The Denver Post

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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While other media observe Columbine's 20th anniversary, the Los Angeles Times goes for the God angle

While other media observe Columbine's 20th anniversary, the Los Angeles Times goes for the God angle

Over the weekend, there were some haunting stories about the 20th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School just outside of Denver. I remember our newsroom in Washington, D.C. scrambling to put together a story from more than 1,200 miles away.

Fortunately, we had a staff writer, Valerie Richardson, who lived not far away from the school and rushed over there as fast as she could as she knew this was historic and there’d never been such a mass shooting at a school before.

Sadly, much has changed since then and school shootings have become part of the American landscape. I wish to spotlight two stories; one of which gives a well-deserved place to religious faith and the other that ignored it.

The first story, from the Los Angeles Times, was about the pastors who were tasked with having to comfort the afflicted families and deliver sermons at the funerals of their children.

They were the men of faith faced with a seemingly impossible task — providing comfort, hope, maybe understanding — after 12 students and a teacher were shot to death at Columbine High School.

Bill Oudemolen presided over the funeral for 16-year-old John Tomlin days after the mass shooting. The pastor told the large crowd at Foothills Bible Church that he just didn’t want to accept what had happened.

“He was killed simply because he went to school Tuesday morning,” Oudemolen told the crowd in Littleton, Colo. “Schools are supposed to be safe zones, not killing fields.” …

These men had the impossible tax of explaining how God could let this happen.

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Holy ghosts haunt story of Colorado high school wrestler who wouldn't compete against girl

Holy ghosts haunt story of Colorado high school wrestler who wouldn't compete against girl

In reading about a Colorado high school wrestler who declined to compete against a girl, I couldn’t help but think that holy ghost — as we call them here at GetReligion — might be haunting the story.

I first caught this recent news via Yahoo! Sports, which made no reference at all to religion in writing about Brendan Johnson.

Curious, I clicked the Yahoo! link to the original source material from the Denver Post.

Here’s the deal: On one hand, the Denver Post piece is extremely compelling and readable.

Let’s start with a big chunk of the opening (more text than I usually copy and paste) because it really sets the scene:

Once the curveball leaves life’s fingertips, the swinging part is up to you. The way Judy Johnston tells it, she just happened to snatch the first open seat she saw near the floor of the gymnasium at Legend High School in Parker last month. What she didn’t know at the time was that the open seat just happened to be next to the one occupied by Angel Rios’ mother, Cher. Or that Angel, a junior 106-pound wrestler at Valley High in Gilcrest, just happened to draw a matchup against her son, Brendan, a senior wrestler from The Classical Academy.

Or how Cher was going to react once she heard Brendan wouldn’t wrestle a woman. Not now. Not ever.

“It was a fluke,” Johnston recalls from a stairwell inside the Pepsi Center during the 2019 Colorado High School Activities Association State Wrestling Tournament. “I had been told Angel is really good, she wants to go the Olympics, so we knew a little about her. And the (Valley) coach came by and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ And Angel came over to her mom and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ She was disappointed. Her mom was disappointed. And me not being able to turn away from a challenging conversation…”

With Cher fuming, Judy introduced herself.

“Well,” she said, words dancing carefully to avoid stepping on any toes, “my son happens to be the one that’s forfeiting.’”

“Why is he doing that?” Cher replied.

“She explained why she felt disrespected,” Johnston recalled. “I said, ‘I totally understand that.’ I said, ‘I know she’s worked hard, but he feels it’s not appropriate to interact with a woman that way, to be physical on or off the mat, at this stage in life.

“So I kind of explained my side. It took a while, but she was able to kind of say, ‘Yeah, I kind of see your point.’ I wished her well and wished Angel well. And that was the end of it.”

Only it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

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Colorado's proposed sex ed curriculum: Which religious groups protested it?

Colorado's proposed sex ed curriculum: Which religious groups protested it?

Maybe I’ve been sleeping under a rock recently, but I didn’t realize that half the metro Denver area was abuzz with a proposed sex education curriculum for its public schools.

As I looked at various media accounts, only one religious group — Catholics — stood out as opposing the substantial changes in how Colorado kids would learn about sex. There’s no mention of organized resistance from other groups, even the evangelical behemoth, Focus on the Family, an hour south of Denver.

Here’s the big question: How far into the story do readers need to dig to find out the crucial question here is parental rights, in terms of having the ability to opt out of classes that violate their religious convictions?

We’ll start with the Denver Post’s coverage, then branch out.

After more than 10 hours of debate and the testimony — both written and spoken — of more than 300 people, Democrats on a Colorado House committee approved a sexual education bill shortly before midnight Wednesday.

If it passes the General Assembly, the bill would amend a 2013 law by removing a waiver for public charter schools that lets them pick other sex ed criteria. It would also fund a grant program for schools that lack the resources to teach human sexuality and expand upon the LGBT relationship portion of the curriculum requirements.

The new section on teaching about “healthy relationships” and the “different relationship models” students may encounter appeared to be the touchstone for most of the objections from parents, educators and faith leaders Wednesday. Dozens of speakers told the committee they worry that if the General Assembly passes the bill, school districts will be teaching kids about sexual acts and lifestyles their faith disagrees with.

“If you’re for House Bill 1032, then you’re for exposing 9-year-olds to sexually explicit techniques,” said James Rea, a father of four. “We don’t want to expose our children to this kind of forced sexual education.”

Who are the “faith leaders” involved? One, according to CruxNow, is the Catholic archbishop of Denver. Crux said:

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Three points and a poem: How would Billy Graham have handled Donald Trump?

Three points and a poem: How would Billy Graham have handled Donald Trump?

Over the past few days, I have heard one question more than any other: How do I think the Rev. Billy Graham would have handled the current divisions inside American evangelicalism? When you dig a bit deeper, what people are really asking is how Graham the elder (as opposed to Franklin Graham) would have handled Donald Trump.

GetReligion readers will not be surprised that this topic came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in

In the old tradition of Southern preaching, I would like to answer with three points and a poem.

(I) How would Graham, in his prime, have handled Trump? Well, how did he relate to Bill Clinton, another man who had a loose connection to truth and fidelity? Graham praised the good in Clinton and then gentled criticized the bad, primarily by affirming basic Christian standards of life and behavior. He didn't endorse, but he provided personal support. He never, in public, attacked Clinton or his partner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Graham took flak for this stance, but he was used to that.

(II) My second point is a story, a kind of parable, about the 1987 Graham crusade in Denver's Mile High Stadium.

One morning during the crusade, the evangelist's crack media team called all of the major newsrooms in that very competitive news market (where The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News were fighting an epic newspaper war). They wanted us to know that Graham was going to preach that night -- his first sermon on this topic -- about AIDS. This was news, because of Graham's de facto status as the Protestant pope, in the eyes of editors.

Graham's staff knew that reporters would be on deadline that night (press runs for early state editions would have been soon after 10 p.m.) and would need to line up quick telephone interviews with people who could react to whatever he said in the sermon.

Through a series of connections, I ended up interviewing a local associate pastor in an LGBTQ-affirming congregation. This man was a former Southern Baptist pastor, now out gay, who was HIV positive. As a child, he had made his profession of Christian faith at a Graham crusade. He still considered Graham a hero, although he disagreed with the evangelist's beliefs on sexuality.

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Reporters and the Supreme Court cake bake-off: Was religious freedom the guiding issue?

Reporters and the Supreme Court cake bake-off: Was religious freedom the guiding issue?

Although the opening arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (transcript .pdf here) included a plea for religious freedom, that point got lost in articles about Tuesday’s historic hearing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s true that the plaintiff’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner, barely got out one paragraph of her intro before justices began interrupting her with questions about cakes and compelled speech.

It’s also true that covering a Supreme Court hearing (I’ve done it two or three times) is like covering a knife fight between 10 participants (nine justices and the hapless attorney before them). It takes discipline for media scribes to remember the main thing is the main thing; in this case, whether a believer can be forced by the state to give a message that contradicts his or her religious convictions.

GLAAD, the gay-rights organization that monitors coverage of homosexuals by the media, saw that “main thing” as such a threat, it sent a note to major media outlets, urging them to dump terms like “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” for “religious exemptions.” Read about their directive on Poynter.org and see one New York Times opinion piece that obeyed this instruction to the letter.  

(Tell me: What if a conservative group had sent out a similar missive to mainstream journalists? The Poynter piece, by the way, didn’t include any quotes from media experts who find it problematic that an activist group feels it can tell journalists what to write.)

Fortunately, reporters generally ignored GLAAD's directive. We will start with the Denver Post, the hometown newspaper for both parties in this suit which had a headline that reflected how Kennedy asked “sharp questions” from both sides. It began with a very static lede: 

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in a Colorado case about a same sex-wedding cake that ultimately could determine where the legal system draws the line between discrimination and religious freedom.

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A Falwell in St. Martin? Religious charities' aid gets little coverage in post-hurricane news

A Falwell in St. Martin? Religious charities' aid gets little coverage in post-hurricane news

As everyone from President Donald Trump to politicians of all stripes try to make sense of the mess that is Puerto Rico, I’ve noticed little has been written about all the religious groups heading down to the U.S. territory to help.

Why is this? Information about these efforts is all over the place on Twitter and in social media.

So, along with the city of Chicago sending some two dozen firefighters, paramedics and engineers to Puerto Rico, there’s a group of Chicago Catholics sending down supplies as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which uses its storage centers in Atlanta as a staging ground for emergency relief, is also sending folks to Puerto Rico.

Seventh-day Adventist students and professors from the Adventist-affiliated Andrews University in Michigan are likewise showing up. The Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I. is chipping in 10 grand. The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams were finally given permission by FEMA to move in.

You may have heard about President Trump tossing towels at a Calvary Chapel in Guaynabo, but here’s a story about a Calvary Chapel-affiliated church in California that’s trying to get supplies to their brethren some 3,500 miles away.

That story was from the NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo, but most of the stories I’ve seen are from the religious press. Case in point is this Charisma News post about everyone ranging from Paula White Ministries to Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse racing to get thousands of pounds of supplies to the island.

It does seem ironic that while so many have problems with Graham’s style or politics, there’s much less coverage when Samaritan’s Purse pours relief supplies into a devastated area.

Christianity Today also did an overview of which religious charities are doing what.

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No God, no worries: This is why a group with no belief in supernatural deities gathers on Sunday

No God, no worries: This is why a group with no belief in supernatural deities gathers on Sunday

Journalists seem to love stories about atheist churches.

That's not exactly breaking news.

In recent years, we at GetReligion have critiqued media coverage of "Atheist churches on the rise deep in the heart of Texas" and "Godless congregations copying Christian churches." In one post, we asked, "How many atheists does it take to form a 'megachurch?'"

Just today, the Buffalo News published a piece on "'a church for atheists' — and everyone else."

In general, the stories I've read on atheist churches have left me underwhelmed. Could it be that I — as a Christian who believes in God — am biased on the subject matter? That's certainly a fair question.

But here's another possible explanation: These stories tend to fall flat because they lack any real edge. Typically, there's no timely news angle. There's no digging below the surface. 

A recent in-depth Denver Post story is the latest example:

By 10:30 a.m., the assembly room has filled with people. They’re four dozen strong, swirling about the long rectangular hall like in a hive, standing and laughing in small clusters, shaking hands and hugging latecomers, finishing coffee and doughnuts in the kitchen, leaning in close to hear a week’s worth of gossip whispered too low for lurking passers-by.
The congregation’s Sunday morning gathering is a cherished communal ritual that brings together newly joined 20-somethings, still groggy from a night on the town, with chatty retirees who have been members since the institution’s founding. They come from across metro Denver to hang out and talk about whatever’s on their mind: Donald Trump, National Public Radio, last night’s Rockies game, the hiking trail du jour.
Inevitably, though, their conversation returns to the supernatural power that unites them: God.
This isn’t church, though.
“It’s atheist church,” jokes Ruth McLeod, who moved to Denver from Louisiana in 2012. “Church doesn’t have a monopoly on community.”

Keep reading, and the Post mentions "contradictions in the Bible" (without giving a Bible defender an opportunity to respond). And there's a reference to the "pervasive contempt" faced by atheists (does that mean religious groups are, on the other hand, beloved?):

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Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

It’s been about three weeks since Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and we’re no closer to figuring out what makes him tick, spiritually. However, there have been a few jabs at trying to gauge the spiritual temperature of his family's parish in downtown Boulder, Colo..

The most aggressive reporting has been by a British outlet, the Daily Mail, whose reporters have shown up at Gorsuch’s parish, St. John’s Episcopal. The Mail has also been sniffing about Oxford University (pictured above), which is where Gorsuch apparently became an Anglican during his studies there. It was also where he met his future wife Marie Louise. Her family is Anglican and the Mail explains that all here and here.

Very clever of them to nail down his wife’s British background and that of her family and to have interviewed Gorsuch’s stepmother in Denver.

They too see a dissonance in Gorsuch’s purported conservative views and the church he attends:. 

He has been described as 'the heir to Scalia' and is a religious conservative whose appointment to the Supreme Court was greeted with jubilation on the pro-gun, anti-abortion Right.
But DailyMail.com can reveal that Neil Gorsuch's own church, in Boulder, Colorado, is a hotbed of liberal thinking -- and is led by a pastor who proudly attended the anti-Trump Women's March in Denver the day after the President's inauguration.
Another member of the clergy at St. John's Episcopal Church is outspoken about the need for gun control, and helped organize opposition to a gun shop giveaway of high-capacity magazines in the run-up to a 2013 law that banned them from the state of Colorado…
And in a twist that may surprise religious conservatives who welcomed Gorsuch's appointment, church leader Rev. Susan Springer, 58, has said she is pro-gay marriage and offers blessings to same sex couples.

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