Yes, we read the Washington Post story on evangelical students who want to be journalists

Yes, we read the Washington Post story on evangelical students who want to be journalists

For those who have asked, yes, your GetReligionistas read that recent Washington Post story on Liberty University students who want to be journalists.

Spoiler alert: It's a positive portrayal (verging on puff piece) of these evangelical Christian students.

As a journalism graduate of a Christian university, however, I'm not sure this coverage does much to bolster the cause of conservative believers who are training for news careers. 

Maybe it's just me, but the students come across as more interested in Christian advocacy than impartial journalism: 

LYNCHBURG, Va. — What do you do when everyone around you thinks the media is “fake news” — and you want to work for the media?
That’s the question professor Amy Bonebright needs to help her students answer. This is Liberty University, the world’s largest evangelical Christian school. Most students come from politically and religiously conservative families and churches inclined not to trust the news — and, indeed, the president of the university is Jerry Falwell Jr., a fervent advocate for President Trump, who throws around the term “fakenews” to refer to most mainstream media reporting.
So when Bonebright teaches a room full of aspiring reporters in her “Community Journalism” class, she needs to teach them more than just how to craft a lede and conduct an interview. “Now, everyone’s down on the media,” she says to her class. “Maybe you go home over break and see your parents’ friends. And they say, ‘Remind me what you’re studying.’”
A nervous giggle rises from many of the students. They have had that conversation before.

And the bottom line:

For these college students, the answer to that question is deeply rooted in their faith. Because while they might not always see the news media as truthful, they do believe in the truth of the gospel — and they think that’s a principle they can apply in the newsroom just as they do in the pews.
“As Christians, we believe in truth,” senior Timothy Cockes raises his hand to say. “Christians actually should be the best journalists there are, because we believe there is truth out there.”

Read the whole piece, and you learn that many of the students don't even want to be journalists at all — they want to work in public relations as writers for foreign missionaries. What!?

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Was it counseling or confession? A crucial twist in the cold-case murder trial of a priest

 Was it counseling or confession? A crucial twist in the cold-case murder trial of a priest

Anyone who has spent much time on the Godbeat knows that religion is complicated and that, when dealing with issues of doctrine and religious law, things can get even more confusing.

It's crucial to get the details right, including using the correct words, using these terms accurately and then helping readers understand why these fine details matter.

Thus, I would like to praise a recent Washington Post story about the infamous, and very complicated, cold-case investigation into the 1960 rape and murder of former beauty queen Irene Garza in McAllen, Tex. However, I want to praise this feature while also noting one strange choice of words that will worry many readers, especially Catholics.

Now, it's crucial to know that Garza's faith is at the heart of this story, since she was a daily-Mass Catholic. (Click here for a previous post about coverage of this case.)

One day this young woman went to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and she never came back. The last person to see her alive was the priest who heard that confession, the Rev. John Feit.

There were good reasons to suspect the 27-year-old priest of murder, including another priest's testimony that Feit had scratches on his hands after midnight Mass -- only a few hours after Garza went to confession. However, the case was complicated on several levels, including fears among local political leaders and clergy that charging a priest with murder might hurt Sen. John Kennedy's chances, as a Catholic, to win Texas in his campaign for the White House.

So what evidence cracked open this old case? This is where the Post feature includes one vague word -- precisely at the point where precision was crucial. Here is the crucial passage:

... (I)n April of 2002, the San Antonio police department received a phone call from a former priest in Oklahoma City -- Dale Tacheny. He explained that in 1963, he had lived at a Trappist monastery in Missouri and counseled a priest from San Antonio.
“He told me that he had attacked a young woman in a parish on Easter weekend and murdered her,” the caller said, according to Texas Monthly. In a letter, Tacheny identified Feit and recounted how he took the woman to the parish house to hear her confession. After hearing her confession he assaulted, bound and gagged her, Tacheny said.

So there are two questions that should be asked at this point.

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Trump and Jerusalem: New York Times analysis tells the story behind the headline

Trump and Jerusalem: New York Times analysis tells the story behind the headline

At the end of last week, the front page of the printed version of The Washington Post featured a four-column, above-the-fold photo of tightly framed, silhouetted figures dashing through  billowing black smoke and menacing red flames -- which is what you get when you burn vehicle tires.

The headline below it read: “Palestinians, Israeli troops clash over U.S. stance.” A subhead warned, “Region braces for more violence after Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.” (The online version linked to here differs.)

That Post story was an example of traditional newspaper, hard news journalism. It summarized the previous day’s body count, included the usual reaction quotes from the usual sources sprouting the usual threats and warnings we've heard time and again from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those quoted, in accordance with their well-known positions, either castigated or praised President Donald Trump for his decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s national capital and pledge to someday, but not just now, actually move the U.S. Embassy from coastal Tel Aviv to inland Jerusalem.

What the piece failed to do, however, was to connect the dots and explain the story behind the headline by placing it in its current Middle East context. It excluded, in short, the sort of background that’s critical to understanding the latest twist in a long-running, exceedingly complicated and highly combustible story such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Is the peace process, which has been moribund at best, now forever dead? Is another Palestinian intifada, or widespread violent uprising, about to explode? Why did Trump do this now and what might we expect now that he's shattered, at least verbally, decades of U.S. Middle East policy simply by saying out loud that Jerusalem is Israel’s political capita, as it has been in reality since 1948?

Those are questions we cannot fully answer. But may I suggest that rather than relying on daily roundups or if-it-bleeds-it-leads TV reports, you pay as much or more attention to the many quality news analysis and opinion columns being penned by long-time Middle East-watchers.

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Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Let's talk about the religion of the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama.

No, not that candidate.

I'm referring to Doug Jones, the Democrat facing the much-discussed Republican -- Roy Moore -- in Tuesday's election.

The Washington Post's Acts of Faith has an article with an intriguing headline noting that "Roy Moore isn't the only Christian running for Senate in Alabama." The article offers specific details on Jones' faith up high, rather like a news article.

But this is not a news article, even though this is certainly a topic that deserves solid, hard-news coverage. This article is clearly labeled "analysis." A key passage:

Jones belongs to Canterbury United Methodist Church, a 4,000-member congregation in Birmingham’s suburbs. Over the past 33 years, he has been an active participant in Sunday school, even teaching occasionally, and has driven the church bus to bring older members to services.
“It’s fair to say Doug has been a very active Christian,” according to former Birmingham-Southern College president Neal Berte, who first met Jones when he was working at the University of Alabama in the 1970s and attends church with him. “He is a principled leader, but … not in the sense of, ‘You either believe the way I do or there’s no room for you.’”
Through his campaign staff, Jones declined an interview. His spokesman, Sebastian Kitchen, said in a statement: “As a person of deep faith, Doug believes in Christ’s call to minister to all people -- regardless of their background, race, or religion. Unfortunately, Roy Moore instead uses religion to divide people, instead of trying to join together to make progress.”
In an article in the Birmingham News, Jones spoke openly about how his faith commitments drive his professional commitments of justice, fairness and respect.
“I go to church. I’m a Christian. I have as many people of faith that have been reaching out to me about this campaign,” he said. “They want someone who cares about all people, not just a select few. That’s what I think the teachings of religion are, is the caring about the least of these, the caring about all people, and making sure there’s a fairness to everything.”

Good stuff. I'm definitely interested in Jones' faith. Anyone following the Alabama U.S. Senate race should be.

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Steelers and Ravens: 'Prayers' vs. 'vibes' pre-game? Strange edits in famous Bible verse?

Steelers and Ravens: 'Prayers' vs. 'vibes' pre-game? Strange edits in famous Bible verse?

I didn't come of age in the 1960s, but I am old enough to understand the lingo of that decade when I hear it, like "good vibes." Plus, I'm a Beach Boys fan (especially of the underrated "Sail On Sailor" era).

Everyone knows about "Good Vibrations," right? I mean, it's one of the great radio songs of all time.

This brings us to the strange opening of a Baltimore Sun story the other day, as the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers prepared for another round in the NFL's most intense rivalry. This game, however, was framed by an on-field tragedy -- a scary back injury -- that touched players on both squads, with teams that view each other as respected rivals, not hated enemies.

The headline: "Ravens wish speedy recovery for Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier."

The key word there is "wish." Now, pay careful attention to the wording in the lede:

To Ravens players and coaches, hardly anything compares to preparing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they hit the pause button Wednesday morning on their intense rivalry to send some good vibes to an injured Steelers player.

The key term there? That would "good vibes."

So what actually happened, in that Ravens meeting as the team started work to prepare for this crucial showdown (which the Ravens lost, in yet another nail-biter in this awesome series)?

This is the rare religion-and-sports case in which we can turn to ESPN to find out. The headline on its story noted: "Ravens begin team meeting by praying for Steelers' Ryan Shazier."

The key word there is "praying." Here is the overture:

The Baltimore Ravens still talk about their hatred for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But there is a mutual respect for their biggest rival.
The Ravens opened their team meeting on Wednesday morning by praying for Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who remained hospitalized for a second consecutive night while doctors monitor his back injury.

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Franklin Graham isn't preaching in England for another nine months, but already he's getting trashed

Franklin Graham isn't preaching in England for another nine months, but already he's getting trashed

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how one-sided some British newspapers can be, since we're talking about a land in which advocacy, partisan journalism is the norm.

However, I kind of thought that The Guardian was a cut above the rest. But their religion correspondent’s hatchet job on the Rev. Franklin Graham’s upcoming crusade in Blackpool is tabloid-level coverage –- at best.

Last March, I wrote about the alarmist coverage of Graham’s Vancouver, B.C., crusade where everyone from the mayor on down predicted an orgy of anti-gay and anti-Muslim violence would break out on city streets if the evangelist was allowed to speak. When nothing happened, Graham’s detractors vanished and a lot of media simply refused to cover the peaceful event that the crusade turned out to be.

I don’t know Graham and I’ve only interviewed him once in my life, but I do know he’s not one to back down once a coalition of Christian leaders has invited him to show up. Which is why I wonder if all the ruckus in the U.K. is simply grandstanding. Here’s how the piece by Harriet Sherwood began:

Opposition is mounting to a planned visit to the UK by a leading American conservative evangelical Christian who has made Islamophobic and anti-gay statements, with critics saying it will promote prejudice and damage interfaith relations.
Several MPs, including a government minister, have urged the home secretary to consider refusing UK entry to Franklin Graham, with some suggesting his comments contravene British laws on hate speech. A petition against Graham being granted a visa has gathered more than 4,600 signatures.

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Former GetReligionista explains: Why voting for the 'lesser of two evils' is still evil

Former GetReligionista explains: Why voting for the 'lesser of two evils' is still evil

Often, painful lessons are the ones that matter the most.

That has certainly been the case, over the past two years, for many evangelical Protestants here in America. Could you imagine, in the past, a politician being hit with the kinds of accusations made against GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore -- some of them backed up with impressive on-the-record evidence -- and seeing large numbers of evangelicals claim that they were more determined than ever to vote for him?

At the same time, the Donald Trump era -- broadly defined -- has offered many journalists a chance to realize that evangelicalism, even in predominately white congregations, is not a political and doctrinal monolith.

We are seeing new attention given, at last, to the evangelical left. Many reporters are also learning that there is a difference between evangelicals who enthusiastically embrace a Moore, or a Trump (think primary voters), and those who cast votes for these kinds of men with agonizing reluctance, or refuse to do so at all (think general elections).

The bottom line: Some of the most devastating commentary on Moore, and Trump, has come from scribes with impeccable conservative credentials, in terms of politics and Christian doctrine (the later of which is more important, as far as I am concerned).

With that in mind, please read the following think piece for Joe "GetReligionista Emeritus" Carter, a former mainstream journalist who now edits the website of The Gospel Coalition. The headline: "The Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem."

This is strong stuff. So let's get started with this summary material near the top.

Journalists and news consumers: As you read this, you should be asking whether or not you have seen this evangelical perspective included in mainstream news coverage of the train wreck in Alabama.

As we have discovered over the past two years, so long as the flawed candidate can be considered the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not a Democrat), then some evangelicals believe we can vote for them and keep a clean conscience.

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The pope’s Myanmar plight recalls church struggles with rotten regimes of the past

The pope’s Myanmar plight recalls church struggles with rotten regimes of the past

Journalists might tear themselves away from U.S. evangelicals’ moral entanglements with Donald Trump and Roy Moore to consider how church leaders should handle rotten regimes overseas as grist for a reflective essay.

Pope Francis’s visit to Buddhist Myanmar put this on the news docket. Beforehand, Father Thomas Reese said Francis risked “either compromising his moral authority or putting in danger the Christians of that country,” so “someone should have talked him out of making this trip.”

That is, Francis might harm Myanmar’s tiny, persecuted Christian flock if he denounced the military’s campaign of rape, mass murder, arson and forced exile against Rohingya Muslims. Yet sidestepping of atrocities had already besmirched the moral stature of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The pope decided not to publicly utter the word “Rohingya” in  Myanmar,  offering only generalized human rights pleas. Only later, meeting Muslim refugees in Bangladesh, did he cite their name: “We won’t close our hearts or look away. The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”

On the flight back to Rome, Francis told reporters that naming the victims in Myanmar “would have been a door slammed in my face.” Instead, he figured keeping silent  facilitated behind-scenes “dialogue, and in this way the message arrived.” So, did he defend the Rohingya when meeting the military? “I dared say everything I wanted to say.”

Despite criticism of the papal performance from human rights activists, Reese says Francis balanced his roles of “diplomat” and “prophet” to protect Christians while lobbying in private, and it’s unlikely public attacks “would have had any effect on the military.”

That recalls perennial complaints that Pope Pius XII should have more forthrightly denounced Nazi extermination of Jews.

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Masterpiece Cakeshop waiting game: Are the bakers of all 'offensive' cakes created equal?

Masterpiece Cakeshop waiting game: Are the bakers of all 'offensive' cakes created equal?

It probably comes as no surprise that this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) focused on key ingredients in the Masterpiece Cakeshop debates at the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is one case in which it really helps to spend time reading the transcript (click here for the .pdf). I loved Julia Duin's description of these court arguments, earlier this week, as, "a knife fight between 10 participants (nine justices and the hapless attorney before them)." Host Todd Wilken added that, in this setting, the action took place in a kind of polite, legalistic slow motion.

Hint: It's interesting to scan the document looking for key words and phrases. For example, try "tolerance." And if you search for "doctrine" you will find all kinds of references -- but in this case the word refers to doctrines established by the high court. That's rather chilling.

My pre-game post focused on several issues that I thought would be crucial in media coverage. For example, tt appears the justices accepted that baker Jack Phillips was, in fact, being asked to create one of his unique, artistically designed cakes, with content linked to a same-sex wedding -- as opposed to an all-purpose wedding cake (which he offered the couple).

What about the cases in which the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that liberal bakers did not have to produce products that violated their beliefs? I truly expected journalists to include some information about the court's discussions of that. Many did not.

So what happened on that issue? First, before we look at one interesting chunk of the transcript, please allow me to flash back to a parable that I created in 2015 to illustrate this question. Here it is again:

... Let's say that there is a businessman ... who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.
Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event -- the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian.

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