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NPR: Female missionary to Uganda story brings out 'no white savior' syndrome

NPR: Female missionary to Uganda story brings out 'no white savior' syndrome

There’s a curious story on NPR’s site about an American woman who moved to Uganda years ago, set up a Christian charity to help malnourished kids and now is being sued by two Ugandan women who claimed that her negligence led to their children’s deaths.

Renee Balch, who moved back to west-central Virginia after it was clear things were going south in Africa, is fighting back, claiming she had nothing to do with these deaths.

There’s enough about this story that raises a lot of questions about the high rates of death in certain African countries; about foreigners who travel to Africa to do what they can to help and whether they should be held liable for any of these deaths. The story picks up with an anecdote (which I am skipping) about a critically ill child whom Bach (allegedly) nearly killed through lack of medical knowledge.

Ten years ago, Renee Bach left her home in Virginia to set up a charity to help children in Uganda. … Bach was not a doctor. She was a 20-year-old high school graduate with no medical training. And not only was her center not a hospital — at the time it didn't employ a single doctor.

Yet from 2010 through 2015, Bach says, she took in 940 severely malnourished children. And 105 of them died.

Now Bach is being sued in Ugandan civil court.

One in nine kids dying is not a good ratio. But, would these kids have died anyway? Was Bach’s facility the only one that was available?

Uganda has an infant mortality rate of 49 deaths per 1,000 people, but when Bach moved there, it was around 83.4, which is very high.

How could a young American with no medical training even contemplate caring for critically ill children in a foreign country? To understand, it helps to know that the place where Bach set up her operation — the city of Jinja — had already become a hub of American volunteerism by the time she arrived.

A sprawling city of tens of thousands of people on the shores of Lake Victoria, Jinja is surrounded by rural villages of considerable poverty. U.S. missionaries had set up a host of charities there. And soon American teens raised in mostly evangelical churches were streaming in to volunteer at them.

Bach was one of these teens. On her first trip, in 2007, she worked at a missionary-run orphanage — staying on for nine months.

Once back home in Virginia, Bach — now 19 years old — came to a life-changing conclusion: She should move to Jinja full time and set up her own charity.

I googled “missionary groups in Jinja” and sure enough, there’s a bunch.

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Catholic student gunned down in Colorado; few reporters ask crucial questions about shooters

Catholic student gunned down in Colorado; few reporters ask crucial questions about shooters

Another week, another school shooting, although this latest one in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch has quickly turned into a religion story.

Well, it’s a religion story if reporters note crucial details and ask basic questions.

As I scanned various stories, I learned there was very little news about the shooters, especially some of their more controversial aspects. One was LGBTQ; the other had Satanic symbols on his car, yet that didn’t make it into many media accounts. (As for Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old who died at the scene, he was an only child. I cannot imagine his parents’ sorrow.)

The Denver Post tells us this much at the arraignment:

One of the shooting suspects, Devon Erickson, sat hunched in his chair throughout his hearing where he was advised of the charges he is being held on. As the proceeding continued, the skinny 18-year-old with shaggy black and pink hair curled farther into himself — his bangs nearly touching the defense table by the end.

Alec McKinney — who is charged under the legal name of Maya Elizabeth McKinney but uses male pronouns and the name Alec — sat up straight in his chair. …

Also, there is this: According to folks who checked out his Facebook account, there was an anti-Christian screed there.

Another student, Aiden Beatty, said that Erickson worked as a vocal instructor and acted in school musicals. Beatty and Erickson formed multiple rock bands together. Beatty said he couldn’t imagine his band mate committing such horror. Nothing on Erickson’s public social media pointed toward violence.

“In my mind he’s pretty much dead,” Beatty said. “He’s effectively killed himself, too, in a terrible and unimaginable way.”

McKinney was transgender and had struggled with personal problems, freshman Ben Lemos said. The two shared a study hall, a lunch group and mutual friends, Lemos said.

“He just had a negative experience with school,” he said.

But the Daily Mail had a lot more interesting details, including how Erickson had “666” and a pentagram spray-painted on the hood of his car.

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Forget Tim Tebow for a moment: Why not chase a religion ghost or two linked to his fiancée?

Forget Tim Tebow for a moment: Why not chase a religion ghost or two linked to his fiancée?

Yes, we saw the snarky Deadspin headline about You Know Who getting engaged.

You know, the headline that proclaimed: “Tim Tebow To Have Sex Soon.”

The only shock there was that The New York Post didn’t have something wild to compete with it. However, the tabloid’s short story about the engagement of Tebow and Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, a South Africa native who was Miss Universe in 2017, did feature the following essential information at the very end.

Tebow confirmed his relationship with Nel-Peters in July.

“She is a really special girl and I am very lucky and blessed for her coming into my life,” he told ESPN over the summer. “I am usually very private with these things but I am very thankful.”

Tebow, a devout Christian, has long planned to remain a virgin until marriage.

I do remember reading a thing or two about that in the past.

However, let’s pause for a moment. I want you to try to forget Tebow. Just push that musclebound ESPN commentator, baseball player and evangelical philanthropist off to the side, for a minute.

I’m trying to find out some additional information about Nel-Peters. I think it’s safe to assume that Christian faith may have had something to do with their relationship, but I am having trouble finding out any information about that angle of this story.

For example: See this hollow USA Today mini-feature. Or this faith-free offering from ESPN, Tebow’s own home in the world of sports broadcasting.

Now, our own Bobby Ross, Jr., noted that the People magazine exclusive on the engagement did contain a bite of information about religious faith. Describing his future wife, Tebow said:

“They have to really love God,” he continued. “My faith is important to me — it’s the most important thing — and I need to be with someone who also shares that faith.”

Tebow tells PEOPLE, now, that Nel-Peters is exactly what he has been looking for.

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Looking for life-and-death updates on Asia Bibi? You need to turn to European media

Looking for life-and-death updates on Asia Bibi? You need to turn to European media

Here is the religion news question that haunted me over the long Thanksgiving weekend: Why is the unfolding story of threats to Asia Bibi of Pakistan a major story in England and Europe, but not here in the United States? (Click here for recent podcast linked to this topic.)

Let me be more blunt: Are journalists on this side of the Atlantic waiting for you know who — Donald Trump — to address this tense, deadly situation in a tweet?

OK, I will be more blunt: At what point will leaders of the pro-Trump evangelical niche show up at the White House and demand that this Christian woman — cleared of blasphemy charges, but now in hiding, trapped in house arrest — be granted asylum? What if the president sent his own private plane to Pakistan to retrieve her? Maybe this would be awkward with the violent drama on the US-Mexico border?

One more blunt thought: Is part of the problem that Bibi is Catholic, not evangelical? I keep watching the headlines for evidence that Pope Francis might intervene. Right now, the main news on that front consists of fake photos circulating online claiming to show a Bibi meeting with the pope. Let me stress: The reports are fake.

For those seeking an update, here is the top of a recent Daily Mail report. Do I need to note that this outlet is considered “conservative” news?

Asia Bibi may have escaped the hangman, but her freedom comes with a heavy price. Today, when she should be reunited with her five children, she is being hunted across Pakistan, forced to scuttle under cover of darkness from one safe house to another in fear of her life.

It is a desperate situation — and one not helped by Britain which refuses to offer the mother-of-five sanctuary.

Last month the Supreme Court in Pakistan decided that Asia, 52, who spent eight years on death row, had been falsely accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. While most of the country erupted in fury at her release, nowhere did the anger burn more fiercely than in her home village of Ittan Wali, 40 miles south-east of Lahore, where her extraordinary ordeal began. Following news of her reprieve, women took to the streets to protest, a bus was torched and children ran riot.

Until now, beyond a few sketchy details, little about Asia’s persecution has been forthcoming.

The Mail team sent reporters to Bibi’s home village and came back with plenty of harrowing details about her history and the current crisis.

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Digging between the lines in UK media responses to the testimony of Archbishop Viganò

Digging between the lines in UK media responses to the testimony of Archbishop Viganò

The flight from reporting to opinion and advocacy journalism is on full display in the first day reports from the British secular press of the Viganò affair. Like their American counterparts, leading mainstream news outlets are portraying the revelations of coverup and abuse in political left/right terms.

While none have gone farther over the edge than the New York Times’ article: “Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce," journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have spent more time denigrating the accuser, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, than in reporting on the content of his “testimony." Conservative and centrist papers like The Times and Daily Mail focused instead on the misconduct of Pope Francis and Vatican insiders alleged by the former papal nuncio to the United States.

The British and American media responses to the publication of Viganò’s testimony in four conservative American and Catholic religion outlets confirm the December 2016 thesis put forward by Francis X. Rocca in the Wall Street Journal. In the lede to his article entitled: “How Pope Francis became the leader of the global left," Rocca wrote: 

When Pope Francis delivers his Christmas message this weekend, he will do so not just as the head of the Catholic Church but as the improbable standard-bearer for many progressives around the world.

In 2016 Rocca argued:

With conservative and nationalist forces on the rise in many places and with figures such as U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande on their way out, many on the left -- from socialists in Latin America to environmentalists in Europe -- are looking to the 80-year-old pontiff for leadership. … Pope Francis has taken bold positions on a variety of issues, including migration, climate change, economic equality and the rights of indigenous peoples. 

Reading the first day reports from Britain in the BBC and the Guardian leaves one with the impression that they will stand by their man -- Pope Francis.

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How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

The Internet furore over the violent baptism of a Greek Orthodox baby has seeped into the mainstream press.

The story in itself is amusing, but it also provides a teaching moment on how not to do journalism.

The difficulty is how to report on YouTube videos. Is seeing believing? How do you report accurately and fairly on a video that cannot be authenticated?

On my Facebook and Twitter feed I received a post linking to a video of an extraordinary baptism. Within a few days the story made its way into The Sun, The Daily Mail, The MirrorNews Corp., and other television and press outlets. 

The British tabloid The Sun, which was reprinted in News Corp.’s Australian and New Zealand papers, had this story, opening like this: 

A GREEK orthodox bishop has come under fire after appearing to baptize a tiny tot a little bit too vigorously. In the footage that has appeared online the man of the cloth repeatedly dunks the naked baby into the baptismal font.

The tot is rapidly dunked three times into the water before being handed back to his unperturbed parents. According to reports the footage was taken in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, at a Greek Orthodox church.

With the church, baptisms are usually done ‘forcefully’ which is seen as a solution to the declining birth rate. Many online commentators have criticised the bishop’s rather rough approach.

The article closes with a summary of comments and criticisms of what viewers saw in the film. The Daily Mail ran a condensed version of the story, omitting the word “Greek” from the text as well as the extraordinary assertion that aggressive dunking results in a population boom. The Mirror kept the cleric Greek Orthodox and promoted him to archbishop.

What nobody appears to have done is ask the Greek Orthodox Church about this baptism.

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Inquiring minds still want to know: Was Meghan the wrong kind of 'Protestant,' or what?

Inquiring minds still want to know: Was Meghan the wrong kind of 'Protestant,' or what?

No matter that happens today (the big US news is tragic), for millions of people the force of gravity in global news will pull toward St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

We are talking about a wedding rite in the Church of England, so royal wedding coverage has included all kinds of dishy details about liturgical issues rarely seen in the press. That has been the case for several months now for one simple reason: American actress Meghan Markle was raised as a Protestant by her mother Doria Ragland, while her father is an Episcopalian (and, thus, part of the global Anglican Communion).

Thus, an unanswered question still hovers in the background, because of silence from Kensington Palace: Precisely what kind of Protestantism are we talking about, in Markle's case? For a refresher on this drama, see my earlier post: "Royal wedding quiz: Must a 'Protestant' be baptized in order to become an Anglican?" In that post, I noted:

... The Church of England split off from the Church of Rome. For most people, especially low-church Anglicans, this (a) makes it part of the wider world of Protestantism. However, it should be noted that some people argue that (b) the Anglican via media -- a "middle way" between Protestantism and Catholicism -- is its own unique form of faith. The odds are good that some Anglican readers will be offended by my description of (a), (b) or (a) and (b). This is complicated stuff.

There continue to be clues that Markle was the "wrong kind" of Protestant, since she was baptized -- Again? -- before being confirmed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Anglican. How does that theological question affect the royal rite?

Read carefully this passage from an explainer piece in The Washington Post, that ran with the headline: "Why Meghan Markle, raised a Christian, still got baptized before her royal wedding."

“Miss Markle did not need to become an Anglican in order to marry Harry in church, but at the time of their engagement last November she made clear she had chosen to be baptised and confirmed out of respect for the Queen’s role as the head of the Church of England,” the Daily Mail wrote.

The Church of England recommends that couples either include a Communion service during their wedding or take Communion shortly after getting married. That means that Markle, if she wants to take Communion with Harry (italics added by tmatt), did need to be confirmed in the Church of England or in another Anglican church, such as the Episcopal Church, which the Church of England welcomes to take Communion at its services.

Wait a minute.

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Secular France mourns loss of Arnaud Beltrame, while press remains silent on his faith (updated)

Secular France mourns loss of Arnaud Beltrame, while press remains silent on his faith (updated)

If you know anything about the history of France, you know why it is common for journalists and scholars to add the word "secular" in front of the country's name.

For millions of people, part of what it means to be truly "French" is to view public life through a lens in which religious faith is kept out of view -- a matter a private feelings and beliefs. This has affected debates about many issues linked to Islam, from the legal status of veils and Burkinis to efforts to grasp the motives of radicalized Muslims.

What about the nation's deep Catholic roots and the violence unleashed against that faith during the French Revolution?

These tensions are currently on display in news coverage of French efforts to honor the late Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, who died after offering to take the place of a female hostage being used as a human shield by an ISIS gunman.

The goal as been to hail Beltrame as a uniquely French hero, while avoiding testimonies of those close to him about the role his Catholic faith -- he was an adult convert -- played in his life and work. Then there was the fact that Beltrame and his wife Marielle were only weeks away from a Catholic wedding rite, two years after their secular marriage.

All of this was described, in great detail, in vivid, detailed, testimonies published by Famille Chretienne (Christian Family), a major religious publication. Hold that thought.

I wrote about the Beltrame story earlier this week -- "Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... ' " -- and have continued to follow the story while researching a Universal syndicate column for this week.

I can be pretty cynical about the "tone deaf" nature of lots of mainstream news coverage of stories of this kind. Still, I have been surprised that mainstream editors, especially here in America (ironically), continue to avoid the "religion ghost" in this highly symbolic event. Time element? Hours before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week (in Western Christianity).

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Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

What did you learn, over the weekend, in the global coverage of the sacrificial death of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame?

Let's say that you saw the main CNN.com report, which led with the fact that the 45-year-old Beltrame died up wounds he suffered after volunteering to swap places with a female hostage during a self-proclaimed ISIS supporter's attack on a supermarket in southern France.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that by "giving his life to end the murderous escapade of a jihadist terrorist, he died a hero."

What other crucial information did CNN producers include to help news consumers understand Beltrame and the nature of his sacrifice? We are, of course, looking for a faith angle.

Married with no children, Beltrame had served in the French military police and received a number of awards for bravery. He served in Iraq in 2005, and was given an award for bravery in 2007, Macron said. For four years, he was a commander in the Republican Guard, which provides security at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president.
In 2012, he was knighted in France's prestigious Legion of Honor. ... Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region.
According to the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Beltrame led a simulated terror attack in December on a supermarket for training purposes. ...

Now, some publications -- religious publications, for the most part -- included material from another voice of authority on the life and work of Beltrame. That would be Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie (hat tip to Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher).

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