The crimes stunned Knoxville: But faith brought Channon Christian's father back to life

The crimes stunned Knoxville: But faith brought Channon Christian's father back to life

It’s one of the biggest puzzles on the religion beat, one that readers ask me about all the time. Here’s the question: Why don’t news organizations cover more “spiritual” stories, as in stories about the impact religious faith has in the daily lives of real people?

The short answer is one that readers don’t want to hear: Most editors don’t think that positive stories about changed lives is “news.”

Now, if the person whose life is changed by faith is a politician, a celebrity or the starting quarterback for the local football team, then that might make this a “news” story. Maybe. Well, it also helps if this “spiritual” hook is combined with some issue that’s controversial.

This is what the cynic in me thought the other day when I saw this headline in The Knoxville News Sentinel, my local newspaper: “Gary Christian: From rage to restoration, a murder victim's father finds the faith he left.

If you live in East Tennessee, this headline calls back years of headlines about a horrific crime story that seized this region like few others — the torture, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In aftermath, the face of Channon’s father — Gary Christian — became an iconic image of loss, grief, agony and, yes, wrath.

This massive News Sentinel feature dug deep into what has happened since the trials. It’s a story about rough, realistic healing and the spiritual changes that allowed a man to return to faith. To be blunt: You don’t see many stories of this kind in news print.

First, here is the long, but essential, overture.

Gary Christian stood in an East Tennessee church pulpit on a sunny August Sunday, speaking about pain and death and faith and God. It’s not a place — or a point — where the father of murder victim Channon Christian would have been 18 months ago.

For 10 years Christian never talked to the Lord he had loved all his life. He left God behind after his beautiful, compassionate, smart 21-year-old daughter was carjacked, tortured, raped, beaten and murdered in January 2007.

Then, last April, kneeling at his child’s grave and surrounded by friends, Christian asked for God’s help.

God had been waiting. He'd never left.

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Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

As a goodly number of sentient beings are by now surely aware, the Roman Catholic Church is mired in yet another near-global, clerical sex-abuse and institutional cover-up meltdown. How it unfolds will undoubtedly alter the church’s future trajectory. Whether that will be for better or worse remains to be seen.

But this post is not primarily about the Catholic hierarchy’s serious and pervasive failings. Rather, it's my attempt to remind readers that such failings are far more about the human condition than any particular faith group.

I know this because, though I am not Catholic, I was also a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

In my case, it happened when I was about 11 in the basement of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the New York City borough of Queens, where I grew up.

This was the synagogue that my parents trusted to provide me with a grounding in religious Judaism. Instead, the trauma of my experience distanced me from the faith — actually, all faiths — for decades to come.

I never told my parents about any of this, out of shame and fear, so they went to their graves ignorant of what happened. All they knew was that I refused to ever return to that synagogue, not even for my needed Bar Mitzvah lessons. (Both the lessons and the actual Bar Mitzvah took place elsewhere.)

Synagogue clerical sex was most likely one of my earliest experiences of adult hypocrisy — not counting what I experienced in my own family, of course. Who knows? Perhaps it was the trauma that led me to become a journalist.

Because if adult hypocrisy angers you, where better to uncover it than in the arenas of human endeavor — politics, the so-called justice system, the business world, and as I now know, institutional religion and even journalism — that one continually encounters as a reporter?

I'd say working as a journalist is a damn good way to learn about the world as it truly is, warts and all.

Before preceding further, let me state that sharing my experience here is in no way meant to provide comfort to those many Catholics desperate for such institutional comfort. That’s for you to find, or to cease searching for, on your own.

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Monday Mix: Botham Jean, 'nones' in politics, Catholics demand change, black women and more

Monday Mix: Botham Jean, 'nones' in politics, Catholics demand change, black women and more

After taking off last week for Labor Day, we're back with another edition of the Monday Mix.

For those needing a refresher on this new GetReligion feature, we focus in this space on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "We will be a better city once we know the truth and once we come together and heal." The Dallas Morning News is providing in-depth coverage of the police-involved killing of Botham Jean, 26, a black man shot by a white officer who entered his apartment after mistaking it for her own.

That coverage includes the strong religion angle, as Jean was a beloved church song leader and Bible class teacher.

I ran into Morning News journalists both Saturday and Sunday at the Dallas West Church of Christ as I reported the story for The Christian Chronicle. In fact, the Dallas paper's photographer — in his first week on the job — confused me for his own reporter. We both enjoyed a chuckle over that while covering this terrible tragedy.

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What did Vatican know? When? Crucial letter emerges to pin down a specific date

What did Vatican know? When? Crucial letter emerges to pin down a specific date

Let's try to leave Pope Francis out of the picture, for a moment.

Instead, ask this simple journalism question: What did Vatican officials know about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians and when did they know it? 

Pinning down specific dates is crucial, during the hurricane of allegations surrounding the blistering testimony (full text here) offered by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador from 2011-2016. The key is confirming information about the network of cardinals and other church officials who promoted and defended McCarrick.

When trying to nail down this kind of detail, editors really -- repeat REALLY -- like it when reporters find hard evidence to back up their sources. Yes, dated letters fit the bill.

With that in mind, let's discuss a major development in the McCarrick case that may, or may not, have surfaced in your news feed -- at least in a place where you could find it.

The key date (at least, at this point): 2000.

Let's start with a flashback to the bombshell July 16 report in The New York Times ("He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal."). In many ways, this was the story that created the current media storm. Toward the end, there is this significant passage:

In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.

At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.

So would it be a big story -- something bigger than a wire-service report buried inside a newspaper -- if confirmation of this letter surfaced, offering hard evidence of a key detail in the Vigano testimony?

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Gay legislator and an evangelical prof struck a compromise: Los Angeles Times explains most of it

Gay legislator and an evangelical prof struck a compromise: Los Angeles Times explains most of it

Earlier this year, a homosexual California legislator produced a bill to halt any counseling efforts to help gays to not gay, getting a fierce reaction from local Christians as to what the real effects of this bill might be. 

I reported on this in April in a blog post asking why so few media were covering it.

The bill was killed at the last minute on Aug. 31. The Los Angeles Times had the best wrap-up of the behind-the-scenes machinations. This is a very complex issue, so it's important to pay attention to which points of view make it into the story and which ones do not.

The author of a high-profile measure to curb paid “conversion therapy,” which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation, said he is shelving his bill Friday in hopes of finding consensus with religious communities that vigorously opposed the proposal.

The bill by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), which would have designated paid “conversion therapy” services as a fraudulent business practice under the state’s consumer protection law, easily cleared prior legislative hurdles thanks to large Democratic majorities in both chambers, as well as a handful of Republican votes.

This is a very unusual piece of legislation; in effect, a bill eliminating what it believed to be consumer fraud involved in conversion therapy literature. 

But after religious groups assailed the proposal, calling it a threat to their right to practice their faith, Low went on a listening tour to meet with clergy across the state. Low ultimately decided to pull Assembly Bill 2943 before final approval in the Assembly, he said.

“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”

This story is a much bigger deal it appears. This law was in the can, ready to be passed. But Low pulled defeat from the jaws of victory (at least in the eyes of those backing the bill) by realizing the evangelical Christian opponents might be onto something in terms of their First Amendment rights.

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Thinking (sort of) about Trump's base: What does 'corruption' mean to his true loyalists?

Thinking (sort of) about Trump's base: What does 'corruption' mean to his true loyalists?

Big headlines in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis have postponed this "think piece" from The Atlantic for several weeks now.

However, I still think this essay by Peter Beinart -- a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York -- is important enough to spotlight for readers and, hopefully, for some journalists who are covering religion and politics these days.

Here is the double-decker headline, which offers a lot to think about in and of itself:

Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt.

What the president’s supporters fear most isn’t the corruption of American law, but the corruption of America’s traditional identity

Now, the lede is pretty dated, in this age of multiple crises were week. So prepare for a flashback. On a not so distant morning:

... the lead story on FoxNews.com was not Michael Cohen’s admission that Donald Trump had instructed him to violate campaign-finance laws by paying hush money to two of Trump’s mistresses. It was the alleged murder of a white Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented Latino immigrant, Cristhian Rivera.

On their face, the two stories have little in common. Fox is simply covering the Iowa murder because it distracts attention from a revelation that makes Trump look bad. But dig deeper and the two stories are connected: They represent competing notions of what corruption is.

Cohen’s admission highlights one of the enduring riddles of the Trump era. Trump’s supporters say they care about corruption. During the campaign, they cheered his vow to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. When Morning Consult asked Americans in May 2016 to explain why they disliked Hillary Clinton, the second-most-common answer was that she was “corrupt.” And yet, Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history.

Once again, a crucial question in this piece is one asked many times here at GetReligion: Who, precisely, are these "Trump supporters"? 

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No 'Crossroads' podcast: So tune in a tmatt alternative, talking Catholic wars with Metaxas

No 'Crossroads' podcast: So tune in a tmatt alternative, talking Catholic wars with Metaxas

The long and the short of it: There is no "Crossroads" podcast this week, because one of our key partners at Lutheran Public Radio has this week off.

It happens. Even clergy/radio pros need a break every now and then.

However, the news coverage of the current uptick in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis rolls on. Recently, I ended up offering a high-altitude overview of that topic in an on-air conversation with author and radio host Eric Metaxas. This took place while I was in New York City for my latest set of journalism classes at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

The key to this discussion is the question that I hear all the time in conversations with readers, friends and even people I bump into everywhere from my church in the Oak Ridge, Tenn., to hole-in-the-wall food joints in New York.

That question: What is this story really all about? The problem is that different crowds of people are shouting different answers to that question.

(1) There are some conservative Catholics who keep shouting, "It's gay priests! It's gay bishops! It's gay cardinals!" That isn't the main issue, when you look at the big picture.

(2) There are Catholics on the other side who are saying: "This is about pedophilia -- period -- and things aren't perfect, but we're getting this horrible problem under control." In other words, it's time for more grief, but no fundamental changes. And don't talk about seminaries!

(3) Lots and lots of people in the press (click here for a rather over-the-top example) who seem convinced that this whole mess is the result of homophobic right-wing Catholics who oppose this pope's efforts to modernize the church and some of its moral theology (see answer No. 1). Hey, I hear that Steve Bannon may even be in the mix.

(4) Many observers say that the real news story right now centers on ex-cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick and the network of associates and disciples who have promoted and protected him for several decades.

Ok, Ok. Yes, that's my take of the current crisis, narrowly defined. And that's what I explained in my conversation with Metaxas. Click here to tune that in.

So why listen, if you have kept up with the hurricane of posts on this topic here at GetReligion?

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Friday Five: Missionary muckraker, Kavanaugh hearing, McCarrick crisis and more

Friday Five: Missionary muckraker, Kavanaugh hearing, McCarrick crisis and more

See how this title grabs you: "The Biblical Guide to Reporting."

Marshall Allen's commentary in the New York Times sparked quite a bit of discussion on social media this week.

Allen spent five years in Christian ministry before becoming a journalist. Now covering health care for ProPublica, he explains in his op-ed how he believes his faith makes him a better reporter.

"Some people might think that Christians are supposed to be soft and acquiescent rather than muckrakers who hold the powerful to account," Allen writes. "But what I do as an investigative reporter is consistent with what the Bible teaches."

The piece is definitely intriguing and worth a read.

Interestingly, the column grew out of a speech that Allen gave last year at The King's College in New York City. Read the full text (.pdf here).

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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Spot the ghost: Idealistic doctor from Catholic college seeks to build hospital near Ave Maria

Spot the ghost: Idealistic doctor from Catholic college seeks to build hospital near Ave Maria

If you have followed GetReligion for a decade or so, you know that one of our goals is to spot "religion ghosts" in mainstream news coverage.

What's a "ghost"? Click here for our opening post long ago, which explains the concept. The short version: We say a story is "haunted" when there is a religious fact or subject missing, creating a religion-shaped hole that makes it hard for readers to understand what is going on.

I received a note the other day, from a longtime reader, that pointed me to a perfect example of this concept. In this case, we are talking about a solid, timely New York Times story about an effort to build a new hospital in a rural corner of Florida that certainly appears to need one. Here's the double-decker headline on this long feature:

A Rural Town Banded Together to Open a Hospital. Its Foe? A Larger Hospital.

Even when a town wants to open a new hospital to make up for a lack of health care, the challenges can be enormous.

Here is the overture. Can you spot the ghost?

IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- Not long after Beau Braden moved to southwest Florida to open a medical clinic, injured strangers started showing up at his house. A boy who had split open his head at the pool. People with gashes and broken bones. There was nowhere else to go after hours, they told him, so Dr. Braden stitched them up on his dining room table.

They were 40 miles inland from the coral-white condos and beach villas of Naples, but Dr. Braden said that this rural stretch of Collier County, with tomato farms and fast-growing exurbs, had fewer hospital beds per person than Afghanistan.

So when he proposed starting a 25-bed rural hospital to serve the 50,000 people who live in the farming town of Immokalee and the nearby planned community of Ave Maria, people rallied to the idea. They envisioned a place where mothers could give birth and sick children could get 24-hour help -- their own novel solution to an exodus of hospital care from rural America.

Wait a minute. Is that THE controversial Ave Maria community that has been at the center of so much news coverage through the years? 

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