Fundamentalism

Does the race card work? Christian school bans long hair for boys, including dreadlocks

Does the race card work? Christian school bans long hair for boys, including dreadlocks

It would be hard to imagine a click-bait story that features more unfortunate stereotypes about race and religion than the USA Today report about the young Florida student who was forbidden to enroll in a small Christian school because of his dreadlocks.

Turn up the social-media heat under this headline: "Florida school receiving death threats after turning away 6-year-old with dreadlocks."

Actually, the Washington Post piece on the same topic went one step further by putting everyone's favorite religion F-word in the headline: "A little boy with dreadlocks enrolled at a fundamentalist Christian school. It didn’t go well."

Let's stick with the USA Today piece, which is more compact and less sensationalistic. Here is the overture:

A private Christian school in Florida is facing backlash after a 6-year-old black child was turned away on his first day of class because of his dreadlocks.

Clinton Stanley Jr. was all set for his first day at A Book’s Christian Academy, but when he arrived, he was denied entry because of his hair. His dad, Clinton Stanley Sr., expressed his frustration in a now-viral video on Facebook Monday.

“My son just got told he cannot attend this school with his hair,” he said in the video. “If that’s not bias, I don’t know what is.”

The question hovering in the air is simple: Is this a case of racial bias at a predominately white Christian school? Hold that thought, because there is a crucial fact here that probably belongs in the lede -- especially with the Post using "fundamentalist" in its headline.

But first, consider this factual question: Was the dreadlocks card played as a racial ace in this case?

As it turns out, the school's policy is clear. USA Today notes:

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Read this fine RNS feature about changes at Westboro Baptist (oh wait, it's an opinion piece)

Read this fine RNS feature about changes at Westboro Baptist (oh wait, it's an opinion piece)

Here we go again.

What we have here is a Religion News Service think piece that I sincerely wish was a hard news story. 

In other words, it's a first-person essay that is clearly labeled "opinion," yet it deals with a topic that worthy of serious hard-news reporting. Here's the headline: "They’re still here: The curious evolution of Westboro Baptist Church."

The key, of course, is that the author is an academic in religious studies -- Hillel Gray of the Jewish Studies department at Miami University of Ohio -- instead of an RNS reporter or freelance writer.

Maybe that's the answer to this puzzle. Maybe Gray had the time to do this feature and no one else did. I would imagine that it was much less expensive to pay a freelance stipend to a professor than it would have been to send a reporter. There's that Internet-era equation, again: Opinion is cheap. Information is expensive.

What's interesting, in this case, is that Gray provided lots of new information and it's about a group that is certainly newsworthy -- especially if the "God Hates Fags" flock has made major changes in its mission, following the death of the Rev. Fred Phelps in 2014.

Like what? Once you get past the academic overture (Gray has studied this topic since 2010) readers are told that the Westboro flock is still out there, even if reporters are ignoring them. They remain hyperactive on the Internet and continue doing public protesting -- with some of their famous signs and many new ones. There's even a Donald Trump angle in this essay. 

But the faces have changed and so have the signs. That's the news angle that's worthy of hard-news coverage:

In the last few years, membership has even broadened beyond the Phelps clan. ... Perhaps the most unexpected “new” member is Katherine Phelps, a daughter of Fred Phelps Sr. who had been estranged for decades.


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Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of  a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary  bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.

Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).

This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on  Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.

Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and  simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).

Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.

Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.

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Preparing for real #SBC2018 debates -- It's not 'moderates' vs. 'fundies,' these days

Preparing for real #SBC2018 debates -- It's not 'moderates' vs. 'fundies,' these days

If you look at a timeline of events in American culture, there is no question that the great revolt by Southern Baptist conservatives was linked -- in part -- to Roe v. Wade and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his mid-1970s campaign against the GOP country-club establishment. 

But if journalists want to understand the priorities of the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, they need to back up and look at some other events as well. It's important to understand what young SBC conservatives (male and female) want to change and what they don't want to change.

OK, let's start back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when SBC conservatives became worried that theological trends in liberal Protestant denominations were seeping into their own seminaries. Truth be told: There were not many truly liberal Southern Baptists out there -- on issues such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus -- but they did exist.

Southern Baptists who were worried about all of that, and SBC agencies backing abortion rights, kept running into institutional walls. They were called paranoid "fundies" (short for "fundamentalists") and hicks who lived in the sticks and they had little input into national SBC committees and agencies.

In reality, there was a small SBC left and a larger SBC hard right, framing a vast, ordinary evangelical SBC middle. But the "moderates" were hanging onto control.

Then the Rev. Jimmy Allen organized an establishment machine that pulled his own loyal "messengers" into the 1977 Southern Baptist Convention, insuring his election and control over the committee on committees that shaped SBC institutions. He won again in 1978.

Leaders on the right -- like the (now all but exiled) Rev. Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler and others -- took careful notes and decided they could play that game before the fateful 1979 Houston convention. They built a church-bus machine that beat the old "moderates," then they did that again year after year.

Now, what does that have to do the big issues in the current crisis? Let's walk our way through a passage in a pre-SBC 2018 background piece at The Washington Post, a story that also details recent events linked to the fall of Patterson from power.

... Patterson knew how to make things happen in the late 1970s and ’80s when he and others on the far right grew increasingly worried about the convention becoming more moderate on the key question of the Bible’s inerrancy, including on the place of women and the family.

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Wall Street Journal offers think-piece-level 'Culture Wars' chat with James Davison Hunter

Wall Street Journal offers think-piece-level 'Culture Wars' chat with James Davison Hunter

When you hear someone start talking about America and our torrid "Culture Wars," what do you think?

You probably think of headlines like this one: "Disney doesn’t want to offend anyone. But it’s getting caught in the culture wars."

Or here is another one from a current search in Google News: "Constitutional fluke gives rural states extra clout in the culture wars."

OK, here's one more captures the legal side of so much of this coverage: "How Due Process Became a New Front in the Culture Wars."

So "Culture Wars" equals political battles over, well, cultural issues, things like abortion, gay rights, textbooks in Texas, sitcoms that mention Donald Trump, "liberals" shutting down free-speech forums and so forth and so on.

The problem is that very few of these "Culture Wars" stories have anything to do with the actual ideas in the classic 1991 book "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America" by sociologist James Davison Hunter. To be specific, new journalists ever get around to explaining Hunter's definition of this term.

So before we get to this weekend's "think piece" -- a Wall Street Journal (beware, high paywall) piece entitled, "The Man Who Discovered ‘Culture Wars’ " -- let's flash back to my 1998 "On Religion" salute to Hunter's book. The key is that Hunter declared that:

... America now contains two basic world views, which he called "orthodox" and "progressive." The orthodox believe it's possible to follow transcendent, revealed truths. Progressives disagree and put their trust in personal experience, even if that requires them to "resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life."

I noted that this has become a fault line that "runs through virtually every set of pews in contemporary religious life." There is way more to this than political conflict:


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Latest Bible battle: Three evangelical experts carefully go revisionist on Noah's flood

Latest Bible battle: Three evangelical experts carefully go revisionist on Noah's flood

For Protestants who interpret the early chapters of the biblical Book of Genesis literally, Noah’s flood is a major test of faith.

Witness Kentucky’s Ark Encounter with its 170-yard-long watercraft on display. Witness Hollywood explorations of the topic that fold in bizarre non-biblical myths or multiplex-level humor. Such popular interest commends news coverage when something flood-wise erupts.

Something just has.

Journalists will find story potential in reactions to the eyebrow-raising book “The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate” (InterVarsity Press). The co-authors are evangelical Old Testament Professors Tremper Longman III of Westmont College and John H. Walton of Wheaton College (Illinois).

They contend that the narrative in Genesis: Chapters 6–9 is not a fable or “myth” but stems from some actual catastrophe during primeval human history. However, they dismantle the literal interpretation.

That's interesting, in terms of academics. Note that Wheaton faculty members affirm that all the Bible’s books “are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing.” Moody Bible Institute, where Walton previously taught for two decades, believes the biblical texts “were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Longman’s Westmont proclaims the Bible to be “God-breathed and true, without error in all that it teaches.”

In the book, Longman and Walton say “the Bible is indeed inerrant in all that it intends to teach,” but analysis of intent allows room for their flood revisionism.

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The New Yorker stirs up a storm with analysis of Chick-fil-A evangelism in the Big Apple

The New Yorker stirs up a storm with analysis of Chick-fil-A evangelism in the Big Apple

First things first: I am not a New Yorker. I just live here -- lower Manhattan, to be specific -- two-plus months a year. Thus, I do not pretend to offer any special insights into the heart and soul of New York City.

However, part of my ongoing relationship with this great city is that I spend lots of time talking to New Yorkers about life in their city (as opposed to the New York seen in movies and television). I do this, in part, to help students in the New York Journalism Semester at The King's College, since they come here from all over America and even overseas.

Now, a wise New Yorker gave me this advice when I first started working here. This scribe advised me to never, ever, think of New York City as one place. If you do that, he said, your head will explode. New York City is just too big, too complex, to do that.

Instead, he advised me to figure out how people live in their own unique New York City neighborhoods and then move out into the wider city. And avoid the tourist places. Visit the neighborhood delis, pizza joints, coffee shops, pubs, hole-in-the-wall grocery stores. Talk to people there and, before you know it, those people will know your name and call it out.

The paradox: While New York is the world's greatest Alpha city, its neighborhoods are more like small towns. New York is not a super-crowded shopping mall.

You will not be surprised that this brings me to that viral headline in The New Yorker, the one that proclaimed: "Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City." The photo tagline on the picture of the new Chick-Fil-A on Fulton Street, in my way downtown neighborhood, perfectly captures the tone: 

Chick-fil-A’s corporate purpose begins with the words “to glorify God,” and that proselytism thrums below the surface of its new Fulton Street restaurant.

Yes, this piece was commentary, as opposed to news. But that raises an interesting point, one heard often here at GetReligion: Why settle for commentary? If New Yorkers are angry or upset about a Bible Belt company selling chicken sandwiches, shouldn't there be a way to write a hard-news story about this fact?

Another question: Did the author of this piece simply assume that HIS New York is one big monolithic place, that it is one unified city where everyone thinks and feels the same way? Did he make the same mistake as millions of New York-haters.

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Evangelical colleges have much to say about the Billy Graham epoch and its aftermath

Evangelical colleges have much to say about the Billy Graham epoch and its aftermath

Pundits say evangelical Protestantism, so long led by the late Billy Graham, is faltering in the United States (though not overseas) and split over Donald Trump-ism in politics and morals as well as certain religious differences.

Upon Graham’s passing, by handy coincidence, journalists can obtain fresh insight from the new “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education” (Oxford University Press) by Adam Laats, professor of educational history at Binghamton University. Unlike many scholars not personally part of  this subculture, Laats takes these believers seriously on their own terms, minus scholarly condescension.

Laats thinks dozens of Christian colleges undergird the movement’s cultural impact and political conservatism in the U.S. They also demonstrate the interrelations between militant “fundamentalists” and the somewhat more open “evangelicals.” His book and its very title apply those two tricky terms confusingly and interchangeably, but the details provide writers valuable context on the historical definitions.

He spent endless hours in archives at six non-denominational campuses to document their achievements and conflicts. (Laats largely bypasses theologically similar denominational colleges, seminaries, and ministries on secular campuses.) The findings would enrich a journalistic visit to profile one of these six. Fresh reporting will be essential because the book’s narrative largely trails off  before recent developments.

Here are the campuses, listed in order of founding.

* Wheaton College (of Illinois, not the Massachusetts Wheaton):  Graham’s alma mater has been a liberal-arts college throughout history that traces to 1853 with re-founding by slavery foes in Lincoln’s 1860. Selective and often dubbed the movement’s equivalent of Harvard, it leads evangelicalism’s elite vs. fundamentalism. But it remains staunchly conservative, recently forcing out a tenured professor over affinity with Islam, and winning federal court exemption from Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

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Male guardianship rules in Saudi Arabia: A web of Wahhabi-style Islam and culture

Male guardianship rules in Saudi Arabia: A web of Wahhabi-style Islam and culture

The Guardian, a British newspaper, thankfully can still be read without a paywall, which is how I saw a recent piece on how Saudi women have taken to battling the country’s male guardianship system via Twitter.

Twitter, as you may remember, has become an extremely powerful social network in Saudi society, as its users can remain anonymous and push for social changes like women finally being allowed to drive. I wrote about that here.

In explaining the Twitter phenomenon, the Guardian leaves one thing untold; the origins of the country’s oppressive laws concerning the inability of women to do anything without a male accompanying her.

Turns out the reasons, in reality, have nothing to do with a clear teaching of Islam. But first we start here:

Women in Saudi Arabia are riding a “Twitter wave” of activism that they hope will lead to the abolition of a legal guardianship system that gives men authority over their lives.
There has been an “explosion of advocacy” on Twitter over the past two years, say the authors of a report – the first of its kind produced by Saudi women – documenting how women in the kingdom have been fighting for their rights since 1990.
The move to social media has been spearheaded by younger women who, emboldened by the Arab spring and the crown prince’s vision for the country, have embraced the medium as an increasingly important tool for change.

Some 40 percent of 6.3 million Saudi Twitter users are women, the piece says. Before social media, it was difficult to know what was happening in the country other than the official line. That changed as the populace embraced one of the highest per capita Twitter rates in the world. Then:

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