Jerome Socolovsky

Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Most weeks, Friday Five wraps up the week in religion reporting.

But here’s a secret about this week: I’ve been mostly away from my computer screen, celebrating Christmas with my family.

So there’s an excellent chance I’ve missed important and/or interesting news in the world of the Godbeat. In that case, please don’t hesitate to share links in the comments section or by tweeting us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In case you missed it in the midst of your own holiday festivities, I wrote earlier this week about the New York Times’ front-page Sunday feature on a national trend of Baby Jesus being swiped from Nativity scenes.

I particularly loved the story’s dateline, which I thought was brilliant: Bethlehem, Pa.

In related coverage, McClatchy had this intriguing headline on the day after Christmas:

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Monday Mix: Get out the (faith) vote, clergy sex ramifications, Booker preaches, Catholic SCOTUS

Monday Mix: Get out the (faith) vote, clergy sex ramifications, Booker preaches, Catholic SCOTUS

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. "I believe in Jesus Christ AND I believe in liberal progressive values." NPR’s Jerome Socolovsky reports on faith groups working to get out the vote for the midterm elections.

The story features a progressive seminary whose leaders feel “called in the Trump era to motivate young voters.” No surprise, we’re talking about the Episcopalians.

In the heart of the Virginia Theological Seminary campus, a pub named after the year the flagship Episcopal seminary was established — 1823 — recently hosted a get-out-the-vote event.

The seminary registrar, Rachel Holm, was in the pub, driving home the importance of these midterms elections to the mostly 20- and 30-somethings in the crowd, and livening it up with a game of election trivia.

"So, what are the three topics millennial voters care about most when voting?" she asked.

"Themselves, themselves, themselves!' one of them shouted, as the others erupted in laughter.

Then, joking aside, Holm told them to make sure they understood the requirements for registering to vote in Virginia.

2. "Our people still do believe in God. But they don't believe in us." Wall Street Journal religion writer Ian Lovett tackles the response of parishioners to the ongoing Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

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Monday Mix: #RNA2018, Hurricane Florence faith, Botham Jean justice, Beth Moore vs. Trump

Monday Mix: #RNA2018, Hurricane Florence faith, Botham Jean justice, Beth Moore vs. Trump

It’s the post-#RNA2018 edition of the Monday Mix.

Look for a link below concerning a letter submitted this past weekend at the Religion News Association’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, by seven former presidents of that professional association. Yes, the letter relates to the controversy earlier this year when Religion News Service’s former editor in chief, Jerome Socolovsky, was fired.

For those needing a refresher on this new GetReligion feature, Monday Mix focuses on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: 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. "It’s easy to say, ‘I love God,’ but put on your boots, get your hands dirty." The faith-based response to Hurricane Florence is front-page news in today’s New York Times.

The Times offers an excellent overview of the crucial role people of faith play in disaster relief:

From the first moments of the rolling disaster of Florence, there has been no sharp divide separating the official responders, the victims and the houses of faith.

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Friday Five: Clergy sex abuse, spot the ghost, shuttered revival, Botham Jean, #RNA2018 and more

Friday Five: Clergy sex abuse, spot the ghost, shuttered revival, Botham Jean, #RNA2018 and more

In the world of religion news, one big story — the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal — keeps dominating.

In the world of religion reporting, a big story — the firing this past spring of Religion News Service’s editor in chief, followed by the resignations of some key staff and columnists — will take a new twist this afternoon.

Look for more details below as we dive right into the Friday Five:

(1) Religion story of the week: Here’s a big story that I don’t believe we’ve mentioned yet: Pope Francis summoning the world’s bishops to meet next February on sexual abuse.

The New York Times’ lede focuses on child abuse. The other thorns in this crisis — which are more controversial — are down lower. Among them: talk about disciplining bishops and cardinals; abuse of seminarians; and violations of celibacy vows with adults (male and female).

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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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Religion News Service touts its new 19-member advisory board -- but what does it mean?

Religion News Service touts its new 19-member advisory board -- but what does it mean?


We’ve been tracking the ups and downs of life at Religion News Service ever since editor Jerome Socolovsky got unceremoniously dumped in April. That led, of course to the departure of two veteran staff members and then a popular columnist on the evangelical left who felt they could no longer work there plus the unexpected dismissal of two other staff.

After much withering critique from fellow religion writers, the powers-that-be at RNS have been shoring up support in the past three months, putting out a job announcement for a new editor-in-chief, asking for more freelancers, the hiring of a Sikh columnist and now an announcement of a new advisory board loaded with names of revered professionals and people with links to major journalistic institutions.

So I’ll run the 19 names of the new board members, from the press release, with my comments:

Dilshad D. Ali
Richmond, VA
Dilshad D. Ali is the Editor-in-Chief at Altmuslim and was previously Managing Editor for the Muslim portal at Patheos.com. She has spent the past two decades covering and coordinating coverage of American Muslim communities for a variety of media outlets, including Beliefnet and Islam Online, and was a 2015 White House Champion of Change honoree for her autism reporting/writing and advocacy work.

Ruby Bailey
Columbia, MO
Ruby Bailey is the executive editor of the Columbia Missourian and holds the Missouri School of Journalism’s Missouri Community Newspaper Management chair, working with community newspapers across the state to help improve their coverage and operations. She previously served as news editor at the Sacramento Bee and assistant metro editor at the Detroit Free Press.

Vikas Bajaj
New York, NY
Vikas Bajaj has been a member of the editorial board of The New York Times since 2012. Earlier, he was a correspondent in Mumbai and covered the financial crisis based in New York. He previously worked as a business, metro and religion reporter at The Dallas Morning News.

This is a really large board. How are these 19 people going to communicate with each other? It is also appropriate to consider issues of zip code.

Also, do they have any power whatsoever? 

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Friday Five: RNS council, execution witness, McCarrick scandal, gamer pastor and more

Friday Five: RNS council, execution witness, McCarrick scandal, gamer pastor and more

GetReligion has covered the various happenings at Religion News Service since the firing of former editor in chief Jerome Socolovsky (now with NPR) and the resignations of other key staff and columnists.

This week brought another development for RNS — the appointment of a 19-person advisory council for the news service.

See the full list of members here.

Tell us what you think!

(Full disclosure: I do freelance reporting for RNS in addition to my full-time work with The Christian Chronicle.)

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: While working for The Oklahoman nearly two decades ago, I witnessed four executions. Still, I can't even imagine what Associated Press writer Michael Graczyk has done — serving as a media witness for 429 inmate deaths. 

If you missed it, news coverage of the retirement of Graczyk, a practicing Catholic, is worth your time.

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Another shoe drops: Jonathan Merritt calls it quits at Religion News Service

Another shoe drops: Jonathan Merritt calls it quits at Religion News Service

Let's see: In the Urban Dictionary, the phrase "Waiting for the other shoe to drop" is defined like this (with a joke thrown in for good measure, in the full text): "To await an event that is expected to happen, due to being causally linked to another event that has already been observed."

However, one gets the impression that the words "the other" in that phrase imply the existence of only one other show. It still sounds like the newsroom at Religion News Service contains lots of other shoes and some of them have yet to drop -- following the now infamous meltdown linked to the forced exit of former editor-in-chief Jerome Socolovsky, after clashes with publisher Tom Gallagher, who is best known for his opinion work on the Catholic left.

Lots of digital ink was spilled during that episode, including two lengthy GetReligion posts by our own Julia Duin. Check out, "RNS analysis: How America's one religion wire service melted down over a long weekend (Part I)" and "RNS meltdown II: New media reports, new details and Lilly Endowment confirms $4.9 million grant."

Now there is this, from columnist and blogger Jonathan Merrett: "Why I am leaving Religion News Service after 5 years."

If you follow Merritt's work, you know that he is one of the most important journalistic voices who has emerged on the evangelical left -- both at RNS and at The Atlantic -- especially on issues linked to LGBTQ debates and women's rights.

Now, some of his critics would say the "post-evangelical" left, but I'm not sure that nuance is justified since it is almost impossible to define what the word "evangelical" means, these days. In terms of heritage, Merritt is best understood as a liberal Baptist. Yes, doctrinally liberal Baptists exist and there's a lot of history there. Ask Bill Clinton.

Anyway, Merritt has posted his take on what happened, at his own website. Here is that text:

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Religion News Service fallout III -- A press release sheds neither heat nor light

Religion News Service fallout III -- A press release sheds neither heat nor light

More fallout continueth from the Religion News Service explosions of two weeks ago with the release of a press release that sounds like a directive out of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

A quick review: tmatt’s April 24 post was the first reporting by anyone on this on RNS’s problems. Then I offered this mega-piece on the 26th,  which beat two magazine stories on the topic by almost a day. Then I followed up with this piece on the 27th, which looked at those pieces in The New Republic and the Columbia Journalism Review and then included the first official word of the Religion News Foundation's upcoming $4.9 million Lilly Endowment grant.

Make sure to bone up on the history of this conflict before going further. All that, plus Richard “Religion Guy” Ostling’s memo a few days later has resulted in some pretty decent coverage and commentary from the team here at GetReligion.

So this past Monday, RNS, through its crisis PR firm Athene Strategies, released the following:

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Recent announcements at Religion News Service, including new staff and a pending $4.9 million grant, demonstrate the strategic adjustments RNS is making to honor its 84-year legacy and ensure its bright future.

With these changes, RNS aims to do more than simply survive in a 21st century media landscape. Our vision requires bringing renewed energy and an innovation mindset to the field of religion journalism. By educating and informing a growing audience, we can help cultivate mutual understanding among people of different cultures, faiths and traditions. The result? More peaceful, pluralistic communities around the world.

So RNS holds a key to world peace? That's quite a journalistic mission.

We can do better. This reminds me of the “community journalism” craze of a few decades back mixed with UNESCO agitprop. Am also curious why the story is datelined out of Missouri. Yes, I know there are administrative ties to the University of Missouri, but why not dateline it in Washington, DC where RNS is based? 

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