Hey AP: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 9/11 ground zero will be 'flanked by towers'?

Hey AP: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 9/11 ground zero will be 'flanked by towers'?

I think about 9/11 every day, during my weeks in New York City teaching at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

There's a logical reason. When in New York, I live in a residence hotel next to ground zero. Each morning I walk around the edge of the park containing the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. That includes St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which is being rebuilt close to its original location 250 feet from the corner of the south tower.

At night, I often go a block or two out of my way to check out the construction. I started writing about the fate of this church -- the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 -- two weeks after the towers fell. As an Orthodox Christian, I find one detail of the church's destruction especially haunting.

Orthodox believers want to search in the two-story mound of debris for the remains of three loved ones who died long ago -- the relics of St. Nicholas, St. Katherine and St. Sava. Small pieces of their skeletons were kept in a gold-plated box marked with an image of Christ. This ossuary was stored in a 700-pound, fireproof safe.
"We do not think it could have burned. But perhaps it was crushed," said Father [John] Romas. "Who knows? All we can do is wait and pray."

The safe was never found (click here for a 2014 update). How do you burn cast iron?

I was glad to pick up my newspaper here in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and see that the Associated Press, in its advance story for this 9/11 anniversary, focused on the construction of the new St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center. It's a pretty solid story, yet it contains one or two details that need clarification.

In one case, I am sure the Orthodox would appreciate a correction. Will the new shrine have towers like the current Hagia Sophia? Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- A Greek Orthodox church taking shape next to the World Trade Center memorial plaza will glow at night like a marble beacon when it opens sometime next year. It also will mark another step in the long rebuilding of New York’s ground zero.

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Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.

Those who can’t find lodging are bunking up with friends or in churches

Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)

The website Mic.com has especially concentrated on mosques, such as this feature about an Orlando mosque offering shelter from Irma and this piece about Houston mosques offering shelter from Harvey.

The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account

TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.

Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship?

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Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'

Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'

This weekend's think piece is a kind of game -- a journalism game, to be precise.

It's a game that I have written about in the past, in part because of the billions -- OK, maybe just millions -- of news stories and commentaries that are built on the assumption that the theological content of the work of Pope Benedict XVI is sharply different than that of Pope Francis on just about any issue that you would want to mention.

Now, there are important differences and I know that. That is not my point. My point is that the mainstream press tends to ignore the many things Francis says on hot-button topics that support Catholic orthodoxy (thus, statements that sound like Benedict). There have also been times when journalists have taken statements that, in context, are not all that unusual and turned them into Google-dominating soundbites. Hey, who am I to judge?

In a 2014 "On Religion" column about this "Name that pope" game I offered these examples, among many:

 "The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion."
Name that pope: That's Pope Francis, believe it or not. ...
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs."
Name that pope: That's Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, it's time to play "Name that pope" again. Are you ready?

On the subject of the church's traditional doctrine of marriage, stating that marriage is between a man and a woman:

"We cannot change it. This is the nature of things."

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Ponder this: Why did 'Rives Junction Statement' on sex and marriage draw zero news ink?

Ponder this: Why did 'Rives Junction Statement' on sex and marriage draw zero news ink?

Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), please think about this scenario in the news.

Let's assume that a symbolic group of Christian leaders, representing a traditional form of the faith, got together and released a concise statement affirming 2,000 years of orthodox Christian teachings on sex, marriage and gender. What kind of press coverage would such a hypothetical statement receive, under "ordinary" news conditions?

Of course, that's a joke right there. What are "ordinary conditions" in the crazed age of Twitter and a reality television presidency?

But let's take this statement at face value. Let's say that these Christian leaders affirmed that:

* " ... God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. ..."

*  "... [A]ll intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral, and therefore sin. ... "

* " ... God created the human race male and female and that all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin. ... "

* "Marriage can only be between two people whose birth sex is male and female."

You get the idea. This assembly also affirmed that churches should not cooperate with activities that violate these principles, including allowing church properties to be used/rented for events of this kind -- like weddings  

So what kind of press coverage would this statement receive? Would there be an explosion of news reports and online commentary?  Click here to find out.

Maybe the bishops in the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America should have called this 2016 document the "Rives Junction Statement"? Maybe then the mayor of Rives Junction, Mich., would have released a press statement condemning it, which would have told reporters that this was big news? What if it was called the "Byzantine Statement"?

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The Atlantic goes there again, when newsrooms avoid another hot church-state story (correction)

The Atlantic goes there again, when newsrooms avoid another hot church-state story (correction)

This is becoming a rather common pattern on a certain type of hot-button story on the Godbeat.

What kind of hot-button story? To be honest, I'm not quite sure whether I'm ready to pin a label on this church-state phenomenon or not. However, we have another one of of these stories, no matter what we call it. Let's walk through this.

Stage 1: Something happens in the public square that combines clear religious content and politics (if possible linked to You Know Who in the White House). Take, for example, a U.S. Senate hearing in which a Notre Dame University law professor who is a traditional Catholic and the mother of seven children is -- since she is being considered for a federal appeals court slot -- bluntly asked: "Are you an orthodox Catholic?" Another senator warns her that Catholic "dogma lives loudly within you."

Stage 2: Conservative and religious news websites, fired by Twitter storms, cover the story. Meanwhile, major news outlets -- starting with The New York Times (still) -- ignore this interesting drama linked to the U.S. Constitution's ban on establishing religious tests for public servants. Click here for my first post on this issue.

Stage 3: The Atlantic then runs an online story which puts the key facts into play, while offering what amounts to a second-day feature analysis story about an event that -- in terms of first-day, hard-news coverage -- doesn't exist in the mainstream press.

Strange, huh?

We are, of course, talking about the whirlwind surrounding 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a pro-Catechism Catholic legal scholar. The double-decker headline for religion-beat pro Emma Green's feature at The Atlantic says a lot:

Should a Judge's Nomination Be Derailed by Her Faith?
During a recent hearing, Democratic senators pushed an appellate-court nominee to explain how her religious beliefs would affect her legal decisions.

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#RNA2017: Why USA Today's Washington correspondent is looking for faith and religion stories

#RNA2017: Why USA Today's Washington correspondent is looking for faith and religion stories

As I mentioned Thursday, I'm attending the Religion News Association's 68th annual conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Among the interesting people I've met: Paul Singer, Washington correspondent for USA Today.

I talked to Singer about why he came to Music City for this week's conference. Here's a quick transcript (please forgive any typos or other deadline sins).

Q: What is your job with USA Today, and what brings you here?

A: My job officially is running our congressional coverage for USA Today and the hundred newspapers and news outlets in the Gannett network. I have some responsibility for our coverage of the Trump administration as well. I am here on my own interest trying for some stories about faith and religion.

Q: Why do you think that’s important?

A: Because our readers care about it. It is something I know our readers have interest in. Every time we write a story about faith and religion, it gets a lot of traffic and interest. It is an area of interest for me personally because I cover politics, and a big question in the 2016 election was were evangelicals going to look past the personal failings of Donald Trump and support him for political reasons, (because) he’s going help them advance their political agenda.

Q: Do you think this election only makes the need for a religion emphasis that much stronger?

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'Muslim Schindler's list' leader in the Philippines gets nuanced Los Angeles Times' profile

'Muslim Schindler's list' leader in the Philippines gets nuanced Los Angeles Times' profile

I must confess, I had no idea that Islamic State militants have taken over a city in the southern Philippines even though I have friends who live about a two-hour drive from there. I’d visited the island of Mindanao in 1991; a lush and beautiful place that has a history of various rebel groups trying to seize control from the central government.

I’d never heard of the city of Marawi, which isn’t far from where I was in Cotabato City. It is now the scene of a Muslim uprising.

Not much has been written about this conflict in American media until Thursday, which is when the Los Angeles Times ran this amazing story of a local Muslim clan chief who sheltered dozens of Christians in his home. It starts here:

When the first artillery fire rang out one afternoon in May, Norodin Lucman thought of the four workers repairing a cellphone tower on his sprawling property. He sent one of his daughters to tell the men to come in.
Plumes of smoke spiraled up from the city below. But Marawi, home to 200,000 people, had survived armed conflict before, and Lucman assumed this one would end in a few days and his guests would go home.
Soon, though, more people began arriving at his door. Militants were torching homes and schools, freeing prisoners, taking hostages and waving Islamic State flags.
The militants had stopped another group of cell tower workers and demanded that they recite the Shahada, a Muslim proclamation of faith. Marawi is predominantly Muslim. But the men were Christians from nearby cities. They failed the test.
When one tried to escape on his motorbike, the militants shot him dead. Amid the chaos, the nine others managed to flee to Lucman’s house.

The story goes on to tell how the national government sent in troops to quell this uprising while ISIS volunteers were pouring in from around the world to try to establish a foothold in Mindanao. Marawi now lies in ruins.

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Snowflake alert: New survey research on Americans’ religious identities provokes tweet mini-storm

Snowflake alert: New survey research on Americans’ religious identities provokes tweet mini-storm

The Religion Guy has often lauded the Pew Research Center for its valuable survey research on the state of religion in the United States and worldwide, for instance its new (July 26) report on attitudes of U.S. Muslims, a matter of keen interest for journalists.

But a younger think tank also based in Washington, D.C., the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is also an important source.

It grabbed headlines this week with its report “America’s Changing Religious Identity.” PRRI proclaims its 2016 telephone poll in English and Spanish of 101,438 respondents  is the largest survey of U.S. religious identity ever. The margin of error is minuscule.

There's lots of news here, some of it old news. But it's still important material.

Key findings underscore the already well-documented rise of religiously unaffiliated “nones” alongside a decline in the preponderance of white Christians. (Protestants as a whole had ceased to be a majority of Americans back around the time of the Barack Obama-John McCain campaign.)

Though evangelical Protestantism long expanded or held steady as white “mainline” Protestant churches declined, evangelicals are beginning a delayed but similar slide, from 23 percent of Americans a decade ago to 17 percent currently. Meanwhile, African-American Protestantism is  largely stable.

A breaking news article on this by the carefully non-ideological Rachel Zoll (disclosure: The Religion Guy’s former beat colleague at The AP) provoked a tweet storm, featuring some snowflakes. One outraged tweeter charged that Zoll was “attempting to pass that off as journalism” and said her copy felt like “the type of garbage that fuels racism. Why do we need to know how many Christians are white?”

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#RNA2017: Religion journalists gather in Music City — and GetReligion is on the scene

#RNA2017: Religion journalists gather in Music City — and GetReligion is on the scene

If you're not following it already, here's a Twitter hashtag for you: #RNA2017.

The Religion News Association's 68th annual conference is underway is Music City — Nashville, Tenn. — and two GetReligionistas (Julia Duin and I) will be on the scene.

At the conference this morning, a new survey on U.S. religion was released by Baylor University. Both Religion News Service's Adelle M. Banks and The Tennessean's Holly Meyer had quick stories on the embargoed findings.

Here is the RNS lede:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — Americans who voted for President Trump are often very religious, believe in an authoritative God and hold traditional views about gender.
A new Baylor Religion Survey also found that Trump supporters are more likely than other voters to see Muslims as threats to America and to view the nation as a Christian one.
Almost three-quarters of Trump voters said Islam is a threat, compared with 18 percent of those who voted for Hillary Clinton. An even higher percentage — 81 percent — of Trump voters strongly agreed that Middle East refugees are a terror threat, compared with 12 percent of Clinton voters.
“Today, divisions in the American public are stark,” said Paul Froese, a Baylor University sociology professor and director of Baylor Religion Surveys. “We can trace many of our deep differences to how people understand traditional morality, theology and the purpose of our nation.”

And from The Tennessean:

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