Thom Rainer

Question for journalists: Where does this hellish Charlottesville story go next (other than Trump)?

Question for journalists: Where does this hellish Charlottesville story go next (other than Trump)?

So you are a journalist and you think there is more to the Charlottesville tragedy than political word games. Where to you think this story will go next?

Oceans of ink will, of course, be spilled covering news linked to President Donald Trump and what he does, or does not, say about that alt-right and white supremacy. Political reporters will do that thing they do and, in this case, for totally valid reasons. Please allow me to ask this question: At what point will major television networks -- rather than sticking with a simplistic left vs. right strategy -- spotlight the cultural conservatives who have been knocking the Trump team on this topic from the beginning?

In terms of religion angles, our own Julia Duin wrote an omnibus piece that this this morning and I would urge readers to check it out. Lots of people in social media urged pastors to dig into issues of hate and race in their sermons. Now I'm looking for coverage of that angle. Has anyone seen anything? Just asking.

The latest report from The New York Times -- "Far-Right Groups Surge Into National View in Charlottesville" -- raises some very interesting issues about this event. I came away asking this question: Who were the marchers and where did they come from (and get their funds)? Once reporters have asked that question, they can then ask: Who were the counter-protestors and where did they come from (and get their funds)? I think both angles will be quite revealing, in terms of information about the seeds for the violence.

I thought the following was especially interesting:

George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists, said that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. ...

The counterprotesters included members of the local Charlottesville clergy and mainstream figures like the Harvard professor Cornel West. As the rally erupted into violence Saturday morning, the First United Methodist Church on East Jefferson Street opened its doors to demonstrators, serving cold water and offering basic medical care.
Dr. Hawley said he believed the far-left activists, known as antifa, were welcomed by the white nationalists. “I think to an extent the alt-right loves the antifa because they see them as being the perfect foil,” he said.

That drew a response from one of the local organizers -- Laura Goldblatt, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia:

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News question? What should church folks say, or not say, to guests who visit pews?

News question? What should church folks say, or not say, to guests who visit pews?

As most GetReligion readers know, I am in my 27th year writing a weekly national religion column commenting on what's going on in the news. At the same time, when your syndication deadline is pretty early in the week, and most people read your work in weekend pages, it's often hard to precisely define what "news" means.

Every now and then you can find spot something with some real newsy bite and get to it ahead of the crowd that is writing on a daily deadline or, in the Internet age, with a deadline that's mere minutes into the future. Most of the time, I try to write about speeches or events or online debates that other people have missed or written off. Sometimes -- this is no surprise to readers of this blog -- there are angles in religion-news events that I think deserve more attention that many other scribes.

But here is a simple fact that led to this week's "Crossroads" podcast discussion with host Todd Wilken (click here to tun that in). During the past quarter century, some of the columns that have inspired the most reactions from readers were not about "news" at all, but focused on facts and trends about what goes on in ordinary sanctuaries week after week, month after month, year after year, etc.

You want to start a war in the pews? Yes, you can preach about the Iraq war or the mysteries of marriage and sex. Or you can change the hymnal or the worship band. Oh boy, play that one wrong and you're sure to cause eyebrows to rise and checkbooks to snap shut.

So my United syndicate column this week grew out of reading a column by a Southern Baptist leader named Thom Rainer, whose Twitter connections pull in thousands and thousands of readers all the time (less than half of them Southern Baptists, apparently). While his LifeWay Christian Resources people do all kinds of interesting research, much of this commentary focuses on the basic DNA of daily church life in a changing world. In this case he wrote about "Ten Things You Should Never Say to a Guest in a Worship Service."

The preacher's kid in me was intrigued by that one, in part because I've followed -- since the late 1980s -- the whole "seeker-friendly worship" debates about what appeals to, or offends, modern people who are "unchurched" or who have been outside the church for some time (maybe even those about to become "nones").

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