Denver Seminary

Accused Christchurch shooter: Young man defined by life on the computer and Medieval 'myths'

Accused Christchurch shooter: Young man defined by life on the computer and Medieval 'myths'

It’s the kind of news story that has turned into a cliche, in the age of mass shootings. Yes, we are talking about Brenton Harrison Tarrant and the massacres in New Zealand.

In the days after the hellish images on the Internet and then television, people close to the accused shooter — it’s almost always a young man — are interviewed and express shock. They usually talk about a boy who grew up to be a somewhat quiet, loner figure in their lives. Yes, the family had its challenges, but everything seemed kind of normal.

The question, of course, is what “normal” means, these days. In particular, is it safe to say that a key part of the new-male “normal” is best defined in terms of private activities online — hour after hour, day after day — behind a closed door? If that is the case, then no one really knows anything about these gunners until authorities piece together the contents of their secret digital lives.

This would be a good time to remind GetReligion readers of that set of lifestyle questions I asked future ministers to ponder back in the early 1990s, when I was teaching at Denver Seminary. Seeking a kind of sociological definition of “discipleship,” I urged them to ask three questions about the lives of the people in their pews and the people they hoped to reach in the community. The questions: How do they spend their time? How do they spend their money? How do they make their decisions?

As it turns out, these are good questions for reporters to ask when seeking the contents of the hearts, minds and souls of newsmakers. (That second question could be stated like this: Follow the money.)

With that in mind, consider two passages in a short — but very interesting — Washington Post sidebar that ran with this headline: “In Brenton Harrison Tarrant’s Australian hometown, his relatives remember violent video games, trouble with women.” Like I said, we’re talking about the new “normal.” Here is the overture:

GRAFTON, Australia — On the road into this small city, a sign is evidence of a community in shock: “He does not represent us,” it says, referring to the alleged killer few here will even name.

But nowhere was the shock more evident than among the relatives of 28-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who has been accused of a hate-fueled massacre that left 50 people dead in two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday.

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Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

In 1990, I began the process of moving from being a full-time journalist to being a full-time teacher and part-time journalist. The first place I taught was in Denver Seminary, serving as a specialist on religious themes in mass media.

In my main apologetics class, I tried to get seminarians to explore places in popular culture in which ordinary Americans encountered religious questions and themes. For example, I required students to watch "The Simpsons." I was also very high on the CBS series "Northern Exposure." And, of course, I asked them to pay close attention to Oprah Winfrey.

Why? Well, that's a question linked to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I discussed that fascinating media storm that followed Winfrey's sermon at the Golden Globes, with plenty of liberal activists and journalists suggesting that she should run for president. Click here to tune that in. Also, this was the subject of my column this week for the Universal syndicate.

But why -- in the early 1990s -- did I want future pastors, youth ministers, counselors and others to pay serious attention to Oprah? Years later, I was interviewed about my work at Denver Seminary by the journal Homiletics. Here is a key piece of that piece, which was called, "We're Taking Communion at the Mall."

MATTINGLY: We live in Oprah America. The dominate dialogue of our culture is feeling, emotion, and experience.
HOMILETICS: I taught a class once in which the name Gloria Steinem came up. No one, including the women, knew whom I was talking about. When I asked them what feminist voices they were listening to, they didn't reference Wolf, Faludi, or Mackinnon. They said, "Oprah."
MATTINGLY: You know what? I think Orpah is a feminist and she's an amazingly doctrinaire feminist on issues of gender feminism and certainly on issues of the sexual revolution. What's so funny is that you've got millions and millions of women who think of themselves as conservatives, but also think of Oprah as their buddy. She's consistently liberal, especially on moral and cultural issues. She's managed to communicate warmly to the average American woman without conveying how truly radical some of her views are. She's the essence of the victim culture: the woman as victim. That's not what feminism was supposed to be. But I think most people would agree that that's a piece of what modern feminism has become: You're a victim. Get mad, get angry, get even.
HOMILETICS: Do you really think it would be wise for a pastor to get in the pulpit and start attacking Oprah or Martha Stewart?
MATTINGLY: I would certainly quote Oprah.

So what is "Oprah America" and why is it so important?

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Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.  

Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”

Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”  

Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.

Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering  if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”

“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.

The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.”

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That'll preach: GQ nails down the sins of Alabama's governor, but only in political terms

That'll preach: GQ nails down the sins of Alabama's governor, but only in political terms

Long ago, when I taught media and culture classes at Denver Seminary, I had a large bulletin board in the lobby outside the auditorium on which I pinned all kinds of items from the mainstream press.

This wasn't a current events board. Instead, my goal was to show the seminary community that all kinds of things were happening in the world around them that raised questions that were essentially moral and theological in nature.

There was, for example, a newsweekly cover about female anger and the movie "Thelma and Louise." I wasn't suggesting that pastors show video clips from this R-rated drama. My point was that the controversy swirling around it was important -- especially for people whose churches were involved in divorce-recovery ministry.

Mostly, I was trying to get seminary people to tune in, whenever the culture talks about ultimate questions. Hang on with me for a minute, because this is taking us into the pages of GQ and that feature story called, "The Love Song of Robert Bentley, Alabama's Horndog Governor."

Here is a piece of a book chapter from that time, explaining this "signal" concept:

I believe that our media are constantly sending out "signals" that can help the church go about its ministry and mission work in this post-Christian culture. Sadly, the church and our seminaries are ignoring both the content and social role of popular culture mass media, which are among the most powerful cultural forces in the modern world.
So what is a "signal?" I have defined this as a single piece of media or popular culture focusing on a subject that is of interest to the church. It can be a newspaper article, a single episode of a television show, a compact disc, a movie, a new video, a best-selling book or some other specific item.

Thus, a prime "signal" is when the mass media raise crucial questions, even if their proposed answers are less than adequate, from the church's point of view.

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Private religion? It's time for reporters to ask factual questions about candidates' faith

Private religion? It's time for reporters to ask factual questions about candidates' faith

When I was working my way into journalism, soon after the cooling of the earth's crust, the primary argument editors used when justifying thin coverage of trends and events linked to religion was that this faith was a private matter and, thus, not news.

Then Jimmy Carter started talking about being "born again" and the Religious Right emerged and things changed. Everyone knew that politics was real. Thus, it follows that religion must be real to the same degree that it affects politics.

When I was doing my University of Illinois graduate project (click here for The Quill cover story) I talked to scores of editors and asked why journalists tended to avoid covering religion news. I heard two answers over and over: (1) Religion is too boring and (2) religion is too controversial.

There's the rub, I have said ever since: There are just too many boring, controversial religion-news stories out there and they don't seem to want to go away.

In this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), Todd Wilken and I talked about that old "private religion" argument and how it faded over the years. These days, however, political-beat reporters face another question: If major figures in the public square keep talking about their faith and their religious convictions, to what degree should journalists investigate those claims?

In other words, to be blunt, why not ask politicians who keep talking about their faith some specific questions? Such as: "Where do you worship?" "Who is your minister?" "How often do you attend?" "Can we see tax records about your charitable giving?" "Who are the religious authors and thinkers who have most influenced your beliefs and actions?" I could go on.

In other words, if a public figure often says that he/she is an evangelical, or a Catholic, or whatever, can reporters ask for some journalistic material to support that statement?

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