Judaism

Friday Five: Elijah Cummings, Kurdish evangelicals, Tree of Life, viral forgiveness, open marriages/NYT

Friday Five: Elijah Cummings, Kurdish evangelicals, Tree of Life, viral forgiveness, open marriages/NYT

It’s not religion news per se, but for those interested in the future of American journalism: Poynter.org reported this week on signs pointing to USA Today phasing out its print edition.

Amazing.

But come to think of it, I don’t open those free copies that I receive at hotels as often as I once did.

Anything that affects the health of major American newspapers will, ultimately, affect their ability to cover tricky, complicated subjects like religion. So would changes at USA Today affect Gannett newspapers everywhere, including funding for religion news coverage? This is worth watching.

Anyway, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In case you missed my post Thursday, faith was a major part of the life of powerful Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who died this week from complications from longstanding health challenges. He was 68.

Some major news organizations — including Cummings’ hometown Baltimore Sun — nailed the religion angle.

However, at least one major national news organization failed to do so.

Check out my post.

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Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) officially announced details Oct. 6 on a major archaeological project in northern Israel south of Haifa near present-day Harish. The inland En Esur site has remains of a town that covered 160 acres, indicating that an estimated 6,000 residents lived there in the Early Bronze Age 5,000 years ago.

This remarkably early date for such a large settlement is an unprecedented find not only within Israel but for the entire region. Without later technological developments, that’s about as big as a municipality could have been. Not only that. The archaeologists found another settlement lying underneath En Esur that dates back 7,000 years. These towns were strategically located along an ancient trade route and with access to fresh-water springs.

The IAA team reports that the Bronze Age settlement demonstrates careful urban planning, with streets, drainage and public spaces that included a notable temple with a sizable basin that contains burned animal bones signaling ritual sacrifices, a town square, storage facilities and a mausoleum. There are many figurines, showing artistic culture and a possible religious purpose. Tools on the site are identified as Egyptian. Huge stone blocks for construction were somehow hauled from a quarry a half-mile away.

The site has long been known, but was only excavated in earnest starting in 2017 by a team led by Itai Elad, Yitzhak Paz and Dina Shalem. Work was funded by Netivei Israel, the transport infrastructure firm that is building a highway interchange at the site. Some 5,000 students volunteered to help with the massive archaeological dig.

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Is Marianne Williamson being sidelined as a serious candidate because of her spirituality?

Is Marianne Williamson being sidelined as a serious candidate because of her spirituality?

I know next to nothing about Marianne Williamson, in terms of basic facts, and most religion reporters I know are in the same boat. She’s hard to classify. Is she all about religion? Or spiritual but not religious? Guru of mysticism? Inner healing? It’s hard to tell. Although she once led a church of some kind or another, she never got ordained.

She dislikes being called a “spiritual leader;” rather she prefers being called an author. When I was a religion reporter, her books never ended up on my desk for review. I am guessing they got sent to someone on the lifestyle desk.

Sure she talks about prayer. But who or what is she praying to? Thus, I was interested in a recent profile on her by the New York Times Magazine on “The Gospel according to Marianne Williamson.”

However, I don’t think the article really goes into the facts and doctrines of Williamson’s gospel.

No surprise there. Feature writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner asks the same question that conservatives do: Why does the mere mention of religion or spirituality in the public square automatically make one suspect? The following quotes are long, but essential:

The first problem with Marianne Williamson is what do you call her. The other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination lead with their impressive elected titles: “Governor,” “Senator,” “Mayor.” She’s a lot of fancy things herself: a faith leader, a spiritual guide on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” a New Age guru. But she knows that when people use terms like that outside the nearly $10 billion self-help industry, where a person like her is sought, they mean it to dismiss her. …

She has a patrician, mid-Atlantic accent that she has taped over her Texan accent — she was raised in Houston. She talks so fast, like a movie star from the ’40s, no hesitations, as if the thoughts came to her fully formed with built-in metaphors, or sometimes just as straight-up metaphors in which the actual is never fully explained. (“Am I pushing the river? Am I going with the flow? Am I trying to make something happen, or am I in some way being pushed from behind?”) She is prone to exasperated explosions of unassailable logic (“The best car mechanic doesn’t necessarily know the road to Milwaukee!”). A thing she loves to say is: “I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.” This is the self-help magic ne plus ultra, a spoken thing that rings inside your blood like the truth, a thing you knew all along, like ruby slippers you were wearing the whole time.

But is she really repeating everyone’s inner truth?

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Friday Five: New AP religion journalists, NYT hit piece, Pulitzer donation, Randy Travis baptism

Friday Five: New AP religion journalists, NYT hit piece, Pulitzer donation, Randy Travis baptism

The Associated Press has hired four new religion journalists to join global religion editor Sally Stapleton as part of the team funded through that big Lilly grant announced earlier this year.

They are news editor Gary Fields, Islam reporter Miriam Fam, religion and politics reporter Elana Schor and investigative correspondent Michael Rezendes, who was part of the Boston Globe team featured in the movie “Spotlight” about the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

AP’s announcement follows Religion News Service’s recent additions — as part of the same Lilly grant — of Roxanne Stone as managing editor, Alejandra Molina as a national reporter covering Latinos and Claire Giangravè as Vatican reporter.

With the exception of Rezendes, none of the those hired is a familiar name to me. It’ll be interesting to watch their emergence on the Godbeat scene and hopefully meet some of them at the Religion News Association annual meeting in Las Vegas later this month.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Our own Richard Ostling this week strongly endorsed Rachael Denhollander’s candid new memoir ”What Is a Girl Worth? published by evangelical Tyndale House.

Time magazine published an excerpt of the book in advance of its official release next Tuesday.

And for some excellent journalism on Denhollander, check out the Louisville Courier-Journal’s in-depth piece headlined “The Sacrifice: Rachael Denhollander surrendered her deepest secrets to help put Larry Nassar away.” Yes, there are important religion components throughout, as Ostling also noted.

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When covering Jewish views on abortion, don't forget the Orthodox, U.S. Judaism's fastest growing branch

When covering Jewish views on abortion, don't forget the Orthodox, U.S. Judaism's fastest growing branch

When USA Today ran a piece last week, suggesting that Christians have misappropriated the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible — for their views on abortion, I took notice.

What I found was an article that quoted the most liberal Jewish voices on these biblical issues while ignoring everyone else.

There is a range of rabbinical opinion on this issue, but you wouldn’t know it from this piece. That’s bad journalism.

The lead sentence begins with the assertion that the anti-abortion views of Christians are connected to their faith. Then:

This is a familiar argument for the Republican Party when it comes to abortion access. In January, Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, cited biblical scripture when he came out against a proposed bill that would lift late-term abortion restrictions.

"You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” he said, quoting Psalm 139. “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born.”

But for many leaders in the Jewish faith, such interpretations are problematic and even insulting.

“It makes me apoplectic,” says Danya Ruttenberg, a Chicago-based rabbi who has written about Jews' interpretation of abortion. “Most of the proof texts that they’re bringing in for this are ridiculous. They’re using my sacred text to justify taking away my rights in a way that is just so calculated and craven.”

Like, how is this view of Psalm 139 “ridiculous”? It clearly states that the unborn child is a person knit together by God.

Also, if “many” Jewish leaders are offended by this kind of interpretation of a Psalm, which is true, the implication is that there are other points of view inside Judaism. Correct?

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What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

It’s the most notorious sexual encounter of ancient times.

In a remarkably candid account in the Bible (2d Samuel chapters 11 and 12), the great King David impregnates Bathsheba when both were married to others.

In the 21st Century, and especially with the recent rise of the #ChurchToo wing of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, there’s vigorous debate in print and online about whether Bathsheba intended to lure the king’s attentions, or the two shared equal blame for adultery, or David alone was responsible.

Last week on Patheos.com, Jonathan Aigner satirized an old-fashioned attitude (often the work of male writers) by listing this among mock themes for youngsters’ summertime Vacation Bible School: “It Was All Her Fault: How Bathsheba Trapped David.” Such was the tone of some classic paintings or Susan Hayward’s portrayal opposite Gregory Peck in Hollywood’s popular “David and Bathsheba” (1951).

Or consider reference works favored today among conservative Protestants. The “NIV Study Bible” says “Bathsheba appears to have been an unprotesting partner” in sexual sin, and Charles Ryrie’s study Bible agrees that she “evidently was not an unwilling participant.” The “ESV Study Bible” even brands Bathsheba someone of “questionable character.”

On similar lines, noted Jewish commentator Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in 1999 that the Hebrew text may intimate “an element of active participation by Bathsheba in David’s sexual summons,” raising the possibility of “opportunism, not merely passive submission,” on her part.

But the “Women’s Study Bible” (2009) states that “adultery” signals mutual consent whereas this situation “was probably closer to rape.”

Other modern analysts insist it was “rape,” period. What’s going on here?

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New Yorker reduces a couple's faith to being 'active members of the local Jewish community'

New Yorker reduces a couple's faith to being 'active members of the local Jewish community'

The Perverse Logic of GoFundMe Health Care,” Nathan Heller’s report for the July 1 edition of The New Yorker, is a powerful mix of pathos, business reporting and ethical analysis.

What it is not is a report that shows clear interest in this story’s obvious religion angles that cry out for attention.

Heller tells the agonizing story of Zohar and Gabi Ilinetsky, a couple who met in Israel, are married and living near San Francisco, and whose year-old twins, Yoel and Yael, have Canavan disease, which likely will kill them during their childhood. The Ilinetskys turned their hope to raising $2 million through GoFundMe to pay for their children to receive, in Heller’s words, “a gene-replacement treatment being developed by Paola Leone, a neuroscientist at Rowan University, in New Jersey.”

Heller provides sobering facts about what the twins have experienced, what they are likely to experience in the future, and what hope the Ilinetskys sees in Leone’s treatment and a physical therapy program called NeuroMovement. (“There’s a girl in the therapy institute that we’re going to who was born with a third of her brain missing,” Zohar said. “In ten years, they got her to walk.”)

We learn that Zohar had resisted turning to GoFundMe:

“When we started the fund-raising campaign, it was something that I personally didn’t feel comfortable with,” Zohar Ilinetsky told me when I visited him and Gabi at home one morning. He worried that people would mistake him for a taker of handouts. “I’m a capitalist to the bone,” he said. “But, when it comes to medicine, this is wrong—it’s inhumane. It’s like telling someone, ‘When you die, you’ll lie on the street, because you don’t have money for a funeral.’”

In Israel, he said, everyone has free coverage for all expected medical needs, from preventive care to transplants and mental health. “I remember, even as a kid, hearing people talking about how horrible the medical system in America was,” he told me. Bearded and stocky, Zohar has a lilting baritone and an open, histrionic personality that comes across as charming. Gabi—auburn hair, leggings—smiled as he expounded his case with flailing arms. She was the one who had convinced him that GoFundMe was worth trying. “I just didn’t have any other choice,” Zohar explained.

We learn that the Ilinetskys believe in using guns in self-defense:

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Friday Five: Neo-tabloid NYT, pro-life Dems, Matt Chandler's 'interview,' Jimmy Carter's pastor, gelatos

Friday Five: Neo-tabloid NYT, pro-life Dems, Matt Chandler's 'interview,' Jimmy Carter's pastor, gelatos

Greetings from the Zagreb, Croatia, airport!

I’m headed home after a Christian Chronicle reporting trip to this Central European nation.

My confession is this: I haven’t had time to pay a lot of attention to the news this week (many thanks to my colleague Julia Duin for producing several extra posts in my absence).

So, if I fail to mention something important, please help me out with details and links in the comments section. In the meantime, let’s dive into the distracted-by-international-travel edition of Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: With the caveat above, let’s just say that I was intrigued by a bunch of the topics I found scrolling through this week’s GetReligion posts.

Terry Mattingly’s piece on the New York Times going neo-tabloid over Jerry Falwell Jr., Donald Trump, South Florida real estate and a colorful array of supporting characters particularly intrigued me. Then there were pieces by tmatt (here) and Duin (here) on the haunted news coverage of pro-life Democrats. That tmatt piece followed up on a key theme in Julia’s post, pointing readers to coverage noting that journalists know where to find pro-life Democrats in the Bible Belt. Just look in church pews, especially in African-American congregations.

The Falwell-Trump story in the Times ignited liberal Twitter (look for the hashtag #Falwellpoolboy), but didn’t inspire significant mainstream coverage elsewhere. Stay tuned, and check out the GetReligion podcast on this topic — right here.

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Religion ghosts in anti-vax wars: Why do some believers say this is a religious liberty fight?

Religion ghosts in anti-vax wars: Why do some believers say this is a religious liberty fight?

From the start, there have been religion-news hooks in the news coverage of the movement claiming that vaccines against some childhood diseases — measles and others — do more harm than good.

For starters, large communities of Orthodox Jews live in New York City, which all but guarantees coverage by newsrooms that help define what news matters and what news does not. In this case, I think that we are dealing with an important subject — one that editors should assign to teams that include religion-beat professionals.

Here at GetReligion, I have received emails from readers that, in so many words, say: This is what happens when religious traditionalists start shouting “religious liberty” and saying that God wants them to do something crazy.

Let me state right up front: There are church-state implications in some of these cases, with the state claiming the right to force parents to take actions that violate their religious convictions. Then again, people who follow debates about religious liberty know that clashes linked to health, prayer, healing and parental rights are tragically common. Click here to see some GetReligion posts about coverage of cases in which actions based on religious beliefs have been labeled a “clear threat to life and health.”

So let’s go back to the measles wars. Many of the mainstream news reports on this topic have covered many of the science and public health arguments. What’s missing, however, is (a) material about why some religious people believe what they believe and (b) whether decades of U.S. Supreme Court rulings apply to these cases.

Consider, for example, the long, detailed Washington Post story that just ran with this headline: “Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement.” Here’s the overture:

A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicenter of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

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