BBC

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

If there are readers out there in cyberspace who have been reading GetReligion for a decade-plus, the odds are good that they have heard of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 18. That's the one that proclaims, in the name of the United Nations:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Long ago, this statement was considered a cornerstone on the political and cultural left. However, that is no longer (alas) always the case today. Here at GetReligion I have been asking the following questions in recent years, while probing some of the shallow labels that journalists often use with little or no thought. They are:

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of speech?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of association?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of religion?

I'm not sure what the correct answer is, these days, but anyone familiar with the history of political thought in the West will know that the correct answer is not "liberal."

Why bring this up right now? Well, because of an absolutely bizarre statement at the end of a recent BBC report that ran under this strange (it's almost a fragment) headline: "Sudan apostasy woman Mariam Ibrahim 'to campaign'."

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Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

The BBC this week ran an article with the misleading headline "Israeli police bust 'messianic' prostitution ring." 

It's a misleading headline because normally when the word "Messianic" is used in relation to Jews, it refers to adherents of Messianic Judaism -- but that is not the case with the cult described in the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the story does not make this clear.

Some background: Messianic Judaism is a form of Protestant Christianity that strongly identifies with Jewish ritual, prayers, and cultural identity. In other words, Messianic Jews believe the Jewish Messiah has already come, and his name is Yeshua -- Hebrew for "Jesus." (My own faith journey included brief involvement with the Messianic Jewish community.)

The BBC's story, although not identifying the cult as Christian, reinforces the implication that Messianic Jews were behind the prostitution ring when it refers to women being forced by a "messianic sect" to have sex with "non-Jews":

Details have emerged from Israel about a prostitution ring in which Jewish women were allegedly forced into having sex with non-Jews by a messianic sect.

Two men and two women are being detained on suspicion of exploitation.

Police say the victims were brainwashed into believing that having sex with non-Jews would "save the Jewish people and bring about redemption".

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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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In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

The monstrous, history-making events in northern Iraq can overwhelm reporters and audiences alike, as our own tmatt noted a few days ago. But rather surprisingly, coverage has broadened in breadth and depth and enterprise.

A huge variety of outlets -- from Time to Vox  to Fox to the BBC to The Guardian to Al-Arabiya  to the New York Daily News -- have weighed in with coverage, analysis and background. They're not all equally good, of course.

An outstanding example of perspective is in the Washington Post, where veteran reporter Terrence McCoy examines the reasons for the brutal, merciless warfare waged by the Islamic State. He cites several sources who say that the crucifixions, beheadings and mass killings are no mere battlefield excesses -- they were planned as tools to paralyze some people, polarize others.

One of the more fearsome excerpts:

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Ghost hunting in Thailand: Why didn't surrogate abort?

Ghost hunting in Thailand: Why didn't surrogate abort?

A surrogate mother bears fraternal twins, one of them with Down's syndrome. She carries the child to term "on religious grounds," in defiance of the parents' order to abort him. So they take the non-Down's child, leaving the other with her.

Prime soap material, you'll no doubt agree. But for GetReligion folks, this Reuters article out of Thailand fairly shouts something else: "Ghost Story!"

 But we ain't 'fraid o' no ghosts. Let's take a closer look:

Pattaramon Janbua said her doctors, the surrogacy agency and the baby's parents knew he was disabled at four months but did not inform her until the seventh month when the agency asked her - at the parents' request - to abort the disabled fetus.
Pattaramon, 21, told Reuters Television she refused the abortion on religious grounds and carried both him and his twin sister to term six months ago. The parents, who have not been identified, took only the girl back with them to Australia.

OK, ghost hunting time. On what religious grounds did Pattaramon Janbua refuse to abort Gammy? The beliefs of Theravada, the main form of Buddhism in Thailand?

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Mariam goes free, at last, while some questions linger

Mariam goes free, at last, while some questions linger

Other than editors trying to figure out the correct spelling of her name, there were very few journalistic questions this past week when the long-suffering Mariam Ibraheem Ishag was finally spirited out of Sudan to freedom.

Several people sent me notes to coverage of this event, with one stating the obvious in a note that said: "Okay, so nothing to do with press a critique -- I've just got to share with you the news! Hallelujah!!!!"

However, I did notice two rather interesting wrinkles in some of the coverage. The first was rather subtle and the second was -- well -- just a puzzling hole in many stories.

First, there was the issue of how to describe her "crime." Here is the top of the solid report in The New York Times.

ROME -- Mariam Ibraheem Ishag, a Christian woman whose death sentence in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith set off an international protest, arrived in Rome ... to a hero’s welcome and a private audience with Pope Francis.

The pope spent a half-hour speaking with Ms. Ishag; her husband, Daniel Wani, who is an American citizen; and their two young children, Maya, born in prison just days after Ms. Ishag’s conviction two months ago for apostasy, and Martin, a toddler. Apostasy carries a death sentence in Sudan, where President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has imposed Islamic law.

Here's the question: Is it accurate to bluntly state that apostasy carries a death penalty under "Islamic law" or is the matter more complex than that?

However, I did notice two rather interesting wrinkles in some of the coverage. The first was rather subtle and the second was — well — just a puzzling hole in many stories.

First, there was the issue of how to describe her “crime.” Here is the top of the solid report in The New York Times.

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The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The purge of Christians from Mosul in northern Iraq -- home to thriving Christian communities almost since biblical times -- is a historic human rights abuse. Yet mainstream media have done comparatively little coverage on it, probably because they're stretched thin with the twin stories of the airline shoot-down in Ukraine and Israel's invasion of Gaza. Also, of course, the Islamic State is in no mood to allow access to the "kafir" media.

Still, some reports have emerged, and some are brave, sensitive and frank on what the Christians are suffering.

The New York Times is often tone-deaf on religion in the U.S., but the newspaper has distinguished itself in stories like this one. Tim Arango's newsfeature opens with an anecdote on the loss shared by Iraqi Christians and many Muslims:

BAGHDAD — A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

The warm scene here was an unusual counterpoint to the wider story of Iraq’s unraveling, as Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gain territory and persecute anyone who does not adhere to their harsh version of Islamic law. On Saturday, to meet a deadline by the ISIS militants, most Christians in Mosul, a community almost as old as Christianity itself, left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

The article logs the outrage over the Islamic State's brutality, from leaders as diverse as Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations. Arango plays up the angle that the militants are enemies of most Iraqis, not just Christians:

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Brazil's faith in football: What happens after the apocalypse?

Brazil's faith in football: What happens after the apocalypse?

If you know anything about the sport the world calls "football," then you know that an apocalyptic event took place yesterday in Brazil.

If you know anything at all about the host nation for the 2014 World Cup, then you know -- everyone chant the mantra together -- that football is the true religion of Brazil. Here is a typical blast of this faith language, drawn from today's Los Angeles Times piece about Germany's 7-1 shredding of what is left of this year's battered Brazilian team.

It had been 64 years since Brazil staged a World Cup at home. And in a country so passionate about the sport it is worshipped like a religion, even now that 1950 final loss to Uruguay is remembered as a national tragedy.

This year's team, though, was expected to erase that stain. And when the Brazilian government lavished a record $11.5 billion on the preparations for this World Cup, the pressure on the national team increased. A World Cup title was seen as the only way to justify the cost. So hundreds of fans began gathering daily outside the gates of the team's training facility while hundreds more lined the roads when the team's bus would pass.

All of them were seeking deliverance as much as they were a championship.

Finally, if you know anything about football in Brazil, if you have watched any of the national team's matches over the past decade or more, then you know that many members of the team are outspoken Christians. In fact, several of the young superstars are part of the emerging face of born-again and Pentecostal Protestantism in this historically Catholic nation.

In a fine feature before the Germany match, BBC covered the essential facts and added some color, as well. The first statement is crucial:

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