Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Did you hear about the historic meeting that will occur today between the media superstar Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia? Is there up-front coverage of this in your newspaper this morning?

The meeting is taking place in Havana for the expressed purpose of voicing support for persecuted Christians facing genocide in parts of the Middle East, primarily -- at the moment -- in Syria and Iraq. There is very little that Rome and Moscow agree on at the moment, when it comes to ecumenical matters, but Francis and Kirill are both very concerned about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in that devastated region.

Have you heard about this in major media?

If you are interested, this was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in. I also wrote about the background of this meeting in a previous GetReligion post ("The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting") and in this week's "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate.

Now, call me naive, but I thought that this meeting would receive major coverage. This is, after all, the first ever meeting -- first as in it has never happened before in history -- between the leader of the pope of Rome and the patriarch of the world's largest branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Syria is also in the news, last time I checked. There is a possibility that Americans -- this is a nation that includes a few Christians who read newspapers -- might be interested in a statement by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill on the massacre of Christians in Syria and elsewhere.

I guess I am naive. It appears that the meeting in Cuba today is not very important at all. I mean, look at the front page of The New York Times website.

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Big foreign datelines: London (think Canterbury) next week, Moscow long-term ...

Big foreign datelines: London (think Canterbury) next week, Moscow long-term ...

Though U.S. media often downplay foreign news, astute religion writers will be closely watching London next week and Moscow in the longer term.

London:  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called a Jan. 11–16 meeting with 37 fellow “primates” who head the national branches in the Anglican Communion.

Some analysts consider it a make-or-break moment on whether this global body of as many as 85 million adherents can hang together. Most stateside journalists won’t make the trek to England but will want to develop Yankee angles with the assistance of  The AP, Reuters, YouTube, British news dailies and Anglican websites, official and otherwise.

This is the latest and possibly the culminating event after years -- decades really -- of wrangling over biblical authority and interpretation, especially whether to accept partnered same-sex priests and bishops, and gay marriages. The fight pits the liberal Episcopal Church in the U.S., led by brand-new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and Archbishop Fred Hiltz’s Anglican Church in Canada, over against large and growing national churches in Africa and the “Global South.” Welby’s own Church of England is stuck somewhere in between.

Welby hopes he can maintain some titular leadership as the “Communion” evolves into a looser federation to allow leeway on faith disputes. But doctrinal conservatives seem prepared to reject such schemes and walk away. Already they have formed the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (“GAFCON”) as an alternative international body that claims to represent the majority of world Anglicanism’s membership, especially in terms of believers currently active in pews.

GAFCON is chaired by the archbishop of Kenya along with primates from the provinces of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, South America, Sudan, and Uganda, plus Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America -- a schism from the U.S. and Canadian denominations -- who’s supposed to be present for at least some of the London discussions.

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Sibling rivalries, religious conflict and another potential hotspot in need of media attention

Sibling rivalries, religious conflict and another potential hotspot in need of media attention

Afavorite journalistic perk of mine was getting on think-tank mailing lists for panel discussions and in-depth interviews involving leading thinkers on subjects in which I am interested.  

For an hour or more you get to hear acknowledged top experts who are tough, if not near impossible, to get to respond to your calls, emails, texts or whatever. And when they do, all you are likely to   get is a brief exchange -- unless you have a special relationship with them or you work for an elite news outlet.

The background information or on-the-record quotes gleaned from such encounters can be invaluable. Plus it often comes with a free sandwich and beverage, or a full meal if you score the right mailing lists.

Thanks to the Web, you no longer have to leave you office, or home, to partake of these events, which are now available to anyone with an Internet connection. That's another big plus, even if I now have to make my own sandwich.

One recent interview, followed by an audience Q&A, I watched online featured Rabbi (and British) Lord Jonathan Sacks, for 22 years the United Kingdom's chief Modern Orthodox rabbi. He left that position in 2013 and now teaches at universities in New York and the UK, when not traveling the world as an esteemed religious leader and philosopher.

The exchange took place before a Council on Foreign Relations audience in New York. Click here to watch the entire 72-minute event.

The subject was 21st Century religious violence -- to my mind the most consequential religion and international story of the moment.

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News hooks: Religion, politics and war and joining the home team's cheering squad

News hooks: Religion, politics and war and joining the home team's cheering squad

Organized religion can support personal piety very nicely. Ditto when it comes to performing good works. But then there's the flip side. Religion can also serve as a fig leaf for nationalism, political schemes and militarism. 

We see this last dynamic at work today primarily within the Islamic world. However, it's certainly not confined to Islam. And its certainly not just a contemporary phenomenon. (Check your Bible, Qur'an or any number of history books about Europe, Asia and the Americas for ample examples.)

Moreover, we know the damage done by these dark-side impulses can linger in religious memories for decades and even centuries. And not just in connection with today's headline grabbers, such as when Islamists refer to Christians as crusaders. They're also there behind the scenes, providing the heat for simmering historical conflicts that can flare up without clear warning.

Take Japan's refusal to fully face up to it's shameful treatment of the so-called "comfort women," a euphemism for the women from occupied nations that World War II-era Japan forced into sexual slavery. (I'll get back to this below.)

What I view as the downside of organized religion is, I'm sure, no surprise to anyone who reads GetReligion.

However, it's always worthwhile to remember how easy it is for organized religions -- as well as the journalists who cover them -- to become part of the the home team cheering squad.

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St. Sergius, Vladimir Putin and the mysterious Russian soul

St. Sergius, Vladimir Putin and the mysterious Russian soul

For those who care about the fine details of international policy, here is the latest -- care of Time magazine -- on the popularity of one Vladimir Putin among his own people.

A new poll released this week by the Levada Center reports that the Russian President currently enjoys an approval rating of 87% -- a 4-point jump since a similar survey was completed in May, according to the Moscow Times.
Meanwhile in the U.S., where the economy is bouncing back and the White House has largely retreated from militaristic interventions abroad, President Barack Obama’s approval rating sagged to 40% this week -- its lowest point to date.

The implication is that Obama is pursuing policies that, if voters were rational, would lead to better poll numbers. Meanwhile, it appears that Putin is being very Russian. Apparently, Russians like that.

This brings me to that recent story in The New York Times that inspired some recent emails to your GetReligionistas.

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TASS on Russia's talking dogs

Politicians were like talking dogs in a circus: the fact that they existed was uncommonly interesting, but no sane person would actually believe what they said. I am sympathetic to the sentiments expressed by Pravda journalist André Szara, the central character in Alan Furst’s political-historical novel Dark Star. (I consider it the best of his 13 novels to date.) Once upon a time I too spent a great deal of my time listening to politicians, reporting for the Jerusalem Post on Parliament and the British government.

I cannot blame the Episcopal Church or the Church of England for giving me my jaundiced eye. Reading the debates in Hansard and ministerial press hand outs was unpalatable work, akin to eating sand. I no longer follow politics and politicians. For my sins I now read denominational reports, church press releases and bishops’ sermons. I’ve exchanged sand for sawdust.

Yet, this work must still be done. Even though a great deal of fluff and nonsense is spouted by the great and good, reporters must keep their ears (and brain) open. Even politicians say things that are novel and important.

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Shock: Russian Orthodoxy gives drag queen thumbs down

Some of you wrote to say that you wanted to know what I thought of the whole Conchita Wurst episode, referring to the drag queen — the term used in mainstream media reports — who won the recent Eurovision Song Contest. In particular, a few of you want to know what I thought of the coverage of the fact that Russian Orthodox Church leaders have condemned this minor earthquake in popular culture. People, people, are you surprised that Eastern Orthodox Christian bishops do not think highly of modern trends in sexuality? Remember the case of the Russian bishop who had a church torn down because its priest — apparently he had been drinking — performed a same-sex union rite at its altar? The priest was defrocked and, if I recall correctly, the local bishop had the rubble from the building burned and workers then salted the ground? (I’m trying to find a URL for that old story.)

I am also not surprised that recent statements by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy have received some mainstream media attention, in the wake of events in Ukraine, the Winter Olympics, the media superstar status of the Pussy Riot activists, etc., etc. I mean, how often do you get to put “Russian,” “Orthodox,” “Patriarchate” and “drag queen” into the same news story or even in one spectacular headline?

Here at GetReligion, of course, we are more interested in the news coverage of the event than we are with the event itself. The link several people have shared is for a story by Sophia Kishkovsky, carried by Religion News Service. Readers may also know her byline from work published by The New York Times. Here is a key chunk of it:

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Glorious Pascha! The Baltimore Sun gets the key parts right

I keep saying this year after year, but it’s true. One of the greatest challenges for religion-beat specialists, season after season, is the long, steady march of feature stories that editors want you to produce linked to the major holy days in the various world religions. Easter was always one of the biggest challenges for me, in part because it’s always on Sunday morning (or in the ancient churches, at the stroke of midnight and on into the early hours of morning).

That sounds really obvious, but think it through. That means this story has to appear above the fold on A1 in the biggest newspaper of the week, which means editors have to think very highly of this story. It will also need large and spectacular color photography, for the reasons just mentioned. From the point of view of most secular editors, Easter is also a much more explicitly RELIGIOUS season than, let’s say, Christmas. That’s a problem.

Do you see the problem? How do you get large, spectacular Easter art when that art must be produced BEFORE the holy day itself? And what are most churches — liturgical churches, at least — doing in the days before Easter, when you need to shoot these photos? They are observing the rites of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — beautiful, but solemn observances that, literally, offer visual images that are the exact opposite of what editors are going to want for that happy, happy Sunday A1 art.

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Pod people: 'Pinko' Pat Buchanan and the Daily Mail

Heavy breathing this week from London’s Daily Mail, which has denounced American political commentator Patrick J. Buchanan as a toady of Vladimir Putin. Yes, GetReligion readers you read that correctly, while he has escaped the pinko, secret traveler and useful idiot sobriquets due to the march of history, the Daily Mail nonetheless is calling Pat Buchanan a Russkie stooge.

The lede of the April 5 story entitled “Pat Buchanan claims GOD is on Russia’s side and that Moscow is the ‘third Rome’” pulls no punches. Not only is God on Russia’s side, but so too is GOD.

Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan insists that God is now on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side. The bombastic pundit’s claims in a rambling diatribe posted to a conservative website that Russia is the ‘third Rome’ and the West ‘is Gomorrah.’

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