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'Is your church van a death trap?': Kentucky paper shines a bright light on important safety question

'Is your church van a death trap?': Kentucky paper shines a bright light on important safety question

Louisville Courier-Journal print subscribers woke up to this question Sunday morning: "Is your church van a death trap?"

Or, as the headline atop the online version of the Kentucky newspaper's in-depth investigative report put it, "Churches are putting their faith in these old vans that could kill."

This is important journalism, based on the Courier-Journal's analysis of millions of crash records from six states between 2004 and 2017.

Readers — particularly those with a 15-passenger van in their church parking lot — would do well to pay attention to it.

I'll share a longer chunk of the opening paragraphs than normal, but these details are both powerful and crucial:

A Ford Motor Company employee test-driving a 15-passenger van flipped it while swerving through a series of cones in 1990.

He didn’t report it. He blamed himself, not the van — and his superiors agreed. That vehicle, the E350, dominated the large-van market for years.

But a Florida jury in March blamed that same make and model van for a woman’s death, granting her four children and husband nearly $20 million in damages.

The left-rear tire on the 2002 E350 had shredded. The van flipped, and passenger Michalanne Salliotte, 44, was tossed from the vehicle and crushed on Feb. 21, 2014.

Salliotte and the driver, who also died, were among five people thrown out as the van tumbled. One was a teenager who had to repeat a year of school because of brain damage. Seven others were injured.

The jury also found the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey negligent for not keeping seat belts in the van within reach.

Transportation safety officials have known since 2001 that 15-passenger vans like the E350 are prone to roll in a crash when loaded with people. Federal officials have issued repeated safety warnings to carmakers and the public. Some insurance companies refuse to cover them. A major religious denomination advises member churches to avoid them. And at least 28 states prohibit public schools from using them to transport students.

Yet many churches around the country still use the old vans to haul kids to swimming pools, take parishioners to services or deliver members to conferences and revival meetings.

And people still die.

Of course, safety questions about 15-passenger vans are not new.

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Religion News Service fallout III -- A press release sheds neither heat nor light

Religion News Service fallout III -- A press release sheds neither heat nor light

More fallout continueth from the Religion News Service explosions of two weeks ago with the release of a press release that sounds like a directive out of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

A quick review: tmatt’s April 24 post was the first reporting by anyone on this on RNS’s problems. Then I offered this mega-piece on the 26th,  which beat two magazine stories on the topic by almost a day. Then I followed up with this piece on the 27th, which looked at those pieces in The New Republic and the Columbia Journalism Review and then included the first official word of the Religion News Foundation's upcoming $4.9 million Lilly Endowment grant.

Make sure to bone up on the history of this conflict before going further. All that, plus Richard “Religion Guy” Ostling’s memo a few days later has resulted in some pretty decent coverage and commentary from the team here at GetReligion.

So this past Monday, RNS, through its crisis PR firm Athene Strategies, released the following:

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Recent announcements at Religion News Service, including new staff and a pending $4.9 million grant, demonstrate the strategic adjustments RNS is making to honor its 84-year legacy and ensure its bright future.

With these changes, RNS aims to do more than simply survive in a 21st century media landscape. Our vision requires bringing renewed energy and an innovation mindset to the field of religion journalism. By educating and informing a growing audience, we can help cultivate mutual understanding among people of different cultures, faiths and traditions. The result? More peaceful, pluralistic communities around the world.

So RNS holds a key to world peace? That's quite a journalistic mission.

We can do better. This reminds me of the “community journalism” craze of a few decades back mixed with UNESCO agitprop. Am also curious why the story is datelined out of Missouri. Yes, I know there are administrative ties to the University of Missouri, but why not dateline it in Washington, DC where RNS is based? 

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Jim Bakker plus real estate plus the apocalypse plus zero new reporting equals WHAT?

Jim Bakker plus real estate plus the apocalypse plus zero new reporting equals WHAT?

Jim Bakker likes to build things.

In the old days be built really big things and news consumers with a long attention span will remember how that turned out. Click here for a recent news update.

Today he's building smaller things -- like Ozark cabins for the post-apocalyptic age. Buyers will need lots of Bakker approved religious-home furnishings, of course.

As you would imagine, there are people who want to write about that. The question is whether, in a social-media and Internet journalism age, WRITING about this topic actually requires journalists at a major newspaper in the Midwest to do any new REPORTING, other than with an Internet search engine.

Here's the Kansas City Star headline: "Televangelist Jim Bakker calls his Missouri cabins the safest spot for the Apocalypse." Read this story and count the online and streaming info sources. I'll start you off with the overture:

Televangelist Jim Bakker suggests that if you want to survive the end of days, the best thing you could do is buy one of his cabins in Missouri's Ozark Mountains. And while you're at it, be sure to pick up six 28-ounce "Extreme Survival Warfare" water bottles for $150.

Bakker, 78, made comments promoting his Morningside church community alongside his co-host and wife, Lori, on an episode of "The Jim Bakker Show," which aired Tuesday. The show is filmed there, near Branson.

Then there's a short flashback to the PTL Club days in Charlotte, with no attribution necessary. That's followed by a temptress Jessica Hahn update, care of reporting by The Charlotte Observer a few months ago. Then a bit more history, with no attribution.

Then we're back to information gained by watching the new Bakker show from Branson.

But wait. Read this next part carefully.

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Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Faithful GetReligion readers are familiar with our "folder of guilt" concept. If you live online, you have one, too.

It's the large stack of emails that you know you need to deal with, but more urgent (or less complex) emails keep arriving, day after day, week after week. The digital layers between you and the "guilt" emails get bigger and bigger.

The difference here at GetReligion is that some of us have -- literally -- created "guilt" folders in our email software to protect certain stories or op-eds or online discussions that we know we should deal with, somehow, someday. Like today.

This brings me to a 5-star "guilt" discussion that took place recently among the GetReligionistas. This one was important because it cut to the heart of what we do here and, to be blunt, what we may or may not be doing in the future.

The basics: GetReligion has, for 14-plus years, attempted to critique the good and the bad in mainstream coverage of religion. We have deliberately tried to avoid writing about opinion and analysis journalism, other than making references to add depth or perspective to posts about hard-news coverage. We also have the weekend "think piece" feature that points readers to all kinds of journalism about issues linked to religion and, thus, religion news.

Meanwhile, trends in the Internet age have weakened the wall between straight news and advocacy news (#DUH). We know that and we have struggled to cope with that.

But we also know that many of our culture's most important discussions of religious issues and events are taking place OUTSIDE of the journalism world -- in entertainment. That's one of the reasons I left a newsroom in 1991 to teach mass-media studies at a seminary.

So what is GetReligion supposed to do with debates about "news" topics that take place, to cite one example, in a show like HBO's "Silicon Valley"?

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Friday Five: RNS turmoil, Chick-fil-A (again), where would Jesus park and a prayer for OKC Thunder

Friday Five: RNS turmoil, Chick-fil-A (again), where would Jesus park and a prayer for OKC Thunder

I'm fresh back in the United States after a reporting trip to Haiti.

I'm out of the loop on the drama that has engulfed Religion News Service in recent days. However, I'm incredibly sad to learn of respected colleagues such as Jerome Socolovsky, Lauren Markoe and Kimberly Winston Ligocki losing their jobs.

Since March 2017, I've written a number of freelance pieces for RNS. I've always found both Socolovsky, who was editor in chief, and Markoe, the managing editor, to be extremely cordial, professional and helpful in making my stories better. While I don't know enough to assess the complicated inner turmoil at RNS, I can vouch for my positive personal experience with those two talented and experienced journalists/Godbeat pros.

I haven't worked with G. Jeffrey MacDonald, the newly appointed interim editor-in-chief, but I've admired and respected his religion reporting and writing for years. I wish him and the remaining RNS staff all the best. At the same time, I can't help but wonder what the ground will look like after this earthquake in the religion news world finishes shaking.

Let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Obviously, it's the RNS happenings. While GetReligion generally does analysis, not reporting, my colleague Julia Duin delved skillfully into the RNS situation in a must-read piece featuring interviews with key sources on "How America's one religion wire service melted down over a long weekend." That's Part 1 of a two-part package by Duin. Look for Part 2 as soon as later today.

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Can a new Amazon HQ liberalize a devout, red-state America? The Washington Post weighs in

Can a new Amazon HQ liberalize a devout, red-state America? The Washington Post weighs in

It has been fun following Amazon’s search for a new headquarters city in the past few months. 

On Saturday, while waiting for my kid’s soccer game to finish, I dashed into the local (Seattle suburb) Starbucks for a quick pickup when what should I see on the front page of the Seattle Times, but a piece by the Washington Post: “The unspoken factor in Amazon’s search for a new home: Jeff Bezo’s support for gay rights.”

Well, you heard it here first.

As tmatt suggested in January, Amazon may use its massive influence to persuade certain red-state cities to soften up their stance on certain culture wars issues (ie transgender people and public restroom access) to be awarded the title of HQ2. I wrote a similar post in February after the list of the 20 finalist cities was published. And you know what? We were right.

What’s interesting in this latest installment of the Amazon-needs-a-new-home saga is that the religious element is front and center:

When Amazon executives recently toured the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one of 20 finalists for a second company headquarters, local officials touted its growing workforce and low taxes as perfectly suited to accommodate 50,000 planned Amazon jobs.

But the local team also brought an unexpected guest: the Rev. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas, pastor of a predominantly gay megachurch in Dallas. He impressed upon the Amazon representatives how inclusive and welcoming the community has been to him, his husband and the 4,000 congregants at his church, according to people familiar with the meeting.

In the high-stakes contest to become Amazon’s new location, it may have been a shrewd move. Although the company’s search materials don’t make it explicit, Amazon has quietly made rights for and acceptance of gay and transgender people part of its criteria in choosing a second headquarters, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely.

Cazares-Thomas pastors Cathedral of Hope, a United Church of Christ congregation, for those of you interested in such fact-driven religious details.

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Can New York City survive Chick-fil-A invasion? Let's look at Manhattan history!

Can New York City survive Chick-fil-A invasion? Let's look at Manhattan history!

On a personal note: I just finished one of my two-week sojourns teaching journalism at The King's College in New York. As I have mentioned before, if you add up my various duties here I live in lower Manhattan just over two months a year.

I'm not a New Yorker, but I hang out with them a lot -- even in local diners and fast-food joints.

Anyway, at the end of my final seminar session last night one of the students gave me a thank-you card and the perfect gift to sum up life in this neighborhood right now.

It was, of course, a Chick-fil-A gift card.

Don't worry, I will be able to use that card in Oak Ridge, Tenn., even though our town has only one Chick-fil-A sanctuary, compared to New York City's three (with more on the way as part of the much-discussed Bible Belt invasion of the Big Apple).

The bottom line: If was the perfect end to the week. And you will not be surprised that we also talked about the now infamous New Yorker sermon about Chick-fil-A -- "Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City" -- during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

In my GetReligion post about this whole kerfuffle ("The New Yorker stirs up a storm with analysis of Chick-fil-A evangelism in the Big Apple"), I tried to avoid -- for the most part -- some of the most common themes in the Twitter madness about this piece. Here are three of the more low-key, constructive tweets from that amazing storm:

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Friday Five: Chick-fil-A, Southwest pilot's faith, Waco anniversary, clergy sex abuse scandal and more

Friday Five: Chick-fil-A, Southwest pilot's faith, Waco anniversary, clergy sex abuse scandal and more

I have a confession to make, dear reader.

I eat too much Chick-fil-A. Way too much Chick-fil-A.

I love Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits for breakfast. I love Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches — minus the pickles, which I know is heresy to some— for dinner. I love anything on the Chick-fil-A menu for Sunday lunch. Or, I mean, I would if Chick-fil-A would just do me a favor and open on Sunday.

Go ahead and encourage me to #EatMorChikin (not to mention waffle fries). I'm just not sure it's possible. My waistline will back me up on this.

Yes, in case you're wondering, there's a religion news angle on Chick-fil-A in this week's Friday Five.

Let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: A devout Christian pilot with "nerves of steel" calmly maneuvers a Southwest Airlines flight to the ground after a blown engine kills one passenger and injures seven others.

How can that not be the religion story of the week?

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'Dear Jesus, send some angels': More notes of faith and prayer inside Southwest Flight 1380

'Dear Jesus, send some angels': More notes of faith and prayer inside Southwest Flight 1380

Several years ago, I was flying home from a reporting trip when the pilot came on the loudspeaker and reported trouble with the controls that direct the plane.

He said we needed to make an emergency landing, and rescue vehicles would be waiting as a precaution. But he stressed that the flashing lights on the ground shouldn’t alarm anyone because he didn’t expect any problem landing the plane.

That statement would have provided more comfort if I hadn’t kept asking myself: If the plane were going to crash, would he be so candid as to say so?

“Attention, passengers, I fully expect that we are all about to die. Please buckle your seat belts and get your affairs in order.” 

For an anxious flyer such as myself, that experience was scary enough.

But I can't even imagine what the passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 endured this week. As you no doubt heard, one passenger was killed and seven others wounded Tuesday after an engine exploded. 

However, as I noted Wednesday, devout Christian pilot Tammie Jo Shults is being praised for her "nerves of steel" in calmly maneuvering the plane to the ground and avoiding a much worse catastrophe.

Since I wrote that post, I've come across more faith-filled news coverage that needs to be highlighted.

The New York Times' front-page narrative today on the "20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror" is especially compelling:

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