Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

In 1990, I began the process of moving from being a full-time journalist to being a full-time teacher and part-time journalist. The first place I taught was in Denver Seminary, serving as a specialist on religious themes in mass media.

In my main apologetics class, I tried to get seminarians to explore places in popular culture in which ordinary Americans encountered religious questions and themes. For example, I required students to watch "The Simpsons." I was also very high on the CBS series "Northern Exposure." And, of course, I asked them to pay close attention to Oprah Winfrey.

Why? Well, that's a question linked to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I discussed that fascinating media storm that followed Winfrey's sermon at the Golden Globes, with plenty of liberal activists and journalists suggesting that she should run for president. Click here to tune that in. Also, this was the subject of my column this week for the Universal syndicate.

But why -- in the early 1990s -- did I want future pastors, youth ministers, counselors and others to pay serious attention to Oprah? Years later, I was interviewed about my work at Denver Seminary by the journal Homiletics. Here is a key piece of that piece, which was called, "We're Taking Communion at the Mall."

MATTINGLY: We live in Oprah America. The dominate dialogue of our culture is feeling, emotion, and experience.
HOMILETICS: I taught a class once in which the name Gloria Steinem came up. No one, including the women, knew whom I was talking about. When I asked them what feminist voices they were listening to, they didn't reference Wolf, Faludi, or Mackinnon. They said, "Oprah."
MATTINGLY: You know what? I think Orpah is a feminist and she's an amazingly doctrinaire feminist on issues of gender feminism and certainly on issues of the sexual revolution. What's so funny is that you've got millions and millions of women who think of themselves as conservatives, but also think of Oprah as their buddy. She's consistently liberal, especially on moral and cultural issues. She's managed to communicate warmly to the average American woman without conveying how truly radical some of her views are. She's the essence of the victim culture: the woman as victim. That's not what feminism was supposed to be. But I think most people would agree that that's a piece of what modern feminism has become: You're a victim. Get mad, get angry, get even.
HOMILETICS: Do you really think it would be wise for a pastor to get in the pulpit and start attacking Oprah or Martha Stewart?
MATTINGLY: I would certainly quote Oprah.

So what is "Oprah America" and why is it so important?

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Pre-weekend think piece: A brief history of why March for Life news causes so much heat

Pre-weekend think piece: A brief history of why March for Life news causes so much heat

It's March for Life day and, during a rather busy teaching day here in New York City, I have been trying to pay attention to some of the live-streams of coverage from Washington, D.C.

So far, I have not seen any edgy websites or cable shows manage to get "president," "prostitute" and "pro-lifers" into the same headline or info graphic, but I won't be shocked if that happens.

President Donald Trump's speech to the marchers -- via video hook-up -- pretty much guaranteed this year's event would get more mainstream ink than it has in the past. As always, politics is worth more coverage than piety or poignant personal stories (the kind told, year after year, by the "I regret my abortion" activists).

Nevertheless, the March for Life remains what it has been for decades -- the Olympics for researchers studying media-bias issues (click here for a collection of GetReligion posts on this topic). I think it would be helpful to pause and look at the history of that, as we await some of the headlines and trends from this year.

During my early 1980s graduate work at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I looked at quite a few of the articles and photo-analysis studies that already existed contrasting mainstream media coverage of these giant anti-abortion rallies and other Washington events on other topics.

Then, in 1990, everything changed.

That was when the late, great media-beat reporter David Shaw of The Los Angeles Times wrote his ambitious series on media-bias issues tied to abortion. Ever since, any significant discussion of March for Life news coverage has included some kind of reference to this story: " 'Rally for Life' coverage evokes an editor's anger." The overture is long, but essential:

The Washington Post is "institutionally 'pro-choice,' " the Post's ombudsman, Richard Harwood, wrote. ... "Any reader of the paper's editorials and home-grown columnists is aware of that." But "close textual analysis probably would reveal that, all things considered, our news coverage has favored the 'pro-choice' side," too, Harwood conceded.

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Friday Five: Livin' On A Prayer, Emanuel AME juror, deranged parents, Arkansas shooting and more

Friday Five: Livin' On A Prayer, Emanuel AME juror, deranged parents, Arkansas shooting and more

Confession time: I chose one of this week's Friday Five because it gave me an excuse to post the video of Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer."

See if you can guess which one.

Woah, we're halfway there

Woah, livin' on a prayer

Take my hand, we'll make it I swear

Woah, livin' on a prayer …

But enough of that. Let's dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes profiled the jury foreman in last year's trial of Dylann Roof, the gunman sentenced to death in the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, S.C.

In a post this week, I described Hawes' story in The Post and Courier as "an amazing narrative piece."

"Jennifer Hawes is AMAZING. The end," the jury foreman, Gerald Truesdale, commented in response to my post. 

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Why is Foreign Policy magazine grumpy about U.S. aid going to Christians in Iraq?

Why is Foreign Policy magazine grumpy about U.S. aid going to Christians in Iraq?

With ISIS more-or-less cleared out of Iraq and Syria, money for rebuilding efforts is coming into the region amidst some debate as to where that money should land.

Why anyone would oppose money going to the Christians, Yazidis and others is a mystery, as it’s clear they suffered the brunt of the brutal ISIS occupation of broad swaths of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the previous administration, Secretary of State John Kerry used the term "genocide" to describe what happened to Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious minorities. Christians were so decimated, their religion has been said to be going “extinct” in Iraq.

But Foreign Policy magazine sees any U.S. aid going to Christians and others as a bad thing. Here, it says:

The Trump administration has decided to steer humanitarian aid funding to Christian and other minority communities in Iraq, against the advice of some officials at the State Department and others at the United Nations, who initially feared the move could backfire.
The administration, prompted in part by Vice President Mike Pence’s strong links to Christian advocacy groups, recently clashed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over how to spend aid funds in Iraq, insisting more resources be channeled to Christian communities and other minority groups in the Nineveh Plains. The administration rejected UNDP’s assessment -- and that of some officials at the State Department -- that the aid should be focused on more populated areas around the war-damaged city of Mosul. …
Since Donald Trump entered office a year ago, the issue has gotten high-level attention. Vice President Pence has spoken frequently about the importance of direct U.S. support for religious minorities in the Middle East, and current USAID Administrator Mark Green -- long an advocate for minority communities -- has made these efforts a centerpiece of his tenure.

What it comes down to, the article adds, is about $55 million in funds. But Washington’s preference toward Christians, it argues, could undercut other diplomatic efforts.

The move raised eyebrows throughout the aid community. “Taking $55 million and putting it into an area where there’s no chance that the Islamic State is going to come back doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” the Western official said. With stabilization funding -- designed to address the potential resurgence of the Islamic State -- “what you want to do is focus on the areas where they might come back,” the official told FP.

But who says ISIS couldn’t return to the Christian and Yezidi areas? Are there no voices on the other side to debate some of these conclusions?

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WPost reports on pastor 'lighting into' Trump with Pence on front row, but basic question unanswered

WPost reports on pastor 'lighting into' Trump with Pence on front row, but basic question unanswered

These days, it's often difficult to tell what's supposed to be real news and what's simply clickbait and/or aggregation.

That's the case this week with a quasi-news story from The Washington Post that makes no attempt to hide its tabloid-esque approach.

I'm talking about a piece that ran with this not-so-subtle cry for page views:

Watch a pastor light into President Trump — with Vice President Pence sitting in the front pew

Um, OK.

By the way, I realize this is the second GetReligion post today related to Mike Pence. If you missed the first one (written by Godbeat legend Richard Ostling and focused on media coverage of the VP's faith), it's insightful and definitely worth your time.

But back to my musings: My frustration lies with the fact that the Post goes for the easy clickbait but fails to answer a basic question. More on that in a moment.

First, though, the Post's lede (which provides a few details before the paper goes into aggregation mode):

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First do no harm: People, as well as politics, are crucial when covering medical conscience fights

First do no harm: People, as well as politics, are crucial when covering medical conscience fights

t's one of the most famous phrases in the world of medical ethics: "primum non nocere." That's Latin, of course. It means, "First do no harm."

Ah, but who gets to make the ultimate decision about whether a particular medical procedure or strategy for care will do harm to a patient? Is that ethical/moral call up to the patient, the doctor, the doctor's boss, an insurance company or even lawyers representing the U.S. government?

Now flip that question around. What if doctors pledged something like this: "First, do good." Who gets to decide what is good? Clearly, there are legal, ethical and, yes, religious questions linked to these decisions and that has been the case for centuries.

So let's pull these ancient questions and values into our litigious age.

A patient requests an abortion, perhaps even in the second or third trimester. The doctor (or perhaps a nurse) is an orthodox Catholic, a Mormon, a traditional Muslim, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, an Orthodox Jew or someone else with a deep and consistent belief that it would be wrong, a mortal sin even, to take part in this procedure. Some questions linked to medical care for trans patients, especially children, would create a similar ethical/theological crisis. Doctors do not agree on what causes "harm." Many disagree on what is "good."

How do reporters cover stories linked to these debates? First, do no journalistic harm?

Hold that thought. Here is the top of a Washington Post feature -- from the national desk, not the religion team -- on this semi-new front in America's culture wars.

The Trump administration will create a new conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department to ease the way for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs.

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Religion folks note: Whatever Donald Trump’s fate, there’s a Pence in your future

Religion folks note: Whatever Donald Trump’s fate, there’s a Pence in your future

Whether Donald Trump completes two full terms and surpasses Ronald Reagan as America’s oldest president, or declines to run in 2020, or -- as many Democrats pray –- resigns or is removed from office, 58-year-old Vice President Mike Pence will be a fixture in your future.

Pence is an obvious prospect for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 if not 2020. He runs a bit better in first-year job approval ratings than Trump, who was averaging a limp 39 percent at realclearpolitics.com just prior to the “[bleep]hole” racial furor.

The current issue of The Atlantic magazine offers a religious spin on the VeeP that gets second billing on the cover under the headline “God’s Plan for Mike Pence.” (The writer, McKay Coppins, also provided an online obit for LDS Church President Thomas Monson.)

The Pence piece, though weighing in at 8,000 words, leaves room for more depth from an enterprising religion reporter. Mention of the vice president’s conservative Christian zeal is a frequent tic in the news media, but as Coppins accurately observes: “For all Pence’s outward piousness, he’s kept the details of his spiritual journey opaque.”

 Other writers have sought to fill in the Catholic and evangelical blanks but, oddly, the vice president is as religiously mysterious in his own way as the unconventional president who ushered him into the limelight. Some aspects regarding this would-be future president that journalists should fully explore and explain.

So, for starters, is Pence still a member of the Catholic Church?

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More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

So here is an understatement: Some people in my life (readers included) can't seem to figure out why I think that the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org is a logical, constructive and potentially positive development on the Godbeat.

To catch up on this topic, please flashback to last week's "Crossroads" podcast post: "ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news." Then, to get some hints at where I am going with all this, please glace here, as well: "Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants."

The way I see it, both of those posts are related to the Hooters video at the top of this post. I kid you not.

The other day, our own Bobby Ross, Jr., showed remarkable restraint when, in one of his Friday Five collections, he mentioned an interesting controversy on a Christian college campus in West Texas. Here is a piece of the story he mentioned, which ran at The Dallas Morning News under this headline: "Abilene Christian University urges students: Don't work at Hooters."

Hooters is set to open in Abilene this month, but students at Abilene Christian University are being urged not to apply for jobs there. ...
In a written statement, Emerald Cassidy, the school's director of public and media relations, told the station that "we have asked students to consider both what Hooters represents and whether that is something they really want to support in terms of both their faith and the value this business model places on women."

Now, pay close attention to this part:

According to the university handbook, Cassady said, students are challenged to make decisions "that ultimately glorify God" whether on or off campus, adding that the university could review any student it felt did not uphold that standard on a case-by-case basis.

Yes, lurking in that paragraph is an implied reference -- specifics would be soooo much better -- to some kind of doctrinal statement or lifestyle covenant that frames moral and social issues for ACU students.

Yes, that would be precisely the kind of document that your GetReligionistas have consistently urged journalists to find online, when covering stories about hot-button issues in Christian education.

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Only ABC News got the God angle on deranged California parents of 13 children

Only ABC News got the God angle on deranged California parents of 13 children

Since I’ll be heading to California at the end of the month for a gathering of religion writers, I thought I’d scan the headlines to see the day's news in that part of the country. Some of it was delicious, such as the movement for all of the central and eastern parts of the state to split off into "New California," a 51st state without the baggage of the coastal cities.

Others showed a hole in news coverage, in that few newsrooms in the nation’s third largest state employ a religion specialist –- even part time -– and many, like the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, now have none.

Thus, when one of the most famous churches in southern California -- Church on the Way in Van Nuys -- had a fire last November, only the Los Angeles Daily News covered it. And the reporter who wrote the follow-up story didn’t seem to know any of the history behind this Pentecostal church, which was a national center for the Jesus movement in the 1960s and 1970s.  

However, the big story in southern California for the past two days has been about a couple living outside of Riverside who were discovered on Sunday to have kept their 13 children shackled in an innocent-looking suburban home.

I’ll start with a summation from the Rolling Stone

Authorities in California have arrested 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin on nine counts of torture and child endangerment each, after discovering their 13 children were held captive in their house, with "several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings," the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said in a news release.
Last Sunday, a 17-year-old daughter escaped the house, located in a quiet suburban town named Perris, roughly two hours southeast of Los Angeles. She told law enforcement that her siblings remained trapped against their will, according to the news release. Police and deputies initially thought all were children, but they found that the "victims appeared malnourished and very dirty" and were "shocked" to learn that seven of them were actually adults.
The children, who range from age 2 to 29 -- seven were legally adults –- were interviewed at the Perris police station, where they received "food and beverages after they claimed to be starving," before being transported to nearby hospitals for medical examinations and additional treatment, according to the news release. Authorities did not say how long the children were shackled. Their conditions have not been released.

Hmm, I wondered, could there be a religion angle to this?

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