NFL star's tragic loss: It's hard to talk about family-man Todd Heap without mentioning the obvious ...

NFL star's tragic loss: It's hard to talk about family-man Todd Heap without mentioning the obvious ...

It was hard to avoid the faith element of a story when almost everyone involved in talking about a family tragedy kept mentioning it.

However, some top-flight journalists tried really hard to keep the faith talk at a generic level when covering the tragic accident that claimed the life of the 3-year-old daughter of a former National Football League star. Tight end Todd Heap was a Pro Bowl-level performer for years with the Baltimore Ravens, but finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals -- a career move that was completely logical for reporters who understood his Mormon heritage and his faith.

I thought the best feature about this accident -- a mix of tweets, URLs, material from other news sources and reporting -- ran in The Washington Post, obviously not that far from Baltimore. Let's start there, in material near the top.

Heap, the 37-year-old former Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals tight end, accidentally drove over his 3-year-old daughter, killing her as he moved his truck in the driveway of the family’s Mesa, Ariz., home. She was pronounced dead at a Phoenix-area hospital and, although authorities are investigating, they indicated there was no sign that Heap was impaired or that what happened was anything other than a parent’s worst nightmare.
What happened to Heap, a popular player who retired in 2013, moved people in and out of sports, mostly because so many understand how easily such an accident could happen to anyone. Social media reactions often carried emoji of broken hearts and hands folded in prayer. The Ravens may have put the magnitude of what happened best, calling the accident “knee-buckling news” for Heap, his wife, Ashley, and their other four children in a statement.

In quote after quote, players and friends make it clear that faith was and is a key element of the Heap family story. This angle was simply impossible to avoid.

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'On Religion' meets GetReligion -- tmatt's national column turns 29, with nod to Dean Baquet

'On Religion' meets GetReligion -- tmatt's national column turns 29, with nod to Dean Baquet

A long, long time ago -- 29-plus years to be precise -- several editors at the old Scripps Howard News Service noticed something.

At the time, I was the religion-beat reporter and columnist at The Rocky Mountain News in Denver (memory eternal). The national wire desk in Washington, D.C., noticed that, when they put my national-angle columns on the wire -- as opposed to something completely Colorado-centric -- they would get picked up by quite a few smaller and mid-sized papers.

Plus, there was a pending request from the editor of The Knoxville News Sentinel -- Harry Moskos at the time -- for a weekly Scripps Howard wire piece on religion to serve as one anchor for his newspaper's planned Saturday section on issues of family and faith. Those two subjects, you see, kept showing up near the top of lists about subjects that interested his local readers.

So the national editors worked out a deal with my bosses in Denver to free me up to do a weekly column for the national wire.

Thus, my national column was born 29 years ago last week. An editor asked me what I wanted to call it and I proposed "Get Religion."

That name struck one of the editors as a bit aggressive. You see, he didn't get that I was (wink, wink) linking the old Southern saying that someone "got religion" -- as in got saved, in a revival tent sort of way -- with the modern idea that some people just "don't get it," as in feminist lingo. So they changed "Get Religion" to "On Religion."

Anyway, I rarely run anything from "On Religion" (the column is now carried by the Universal syndicate) here at GetReligion, but I thought I would let readers here see this past week's piece -- as I open my third decade doing that column.

Yes, 29 years is a long time. This particular column is also about -- well, do you remember that turn of phrase used by New York Times editor Dean Baquet?

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To celebrate Easter, another major news organization flubs the never-ending 'Two Corinthians' controversy

To celebrate Easter, another major news organization flubs the never-ending 'Two Corinthians' controversy

Here we go again.

The whole Donald Trump "Two Corinthians" snafu of January 2016 has made its way back into media coverage of the president's faith.

And yet again — as happened with CNN just last month — a major news organization has fallen short when it comes to accuracy and precision in correcting Trump and his lack of biblical knowledge.

The latest example occurs in The Associated Press' story on Trump and his family attending an Easter service in Palm Beach, Fla. More on that in a moment.

But first, some helpful background: In a front-page feature in 2013, the New York Times mistakenly referred to the biblical book of "Corinthians." That story, still not corrected almost four years later, prompted me to ask here at GetReligion:

Which Corinthians — 1 Corinthians or 2 Corinthians? By my count, this is the second case of GetReligion questioning the Times' failure to specify which book of Corinthians.

Of course, the Trump incident suddenly made Bible experts out of the news media — including the Times. (Sarcasm intended.)

Now, when journalists provide background on Trump and religion, they inevitably mention the "Two Corinthians" controversy. I've got no problem with that. Seriously.

But I wish they'd do a better job at getting it right.

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Persecuted Chaldeans: San Diego Union-Tribune delivers an Easter story with content

Persecuted Chaldeans: San Diego Union-Tribune delivers an Easter story with content

At the newspapers I used to work on, I was responsible for coming up with a splashy feature each year for Easter day. At one point, I used this opportunity to hit up my employers for business trips, such as a trip to New Mexico in 1998 for the country’s largest pilgrimage at Chimayo, just north of Santa Fe. But it never occurred to me to not have a story, as the big religious holidays were my chance to get above the fold on A1.

So this year, I surveyed a bunch of California newspapers to see which ones had made any effort to provide decent Easter coverage. The Orange County Register covered a cowboy service and a sunrise service; in other words, the minimum. 

The San Bernardino Sun covered how the local Catholic bishop did not preach on the previous week’s shootings that left a student and teacher dead and a student wounded. A story about the Easter Bunny got better play. The Sacramento Bee had an opinion column on the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to foreigners. Chances are those foreigners, like the Chaldeans, knew more about Christ and the Resurrection than the Easter rabbit. 

The San Francisco Chronicle barely gave lip service to two sunrise services while devoting much of its Easter wrap-up to a Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence event featuring a contest for the best Hunky Jesus and Foxy Mary. 

I could find nothing in the Los Angeles Times other than a San Diego Union Tribune story that I’ll get to in a minute. The Ventura County Star had nothing. But the Redding Record-Searchlight had several over the weekend: An account of Easter at two local churches and the recreation of Christ’s walk to the cross by several Hispanic churches. Redding is the site of the enormous Bethel Church so religion is important to much of the local populace.

Back to the Tribune’s story on the local Chaldeans, 60,000 of whom live in their circulation area.

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Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

I guess the big news this Easter is that there isn't any really big news at Easter. Yet.

Obviously, there was big news during Holy Week -- as in the lockdown in Egypt and in other Christian communities across the Middle East in the trembling aftermath of the hellish Palm Sunday bombings. That led to this somber New York Times feature that ran with the headline, "After Church Bombings, Egyptian Christians Are Resigned but Resolute."

It's a fine feature, one that -- as it must -- focuses on the political framework that surrounds the latest wave of persecution of Coptic Christians. After all, this is a tense land in which a near totalitarian Egyptian government that helps lock Christians in their place is also the only force strong enough to weakly protect them from the Islamic State and other truly radicalized forms of Islam.

Orthodox Christians who read this piece may not make it to the end, growing tired of the politics and violence. Where is the ultimate message of Pascha? Where are the voices of those who still believe, who continue to keep the faith despite all the suffering? Aren't they part of the story?

They are. And that theme emerges at the end of the piece -- so wait for it.

The veneration of Christian martyrs is felt most keenly at the monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. There, barren desert has been transformed into a lush compound of gardens and monastic cells around a soaring cathedral. The seven Christians killed in last Sunday’s bombing were taken there for entombment in a martyr’s church under construction for the 2011 bombing’s 23 victims.
“The new martyrs will be buried beside the old ones,” Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, leader of the monastery, said as he walked around the site, weaving through a maze of wooden beams. “It is a gift for them to be buried here.” ... 
Many Coptic clerics are careful of engaging in public debate. Asked what was driving the Islamic State attacks, the monastery’s spokesman, Father Elijah Ava Mina, chuckled dryly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Ask them.”

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Ah, those mysterious Protestant Evangelicals, as pondered by our cultural elites

Ah, those mysterious Protestant Evangelicals, as pondered by our cultural elites

Just when you thought you’d seen enough analysis of those U.S. Protestant Evangelicals to last a lifetime or two, a major April release is commanding yet more ink: “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster).

Any book from FitzGerald, a boldface author who won the Pulitzer Prize for her Vietnam lament “Fire in the Lake” (1972), gets guaranteed media attention. Her latest, hailed as “masterful” by Time magazine, will surely be mandatory reading for religion writers. This blockbuster has already gained major reviews from highbrow analysts Randall Balmer, Alan Wolfe and Garry Wills (also a Pulitzer medalist).

The Religion Guy has yet to read this 740-pager but is wary after learning that FitzGerald pays so much attention to figures like Rousas Rushdoony. His idiosyncratic theocracy scheme frightens the journalism natives, but is hardly representative of mainstream evangelicalism, or even of its most politicized segments.

Otherwise, the reviews provide  significant cultural indicators of how elitists view a movement that’s somehow so mystifying and unnerving to outsiders, and the way adherents are ogled with condescension, particularly after so many voted for Donald J. Trump. Irredeemable deplorables, anyone?    

Balmer, Dartmouth’s religion chair and the author of a somewhat competing 2016 title, “Evangelicalism in America” (Baylor University Press), says having such a “distinguished author” undertake this topic should be “cause for celebration.” But he finds the result “curiously pinched and narrow.”

One of his criticisms, echoed by others, is that FitzGerald’s narrative omits African-American Protestants. That’s an important choice that the Religion Guy finds justifiable because these believers, as well as Latino Protestants, have such  distinct subcultures. Explaining the larger population of “white” evangelicals is more than enough for one book.

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News story or editorial? Slanted Associated Press report on death penalty stacked with opponents

News story or editorial? Slanted Associated Press report on death penalty stacked with opponents

Apparently, most people in Arkansas support capital punishment.

Amazingly, The Associated Press couldn't find — or didn't want to find — any of them to quote.

AP's own news values and principles maintain that the global news agency abhors "inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions." Yet — based on a story on the wire today — it's impossible not to question whether bias exists in the coverage of the death penalty in the Natural State.

Here's the top of the AP story:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — While outrage on social media is growing over Arkansas' unprecedented plan to put seven inmates to death before the end of the month, the protests have been more muted within the conservative Southern state where capital punishment is still favored by a strong majority of residents.
A few dozen people regularly have kept vigil outside Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's mansion for weeks, holding signs that say "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "End the Death Penalty." And the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty hopes to draw hundreds of participants to a Good Friday rally at the state Capitol to protest the executions that start Monday — three nights of double executions, followed by a single one. A judge last week halted a planned eighth execution.
"Arkansas is known across the world for the Little Rock Nine and all of that atrocity," said the coalition's execution director, Furonda Brasfield, referring to the 1957 desegregation battle in Little Rock involving nine black students. "And now it's the Little Rock eight in 10, and it paints our state in such a horrible light."
The group is using the hashtag #8in10 to highlight the executions, although one man has received a stay and the seven lethal injections are scheduled to take place over 11 days, the first on April 17 and the last on April 27. Hutchinson set the unprecedented schedule because a key lethal injection drug expires April 30.

I'm certainly familiar with the historical significance of the Little Rock Nine. In 1997, while reporting on desegregation battlegrounds for The Oklahoman, I wrote a front-page Sunday feature on Little Rock Central High School.

But after 60 years, are the Little Rock Nine really what Arkansas is still known for? Might a different source — perhaps one of the "strong majority of residents" who favor the death penalty — offer a different perspective on the state and whether the executions will paint it in a horrible light? The wire service doesn't bother to ask.

In fact, AP quotes six people by name in this report — five of them death penalty opponents.

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Matzoh marketing: Bloomberg offers a clever read on culture, marketing of Judaism lite

Matzoh marketing: Bloomberg offers a clever read on culture, marketing of Judaism lite

When I studied in France as a college sophomore, my host family in Strasbourg were Sephardic Jews, which means I got immersed in Friday Shabbat observances, visited a synagogue where I had to sit in a women-only section and learned the history of the exodus of Moroccan Jews to France. My host family were known as pied-noirs; people who fled North Africa when the anti-Semitism started getting rough.

When I returned to my college in Portland, Ore., I was so fascinated with the culture I’d seen in Strasbourg to the point where I enrolled in a Shabbat course at the local Jewish community center. Learning the Hebrew prayers over the bread and wine plus the candle-lighting ceremony took some time, as did learning the lighter aspects: Israeli folk dancing, baking the famous braided challah bread and learning appropriate Sabbath songs.

Which is why I was amused to see a Bloomberg piece extolling Shabbat observances as the new chic. Titled “Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included,” it begins as follows:

In 2015, while traveling in Israel with 80 young tech professionals, Meghan Holzhauer fell in love with Shabbat dinner, the ancient Friday night tradition in which Jews bless candles, challah, and wine, then share a meal with loved ones. She was so inspired, in fact, that she started spreading the love. In March her travel startup, Canvus, took 40 young professionals to Mexico City, where they celebrated a multicultural Shabbat dinner. She’s now organizing a hip-hop Shabbat for 400 people attending a social justice conference in Atlanta in June. “A lot of Jewish rituals are about honoring friends and family,” she says. “You feel part of something bigger.”
Holzhauer isn’t Jewish. She was raised “Christian-light” by nonpracticing parents, she says, and has no interest in converting. As she explains it, a non-Jew finding inspiration in the Sabbath—or traveling to Israel for that matter—isn’t so different from the millions of non-Buddhists who practice yoga or go on meditation retreats to India. “It’s the latest way that ancient traditions are meeting modern life,” she says.
If there ever was a moment when Shabbat was poised to become the new yoga practice, it’s now…

The article then jumps to the woman behind it all:

“Jewish culture is in the mainstream, it’s popular, and that’s something any brand would want to jump on,” says Danya Shults, 31, founder of Arq, a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions…  It offers holiday-planning guides; Seder plates designed by Isabel Halley, the ceramicist who outfitted the female-only social club the Wing; and interviews with Jewish entrepreneurs, as well as chefs who cook up artisanal halvah and horseradish. 

It’s really too bad Bloomberg didn’t include a comment section along with this piece, as I would have loved to have seen peoples’ reactions. As we read along, one cannot tell whether the piece is serious or tongue-in-cheek.

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So, The Los Angeles Times posits that this popular evangelical writer is a fundamentalist

So, The Los Angeles Times posits that this popular evangelical writer is a fundamentalist

As a rule, GetReligion doesn't pay attention to editorials, commentaries and reviews for the simple reason that our purpose is to focus on the good and bad in mainstream religion news coverage, with a strong emphasis on the word "news."

Besides, it's hard to critique matters of accuracy, bias and balance in forms of writing in which authors are free to speak their minds, as columnists or commentators.

However, even it comes to writing about movies -- whether we are talking about news or commentary -- The Los Angeles Times is not just another newspaper. It matters what kinds of labels the La La land newspaper of record pins on real people who work in the public square.

So here is the top of the Noel Murray review of the new movie "The Case for Christ," which is based on the journey that former Chicago Tribune legal-affairs reporter Lee Strobel made from atheism to Christian faith. The headline on the review: " 'The Case for Christ' prioritizes drama over evidence."

Lee Strobel became a fundamentalist Christian hero thanks to his 1998 book “The Case for Christ,” chronicling how his dogged research into Jesus’ resurrection helped convert him from atheism. Director Jon Gunn and screenwriter Brian Bird’s film version emphasizes Stobel’s personal drama over his academic investigation, which makes for a watchable movie but thin theology.
Mike Vogel plays Strobel, who at the start of the 1980s was an award-winning Chicago journalist with a happy marriage and a bright future, until his wife, Leslie (played by Erika Christensen), found God. Anxious to get their life back to the way things were, he started interviewing scholars in various disciplines, hoping that by presenting Leslie with the facts, she’d back down.

Veteran GetReligion readers will not be surprised that it was the word "fundamentalist" that caught my attention, after clicking on a URL sent in by a reader on the West Coast.

There are two ways to read the "fundamentalist" clause in the lede.

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