Missouri paper takes 'Wild Kingdom' approach to observing ... a real, live Roman Catholic

Missouri paper takes 'Wild Kingdom' approach to observing ... a real, live Roman Catholic

Television viewers from the pre-Discovery Channel epoch might remember "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," a nature program that examined wild creatures such as the anaconda (video above) with a mix of detachment and drama.

In a similar vein, the St. Joseph, Missouri, News-Press has trained its editorial eye on another rare and exotic species -- a young, faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church.

After reading the story, it seemed a bit odd for a newspaper smack dab in the middle of the so-called "Bible Belt" to take such an approach. Plus, the paper fails to ask, let alone answer, some key questions about the subject's story, a physical therapist who goes online to promote her faith.

The headline, which at first sounded like something from The Onion, reads "Woman incorporates religion into daily life, practice." For this observer, things went downhill from there:

During the age of information, it can seem as if most have turned away from religion, but as Maureen Holtz has found, incorporating her faith into her everyday routine has given her the grounding she needs.
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, millennials are much less likely to be religious than previous generations, but Holtz says being raised Catholic has provided the framework for her life.
While Holtz, a millennial herself, credits her strong Catholic upbringing for her ties to the church, she also shares her faith online, too. With only 4 in 10 millennials saying religion was very important to them, there is more of an ideological divide than ever before. Coupled with social media, Holtz said it’s not uncommon to be met with negativity online when someone shares his or her beliefs.

The impression that comes from the lede is that here is an unusual specimen, someone who still believes in something during "the age of information," whatever that is.

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New era of Coptic martyrs: RNS dives into big questions about a deadly serious subject

New era of Coptic martyrs: RNS dives into big questions about a deadly serious subject

Lots of news stories -- big ones and everyday ones -- are haunted by religious themes (and even factual material) that mainstream reporters skate right past. Here at GetReligion, we call these religion-shaped holes in stories "ghosts."

There are also news stories that, to be blunt, are haunted by questions and issues that can only be described in terms of theology, often requiring a willingness to dig into centuries of history and debates of a complex or even mysterious nature.

I sincerely appreciate attempts to write these theologically driven stories, because I know that they are (a) hard to get right, (b) hard to get approved by editors and (c) hard to write in words that work in a daily newspaper (think accuracy plus readability).

So I really want to cheer for a Religion News Service feature that came out with this headline: "Unrelenting killing of Coptic Christians intensifies debate over martyrdom."

This is a story about a very complex issue: Is there a point at which praising Christian believers who are killed by the Islamic State turns into a bad thing, when crying "martyrdom" begins to blur the lines between terrorism and the kinds of heroic witness honored by the church through the ages?

Before I mention my one question about this fine story, let's look at some crucial summary material near the top:

The 2,000-year-old Coptic Church of Egypt has a long tradition of hallowing those who died affirming their faith in the face of violence. But the group that calls itself the Islamic State has launched waves of attacks on the Coptic community in recent years -- claiming at least 70 lives and wounding scores of others -- an unrelenting assault that has opened a debate in the community about martyrdom.
The issue has been most recently punctuated by the deadly knifing of a Coptic priest in a poor Cairo neighborhood Thursday (Oct. 12). A suspect was arrested but his motive is still unknown.
Recently, another Coptic priest -- the well-known Rev. Boules George from the well-heeled Cairo suburb of Heliopolis -- took to the television airwaves to “thank” the Islamic State terrorists who launched the Palm Sunday church bombings that claimed 45 lives, saying they provided “a rocket” that delivered victims straight to heaven.

Here is the crucial question: Is being blown up by a bomb, or killed in random violence, truly an act of "witness" to the Christian faith delivered to the apostles?

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Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Although 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door, there’s another religious anniversary -– a centennial -– this past Friday that got far less publicity.

Oct. 13, 1917, is the date when some 70,000 people, including a few newspaper reporters, witnessed the “miracle of the sun” in Fatima, a town north of Lisbon in central Portugal.

Many dismiss this as outdated Catholic lore, but the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima was a big deal for St. Pope John Paul II, who was nearly assassinated on May 13, 1981. He attributed his escape from death to Our Lady of Fatima.

Yet, I found very little about this anniversary in the secular media. The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of the exceptions, possibly because the local archbishop, Charles Chaput, made its observance a priority.

Throughout the year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million Catholics have been observing the anniversary with special services, lectures, movie screenings, retreats, and pilgrimages.  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will preside over a consecration service at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
Fatima is among the three most popular Marian apparitions, including one reported in 1858 by St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France (Our Lady of Lourdes), and another in 1531 by St. Juan Diego and his uncle on the Hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City (Our Lady of Guadalupe), according to Jason Paul Bourgeois, an assistant professor at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of  Dayton in Ohio.
Messages of prayer, penance, reparations for sin, and devotion to Mary are oft-repeated in Marian sightings, but Our Lady of Fatima’s three secrets — prophecies and apocalyptic visions of specific events to come — set it apart.

The story is quite complete, going into the history of the three secrets of Fatima as well as other Marian apparitions. My only complaint is that it gave too much credence to those debunking the “miracle of the sun” -- in that how does one deceive 70,000 people? The skeptics never explain that one.

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Weekend think piece: Guess what? Church and state in Russia have their differences

Weekend think piece: Guess what? Church and state in Russia have their differences

The priest at our parish in East Tennessee returned the other day from a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the Greek peninsula that for centuries has been the beating heart of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. 

As far as I know, Father J. Stephen Freeman did not have any secret meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin while he was trekking from monastery to monastery on the holy mountain. However, you never know. After all, Father Stephen has many online readers in Russia and, well, he is the priest of Oak Ridge (and you know what that means).

Journalists in the West have said some rather wild things, as of late, about Orthodox Christianity and its role in Russia. This then connects with the whole "The Russians Did It, the Russians Did It" atmosphere in American politics.

But are we ready to politicize the holy mountain? Check out this passage from The Spectator, drawn from a feature with this headline: "What is behind Vladimir Putin’s curious interest in Mount Athos?" Orthodox readers may want to sit down to read this.

A secretive body of Elders governs here and all citizens are bound to total obedience. They wear identical floor-length black gowns and are not permitted to shave -- the style of dress favoured by zealots everywhere. And guess what? This state is in western Europe.
Few people have heard of Mount Athos and fewer still have visited it, and that is the way they like it. A notable exception is Vladimir Putin. He has been at least twice, once in 2006 and again in May of this year. ...
Putin has formed an unholy alliance with the Orthodox church in order to ensure he receives its blessing. This fits with his self-image as a modern Tsar embodying church and state. For believers, the Holy Mountain is the centre of their faith, their Rome, the place where the flame of their faith connects to heaven.

I wasn't expecting the Z-word.

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Catholics 'clutch' rosaries in Poland? Journalists should pay attention to details in worship

Catholics 'clutch' rosaries in Poland? Journalists should pay attention to details in worship

The big issue in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) was a question raised in my recent post about coverage of a remarkable religious rite that took place on the border of Poland.

Poland is, of course, an intensely Catholic land. Thus, there were several layers of symbolism present when legions of worshipers lined up along parts of the nation's borders to pray the rosary, specifically praying for the future of their land and all of Europe.

Note that I called the participants "worshipers."

Yes, that was a value judgment on my part, a decision that was unavoidable when writing about this event. It was clear in the news coverage (I focused on BBC and The New York Times) that the Poles were, to some degree, mixing religious faith and concerns about current events and trends.

Thus, were these people "worshipers" or were they, oh, anti-Muslim activists?

The language didn't get that blunt in the BBC coverage, but it was a close call. At that global news powerhouse, this was a political event that was using religious symbolism linked to Polish nationalism. At the Times, this was a religious event with strong political overtones.

You can see these two competing narratives in the coverage. In this case, I think the Times did the better job.

However, the podcast raised another issue. Wouldn't it have been good to have included some of the language of the rosary prayers in the story? Might that be linked to the message of the event?

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Regarding obits, Hefner, Weinstein, Trump, religious hypocrites, 'Cheap Sex' and the death of eros

Regarding obits, Hefner, Weinstein, Trump, religious hypocrites, 'Cheap Sex' and the death of eros

Within the Christian fellowship, the Good Book says, members should “not speak evil against one another” (James 4:11). A societal maxim tells us verbal caution is especially required in one instance: “Do not speak ill of the dead.”

Though journalists have a duty to “speak evil” if it’s both true and  newsworthy, obituaries sometimes obey Johnny Mercer’s sermonic song lyric: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive.” Just before the defenestration of Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein over his sexploits, the death of publisher Hugh Hefner -- a personification of the media maxim that "sex sells, inspired bland, fond farewells, even on “conservative” Fox News.  

Or, given recent events at the New York City headquarters of that news operation, is that especially on Fox News?  

Not so the truly conservative and ever-fascinating New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, an outspoken Catholic, whose sendoff was an invective classic. His Hef was the “grinning pimp of the sexual revolution,” the “father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis,” a “flesh procurement” agent for celebrities, and “lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan” whose career concluded in “sleazy decrepitude.”

In Hefner’s wake it was perhaps inevitable, given the amalgamated contempt for both evangelical Protestants and President Donald Trump across sectors of U.S. high culture, that some journalists would brand believers as hypocrites, e.g. Brandon Ambrosino, a onetime Liberty University student who came out as gay, writing in Religion News Service.

Ambrosino noted that a Facebook post generated dozens of comments “to defend Trump’s sexual history while excoriating Hefner for his.” After rehearsing the president’s moral career in order to castigate preachers who vouched for his character, he concluded: “These evangelicals have lost any moral high ground from which to lecture culture about sexual morality.”

Interesting. So The Religion Guy scanned 95 posted comments about this column.

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Christian women's rally on National Mall was small, but still had some big news angles

Christian women's rally on National Mall was small, but still had some big news angles

It took 10 months, but the heavily covered Women’s March that happened in January got a response of sorts from devout Christian women. The more recent event was an “Awaken the Dawn” program, followed by a “Rise Up” prayer rally on Oct. 9.

When I wrote up the Women’s March for this blog, I noted the odd mix of women donning hijabs at the Washington DC event with others criticizing the veil as symbolic of patriarchy and oppression.

There was no such disconnect at this Christian women’s event. And this smaller rally did not have wall-to-wall media coverage ranging from Buzzfeed and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to New York magazine and the New York Times, to name a few.

What we got last week was Religion News Service, the Washington Post and CBN. As RNS’s Adelle Banks worded it:

WASHINGTON -- Twenty years ago, men gathered as “Promise Keepers” and filled the National Mall for a prayer rally seeking repentance and spiritual revival.
On Monday (Oct. 9), it was the women’s turn.
A largely female audience of thousands gathered on the lawn in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol for the “Rise Up” prayer rally. Braving wind and rain, these Christian women -- many charismatic or Pentecostal -- declared their unity and sought God’s guidance to lead the nation.
At turns on their knees, huddled in small groups and facing a stage with hands raised, those gathered prayed for reconciliation between men and women, between racial and ethnic groups, and for ending abortion. In marked contrast to the Women’s March right after President Trump’s inauguration, these women had a different agenda.

Banks helpfully put together a graphic design showing dates of religion-centric rallies on the Mall starting the Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963; the Million Man March, the Promise Keepers 1997 rally and even the anti-religious Reason Rally in 2012.

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Time to play 'Name That Newsroom,' as Pope Francis defends old doctrines on gender

Time to play 'Name That Newsroom,' as Pope Francis defends old doctrines on gender

That Pope Francis is certainly a headline maker.

Consider, for example, the current news mini-explosion about his proclamation that the death penalty is "contrary to the Gospel."

That's news and there's no doubt about it. In this case, a few -- but not all -- journalists covering the story quickly grasped that this statement had something to do with a highly troubling religious word, as in "doctrine." After all, there is this passage in the current edition of the Catholic Catechism:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

Now, this is not the normal kind of controversy that surrounds Pope Francis, when it comes to news coverage.

Most of the time, as your GetReligionistas have noted many times, what is interesting is to notice the degree to which some of the pope's comments make major news and some do not. You know, like the fact that there are, at the moment, almost a half million Google hits when you search for the phrase "Who am I to judge?"

With that in mind, let's play a little news game linked to the papacy. No, we're not going to play "Name that Pope," comparing quotations from Pope Francis with similar statements from Pope Benedict XVI.

No, this time we are going to play, "Name that Newsroom."

The goal is to figure out which of the following recent headlines and overtures is from a mainstream news magazine and which is from one of the top publications serving the niche-news needs of the LGBTQ community. The hook for these reports is the latest Pope Francis statement defending church teachings on gender.

Ready. Let's start with this headline:

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Boys will be boys and now girls will be Boy Scouts. Any holy ghosts in this 'historic' news?

Boys will be boys and now girls will be Boy Scouts. Any holy ghosts in this 'historic' news?

This is huge news. Historic even.

At least that's how major news media outlets characterized the Boy Scouts of America's decision to accept girls.

To read accounts by national newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, most everybody greeted this gender-friendly development with enthusiasm -- with the notable exception of the Girl Scouts (a separate organization not excited about the looming competition).

Is there a religion angle to this story? Several of them, in fact? (You think?)

Believe it or not, the question of how faith-based groups so prominent in Scouting -- think the Mormons, United Methodists, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, etc. -- reacted to his change was conspicuously absent from the coverage I read. That's strange since about 70 percent of Scouting units are sponsored by religious groups.

Religion ghosts, anyone?

The lede from the New York Times:

The Boy Scouts of America announced plans on Wednesday to broadly accept girls, marking a historic shift for the century-old organization and setting off a debate about where girls better learn how to be leaders.
The Boy Scouts, which has seen dwindling membership numbers in recent decades, said that its programs could nurture girls as well as boys, and that the switch would make life easier for busy parents, who might prefer to shuttle children to a single organization regardless of gender.
“I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization,” said Randall Stephenson, the group’s national board chairman. “It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”
The decision was celebrated by many women, but criticized by the Girl Scouts, which said that girls flourish in all-female groups.

The closest the Times gets to the holy ghost is right here:

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