First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs

God, guns and theology: In lengthy trend piece, why not ask if Jesus would pack heat?

God, guns and theology: In lengthy trend piece, why not ask if Jesus would pack heat?

“God and guns” has been a frequent topic of news coverage — and GetReligion commentary — in recent years.

It’s a subject that tends to lend itself to compelling sound bites.

“Jesus loves me and my guns,” said a speaker at last year’s National Rifle Association prayer breakfast, which I covered for the Washington Post.

From past GetReligion posts, other quotes — from a variety of perspectives — that have stood out to me include:

“Jesus is not a member of the NRA.”

“All of us here are not going to turn the other cheek while you shoot us.”

• “You can fight by everyone throwing a Bible at them, and I mean that in a very respectful way because I am a Bible-fearing person.”

“I think people in the South have a certain familiarity with guns and are also strong in their religious beliefs. But we don’t always think about the relationship between them.”

“It is very common for Christians to simply assume that they live in Mayberry, trusting that because they know the Lord Jesus, everything will always be fine and nothing bad can happen to them and their families.”

I bring up this subject because of an in-depth NBC News story this week with the headline “Guns and God: Growing number of churches want armed security.” There’s a lot to like about NBC’s report. At the same time, its lack of attention to theology disappointed me.

This is the question I wish NBC had pursued even just a little: Would Jesus pack heat?

More on that in a moment. But first, let’s check out the compelling opening paragraphs:

When Chris Crews prepares for church on Sunday mornings, he follows a routine. He rises early. He puts on his church clothes, a button-down shirt paired with blue jeans or khakis. Then, before leaving the house with his wife and two children, he straps a firearm — a 9 mm or a .45 — to his right hip.

“I don’t leave home without a gun,” Crews said. “It’s kind of like the old American Express card ads: I just won’t leave home without it.”

Crews, 47, is part of the security team at Ava Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church of 300 members in Ava, Missouri. The church has no paid security guards. Instead, it counts on a team of 18 church members to keep fellow congregants safe. None of the security team members are paid and all carry handguns.

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Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy

Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy

Pay attention to Peter Smith.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Smith is the award-winning religion writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Your friendly GetReligionistas have been praising his exceptional journalism for years.

At the moment, Smith is — along with the rest of his Post-Gazette colleagues — working overtime on coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting that claimed 11 lives. Today, he’s leading the coverage of funerals for synagogue victims. He’s also reporting on a congregant who hid in a closet and called 911. Earlier, he wrote about an emotional vigil for victims of the synagogue shooting.

And here’s a safe bet: Smith and his newspaper will stick with the story long after the national news media have moved on. That’s not a criticism of the major press per se (after all, I do most of my own reporting for national outlets), but it’s a recognition of the important role of local journalists such as Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Silvia Foster-Frau.

You remember Hawes, right?

She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. For months and even years after nine black worshipers were shot to death at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, she provided must-read, behind-the-scenes accounts of victims dealing with that tragedy.

“Switch off cable and go local,” someone urged after the Charleston massacre, and we couldn’t help but agree.

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Monday Mix: Pittsburgh shooting, hate that kills, Sutherland Springs, white nationalism, 'double lives'

Monday Mix: Pittsburgh shooting, hate that kills, Sutherland Springs, white nationalism, 'double lives'

Surprised? No.

Numb? Yes.

After a weekend marred by yet another mass shooting in America, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s front page pays tribute to the victims in a special way today.

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "The day closed with 3,000 people attending a vigil for the dead and wounded at the intersection of Murray and Forbes avenues.” GetReligion’s Julia Duin, who used to live in Pittsburgh, has a helpful overview of news coverage of the synagogue shooting.

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Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Friday Five: New editor for RNS, Sutherland Springs gunman's wife, Pennsylvania grand jury and more

Nearly four months after the firing of Jerome Socolovsky, Religion News Service has hired a new editor in chief.

The name will be familiar to regular GetReligion readers: Bob Smietana.

Smietana, as a news release from RNS notes, is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has worked for The Tennessean, Christianity Today and, most recently, Facts & Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Smietana served as president of the Religion News Association from 2013 to 2015. He is extremely familiar with RNS, previously serving as a correspondent for the news organization and as a member of its board of managers.

From the release:

Smietana credits RNS with first launching his career, and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to now lead the organization, expand its footprint and mentor the next generation of religion journalists.

“The American religious landscape is being transformed before our eyes,” Smietana said. “For more than 80 years, RNS has covered religion with accuracy, insight, empathy and independence. As a result, RNS is perfectly positioned to document that transformation and to help our readers navigate this new world.”

Smietana’s appointment concludes a national search, which solicited more than 130 applicants, helmed by Nicole Neroulias Gupte, chair of the RNS Board of Managers.

“After considering many qualified candidates for this position, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of Bob Smietana’s religion journalism experience, his passion for this beat and commitment to our organization,” Gupte said. “We look forward to working with him as RNS grows its staff and coverage areas, including implementing our Global Religion Journalism Initiative and other exciting projects.”

Smietana is a friend of mine and a longtime reader of GetReligion. We appreciate his willingness to praise us when he agrees with our critiques and engage with us when he disagrees. We hope that continues in his new role.

Full disclosure: I occasionally write freelance stories for RNS.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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'The hardest story I've ever written': Journalist masterfully tells story of church gunman's wife

'The hardest story I've ever written': Journalist masterfully tells story of church gunman's wife

Want to read the best, most insightful coverage of the aftermath of last November's massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas? 

Then you absolutely must follow the byline of San Antonio Express-News journalist Silvia Foster-Frau, who repeatedly has produced extraordinary journalism on this sad subject.

Just three past examples of her must-read reporting on Sutherland Springs:

• Her hopeful, sensitive, nuanced portrait of victims a month after the tragedy.

• Her poignant account of survivors attending National Day of Prayer events in Washington, D.C., in May.

• Her detail-laden profile, published in June, of the “good guy with a gun” who confronted the gunman outside the church. 

And now comes another masterpiece from Foster-Frau, this one from the front page of Sunday's Express-News and featuring her exclusive interviews with the troubled wife of the dead gunman.

How incredible was this latest story? Consider that at least two other major Texas papers — the Houston Chronicle (a sister publication of the Express-News) and the Dallas Morning News — both reprinted it on their front pages today.

The chilling opening scene recounts what happened at the home of Devin and Danielle Kelley on the morning of Nov. 5:

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Friday Five: End Times for GetReligion, WSJ tackles God on front pages, 'modesty ponchos' and more

Friday Five: End Times for GetReligion, WSJ tackles God on front pages, 'modesty ponchos' and more

We've reached the End Times.

OK, let me rephrase that: What I mean is that GetReligion has a cool new Twitter feature called the End Times.

What is the End Times? It's a daily thread put together by social media guru Peter Freeby that highlights both GetReligion posts and top religion stories from Twitter curated by Nuzzel.

Why is it called the End Times? Because it's "The end of the day's religion news." If you follow us on Twitter, be sure to check it out. If you don't follow us on Twitter, by all means, correct that now.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The San Antonio Express-News dispatched reporter Silvia Foster-Frau to Washington, D.C. to cover Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting survivors at the National Day of Prayer.

Once again, the front-page coverage Foster-Frau produced is a must-read winner — mixing relevant facts and context with authentic emotion.

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'Now let's just pray it's done': A how-to guide for reporting on Sutherland Springs conspiracy nuts

'Now let's just pray it's done': A how-to guide for reporting on Sutherland Springs conspiracy nuts

Nutty.

And infuriating.

That would be my succinct reaction to news this week that two conspiracy theorists were arrested for harassing victims of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church massacre.

But since we focus on journalism and media coverage here at GetReligion, let's concentrate on that.

Once again, I am impressed by the coverage of the San Antonio Express News' Silvia Foster-Frau, who repeatedly has produced exceptional journalism from Sutherland Springs. A few months ago, I praised her hopeful, sensitive and nuanced reporting on the massacre's victims. Just last month, I called attention to her exclusive piece on the guilt and grief that overwhelm the mother-in-law of the gunman. 

And after the conspiracy theorists' arrests this week, her story was the must-read account of what happened:

Robert Ussery, 54, and Jodi Mann, 56, were charged with trespassing and resisting arrest after the church’s pastor accused them of repeatedly harassing the community.

The Express-News report noted:

Ussery “continually yelled and screamed and hollered and told me he was gonna hang me from a tree, and pee on me while I’m hanging,” said Frank Pomeroy, the pastor.
Pomeroy said he was in his car by the church when the pair approached the building, and he intervened when Mann began to write in large, loopy writing on a poster left for well-wishers to sign, “The truth shall set you free.”
The pair believe the church shooting was staged by accomplices of the government, though Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed there, knows better.
“He said, ‘Your daughter never even existed. Show me her birth certificate. Show me anything to say she was here,’” Pomeroy said. “I just told him there was enough evidence already visible, so if he chooses not to see that, how would I know he would believe anything else?”

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Friday Five: Olympic miracle, homeless Super Bowl player, faith of TV dad, cheating mayor and more

Friday Five: Olympic miracle, homeless Super Bowl player, faith of TV dad, cheating mayor and more

"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

With the Winter Olympics starting in Pyeongchang, South Korea, what better time to recall one of the greatest calls in sports history?

How many GetReligion readers are old enough to remember Al Michaels' excited description of the U.S. hockey team's 4-3 victory over the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1980 games in Lake Placid, N.Y.?

Later, Kurt Russell starred in the 2004 movie "Miracle," which tells the true story of the Americans' improbable gold medal performance and makes some lists of all-time best sports films.

But enough reminiscing. 

Let's get to the "Friday Five":

1. Religion story of the week: Some weeks, this is a difficult choice. Not this week. 

As I described it in a post this week, "There are must-read stories, and then there's this incredible story on 'The search for Jackie Wallace.'"

The viral piece by retired Times-Picayune photojournalist Ted Jackson — now approaching 300,000 retweets — explores the downfall, redemption and disappearance of a New Orleans football legend.

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Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything

Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything

It was in 1981, while I was doing my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that I had a long conversation with the late George Cornell of the Associated Press about the state of mainstream religion-news reporting. Cornell used to say that he was, basically, the AP religion reporter responsible for all of Planet Earth.

That was, I think, the first time I heard him work his way through a list of the wire service's Top 10 stories of a given year, noting that most of them contained some essential news "hook," or set of facts, linked to religion.

Now, Cornell was not claiming that each of these stories was a "religion" story, per se. He was saying that reporters couldn't understand what was happening in these events and trends without taking the religious angles seriously. He didn't say that these stories were "haunted" by "religion ghosts" -- to use the defining image of this weblog -- but that was basically what he meant. I've been thinking about his words for decades.

I remember that he said there were lots of events that were not, in and of themselves, "religion stories." Take, for example, the Roe v. Wade decision at the U.S. Supreme Court. For most editors, that was a "political story." But how could a reporter cover it without talking to  religious leaders and activists, on both sides? Another example: I wrote my Baylor graduate project about "civil religion" themes in the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Note that those were specific events, with complicated backstories. During this week's long "Crossroads" podcast, host Todd Wilken and I went into "extra innings," so to speak, talking about this year's Top 10 religion stories, according to a poll of members of the Religion News Association. Click here to tune that in.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the No. 1 item, which was different in the RNA list and then in my own. Here is the top RNA item.

1. Conservative evangelicals gain strong representation in the Trump administration, notably with Vice President Mike Pence, and on the president's informal religious advisory body. Trump maintains strong grassroots support among white evangelicals, polls show.

Now, for me, Pence was a 2016 story. So was the strong old-guard Religious Right presence in Donald Trump's political base during the GOP primary season. So what was the "big event" linked to that 2016 story that made it the top individual "story" of 2017?

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