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Once again, New York Times reporters travel deep into the mysterious Bible Belt

Once again, New York Times reporters travel deep into the mysterious Bible Belt

When you have read as many mainstream news stories about church-state conflicts as I have, the minute you spot another one your mind begins asking a familiar litany of questions.

Like this one: Will the reporters find anyone to interview on the cultural left, other than an expert linked to the omnipresent Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

I mean, you know that someone from the Freedom From Religion Foundation will appear in the article. This is usually the group that is responding to something that someone in the Midwest or the Bible Belt has done to initiate the conflict that is the hook for the story. So you know that the journalists will have talked -- as they should -- with Annie Laurie Gaylor of the foundation.

But why settle for these two groups over and over, especially when dealing with conflicts in the Bible Belt? Why not seek out church-state professionals who live and work in that region?

This leads to the next question: Who will the journalists from the elite Northeast seek out, when researching the story, to serve as expert voices for the other side, for the cultural conservatives involved in this story? I mean, if journalists doing a story of this kind need to talk to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (and they do) and they need to talk to experts on the church-state left (and they do), then who will they find to serve as experts on the other side, on the cultural right?

News flash! There are plenty of academics and lawyers now who work on what could be called the church-state right. There are even folks in think tanks that are in the middle (#gasp). If journalists are going to talk to the groups on the left (as they should), then they also need to talk to experts on the other side. That would be the journalistic thing to do.

This brings us to rural Georgia (you don't get more Bible Belt than that), where representatives of The New York Times (you don't get more elite Northeast than that) are trying to figure out why the locals -- police in this case -- keep wanting to pull God into public life. Here's the top of the story:

 

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How do Christians — past and present — interpret 'You shall not murder'?

How do Christians — past and present — interpret 'You shall not murder'?

GEORGE’S QUESTION:

When are we as Christians allowed to fight back and protect our civilization?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

George wonders whether Christians should work in police departments, whose conduct is much in the news, as well as the armed forces or other security vocations that  involve use of violence and possible  injury or death.

The Religion Guy previously addressed various religions’ views of military service in this post. But it’s a perennial and important topic worth another look, this time limited to Christianity. [Thus the following leaves aside the pressing problem of Islam's growing faction that applies religiously motivated terrorism against the innocent, fellow Muslims included.]

The Christian discussion involves especially two Bible passages. In the Ten Commandments, God proclaims, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:17).  Or so say the familiar Douay, King James, and Revised Standard versions. However, most recent Christian translations instead follow the same word choice as the Jewish Publication Society editions of 1917 and 1985: “You shall not murder.”

Hebrew scholars tell us the verb here refers specifically to illegitimate taking of life, that is “murder,” as distinct from various other types of “killing.”

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Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

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Pod people: Vigils, protests and church activism in wake of #Ferguson

Pod people: Vigils, protests and church activism in wake of #Ferguson

As the nation's spotlight stays focused on Ferguson, Mo., your friendly GetReligionistas remain interested in religion story angles and, yes, even ghosts.

In this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the chaos and protests in that St. Louis suburb since a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

A few religion angles have crossed our radar, such as this Huffington Post report.

But beyond the coverage I highlighted Thursday, few strong #Ferguson faith angles seem to have emerged. Not that Godbeat pros such as Sarah Pulliam Bailey — a former GetReligion contributor who now serves as a national correspondent for Religion News Service — haven't tried.

So far, the Ferguson religion coverage has been about "vigils and protests and church activism," Sarah said in response to a question from me. She added: "I feel like the media have been pulled in so many different directions this week: Robin Williams, Ebola, Iraq, Israel, Ferguson, Pope Francis in South Korea. I think it's been hard to drill down and get good reporting on all of the stories."

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Why is police victim's religion such a secret?

A friend sent along a story to me about a religious row that ended in death. He wondered what religion was involved. Here’s the first story I read, from ABC News (Australia), which begins:

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