Journalism

Friday Five: #RNA2019, pastor suicide, newspaper credibility, culture wars, hilarious sermons

Friday Five: #RNA2019, pastor suicide, newspaper credibility, culture wars, hilarious sermons

It’s day two of the Religion News Association annual conference in Las Vegas.

That’s right — the nation’s religion journalists are discussing faith and spirituality in Sin City.

More on that as we dive into Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: I wrote about the RNA meeting in my post Thursday.

By all means, follow the conference in real time via the #RNA2019 hashtag on Twitter. Also, the RNA is live-streaming sessions on its Facebook page. …

2. Most popular GetReligion post: “Believers must face this: All kinds of people (pastors too) wrestle with depression and suicide,” Terry Mattingly wrote in this week’s No. 1 most-clicked post.

If you haven’t, make sure to read the post. In it, tmatt noted that this is one of the most personal topics that he has ever touched on here at GetReligion. Yes, all of this is linked to one of the major national religion-news stories of last week — the suicide of the Rev. Jarrid Wilson, the 30-year-old founder of a a nationally known ministry for people struggling with depression and suicide. Then again, the recent 9/11 anniversary played a role in this post. And double make sure to listen to the related podcast.

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Associated Press delves into Joe Biden's abortion funding reversal and his Catholic faith

Associated Press delves into Joe Biden's abortion funding reversal and his Catholic faith

Abortion politics is — generally speakingcomplicated.

I was pleased to see Elana Schor, The Associated Press’ new religion and politics reporter, take a thought-provoking dive into the subject. Her specific angle: How former Vice President Joe Biden’s shift on the Hyde Amendment is playing among his fellow Catholics.

I have a small suggestion concerning the AP report out today and want to point out an interesting editor’s note appended to it.

But first, I just want to compliment Schor for an excellent piece of religion journalism.

The punchy lede sets the scene:

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was one of the first stress tests of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign: A sudden reversal of his decades-long support for restricting federal funding of abortions.

The move seemed sure to hurt the former vice president with Catholics, particularly those in the Midwest, whose support will be critical to winning the Democratic primary and the general election. But so far, Biden has faced little criticism over his shift on abortion funding relative to other aspects of his record, and polls show that he remains Catholic Democrats’ overwhelming favorite in the presidential field.

Since the days of John F. Kennedy, Catholic Democrats have wrestled to reconcile their church’s teachings with their party’s politics. That tension has been especially acute when it comes to abortion, with some bishops threatening to deny communion to then-Sen. John Kerry over his support for abortion rights during his 2004 presidential bid. But the church has faced significant upheaval in the 15 years since then, raising questions about whether Biden’s leftward step on abortion is a liability with some voters of faith — or a more minor hurdle at a time when Catholics, like the electorate nationwide, are becoming more politically polarized in the age of President Donald Trump.

Keep reading, and Schor mixes insightful details, helpful sources — including Steven Krueger, president of the nonprofit Catholic Democrats — and timely poll data.

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Mainstream press should look at McCarrick (not conservative Catholics) if there's a schism

Mainstream press should look at McCarrick (not conservative Catholics) if there's a schism

Political polarization is nothing new. What about religious polarization? When it comes to matters of faith, specifically the Catholic church and its doctrines, there’s plenty of it these days.

You wouldn’t think there would be much divergence here since adherence to what the church teaches — through the Catechism and centuries of tradition on an array of issues — is the basis for being a member of the Church of Rome. Instead, there is divergence and not just among those sitting in the pews. It’s become all too evident among members of the hierarchy.

To say that the church is at a crossroads isn’t an exaggeration. But fierce arguments between the doctrinal left and right on a host of issues — from Pope Francis’ recent choice of cardinals to how clergy address social issues — are as intense as ever.

But here is the headline right now: Pope Francis has even dared to use a ecclesiastical s-word.”

Yes, that would be schism. That was prompted by a question from The New York Times' Jason Horowitz following the pope’s recent Africa trip. In reporting the Sept. 10 story, Horowitz includes this bit of background :

Critics of Francis, must notably Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who has been repeatedly demoted by Francis, have argued that Francis’ emphasis on inclusiveness, and his loose approach to church law have confused the faithful on a range of doctrinal issues, from divorce to homosexuality. That critique is frequently aired, in sometimes furious language, on conservative American Catholic television channels and websites.

A former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Carlo Maria Viganò, who demanded the pope’s resignation last year, has been hailed as a hero in some of those circles. Bishop Viganò has in part blamed the child sex abuse crisis on Francis’ tolerance for homosexuals in the priesthood, despite the scandal having first festered and exploded under his conservative predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

Some of Francis’ closest allies have in recent months publicly said that he is the target of a conspiracy by conservative enemies who are threatened by the more pastoral direction that he has taken the church. One close adviser, Antonio Spadaro, a prominent Jesuit who edits the Vatican-vetted magazine, Civiltà Cattolica, has accused American Catholic ultraconservatives of making an unholy alliance of “hate” with evangelical Christians to help President Trump.

Yes, politics has crept into this divide. But why focus on Catholic media as the source of the discord?

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Mississippi students protest time change for religious group's meeting, sparking a GetReligion question

Mississippi students protest time change for religious group's meeting, sparking a GetReligion question

Now ... is it only important for reporters to keep in mind that ‘The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda,’ or can religious believers have an agenda, too?”

That’s the question that a regular GetReligion reader asked in an email in which he provided links to recent coverage of a religion-related public school protest in Mississippi.

The question follows a post that I wrote last week reminding journalists — not for the first time — that regurgitating the anti-religion group’s talking points as if they’re the gospel truth is not great journalism.

My quick response to the reader is this: Of course it’s important for reporters to keep that in mind in both cases.

But also, I’d add this: Be sure to contact me the next time a major newspaper does stenography for the Alliance Defending Freedom or a similar religious freedom group on the right. I’ll believe it when I see it.

As for the specific examples that the reader provided — presumably to point out that media coverage can be troubled on the other side of the theological aisle, too — OK, I’ll bite.

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Friday Five: Jarrid Wilson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Wedgwood Baptist anniversary, Ostling on Godbeat

Friday Five: Jarrid Wilson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Wedgwood Baptist anniversary, Ostling on Godbeat

Welcome to the published-later-in-the-day-than-usual edition of Friday Five.

I’m on a reporting trip to Tennessee with my regular job, and GetReligion Editor Terry Mattingly graciously gave me extra time to write this.

After that brief intro, let’s dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is the story that I just can’t get out of my mind: the death of pastor, author and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson by suicide.

In a post Thursday, tmatt delved into Religion News Service’s initial coverage of the tragedy. Look for much more discussion in a post Saturday related to GR’s weekly podcast.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: My post declaring that “Sorry, but Politico's long exposé on Jerry Falwell Jr. lacks adequate named sources to be taken seriously” was our No. 1 analysis of the week.

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How do today's woes on the mainstream religion beat compare with 1983 and 1994?

How do today's woes on the mainstream religion beat compare with 1983 and 1994?

Religion writers are buzzing about Prof. Charles Camosy’s Sept. 6 commentary on religion’s sagging cultural and journalistic status.

Decades ago, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly, who analyzed Camosy in this post surveyed this same terrain in a classic 1983 article for Quill magazine, drawn from his research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This is a journalism issue with legs.

There’s a little-known third such article, not available online. While cleaning out basement files, The Religion Guy unearthed a 1994 piece in the unfortunately short-lived Forbes Media Critic titled “Separation of Church & Press?” Writer Stephen Bates, then a senior fellow at the Annenberg Washington Program in Communications Policy Studies, now teaches media studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Both of these older articles were pretty glum.

Religion coverage suffers today as part a print industry on life support, in large part because of a digital advertising crisis. Radio and TV coverage of religion, then and now, is thin to non-existent and the Internet is a zoo of reporting, opinion and advocacy — often at the same time.

Those earlier times could fairly be looked back upon as the golden age of religion reporting. (Side comment: What a pleasure to read quotes in both articles from The Guy’s talented competitors and pals in that era.

Former Newsweek senior editor Edward Diamond (by then teaching journalism at New York University) told Bates that back in the 1960s the newsmagazine’s honchos had considered dropping the religion section entirely. If true, they were open to journalistic malparactice. In those years, competitors at Time, The New Yorker, the wires and newspapers were chock full of coverage from Catholicism’s Second Vatican Council and its tumultuous aftermath.

By the 1980s, Mattingly hoped for possible change in religion coverage’s “low-priority” status as journalism’s “best-kept secret.”

You want news? Let’s look back at that era.

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Our periodic reminder for journalists: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda

Our periodic reminder for journalists: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda

It’s almost humorous.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation — whose name succinctly characterizes the organization’s agenda — complains about the conservative Republican governor of one of the nation’s most religious states speaking at a church.

A leading newspaper in that state rushes to report the claim that the governor is doing something unconstitutional, as if it’s breaking news.

Except that it’s really the same old, same old — and regurgitating the anti-religion group’s talking points as if they’re the gospel truth is not great journalism.

I came across the story that sparked this post via the Pew Research Center’s daily religion headlines today. Believe it or not, it was the second headline on Pew’s rundown of top religion news nationally. Ironically, the story came from my home state of Oklahoma, even though I hadn’t heard about it.

Here is the lede from the Tulsa World:

OKLAHOMA CITY — A group advocating for the separation of church and state on Tuesday accused Gov. Kevin Stitt of using his office to promote religion.

Stitt in his official capacity as governor is speaking at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Guts Church in Tulsa, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The event uses his title to seek attendees.

In a Monday letter to Stitt, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, said if Stitt wanted to discuss religion, he should do it as a private citizen and not as governor.

“Using the Office of the Governor to promote a specific religious mission is unconstitutional and sends a direct message to the 30 percent non-Christian adults who you serve that they have the wrong religion and that only your personal god can solve Oklahoma’s problems,” the letter said.

“We are telling Gov. Stitt, as we tell all pious politicians: ‘Get off your knees and get to work,’ ” said Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s not OK in Oklahoma or any other state for public officials to misuse their office to promote religion.”

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Finding comfort in faith after 9/11, as well as hard questions that never fade away

Finding comfort in faith after 9/11, as well as hard questions that never fade away

Looking back at the events on Sept. 11 and its aftermath requires looking back into time and also looking within, deep into the mind, the heart and the soul.

If it’s true that time heals all wounds, 9/11 could be the exception to that adage. As a reporter for the New York Post that day, I was a witness to the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

How did I feel? What did 9/11 do to me? How did it affect the way I did my job? These are all questions I get from students each time I do a talk about the attacks.

Looking back on 18 years ago, I remember feeling angry at God. Had He allowed for this to happen? I yearned for the answer to that question. I looked to my church (I am a Roman Catholic) for adequate ways to quell my inner frustrations. I recall saying a prayer the morning after the attacks on my way to work. It was my way of trying to find some inner peace.

So I am looking back on that stunning day as a journalist and as a Christian.

The entire time, I had a job to do. I had to divide the personal from the professional. Never in my life has that been so hard to do. It wasn’t until three days later, after hearing Billy Graham speak, did I feel more at ease with what had happened. It helped me make sense of the brokenness.

Indeed, one of my first reactions had been, “God, how could you let this happen?” Of course, God didn’t let this happen. What happened that day was pure evil, the work of Islamic militants who had perverted their religion to justify death. It was the good that would later come out of the tragedy, the stories of heroism and sacrifice, that reflected God’s love.

In the weeks that followed, I covered dozens of funerals, primarily those of firefighters. I found those funeral masses both extremely sad and comforting. I participated in them. When I wasn’t taking down notes and interviewing grieving family members, I remember praying along within everyone else at each one of those services. I was grieving along with everyone else.

There was, you see, no way around the faith elements in this event and this story. That was part of the pain, as well as the basic facts.

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Falwell Jr., Liberty University share GetReligion's post on Politico story — but did they actually read it?

Falwell Jr., Liberty University share GetReligion's post on Politico story — but did they actually read it?

Another bizarre twist in the Jerry Falwell Jr. story came Tuesday when the Liberty University president accused former board members and employees of an “attempted coup.”

That claim came a day after a long, negative Politico piece on Falwell quoted two dozen anonymous sources characterized as “current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell.”

How bad are things for Falwell and Liberty?

Well, both of their official Twitter accounts tweeted my GetReligion post from Monday in which I declared, “Sorry, but Politico's long exposé on Jerry Falwell Jr. lacks adequate named sources to be taken seriously.”

If you missed that post, you really should read it before finishing this one. What I am about to say will make much more sense with that background in mind. Also, that post has generated a lot of good discussion along with a few typical troll comments from people who obviously didn’t take time to read what I wrote.

Of course, a few folks on Twitter (here and here, for example) asked if Falwell and Liberty actually read what I wrote.

After all, my post was no fan letter to Falwell.

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