Think like a reporter: What kind of American cities are booming? Any impact on religion news?

Think like a reporter: What kind of American cities are booming? Any impact on religion news?

I have a question for GetReligion readers, especially those who have experience in journalism or online publishing.

Here it is: Are readers “trolls” if they constantly write comments (and sends emails) that have little or nothing to do the journalism issues covered in our posts, but also provide — on a semi-regular basis — totally valid URLs for stories that deserve the attention of your GetReligionistas?

One of our readers, for example, is offended by references to “elite” newsrooms or “elite” U.S. zip codes, especially those along the East and West coasts. All of those studies showing that places like New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley have more clout than cities and towns in flyover country? Who has more power to shape the news, editors at The New York Times or The Oklahoman?

This brings me to a fascinating Axios piece that ran the other day with this headline: “The age of winner-take-all cities.” You have to see the simple, blunt, graphic that Axios editors used to illustrate data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (there’s a screenshot at the top of this post).

Now, what does this story have to say about religion news and trends?

Absolutely nothing, in terms of specific information or explicit references.

However, if you read this piece carefully and think like a reporter who covers issues linked to religion, morality and culture (and, yes, politics) it’s easy to see a burning fuse in this piece that is attached to many explosive stories in the news today. Here is the overture:

For all the talk of American cities undergoing a renaissance, economic success has been concentrated in a few standout metropolises while the rest either struggle to keep up or fall further behind.

Why it matters: This winner-take-all dynamic has led to stark inequalities and rising tensions — both inside and outside city limits — that are helping to drive our politics off the rails.

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Church vandalism cases in France starting to get the journalism attention they deserve

Church vandalism cases in France starting to get the journalism attention they deserve

Spending two weeks in France earlier this summer was a wonderful experience. While I was there to cover the Women’s World Cup, I did get an opportunity to travel extensively throughout Paris and the northern part of the country.

During my travels, I walked into a lot of churches. France is one of the few countries I have ever visited where churches were always open. There was something comforting seeing churches with their doors swung wide, inviting anyone to walk right in.

The other thing I noticed was how empty these houses of worship were. It’s not surprising given that church attendance in France is among the lowest in the world.

I’m used to New York City, where churches are often locked when Mass isn’t going on. The reasons are plentiful. Theft, vandalism and other factors often goes into why this has become a practice. You’d think they would have heeded the warning in France, where the vandalism of Catholic churches has become an all-too-common occurrence the past two years.

This trend has largely been ignored in the mainstream press (we discussed this extensively at GetReligion at the time of the Notre Dame blaze and again in the aftermath). It should be noted, once again, that the fire at Notre Dame was an accident and not part of the spate of attacks.  

This takes us to a great piece of journalism by Real Clear Investigations, the same people who run Real Clear Politics (full disclosure: I have written for Real Clear Sports in the past). A recent piece posted to the site takes a deep dive into the trend, quantifying it with anecdotes, lots of data and interviews with people in the know. The reporting sheds a spotlight on the string of attacks and what it has done to France. It may be one of the best reported pieces on what’s been going on there by any news organization to date.

What Richard Bernstein has been able to do here is the kind of reporting that we no longer see. A former foreign correspondent at The New York Times, Bernstein worked as the paper’s Paris bureau chief from 1984 to 1987. His knowledge of the country, the history and factors that may have influenced the events of the past year shows through his reporting. These two paragraphs early on, for example, illustrate the magnitude of the problem — with help from data collected by various French authorities:

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A curse and a curious description: Trump's famous 'Two Corinthians' gaffe makes headlines once again

A curse and a curious description: Trump's famous 'Two Corinthians' gaffe makes headlines once again

It’s the botched Scriptural reference that keeps on giving.

Three-and-a-half years after then-candidate Donald Trump referred to “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University, the future president’s botched pronunciation (in the minds of most) of “Second Corinthians” is enjoying another 15 minutes of fame.

This time it’s the New York Times focusing on this insider evangelical baseball:

Furious after he was criticized by evangelicals for stumbling in his reference to a book of the Bible during the 2016 campaign, Donald J. Trump lashed out at “so-called Christians” and used an epithet in describing them to a party official, according to a new book.

Mr. Trump’s anger was aroused after he stumbled in an appearance at Liberty University by referring to Second Corinthians as “Two Corinthians” as he was competing for the votes of evangelicals — traditionally critical to a Republican’s success in the Iowa caucuses — with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Allies of Mr. Cruz’s, including Bob Vander Plaats, a well-known evangelical leader in Iowa, seized on the slip-up to taunt Mr. Trump.

According to a new book, “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump,” by Tim Alberta, the chief political correspondent for Politico Magazine, Mr. Trump was incensed by Mr. Vander Plaats and others “hanging around with Ted,” and referred to them in the most vulgar of terms.

I’m curious to know exactly what Trump reportedly said, but I couldn’t find any longer reference to the president’s (alleged) words in a quick Google search.

Trump’s reported reference to “so-called Christians” is fascinating, especially considering how many of the president’s critics have used similar language to characterize him.

But the Times doesn’t elaborate on that reference or offer any additional context. This is a quick-hit political story, not an in-depth examination of faith in the Trump era.

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Follow the money? By all means. But Bransfield scandal may involve some 'Catholic' issues

Follow the money? By all means. But Bransfield scandal may involve some 'Catholic' issues

It’s time for another trip into my GetReligion folder of guilt. That’s where news features go that I know are important, but I cannot — quickly — spot the issue that is nagging me.

Thus, the story gets filed away, while I keep thinking about it.

In this case, we are talking about a Washington Post story that is an important follow-up on the newspaper’s investigation into charges of corruption against Catholic Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of West Virginia — an important disciple of the fallen cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick. Click here for the first GetReligion post on this topic, by Bobby Ross, Jr.

The headline on this new expose states: “Warnings about West Virginia bishop went unheeded as he doled out cash gifts to Catholic leaders.” Yes, this story is about money, money, money and then more money.

Oh, there is some signs of sexual harassment of seminarians in there, but that doesn’t seem to interest the Post team. And there are hints that some of the conflicts surrounding Bransfield may have had something to do with Catholicism. Maybe. Hold that thought because we will come back to it. Here is the overture:

Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican began receiving warnings about West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield as far back as 2012. In letters and emails, parishioners claimed that Bransfield was abusing his power and misspending church money on luxuries such as a personal chef, a chauffeur, first-class travel abroad and more than $1 million in renovations to his residence.

“I beg of you to please look into this situation,” Linda Abrahamian, a parishioner from Martinsburg, W.Va., wrote in 2013 to the pope’s ambassador to the United States.

But Bransfield’s conduct went unchecked for five more years. He resigned in September 2018 after one of his closest aides came forward with an incendiary inside account of years of sexual and financial misconduct, including the claim that Bransfield sought to “purchase influence” by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash gifts to senior Catholic leaders.

“It is my own opinion that His Excellency makes use of monetary gifts, such as those noted above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former and compliance or loyalty from the latter,” Monsignor Kevin Quirk wrote to William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, in a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

Then there is the big thesis statement:

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Mormons and ex-Mormons in full — covered in a tech-centric publication, no less

Mormons and ex-Mormons in full — covered in a tech-centric publication, no less

Journalist Lauren Larson has done a remarkable thing.

Writing for The Verge, a tech-centric publication within the Vox family, she has shown how it’s possible to treat both sides in a contentious issue with overall fairness. Much of her work in “The website that helps people leave the Mormon Church” simply involves following a journalist’s natural curiosity and then writing about what she has discovered. 

To be sure, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes the harder punches in Larson’s report. She quotes such remarks as “I suppose to her, families are forever, unless someone comes out as trans” and “**** bigoted old men.” The implication: Who could possibly disagree with such copper-bottomed examples of inclusivity and logic?

Larson takes the further step that’s becoming less common in journalism today: Actually daring to talk to the people who are taking shots from the cultural left.

The result is a report that shows occasional sympathy for both sides, and shows even some of the church’s stronger critics as conflicted in their emotions about leaving, or not yet leaving.

Starting near the top of the report, here’s a section that shows how the Web has made it easier for people to leave. Throughout the report, Larson’s references to the Church mean the body no longer known as “Mormon”:

In recent years, the Church has been embattled by the efficiency of the internet. It’s never been easier to stumble across information that contradicts the pillars of faith. That’s true for many religions but especially Mormonism, which has a very recent history. Where the unsavory specifics of an older faith’s origins may have been eroded by time, reduced to a handful of too-old-to-question texts and some shriveled relics, the early years of Mormonism are well-documented and easily examined online. The internet has also given Mormons new platforms, from forums to podcasts, where they can share their findings. The result has been a mass undoctrination.

That language about “too-old-to-question texts” and “shriveled relics” makes my teeth hurt, but I salute Larson’s coinage of the witty antonym undoctrination.

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New York Times features free church weddings for cohabiting couples, with predictable criticism

New York Times features free church weddings for cohabiting couples, with predictable criticism

The story is about a Texas church offering free weddings for cohabiting couples who agree to undergo premarital counseling.

The publication is the New York Times.

So it’s no surprise that the feature eventually gets around to same-sex marriage and how the church involved won’t allow it.

But overall, it’s an interesting piece.

Let’s start at the top:

A few months before Kelvin Evans married his live-in girlfriend, Pa Shoua Pha, in 2016, uncertainty gripped him.

“I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to have any more children,” said Mr. Evans, 44, the father of two boys from a previous relationship. But his girlfriend, he said, wanted to start a family and “it became a huge sticking point.”

Fortunately, the couple had a support network through the Concord Church, a nondenominational Christian church, in Dallas. Alongside five other cohabiting couples, they signed up for a “step into marriage” challenge and worked out their issues. On Aug. 27, 2016, all six couples, plus 19 other couples who also took the challenge, married in a mass ceremony. Mr. and Ms. Evans now have a daughter, Ava Naomi, who was born this past March, and Mr. Evans couldn’t be happier. “If I was doing any better,” he said, “it would probably be illegal.”

“If I was doing any better, it would probably be illegal.” Love it! I appreciate it when the writer rewards the reader with a great quote up high.

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Bad vibrations: Riverside Church war offers perfect case study of @NYPost vs. @NYTimes

Bad vibrations: Riverside Church war offers perfect case study of @NYPost vs. @NYTimes

This certainly was not your typical media storm about a Baylor University graduate who achieved fame in the ministry by heading to Washington, D.C., and then to New York City.

However, the fall of the Rev. Amy Butler from the high pulpit of Manhattan’s world-famous Riverside Church offers readers a classic journalism case study illustrating the differences between New York Post readers and New York Times readers. It’s also educational to note that the religious themes in this controversy played little or no role in either report.

Starting with a classic A1 headline, the Post editors knew what would zap readers awake while reading in their subway cars:

The reason for her ouster is far more stimulating than any sermon this pastor could have delivered.

The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, the first woman to lead Manhattan’s famed Riverside Church, lost her lofty post amid complaints that she brought ministers and a congregant on a sex toy shopping spree and then gave one of them an unwanted vibrator as a birthday gift, The Post has learned.

On May 15, Butler allegedly took two Riverside assistant ministers and a female congregant to a sex shop in Minneapolis called the Smitten Kitten, during a religious conference, according to sources familiar with the out-of-town shopping excursion.

At the store, the pastor bought a $200 bunny-shaped blue vibrator called a Beaded Rabbit for one minister — a single mom of two who was celebrating her 40th birthday — as well as more pleasure gadgets for the congregant and herself, sources said. The female minister didn’t want the sex toy, but accepted it because she was scared not to, sources said.

The great Gray Lady, on the other hand, knew that the readers in its choir would want a story rooted in sexism, patriarchy and workplace politics. The headline, as you would imagine, was a bit more restrained: “Pastor’s Exit Exposes Cultural Rifts at a Leading Liberal Church.”

The sex toys angle made it into the Times story, with a nod to Post coverage, but readers had to wait a few extra paragraphs to find that angle. Here’s the overture:

When the Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler was hired to lead Riverside Church in Manhattan in 2014, she was hailed as a rising star, the first woman to join a distinguished line of pastors at one of the pre-eminent progressive Protestant congregations in the United States.

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Heavenly visitations? Slate lifts the curtain on evangelical insider battles

Heavenly visitations? Slate lifts the curtain on evangelical insider battles

Last week, a story came out about a kid whose near-death experience developed into a book about how he saw heaven while comatose later became an embarrassing mess when the child denied the whole thing.

Written by Ruth Graham of Slate, it’s a meticulously researched piece about the boy, his mom, a dad who’s evaded press interviews until now and the gullible Christian book industry. It’s long, it’s detailed and it’s rather sad.

It’s pretty unconventional in terms of religion news. How many sites would run something this detailed about a kid (or his father) who takes the Christian book industry for a ride? If you pay attention to the details, this is a sobering look at the sometimes confused state of evangelical doctrine, these days.

After describing the car accident that nearly killed the boy, the article continues:

Six years later, a book was published that would become a sensation. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven—with Kevin and Alex listed on the cover as co-authors—tells the saga of Alex’s improbable survival. But it wasn’t that medical miracle that launched the story to fame. In the book, Alex claimed he had spent time in heaven after the accident, and continued to be visited by angels and demons after he emerged from his coma two months later. He wrote that he traveled through a bright tunnel, and was greeted by five angels, and then met Jesus, who told him he would survive; later, he saw 150 “pure, white angels with fantastic wings.” Heaven has lakes and rivers and grass, the book says. God sits on a throne near a scroll that describes the End Times. The devil has three heads, with red eyes, moldy teeth, and hair made of fire.

Of course publishers jumped at this bait.

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven sold more than 1 million copies and spent months on the New York Times’ bestseller list. It was also on the leading edge of a boomlet of “heaven tourism” stories in Christian publishing, including Heaven Is for Real, a memoir about 4-year-old Colton Burpo’s experience that came out later in 2010 and was eventually adapted into a movie starring Greg Kinnear. Time magazine published a cover story in 2012 titled “Rethinking Heaven,” opening with Burpo’s story — even more detailed than Alex’s — about seeing a rainbow horse and meeting the Virgin Mary.

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After Tyler Skaggs' death, baseball gods smile on Angels in the outfield and on the pitcher's mound

After Tyler Skaggs' death, baseball gods smile on Angels in the outfield and on the pitcher's mound

Baseball is a religion all its own, full of traditions, rituals and unexplained miracles.

Anybody who ever has seen the movie “Field of Dreams” — or watched the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs finally claim World Series titles — knows that. (Eventually, my beloved Texas Rangers have to win the big one, right?)

Sometimes, the gods — the baseball gods — make their presence known in ways that even nonbelievers must find impossible to ignore.

How else to explain what happened in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday night?

Here’s how ESPN described what happened:

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Mike Trout shook his head.

"You can't," he said, pausing for a moment to gather himself. "You can't make this stuff up."

The Los Angeles Angels scored seven first-inning runs Friday night. They finished with 13. Tyler Skaggs' birthday is on the 13th day of the seventh month, which just so happens to be Saturday.

"I'm speechless," Trout said. "This is the best way to honor him."

The Angels honored Skaggs with an emotional ceremony before their first home game since his sudden death on July 1. They honored him by donning his No. 45 jersey. They honored him by inviting his mother, Debbie Hetman, onto the field for the ceremonial first pitch. And they honored him, improbably, with a combined no-hitter, delivered by Taylor Cole and Felix Pena in a 13-0 trouncing of the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium.

Angels manager Brad Ausmus called it "one of the most special moments I've been a part of on a major league field in 25 years."

"You feel like it's partly Skaggsy's no-hitter," he said.

A Hollywood ending?

Nope.

It was more than that, said MLB.com:

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