USA Today gets one right: Story on African-Americans found in unmarked graves notes religion

USA Today gets one right: Story on African-Americans found in unmarked graves notes religion

Reader Chris Blevins urged us to check out a USA Today story on the discovery of unmarked graves in Texas.

Blevins praised the piece as a rare case of a news outlet “allowing the religious angles to speak for themselves.”

“I know you guys at Get Religion emphasize praise for reporters when they get it right as well as justifiable criticism when they get it wrong,” Blevins noted.

He is right on both counts.

In a tweet, USA Today editor in chief Nicole Carroll linked to the “powerful story” by national reporter Monica Rhor, which opens with this compelling scene:

SUGAR LAND, Texas — Reginald Moore sank deep into silent prayer, an electric candle casting a glow on the countenance of Martin Luther King Jr. embossed on his black T-shirt.

Beside him, on the steps of Sugar Land City Hall, 50 others paused in quiet reflection. Eyes closed. Heads bent. Flames flickering in their hands.

Moore shifted from side to side, as if communicating with a spirit. He silently mouthed an invocation. He lifted his hands to heaven.

His mind returned to the moment, a few months back, when he first saw the skeletal remains of 95 African-Americans discovered at a school construction site in Fort Bend County, about 20 miles southwest of Houston.

He thought of those souls in the unmarked graves, laying forgotten for decades in the soil where a convict lease camp once stood. He thought of the free men, women and children ensnared by a system often called “slavery by another name.” How they toiled and sweated and bore the brunt of the lash, until they dropped in their tracks and were buried where they fell.

That is brilliant writing. And it certainly displays the journalist’s willingness to reflect the strong religion angle.

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Take down that Confederate flag: Southern Baptist Convention rejects a symbol of the past

Take down that Confederate flag: Southern Baptist Convention rejects a symbol of the past

You may not have noticed, but there are actually two mass shooting stories in the news this week. One is the ghastly murder of 49 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

The other is the startling news that the Southern Baptist Convention has denounced the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate and bigotry.

Shooting story? The latter hearkens back to June 2015, when Dylann Roof shot nine people dead at a church in Charleston, S.C. As one result of the public revulsion at the act, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took down the Confederate flag taken down at the Capitol.

Now the Southern Baptists, convening in St. Louis, are following suit -- though not without some opposition, as the Religion News Service reports. Veteran RNS writer Adelle M. Banks ably captures the striking symbolism:

The Southern Baptist Convention, born in 1845 in a split over its support for slavery, passed a resolution calling for Christians to quit using the Confederate flag.
"We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters," reads the resolution adopted Tuesday (June 14) at the convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
Former Southern Baptist President James Merritt, who said he was the great-great-grandson of two Confederate Army members, helped draft that language, which included striking a paragraph that linked the flag to Southern heritage: "We recognize that the Confederate battle flag serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor."

As a longtime specialist on evangelical Christianity, Banks also quotes one of the most-qualified Southern Baptists: Russell Moore, president of the its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore says the convention "made history in the right way," and that it's "well past time."

Banks collects other eager quotes. An Alabama minister and author calls the action "the most wonderful surprise." A spokesman for the denomination’s executive committee says the convention delegates decided to "take one bold step."

Even more vivid prose ran in the Washington Post:

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What’s the faith background of the Episcopal Church’s new leader?

What’s the faith background of the Episcopal Church’s new leader?


Can you tell us something more about the presiding bishop of our [Episcopal] Church? I’ve heard only upbeat things about him from people who have met and heard him. Will he be a Marco Rubio -- a very effective speaker who can connect with people?


Perhaps so. Here’s some information about the personable Michael Bruce Curry, 62, who was installed this month as the new presiding bishop of America’s troubled Episcopal Church. Some U.S. denominations lack such a solo head while the Episcopalians grant their chief unusually centralized power and, moreover, his term runs till 2024.

The questioner’s pitch for Republican Rubio brings to mind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 hope to become the nation’s first woman president following its first African-American president. The Episcopalians have done the opposite. Curry, the first African-American to head this rather elite and overwhelmingly white church, succeeds its first female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Jefferts Schori was a surprise choice in 2006 because she never led a prominent parish or diocese. She spent only five years as bishop of Nevada (currently with 5,444 souls). By contrast, Curry has 15 years of seasoning as bishop of the Raleigh-based North Carolina diocese, the nation’s sixth largest with 50,218 active members.

Rather like Barack Obama’s notable keynote speech to the Democrats’ 2004 convention that helped win the 2008 nomination, Curry delivered a rousing sermon at the church’s 2012 convention and was elected presiding bishop at the next one.

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Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

For several decades, one of the primary goals of those who run American newsrooms has been (and justifiably so, from my point of view) increasing the number of mainstream journalists who are African-American, Latino, Asian, Native Americans and part of other minority groups, defined by race.

At the same time, there have been less publicized debates -- mostly behind the scenes -- about the need to bring more intellectual and cultural diversity into our newsrooms. As one journalist friend of mine once put it, what's the use of bringing in more African-Americans, Latinos, etc., if they all basically went to the same schools as everyone else and have the same set of beliefs between their ears?

You can see these two issues collide in William McGowan's the much-debated 2003 book, "Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism." He argues that years of diversity training in American newsrooms has actually made them more elitist and narrow, purging many professionals who come from blue-collar and non-urban backgrounds.

Before you write that theory off as conservative whining, what was that statement near the end of the famous New York Times self-study entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust (.pdf)"?

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason -- to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.
The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.
We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). 

And also: 

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