mainstream media fill that function -- partly -- with the fallout over Pope Francis' speech about Junipero Serra this past weekend. Francis praised the 18th century California missionary, scheduled for sainthood in September, as a "founding father" of American religion. Reporters also looked up historians and Indians who branded his work genocidal.

But how the articles treat and background the speech varies vastly.

For some reason, the Associated Press ran two stories on the topic, and on the same day -- Saturday. One is AP's typical overly brief item that raises more questions than it answers.

That story first has Pope Francis praising Serra's "zeal"; then it quotes a native American leader who says the missionary "enslaved converts" and tried to destroy Indian culture. Here's the run-on lede:

Pope Francis on Saturday praised the zeal of an 18th-century Franciscan missionary he will make a saint when he visits the United States this fall but whom Native Americans say brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity.

AP then quotes Ron Andrade, who fires several salvos like:

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Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

There aren’t many religion writers in the Pacific Northwest these days and that's a shame.

For example, The Seattle Times apparently hasn’t had one since Janet Tu left the beat several years ago. If something breaks like last year’s ouster of Mark Driscoll -- then-pastor of Mars Hill, Seattle’s largest church at the time -- the newsroom has to pull reporters from other beats to cover it.

So it was a surprise to see this story leading their web site Sunday on Medi-Share and two other Christian “health-sharing ministries” that act quasi-health insurers for lots of Washington state residents.

When Melissa Mira suffered sudden heart failure at the end of her second pregnancy last year, she worried first about her health and her baby -- then about the more than $200,000 in medical bills that began rolling in.
“Your world is just crashing down around you and you wonder: ‘How is this going to be covered?’ ” recalled Mira, 30, who spent more than a month away from her Tacoma home, hospitalized at the University of Washington Medical Center.
For Mira and her family, the answer came not through traditional health insurance, but through faith that fellow Christians would step forward to pay the bills.
The Miras -- including daughter Jael, 4, and baby Sienna Rain, now a healthy 9-month-old -- are among the growing numbers of people looking to “health care-sharing ministries” across the U.S. At last count, there were more than 10,000 members in Washington state and nearly 400,000 nationwide, individuals and families whose medical costs are taken care of entirely through the organized goodwill -- and monthly payments or “shares” -- of like-minded religious followers.

The writer is the newspaper’s health reporter and the tone is informative and respectful. It’s kind of sad when it’s unusual to find a piece in the secular media about religious practices that have no snark attached.

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Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

I ended my "Crossroads" podcast post this weekend with a bit of a challenge to the editors who produce the newspaper that (for a few more weeks) lands in my front yard here next to the Baltimore beltway.

To be precise, I said: "Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots? We will see."

Now, I am sure that my challenge had little or nothing to do with what showed up in the newspaper today (although there is at least one GetReligion reader in the newsroom). However, I am happy to say that The Baltimore Sun team sent several reporters out into the city's pews and came back with an A1 story that noted the political overtones, of course, but stressed basic issues of prayer, worship and faith.

The logical church -- Fulton Baptist Church -- served as the door into the story and then as the exit door as well. This 111-year-old sanctuary has burned in the past and it almost burned again, since it was doors away from the CVS store torched by looters with the whole world watching. Here's the point where the opening anecdote flows into -- of course -- a reference to the political context.

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Basic facts crucial on shooting outside Texas contest for cartoons depicting Muhammad

Basic facts crucial on shooting outside Texas contest for cartoons depicting Muhammad

Violence tied to a contest for images depicting Islam's Prophet Muhammad is making headlines this morning.

The latest news from The Associated Press:

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — Two gunmen were killed Sunday after opening fire on a security officer outside a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad in Texas and a bomb squad was called in to search their vehicle as a precaution, authorities said.
The men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center in the Dallas suburb of Garland as the contest was scheduled to end and began shooting at a security officer, the City of Garland said in a statement. Garland police officers returned fire, killing the men.
"Because of the situation of what was going on today and the history of what we've been told has happened at other events like this, we are considering their car (is) possibly containing a bomb," Officer Joe Harn, a spokesman for the Garland Police Department, said at a news conference.
Police are not aware of any ongoing threat and had not received any credible threats before the event, Harn said.
Harn said it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was connected to the event inside, a contest hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Such drawings are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

Before the shooting, the scene was unremarkable outside the Culwell Center, except for the thick security that included Garland police, school district security and private guards.
“We were expecting protests outside the building,” (event attendee Stephen) Perkins said.
But Alia Salem, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Dallas-Fort Worth, said she and other Muslims had wanted nothing to do with the event.
“We were actively ignoring and encouraging the community to ignore it,” she said. “We did not want to be the bearers of any kind of incitement.”
Imam Zia Sheikh of the Irving Islamic Center wrote online that though he was waiting to see how the facts unfold, “as of now condemning any act of terror. No justification whatsoever.”
“Seems like a lone wolf type of attack. Just what we didn’t want,” he wrote.

As this story develops, presenting basic facts will be crucial for media coverage.

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Dear journalists lingering in Baltimore: There's more to black church than politics

Toward the end of this week, clergy from the whole Baltimore area gathered to pray for peace in our city and for its future.

I don't know that this happened because of anything that I read in the news. I know it because my own parish's Divine Liturgy this morning ended with an Easter-season litany of prayers, with a heavy emphasis on the Resurrection, that grew out of that meeting.

So did all churches in greater Baltimore say the following words today?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

So why do I bring this up? This week's "Crossroads" podcast, as you might expect focused on the many, many religion ghosts that hovered over the events here in a very troubled Charm City. Click here to tun that in.

As our own Jim Davis noted, in a post about New York Times coverage, it really was impossible to witness the front-line events here in Baltimore without seeing the role that pastors, priests and others played.

But seeing a very familiar set of urban clergy in action is not, I argued in my conversation with host Todd Wilken, is not automatically the same thing as being sensitive to what is happening here, in terms of the broader religious angles in this story.

As I have stressed many times, in print and in podcasts, its important for news consumers to understand the degree to which most journalists view life primarily through the lens of politics and even partisan, horse-race politics. This can even happen when covering an institution like the African-American church, in part because -- true enough -- of the prominent role that black clergy have historically played in politics and community life.

But is there more to black church life than politics? Of course there is. Still, what's your reaction when you read through the top of this A1 political report (according to the online filing system) from today's Baltimore Sun?

Unrest in Baltimore put on display the widely different leadership styles that Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake brought to a crisis that could come to define their administrations.
As Hogan toured inner-city neighborhoods Thursday, glad-handing with residents who likely never voted for him, Baltimore's mayor was cloistered in a private meeting with supporters.
All week, the new Republican governor calmly told Marylanders he would deploy all necessary resources to restore order in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody sparked demonstrations. The veteran Democratic mayor found herself on the defensive, trying to walk back an awkward comment about the mayhem and defending her record.
"Some folks have had the impression that the mayor has been indifferent and aloof and the governor has been more active, coming in to save Baltimore from its inclination to implode," said the Rev. Todd Yeary of Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake's pastor.

And right after that quote from one of the city's high-profile, politically active pastors there was this quote:

"Perception, unfortunately, can be reality," said the Rev. Delman Coates, an influential pastor from Prince George's County who ran for lieutenant governor last year. "You can argue with the reality, but in this media-driven, technology-driven environment, perception becomes reality."

Let's see. We have two clergy there and the perspective is political and political, with a heavy undertow of Republican vs. Democrat, white male vs. black female tension in there, as well.

Was this political presence, on the part of clergy, part of the story this week? Of course it was.

Was this the only role that religious faith played in Baltimore this week or even the dominant one? Of course not. However, how would readers know the answer to that question, simply by watching CNN and reading the newspapers? At some point, it's hard to see anything other than politics, when that is what keeps ending up in print. Trust me, the black church is way more complex than what we are seeing in the newspapers.

Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots?

We will see.

Enjoy the podcast.

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Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd channels religion beat into nones, spirituality and migration

Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd channels religion beat into nones, spirituality and migration

When you’re Canada’s top religion writer and you’ve been on the beat for umpteen years and you want to take religion reporting in one of the continent’s most beautiful cities in a new direction, what do you do?

You become a “spirituality and diversity columnist.”

You start a blog called “The Search” that is described thusly: “Douglas Todd delves into topics we’re taught to avoid: religion, ethnicity, politics, sex and ethics.”

The Vancouver Sun’s erstwhile religion writer has showed up at many a Religion Newswriters Association meeting to spirit off some top award for his stylish prose chronicling the spiritual side of British Columbia’s largest city. In recent years, his work has taken an unusual turn because of the multifaith direction of this metropolis sounded by water and mountains. A May 8, 2013, article on the city explains more:

Metro Vancouver and the rest of B.C. break a lot of records when it comes to religion and the lack thereof.
The West Coast is a place of extremes in regards to Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated, according to a major 2011 survey by Statistics Canada.
New data released Wednesday suggests pluralistic B.C. is traveling in several religious directions at once. Many residents are becoming more devout following a great variety of world faiths. But other residents are endorsing secular world views and drifting into private spirituality.

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