News question: Why are statues of this saint going the way of Confederate monuments?

News question: Why are statues of this saint going the way of Confederate monuments?

First, it was the defacing (or removing) of Confederate statues in the East and South.

Now it’s the defacing and vandalism of St. Junipero Serra statues in the West. This is a comparatively new wrinkle in the news -- this trend of destroying the symbols of history with which one doesn’t personally agree. I wonder if such vandalism is the new normal. This certainly raises reporting questions for journalists covering this kind of story.

For the latest on what’s happening in California, we turn to various local media on how they’ve covered the latest incidents. First, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

A bronze statue of the Roman Catholic priest Junipero Serra at the Old Santa Barbara Mission was decapitated and doused with red paint on Sunday night or early Monday morning.
The statue, on the western side of the Central Coast property near the mission's office, has since been covered with a tarp. The Santa Barbara mission has been called the "Queen of the Missions."
The statue was vandalized in a similar fashion as another Father Serra statue in Monterey last year. That figure, which was beheaded but not painted, has since been repaired. Another, in Santa Cruz, was vandalized with the word "genocide" in late 2015.

Then comes a tiny piece of background:

Serra was a Franciscan friar in the 18th century who founded nine of the state's 21 missions. He was canonized as a saint in 2015 by Pope Francis -- a decision that met criticism by those who believe Serra unfairly treated Native Americans. Some say that Serra "imposed" Christianity upon natives, forcing them convert and then work on building missions while relinquishing their traditions, customs, dress, and language in favor of Spanish ones. 

The article ends soon after that, with no quotes from anyone (the local Catholic diocese, for instance) decrying the vandalism and the assumptions that led up to it.

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About that prayer circle featured on New York Times front page: great writing or overly dramatic?

About that prayer circle featured on New York Times front page: great writing or overly dramatic?

As a media critic, it's my job to have an opinion. I'm supposed to be able to read a story and then let readers know what I thought.

Is it good journalism? Did it get religion?  Those are questions that I'm expected to answer in this space. And most of the time, that's no problem. 

But what happens when I'm not 100 percent sure whether I liked — or disliked — a particular piece of reporting? When I find myself arguing with myself? Believe it or not, that happens every so often.

Such is the case with my attempt to analyze a New York Times narrative feature, which ran on Sunday's front page, on "17 people (who) joined in prayer before clearing out the flooded house of an aging widow. God, they insisted, was also there."

The Times sets the scene this way:

“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
WHARTON COUNTY, Tex. — Jeff Klimple, head bowed and eyes clinched, had locked his meaty mechanic’s hand into the trembly, creased fingers of his 80-year-old mother, Angie. She, in turn, held the right hand of her 24-year-old granddaughter, Natalie. Natalie was clutching a box of Hefty Ultra Strong garbage bags with her left hand, so the Lutheran pastor standing next to her, Lee Kuhns, wrapped one arm around her and draped the other over the shoulder of the gray-haired woman on his left, Rosalie Beard.
In all, there were 17 Texans linked in a ring on Angie Klimple’s front yard last Saturday afternoon, a circle of prayer broken only by the hay wagon that would soon carry away the putrid, sodden remnants of 50 years of her life.
“Father, we come to you and thank you for all of these people you sent us,Mr. Klimple continued.
The group gathered in what had been a tidy yard on Blanche Street, one house away from a cotton field, an hour’s drive southwest of Houston. Wharton County, bounded on the northeast by the San Bernard River and bisected by the Colorado, has some of the state’s most productive farm and ranch land. But by Aug. 30, the deluge brought by Hurricane Harvey had lifted water levels by five to 10 times their norm and both rivers had breached their banks.

My uncertainty over that lede: I couldn't decide whether I thought it was great writing or overly dramatic. So I asked a few people whose opinions I respect.

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A rather obvious hole in Guam reporting on sexual assault cases involving Catholic priests

A rather obvious hole in Guam reporting on sexual assault cases involving Catholic priests

Trust me, I know what it's like to be a reporter who has to call people who you already know do not want to talk to you. I mean, I am so old I worked the Godbeat in the 1980s, the era of the great televangelist scandals.

But way back then, journalists had a way of letting readers know that the newsroom tried to give people a chance to respond to their critics, to tell their side of complicated stories. Reporters would call and call and call. You might even knock on someone's door.

Finally, you'd have to put a statement in the story that said something like, "Leaders of the so-and-so group declined repeated requests for interviews." Sometimes, you could even quote a source saying that they didn't want to talk.

Now, this brings us to a strange story from Guam, of all places, care of the Pacific News Center (which appears, from its website, to have a working relationship with ABC News and, thus, the Disney empire). The headline: "The Vatican failed to submit a comprehensive report to the UN by the Sept. 1 deadline." I don't do this often, but here is 90 percent of this short report:

Guam -- As sexual assault cases against the Archdiocese of Agana continue to increase, it appears that the Vatican has found itself in trouble with the United Nations.
Three years ago, the Vatican was called to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which begged the Vatican to take concrete steps to remedy decades of institutional complicity and cover-up of widespread sexual violence.
September 1, 2017 marked the deadline for the Vatican to submit a comprehensive report on their progress, but the Vatican did not submit the report.
According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Holy See was provided with committee recommendations aimed at ensuring the protection of children from sexual violence, however the Vatican has not implemented any of those recommendations. ...

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God and Man at the CIA? Foreign Policy drags director's faith into analysis piece

God and Man at the CIA? Foreign Policy drags director's faith into analysis piece

Here's a shocker: Many of the appointees of the Trump Administration are very different people than those who served in the Obama Administration.

The sun, I am reliably told, also rises in the East and sets in the West. Bears use the woods for a bathroom. And the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church -- despite some naysayers out there -- really is a Roman Catholic.

Sorry for the #sarcasm, but it's difficult to suppress the impulse after reading a lengthy piece at the website of Foreign Policy magazine about the issues arising at the Central Intelligence Agency since Mike Pompeo, a now-former U.S. Representative from Kansas, became the agency's director.

The headline says (almost) all: "More White, More Male, More Jesus: CIA Employees Fear Pompeo Is Quietly Killing the Agency’s Diversity Mandate." This is a feature, a "soft" piece, so one has to dive in a bit before finding the blast at Pompeo and his personal faith:

Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, has said previously that Islamist terrorists will “continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”
The concerns are not that Pompeo is religious but that his religious convictions are bleeding over into the CIA.

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Jesus was a Palestinian and similar claims that often cloud Middle East reporting

Jesus was a Palestinian and similar claims that often cloud Middle East reporting

In 2014, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel, proclaimed himself a direct descendant of the ancient Canaanites, one of the tribes believed to have inhabited what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories prior to the Israelites’ arrival. Erekat did so while rejecting Israeli government insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish nation.

Erekat’s obvious point -- which he's made repeatedly, along with other Palestinian, Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders, as well as some Christian leaders who favor the Palestinian side -- is that Israel has no real claim to call itself a Jewish state. Moreover, goes this line of reasoning, Israel is, in fact, a purely colonial enterprise because the people we call Palestinians are descendants of the land’s true indigenous population.

According to this logic, it's not only today’s Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as part of their hoped-for nation state, who are colonizers. Rather it's all Jews, no matter where they live in Israel, because the Canaanite-Palestinian historical connection predates Israelite-Jewish claims on the land.

If you read Arabic, look at this piece from the Palestine Press for clarification of Erekat’s position. If not, here’s an English-language piece refuting Erekat from The Algemeiner, a right-leaning, New York-based Jewish print and web publication.

Western news media reports often pass along the Canaanite-Palestinian linkage claim unchallenged. This happens more often in opinion pieces than hard news stories. However, on occasion the claim makes its way into a bare bones, dueling assertions piece presented without clarifying context or background.

So here’s some context and background that religion-beat writers would do well to keep in mind.

To begin, biblical and archeological claims are difficult if not impossible to unequivocally substantiate historically.

The former is often a matter of interpretation rooted in faith, reason, culture -- or the rejection of all or any of them. This is true no matter whose faith claims are at issue.

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This is why the media just can't resist a chainsaw-wielding nun helping after Hurricane Irma

This is why the media just can't resist a chainsaw-wielding nun helping after Hurricane Irma

It's clickbait.

Take that back — it's chainsaw bait.

As NPR put it, "(N)o one, it seems, can resist a story about a chainsaw-wielding nun."

And you know what? I don't blame them. What's not to like about this story?

The basics from Emily Miller at Religion News Service:

(RNS) — Now here’s something you don’t see every day: A Carmelite nun, in full habit, cutting trees with a chainsaw.
Sister Margaret Ann, principal of Miami’s Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, caught the attention of an off-duty police officer, who posted photos and video of her at work on the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Facebook page on Tuesday (Sept. 12).
The post said acts of kindness like hers “remind us all that we are #OneCommunity in #MiamiDadeCounty” and included the praying hands emoji for good measure.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, snagged an interview with the nun:

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AP offers reaction piece about the 'loud dogma' story that it didn't cover the first time around

AP offers reaction piece about the 'loud dogma' story that it didn't cover the first time around

For decades, the Associated Press played a crucial role in the typical news cycle that followed a big event -- from Supreme Court decisions to tornadoes, from big elections (whether presidents or popes) to plane crashes.

Back in the 1970s, when I broke into journalism, you would hear the chimes on the newsroom AP wire machine signalling that something "big" just happened. I'll never forget hearing the four bells marking the first clear sign that President Richard Nixon would resign.

The key: The AP usually wrote the first story on big news, or quickly picked up coverage from local outlets to take a story to the national or international level.

It helps, of course, when people agree on whether an event is news or not.

I put the question this way in my first post on the U.S. Senate appeals-court nomination hearings for Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven, who was told that the "dogma lives loudly within you" by Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

... The main question is an old one that your GetReligionistas have asked many times: Can you imagine the mainstream press ignoring this story if the theological and political doctrines in were reversed? Can you imagine liberal senators asking the same questions to a Muslim nominee?

Several readers sent emails taking that idea a step further: Try to imagine the press coverage if conservative senators asked if a nominee was too Muslim, or too Jewish, to serve on a major U.S. court.

Yes, I think the AP would have written a first-day news story in those cases, reports with the basic facts and reactions from voices on both sides. At that point, the AP story would trigger the normal "news cycle" in other newsrooms, in radio, television and print outlets.

Thus, it's crucial whether AP people think an event is news or not.

We finally have an AP story about last week's "loud dogma" hearing. Please read the overture carefully, since this is a follow-up story about an event that didn't deserve an initial report:

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What sort of faith compels a mom to sacrifice her life for her child? Various media never tell us

What sort of faith compels a mom to sacrifice her life for her child? Various media never tell us

Years ago, I had a friend in California who was about four months pregnant when she learned that she had a fast-moving cancer that would kill her in a matter of weeks unless she started chemotherapy immediately. But it was a type of chemo that would kill her child.

Fiercely pro-life, considering abortion was the last thing on her mind. However, the cancer was so fast-moving that even if she decided to forego the chemo, she would not live long enough to bring the baby to the viability stage before delivering it. It was one of these life-of-the-mother situations that you hear about but rarely learn the gritty details.

Partly because she had several other children who needed her, she did abort this fourth child and had the chemo. Sadly, she only lived one more year before the cancer returned and she died.

Now to the news. I was interested to hear of a similar story that ran in the Washington Post about a woman who rejected chemo so her unborn child could live. Of course, you should watch for the faith element in this story.

The headaches began sometime in March. They didn’t think much of them, other than that they were possible migraines -- until she started vomiting.
An initial scan showed a mass in Carrie DeKlyen’s brain. More tests showed that it was a form of cancer, possibly lymphoma, but treatable. But a pathology exam revealed a more grim diagnosis. The 37-year-old mother of five from Wyoming, Mich., had glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. If lucky, she could live for five more years.
The tumor was taken out during a surgery in April, her husband, Nick DeKlyen, said. Not even a month later, the couple received two pieces of shocking news. Carrie’s tumor was back -- and she was eight weeks pregnant.

Here’s the agonizing choice part, with a hint at faith:

They had two options. They could try to prolong Carrie’s life through chemotherapy, but that meant ending her pregnancy. Or they could keep the baby, but Carrie would not live long enough to see the child.

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#RNA2017: Five takeaways from the 68th annual conference of the Religion News Association

#RNA2017: Five takeaways from the 68th annual conference of the Religion News Association

In advance of last week's 68th annual conference of the Religion News Association, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese wrote an interesting column on the state of the Godbeat.

In case you hadn't heard, this oft-quoted priest joined Religion News Service last month as a senior analyst and columnist focused on Catholicism, the Vatican and Pope Francis. His recent column featured a clever headline about "religion journalists singing country & blues in Nashville."

Music City was, of course, the site of this year's RNA conference. Reese wrote:

(RNS) — This week I am looking forward to the annual meeting of the Religion News Association (Sept. 7-9) in Nashville, where I hope to see old friends and make new ones. I enjoy the company of journalists, who are almost always bright, articulate and funny. Religion reporters are a special breed because of their interest in values, religion and the transcendent.
There is also some sadness as I get ready to travel because I know many old friends will not be there. It is not that they have died, although some have. Rather, there are simply fewer religion writers today. They have either been laid off or jumped ship before they got pushed out.
So, when we get to Nashville, I am not sure whether we will be singing country or the blues.

Actually, Godbeat pros sang a few church hymns, as part of a session on congregational singing (and beer):

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