Louisiana

In case of Catholic politician recovering from shooting, Washington Post ponders forgiveness

In case of Catholic politician recovering from shooting, Washington Post ponders forgiveness

What does it mean to forgive?

The Washington Post delves into that question — but maybe not as deeply as I’d like — in a story on a Republican leader who nearly died in the 2017 congressional baseball shooting.

The Post story has ties to an earlier case of forgiveness — involving a Louisiana congregation that was the victim of arson — that we recently highlighted here at GetReligion.

The lede on the latest piece is definitely compelling:

For nearly two years, Steve Scalise has tried to forgive.

For the bullet that tore through his pelvis. For all the surgeries. The months of missed work and the many grueling days of physical therapy. Scalise, the Republican House minority whip, has been trying to forgive the gunman who nearly killed him and injured several others in June 2017.

But he hasn’t been ready.

On Friday, though, Scalise said he was working on it.

The Louisiana lawmaker found a guide more than 1,000 miles southwest of the fractious U.S. Capitol on a recent trip to his home state.

Scalise and Vice President Pence traveled to Opelousas, La., a week ago to visit the pastors of three predominantly black churches that were burned down a month ago in a string of hate-fuelled arsons.

With the charred remains of his Mount Pleasant Baptist Church as a backdrop, Pastor Gerald Toussaint spoke of forgiveness. He forgave the suspect, a 21-year-old son of a local sheriff’s deputy, and members of his congregation did, too.

Keep reading, and the Post characterizes Scalise as “a devout Catholic” — whatever is meant by that terminology. Generally, we at GetReligion advocate that news reports offer specific details to illustrate that someone is “devout,” as opposed to using that label. Nonetheless, the obvious connotation is that Scalise is a committed person of faith for whom forgiveness would seem to be a part of expected religious practice.

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'We got $1,000 from an atheist': Amid lots of bad news, here's an inspiring Easter story you must read

'We got $1,000 from an atheist': Amid lots of bad news, here's an inspiring Easter story you must read

The Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka has dominated religion headlines the last few days, and rightly so.

That depressing news came on the heels of last week’s catastrophic Holy Week fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

As Anne Murray sang, “We sure could use a little good news today.”

I found some in a rather unexpected place: a Washington Post story about one of the three predominantly black Louisiana churches recently destroyed by arson.

Now, you wouldn’t expect a report on a burned church to be inspiring. Yet this one was.

Give credit to the Post for sending a reporter to cover the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s Easter Sunday worship at its temporary home:

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Long on generalizations, short on concrete sources: CNN tackles a school prayer dispute in Louisiana

Long on generalizations, short on concrete sources: CNN tackles a school prayer dispute in Louisiana

I like some things about a long piece CNN published last week concerning a school prayer dispute in Louisiana:

1. It's conversational and easy to read.

2. It devotes a substantial amount of space to a religion issue.

3. It delves into an interesting church-state case.

But the more of the story I read, the more frustrated I became: This is one of those stories that  falls into the category of "a mile wide and an inch deep."

That is, for all the words used, there is not a whole lot of real meat to the story. Readers hear mostly from a 17-year-old student upset with her school starting the day with the Lord's Prayer.

Please don't misunderstand me: Based on the facts presented by CNN, I can understand that student's concern from a constitutional perspective.

But the journalistic problem is this: The 17-year-old's perspective is weaved around vague, generalized characters who — especially through the first big chunks of the piece — don't have names. They are cardboard-cutout figures lacking the nuance and complexity one would expect to find in real life.

Here's how the piece opens:

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Red Cross won't let Louisiana cop pray with flood victims? Please, news media, tell us more

Red Cross won't let Louisiana cop pray with flood victims? Please, news media, tell us more

In flood-stricken Louisiana, the American Red Cross has got trouble — with a capital "T."

Rebekah Allen of the Baton Rouge Advocate outlines the issues in an excellent news story.

Among the general concerns are claims, which the Red Cross denies, that the organization has kept donated supplies from evacuees and even allowed victims to go hungry. You really need to read the full story to understand what's happening.

But the nugget that drew our attention surfaces about two-thirds into the in-depth report.

Beyond the questions over meals and supplies, yes, a religious freedom question arises.

Check out these three paragraphs:

Capt. Clay Higgins, a reserve Lafayette city marshal who is running for Congress, posted a video of himself on Facebook saying he had tried to visit with evacuees and pray with them at the Heymann Center in Lafayette and was asked to leave by the Red Cross.
"Red Cross people here are great, but they have Red Cross rules they have to follow," he said in the video. "A man can't walk around the shelter and offer love and prayer for people who have been displaced." 
(Nancy Malone, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross) acknowledged that the organization does have a policy intended to be respectful of all faiths, but she said if Higgins had approached managers they would have accommodated him. 

A hat tip to Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher, who first posted about this story on his blog at the American Conservative:

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After that devastating flooding in Louisiana, there's hope — but apparently no faith

After that devastating flooding in Louisiana, there's hope — but apparently no faith

In the wake of the Louisiana flooding, a number of my Facebook friends posted about that Deep South state's heroic people coming together and showing their resiliency amid a major disaster.

But here's what I was curious about: how to mesh that totally appropriate narrative with the recent racial protests and violence in that same state.

I wanted to see journalists explore the big picture in Louisiana.

So here's the good news: The Washington Post did exactly that in an 1,800-word takeout on Sunday's front page. Well, sort of.

And that segues to the bad news: The more I read, the more something seemed to be missing. Something big. Something that just might have to do with all those evangelical Christians and Catholics who make up such a large proportion of Louisiana's population. 

Holy ghosts, anyone?

Let me share the crux of the Post story — dateline Baton Rouge — and then explain what I mean:

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For slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson, 'it was God, family and police force'

For slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson, 'it was God, family and police force'

First, Dallas.

Now, Baton Rouge.

After yet another massacre of police officers, some of the most chilling words came from one of the slain Louisiana officers, Montrell Jackson — in a Facebook post he wrote earlier this month:

"I'm tired physically and emotionally. Disappointed in some family, friends, and officers for some reckless comments but hey what's in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate takes too much energy but I definitely won't be looking at you the same. Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me or my wife it was needed and much appreciated. I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me at threat. I've experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity you realize they don't really know you at all. Look at my actions they speak LOUD and CLEAR. Finally I personally want to send prayers out to everyone directly affected by this tragedy. These are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I'm working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you."

Jackson's mention of both God and prayer immediately made me wonder if he might be a man of faith.

That certainly appears to be the case, based on this quote from an Associated Press story:

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They're praying, singing after Alton Sterling shooting. But what are they praying, singing?

They're praying, singing after Alton Sterling shooting. But what are they praying, singing?

I haven't watched the graphic video of Alton Sterling's shooting this week by police in Louisiana.

Truthfully, I don't want to see it (or the one of last night's shooting of Philando Castile by police in Minnesota).

The sobbing images of Sterling's 15-year-old son, Cameron, are painful enough to witness.

At its heart, the news out of Baton Rouge, La., is about law and justice — and state and federal authorities have pledged a full investigation to determine the facts, as reported on the front page of today's New York Times.

But there are hints, too, of holy ghosts in the coverage of this story. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's check out the Times' lede:

BATON ROUGE, La. — The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation on Wednesday into the fatal shooting of a black man by the Baton Rouge, La., police after a searing video of the encounter, aired repeatedly on television and social media, reignited contentious issues surrounding police killings of African-Americans.
Officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards to the local police and elected officials vowed a complete and transparent investigation and appealed to the city — after a numbing series of high-profile, racially charged incidents elsewhere — to remain calm.

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Might this be the lede? Democrats allow pro-life Catholic to run (and win) in Louisiana

Might this be the lede? Democrats allow pro-life Catholic to run (and win) in Louisiana

Please raise your hand if you are getting more and more tired of political labels, especially when they are linked to issues of religion, culture and morality. Can I get a witness?

During the recent elections in that crazy alternative universe called Louisiana, Republicans struggled to pin a liberal label, of some kind, on the Democrat who was willing to be the latest sacrificial victim in the race for governor. Everyone knows that Louisiana is a deep red, culturally conservative state, so the Democrat was given little chance to win.

It helped, of course, that the heavily favored Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter did almost everything he could to self destruct. Cue up that campaign ad at the top of this post.

So the Democrat won. How did The Washington Post choose to label this unlikely victory

Completing a long-shot bid that ran counter to the conservative tide sweeping the Southern states, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana on Saturday, defeating his Republican rival, U.S. Sen. David Vitter. ...
A jubilant crowd of Edwards supporters greeted news of the Democrat’s win at the venerable Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter as a brass band led an impromptu “second line” celebration through the packed ballroom.
Addressing the crowd, Edwards said, “I did not create this breeze of hope that’s blowing across our state, but I did catch it.” He reached out to supporters of his Republican opponent, pledging to be a governor “for all the people of Louisiana,” and congratulated voters for not giving in to the “deep cynicism about our politics and our future.”

So what was the key in this victory?

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Religious liberty war moves to Louisiana, with press still struggling with basic facts

Religious liberty war moves to Louisiana, with press still struggling with basic facts

Let's flash back for a moment to my recent post that ran under the headline, "No thanks for the Memories story: Journalism basics at stake in Indiana pizza war."

In it, I gently praised a Reuters report for noting that -- for supporters of Religious Freedom Restoration Act principles -- there is a difference between justifying open discrimination against a class of individuals and allowing religious believers a chance (repeat, a chance) to defend themselves in cases caused by a rare act of conscience clearly linked to religious doctrines in their faith traditions.

That Reuters report began like this:

(Reuters) A small-town, family-owned pizza restaurant in Indiana has aroused social media outrage after telling a local TV station it would support the state’s recently passed religion law by refusing to cater gay weddings.

Once again, the Memories Pizza owners had stressed that they had no intention of ever refusing service to gays and lesbians who ordered pizza. Instead, they said that -- for doctrinal reasons -- they would say "no" if faced if faced with a case (theoretical, of course, since this had never taken place) in which someone asked them to cater a dinner linked to a same-sex marriage rite. People serve pizza at wedding receptions all the time, apparently.

Once again let me stress: Journalists do not have to agree with this distinction between the justification of consistent discriminatory actions and the possible defense of rare acts of religious conscience.

However, journalists do need to know that this argument is a crucial element of these debates and know how to accurate describe this distinction for readers.

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