faith healing

Covering exotic faiths, in Uganda and Tibet, a special challenge for Western religion scribes

Covering exotic faiths, in Uganda and Tibet, a special challenge for Western religion scribes

One of the toughest disciplines for journalists to follow — if not the toughest — is setting aside personal judgements about others’ opinions. It’s a struggle for all practitioners of the craft, but it's particularly difficult for religion specialists.

That’s because of the deep and often unconscious psychological ties between personal identity and beliefs about life’s ultimate questions.

It's even harder to handle when covering faith systems outside the mainstream majority religions, with which we’re generally more familiar and, therefore, more comfortable.

I was reminded of this by two recent Religion News Service stories. RNS published them the same day, but what I want to focus on is how they took opposite approaches to covering some exotic territory.

One piece was about a subset of Pentecostal Christian leaders in Uganda warning their followers not to rely upon traditional Western medicine rather than their faith to see them through ill-health. The second concerned the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, the fourteenth in his lineage, and speculated about his reincarnation, or even if he should — which is monumental for Tibetan Buddhists.

Both pieces, I’d say, likely strained the belief systems of the preponderance of Westerners, including religion journalists.

Before we jump into those two stories, let me offer some caveats.

When I talk about putting aside our personal judgements I’m not including niche religion publications written for particular faith groups. Nor am I talking about opinion journalism, which includes the posts here at GetReligion.

Rather, I’m talking about mainstream news reporting, the sort historically defined by professional standards that attempt to provide “objective” journalism.

Frankly, I don't believe objectivity was ever really attainable for subjective humans (meaning all of us). So I prefer the label “fair and fact-based.” And yes, I’m fully aware that highly opinionated journalism is the increasingly preferred format in today’s 24/7, atomized, web and cable TV-dominated news environment.

One more thing. In no way should anything I write here be misinterpreted as an unqualified endorsement of any of the beliefs noted.

Now back to the RNS stories. Here’s the top of the Uganda piece:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Faith-healing in Idaho: A Spokane paper doesn't ask enough questions

Faith-healing in Idaho: A Spokane paper doesn't ask enough questions

The Spokesman-Review, the major daily east of the mountains in Washington state, doesn’t have a religion reporter, which is one reason why the Religion News Association started up its own website in Spokane in 2012.

Tracy Simmons is still capably running five years later, which may be why religion coverage in the Spokesman-Review is pretty rare. But on Tuesday, the paper did feature a piece about a state Senate bill in neighboring Idaho that tried to regulate faith-healing groups.

This is a tremendously interesting topic but see if you can understand the story as it appeared in Tuesday’s paper:

BOISE -- Controversial faith-healing legislation narrowly cleared an Idaho Senate committee on Monday, after a hearing in which nearly everyone who spoke opposed it.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said his bill, SB 1182, makes a series of changes to Idaho’s existing faith-healing exemption from civil liability for child neglect, but makes no changes in the state’s criminal laws, which include a religious exemption from prosecution for faith-healing parents who deny their children medical care and the children die or suffer permanent injury.
“I’m not sure that it really changes a whole lot,” said Johnson, who co-chaired a legislative interim working group that held hearings on Idaho’s existing faith-healing exemption, “other than it moves a bunch of words and sentences around.”

What we’re missing at this point is some background

Johnson said his bill restates Idaho’s current religious exemption from civil liability for child abuse or neglect as an “affirmative statement,” and clarifies some wording. It also references Idaho’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, citing rights to free exercise of religion. “That is a fundamental right that applies to all parenting decisions,” Johnson said. The bill makes no changes to Idaho’s criminal laws.
Then follows a number of quotes from people who oppose the bill, including a county sheriff who says he’s had a handful of child deaths in the past four months due to parents not giving their offspring medical care.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Toughest church-states battles: When faith-healing doctrines lead to children dying

Toughest church-states battles: When faith-healing doctrines lead to children dying

Anyone who has studied the separation of church and state knows that there are all kinds of issues in this field that cry out for compromise -- but compromises acceptable to both sides are often next to impossible to find.

No, I am not talking about LGBTQ issues that pit religious liberty against emerging concepts of sexual liberty.

I'm talking about cases in which the religious convictions of parents -- specifically the belief that all medical issues should be handled through prayer and "natural" remedies -- lead to the death of children. Basically, courts are being asked to draw a line limiting parental rights, when it comes to a contest between faith and modern medicine.

As a rule, state officials are supposed to avoid becoming entangled in matters of faith and doctrine. However, there are limits. Here at GetReligion, I have repeatedly noted that state officials have the right to intervene when cases involve fraud, profit and clear threat to life and health. "Faith healing" cases pivot on whether a religious group's teachings represent a "clear threat" to believers, especially children.

A reader recently pointed me to a massive (Gannett newspapers in Central Pennsylvania) report that ran under the headline: "God's will vs. medicine: Does Faith Tabernacle beliefs put children at risk?"

I want to stress that there is much to recommend in this piece, including the fact that it places debates about Pennsylvania law affecting "faith healing" in the context of ongoing national debates about Christian Science, the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the traditions of the Amish and others. There are places where I would question the wording used by the team, but I still want to salute the research done here.

This piece is way better than the norm on this difficult topic. Here is a long, but crucial passage:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Miracle of technology bites Houston Chronicle and mars excellent reporting on faith-healing evangelist

Miracle of technology bites Houston Chronicle and mars excellent reporting on faith-healing evangelist

Media blogger Jim Romenesko called attention to an embarrassing photo mishap by the Houston Chronicle.

The text of the Texas newspaper's correction:

Correction, Feb. 17, 2015
A photograph appearing with a story on page A1 about Reinhard Bonnke on Monday was digitally manipulated by the evangelist's organization to superimpose the preacher's image on a crowd of about 1.6 million gathered for a 2000 crusade in Lagos, Nigeria. Mary-Kathryn Manuel, U.S. director for Bonnke's Christ for All Nations, said the photo was a combined shot of the crowd during daylight hours and Bonnke preaching after nightfall. The photo, provided to the newspaper by Bonnke's crusade, was not represented to the newspaper as a digitally altered image. The Houston Chronicle apologizes for this error.

Unfortunately, the doctored photo marred the Chronicle's excellent reporting on Bonnke.

The top of the newspaper's meaty, 1,500-word report:

Strange things happen when African evangelist Reinhard Bonnke begins preaching, believers will tell you. The blind see. The deaf hear. And — most astoundingly, as in the case of a Nigerian man — the dead live.
Such "miracles" trace their authority to the pages of the New Testament, and Bonnke's ministry is careful to stipulate that God is the power behind such "signs and wonders." Still, events such as the purported resurrection of auto crash victim Daniel Ekechukwu during Bonnke's November 2001 crusade in Onitsha, Nigeria, have made the fiery German evangelist a charismatic star of the developing world.
At 74, Bonnke - still relatively unknown to secular Westerners - is the chief proselytizer at Florida-based Christ for All Nations, a globe-spanning ministry that claims to have saved more than 75 million souls and, in one recent single year, garnered almost $15 million in grants and contributions.
This week, Bonnke will bring his message to Houston for two nights at the BBVA Compass Stadium, his fourth stop in his first American crusade.
"At every single meeting we see these miracles," said Daniel Kolenda, Bonnke's top lieutenant, ministry heir-apparent and designated spokesman. "It just happens in an unobtrusive way and all glory goes to Jesus. You might think we're just a miracle show coming to town, like a circus, but what we're after is salvation, saving souls."

That dramatic opening certainly grabs a reader's attention. 


Please respect our Commenting Policy