Music

Friday Five: Top religion journalists, Christian rock, rainbow-cross flag burning, Sarah Sanders doctrine

Friday Five: Top religion journalists, Christian rock, rainbow-cross flag burning, Sarah Sanders doctrine

We’ve mentioned a few of the winners in the Religion News Association’s annual Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence — including Ann Rodgers, Kimberly Winston and Rachel Zoll.

But be sure to check out the entire #RNA2018 contest list for more familiar, deserving names. Some names I recognized: Peter Smith, Peggy Fletcher Stack, Tim Funk, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Emma Green, Elizabeth Dias, Bob Smietana, Jeremy Weber and Ted Olsen.

Congratulations to all of those honored for their work on the Godbeat!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

(1) Religion story of the week: Seriously, a story on Christian rock music is the story of the week!?

Hey, when GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly refers to a New Yorker piece on the Christian rock wars as “stunningly good,” pay attention. And as his post urged, read it all.

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Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

First, here is yet another tmatt confession: I am so old that I attended one of the original “Jesus music” rock festivals held in Texas in the early 1970s. Then I went to Baylor University during the era when various branches of Word Records in Waco were releasing early albums linked to what would become Contemporary Christian Music.

There’s more. Anyone digging into the roots of “folk” and later “rock” music inside church doors will eventually hit a 1967 landmark — the “Good News” folk musical by Bob Oldenburg. Who played the role of the “skeptic” the first performances? That would be my big brother, Don, who was playing a ukulele before it was cool.

As a journalist, I have been covering the “Christian music” wars since the late 1970s and, of course, that topic ended up in my book “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture.” The key theme: CCM is music defined by unwritten rules about lyrics and the belief that all “Christian art” should, in reality, be evangelism in disguise.

Hold that thought. I wrote all of that to add punch to my praise for an almost unbelievably good New Yorker feature by Kelefa Sanneh that just ran with this epic headline:

The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock

The genre has been disdained by the church and mocked by secular culture. That just reassured practitioners that they were rebels on a righteous path.

It opens with a quotation that left me stunned. I have read shelves full of books about “Christian rock” and have never been clubbed over the head with these words.

Try to guess the minister who had this to say in 1957, addressing whether gospel music could be wedded to rock ‘n’ roll. This Baptist pastor from the South was blunt:

Rock and gospel were “totally incompatible,” he explained: “The profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with the transitory quality of rock and roll music.” And he made it clear which he preferred. “The former serves to lift men’s souls to higher levels of reality, and therefore to God,” he wrote. “The latter so often plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.”

Who said that? That would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take it away, Aretha Franklin.

It’s hard not to quote every other passage in this must-read piece, which punches all the right buttons — from the copycat “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of worship music to battles over loud drums and heavy-metal guitars. Yes, U2 is in here. Ditto for Bob Dylan.

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Hot Trump-era issue: Should national flags or patriotic songs be allowed in church?

Hot Trump-era issue: Should national flags or patriotic songs be allowed in church?

THE QUESTION:

Should national flags be displayed, or patriotic songs be sung, during Christian worship?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This issue comes to mind amid the seasonal fuss over professional football players’ political protests during the pregame National Anthem. Not to mention veterans organizations’ indignation when non-veteran Donald Trump temporarily refused to lower the White House flag to half-staff in honor of the late prisoner of war John McCain.

Considering the emotions in such secular situations, it’s unsurprising that the perennial religious questions above continually provoke lively comment on the Internet and elsewhere. Some weeks ago, a friend in The Religion Guy’s own congregation (Christian Reformed) asked why we don’t display the American flag up front like other churches do. I didn’t know but that brought to mind other situations.

The Guy’s daughter was flummoxed by a Southern Baptist service in North Carolina on a July 4th weekend. It began with a military color guard marching forth with the American flag, whence the worshipers recited the Pledge of Allegiance. She asked the old man, isn’t Christian worship about a different allegiance?

The Guy is familiar with an evangelical summer camp that parades the U.S. flag along with other nations’ flags at worship to symbolize foreign missions. The ceremony gives Old Glory prominence above the other flags, which disregards protocol in federal law and military regulations requiring equal respect.

The Guy has visited innumerable churches that give the U.S. flag the place of ceremonial honor to the pastor’s right with the Christian flag (a 1907 American invention) relegated to the left.

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That Aretha funeral sermon: AP offers quick look at the painful issues behind the furor

That Aretha funeral sermon: AP offers quick look at the painful issues behind the furor

During the two decades that I taught journalism in Washington, D.C., the team at what became the Washington Journalism Center did everything it could to help our students -- who came from all over the country -- see a side of the city that tourists rarely see.

We urged them to visit local churches, black and white. For two years, our students lived in home-stay arrangements all over the city, with families we met through church ties. We sent them on research trips into neighborhoods, using the buses rather than the subways (ask any DC resident what that's all about). Students served as tutors in urban after-school programs and as helpers and babysitters for mothers linked to a crisis-pregnancy center.

In discussions with students I heard one question more than any other: Where are the fathers?

That's the subject looming in the background of media reports about the controversial sermon delivered the other day by the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., during the epic Aretha Franklin funeral. We will come back to that.

In many ways, this topic has been a third rail in American journalism ever since a 1965 report -- “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action" -- by Daniel Patrick Moynihan rocked American politics (click here for Washington Post backgrounder). Here is the key stat (see this stunning chart), undated to reflect what has happened since: More than 70 percent of all African-America children today are born to an unmarried mom, a stat 300 percent higher than in the mid-1960s.

Here is the overture to the Associated Press story about the Aretha funeral. The key question: Was the heart of this sermon religious or political?

A fiery, old-school pastor who is under fire for saying black America is losing "its soul" at Aretha Franklin's funeral stands firm by his words with the hope critics can understand his perspective.

Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. told The Associated Press in a phone interview ... he felt his sermon was appropriate at Franklin's funeral Friday in Detroit. He felt his timing was right, especially after other speakers spoke on the civil rights movement and President Donald Trump.

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Washington Post spots big religion ghost in the Byrds' 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' revival

Washington Post spots big religion ghost in the Byrds' 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' revival

You know those "desert island" games people like to play with music, books, movies and other forms of culture? You start with a question like this: If you were stranded on a dessert island, what 10 albums/CDs would you have choose to have with you (with no box sets allowed)? Let the life-defining debates begin.

The Washington Post ran a long, wonderful feature the other day that punched one of those buttons for me. The headline: "It was the Byrds album everyone hated in 1968. Now, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ is a classic."

If I had to name a "favorite American rock band," I would almost certainly pick the Byrds.

If all Roger McGuinn and company gave American history (forget music) was radio hits that helped introduce that Bob Dylan guy, that would be a lot of cultural clout. But the Byrds, with a major assist from Buffalo Springfield, gave us so, so, so much more. Think Crosby, Stills & Nash, think Poco, think Flying Burrito Brothers, think Eagles, think Tom Petty, think R.E.M. and on and on. Just look at this family-tree chart on that.

This Post story gets that, but it also spotlights the fact that several crucial issues linked to the "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album that were, yes,  essentially religious. This was when the Byrds tried to wade deep into the water of country music and, thus, ran head-on into Bible Belt culture.

Did the Post spot this "religion ghost"? Yes! This feature does a fantastic job handling a major religion ghost, woven into the life of McQuinn, but missed two other ghosts. Hold that thought. Here is the overture:

In June, with so little fanfare they weren’t even listed on the bill, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman took the stage at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to play a song from “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

They last did that on March 16, 1968, and it did not go well. They were the Byrds then, and the appearance at the Grand Ole Opry elicited boos, catcalls or indifference, depending on who’s telling the story.

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Editors: Try to imagine using 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' in all those headlines

Editors: Try to imagine using 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' in all those headlines

Any journalist who has ever worked on a newspaper copy desk knows the following to be true, when it comes to religion news.

It would be absolutely impossible to write headlines about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- especially dramatic, one-column headlines in big type -- without using the word "Mormon" or the abbreviation "LDS."

Well, we're about to find out if journalists are willing to develop some new "work around" to address that style issue. Here is last week's big news out of Utah, care of The Salt Lake City Tribune:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really, truly, absolutely wants to be known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not the LDS Church. Not the Mormon church.

It made that clear Thursday -- even though the last attempt to eradicate those nicknames for the Utah-based faith flopped. The new push came from God to President Russell M. Nelson, the church said in a news release Thursday.

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church,” Nelson is quoted as saying, “even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Attention members of the Associated Press Stylebook committee: Here is that new release from on high. You need to see this, before we get to an interesting think piece on the implications of this change, care of a thoughtful journalism professor at Brigham Young University.

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.

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Friday Five: Fading way of life, 'Submarine Churches,' Chick-fil-A flash mob and more

Friday Five: Fading way of life, 'Submarine Churches,' Chick-fil-A flash mob and more

This week in Friday Five, we've got closing churches. We've got "Submarine Churches." We've got serpent-handler churches.

We've even got a church — flash mob style — at a Chick-fil-A.

I bet you just can't wait!

So let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a fascinating piece this week on how a way of life is fading as churches close.

The "first in an occasional series written by Jean Hopfensperger" explores how "Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations face unprecedented declines, altering communities and traditions celebrated for generations." 

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Editor Terry Mattingly's post titled "New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?" occupies the No. 1 spot this week.

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Young Greek atheist in a trench coat: The matrix of symbols on display at Santa Fe High

Young Greek atheist in a trench coat: The matrix of symbols on display at Santa Fe High

No doubt about it. It's hard to get more Greek than the name "Dimitrios Pagourtzis." So, yes, I was not surprised to receive emails asking me the significance of the Greek Orthodox heritage (and ethnic dancing skills) of America's latest young student with guns and a mission.

Once again, we face questions about the contents of a gunman's head and heart, as journalists (and law officials) try to answer the always painful "Why?" question in the mantra, "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How."

The Orthodox connection is mentioned in most background stories about Pagourtzis. Here is a TMZ reference with a link to video. You will not, when viewing it, be tempted to shout, "Opa!"

The student arrested for gunning down 10 people at his high school appeared to be nothing more than a church-going dancer mere days before the shooting.

TMZ has obtained video of 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis participating in a choreographed dance for his Greek Orthodox church the weekend before he allegedly shot and killed 8 of his peers and 2 teachers.

Sources connected to the event tell us the dance was part of a larger Greek festival in a town about 30 minutes away from Santa Fe, TX where he went to school. 

In traditional, even elite, media this Greek Orthodox information is more likely to look like this -- care of The New York Times.

Investigators, meanwhile, are scouring his journal, a computer and a cellphone that Mr. Abbott said showed the suspect had been planning the attack, and his own death. ... 

In many ways, Mr. Pagourtzis was a part of the Santa Fe community. He made the honor roll. He played defensive tackle on a school football team that was the pride of the town. His family was involved in the Greek Orthodox Church.

As always, in this digital-screens world of ours, what a person does with his or her time in analog life (like dancing in an ethnic dance team) may not be as important as what the person expresses in social media.

It's interesting to note that the Times team did not include the following piece of social-media information about Pagourtzis -- which did make it into print at The Washington Post.

In the Facebook account, he described himself as an atheist and said, “I hate politics.”

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Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Every so often, a piece crosses one’s desk that makes you wonder how journalism has survived up to this point.

Puff news coverage of a “Beyonce Mass” does leave one shaking one's head. How, you wonder, can a singer better known for quadruple platinum albums be associated with the holiest rite in Christianity?

Answer: When the host organization is San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral and the music critic penning the piece doesn’t know much about religion.

Here’s what appeared recently in the San Jose Mercury News:

For die-hard fans, the words “worship” and “Beyonce” have gone together for years.
Yet, probably not like this:
San Francisco’s stunningly beautiful Grace Cathedral will host a contemporary worship program featuring the music of Beyonce on April 25. This “Beyonce Mass,” which is part of the church’s Wednesday night The Vine service series, is at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. No, the megastar won’t be there -- at least in person.
“Beyoncé? At church? That’s right!” says an announcement on the church’s website. “Come to The Vine SF to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten -- particularly black females.”

(In response to that, redstate.com sarcastically noted: Surely the poor and marginalized will be so relieved to know there’s a church out there brave enough to let one of the richest women in America speak for them.”)

Now, a Mass is a specific rite in a specific denomination: The Roman Catholic Church. Grace Cathedral is Episcopal, not Catholic. There are conservative Anglo-Catholics who frequently use the term "Mass" in an Episcopal context, but -- obviously -- that is not what we are dealing with here.

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