The Oklahoman

A refresher course for journalists: What to do when you hear words like 'God,' 'prayer' and 'faith'

A refresher course for journalists: What to do when you hear words like 'God,' 'prayer' and 'faith'

Sunday’s front page of The Dallas Morning News featured side-by-side profiles of the two candidates for mayor of the city of 1.4 million people: Eric Johnson and Scott Griggs.

I was particularly interested in the piece on Johnson since the publication where I work, The Christian Chronicle, reports on Churches of Christ, and he is a longtime member of Churches of Christ.

I was curious to see if the Dallas newspaper — which, as we often lament, has no religion writer — would delve into the faith angle.

This profile, after all, was a “window into his soul” kind of profile aimed at giving voters an idea of what makes Johnson tick. The candidate talked about growing up poor in Dallas, and the reporter interviewed and one of his elementary school teachers as well as childhood friends and a former law professor.

See anybody missing from list of interviewees?

How about a minister or Sunday school teacher or fellow churchgoer?

“Well, maybe his faith didn’t come up in the reporting,” someone might protest.

Actually, that’s not true.

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Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

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Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Good morning from blue America!

I mean, I guess Oklahoma — where I live — is still a red state. But my congressional district just flipped, electing a Democrat for the first time in 40 years in what The Oklahoman characterized as “a political upset for the history books” and FiveThirtyEight called “the biggest upset of the night” nationally.

(Neighboring Kansas turned a little blue, too, electing a Democratic governor.)

Religion angle? In advance of Tuesday’s midterms, we asked here at GetReligion if a post-Trump rise of the religious left was a real trend or wishful thinking.

Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, which Democrat Kendra Horn won in a nail-biter, was one of the places where a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good that toured the country brought its bus. The Oklahoman’s pre-election story noted:

If Horn, an Episcopalian and Democrat running for Congress, is to do what others claim cannot be done — namely, defeat Republican Rep. Steve Russell on Nov. 6 — she will need to make inroads with a voting bloc that has helped propel Russell's political career: evangelicals.

What role did religious voters played in Horn’s upset win in one of the reddest of the red states? I haven’t seen reporting on that angle yet. No doubt, changing demographics in the Oklahoma City area played a role, as did the rural-urban divide, but perhaps suburban evangelical women turned off by Trump did, too? Stay tuned.

As we begin to digest Tuesday’s outcomes across the U.S., here are a handful of religion angles making headlines or likely to do so:

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Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Stories about moral concerns — beyond the typical ones — prompting some evangelicals to consider voting Democratic in the midterm elections seem to be on the rise.

But will Democrats actually bite into the 81 percent support from white evangelicals that Donald Trump got in 2016?

That’s the big question.

As we noted earlier, the New York Times recently delved into whether white evangelical women might push Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke over the top in his bid to unseat Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good is touring the country in a bus and generating a number of headlines in its quest to persuade fellow Christians to abandon Donald Trump’s GOP.

Religion News Service and my local newspaper here in Oklahoma City — The Oklahoman — have given interesting coverage to the group. Vote Common Good has an active media relations team and actually contacted me by email and telephone before the group’s Oklahoma event. However, I was headed out of the state to report on Hurricane Michael in Florida.

I bring up Vote Common Good because NPR’s Sarah McCammon (relevant background about her here) caught up with the group in Texas and has an informative news-feature out today:

On a recent evening in Houston, under the heavy branches of live oak trees, Doug Pagitt stood before a couple dozen people gathered on blue folding chairs on the Rice University campus.

"You've heard it said that to be a true Christian, you must vote like a Republican," he said. "But we are here to be reminded that just ain't so."

Pagitt, 52, describes himself as a progressive evangelical. He pastors a church in Minneapolis and has been traveling the country by bus, preaching a message that juxtaposes Trump campaign slogans against quotes from the Bible.

"You have heard it said, 'America First,' but we are here to be reminded to 'seek first the Kingdom of God,' on behalf of all those everywhere in the world," he said, quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Pagitt's organization, Vote Common Good, is focusing on evangelicals and other Christian voters who feel out of place in President Trump's Republican Party. It's an uphill battle, given that more than 8 in 10 white evangelical voters supported Trump in 2016.

Keep reading, and McCammon offers important context on the group’s private funding — nearly $1 million — gives supporters an opportunity to explain their thinking.

But I especially appreciate two things about this NPR report:

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When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

I don’t believe I’ve ever met the Rev. Bob Long, even though my time as religion editor for The Oklahoman overlapped with his tenure as pastor of a large United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.

But I know his voice.

For years, I’ve heard Long on the radio, often while driving to work. Long is a mini-celebrity here in Oklahoma, known for inspirational radio messages that include cheerful music and a quick life lesson from the pastor.

“That’s something to think about,” he concludes each 60-second segment. “I’m Bob Long with St. Luke’s Methodist Church.”

This week, Long has gained notoriety for a different reason — for a sermon in which he put the face of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his church’s big screens.

As The Oklahoman’s Carla Hinton (who succeeded me as religion editor in 2002) reported on Wednesday’s front page, a social media storm erupted with a tweet from a churchgoer who was not pleased with Long’s choice of optics.

The church posted both written and video messages from Long apologizing for the hurt feelings his sermon caused.

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Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Here at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly and Julia Duin have done a fantastic job analyzing national and international media coverage of the recent barrage of Catholic clergy sex abuse news.

I'm referring to the headlines that have followed the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Here in the Southwest, I've noticed, too, that the world events have helped bring attention to previously unknown cases on the local level, specifically in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

These are cases that perhaps would have remained under the radar if not for the attention on the larger issue.

In Oklahoma City, for example, the Pennsylvania report drew attention to the fact that a defrocked priest who had been accused of abuse years earlier was volunteering at a local church.

Carla Hinton, religion editor for The Oklahoman, reported that news on her paper's Aug. 25 front page.

The basics:

Local Catholic leaders will publicize a list of names of priests who are credibly accused of abuse, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said Friday.

With such a list posted on the archdiocese's website, a defrocked priest like Benjamin Zoeller likely would have been prevented from volunteering at a local parish.

That is the hope of archdiocese leaders who learned that Zoeller was volunteering at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel, when a staff member at the church called on Thursday to tell them about it.

"As soon as we received the call, we contacted the pastor and others to make them aware of his background and that he is not to volunteer or work at a parish or any archdiocesan entity," archdiocese spokeswoman Diane Clay said.

Clay said Zoeller was removed as a priest with the archdiocese in 2002 because "credible accusations of abuse" were made against him. She said he was laicized or formally relieved of his priestly rights and duties in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley asked for a review of Zoeller's file after receiving an Aug. 17 letter from a Minnesota man who said he had been sexually molested by Zoeller in the 1980s when Zoeller was a priest at an Oklahoma City parish. Clay said Coakley also called for an independent investigation into the matter.

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Friday Five: Capital Gazette journalists, SCOTUS news, an unsung hero's passing and more

Friday Five: Capital Gazette journalists, SCOTUS news, an unsung hero's passing and more

"I’m just undone by what happened at the Capital Gazette," said my friend Carla Hinton, religion editor at The Oklahoman. "These are strange and heartbreaking times we are living in. Praying for my fellow journalists and their families."

"It's especially traumatic because so many of us started our careers at newspapers like the Capital Gazette," responded my friend Steve Lackmeyer, a longtime business reporter at The Oklahoman. "We know these people, we know these newsrooms..."

Amen and amen.

No, the senseless slaying of journalists isn't any more tragic than the mass shootings — at schools, churches and other businesses — that keep making headlines in America.

But for those of us in this profession, the Capital Gazette tragedy hits especially close to home.

Want to understand the heart and passion that make many journalists tick? Read this Twitter thread by Nyssa Kruse, an intern at the Hartford Courant.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

So the most newsworthy Southern Baptist Convention in years is history.

Rather than try to analyze all the coverage -- even a fraction of it -- I'm going to offer up a tweetstorm of links and analysis. After all, your GetReligionistas have been all over the coverage of big SBC events for weeks. To catch up with recent events (and some history), click here, here, here and then here. For starters. And there's a podcast on the way, too.

But before today's tweetstorm begins, I want to nitpick a specific word choice by a respected Godbeat pro: Tom Gjelten of NPR.

In this headline, see if you can spot the word I'm talking about:

Pence Speech Riles Some As Southern Baptists' Moderates Gain Strength

A veteran religion writer emailed me the link to that story with this comment: "I don't think moderate means what Tom thinks it means." I hope Gjelten sees this post and responds with a comment on what he thinks it means. I'd welcome that.

Here's how NPR used the term in the context of the story:

In general the meeting showed moderates within the denomination in ascendancy, particularly on immigration issues. Resolutions were passed that called for more acceptance of immigrants, criticized the separation of families at the border and urged more generous treatment of refugees.

The question: Are those pushing for immigration reform accurately characterized as "moderates" in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention?

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Adoption law: In battle over gay rights vs. religious freedom, one side draws way more news ink

Adoption law: In battle over gay rights vs. religious freedom, one side draws way more news ink

Here in my home state of Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday signed an adoption bill passed by the Legislature.

As happened in Texas last year, the Oklahoma bill became law after a fierce battle over sexual liberty (gay rights, in this case) vs. religious freedom. But guess which side's point of view drew the most media attention?

The headlines from major news organizations -- both nationally and in the Sooner State -- will help answer that question.

"Oklahoma Passes Adoption Law That L.G.B.T. Groups Call Discriminatory," declared The New York Times.

"Oklahoma governor signs adoption law opposed by LGBT groups," reported The Associated Press.

"Oklahoma's governor signs bill described by opponents as discriminatory," said The Oklahoman.

Did you see any patterns here? You get the idea: The emphasis is on gay-rights advocates upset over the law's passage, as opposed to religious groups -- including leaders of the state's Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics -- who pushed for its passage.

Is that fair, impartial journalism? Are voices on both sides being treated with respect?

At issue is whether faith-based adoption agencies can turn away same-sex couples and other prospective parents who don’t meet their religious criteria.

This was the breaking news alert that AP sent out on Twitter:

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