No, Lester Holt didn't used to be the lead singer at his church. He used to lead SINGING

No, Lester Holt didn't used to be the lead singer at his church. He used to lead SINGING

On its website as I type this, celebrity magazine US Weekly features an "exclusive" profile of "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt.

Right under a report that "Kim Kardashian Says That Caitlyn Jenner's Book Is 'So Hurtful,'" Holt's first-person piece highlights "25 Things You Don't Know About Me."

Things such as Holt's fear of snakes, love of Mexican food and lack of prowess when it comes to mechanical things. ("I once installed a garage shelf that then collapsed, sending buckets of paint falling onto our babysitter's car," he says.)

But it's thing No. 11 that's interesting from a GetReligion perspective:

11. I used to be the lead singer in church.

The only problem: That's not actually true.

Holt, it appears, is the victim of an editing error — an error presumably made by someone who didn't grasp the intricacies of Holt's specific religious background. Does your inquiring mind want to know more?

I am familiar with Holt's Church of Christ ties because of my work as chief correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. In a visit to New York several years ago, I interviewed the newsman about faith and journalism. 

Here at GetReligion, we also have highlighted Holt's faith previously: 

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Washington Post asks: Will the tiny Christian flock in Taiwan defeat same-sex marriage?

Washington Post asks: Will the tiny Christian flock in Taiwan defeat same-sex marriage?

There is no question who LGBTQ activists in Taiwan blame for the fact that their drive to legalize same-sex marriage is having problems. It's the Christians.

Thus, there is no question who The Washington Post blames for the fact that same-sex marriage faces strong opposition in Taiwan, a nation that LGBTQ activists have been counting on to blaze a progressive trail for Asia. It's the Christians.

The result -- "A backlash against same-sex marriage tests Taiwan’s reputation for gay rights" -- is a classic example of what your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism," with a nod to those 2011 remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller. The basic idea is that there is no need for journalists to offer balanced, accurate coverage of people -- especially religious believers -- whose views you have already decided are wrong. Error has no rights in some newsrooms.

So what forces are undercutting Taiwan's multicultural legacy of tolerance?

... (The) groundswell of support that spurred hope for marriage equality has spurred a bitter backlash that has experts and advocates wondering when or whether the law will move ahead.
Over the past year, mostly Christian community groups have mobilized against the marriage-equality movement, warning, contrary to evidence, that same-sex partnerships are a threat to children and that giving LGBT families legal protection will hurt Taiwan.
They have also claimed -- again, contrary to evidence -- that protecting the rights of gender and sexual minorities is a Western idea, that being gay is somehow not “Chinese.”

So, how many Christian leaders are quoted in this lengthy Post feature? 

Well, there is one short quote from a secular politician, Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san, who was speaking in a public hearing. There is a second-hand quote of conservative arguments, care of an interview from a gay-rights activist. Actual quotes from interviews with Christian leaders? Zero.

Meanwhile, there are a minimum of seven voices speaking on the other side. This does not include paragraph after paragraph of paraphrased material backing the LGBTQ side of the argument, facts and arguments that -- in the new Post advocacy news style -- require no attribution to named sources.

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Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

So here is a story that is causing lots of traditional religious believers to shake their heads today. They are reacting to headlines, like this one at The Washington Post states: "Trump has yet to signal his approach to Obamacare birth-control mandate."

Once again let me stress that we are talking about head shaking in two different camps of religious conservatives. The best evidence is that they are pretty equal in size, as GetReligion has been noting since last summer (here is yet another hat tip pointing readers to this fine Christianity Today feature).

In one camp are the religious conservatives who enthusiastically embraced Citizen Donald Trump, pretty much from Day 1.

In the other camp are religious conservatives who never endorsed Trump, at any stage of the game, yet felt they had to vote for him in order to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Here is what I heard legions of folks in that camp say: "I do not know what Donald Trump will do, but I know what Hillary Clinton will do. I will have to risk voting for him."

So, what were they so concerned about, in terms of what the candidates "will do"?

We are, 99.9 percent of the time, talking about two crucial issues: The U.S. Supreme Court and/or battles over religious liberty. At this point in time -- as the world awaits votes by the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court -- most conservatives are pretty pleased with that first issue. But what about that second concern, in light of this overture at the Post?

President Trump had promised religious groups that he would reverse the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
But his Justice Department indicated Monday that it’s not yet giving up a fight with religious schools and nonprofits that are suing over the contraception mandate.
The department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.

To which some people, in this case Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher are saying, "WHAT'S THAT?!"

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Toronto Globe and Mail misses it on religious roots of sex-selective abortions

Toronto Globe and Mail misses it on religious roots of sex-selective abortions

Ten years ago, I wrote a four-part series about the horrific imbalance of boys and girls in India due to the rampant aborting of female fetuses. I spent three weeks in India tracking down doctors who were assisting in those abortions and activists who were trying to prevent them.

People kept on telling me that I needed to also check on whether female Indian immigrants to the United States were aborting their female children. I heard rumors that they were but I ran out of time and could not pursue that angle.

So I was glad to see that The Toronto Globe and Mail not only tackled the topic recently, but actually had some statistics to back it. However, the newspaper only told half of the story. As it said:

Fewer girls than boys are born to Indian women who immigrate to Canada, a skewed pattern driven by families whose mother tongue is Punjabi, according to a new study.
One of the most surprising findings of the study, to be published Monday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada, is that the preference for boys does not diminish, regardless of how long women from India have lived in Canada.
“It’s counterintuitive,” said Marcelo Urquia, a research scientist at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Health Policy and lead author of the study. “We know that the longer immigrants are in Canada, the more likely they are to align to the host country.”

The longer they are in Canada? So western feminist values haven’t rubbed off at all? Are we sure that there is no religion ghost in this subject?

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Russia pulls trigger on Jehovah's Witnesses and, this time, mainstream media take notice

Russia pulls trigger on Jehovah's Witnesses and, this time, mainstream media take notice

This will be no surprise to anyone who's paid attention, but President Vladimir Putin's Russia has officially lowered the boom on its Jehovah's Witnesses.

The government's plan is to obliterate the organization's ability to function as a viable religious movement within its borders, treating it as a dangerous, hostile movement from outside Russian culture. The key slur is "Western."

That's a growing trend in Russia, as you have not noticed.

Here's the meaty top of a New York Times piece that delivered the news last week:

MOSCOW -- Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.
The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.
Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the denomination, said Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the ruling. He said it had focused on the activities of the organization’s so-called administrative center, a complex of offices outside St. Petersburg, but also branded all of its nearly 400 regional branches as extremist.
“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. “We will, of course, appeal.”

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Politico should know better, part II: Dr. Ben Carson God-talk piece leaves out his church

Politico should know better, part II: Dr. Ben Carson God-talk piece leaves out his church

It was 92 years ago that a manufacturer of record players first trademarked the phrase "the gift that keeps on giving." 

Perhaps the folks at Politico could consider its use any time they publish stories about God and politics.

Last week, it was a ham-handed attempt at analyzing President Donald J. Trump's "God-talk" as POTUS. And its equally poor take on supposed links between Trump and Russia via the Chabad Lubavitch organization, as noted by my colleague Ira Rifkin.

This week, Dr. Ben Carson is in the crosshairs for daring to mention the Deity when talking about government work linked to his new line of work -- housing:

God is Ben Carson’s favorite subject. Brain surgery is a close second. Housing is somewhere further down the list.
“I was told that as a government leader, I really shouldn't talk about God. But I have to tell you, it's part of who I am,” Carson said last month, in one of his first speeches as Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Less than two months into the job, Carson still holds forth on God and neurosurgery, but his views on housing policy remain largely a mystery. While he's making good on a promised listening tour to learn about the $48 billion agency he now leads, he's done little public speaking about the urgent issue at hand -- a lack of affordable housing. ...
Carson told POLITICO that policy proposals are in the works, but in public appearances the one-time presidential candidate is sticking to his stump-speech staples. He prescribes “godly principles” as a cure for the country’s political division and praises housing advocates for “putting God’s love into action.”

Now, from a political/policy standpoint, I can understand why Carson's emphasis on "godly principles" and "putting God's love into action" might seem a bit, well, off-putting. We're more accustomed to hearing about bloc grants, subsidies, expansion plans, or reasons why there can't be any of those.

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Jailhouse religion and the case of the elite national newspaper that chose to ignore it

Jailhouse religion and the case of the elite national newspaper that chose to ignore it

Today's post falls under the general heading of "jailhouse religion."

Speaking of which, a story I wrote on a Texas woman who might have gotten away with murder — but became a Christian and turned herself in — was published this week.

GetReligion's own Mark Kellner described it "as an incredible true crime, confession, redemption story superbly told." I didn't even pay him to say that. So feel free to check it out.

End of shameless plug.

Back to our regularly scheduled analysis of religion — and holy ghosts — in the mainstream press: Today's focus is a Washington Post profile of a redeemed bank robber.

Catholic media professional Thomas Szyszkiewicz tipped us to this haunted story:

There's talk of "redemption" (it's even in the title of his book). His parents were pastors who founded some (unnamed, generic) church. He's teaching at a Catholic university (OK, we won't get into the discussion about how Catholic it is or isn't). There were moments of "grace," etc. What's missing? 

Um, could it be religion?

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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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Check out South China Morning Post: a good source for all things religious in Asia

Check out South China Morning Post: a good source for all things religious in Asia

Every so often it’s nice to give some credit to publications that do good work on the religion reporting front and I may have found a new source or, at the very least, one I have not run into before on this topic. We're talking about The South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong.

I’ve run across it in recent weeks while looking for information on China, but the SCMP reports on a huge swath of South Asia well beyond China’s borders. And I’ve found a huge trove of religion-oriented pieces, including quite a bit on China’s response to ISIS’ involvement with Muslims in its western provinces. Click here for a piece on the Chinese jihadis in Syria. 

This major newsroom has also done a recent piece on how the Communist Party’s tentacles are still trying to influence Tibetan Buddhists. 

The SCMP has reached into neighboring Malaysia to explore why, for Muslims there, child sex is forbidden but child marriage is OK.  It just reviewed a book on why the death of Mao Tse-tung opened the gates for religion to flourish in China. And the newspaper has documented the government crackdown on Christianity, noting in a recent piece that, after officials ordered crosses torn down from 360 or so church towers, they have now ordered surveillance cameras set up inside churches in heavily Christian Wenzhou.

Christians and government ­officials have come to blows over demands that churches in a city known as “China’s Jerusalem” ­install surveillance cameras for “anti-terrorism and security ­purposes”.
The Zhejiang government issued the orders to ­churches in Wenzhou late last year and began implementing them before the Lunar New Year ­holiday in January.
The confrontation with the city’s Christian community, which is estimated to number roughly one million, comes three years after the authorities ordered the removal of crosses on top of church buildings, on the grounds that they were illegal structures. Opponents called the 2014 ­campaign religious persecution.

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