Wait just a minute: Fading Lutherans (ELCA) in Waco sold their lovely building to Anglicans?

Wait just a minute: Fading Lutherans (ELCA) in Waco sold their lovely building to Anglicans?

I think leaders of The Waco Tribune-Herald team had an interesting religion-beat story on their hands the other day, but it appears that they may not have known that.

It's easy to see the some predictable news trends looming over the recent headline: "Dwindling congregation forces sale of 133-year-old Waco Lutheran church."

There are several valid news angles here, the first of which is that lots of fading urban churches are being squeezed by similar financial and demographic issues. You can see that in this recent story from The Nashville Tennessean that was picked up for further distribution by Religion News Service.

If you visit the core streets and neighborhoods of almost any American city you will find lots of churches -- often from the old "Seven Sisters" flocks of liberal mainline Protestantism -- sitting on what is now prime real estate for re-developers appealing to the gentrification and young singles Millennial crowds. Many of these churches now face a tornado of red statistics, with aging members, low birthrates and declining numbers of converts.

Yes, there are doctrinal issues linked to some of those issues, especially in the American heartland and Bible Belt (think Waco, Texas). However, the Tribune-Herald team isn't very interested in these issues.

Hold that thought, while we look at some summary material near the top of this report. The symbolic voice is that of 94-year-old church member Joyce Heckmann:

Through the years, there were countless Christmas celebrations, church-wide smorgasbord dinners, Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible Schools and more.
But while the years have been kind to Heckmann, they have taken their toll on the aging church building and congregation, members say. The once-vibrant church family boasted 450 members, requiring an extensive expansion project that more than doubled the size of the building in 1958.
Now, members say, they are lucky to have 40 worshipers on Sunday morning. Members recently came to the painful but practical realization that their smallish group could no longer support such a large building.
So they voted to sell the property -- Texas Historical Commission landmark medallion and all -- to Christ Church Waco, an up-and-coming Anglican congregation that has met in least 10 temporary locations since it was formed in 2009.

Now stop the train right there for a minute.

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Faith on both sides of abortion? Yes, according to AP — but this is why debate falls short

Faith on both sides of abortion? Yes, according to AP — but this is why debate falls short

Over the weekend, an Associated Press national story highlighting the abortion battle in Kentucky got a bunch of play by major news organizations.

In general, this coverage impresses me as more balanced than most mainstream news reports on abortion. 

And the piece even delves — a little bit — into the religious beliefs of sources on both sides of the abortion debate. More on that in a moment.

But first, let's start at the top with AP's lede:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Both sides in the abortion fight raging in Kentucky agree on one thing: The stakes are as high as ever in a state that could become the first in the nation without an abortion clinic.
Political pressure has intensified since the Kentucky GOP took control of state government and moved quickly to pass new restrictions on abortions. And Republican Gov. Matt Bevin makes no apologies for waging a licensing fight against a Louisville clinic that is the last remaining facility performing abortions in the state.
Another battle-tested participant joins the fight this weekend. Operation Save America, a Christian fundamentalist group, plans to mobilize hundreds of activists to protest against EMW Women’s Surgical Center.
The group’s leaders state their purpose unequivocally: to rid Kentucky of its last abortion clinic. Some of the group’s followers were arrested during a protest outside EMW in the spring. The group has said it won’t use those same tactics in the coming days, but a federal judge on Friday ordered the creation of a “buffer zone” to keep protesters out of an area in front of the clinic. The pre-emptive move was requested by federal prosecutors to prevent protesters from blocking access to the surgical center.

A quick aside before I get to the real point of this post: You probably noticed that AP characterizes Operation Save America as "a Christian fundamentalist group." That's also how Wikipedia defines the group, previously known as Operation Rescue National. Is that proper usage of "fundamentalist," according to AP's own stylebook?

Here's what the stylebook says under its "religious movements" entry:

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CNN offers lyrical view of Islamic Spain. But are crucial details missing from this image?

CNN offers lyrical view of Islamic Spain. But are crucial details missing from this image?

CNN came out with a longish-piece recently on how Spaniards are rediscovering their Islamic heritage. I’ve been reading up lately on the supposed Andalusian paradise that erupted in Spain under Islamic rule, so I was curious as to how CNN would deal with it.

Their treatment was mostly on how the architecture reflects Islamic rule that began almost exactly 1,306 years ago on July 26, 711, when Muslim armies defeated the Visigoth king of Spain, Rodrigo. In less than a decade, Islam moved across Spain, sending Visigoths fleeing for their lives, if they weren’t killed or forced to convert first.

These armies continued sacking and burning their way through southern and central France until they were defeated by Frankish armies in 732 in the Battle of Tours. Not until the late 11th century –- more than 300 years later -- did Catholic armies begin winning the country back. (This was the era of El Cid).

This is the era that CNN wishes to cover:

As he meanders through the spectacular Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, tour guide Yasin Maymir hones in on a section of ornate patterning on the interior walls.
"Arabic letters, Arabic phrases. There are more than 10,000 all around Alhambra," he proudly says of the inscriptions.
Maymir continues through perfectly manicured gardens and grandiose rooms, occasionally stopping to speak of Islamic philosophies and architectural techniques incorporated into the design.
His fascination is obvious. Yet he believes the finer details of this history may be unfamiliar to many Spaniards.
"In Spain, in the schools," Maymir says, "they would never teach you about the (country's) Islamic history."

The Alhambra is in the photo accompanying this blog post. The article not only touches on Spain’s architecture but also Islamic influences on the traditions of flamenco and Moorish cuisine. This period of conquest, CNN says is:

… often described as unique in terms of its relative religious harmony, with Muslims, Jews and Christians believed to have co-existed side by side for centuries in a multi-faith society.

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'Evangelical' is not a political word? Since when, in the minds of political elites?

'Evangelical' is not a political word? Since when, in the minds of political elites?

Please trust me on this. If you were a journalism graduate student in the early 1980s -- especially someone like me who already had worked through two degrees combining history, religion and journalism -- then you knew all about Francis FitzGerald.

So, yes, I devoured her famous 1981 piece in The New Yorker -- "A Disciplined, Charging Army" --  about a rising, but then obscure, figure in American life -- the Rev. Jerry Falwell. I recognized that it had some of that "National Geographic studies an obscure tribe" vibe to it, with Falwell and his supporters seen as the heathen hosts who were coming to sack Rome.

But the reporting in the piece was fantastic. I used it as the hook for a paper in a graduate seminar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign entitled, "The electronic tent revival: Computers in the ministry of Jerry Falwell."

FitzGerald was interested, kind of, in the faith and history of Falwell -- a man who was already blurring the line between an unrepentant Protestant Fundamentalism and the emerging world of the new Evangelicals. But mainly she was interested in this new threat to her world and the existing political order.

Remember that famous quote from philosopher Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame, the one in which he quipped that:

... (A)mong academics "fundamentalist" has become a "term of abuse or disapprobation" that most often resembles the casual semi-curse, "sumbitch."
"Still, there is a bit more to the meaning. ... In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views," noted Plantinga, in an Oxford Press publication. "That makes it more like 'stupid sumbitch.' ... Its cognitive content is given by the phrase 'considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.' "

This brings us to this weekend's think piece, which is a Neil J. Young review at the Religion & Politics website of FitzGerald's recent book, "The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America." The headline on the review states the obvious: " 'Evangelical' Is Not a Political Term."

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The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

 The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

How many Jews does it take to write a newspaper story about same-sex education in private schools?

When the article is about an Orthodox Jewish school, it would be nice to have at least one.

It would be especially appropriate to quote an Orthodox Jewish scholar familiar with British laws affecting religious liberty.

The Independent ran an article on a government report that found an Orthodox Jewish girls school did not meet its standards in providing instruction to its pre-teen students on LGBT issues. The article entitled “Private Jewish school fails third Ofsted inspection for not teaching LGBT issues” is a fiasco, in terms of journalistic integrity.

It talks about and around the subject of the story, giving voice to critics, but does not speak with the subjects -- not one person who could offer an explanation why a Jewish Orthodox school might not be all that keen to conform to the cultural standards of The Independent and its left-wing readers.

The lede sets the tone for the story -- by being shown false by the second sentence of the story and setting forth The Independent’s biases.

A private, faith-based school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

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Flip side of GetReligion's coin: Some people (journalists) really think religion is fake

Flip side of GetReligion's coin: Some people (journalists) really think religion is fake

This whole week, I have been in Prague in the Czech Republic, teaching in a conference for young journalists -- most of whom are from Eastern Europe.

You will not be surprised to know that I have been lecturing on the importance of accurate informed news coverage of religion. And that led right into this week's (long distance) Crossroads podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Since I am in serious soccer territory, I talked about my post earlier this week that ran with this headline: "Telegraph hits some sour notes in a simple story about a footballer becoming a priest." I told them that this was not a horrible story, but it contained many awkward, simple, rather stupid mistakes.

What, I asked, if you were a soccer fan and you kept reading stories by reporters who did not know the difference between a striker and a goalie, between a corner kick and a brilliant cross during a breakaway, between the World Cup and the Euro championships? After a while, wouldn't you lose some faith in that newspaper, in its commitment to quality?

This, I said, is how millions of people feel when they read twisted, flawed religion-news coverage.

But what, several of the students said, if you really don't think religion matters? That you believe that religious faith is basically meaningless or worse?

It doesn't matter, I argued. Do you think you need to understand religion to cover the Middle East? How about European arguments about immigration? How about the 2016 USA White House race?

In other words, I made a SOCIOLOGICAL case for religion coverage, not a THEOLOGICAL case. I have known atheists who were fine religion-beat pros, because they grasped the role that religion played in public and private life.

So then a student from the former Soviet bloc asked: So, would you argue that Communism was a religion?

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This front-page story will make you wonder if the newspaper knows what happens during an abortion

This front-page story will make you wonder if the newspaper knows what happens during an abortion

Here.

We.

Go.

Again.

On the topic of abortion, GetReligion has mastered the, um, fine art of sounding like a broken record.

Over and over — recent examples here, here and here — we have editorialized on the rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

The latest case study comes to us courtesy of the Houston Chronicle, which reports on today's front page:

AUSTIN — Abortion providers and advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday to challenge a new Texas law banning a common second-trimester medical procedure, the latest in a long-running series of legal fights over women’s health in the state.

Notice any peculiar wording there?

If you are (1) pro-choice or (2) a journalist in a typical left-leaning newsroom, you may not.

But if you are (1) pro-life or (2) a journalist committed to treating all sides of this contentious debate impartially, this phrasing may stick out to you:

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'Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts' coverage shed some light, but few real questions

'Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts' coverage shed some light, but few real questions

Years ago, I profiled the executive director of the Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington DC; one of the most eclectic houses of worship I’ve ever run into. Half of the stuff I encountered there hardly -- IMHO -- belonged at a synagogue (Yoga shabbats? Rock concerts? Political panels?) but the place was packing these events out week after week.

Which is why I’m not surprised that Sixth & I hosted the taping of a podcast known as “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” a creation of two Harvard professors that’s become quite the rage in the past year. You thought Harry Potter was just an unbelievably clever series of children’s books?

Think again. Last year, your GetReligionistas look at the Boston Globe’s shallow coverage of these two professors and their work. But now that a major Potter anniversary is here, more publications have gone searching for a higher meaning in words penned by J.K. Rowling.

Here’s the top of the Washington Post's recent piece:

Mark Kennedy grew up a Catholic, and a Harry Potter fanatic. Only one stuck.
“I considered myself a non-spiritual person,” he said. He thought he was done with religion. And then he stumbled on the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.”
The podcast told him that the Harry Potter series -- the books that he always turned to for solace when he was angry or stressed or in need of an escape -- could be a source of spiritual sustenance.
“I feel like I’m born again,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Kennedy came to an event space at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in the District with hundreds of fellow fans of the podcast, who have found a surprising spirituality in the magical fiction series, which turns 20 years old this year.
Hosted by Harvard Divinity School graduates Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan, the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” became the number-two podcast in America on iTunes soon after it debuted last summer. It has inspired face-to-face Potter text reading groups, akin to Bible study more than book club, in cities across the country. In Harvard Square, ter Kuile and Zoltan host a weekly church-like service for the secular focused on a Potter text’s meaning.

Call this higher criticism with a twist.

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Why did People magazine out-report the Associated Press on a cult-related killing?

Why did People magazine out-report the Associated Press on a cult-related killing?

If ever there was a crime for which the word "bizarre" was coined, the recent tragic events in Coolbaugh Township, Pennsylvania would likely be "Exhibit A."

Local police allege Barbara Rogers shot and killed her boyfriend, Steven Mineo, whose body was found on July 15 after Rogers called police to report the shooting. According to police, Rogers claims she shot Mineo at his request, over issues involving a religious cult to which both adults apparently belonged.

The Associated Press picks up the barest essence of the story from there, presenting us with a key journalistic issue:

Rogers told officers Mineo, 32, was having “online issues” with a cult and asked her to kill him, said Lt. Steven Williams, of the Pocono Mountain Regional Police. She said her boyfriend believed the cult’s leader to be a “reptilian” pretending to be a human, according to an affidavit.
Rogers, 42, told police the group centers on “aliens and raptures.” Online postings associated with the cult detail a theory that a group of alien reptiles is subverting the human race through mind control.

I should note that I found the AP story at the website of the Wilkes-Barre, Penna., Times Leader, a newspaper whose offices are a mere 45 minutes away, by car, from the crime scene. (I'll have more to say about that in a moment.) 

American author Mark Twain once declared, “There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe… the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.” In reporting this cult case, I believe the AP got a head start on that total eclipse of the sun due in mid-August.

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