When Pope Francis trashes Satan, journalists need to do more legwork on why

When Pope Francis trashes Satan, journalists need to do more legwork on why

Not long ago, the London Telegraph ran a brief piece about Pope Francis cautioning people not to talk to the devil.

The mere existence of a papal discussion on the matter presupposes that enough people are talking with the Serpent Below to cause the Vatican some thought. I just wish the reporter had done more with this absorbing topic. 

The story begins with this:

The Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals and should never be argued with, Pope Francis has warned.
Satan is not a metaphor or a nebulous concept but a real person armed with dark powers, the Pope said in forthright remarks made during a television interview.
“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person. I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan - if you do that, you’ll be lost,” he told TV2000, a Catholic channel, gesticulating with his hands to emphasise his point.
“He’s more intelligent than us, and he’ll turn you upside down, he’ll make your head spin.

One hopes the pope was not referring to the famous head-spinning scene in The Exorcist.

Now, one needs to ask a basic question: What got Francis going on this topic? The Telegraph article doesn’t say, except to inform us that the pope has been on a defeat-Satan kick for some time.

"It's a Jesuit thing. He's a Jesuit who is deeply imbued with the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, which allow people to discern the movements of the good and bad spirit," said Austen Ivereigh, a Vatican analyst and the author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.
"For him, this is real, these are not metaphors. It may not be the way that people speak nowadays and some Catholics may be taken aback by it. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of evil being real, but anyone who knows the spirituality of the Jesuits will not be surprised."

In other words, this is a personal foible, if you will, of a Jesuit pope and not something that reasonable 21st century folks need to be concerned about.

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Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Let's take a trip into my GetReligion folder of think-piece guilt, shall we?

In this case, I would like to point readers toward a piece at The Atlantic by Michael Wear that ran about a month ago. The headline: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters."

We could, after the narrow Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate race, change that headline to something that would look like this: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters, when Running Against Candidates Other Than Roy Moore."

As I have said several times: Imagine if the Democrats had, in Alabama, selected an African-American pro-life woman as their candidate. The cultural conservatives who either boycotted Moore or wrote in a third-party candidate would have had a valid choice on the other side the ballot. Moore would have been the walking (or horseback) dead against a culturally conservative Democrat.

There are so many journalism stories -- local, regional and national -- linked to this issue, in religion and in politics.

In a way, this is similar to this question: Would Joe Biden have defeated Donald Trump, especially if he had shown a willingness to seek compromises on religious-liberty issues and abortion? I think I know the answer to that one, too. Hillary Clinton was just about the only candidate on earth Trump could defeat, in large part because of her loyalty to the cultural, political and, yes, secular/religious left (key Pew Forum data here).

So here is Wear's overture:

Democrats ignored broad swaths of religious America in the 2016 election campaign and the nation has suffered because of it. Yet calls for a recommitment to faith outreach -- particularly to white and other conservative or moderate religious voters -- have been met in some corners of liberal punditry with a response as common as it is unwarranted. Some quarters of the Democratic party would rather maintain rhetorical and ideological purity than win with a more inclusive coalition. For the sake of the country, the party must turn back to people of faith.

But here is the crunch paragraphs in this analysis piece:

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Looking ahead: Pointers for journalists after that tumultuous Alabama Senate campaign

Looking ahead: Pointers for journalists after that tumultuous Alabama Senate campaign

For days and months ahead, pundits will chew on obdurate Republican Roy Moore’s loss by 1.4 percent in Alabama’s tumultuous Senate race. There were religion angles all over the place in this drama.

Should Moore have ducked reporters, or have vanished from the campaign trail the final week? Did Steve Bannon help or hurt? Is President Donald Trump wounded? Will Chuck Schumer run the Senate come 2019? Did 23,000 write-in votes make the difference, and were they cast by anti-Moore Republicans?

Whatever. The Guy will start off with one thought for all journos, then offer some observations for my fellow religion-beat specialists.

Consider: Has polling turned into astrology? You’d think so when three election-eve polls showed Moore up 9 percentage points (Emerson College), or Democrat Doug Jones up 10 points (Fox News) -- a 19-point difference! -- or a tie if Alabama repeated Virginia’s governor turnout (Monmouth University). (Moore was up 2.2 percent across polls averaged by RealClearPolitics.com).

Of course, pollsters coped with a December special election and a unique one at that. It's pretty clear that some Bible Belt voters don't want to tell pollsters (and journalists) what they want to hear. Many simply refuse to cooperate.

Thus, polling nowadays is iffy, and all scribes should ponder the reasons in this sure-footed explanation by Nate Silver. Click here for that.

Turning to the religion beat, there's an unending quest to comprehend the nation’s largest religious bloc, white evangelicals.

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Cracks in the evangelical monolith myth: Gray Lady looks at post-Alabama soul-searching

Cracks in the evangelical monolith myth: Gray Lady looks at post-Alabama soul-searching

After? After?!?

That was my first reaction when I read the headline on that post-election thumbsucker in The New York Times, the one that proclaimed: "After Alabama Vote, Soul-Searching Among Some Evangelicals."

Say what? I mean, anyone who has paid attention to evangelical conversations in social media -- even if all you did was follow the Most. Obvious. Evangelical. Voices. On. Twitter -- knows that debates inside American evangelicalism moved past soul-searching somewhere during the GOP primaries in 2016. Debates about the meaning of the word "evangelical" and damage to the brand's credibility have built month after month for a year or more.

But now these debates are real, because they have reached the great Gray Lady, even if this important, must-read story does make it seem like evangelicals didn't really get down to soul-searching until after (that is the word in the headline) Roy Moore lost. If you didn't read the story, you might even think that they were finally doing this soul-searching because Moore lost.

But then something hit me. Why, that headline also contained a kind of small journalistic miracle. You see, it contains the word "some."

Hallelujah! That word "some" could be read as a tiny recognition that the world of evangelical Protestantism -- even the accursed brand known as "white evangelicals" -- is not a monolith of Donald Trump-primary votin', praise chorus shoutin', Bill O'Reilly worshipin' bigots. Wait, that may be too harsh. In some media reports evangelicals are only idiots.

As you would imagine, the fallout from the Moore campaign was the main topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast, following up on my post praising a New Yorker report (that would be "Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right") and Julia Duin's morning-after survey of some crucial coverage. Click here to tune that in, or go to iTunes and sign up.

So here is the opening of the Times feature:

The editor in chief of “Christianity Today” did not have to wait for the votes to be counted to publish his essay on Tuesday bemoaning what the Alabama Senate race had wrought.

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Friday Five: An abusive cult, Top 10 religion stories of 2017, guns in churches and more

Friday Five: An abusive cult, Top 10 religion stories of 2017, guns in churches and more

Today's Friday Five will be a Roy Moore-free (and Doug Jones-free) zone.

Hey, it's nothing personal (we've got posts here, here, here and here if you want to read more about this week's big politics-and-religion news). Plus, my inside sources tell me a must-listen-to GetReligion podcast on the subject is coming real soon.

But for a twist, the "Five" will focus on subjects besides "Sweet Home Alabama" (the above video notwithstanding).

Here goes:

1. Religion story of the week: The Associated Press published another riveting installment in its ongoing investigation of North Carolina-based Word of Faith Fellowship. Earlier this year, we called attention to this "important AP investigation on physical and sexual abuse" at that church. The latest story by Mitch Weiss and Holbook Mohr — "‘Nobody saved us’: Man describes childhood in abusive ‘cult’" — is again must reading.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: I mentioned the upcoming podcast. But if you missed last week's podcast ("Cakeshop question: Is 'tolerance' a bad word in America today?"), you can listen to it now. Terry Mattingly's post tied to the podcast — "Masterpiece Cakeshop waiting game: Are the bakers of all 'offensive' cakes created equal?" — was the No. 1 most-read post of the last week.

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CNN visits eastern Kentucky women, but ignores how majority feels about abortion, etc.

CNN visits eastern Kentucky women, but ignores how majority feels about abortion, etc.

Not long ago, when I was doing research in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee for my new book on young Pentecostal serpent handlers, some of us -- by which I mean people involved in local churches and local life -- grew to despise what I call journalistic carpetbaggers.

Those are the folks from the big city who show up in Fly-Over Land to get at the real truth about those denizens of America’s hinterlands they believe no other journalist has uncovered. They wouldn’t dream of leaving their enclaves inside the Beltway or –- in this case the Outer Perimeter of Atlanta -- to actually live among the unwashed, but they do like jetting in every so often to report on the Truth That Is Out There Among The Simple People.

You can probably guess where I’m going with CNN’s latest: “Forget Abortion: What women in Appalachian Kentucky really want.”

I’ll tell you up front what that is: They want birth control and lots of it. Oh, and there's no need to talk to Kentucky women who oppose abortion. They don't exist.

The story begins here:

Pikeville, Kentucky (CNN) Perhaps it was the abstinence pledge she felt forced to sign or the promise ring she was told to slip on her finger. But from the moment Cheryl became sexually active, she felt dirty.
Then, three boys raped her, reducing her self-image to mud.
She didn't dare tell anyone or seek help. Growing up in rural eastern Kentucky, she'd been raised by drug addicts who'd lost the family home and lived in a place, she says, where there was "nothing left to do but do each other."

I’ll agree that rural eastern Kentucky (I also biked through the area -– places like Elkhorn City, Pippa Passes and Hazard -- many years ago during a trip from Washington DC to Lexington, Ky.), is often closer to being Meth Alley rather than a garden spot. That region of the country appears atop all the bad lists: joblessness, poverty, absenteeism, life expectancy and female smoking during pregnancy.

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Holy ghosts in Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer reports on debate over aborting Down syndrome babies

Holy ghosts in Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer reports on debate over aborting Down syndrome babies

So often at GetReligion — here, here, here, here and here, for example — we call attention to the mainstream news media's rampant bias in coverage of the abortion issue.

I'm referring, of course, to the longstanding and indisputable problem of news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side.

But guess what!?

This isn't going to be one of those posts.

In fact, I'm generally impressed with the balanced, factual nature of the Cincinnati Enquirer's story on a Down syndrome abortion ban going to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the former moderate Republican presidential candidate.

I do think, however, that the piece is haunted by ghosts. As regular readers know, we refer to them as "holy ghosts." More on that God-sized hole in the Enquirer's otherwise fine report in a moment.

But first, the compelling lede:

COLUMBUS — When a mother receives the news that her child will be born with Down syndrome, should she have the choice to obtain an abortion?
Ohio's GOP-controlled Legislature says "no." Lawmakers, with a 20-12 vote in the Ohio Senate, sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that would penalize doctors who perform abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Kasich said in 2015 that he would sign such a bill. 
The proposed law has sparked division within the Down syndrome community.

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Concerning Jerusalem, Donald Trump, Arab Christian anger and, yes, American evangelicals

Concerning Jerusalem, Donald Trump, Arab Christian anger and, yes, American evangelicals

Trust me when I say that I understand why so many Christians in the ancient churches of the Middle East are frustrated with America, and American evangelicals in particular, when it comes to the complex and painful status of Jerusalem.

As I have mentioned several times here at GetReligion, when I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy two decades ago my family became part of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese -- which is closely tied to the ancient Orthodox flock based in Damascus. Then, from 2001-2005 (including 9/11), we were active in a West Palm Beach, Fla., parish that was primarily made up of families with ties to Syria, Lebanon and, yes, Israel and the West Bank.

I will not try to sum up their lives and viewpoints in a few lines. Suffice it to say, they struggled to understand why so many American Christians have little or no interest in the daily lives and realities of Christians whose Holy Land roots go back to Pentecost.

Thus, I am thankful that the Washington Post international desk has updated a familiar, yet still urgent, news topic as we get closer to the Christmas season. The hook, of course, is the announcement by President Donald Trump about the status of the U.S. embassy in Israel. The headline: "Trump plan to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem angers Middle East Christians."

The overture is familiar, yet sadly newsy:

JERUSALEM -- Some of the festive cheer was missing this weekend at a public Christmas tree lighting near the site where Christians believe an angel proclaimed Christ’s birth to local shepherds. 
“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the crowd in the town of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Mr. Trump told us clearly Jerusalem is not yours.”
The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there has provoked widespread opposition among Christians across the Middle East. When Vice President Pence arrives next week on a trip touted as a chance to check on the region’s persecuted Christians, he will be facing an awkward backlash.

Right there, you see, is the story that has loomed in the background for decades.

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Bring in the Millennials, Kansas City Star says of churches (But what about old timers?)

Bring in the Millennials, Kansas City Star says of churches (But what about old timers?)

Props are due to the Kansas City Star for noticing that some churches in its area are attracting, and not, apparently, repelling, the young cohort of worshipers that could be grouped under the banner of "millennial."

Indeed, the message is up front in the story's headline: "Bucking a trend, these churches figured out how to bring millennials back to worship."

Once a reader gets past a nice setup anecdote about one of the newly booming congregations, we get these salient points:

In 2015, a wide-ranging Pew Research Center study concluded that America was becoming less religious due in part to millennials distancing themselves from organized religion. Only 27 percent of Americans born between 1981 and 1996, the study found, regularly attend weekly services.
As a result, some area churches and synagogues have created special programs that cater to younger members.
But a handful, most notably, perhaps, City of Truth on the East Side and The Cause on the West Plaza, now cater almost exclusively to millennials.

This is a solid, well-reported story in which I can find few flaws to note. The Star is to be congratulated for this kind of coverage. Hence, you won't find any "big" journalism problems highlighted in this blog post.

So why write this post? As tmatt would say, "Hold that thought."

As readers find out from the story, City of Truth serves a largely African-American congregation, while The Cause's members are mostly white. The services times on Sundays may differ, but they apparently remain one of the most segregated hours in America, as the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed.

Such changes did not come without a price for City of Truth, as the story explains:

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