Joe Carter

Theology in headlines: When a terrorist starts quoting Calvinism, journalists should be careful

Theology in headlines: When a terrorist starts quoting Calvinism, journalists should be careful

No doubt about it, when a domestic terrorist starts defending his actions with concepts drawn from the great Protestant reformer John Calvin, it is time for journalists to up their games.

The manifesto published by John Earnest, the accused gunman at Chabad of Poway, is a classic example of a story that all but demands that newsrooms deploy one or two journalists with experience covering the nuts and bolts of religion and, to be specific, church history. Here is one of my earlier posts on this puzzle: “Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what.”

The key is that Earnest was preaching a deadly sermon that — he stated this, in writing — had multiple sources. While he was clearly influenced by the conservative Calvinism of his home congregation, Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, his words and the testimony of church members indicated that he had, for the most part, rejected much of what he heard during his days in a pew.

In the end, his manifesto took centuries of fierce anti-Semitism from sources online and mixed it with a key theme in Calvinism — that believers who have been chosen (the elect) by God are assured of salvation, no matter what. As Earnest said:

My God understands why I did what I did. … To my brothers in Christ of all races. Be strong. Although the Jew who is inspired by demons and Satan will attempt to corrupt your soul with the sin and perversion he spews — remember that you are secure in Christ.

During this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) I stressed that reporters would need help navigating the astonishingly complex world of debates inside Calvinism. That was the bad news. The good news is that — because of several years of arguments about the alt-right and the heresy of white supremacy — there are lots of conservative Calvinists around who are ready to fire soundbites at these targets. They are, as I said, the theological equivalent of “lawyered up.”

There are places to head online to get a head start. Check out this giant double-decker headline at Christianity Today:

Who’s to Blame When the Shooter Is One of Our Own?

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Former GetReligionista explains: Why voting for the 'lesser of two evils' is still evil

Former GetReligionista explains: Why voting for the 'lesser of two evils' is still evil

Often, painful lessons are the ones that matter the most.

That has certainly been the case, over the past two years, for many evangelical Protestants here in America. Could you imagine, in the past, a politician being hit with the kinds of accusations made against GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore -- some of them backed up with impressive on-the-record evidence -- and seeing large numbers of evangelicals claim that they were more determined than ever to vote for him?

At the same time, the Donald Trump era -- broadly defined -- has offered many journalists a chance to realize that evangelicalism, even in predominately white congregations, is not a political and doctrinal monolith.

We are seeing new attention given, at last, to the evangelical left. Many reporters are also learning that there is a difference between evangelicals who enthusiastically embrace a Moore, or a Trump (think primary voters), and those who cast votes for these kinds of men with agonizing reluctance, or refuse to do so at all (think general elections).

The bottom line: Some of the most devastating commentary on Moore, and Trump, has come from scribes with impeccable conservative credentials, in terms of politics and Christian doctrine (the later of which is more important, as far as I am concerned).

With that in mind, please read the following think piece for Joe "GetReligionista Emeritus" Carter, a former mainstream journalist who now edits the website of The Gospel Coalition. The headline: "The Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem."

This is strong stuff. So let's get started with this summary material near the top.

Journalists and news consumers: As you read this, you should be asking whether or not you have seen this evangelical perspective included in mainstream news coverage of the train wreck in Alabama.

As we have discovered over the past two years, so long as the flawed candidate can be considered the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not a Democrat), then some evangelicals believe we can vote for them and keep a clean conscience.

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Joe Carter takes closer look at that New York Times coverage of partisan pastors

Joe Carter takes closer look at that New York Times coverage of partisan pastors

Every now and then, GetReligion readers send us URLs pointing to commentary pieces -- weekend "think piece" type stuff -- with a recommendation that sounds something like this: "You guys ought to run this. It reads like it was written for GetReligion."

What they mean, of course, is that it is a piece of media criticism written about something that ran in the mainstream press, a piece noting what this or that news organization did really right or really wrong while covering a religion event or trend.

It's especially nice when people sent us something addressing a news piece that we sort of intended to get around to dealing with ourselves, but ran out of time because of all the other stuff various GetReligionistas wanted to write about. This is the kind of article that gets filed in a "GetReligion guilt folder" in someone's email program.

As you probably guessed, this happened the other day with a piece that ran at the Acton Institute "Powerblog" site with this headline: "Are pastors particularly partisan?" This short piece asked some interesting questions about a recent New York Times piece that ran with this interesting headline: "Your Rabbi? Probably a Democrat. Your Baptist Pastor? Probably a Republican. Your Priest? Who Knows."

In this case, when I looked at the byline on the Acton piece, it was easy to see why this item resembled a GetReligion piece. It was written by former GetReligionista Joe Carter, who wears various hats right now in cyberspace.

So, before we get to a chunk of Carter's work, let's look at the top of the Times piece:

America’s pastors -- the men and women a majority of Americans look to for help in finding meaning and purpose in their lives -- are even more politically divided than the rest of us, according to a new data set representing the largest compilation of American religious leaders ever assembled.

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Hey, guess what, all Baptists are Calvinists

Before his premature departure, Carter served as GetReligion’s resident expert on Calvinism. Trust me, I am a poor fill-in, although I posted a few months ago on media coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention debating that subject. (At that time, I acknowledged that I flunked Professor Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Calvinism 101 course.)

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Joe Carter: From GetReligion reader to scribe

Having been a reader and fan of GetReligion, I’m thrilled and honored to be joining as a contributor. Although I’ve been reading this site since its inception in 2004, my interest in the intersection of religion and journalism extends back a long, long time — maybe even back to the dark era before Terry Mattingly had a syndicated column.

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