Black church

If parents want to decline cancer treatment for their child in favor of herbs, is that religion news?

If parents want to decline cancer treatment for their child in favor of herbs, is that religion news?

It’s a decision that even Solomon might find challenging.

On one side is a 14-year-old girl with a life-threatening brain tumor and a hospital that wants to save her. On the other are the girl’s parents who also want to save her, albeit through naturopathic methods instead of chemotherapy.

Then take it all to court and you have a fascinating story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about doctors versus parents and a 14-year-old who’s going irreversibly blind in the meantime.

But there’s one huge hole in this narrative. See if you can spot it:

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- On the last Tuesday in March, in an eighth-floor courtroom high above a dense fog hiding downtown Cleveland, Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Magistrate Ginny Millas faced a weeping mother and a father so anguished he struggled to speak.

During two days of testimony, Millas had listened to people argue the fate of a 14-year-old girl with a brain tumor.

Cleveland Clinic specialists say chemotherapy is the only way to treat Zara Ali's tumor, save her failing eyesight and possibly her life.

Her parents have resisted. They've been doctoring their daughter with "natural and holistic medicine," gentler remedies they believe will heal her. Herbal cures have long been part of Zara's family life and are in keeping with their religion, said her father, who came to court each day wearing a red fez, as many Moorish Americans do.

What religion, you might ask while perusing this story. And therein lies the problem. We’re not told. Can we agree that this is a rather essential fact to leave out?

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Politicos and reporters: Democrats’ hopes for 2018 and '20 face religious tripwires

Politicos and reporters: Democrats’ hopes for 2018 and '20 face religious tripwires

The biblical preacher laments that “much study is a weariness of the flesh,” which can be said about commentaries without end on why oh why so many white evangelicals back President Donald Trump and his Republicans.

Current examples come from the scornful Slate.com and, on the right, David French, with vigorous National Review jeremiads here and also here. A prominent Catholic journalist, Newsweek veteran Kenneth Woodward, offered his perspective here.

Yet The Religion Guy, and other GetReligionistas, keep reminding everybody not to neglect other religious and racial groups and the dynamics within America’s other party. The Democrats have high hopes for 2020 and for a Nov. 6 rebound, perhaps of historic proportions.  Before pols order the champagne, however, they (and reporters who cover them) should recognize potential religious tripwires.

There’s a disjuncture between liberal whites who pretty much control Democratic machinations and the African-American and Hispanic voters they need in order to win. As GetReligion has noted, Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter warns about contempt for traditional Christianity typified by that New Yorker attack upon “creepy” Chick-fil-A, analyzed here by our own tmatt.

Carter, an African-American and Episcopalian, has bemoaned elite blinders  since “The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion” (1993). In this round, he highlights Pew Research data showing Americans of color are notably more devout, more religiously active and more conservative in belief than whites. His bottom line: “If you find Christian traditionalism creepy, it’s black people you’re talking about.”

The Guy adds that you’re also targeting scads of white Catholics and Latinos.   

As The Guy and other GetReligionistas keep noting, and many media keep ignoring, the Democrats’ religion problem shapes their prospects. Which brings us to “The Democrats’ God Gap,” a must-read by the aforementioned French. (French is a prominent #NeverTrump conservative but also a behind-scenes evangelical hero as an attorney defending the right of campus groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to be led by like-minded Christians.)    

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Waffle House hero vs. Waffle House gunman: Lots of religion here, but no answered questions

Waffle House hero vs. Waffle House gunman: Lots of religion here, but no answered questions

As you would imagine, folks here in Tennessee are still talking about the Waffle House shootings, even though the national media -- this is the age in which we live -- have moved on to other gun-related stories.

Nevertheless, The Tennessean in Nashville produced a massive story the other day about the lives of the two almost-30 men at the heart of the story -- the hero, James Shaw, Jr., and the troubled gunman, Travis Reinking.

There is all kinds of religious material in this story, and that material was used in a way that raised all kinds of questions -- that the story didn't answer.

Believe it or not, in this case that's a compliment. Once again, we are headed into news territory defined by the theological word "theodicy."

Why does evil exist? Why do some people choose to do good, while others choose to do evil? Why does mental illness exist? Why do some people raised in Christian homes cling to that faith, when push comes to shove, while others fling the faith and lash out at others?

You'll ask all of those questions, and more, when you read this story: "One came to Waffle House to eat. One came to kill, police say. How two worlds collided."

Don't expect answers, especially not about Reinking and his family's years of struggles to understand and manage his mental illness -- which followed him like a cloud, even as his behavior in other parts of life seemed perfectly normal.

Let's start with Shaw, and church:

Nashville is Shaw's home.

He has attended Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church since he was an infant, the same iconic North Nashville church his mother attended as a girl.

The youngest of three Shaw children, and the only boy, he was fun-loving, quiet and respectful to adults. He became humbler as he got older.

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After the Waffle House shootings: It's hard to separate tragedy and faith in Bible Belt life

After the Waffle House shootings: It's hard to separate tragedy and faith in Bible Belt life

It's been a crazy week, in terms of religion-beat life. Thus, I have not had the time to address the media coverage of the Waffle House shooting in the Nashville area.

Yes, Tennesseans are still talking about that second tragedy in the Antioch area.

I have found it interesting that folks in this neck of the woods are talking more about James Shaw -- the 29-year-old hero in this drama -- than they are the young and very troubled man who did the shooting. Can we officially say that this is progress? Sad progress, but progress of some kind.

If you read through some of the coverage -- national and regional -- there is one quick religion angle to be covered in this story. However, I think there is another religion theme in this story that deserved coverage. Hold that thought.

First, care of Nashville Public Radio, the #DUH religion angle, from the Bible Belt point of view. The headline: "Waffle House Shooting Hero Goes From The Hospital To Church." Let's pick this up after the time-sensitive, newsy lede:

James Shaw was discharged from the hospital Sunday morning, freshly bandaged up from a bullet grazing his elbow and a burned hand from grabbing the smoking hot barrel of an AR-15. And where did he go?

"He didn't skip church to be laid up," Rev. Aaron Marble said, as he prayed over Shaw's family at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church. "But instead [he] went through this experience and got to come to church to give God praise."

Still dressed in a slim-fitting khaki suit, turtle neck and tasseled loafers, the young father, who works for AT&T, spoke at a police press conference.

"If you would ask me, I'm actually not a greatly religious person," Shaw said. "But I know that in a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him."

When talking about this with locals here in Oak Ridge, I have heard several people simply say: "Of course he went to church."

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Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Every now and then, a magazine like The Atlantic Monthly -- a must-read publication, no matter what one's cultural worldview -- publishes a cover story that transforms how thinking people think about an important issue. At least, that's true if lots of members of the thinking classes are open to thinking about information that may make them uncomfortable.

This was certainly the case in October, 2002, when historian Philip Jenkins published a massive Atlantic cover story that ran with this provocative headline: "The Next Christianity." For those with an even longer attention span, there was the book, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity."

Now, before I hit you with a key passage from that important Atlantic piece, let me tell you where we are going in this Sunday think package.

Jenkins was writing about a wave of global change in pews and pulpits, as the face of Christianity moved -- statistically speaking -- from Europe and North America to the multicultural reality that is the Global South. Thus, if you are looking for a "typical" Christian in the world today, it is probably an African woman in an evangelical Anglican (or maybe Methodist) congregation. She is probably a charismatic believer, too.

Now, I thought about that Jenkins piece when reading an amazing new Bloomberg essay by Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter, addressing the media storm surrounding that bizarre New Yorker sermon about You Know What (click here for my most recent piece, and podcast, on this hot topic). Here is the dramatic double-decker headline on the Carter piece:

The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A's Christianity

The fast-food chain's "infiltration" of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness

What's the connection here, between Jenkins and Carter?

Hint: Demographics is destiny (and doctrine is important, too). Here is a famous (and long) summary paragraph from the 2002 Atlantic essay:

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress.

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#MLK50: On anniversary of King's assassination, five faith-filled links to insightful coverage

#MLK50: On anniversary of King's assassination, five faith-filled links to insightful coverage

It's #MLK50 day — the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Already, we have called attention to strong religion-related coverage of this milestone by two veteran Godbeat journalists: Hamil R. Harris and Adelle Banks.

Harris, we noted, recently wrote an article for the Washington Post headlined "Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, where should the black church go from here?" And for USA Today, he did a story noting that "As racism resurges, many look to the pulpit King left behind."

Banks, meanwhile, produced an extraordinary story focused on a 75-year-old Memphis, Tenn., sanitation worker who "drives five days a week to collect garbage, even as he spends much of the rest of his time as an associate minister of his Baptist congregation."

Along with the above coverage, here are five more insightful links (and please feel free to share more in the comments section) that we came across in scanning today's headlines:

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Serious charges against a preacher friend of George W. Bush (oh, and Barack Obama, as well)

Serious charges against a preacher friend of George W. Bush (oh, and Barack Obama, as well)

Here is a name that may or may not ring a bell for many news consumers: The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell.

Maybe the video at the top of this post will refresh your memory. That's Caldwell, a megachurch pastor from Houston, saying one of the prayers at the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush as president.

At the moment, Caldwell is -- as Texans would say -- in a heap of trouble, as you can see at the top of this report in The Houston Chronicle, under this headline: "Kirbyjon Caldwell -- Houston megachurch pastor and spiritual adviser to George W. Bush -- indicted on fraud charges."

A prominent Houston pastor and spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush has been indicted on federal charges that he sold millions of dollars in worthless Chinese bonds to elderly and vulnerable investors, according to federal authorities.
Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 64, and Shreveport financial planner Gregory Alan Smith, 55, were charged with 13 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
Caldwell is accused of using his position as the senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church to help lure nearly $3.5 million in investments into historic Chinese bonds that are not recognized by the Chinese government. He and Smith told investors they could see returns as high as 15 times their initial investment, according to the indictment.

Now, pause and remember that many, and perhaps most, Americans who still read newspapers simply scan the headlines and then decide whether they want to dig deeper into a story. So read that Chronicle headline again.

Done? Now read this ABC News headline about the same story: "Megachurch pastor with ties to Presidents Bush, Obama to surrender Monday: Attorney."

Did you spot an interesting difference in these two headlines?

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Pew Research: There've been three significant religious shifts in U.S. politics since 1994

Pew Research: There've been three significant religious shifts in U.S. politics since 1994

The latest Pew Research Center survey amalgamates (that's our word of the day) 257 surveys over 23 years about the  political alignments of some 350,000 U.S. registered voters, with important data on gender and other demographics.

We also find valuable context for religion reporters covering political dynamics, and for political reporters covering religious dynamics. Rather than lumping all Protestants and Catholics together, Pew’s data carefully distinguish between the two main and very different Protestant camps, white “mainline” vs. “evangelical,” and between white non-Hispanic Catholics and the politically distinct Hispanics who are now 34 percent of U.S. Catholics.

The following numbers will compare January of 1994, the year Republicans regained control of the U.S. House after a 40-year drought, with last December, the end of Donald Trump’s first year as president. The percentages combine those who identify with a political party with those who “lean” that way.

For Democrats, some patterns are stable. Black Protestants’ overwhelming support rose a notch, from 82 percent to 87 percent. Hispanic Catholics’ Democratic affinity slipped from 69 percent to 64 percent. Jews’ loyalty was virtually unchanged at 69 percent vs. the current 67 percent.

White "mainline” Protestants are split between the parties, with Republican support edging up a bit, from 50 percent in 1994 to the current 53 percent. Mormons’ strong Republicanism (a major irony in 19th Century terms) was 80 percent during the 1994 sweep but sagged to 72 percent last December, presumably reflecting some distaste toward Mr. Trump.

This brings us to the three big shifts that will shape national and state elections in 2018 and beyond.

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How can scribes capture Billy Graham's giant, complex life in newsprint? This will take time

How can scribes capture Billy Graham's giant, complex life in newsprint? This will take time

Back in the early 1980s, I sat in a meeting at The Charlotte Observer in which we discussed how the Rev. Billy Graham's hometown newspaper would handle his death. After all, he wasn't that far from the time when ordinary people start talking about retirement.

Graham, however, wasn't "ordinary people" especially in a town with a major road called the Billy Graham Parkway. The Observer team needed a plan. 

How do you sum up Graham's giant, complex, sprawling life in a few paragraphs? Try to imagine being the Associated Press pro who had to come up with the first bulletin that moved when the world's most famous evangelist died early Wednesday morning. Here is that story in its entirety:

The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died.
Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday morning. He was 99.
Graham reached more than 200 million through his appearances and millions more through his pioneering use of television and radio. Unlike many traditional evangelists, he abandoned narrow fundamentalism to engage broader society.

The priorities there seem solid, to me. The AP, of course, quickly released a full-length obituary.

As you would expect, there were stumbles in other newsrooms -- some of them almost Freudian. Consider the opening of the Graham obituary at The Daily Beast:

The Rev. Billy Graham, an evangelist preacher who changed American politics, has died at the age of 99. ...

Uh, no.

There were also some struggles to grasp the precise meanings of key religious words. For example, Graham was often called "America's pastor," but he spent very, very little time as a pastor, in terms of leading a congregation. There were some struggles, as always, with variations on words such as "evangelist," "evangelical" and "evangelizing." Was Graham a "fundamentalist"? The true fundamentalists would certainly say "no."

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