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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Powerful piece on Emanuel AME jury foreman brings tears, and a lingering question

Powerful piece on Emanuel AME jury foreman brings tears, and a lingering question

I'm not sure where my fascination with juries started. Perhaps it began when I read John Grisham's 1996 legal thriller novel "The Runaway Jury," which later was turned into a movie starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz. Or maybe it has something to do with the trials I've covered in my long journalism career.

Recently, my wife, Tamie, basically forced me to listen to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution podcast series in which the newspaper's editor, Kevin Riley, recounts his experience serving as the jury foreman in a double-murder case. As always, my wife knows best: The Breakdown  series is suspenseful and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed it.

Speaking of juries, an amazing narrative piece on the foreman in the trial of Dylann Roof — the gunman sentenced to death in the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, S.C. — was published over the weekend.

The byline on the piece in The Post and Courier won't surprise regular GetReligion readers (for the rest of you, click here, here and here to see what I'm talking about).

Yes, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jennifer Berry Hawes has hit another home run:

When he went to court that day, summoned to jury duty, he hadn't expected to step into a dark chapter of Charleston’s history. His job had kept him on two continents in the months prior, so he wasn’t up on the local news.
When he arrived in the federal courtroom as juror No. 102, he glanced at the defendant in a striped jail jumpsuit — a slim young white man with a bowl haircut. 
Dylann Roof.
Along with the final herd of 67 potential jurors, the last of those winnowed from a pool of 3,000, Gerald Truesdale crammed onto a crowded bench. He listened to 17 of the 18 numbers called out for those would serve on the jury or as alternates.
Each rose and walked to the jury box, then took a seat.
One more to go. He prepared to leave.
“Juror No. 102.”
Given his job as a corporate executive, Truesdale was used to moving in front of large groups. Yet now he felt shaky as he rose from the third row. All eyes watched him step through a waist-high swinging door, across the courtroom and toward the last empty seat in the jury box.
The foreman’s chair.

Hawes' story marks the first time any jurors in the Roof case have shared their stories.

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New York Times learns that, yes, leaders in liberal black churches are mad at Donald Trump

New York Times learns that, yes, leaders in liberal black churches are mad at Donald Trump

If you have studied religion in American life -- either as a reporter or in history classes -- then you have had to wrestle with the complex and fascinating role that the black church plays in African-American communities, large and small, rural and urban.

Obviously, black churches and their charismatic leaders have always been politically active at the local, regional and national levels. In the second half of the 20th Century, most of that activism has taken place inside the structures of the Democratic Party.

Thus, most reporters think of African-American Christians as loyal Democrats. Period.

However, if you have followed the debates about who is, and who isn't, an "evangelical" these days, you know that lots of African-American churchgoers fit quite comfortably -- on doctrinal issues -- in the true "evangelical" camp. This is one reason why it's so misleading to use the "evangelical" label as another way of saying "white, Republican conservatives."

What about issues in which doctrine and politics have been known to clash? Take abortion, for example. Or flash back to 2008, when black voters in California voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama's White House bid AND also voted to oppose same-sex marriage. As the Washington Post noted at that time:

The outcome that placed two pillars of the Democratic coalition -- minorities and gays -- at opposite ends of an emotional issue sparked street protests in Los Angeles and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco. To gay rights advocates, the issue was one of civil rights. ...
That appeal ran head-on into a well-funded and well-framed advertising campaign in favor of the ban -- and the deeply ingrained religious beliefs of an African American community that largely declined to see the issue through a prism of equality.

This brings me to a recent New York Times story that ran with this headline: "In Trump’s Remarks, Black Churches See a Nation Backsliding." The key question: Did this story seek to diversity, in terms of the kinds of churches that reporters visited?

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Why no news coverage of Trump silence on China's destruction of evangelical megachurch?

Why no news coverage of Trump silence on China's destruction of evangelical megachurch?

One reason elements of the Christian Right are said to strongly back President Donald Trump is because of their, and supposedly his, deep concern for global religious freedom issues -- in particular the persecution of Christians in nations such as China.

Yet, as of this writing (Jan. 15), the White House has yet to utter a peep about last week’s destruction by the Chinese government of a massive “underground” evangelical church facility that housed a huge congregation of 50,000 or more, according to reports.

Moreover, no one in the mainstream or Christian media, as far as I can ascertain, has publicly asked the administration for an answer as to why it has remained mute. Not Trump’s media supporters or opponents (of which I am one).

Nor have we heard anything from members of the president's personal religious advisory committee. And certainly not from anyone from the State Department or the largely punchless United States Commission on International Religious Freedom -- which did see fit to issue a statement last week marking the death of Mormon Church leader Thomas S. Monson.

Has the Trump coverage bar dropped so low, has it been so overwhelmed by endless questions about crises seemingly of the president’s own making, that there simply is no room left for routine questions as to why the administration failed to issue so much as a pro forma response to the church demolition?

Clearly, I'm afraid, the answer is “yes.”

But that doesn't mean that religion-beat writers, in particular, should simply acquiesce to the current state of affairs.

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NPR does well-rounded profile on dying leader who symbolizes 'California Islam'

NPR does well-rounded profile on dying leader who symbolizes 'California Islam'

Sometimes it’s tough as a journalist to get the meaty stories of what’s really happening inside a particular faith.

Islam is especially difficult because of the fear of participants in talking with media, plus it’s not a faith that many journalists know much about.

Which is why NPR’s story of Usama Canon, a Chicago imam who is dying of Lou Gehring’s disease, is so needed. It gets into the fine details of the life of a teacher who most non-Muslims would not have heard of and shows him to be a sympathetic figure that most of us can identify with.

I’m not sure what connections the reporter had to use to get this story, but there needs to more like it. It opens at a Muslim center in Chicago.

Canon, 40, gives off a laid-back, West Coast vibe. He wears a beanie and prayer beads wrapped around his right wrist like a thick bracelet. He is the founding director of this place, the Ta'leef Collective, with campuses in Fremont, Ca. and Chicago. In Arabic the name means "the coming together of many things." 
The Ta'leef Collective was envisioned as a "third place" between the mosque and home to provide Muslims, especially young or new Muslims, a space to explore their faith outside the confines of the traditional mosque. The nonprofit is part lecture hall, part gathering space, and part sanctuary. 
Participants ranging from former inmates to searching youths say Usama Canon's teachings have helped them understand Islam in their everyday lives. Those lessons feel essential to his students at a time of growing hostility toward the religion, which has more than 3.45 million U.S. adherents. 

That population figure, by the way, comes from the Pew Forum

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'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

"Pastor's message: Vouchers are evil."

OK, Dallas Morning News, you've got my attention with that front-page, above-the-fold Sunday headline.

Spoiler alert: The newspaper never gets around to explaining why the pastor believes vouchers are evil.

But believe or not, that unanswered question is not even the most frustrating part of this Page 1 profile: That would be the story's failure to specify whether the pastor in question -- whom the Dallas newspaper three times describes as a Southern Baptist -- actually still leads a Southern Baptist congregation. 

Or is the pastor -- Charlie Johnson -- a former Southern Baptist, a la Jimmy Carter? More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let's back up and consider the lede:

AUSTIN -- Quoting Bible verses and calling the school vouchers proposal by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers “sinful,” Fort Worth minister Charli Johnson has been driving feverishly round the state before the March 6 primary.
At rallies and impromptu meetings arranged by friendly school superintendents with local ministers, the longtime Southern Baptist preacher delivers a fiery message on behalf of public schools. His get-out-the-vote crusade has irritated GOP state leaders and staunchly conservative activists who favor using tax dollars o help parents of children enrolled in public schools pay to attend private schools.
Johnson, pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, does not mince words. Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children, he says.
As he said in a sharp exchange with a leading House voucher proponent at a legislative hearing just over a year ago, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it.”

Let's see: The piece opens with a reference to Bible verses that Johnson uses to characterize vouchers as "sinful." As I kept reading, can you guess what I was expecting to see? That's right -- I assumed the paper would mention a specific verse or two to help readers understand the theological case that the pastor makes.

Nope!

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Thinking about Billy Graham and the Queen: Religion news can be found all over the place

Thinking about Billy Graham and the Queen: Religion news can be found all over the place

Once upon a time, newspaper editors thought that religion was the kind of narrow, insider subject that could be locked into a weekly journalism ghetto called the "church page."

No, honest.

That eventually evolved into the "religion" page, but the idea was pretty much the same. This concept began fading about the time I reached the news biz, in the early 1980s.

Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with having a section or a column dedicated to religion-news topics. I had better think that, since I have been writing that kind of column for 30 years or more. It's nice to have a place in the news format in which you KNOW you can get a religion topic into print.

The crucial point, however, is that religion is a subject that wants to roam all over the place, if journalists take it seriously. It should end up on A1, on the education beat, in the business section, in the sports pages, etc., etc. I have had a lot of fun through the decades (and wrote a book about it) following religion ideas, symbols and trends into the world of popular culture and entertainment.

So with that in mind let me (a) highly, highly recommend a new Sarah Pulliam Bailey piece about the Netflix series "The Crown" that included scenes about Queen Elizabeth's faith and her 1955 encounter with a young American evangelist -- as in Billy Graham. At the same time, I would like to (b) ask people out there in dead-tree-pulp land where The Washington Post editors played this story in the actual newspaper, as opposed to its "Acts of Faith" status online. I sure hope that this ran, in print, in the Style or Entertainment sections. That's where it belongs.

The piece is a must-read, if you have the slightest interest in these two towering figures in 20th Century world culture. This is top-flight popular culture writing that also -- as you would expect -- pays serious attention to the religious content.

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ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

Way back in the late 1980s, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado needed to elect a new bishop.

This led to an interesting series of events, with the various candidates -- there were a bunch -- traveling across that large and diverse state to meet with the faithful and to take questions. As the religion-beat writer at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP), I went along.

It was during that tour that I came up with a set of three questions that I have used, ever since, when probing doctrinal fault lines inside Christian organizations, both large and small. Here at GetReligion, we call these questions the "tmatt trio." One of them is rather relevant to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) and my recent update post on the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org.

But first, here are the three questions, as stated in an "On Religion" column I wrote about the polling work of the late George Gallup, Jr. It opened with a reference to a speech he gave in 1990.

About that time, I shared a set of three questions with Gallup that I had begun asking, after our previous discussions. The key, he affirmed, was that these were doctrinal, not political, questions. ... The questions:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

It is interesting, sometimes, to observe the lengths to which Christian leaders, academics and others will go to avoid giving clear answers to these questions, even the one focusing on the resurrection. The key is to pay close attention to their answers, seeking insights into where they stand in the vast spectrum -- liberal to orthodox -- of Christian life.

Now, look again at the third question: "Is sex outside of marriage a sin?"

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A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What is the significance of Jesus cursing the fig tree?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Our discussion will focus on the Gospel of Mark (11:12-14 and 20-26) rather than the briefer parallel version in Matthew (21:18-22), which most experts think was written down later. Mark records the following:

Jesus was traveling with his disciples to Jerusalem, where he was to “cleanse” the temple by driving out devious money-changers and sellers of birds for sacrifice. He was hungry and spotted a fig tree. Seen from the distance, it showed leaves, but close up there was no fruit. Jesus declared that no-one would ever again eat fruit from this tree. Returning from the temple the next day the disciples saw that the tree had withered down to its roots. (Matthew puts the “cursing” after the “cleansing” and says the tree withered immediately.)

Scholarly British Bishop N.T. Wright says this narrative “looks most peculiar,” and it’s “one of the most difficult in the Gospels” in the view of D.E. Nineham at the University of London. That’s because, as Hugh Anderson of the University of Edinburgh observed, the cursing of the fig tree was Jesus’ only reported miracle of “destruction” rather than restoration, so at first glance it seems “out of character” if not “irrational.”

Interpreters see significance in Mark’s literary “sandwich” with the temple assault enclosed within two halves of the fig tree account. It’s important to realize that the fig tree is a symbol for the Israelite nation in many Old Testament passages, an apt poetic device due to this fruit’s importance for the regional diet.

Jesus was not angry over his hunger, and certainly not angry at a tree.

Rather, scholars tell us, he was filling the role of a Jewish prophet like many before him.

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