Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

The terrorist set out to massacre Muslim believers as they gathered for Friday prayers in their mosques.

He covered his weapons with names of others who committed similar mass murders and military leaders that he claimed fought for the same cause.

The terrorist left behind a hellish manifesto built on themes common among radicals who hate immigrants, especially Muslims, and weave in virulent anti-Semitism themes, as well (BBC explainer here). He claimed to have “been in contact” with sympathizers of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people — most of them children — in 2011.

1. Religion story of the week. The gunman’s motives may have been pure hatred, with no twisted links to any world religion, but it’s clear that the New Zealand massacre is the religion story of the week — because of the faith of the 49 victims and the faith statements of millions of people that are offering prayers and help in the wake of the attack.

The gunman labeled his own motives, as seen in this New York Times report:

Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. …

In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes. Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.

The Washington Post noted:

The 74-page manifesto left behind after the attack was littered with conspiracy theories about white birthrates and “white genocide.” It is the latest sign that a lethal vision of white nationalism has spread internationally. Its title, “The Great Replacement,” echoes the rallying cry of, among others, the torch-bearing protesters who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Also this:

Video on social media of the attack’s aftermath showed a state of disbelief, as mosque-goers huddled around the injured and dead. Amid anguished cries, a person could be heard saying, “There is no God but God,” the beginning of the Muslim profession of faith.

Please help us spot major religion themes in the waves of coverage that this story will receive in the hours and days ahead. Meanwhile, with Bobby Ross Jr., still in the Middle East, here is a tmatt attempt to fill the rest of the familiar Friday Five format.

* Most popular GetReligion post. He’s back. In this case, the “he” is former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Our most clicked-upon item of the week was my post about a television report from the open spaces of Western Kansas, where McCarrick is living in a friary next door to the famous “Cathedral of the Plains.” The headline: “Fox News follows McCarrick into distant plains of Kansas: Is this story now 'conservative' news?

Our No. 2 post was also on a Catholic topic, although you wouldn’t know that at first. The headline: “New York Times offers totally faith-free look at why Hispanic American birth rate is plunging.”

3. Guilt folder and more. Did I read something about President Donald Trump adding his signature to the covers of some Bibles in Alabama, while visiting with tornado victims? Many people thought this was sacrilege. Others noted that it is common for people to ask ministers, revival preachers and missionaries to sign the empty front pages inside Bibles. Baptist Press noted:

In the South, signatures in a person's Bible "bring back great memories of relationships and friendships and moments in our life," said Rusty Sowell, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala., where Trump signed tornado victims' Bibles March 8. …

The Bible signing provoked media reports over the weekend, with some critics voicing strong opposition to Trump's actions. Sowell said he "didn't think anything about it" when Trump began signing Bibles. The pastor noted signatures in his own Bible of friends and other significant people dating back to the mid-1970 …

Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian and founding dean at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, told the Associated Press Bible signing is a Southern tradition. He elaborated on the importance of that tradition to BP.

"I was kind of grateful" when AP called about Trump, Leonard said, "because I thought probably this generation of Baptists and others didn't know about the tradition of people having others sign their Bibles. That was a kind of historical qualification ... I thought would be worth talking about."

Though Leonard does not know the tradition's genesis, he said Christians in the South have sought signatures in their Bibles, especially from traveling preachers and evangelists who visited their churches. "It wouldn't be unheard of that presidents, particularly coming to events that were celebrative or traumatic, would do that," he said.

Among presidents to sign Bibles in the past were Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, according to media reports.


4. Shameless plug. Here’s an update for those who have inquired about the status of our GetReligion colleague Ira Rifkin. He is now at home recuperating after heart surgery and says that he’s doing well. If you have not done so already, please read his farewell “Global Wire” post: “The universe sent me a message. It’s time to heed.”

5. Check this out. For those interested in the religion-news craft, this has to be one of the must-listen podcasts of the week.

Oh, and did you see this interesting bit of religion-beat news?

That’s all for now.

As I mentioned earlier, please help us spot noteworthy coverage — good or bad — about the horrible massacres in New Zealand. It’s impossible for your GetReligionistas to see everything and we really appreciate hearing from readers.

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