At an old news service, a new reporter (blush) that readers really need to watch

Here is today’s tip for people looking for value in the news marketplace: Religion News Service, a unique, non-sectarian U.S. shop that’s been in operation for 80 years, e-mails without charge a daily Roundup that is (or ought to be) essential reading for news executives who run newsrooms, journalists who cover this field, executives of religious organizations and anyone else who wants to be well-informed about faith developments. Just go to the RNS  home page, look for “Get The Roundup” and click to subscribe.

Though the Roundup is free, in return for some 250 daily news feeds a year you’ll surely want to also click on “Support R.N.S.” and send a tax-deductible $50 or $100 gift. (RNS is owned by the non-profit foundation of the Religion Newswriters Association, which acquired it in 2011 from the Newhouse newspaper chain.)

GetReligion has, of course, been praising (and critiquing) RNS work for a decade, while also arguing that this is an absolutely essential news outlet. As a veteran on the beat, I want to add another praise -- even if it's a bit awkward. 

Last year Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS’s well-seasoned staff as a New York-based national correspondent. This young reporter is an alumna of Christianity Today magazine’s online operation, Odyssey Networks and -- we blush to add -- GetReligion.  

Two pieces in recent days show Bailey’s value to RNS, and RNS’s value to readers. A Dec. 2 article updated “what ever happened to Rob Bell,” the more-or-less evangelical popularizer who seeks to snuff out doctrinal hellfire. Three days later, Bailey revealed in advance that Christian conversion, which is so central to the life story of Louis Zamperini in the huge-selling book “Unbroken,” will be “almost entirely absent” from the movie version that opens Christmas Day.

But a Bailey item back on April 8 could prove to be her most important of the year. The piece, quickly picked up by The Huffington Post and others, pulled together little-noticed strands such as evangelical films and an article in Middle East Quarterly, to ask, “Is support for Israel waning among evangelicals?”  It’s hard to overstate the political importance if such a shift gains strength.

Leading U.S. liberal or “mainline” Protestants, some Catholics, and important church groups in Europe have merged with the political-academic Left in becoming more critical of Israel’s handling of the Palestinians over recent  years.

Meanwhile, conservative evangelicals remain the bulwark of U.S. support for Israel, even more than Jews or Republicans.  A Pew Research survey just after Bailey’s article showed 81 percent of white evangelicals sympathize more with Israel compared with 4 percent more with Palestinians and 7 percent with neither side. The comparative percentages for the U.S. population as a whole were 53 vs. 11 vs. 16.

Evangelical sympathies have stemmed from doctrine as much as politics. In 2010 Pew surveyed world evangelical leaders at a confab in Cape Town. There, 48 percent professed belief that Israel fulfills Bible prophecy about Jesus’ Second Coming -- a hallmark of Dispensationalist theology -- compared with 42 percent who said it does not.

Given all that, Bailey depicts no wholesale shift, just straws in the wind.  

For instance, the president of Oral Roberts University spoke last March  at a conference of “Christ at the Checkpoint,” an organization that presents Jesus as a Palestinian who’d be suffering under Israeli occupation if he were living today, just as he did under Roman occupation. 

Or then there is this: Progressive evangelical David Gushee of Mercer University observes that more American tourists to Israel are wanting to hear viewpoints from Palestinians. And so forth.

This over-all situation is certainly something the media should be watching closely.

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