Hey Coke drinkers: These pastors' lawsuit will make you rethink your love for sugary soft drinks

Hey Coke drinkers: These pastors' lawsuit will make you rethink your love for sugary soft drinks

This post has been chilling on ice for a while. Or something like that.

I meant to write about this story when it came out a few weeks ago, but I got distracted. As a result, this piece ended up in my GetReligion guilt folder.

I'm talking about the Washington Post's recent coverage of a lawsuit filed by two black pastors against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association. 

I wonder if maybe — just maybe — there's a holy ghost lurking in the Post's otherwise excellent coverage. More on that in a moment.

But first, some important background: The Post reported that pastor William Lamar of D.C.’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is tired of presiding over funerals for parishioners who died of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

More from the story:

Lamar and Delman Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, claim soda marketing has made it more difficult for them to protect the health of their largely black, D.C.-based parishioners.
Their case is similar to another suit that was filed, and later withdrawn, by the same legal team in California last January.
The lawsuit marks a break with tradition for African American and Latino community groups who have been reliable allies of Big Soda for years in policy fights across the country — despite overwhelming evidence that the harms of drinking soda impact their communities disproportionately.

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You think? There may be faith angles in all those stories about fading flocks in urban America

You think? There may be faith angles in all those stories about fading flocks in urban America

Frankly, it's one of the biggest religion-news stories in America these days.

You are going to be reading these news stories over and over in newspapers from New York City to Los Angeles and every major urban area in between. Thousands of people are involved, along with millions and millions of dollars.

We are talking about prime urban real estate -- specifically the sale of land (and sometimes the reuse of facilities) belonging to dying churches, synagogues and other religious institutions.

News organizations have to cover these stories, of course. It's an old doctrine of news, as well as real estate: Location, location, location. The question is whether editors and reporters will be interested in the totally valid religion-news angles in these stories, as well as the financial ones.

Yes, it's valid to focus these stories on newsy questions like: What happens next, in terms of the people and the properties? Who gets the money? What happens to the art, pipe organs, pews, altars, burial chambers and other items inside these sacred spaces?

However, journalists may also want to ask these kinds of questions: Why are some urban churches -- take New York City, for example -- closing while others are not? Why are there thriving churches in urban areas, while others are dying? Why do some have lots of members, converts and new children, while others do not? Might there be religious factors at play here, as well as relevant "secular" factors? Might demographics and doctrine be linked?

OK, I'll ask another question that some readers may be thinking: Do your GetReligionistas plan to keep noting these faith-shaped holes in all these real-estate stories, over and over and over? Good question: I think the answer is still "yes."

The New York Times recently covered religious real-estate issues in a pair of unrelated stories that ran August 6-7. Here is the overture to the first one, that ran with the headline, "Struggling to Survive, Congregations Look to Sell Houses of Worship."

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A world religion few readers know about: Sikhs get some news coverage from ProPublica

A world religion few readers know about: Sikhs get some news coverage from ProPublica

ProPublica, the investigative journalism powerhouse, doesn’t have a religion reporter even though it has a raft of other specialties ranging from civil rights, the military and health care to consumer finance, tech and education.

Why this newsroom doesn't cover the motivating force behind how billions of people live their lives is a puzzle but recently the organization did come out with a piece about religion.

Called “Sikhs in America: A History of Hate,” it chronicles how a blameless religious minority has been mistaken for Muslims for years and often murdered in cold blood because of that misperception. Remember, it was not a Muslim but a Sikh: Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was murdered at a gas station in Arizona right after 9/11.

The lengthy first-person feature begins with an incident that took place not far from where I live.

The 1907 episode in a seaside timber town in Washington came to be known as the Bellingham Riots. Really, though, there were no riots. There was a pogrom.
At the time, the U.S. was suffering through deep economic distress, a panic-filled recession that had begun the year before. Angry anti-immigrant sentiment was ascendant. And hundreds of Sikh men who had traveled from India to Bellingham to toil in the lumber mills paid the price.
Some 500 white men, many of them members of the local Asiatic Exclusion League, descended on the Sikhs and other South Asians, routing them from the bunkhouses where they roomed and chasing them into the streets. Within hours, the entire Sikh population of Bellingham had fled, frantically piling onto trains and boats in search of some sort of refuge. Many had been physically battered.

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Absolutely shocking news! Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reads Christian devotionals

Absolutely shocking news! Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reads Christian devotionals


Absolutely shocking!

Perhaps you saw the news today — via a tweet by the New York Times to its nearly 39 million followers — about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In case you're standing, I'll hold on just a second so you can sit down.

OK, brace yourself. Here it is. Deep breath, everyone!

Without further weeping and gnashing of teeth, the tweet from the Times:

President Trump's new press secretary is an evangelical who reads a Christian devotional before news briefings

Did you catch that!?


Stop the presses!

I kid. I kid. But more than a few folks on Twitter chuckled at the Times' characterization of Sanders' spiritual discipline:

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Spotting a religion ghost in New York Times water-cooler zinger on non-Trump GOP options

Spotting a religion ghost in New York Times water-cooler zinger on non-Trump GOP options

This had to be last weekend's chatter-producing headline in the tense territory defined by the DC Beltway. If you missed it, the New York Times proclaimed: "Republican Shadow Campaign for 2020 Takes Shape as Trump Doubts Grow."

Let me stress that this story was produced by the political desk, with zero visible contributions from a religion-beat professional. I would argue that this shaped the contents of the story in a negative way, creating a big faith-shaped hole. Thus, this is a classic example of a news story that's haunted by a religion ghost. We say "boo" to that, as always.

The key to the story is the chaos and political dirt that follows President Donald Trump around like the cloud that hovers over the Peanuts character named Pig-Pen. During the campaign, this led some Republicans to openly discuss running a third-party candidate against Trump. Others stressed that they were not voting for Trump, but against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thus, the story opens like this:


WASHINGTON -- Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.
President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 -- as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.
The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles.

Now, there are multiple parallel universes lurking in phrases like the "party's most prominent donors" and "conservative interest groups." Some of the powers hidden in those words are secular. Some of them are linked to groups defined, primarily, by moral, cultural and religious interests.

But let's start with one simple question: If you were looking for the most vocal supporters of Sasse and Cotton, where would you start?

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Hillary Clinton wants to preach, and The Atlantic omits, yep, some really obvious context

Hillary Clinton wants to preach, and The Atlantic omits, yep, some really obvious context

Love her or loathe her -- there are millions of people willing to line up behind each option -- former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic Party candidate for President Hillary Rodham Clinton is a person of strong beliefs.

One of those, if media reports are to be accepted at face value, is that she's a dedicated person of faith who might want to step onto a platform and declare her spiritual viewpoint. A church platform. Behind a pulpit. As a United Methodist lay preacher, perhaps.

In other words, as The Atlantic notes in an analysis piece, "Hillary Wants to Preach."

Noting that Clinton is planning a campaign memoir for a fall release, the magazine/website adds that she approved -- and wrote the foreword for -- a book of devotionals sent to her on the campaign trail:

Hillary Clinton wants to preach. That’s what she told Bill Shillady, her longtime pastor, at a recent photo shoot for his new book about the daily devotionals he sent her during the 2016 campaign. Scattered bits of reporting suggest that ministry has always been a secret dream of the two-time presidential candidate: Last fall, the former Newsweek editor Kenneth Woodward revealed that Clinton told him in 1994 that she thought “all the time” about becoming an ordained Methodist minister. She asked him not to write about it, though: “It will make me seem much too pious.” The incident perfectly captures Clinton’s long campaign to modulate -- and sometimes obscure -- expressions of her faith.

The rest of this article is long on historical analysis but short on issues-focused context. We learn, for example, about her upbringing as a progressive Methodist teen-ager:

Hillary Rodham grew up attending First United Methodist Church in the conservative suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, often taking field trips into Chicago with her youth pastor to see figures like Martin Luther King Jr. While other girls were flipping through beauty mags, she was reading about Vietnam and poverty in a now-defunct magazine for Methodist students called motive. (The title was always styled with a lower-case m.)

So we go on, and on, and on about Clinton's faith and its sometimes halting expression in the political realm.

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Mark of the Beast: This time, a Godbeat pro gives us 666 reasons to like her apocalyptic story

Mark of the Beast: This time, a Godbeat pro gives us 666 reasons to like her apocalyptic story

The Beast is back.

My most-clicked post of the year concerned "Mark of the Beast: 666 reasons to look for religion angle in microchips installed in employees' hands."

That recent post noted a Wisconsin technology company's plan to install microchips in employees' hands and highlighted the holy ghosts in mainstream media reports.

Just last week, Deann Alford — a faithful GetReligion reader who supplied excellent commentary for my original post — shared a link to a yet another haunted piece on the chips controversy.

But fret not, faithful masses devoted to high-quality news coverage of religion: Godbeat pro Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (part of the national USA Today network) has produced an excellent story on the subject.

Her newsy lede:

NASHVILLE — The apocalyptic "mark of the beast" prophecy in the Bible makes some wary of a Wisconsin company's recent decision to embed microchips into the hands of willing employees.
The end times account in the New Testament's Book of Revelation warns believers about being marked on the right hand and the forehead by the Antichrist.
But inserting rice-sized microchips under the skin of Three Square Market employees does not fulfill the prophecy, said Chris Vlachos, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College in Chicago.
"I think that this is more of a fulfillment of end times novels and movies than the Book of Revelation itself," Vlachos said.
Earlier this week Three Square Market, the Wisconsin firm that makes cafeteria kiosks to replace vending machines, brought in a tattoo artist to embed microchips into the 40 employees that volunteered.

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About that complex Michigan lawsuit: When does a Christian camp turn into a resort?

About that complex Michigan lawsuit: When does a Christian camp turn into a resort?

If you know anything about about the history of religion in Michigan, you know that the region north of Grand Rapids has -- in addition to being famous for its forests and lake-front views -- long been a center for Christian camps and similar facilities.

It's common for Christian encampments to sell land to individuals and congregations so that they can build their own lodges and cottages.

The question, of course, is when these clearly-defined religious institutions turn into resort town or evolve into vaguely defined "spiritual" institutions that are open to all.

So what has happened at the "Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church"? Is this a doctrinally defined, nonprofit religious organization -- a church camp of some kind -- or not?

That's the question raised in a MLive.com report that ran with this headline: "Only Christians can own cottages at this idyllic Michigan resort." The problem is that this question is never really answered or clearly debated.

The key word in that headline, of course, is "resort." The news report itself focuses on the word "association." Here is the top of the story:

EMMET COUNTY, MI -- Just outside of Petoskey, on the shores of Little Traverse Bay, is an upscale community with hundreds of Victorian-era cottages, most decades old, and a unique form of self-governance.
Under an 1889 state law, the cottagers' association can appoint a board of assessors, deputize its own marshal and maintain streets and buildings on collectively owned land.
The association requires owners to have good moral character. But its requirement that owners be practicing Christians -- ideally, members of the United Methodist Church -- is what has come under fire.

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Guilt by association: Pastor to Cabinet officials gets trashed by The Los Angeles Times

Guilt by association: Pastor to Cabinet officials gets trashed by The Los Angeles Times

There’s been chatter this past week about Bible studies at the White House, thanks to a Christian Broadcasting Network story calling President Donald Trump’s advisors “the most evangelical Cabinet in history.”

Looking for a local angle, the Los Angeles Times found one in the person of the Rev. Ralph Drollinger.

Now, Drollinger had been mentioned in a very similar CBN story back in April. This time around, however, a Washington correspondent for the Times realized that one of the people in CBN’s story sounded awfully familiar. He wrote the following:

News from the Christian Broadcasting Network that members of President Trump’s Cabinet are attending Bible study sessions together didn’t come as such a shock in Washington.
The shock was who is teaching them.
That teacher, Pastor Ralph Drollinger, is well known to some members in the California congressional delegation -- and not just because he is a 7-foot-1 former UCLA basketball star. He is the evangelical spiritual leader who once counseled a group of Sacramento lawmakers that female politicians with young children have no business serving in the Legislature. In fact, he called them sinners.

Before we go, may we remind the Times that the Associated Press-approved way to refer to clergy on the first reference is as “the Rev.,” not “Pastor.” Maybe the reporter wouldn’t know such niceties but someone on the copy desk should have.

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