If, somehow, a story about deadly church shootings can be heartwarming, this is the one

If, somehow, a story about deadly church shootings can be heartwarming, this is the one

I stopped by the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Texas, in 2004.

At the time, I covered religion and politics for The Associated Press in Dallas. Ahead of Texas' presidential primary that year, I noticed that Morris County — where Daingerfield is located — was one of the few places in George W. Bush's home state where the vote had been close in the 2000 general election.

So I headed to the steel-mill town, 140 miles east of Dallas, to talk to voters.

I found one of those voters at the Baptist church:

For Martha Martin, 62, secretary-treasurer at the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Bush’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage makes him the choice.
“I think he will go down in history as one of our great presidents,” Martin said.
She said she prays Bush will win re-election, “because I think he’s a moral, upstanding person, and I think he seeks the Lord in what he does.”

What I didn't realize — because I was so young when it happened — was that the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield had been the site of a mass shooting that made national headlines in 1980.

Why do I bring this up now — 37 years later?

Because the New York Times has an excellent story on the somber common experience that now ties together the Daingerfield congregation and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people died Nov. 5.

The Times' powerful lede:

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Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

The people who manage modern, digital newsrooms are -- to say the least -- under all kinds of pressure to print a never-ending stream of content with headlines and snappy story hooks that try to inspire readers to click, click, click those computer mouses (and maybe even visit an ad website every week or two).

This has led to all kinds of "you won't believe what happens next" editing, both in "news" reports and in graphics.

This has led to an increase in an old kind of news confusion.

In the past, it was perfectly normal for readers to wonder, every now and then, how a strange news headline ended up on top of a perfectly normal story. Your GetReligionistas have often reminded readers that reporters rarely, if ever, write their own headlines. Editors can make mistakes, too.

These days, it's no surprise that there's lots of confusion -- especially in newsrooms where journalists are asked to crank up their daily production count with various kinds of quickie articles. Often, the goal is to take a hot-topic story seen somewhere else, perhaps in a video that can be accessed online, and then combine a bit of that and a little more of this and quotes from other articles (attributed and backed with a URL) into a news product that rarely even requires a telephone call.

Hopefully, with a jazzy headline, this results in clicks.

I think that's what happened with a recent Newsweek article about a young Mormon woman who, after surviving a hellish kidnapping, has been speaking out on the need for religious leaders to be more sensitive when dealing with issues of sexuality, abuse and even trauma.

The headline that caught our reader's eye: "Elizabeth Smart, who changed Mormons' views on sex, is wary of religion."

Uh, #REALLY?

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Got news? Top Saudi religious leader says Sunni Muslims can pray in churches, synagogues and Shiite mosques

Got news? Top Saudi religious leader says Sunni Muslims can pray in churches, synagogues and Shiite mosques

Sheikh Abdullah bin Sulaiman al-Manea of Saudi Arabia is one of the kingdom’s high-ranking religious scholars and a specialist in Islamic banking, as defined by sharia, or Islamic religious law. Given his many top-level finance industry positions, one has to assume he’s also close to the Saudi royal family, without whose blessing nothing of real consequence happens in the kingdom.

If you're not familiar with al-Manea, as I suspect most GetReligion readers are, take a moment to read his professional bio. It’s a dazzler.

Given his prominence, you’d think Western media -- or at least those that take international news seriously -- would have jumped on a fatwa, or religious ruling, he recently issued permitting Sunni Muslims to pray in Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and even Shiite mosques.

That’s significant stuff for the Arab and Muslim world, where conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims is often a given. Here’s a bit of how it was covered in a few Arab and Muslim English-language news publications.

This one’s from Arab News, one of the largest Arab-produced, English language-news sites around. I noticed that the piece also ran in Pakistan Defense, which focuses on security and military news.

Another version of the story was published by StepFeed. The news site bills itself as “devoted to shaping a modern Arab world” by appealing to “Arab millennials.”

Here’ the heart of the Arab News story:

Al-Manea gave a fatwa (religious advisory opinion), reported by Al-Anba’ Kuwaiti newspaper, stating that Muslims may pray in Shiite or Sufi mosques, churches or synagogues. He noted that all lands belong to God, and cited the Prophet’s words: “The earth has been made a place of prostration and a means of purification for me.”

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Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

"When it comes to Roy Moore, the reality on 'evangelical' opinion is just as complex as ever."

That was the highly appropriate title of a post that GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly wrote just last week.

Here's my question: How soon is too soon to cover much the same ground once again? Is six days enough? (I'm not even counting tmatt's later post on "Sex crimes and sins in the past.")

Based on weekend headlines, it's obvious that journalists are still grappling with where Alabama's conservative Christians stand on Moore. And rightly so -- that is an extremely important angle on this major national political story. In fact, cheering for a massive white evangelical turnout at the polls seems to be the only real strategy that Moore has, right now.

As tmatt noted, the best coverage notes that when it comes to Moore, there is indeed a wide diversity of opinion among evangelicals (if that's even the right term ... more on that label in a moment).

I'm also impressed with coverage that attempts to explain why some people of faith would keep backing Moore even amid mounting sexual misconduct claims against him.

The Associated Press has an analytical piece that hits at many of the key reasons:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn't fit the evangelical mold.
The Republican Senate candidate has long stood with them, and now, as he faces accusations of sexual impropriety including the molestation of a 14-year-old girl, they are standing with him.

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A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

If I have learned anything in my 40 years working on the religion beat (and studying it), it's this: Repentance is really hard, even for the leaders of religious institutions.

Some would change that to say "especially" for the leaders of religious institutions.

This is true, I have found, for leaders on both the theological left and right (as anyone knows who has covered sex-abuse scandals among Catholic clergy). And many evangelicals choose to hide the sins of leaders. Ditto for leaders of liberal Protestant flocks.

As we are finding out during the current American tsunami of ink about sexual harassment and assaults, this trend is also found in Hollywood, inside the D.C. Beltway and elsewhere. That's rather obvious. It's also obvious that religious leaders should do a better job of handling sin than other folks. Some do. Many do not.

This brings me to an important Washington Post headline that many GetReligion readers made sure that I saw over the weekend: "How a conservative group dealt with a fondling charge against a rising GOP star." Similar stories ran elsewhere.

So how did Family Research Council leaders deal with the sins of Ohio Republican Wesley Goodman? They tried to shut him down, while seeking to keep things private and -- in the age of easy-to-copy emails -- got caught. This journalism truth is also clear: Many evangelical leaders, like their liberal-church counterparts, would rather line up for anesthesia-free root canals than cooperate with mainstream news reporters.

Here's the top of the Post story, which features tons of references to emails and documents to support key points:

On a fall evening two years ago, donors gathered during a conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel near Washington to raise funds for a 31-year-old candidate for the Ohio legislature who was a rising star in evangelical politics.

A quick aside: Yes, I winced at the reference to "evangelical politics."

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Reporting on Paula White and the White House: Trying to tell her side of the story

Reporting on Paula White and the White House: Trying to tell her side of the story

Those of you who may have read my lengthy profile on Paula White in this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine may not know that it was this GetReligion post a year ago and then this one that helped make the Post story happen.

Her spokesman, Johnnie Moore, noticed these posts, and contacted me to express thanks for their fairness.

Mercenary creature that I am, the wheels started turning in my head. A lot of publications, I thought, would be interested in knowing the inner life of this woman; the backstory behind her relationship with President Donald Trump and how she has hung on over the years despite scandals that would deck most people.

So I floated a trial balloon: Would Paula, I asked him, consent to appearing before dozens of journalists at the Religion News Association convention in Nashville in September? As a member of the conference committee, I was putting together a panel and I wanted her to be on it. Through Moore, she said yes. (Note: I’ll be referring to everyone by their last names in this piece except for Paula).

By this time, I was in contact with pros at the Post’s Sunday magazine, since I have written 14 stories either for the magazine or the Style section. Most of the pieces were several thousand words long, including my latest: A 2015 profile on Alice Rogoff, wife of inside-the Beltway billionaire David Rubenstein and (at the time) publisher of the Anchorage-based Alaska Dispatch News. T

he folks at the magazine were definitely interested in a story. Paula was on the road so much that I didn’t get through to her until June to explain what a story of close to 6,000 words would entail. We agreed that I’d spend three days following her around Washington, D.C. in late July.

Early in the afternoon of July 27, I was standing at the Northwest gate on Pennsylvania Avenue impatiently waiting for the right media person to allow me in. I didn’t know there was a titanic battle raging right then between communications director Anthony Scaramucci (who would be fired the following week) and chief of staff Reince Priebus who was about to be ousted.

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There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

If the following USA Today story wasn't real, then some journalist would have had to have made it up.

You see, coverage of shootings in churches almost always lead to mini-waves of reports about a tricky and controversial subject -- efforts to keep churches safe and secure. Yes, we talked about church security during this week's podcast, so click here to tune that in.

The overused word "controversial" applies in this whole subject because of the tension between increased calls for gun control (which I support, especially when we're talking about military-grade weapons) and people discussing the use of off-duty police and trained volunteers to protect churches.

In news media coverage, this can turn into left-leaning calls for gun control vs. people in large, almost always conservative churches packing concealed weapons. In other words, the whole thing turns into another discussion of guns, guns, guns and more guns.

Thus, the headline on that aforementioned USA Today story: "Two accidentally shot in church while discussing church shootings." And here's the heart of that story:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A man accidentally shot himself and his wife at an east Tennessee church on Thursday while he was showing off his gun during a discussion on recent church shootings, police said.
Elder members of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were cleaning up about 1 p.m. after enjoying a luncheon held to celebrate Thanksgiving. They began talking about guns in churches, according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.
A man in his 80s pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and said, "I carry my handgun everywhere," according to Parks. He removed the magazine, cleared the chamber, and showed the gun to some of the men in the church. He put the magazine back in, apparently loaded a round in the chamber, and returned the gun to its holster, Parks said.

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Can teens study the Bible on non-sectarian terms? This project says ... yes they can

Can teens study the Bible on non-sectarian terms? This project says ... yes they can

Few if any U.S. media noted that Nov. 12–18 was National Bible Week, but the origin of the observance has feature potential for this time next year.

That’s because in 1941 the NBC radio network, with the blessing of President Roosevelt, launched the first Bible Week by devoting a Sunday to on-air readings from the Good Book, something unimaginable in 2018. And as it happened, the chosen date was Dec. 7, so Scripture had to be interspersed with breaking news bulletins on Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack.

Here’s a different bid for biblical penetration of culture, in case your outlet hasn’t covered it yet. Since 2005, the non-profit Essentials in Education (E.I.E.) of New York City has campaigned for U.S. public high schools to offer elective courses on the Bible that are academically valid, fully legal under the U.S. Constitution, and acceptable to believers of any religion –- or none.   

E.I.E. does this with “The Bible and Its Influence,” its innovative and carefully non-sectarian textbook, sold in print and digital formats. The publication (.pdf here) benefits from a notably broad lineup of 40 consultants, with lawyers and public school educators alongside Jewish, “mainline” Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Mormon representatives.

To date, “Influence” has been taught in 640 schools in 44 states (the exceptions are Delaware, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming). Nine states have passed laws that encourage schools to offer such non-sectarian Bible courses (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Kentucky, which joined the list in June).

The latest angle, discussed at an Oct. 24 presser, is efforts to go global. There have been discussions with members of parliament in Brazil, Finland and Great Britain;  pilot projects in Canada, Rwanda, South Korea, Taiwan and Communist China; and academic conferences on this concept in Australia, the Philippines and even Hindu-dominated India.

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The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

My apologies for the clickbait title.

But I had to get you here so I could congratulate a colleague: my fellow GetReligion contributor Julia Duin.

If you follow religion headlines, you've probably already heard about the Washington Post Magazine's in-depth — really in-depth — profile of televangelist Paula White and her role as pastor to President Trump.

Perhaps, though, you missed Duin's byline on the piece.

As she described it on Twitter, her magnum opus — 6,408 words in all — took four months to research and write.

I won't even pretend to be able to offer an unbiased critique of my colleague's work. But I will share a variety of tweets from the Twitterverse praising Duin's "fascinating," "fantastic," "must-read," "quite a meaty profile":

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