Black Churches

Thinking outside the bricks: Sensitive Washington Post piece reports fate of empty church buildings

Thinking outside the bricks: Sensitive Washington Post piece reports fate of empty church buildings

Church rolls may drop, but the buildings don’t always fall to the wrecking ball -- some of them are converted to condos. That trend is the focus of a story in the Washington Post that is at once factual, thoughtful and sensitive.

The smoothly written piece is a massive 1,480 words, yet it reads rather fast. It gives us an overview of the situation across the nation's capital. It offers a few insights on how professionals convert church buildings. And it shows a soothing feel for the concerns of the people who had to leave their sacred spaces.

Church conversions are a kind of gentrification, but with a difference, as the Post points out.

"As churches’ congregations move to the suburbs and D.C. property values soar, increasing numbers of religious institutions are selling their properties in the city, usually with plans to move closer to their congregants," the paper says.  "But … some experts say that a church’s former life as a sacred space requires a particular kind of respect."

The Post gets into the expected issues of restoring a big building with neglected windows, plumbing and HVAC.  It deals also with how to divide up a big room that's built around a pulpit. But it's much more, says writer Amanda Abrams. 

A freelance writer who is not a religion specialist, Abrams might have well gotten caught up in those mundane details. But no, she recalls the reason for the buildings -- and so do her sources:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Having worked as both a copy-desk editor and as a reporter, I am well aware of the fact that the scribes who write news stories rarely get to write the headlines that, for many angry readers, define the heart of what the stories say.

However, experienced reporters do get to write the vast majority of their own ledes.

So that's what I was thinking the other day when I read the top of that Washington Post news feature about Dr. Ben Carson that angered several GetReligion readers, who sent me emails containing the URL. For starters, there is that headline: "As Ben Carson bashes Obama, many blacks see a hero’s legacy fade." The vague word "many" is always a bad place to start.

Raise your hands, cyber-folks, if you are surprised that scores of black Democrats are upset with Carson. Ditto, of course, for the leaders of African-American churches that march under the banner of progressive politics, progressive doctrines, or both.

Carson is a person who, in addition to his excellence as an world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon, is best understood in the frame work of his religious and cultural beliefs, rather than his political views, strictly defined. Yes, this is one reason that some people -- including some admirers -- think he should not be running for president (as opposed to running for vice president or a chair in the cabinet). Hold that thought.

It is significant, this time around, that the story's lede and summary material has the exact same tone as the headline:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

I ended my "Crossroads" podcast post this weekend with a bit of a challenge to the editors who produce the newspaper that (for a few more weeks) lands in my front yard here next to the Baltimore beltway.

To be precise, I said: "Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots? We will see."

Now, I am sure that my challenge had little or nothing to do with what showed up in the newspaper today (although there is at least one GetReligion reader in the newsroom). However, I am happy to say that The Baltimore Sun team sent several reporters out into the city's pews and came back with an A1 story that noted the political overtones, of course, but stressed basic issues of prayer, worship and faith.

The logical church -- Fulton Baptist Church -- served as the door into the story and then as the exit door as well. This 111-year-old sanctuary has burned in the past and it almost burned again, since it was doors away from the CVS store torched by looters with the whole world watching. Here's the point where the opening anecdote flows into -- of course -- a reference to the political context.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Well, here is a real shocker. Not.

Still, this Time headline is precisely the kind of thing that creates water-cooler buzz here inside the D.C. Beltway:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

The key words in this story are, of course, "misled," "conceal," "modified," "evolving" and "deception." The word "lied" is not brought into play. Here is the top of the story, leading up to the soundbite that everyone will be discussing:

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.
“I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.

Now, three cheers for the Time team for using quoted material that cited the specific hook -- it's a religion hook, of course -- that led to this political decision.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Deep in the heart of Texas: Any faith ghosts in the dramatic story of Charlie Strong?

Deep in the heart of Texas: Any faith ghosts in the dramatic story of Charlie Strong?

You know you are in the great state of Texas when even the mega-state university has a fight song that ends with a clear reference to the Second Coming. I still can't believe that the powers that be in hip, secular Austin allow folks to stand up in their burnt orange and belt out the following:

The Eyes of Texas are upon you, 
All the live long day. 
The Eyes of Texas are upon you, 
You can not get away. 
Do not think you can escape them 
At night or early in the morn- 
The Eyes of Texas are upon you 
'Till Gabriel blows his horn.

Yes, it's football season again, that time of year when your GetReligionistas ask all kinds of God-shaped questions about major figures in the land's most popular sport, to the sound of crickets chirping in the comments pages. We will continue to treat sports news as a major element of American life (duh!) and even journalism (duh!). So there. 

Yes, I'm smiling as a type that.

What does this have to do with the University of Texas fight song?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

On poverty, race, families and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Other than arguments about the United States becoming entangled in Syria, and Miley Cyrus coming unwound at the MTV shindig, the big story the past few days here in Beltway land has been — thank God — the 50th anniversary of the “I Have A Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Lincoln Memorial.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'The Butler,' the usher and music of the Gospel

On the movie level, “The Butler” is getting mixed reviews, while also causing quite a bit of public discussion of race relations in recent decades of American life. Was Eugene Allen, the real man whose life inspired the film, a hero or a living symbol of a humble age that has thankfully slipped in the past. Is it possible that he can be seen as both?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A Broadway revival that includes 'Blessed Assurance'

The other day, I wrote a post about the fact that many journalists struggle to understand, to be perfectly honest about it, the role that Christian faith plays in the African-American church. There is a tendency to see the black church as a political institution, and that’s that.

Please respect our Commenting Policy