Money

Reuters tackles faith-based investing, omitting voices while inserting unsourced opinions

Reuters tackles faith-based investing, omitting voices while inserting unsourced opinions

When not reporting the news in a straight-up manner, the Reuters news agency often pops up as offering a caricature of what a news service does.

Most notable, perhaps, was the post-9/11 memo by the agency's then-global news editor, Stephen Jukes, in which he declared: “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist.” There was blowback a-plenty, and Jukes should be very glad Twitter didn't exist at the time.

Today's bit of palaver from Reuters comes on a subject they should know well: money and investing. Reuters did, after all, begin life as a service shuttling stock market prices around Europe, at first by carrier pigeon and then by telegraph. (It is perhaps the only journalistic enterprise in history to have been immortalized by actor Edward G. Robinson on the silver screen.)

That was then, and this is now. Reuters has come upon an interesting trend, that of stock investments based on religious principles. They then proceed to do a rather shallow reporting job that omits voices and inserts unsourced opinion as a factual statement.

This isn't straight-up journalism. It's reporting with a dose of opinion, which would seem antithetical to Reuters' origins.

In this story, titled "Gotta have faith: The rise of religious ETFs," we read:

Making money in the markets is tricky enough on its own. Try doing it while staying faithful to your religious beliefs.
That challenge hasn’t discouraged some investors from trying. Indeed, there is a growing number of faith-based exchange-traded funds that attempt to marry moneymaking with principles that are deeper and more meaningful than those of your typical trader.

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New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

To put things in country-music terms, this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to that) is about pain, sorrow, alcohol, divorce, blue-collar families, coffee, hard times, opioids and God.

Oh, and waffles.

If you don't live in Waffle House America, let me explain. We are talking about a chain -- in 25 states -- of old-school, Southern-style dinners that serve breakfast 24/7 and attract large numbers of workers and rural folks who don't work normal schedules.

If you want to laugh about the Waffle House world, you can listen to the country-fried tribute song by Stephen Colbert (a native of South Carolina) and alt-country star Sturgill Simpson, entitled, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads."

But the podcast isn't really about laughter. It's about the complex issues that affect ministry to many hurting people in this slice of the American people.

My chat with host Todd Wilken focused on my "On Religion" column this week -- which is about a United Methodist pastor in Alabama who is doing some interesting things while trying the reach working-class people. His name is Pastor Gary Liederbach and he uses his local Waffle House as his unofficial office on weekday mornings.

This anecdote sets the tone:

One recent morning, Liederbach sat down at the diner’s middle bar, where the line of side-by-side chairs almost requires diners to chat with waitresses and each other. He didn’t see the empty coffee cup of a rough, 50-something regular whom, as a matter of pastoral discretion, he called “Chuck.”
When Chuck came back inside from smoking a cigarette, he lit into Liederbach with a loud F-bomb, blasting him for taking his seat.

 

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Are Southern voters really different? Washington Post political desk avoids religion, again

Are Southern voters really different? Washington Post political desk avoids religion, again

We are, of course, talking about the most important news story in the history of the universe. That is, until the next political proxy war takes place between Citizen Donald Trump and powers that be in elite American culture.

So Republican Karen Handel defeated House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- as well as 30-year-old documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff -- for a traditionally Republican seat in the greater Atlanta area.

If the GOP had lost, the news media powers that be would have hailed it as a tremendous loss for Trump -- even though this was a rather pricey, highly educated district that wasn't fond of Trump (as noted in this New York Times fact piece).

Since the Democrats lost, this affair was hailed -- by Trump supporters -- as a great win for their bronze-tinted leader, as opposed to Handel, a pro-life Catholic.

One thing was clear: Acela-zone journalists knew that this race was about money and jobs, as well as politics, money and jobs. Here's the most recent Washington Post overture:

Narrow losses in two House special elections had Democrats once again trading recriminations Wednesday and pondering anew whether their leaders have them on a path back to power.
Especially painful was Jon Ossoff’s three-percentage-point loss Tuesday in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District after his campaign was buoyed by more than $23 million in donations, much of it from grass-roots Democrats across the country eager to oppose President Trump.
That funding surge was blunted by millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads and mailers from Republican victor Karen Handel and from outside GOP groups. A common theme in those efforts was to tie Ossoff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- a figure both well-known and widely reviled, according to Republican polling.

You can hear the same dirge here, in the Times. However, down near the bottom of that long Post report there were some interesting thoughts from Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), assistant House Democratic leader. He was concerned about weak efforts to turn out African American voters, but he also added:

But Clyburn said he asked the DCCC “not to make it a national cause” and that he “intentionally did not want it nationalized . . . because I know how South Carolina voters are.” ...
“Southern voters are a totally different breed,” he added. “And Southern voters react parochially.”

Maybe, just maybe, there were some cultural issues at play in this race? Down South, issues of culture, morality and faith tend to be rather important. Can I hear an "Amen"?

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Mammon AND God: What the Detroit News missed in a church's bitter succession battle

Mammon AND God: What the Detroit News missed in a church's bitter succession battle

I've been in plenty of church services where the message, or a personal testimony, or a worship music presentation, has arrested my attention.

So far, I've not been present when an actual arrest was made during the worship hour.

Parishioners at the Detroit World Outreach congregation, in the suburb of Redford Township, were treated to the latter a few months back, part of a succession battle after the sudden passing of its senior pastor. The Detroit News picks up the story:

Local religious leaders are warring with a bishop’s widow over a $3 million mansion and control of the soul and mega bank accounts of one of Metro Detroit’s megachurches.
The war is 4 months old, triggered by the death of Bishop Benjamin Gibert, the charismatic, leather-clad leader of Detroit World Outreach in Redford Township, a megachurch whose leaders believe wealth is God’s reward.
Within days of the bishop’s death, church leaders fired his widow, Charisse Gibert, from her church post and announced plans to sell her home, an 11,000-square-foot parsonage in Northville Township that was controversially removed from the tax rolls 10 years ago.
Church leaders also are trying to block Charisse Gibert from collecting on her late husband’s $2 million life-insurance policy.

Well, now! A megachurch, a mega-mansion, a mega death benefit and a "mega bank account." If ever a story screamed for newspaper attention, this might be it. Add in the widow's arrest (see video above) and it's practically a journalistic Sutter's Mill.

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Did Charlotte Observer miss key questions linked to Hank Hanegraaff's move to Orthodoxy? (updated)

Did Charlotte Observer miss key questions linked to Hank Hanegraaff's move to Orthodoxy? (updated)

Controversy and questions have dogged Hendrik "Hank" Hanegraaff since at least 1989, when he announced, at funeral services for Christian Research Institute founder Walter R. Martin (who originated the "Bible Answer Man" radio program now hosted by Hanegraaff), that Martin had designated him as Martin's successor.

Martin's family later disputed that claim, as Jill Martin Rische, the late apologist's daughter, has documented on her own apologetics website.

People like to argue about the work of outspoken apologists. So it's no surprise that Hanegraaff's latest move -- from an unspecified evangelical Christian affiliation to being received as a member of the Orthodox Church -- would garner media attention and controversy. After his conversion into an ancient, non-Protestant branch of the Christian faith, Hanegraaff's radio program has lost a significant number of radio stations, The Charlotte Observer reports:

On Palm Sunday, [Hanegraaff] and wife Kathy and two of their 12 children were “chrismated,” or confirmed, at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in southeast Charlotte. During the sacramental rite, a priest anointed them with oil and invoked the Holy Spirit.
And then ...
A photo of the April ceremony started popping up on evangelical news sites. Within a week, the “Bible Answer Man” had lost many of his listeners.
His sin in their eyes: Converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, the world’s second largest Christian denomination and one steeped in rituals, icons and mysticism – aspects of faith that seem foreign to many evangelical Protestants. Instead of tradition, they look to the Bible as the only infallible guide and the final authority on matters of Christian faith and practice.
As the news about Hanegraaff spread on social media and the Internet, between 100 and 150 radio stations dropped his nationally syndicated show from their daily lineups.
“That picture of Hank kneeling before a Greek Orthodox priest -- that was hard for many evangelicals to see,” said Mike Carbone, chief operating officer at The Truth Network, which booted the “Bible Answer Man” show from six of its stations, including those in Charlotte and Raleigh. “Hank is as likable a guy as you’ll find, but we were not able to go where he was going.”

Of course, the Bible Answer Man is not kneeling before a priest, although priests are praying over these converts. He is kneeling before the altar of the church, with icons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Apostles.

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The Economist explains 2016: Evangelicals sure love money and Donald Trump

The Economist explains 2016: Evangelicals sure love money and Donald Trump

It's certainly one of the iconic images from the early 2016 rallies that, to the shock of the all-wise politicos everywhere, helped push Citizen Donald Trump into the White House.

I am referring to the viral image at the top of this post, a picture -- with mocking variations -- that can be found all over the place in cyberspace.

What made this image so perfect? Perhaps it was something about the combination of reality-TV ecstasy on certain faces and that "Thank You Lord Jesus for President Trump" sign.

For many journalists it perfectly captured what they wanted to believe, which was that Trump was the official candidate of white evangelical Protestants. The most deplorable of the deplorables.

After the election, this simplistic view of the primaries evolved into a similar verdict on election 2016, which was that if you wanted to know who to blame (yes, yes, yes) for President Trump that would be angry white men in blue collars and/or white evangelicals. From a true-blue cultural perspective, what's the difference?

Actually, there are lots of differences. As one pollster told me, there's a big difference between Saturday night conservatives and Sunday morning conservatives. There are bar conservatives and church conservatives. In the primaries, the church crowd was really divided and highly conflicted, in terms of backing (to one degree or another) Trump. He had some key old-right religious backers, in the primaries, but there was zero evangelical unity.

This brings me to a stunningly simplistic essay in a source where you aren't supposed to find simplistic journalism -- The Economist. The headline: "Why evangelicals love Donald Trump."

So right there you have trouble. You know that this really means white evangelicals. Or how about Latino evangelicals, who may have given Trump Florida?

Never mind. Here's the overture:

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Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

If you have been paying attention to gossip about the news industry lately, you may have heard that many New York Times readers were not amused when the leaders of the great Gray Lady's editorial pages decided to add another conservative voice to the mix

Ever since the first column by one Bret Stephens -- a piece criticizing how the cultural left pushes climate change (but he does not reject the reality of climate change) -- large numbers of Times nation citizens have been voicing their wrath about this invasion of a beloved safe space, primarily by canceling their subscriptions.

I have not heard of a similar reaction to the recent Times opinion essay by the Catholic scribe R.R. Reno, who is editor of the conservative interfaith journal First Things. The title: "Republicans Are Now the ‘America First’ Party."

Now, let me stress that this Reno think piece does not contain large chunks of theology or commentary about religion. Instead, it's about how one Donald Trump has moved the ground under the feet of Republicans who had, for a long time, assumed that the GOP orthodoxy of Ronald Reagan would last 1,000 years or so.

The central theme: The new GOP enemy is globalism, not big government.

As I read this Reno piece, I kept waiting for religious material, for cultural and moral material, to show up. After all, I read newspapers through the lens of the great historian Martin Marty, as described in an "On Religion" column I wrote a year after 9/11 (at an event that started the dominoes falling that led to the birth of GetReligion). Here is the top of that 2002 column (this is long, but essential):

It is Martin Marty's custom to rise at 4:44 a.m. for coffee and prayer, while awaiting the familiar thump of four newspapers on his porch. ... America's most famous church historian prepared for a lecture in Nebraska by ripping up enough newsprint to bury his table in headlines and copy slashed with a yellow pen.
A former WorldCom CEO kept teaching his Sunday school class. A researcher sought the lost tribe of Israel. Believers clashed in Sudan. Mormon and evangelical statistics were up – again. A Zambian bishop said he got married to shock the Vatican. U.S. bishops kept wrestling with clergy sexual abuse. Pakistani police continued to study the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Marty tore out more pages, connecting the dots. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey feared an Anglican schism. Public-school students prayed at flagpoles. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explored the border between church and state. And there were dozens of stories linked to Sept. 11, 2001.

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Is this news or commentary? Times offers cynical look at Bill O'Reilly gift to needy Bronx parish

Is this news or commentary? Times offers cynical look at Bill O'Reilly gift to needy Bronx parish

Every now and then, the New York Times covers stories about ordinary people in New York City and even life inside ordinary religious communities in New York City.

Whenever this happens, the odds are pretty good that the stories will be high-quality and very interesting -- especially if they don't have anything to do with trendy issues linked to sexuality and hot-button cultural issues that kick things into Kellerism territory. A year or two ago, I was actually worried that we were praising the Times metro desk too much and might get people there into trouble.

This brings me to a feature that ran the other day with this headline: "A Bronx Church’s O’Reilly Factor."

Let me note that this story is part of a series by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Dwyer that runs under the heading "About New York." Since I read the Gray Lady online -- even when I am in New York City (two-plus months a year) teaching -- I do not know if this series is presented to readers as a column, as a form of commentary. That question will matter later on, so hold that thought.

Anyway, this feature is a perfect example of a reporter finding a valid, people-driven local sidebar to a big story that is currently grabbing headlines from coast to coast. In this case, the big story is the fall of Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly, in the latest of many waves of sexual harassment accusations during his media career.

On the air, O'Reilly has ocassionally mentioned that he is Catholic, even though his worldview appears to be rooted in a kind of country-club GOP radical individualism. Then there was that timely handshake with Pope Francis. I was shocked and strangely pleased to learn that this is a subject GetReligion readers care nothing about, based on the near silence in response to my appeals for input here: "Our Fox News question remains: Was there any real religion factor in career of Bill O'Reilly?"

But, lo, the Dwyer piece found an interesting O'Reilly connection to a local parish. Here is the overture:

In late morning, a murmur of prayers rose from the front pews of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, a soft cloud of Spanish words that floated toward the soaring vaults of the nave.
Santa María, Madre de Dios …
At the back of the church, a plaque commemorates scores of donors whose might and money restored the church a half-century ago: Toscanos and Fioritos and Giantasios, a roster of the Italian families who lived in this parish for much of the 20th century, when it became known as the Bronx incarnation -- and by far the most authentic -- of New York’s Little Italies.
Stacked on a table were leaflets inviting people to contribute their thoughts on the restoration of the church for the 100th anniversary in September of its first Mass. The pastor of Mount Carmel, the Rev. Jonathan Morris, says the parish plans to spend $1.6 million on brick-and-mortar repairs, and on expanding its services to a community of immigrants -- many of them Mexican, and quite a few of those living without legal authority to be in the country.

Ah, so there is a Donald Trump-era immigration hook to this, only we are talking about restoring church walls, not building a vast you-know-what on the Mexico border.

What does this have to do with O'Reilly, a frequent supporter of the political gospel according to Trump? 

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Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn't it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn't it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

Somewhere in the world, according to this old journalism parable, there is a chart hanging on the wall of a major Associated Press wire service bureau. (Yes, I have discussed this myth before.)

The purpose of the chart is to help editors figure out, when disaster strikes somewhere in the world, just "how big" a story this particular disaster is, compared with others. Is this an A1 or front of the website story? Is this a story that major television networks will mention or perhaps even send personnel to cover? Or was this a story with lots of death and destruction, but it belongs in the back pages somewhere with the other "briefs" that readers won't notice?

The chart has a bottom line and editors can do the math.

It states that, when tragedy or terror strike, 1000 victims in Latvia equals 500 in India, which equals 100 in Mexico, 75 in France, 50 in England, 25 Canada, five in the United States of America (that's flyover country) or one Hollywood celebrity or a famous person in New York City or Washington, D.C.

In other words, according to the mathematics of news, not all human lives are created equal. It's a matter of location, location, location.

The question posed in a quietly provocative piece at Crux, a Catholic-news publication that frequently covers religious persecution, is this: How many terrorist victims in Nigeria do you have to have to equal several victims in the heart of London?

The headline: "In London’s wake, Africans ask: ‘Where’s the outrage for us?’ " This past week, I was in a meeting with a veteran journalist from Nigeria (who also has editing experience in the American Northeast) and he was asking the same question. Here is the overture of the story:

ROME -- In the wake of Wednesday’s terrorist attack on London’s Houses of Parliament that left four dead, the cross-section of African Catholic leaders meeting in Rome this week immediately expressed solidarity and revulsion.

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