Amid furor over Trump tweets, NPR visits two very different Friendship Baptist Churches in Virginia

NPR’s Sarah McCammon visited two Friendship Baptist Churches for a report that aired this week.

I loved the idea behind her story on congregations in the same state with the same name but different perspectives on President Donald Trump. And I mostly loved the implementation.

But before we delve into her feature, let’s start with the online headline: I’m not 100 percent sold on it.

Here it is:

In Virginia, 2 Churches Feel The Aftermath of Trump’s Racist Rhetoric

My problem with the headline is this: It labels Trump’s rhetoric — as a fact — as “racist.” I’m an old-school-enough journalist that I’d prefer the news organization simply report what Trump has said and let listeners/readers characterize it as racist. Or not.

I know I’m probably in the minority on this — evidence of that fact can be found here, here, here and here.

But back to the story itself: It opens this way:

A welcome sign on the way into town reads "Historic Appomattox: Where Our Nation Reunited." But here in Appomattox, where the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, there are still reminders of division.

Not far away, a sign posted in front of Friendship Baptist Church reads "AMERICA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT."

Pastor Earnie Lucas said he posted that message on his church sign several weeks ago. It was around the same time that President Trump tweeted an attack on four Democratic members of Congress — all women of color — saying they should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Lucas, 85, is white and has been a pastor in this community for decades. He defends his sign and expresses anger about the response it has received online and in news reports.

"Don't talk to me about that flag out yonder, or that sign out yonder!" he thundered from the pulpit. "This is America! And I love America!"

Lucas asks if anyone in the small, all-white congregation is "from Yankee land." No one raises their hand

McCammon — who grew up in a conservative Christian home in Kansas City and attended an evangelical college — mostly lets her sources explain their beliefs and positions in their own words. (That isn’t necessarily helpful for all the sources. But again, viewers/readers can make that determination on their own.)

Later, NPR features the other church:

Two hours away in Hopewell, Va., is another Friendship Baptist Church. The congregation is predominantly black, and the members are experiencing this moment very differently from the Friendship Baptist congregants in Appomattox.

Sitting in his church office, Pastor Norwood Carson said his secretary has received angry calls from people confused about their name.

"We gave a standard response to all of them," Carson said. "'You are calling the Friendship Baptist Church of Hopewell. The church that loves God, loves others, and serves the community. We are not that church that says, 'America Love it or Leave it.' "

Carson, 59, said the meaning of that sign is clear. "Obviously, it's a racist statement," he said. "But to find out it came from a church just really took me for a loop."

Go ahead and read it all. And let me know what you think.

Also, feel free to comment on my question up top as to whether news organizations should label Trump’s statements as racist or not. To the extent possible, try to stay focused on the journalistic and media coverage aspects of that.

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