Should 26 Texas Baptists massacred during Sunday worship be hailed as 'martyrs'?

Should 26 Texas Baptists massacred during Sunday worship be hailed as 'martyrs'?

DEANN’S QUESTION:

Are the congregants massacred in Sutherland Springs martyrs?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A shooting rampage during Sunday worship at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, took 26 lives (counting an unborn baby). It was the worst slaughter at a house of worship in American history, though such atrocities occur all too often at mosques or churches in strife-ridden Muslim lands.

The murderer -- “Religion Q & A” will not dignify him by using his name -- sprayed hundreds of bullets at helpless worshipers trapped in the pews, and may have especially targeted youngsters.

We usually think of a martyr as a brave Christian executed by authorities or slain otherwise for professing the faith or refusing to spurn it, as with the biblical St. Stephen (Acts 7:54-60).

Unlike Southern Baptists, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity specialize in martyrology and have recognized as saints hundreds across the centuries who faced death for professing their faith. The Catholic church’s official definition:

“Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: It means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by chrity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude” (Catechism #2473).

Understand that here “he” covers both genders.

A more succinct Russian Orthodox definition says “martyrdom is bearing witness to the truth of Christ and God’s church to the death.” Whether that’s the appropriate label for the Texas victims depends on the motives of both the killer and those killed.

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Style and substance: This award-winning religion writer, and this feature story, has them both

Style and substance: This award-winning religion writer, and this feature story, has them both

Somehow, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette didn't win one of the top awards in this year's Religion News Association contest.

Still, Smith remains one of my favorite religion writers.

The Godbeat veteran is one of those journalists who could write a compelling story about names in the phone book (my apologies to those of a certain age who have no idea what a phone book is, or was). But I digress ... 

Style and substance mark Smith's stories — and coincidentally, did I mention that the piece I want to highlight today is about style and substance in worship? How convenient.

This story is a few weeks ago and was published right around the time of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting. So I missed it at the time. 

But here's what I like about Smith's piece: It covers an issue — the aforementioned style and substance — with which many churches grapple. And it covers it in an interesting and compelling way.

The lede sets the scene:

For years, Bruce and Aricka Ladebu would allow the worship service to run as long as they felt the Holy Spirit moving at their small Crawford County church. Typically, that meant more than two hours of prayer, worship, preaching and testimony.
The idea was that “God will touch people and they will love it and come back,” said Ms. Ladebu, who with her husband is co-pastor of Victory Family Worship Center in Conneaut Lake.
Except that people didn’t love it and didn’t come back.
Over the summer, the church set a one-hour limit to their services. And more people began to attend, and to return.
“We didn’t change the content,” Ms. Ladebu said. “We still preach Jesus, very strongly.”
But now, attendance is about 120, good for a small town, she said, and most attendees had previously not been attending any church.
Ms. Ladebu was among scores of pastors and other church leaders — Protestant and Catholic — swapping such stories at a recent conference. The event, called Future Forward, took place in late October at Amplify Church’s campus in Plum.

Keep reading, and answer this question for me: How many "conference" stories have this kind of precise, revealing detail?

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USA Today Network explains 'What it takes to become a saint' (for Catholics only)

USA Today Network explains 'What it takes to become a saint' (for Catholics only)

Dear editors at USA Today:

I thought that I would drop you a note, after reading a recent feature on your USA Today Network wire that ran with this headline: "What it takes to become a saint."

That's interesting, I thought. That's a pretty complex subject, especially if you take into account the different meanings of the word "saint" among Christians around the world, including Protestants. And then there is the unique use of this term among believers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the very least, I assumed that this "news you can use" style feature would mention that, while the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church receives the most press attention, the churches in the world's second-largest Christian flock -- Eastern Orthodoxy -- have always recognized men and women as saints and continue to name new saints in modern times. Also, high-church Anglicans pay quite a bit of attention to the saints, through the ages.

The Catholic process is very specific and organized, while the Orthodox process is more grassroots and organic. There is much to learn through the study of the modern saints in both of these Communions. This is a complex topic and one worthy of coverage.

Then I read your feature, which originated in The Detroit Free Press. It opens like this:

What does it take to become a saint?
Anyone can make it to sainthood, but the road isn’t easy. The journey involves an exhaustive process that can take decades or even centuries.  
The Catholic Church has thousands of saints, from the Apostles to St. Teresa of Calcutta, often known as Mother Teresa.
Here are the steps needed to become a saint, according to Catholic officials. ...

What is the journalism problem here?

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Does no one in the Church of England dare oppose top cleric? Britain's Independent suggests so

Does no one in the Church of England dare oppose top cleric? Britain's Independent suggests so

The Church of England and its leader, the Rt. Hon. and Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, whom I've observed close up, command a sizeable presence in the global Christian world. Welby is front and center in a new controversy, guidelines for Church of England schools on how to treat transgender children.

But if one recent news story is to be taken at face value, no one in the Church of England could be found to go on record as disagreeing with some of these new pronouncements.

The journalism question is: How far did the newspaper in question go -- or, perhaps, NOT go -- to find an opposing voice.

Atop a large photo of Welby, we see how The Independent headlined the story: "Church of England tells schools to let children 'explore gender identity.'" Let's dive in:

Children should be able to try out “the many cloaks of identity” without being labelled or bullied, the Church of England has said in new advice issued to its 5,000 schools.
The Church said youngsters should be free to “explore the possibilities of who they might be” -- including gender identity -- and says that Christian teaching should not be used to make children feel ashamed of who they are. ...
Guidance for Church of England schools on homophobic bullying was first published three years ago, and has now being updated to cover "transphobic and biphobic bullying" – which means bullying people who consider themselves to be either transgender or gender fluid.

However, as we'll see in a moment, there are Christians in England, and, presumably, elsewhere, who might disagree with Welby's endorsement, as reported. He condemned bullying, but then went further:

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If, somehow, a story about deadly church shootings can be heartwarming, this is the one

If, somehow, a story about deadly church shootings can be heartwarming, this is the one

I stopped by the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Texas, in 2004.

At the time, I covered religion and politics for The Associated Press in Dallas. Ahead of Texas' presidential primary that year, I noticed that Morris County — where Daingerfield is located — was one of the few places in George W. Bush's home state where the vote had been close in the 2000 general election.

So I headed to the steel-mill town, 140 miles east of Dallas, to talk to voters.

I found one of those voters at the Baptist church:

For Martha Martin, 62, secretary-treasurer at the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Bush’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage makes him the choice.
“I think he will go down in history as one of our great presidents,” Martin said.
She said she prays Bush will win re-election, “because I think he’s a moral, upstanding person, and I think he seeks the Lord in what he does.”

What I didn't realize — because I was so young when it happened — was that the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield had been the site of a mass shooting that made national headlines in 1980.

Why do I bring this up now — 37 years later?

Because the New York Times has an excellent story on the somber common experience that now ties together the Daingerfield congregation and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people died Nov. 5.

The Times' powerful lede:

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Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

The people who manage modern, digital newsrooms are -- to say the least -- under all kinds of pressure to print a never-ending stream of content with headlines and snappy story hooks that try to inspire readers to click, click, click those computer mouses (and maybe even visit an ad website every week or two).

This has led to all kinds of "you won't believe what happens next" editing, both in "news" reports and in graphics.

This has led to an increase in an old kind of news confusion.

In the past, it was perfectly normal for readers to wonder, every now and then, how a strange news headline ended up on top of a perfectly normal story. Your GetReligionistas have often reminded readers that reporters rarely, if ever, write their own headlines. Editors can make mistakes, too.

These days, it's no surprise that there's lots of confusion -- especially in newsrooms where journalists are asked to crank up their daily production count with various kinds of quickie articles. Often, the goal is to take a hot-topic story seen somewhere else, perhaps in a video that can be accessed online, and then combine a bit of that and a little more of this and quotes from other articles (attributed and backed with a URL) into a news product that rarely even requires a telephone call.

Hopefully, with a jazzy headline, this results in clicks.

I think that's what happened with a recent Newsweek article about a young Mormon woman who, after surviving a hellish kidnapping, has been speaking out on the need for religious leaders to be more sensitive when dealing with issues of sexuality, abuse and even trauma.

The headline that caught our reader's eye: "Elizabeth Smart, who changed Mormons' views on sex, is wary of religion."

Uh, #REALLY?

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Got news? Top Saudi religious leader says Sunni Muslims can pray in churches, synagogues and Shiite mosques

Got news? Top Saudi religious leader says Sunni Muslims can pray in churches, synagogues and Shiite mosques

Sheikh Abdullah bin Sulaiman al-Manea of Saudi Arabia is one of the kingdom’s high-ranking religious scholars and a specialist in Islamic banking, as defined by sharia, or Islamic religious law. Given his many top-level finance industry positions, one has to assume he’s also close to the Saudi royal family, without whose blessing nothing of real consequence happens in the kingdom.

If you're not familiar with al-Manea, as I suspect most GetReligion readers are, take a moment to read his professional bio. It’s a dazzler.

Given his prominence, you’d think Western media -- or at least those that take international news seriously -- would have jumped on a fatwa, or religious ruling, he recently issued permitting Sunni Muslims to pray in Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and even Shiite mosques.

That’s significant stuff for the Arab and Muslim world, where conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims is often a given. Here’s a bit of how it was covered in a few Arab and Muslim English-language news publications.

This one’s from Arab News, one of the largest Arab-produced, English language-news sites around. I noticed that the piece also ran in Pakistan Defense, which focuses on security and military news.

Another version of the story was published by StepFeed. The news site bills itself as “devoted to shaping a modern Arab world” by appealing to “Arab millennials.”

Here’ the heart of the Arab News story:

Al-Manea gave a fatwa (religious advisory opinion), reported by Al-Anba’ Kuwaiti newspaper, stating that Muslims may pray in Shiite or Sufi mosques, churches or synagogues. He noted that all lands belong to God, and cited the Prophet’s words: “The earth has been made a place of prostration and a means of purification for me.”

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Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

"When it comes to Roy Moore, the reality on 'evangelical' opinion is just as complex as ever."

That was the highly appropriate title of a post that GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly wrote just last week.

Here's my question: How soon is too soon to cover much the same ground once again? Is six days enough? (I'm not even counting tmatt's later post on "Sex crimes and sins in the past.")

Based on weekend headlines, it's obvious that journalists are still grappling with where Alabama's conservative Christians stand on Moore. And rightly so -- that is an extremely important angle on this major national political story. In fact, cheering for a massive white evangelical turnout at the polls seems to be the only real strategy that Moore has, right now.

As tmatt noted, the best coverage notes that when it comes to Moore, there is indeed a wide diversity of opinion among evangelicals (if that's even the right term ... more on that label in a moment).

I'm also impressed with coverage that attempts to explain why some people of faith would keep backing Moore even amid mounting sexual misconduct claims against him.

The Associated Press has an analytical piece that hits at many of the key reasons:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn't fit the evangelical mold.
The Republican Senate candidate has long stood with them, and now, as he faces accusations of sexual impropriety including the molestation of a 14-year-old girl, they are standing with him.

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A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

If I have learned anything in my 40 years working on the religion beat (and studying it), it's this: Repentance is really hard, even for the leaders of religious institutions.

Some would change that to say "especially" for the leaders of religious institutions.

This is true, I have found, for leaders on both the theological left and right (as anyone knows who has covered sex-abuse scandals among Catholic clergy). And many evangelicals choose to hide the sins of leaders. Ditto for leaders of liberal Protestant flocks.

As we are finding out during the current American tsunami of ink about sexual harassment and assaults, this trend is also found in Hollywood, inside the D.C. Beltway and elsewhere. That's rather obvious. It's also obvious that religious leaders should do a better job of handling sin than other folks. Some do. Many do not.

This brings me to an important Washington Post headline that many GetReligion readers made sure that I saw over the weekend: "How a conservative group dealt with a fondling charge against a rising GOP star." Similar stories ran elsewhere.

So how did Family Research Council leaders deal with the sins of Ohio Republican Wesley Goodman? They tried to shut him down, while seeking to keep things private and -- in the age of easy-to-copy emails -- got caught. This journalism truth is also clear: Many evangelical leaders, like their liberal-church counterparts, would rather line up for anesthesia-free root canals than cooperate with mainstream news reporters.

Here's the top of the Post story, which features tons of references to emails and documents to support key points:

On a fall evening two years ago, donors gathered during a conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel near Washington to raise funds for a 31-year-old candidate for the Ohio legislature who was a rising star in evangelical politics.

A quick aside: Yes, I winced at the reference to "evangelical politics."

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