Scriptures

A liberal Baptist preaching to Unitarians: Washington Post digs into racial conflicts (period)

A liberal Baptist preaching to Unitarians: Washington Post digs into racial conflicts (period)

From Day 1, folks here at GetReligion have urged newsrooms to pay more attention to liberal Christianity and other forms of liberal faith. There is, of course, lots of coverage of these groups when it comes to politics and social-justice issues. Progressive actions on sexuality make news. 

What is missing is what any of this has to do with the basic building blocks of religious faith and tradition. What do these liberal groups have to say about, well, doctrine?

With that in mind, let's turn to the long, intensely reported Washington Post feature that ran under this headline: "Prominent progressive D.C. church, accused of racism, tries to move on." The church at the heart of this story is All Souls Church Unitarian, a prominent congregation at or near the heart of progressive Beltway culture. Here is the overture:

One of the District’s best-known progressive congregations was locked for months this year in a very public conflict with its associate minister, who claimed she was mistreated and pushed out because she is black. Her supporters -- in the church and around the country -- spotlighted the case as an example of what, to them, liberal racism looks like, and vowed to keep it in the public eye until she got a better exit package.

The conflict at the 1,100-member All Souls Church Unitarian, known for nearly 200 years as a bastion of social justice activism, became fodder for debate about the nature of racism, and whether its pervasiveness will always seep into interactions and judgments even among people and institutions who say they are fixated on fighting it.

Now, three months after All Souls reached a private settlement with the Rev. Susan Newman Moore, the impacts of the dispute are still unfolding.

A few lines later, a very interesting word enters this discussion. Let us attend:

Moore has returned to the Baptist denomination in which she was ordained in the 1970s, and a few weeks ago the D.C. Baptist Convention held a “reaffirmation” ceremony for her, “as a binding of sore spots where wolves have taken a bite of you.”

You read that right. This prominent Unitarian Universalist preacher is a Baptist.

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'Church vs. Church': New York Times delves into the biblical debate over immigration in Iowa town

'Church vs. Church': New York Times delves into the biblical debate over immigration in Iowa town

"Church vs. Church in a Town Split by an Immigration Raid," said the headline on a front-page article in Wednesday's New York Times.

That certainly sounds like a religion story.

To its credit, the Times highlights the faith angle right up top and devotes a fair amount of ink to it. There's much to like about this in-depth report. But for a reason I'll explain in a moment — a reason not entirely the newspaper's fault — the piece failed to satisfy me completely.

Before I get into that, though, let's start with the strong lede:

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — In the days after immigration agents raided a dusty concrete plant on the west side of town, seizing 32 men from Mexico and Central America, the Rev. Trey Hegar, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, got into an impassioned argument on his Facebook page.

“The Bible doesn’t promote helping criminals!!!!” a Trump supporter wrote.

Mr. Hegar answered with Leviticus: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

The Trump supporter came back with the passage in the Gospel of Mark about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and added for good measure: “Immigration laws are good and Godly! We elected our leaders and God allowed it.”

President Trump’s immigration crackdown has been promoted with biblical righteousness by senior members of his administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And in heartland communities where the president is popular, the crackdown is often debated — by supporters and critics alike — through the lens of Christian morality.

After offering background both on the Iowa town and the national immigration debate, the Times returns to the Bible question:

Mr. Hegar, a Texan who served four years in the Marines before attending a Presbyterian seminary, finally asked the Trump supporter he was debating on Facebook: “Which Scripture do we obey?”

He answered himself: “The one from Jesus to ‘Do unto others’ is what we choose.”

That's good stuff — the kind of excellent detail found in the best journalism.

But here's what kept me from loving this story: There was no strong voice on the other side.

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Why do so many 'woke' activists on cultural left know little or nothing about religion?

Why do so many 'woke' activists on cultural left know little or nothing about religion?

For years -- decades even -- I have been active in the whole "media literacy" cause, trying to help Americans (especially in religious circles) understand more about the role that mass media play in our culture.

During these same decades, I've heard journalism educators -- on the cultural left and right -- argue that the same thing needs to be happening in elite newsrooms and even educational institutions, only in reverse.

Let's stick with the journalism angle: One of the main reasons that pros in our newsrooms often do such a lousy job of covering religion is that there are so few editors and managers who know any thing about religion. Let me stress that the issue is not whether these journalists are religious believers. The issue is whether they know crucial information about the lives, traditions and scriptures linked to the lives of millions and millions of believers who reside in this culture and often play roles in public life.

I've mentioned this before: I'll never forget the night when an anchor at ABC News -- faced with Democrat Jimmy Carter talking about his born-again Christian faith -- solemnly looked into the camera and told viewers that ABC News was investigating this phenomenon (born-again Christians) and would have a report in a future newscast.

What percentage of the American population uses the term "born again" to describe their faith? Somewhere between 40 and 60 percent back then? I mean, Carter wasn't telling America that he was part of an obscure sect, even though many journalists were freaked out by this words -- due to simple ignorance (or perhaps bias).

This brings me to this weekend's think piece in The American Conservative, a magazine defined by cultural conservatism not conservative partisan politics (thus the presence of several big-league #NeverTrump scribes). The double decker headline on this piece asks:

Woke Progressivism’s Glaring Religion Gap

Identity politics demands that we "educate ourselves." So why are its practitioners so often ignorant of religious belief?

Here is Georgetown University graduate student Grayson Quay's overture, which ends with a stunning anecdote:

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Tick, tick, tick: Will Donald Trump play the 'handmaiden' card, lighting a SCOTUS fuse?

Tick, tick, tick: Will Donald Trump play the 'handmaiden' card, lighting a SCOTUS fuse?

The clock is ticking and the news coverage is heating up. At this point, for religion-beat pros, there's only one question that matters: Will Donald Trump GO THERE? Will he nominate the "loud dogma" candidate who will make heads explode in the liberal Catholic and secular politicos camps? We are, of course, talking about Judge Amy Coney Barrett. 

However, there is a rather cynical possibility linked to this story, an angle explored in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

You see, Trump needs to fire up voters for the midterm elections. In particular, he needs evangelical Protestants and pro-Catechism Catholics to turn out in droves, to help rescue the GOP from, well, Trump's unique ability in infuriate half of America (especially in elite zip codes and newsrooms).

So what if he nominated Barrett and let the blue-culture masses go crazy?

What if he unleashed that storm, knowing that the moral, cultural and religious left will not be able to restrain itself?

What a scene! Remember the hearings long ago for Justice Robert Bork -- the SCOTUS seat eventually taken by one Judge Anthony Kennedy -- and this famous speech by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, speaking for the Catholic left and cultural liberals everywhere?

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

So what would that sound like today, if Barrett has to face her critics once again?

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has already prepared that script, in a piece for The New Yorker, describing this future nightmare court:

It will overrule Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortions and to criminally prosecute any physicians and nurses who perform them. It will allow shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and hotel owners to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds.

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A side question re: that viral story about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage: Which Bible to quote? (updated)

A side question re: that viral story about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage: Which Bible to quote? (updated)

Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage?

Everyone seems to talking about that viral religion story, as The Tennessean faith reporter Holly Meyer points out. 

In case you missed it, the Indianapolis Star reports that the three biblical figures "were incarcerated behind a barbed wired-topped, chain link fence on the lawn of Monument Circle's Christ Church Cathedral on Tuesday."

The reason:

The Rev. Stephen Carlsen, dean and rector of Christ Church, said the caged Holy Family is a protest to President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy that is holding families in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I know what the Bible said," Carlsen said. "We're supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves."

It's a fascinating story, and I'd urge you to check it out. But for the purposes of this post, I have a side question: Which version of the Bible should a news organization quote in a story such as this?

I'll admit surprise at the one the Gannett newspaper chose to quote:

The Rev. Lee Curtis, who came up with the idea for the demonstration, said the Biblical trio was a family of refugees seeking asylum in Egypt after Jesus' birth. 

"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him,'" the Message Bible says in Matthew 2:13-14. "When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt."

"This family is every family, and every family is holy," Curtis said. 

For those not familiar with The Message, it's a contemporary version in modern English. The religion satire news site Babylon Bee has published stories such as "‘The Message’ Now Available In Popular Comic Sans Font" and "7 Updates ‘The Message’ Totally Needs." Among the proposed updates: Substituting all references to Jesus with "The J-Man." That gives some indication of how seriously (read: not) some take that translation.

I'm not sure I've ever seen The Message be the go-to version quoted in a news story. (I'll eagerly await all the links proving me wrong.) My first thought was perhaps the Star was trying to put the verses in language readers could understand.

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Washington Post Magazine examines a Lone Ranger church, without any help from experts

Washington Post Magazine examines a Lone Ranger church, without any help from experts

One of the tragic facts about religion is that true believers have been known to go off the rails. Sometimes they take groups of people -- large or small -- with them into various degrees of oblivion. When this happens, it is common for people outside of these groups to use the word "cult" -- one of the most abused words in the religion-news dictionary.

Long ago, I took a course in contemporary religious movements and "cults" as part of my graduate work in the Church-State Studies program at Baylor University. It was easy to see that the term "cult" is like the word "fundamentalist." One person's cult is another person's "sect" or another's freethinking religious movement.

But here is the crucial point I need to make, before we look at that massive Washington Post Magazine feature that ran under this headline: "The Exiles -- Former members say Calvary Temple in Virginia pressures people to banish loved ones. What happens to those who leave?"

People who study "cults" use this term in one of two ways. There are sociological definitions, usually linked to the work of prophetic figures who hold dangerous degrees of control over their followers. Then there are theological definitions linked to religious groups in which a leader has radically altered core, historic doctrines of a mainstream faith.

You will find all kinds of "cult" talk if you plug "Calvary Temple" and the name of its leader, the Rev. Star R. Scott, into an Internet search engine. However, veteran freelance writer Britt Peterson avoided this term, for the most part, in this feature. I think that was wise.

Has this congregation in Northern Virginia evolved into a pseudo-cult operation? I don't know. What I do know is that it appears to be a perfect example of a trend in American Pentecostal and evangelical life that causes all kinds of trouble for journalists. I am referring, once again, to the rising number of independent churches -- large and small -- that have zero ties to any denomination or traditional faith group.

Many of these Lone Ranger churches are perfectly healthy. Many others go off the rails and, tragically, there is no shepherd higher up the ecclesiastical ladder to hold their leaders accountable. Thus, here is the crucial passage in this first-person magazine feature:

When the Azats joined Calvary in the mid-1980s, its charismatic pastor, Star Robert Scott, had been there for over a decade, starting as youth pastor at what was then the Herndon Assembly of God in 1973, according to former congregants.

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Friday Five: BYU conference, border separation, McCarrick scandal, Chris Pratt on MTV and more

Friday Five: BYU conference, border separation, McCarrick scandal, Chris Pratt on MTV and more

I'm filing this edition of Friday Five from Provo, Utah, where I've spent the week attending — and speaking on a few panels — at Brigham Young University's Religious Freedom Annual Review.

In case you missed it Thursday (and based on our analytics, most of you did), GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and I were part of a diverse group of journalists and attorneys who spoke on "Getting It Right, Media Coverage of Religion Freedom."

Check out my post to watch a video of that presentation, which includes The Atlantic religion journalism superstar Emma Green and other experts. As a bonus, you can see my Twitter thread that includes tmatt's "Seven Deadly Sins of the Religion Beat."

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The controversy over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border is the easy choice this week. 

Tennessee religion writer Holly Meyer, writing for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, produced a compelling piece on ministry leaders who say the Bible compels their immigration work.

For more links and analysis, see our earlier posts headlined "Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support" and "Seven can't-miss takes on use of Romans 13 to defend policy on separating immigrant families."

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Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Remember that "lesser of two evils" theme in some of the coverage of Donald Trump's run for the White House?

The whole idea was that there were quite a few religious believers -- evangelicals and Catholics alike -- who were not impressed with The Donald, to say the least. However, they faced a painful, hellish decision in voting booths because the only mainstream alternative to this bizarre GOP candidate was Hillary Rodham Clinton, someone whose record on religious liberty, right-to-life issues, etc., etc., was truly horrifying.

Thus, that lesser-of-two-evils equation or, as a prophetic Christianity Today piece put it: "Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump." Here at GetReligion, I addressed this pre-election trend here: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."

Now, ever since, I have urged journalists to look for the old cracks inside the evangelical and Catholic support for Trump. Yes, lots of white evangelicals were part of Trump's early base during the primaries. But just as many voted for him on election day while holding their noses (or while carrying a barf bag). At some point, I have argued, journalists could look for these cracks and find important stories.

This brings me to that New York Times headline the other day: "Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies."

Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger.

The criticism came after recent moves by the administration to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum on a routine basis to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religious believers.

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Seven can't-miss takes on use of Romans 13 to defend policy on separating immigrant families

Seven can't-miss takes on use of Romans 13 to defend policy on separating immigrant families

Move over, Two Corinthians.

There's a new Bible reference making lots of headlines: Romans 13.

Who knew that Donald Trump and his administration would bring such attention to Scriptures?

In case you somehow missed this controversy, here are the basic details via The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible on Thursday in his defense of his border policy that is resulting in hundreds of immigrant children being separated from their parents after they enter the U.S. illegally.

Sessions, speaking in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on immigration, pushed back against criticism he had received over the policy. On Wednesday, a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church said that separating mothers from their babies was “immoral.”

Sessions said many of the recent criticisms were not “fair or logical and some are contrary to law.”

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."

Sessions' remarks — coupled with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' declaration that "it is very biblical to enforce the law" — have sparked a wave of press attention exploring the meaning and history of Romans 13.

For those interested in insightful, enlightening coverage, here are seven can't-miss links:

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