grief

The crimes stunned Knoxville: But faith brought Channon Christian's father back to life

The crimes stunned Knoxville: But faith brought Channon Christian's father back to life

It’s one of the biggest puzzles on the religion beat, one that readers ask me about all the time. Here’s the question: Why don’t news organizations cover more “spiritual” stories, as in stories about the impact religious faith has in the daily lives of real people?

The short answer is one that readers don’t want to hear: Most editors don’t think that positive stories about changed lives is “news.”

Now, if the person whose life is changed by faith is a politician, a celebrity or the starting quarterback for the local football team, then that might make this a “news” story. Maybe. Well, it also helps if this “spiritual” hook is combined with some issue that’s controversial.

This is what the cynic in me thought the other day when I saw this headline in The Knoxville News Sentinel, my local newspaper: “Gary Christian: From rage to restoration, a murder victim's father finds the faith he left.

If you live in East Tennessee, this headline calls back years of headlines about a horrific crime story that seized this region like few others — the torture, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In aftermath, the face of Channon’s father — Gary Christian — became an iconic image of loss, grief, agony and, yes, wrath.

This massive News Sentinel feature dug deep into what has happened since the trials. It’s a story about rough, realistic healing and the spiritual changes that allowed a man to return to faith. To be blunt: You don’t see many stories of this kind in news print.

First, here is the long, but essential, overture.

Gary Christian stood in an East Tennessee church pulpit on a sunny August Sunday, speaking about pain and death and faith and God. It’s not a place — or a point — where the father of murder victim Channon Christian would have been 18 months ago.

For 10 years Christian never talked to the Lord he had loved all his life. He left God behind after his beautiful, compassionate, smart 21-year-old daughter was carjacked, tortured, raped, beaten and murdered in January 2007.

Then, last April, kneeling at his child’s grave and surrounded by friends, Christian asked for God’s help.

God had been waiting. He'd never left.

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When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

I guess it is sort of strange to complain about a heavy emphasis on business and economics in a story published at BusinessInsider.com.

Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to know more after reading the recent feature that ran with this headline: "The death of Queen Elizabeth will be one of the most disruptive events in Britain in the past 70 years." Yes, I sense a religion ghost here.

I have read several reports about the planning that is going on behind the scenes, as British leaders brace themselves for this seismic shift in their culture. There are so many details to describe and, yes, lots of them are linked to economics and trade.

England's currency will need to change, along with all passports. God Save the Queen will, of course, return to God Save the King. Police uniforms will be tweaked. Old questions will resurface about the status of the monarchy and the British Commonwealth. The public events linked to her death will cost billions of pounds.

Check out this overture. It may even help to read it out loud, to get the reverent tone right:

Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, is not going to live forever.

Since ascending to the throne in 1952, the monarch has seen 13 prime ministers serve Britain and lived through another 13 US presidents. She's now 92. At some point -- not for many years yet, we hope -- Queen Elizabeth II's reign will come to an end.

But what happens then? For at least 12 days -- between her passing, the funeral and beyond -- Britain will grind to a halt. The chaos will cost the UK economy billions in lost earnings. The stock markets and banks are likely to close. And both the funeral and the subsequent coronation will become formal national holidays, each with an estimated economic hit to gross domestic product of £1.2 billion to £6 billion($1.6 billion to $7.9 billion), to say nothing of organisational costs.

Yes, that's a lot of money and that's part of the story.

However, there are even larger issues lurking in the background that, frankly, have to do with history and national identity.

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File this away for use in 2018: Adelle Banks at RNS digs into 'Blue Christmas' rites

File this away for use in 2018: Adelle Banks at RNS digs into 'Blue Christmas' rites

A couple of decades ago, one of the best sources for religion-beat stories about church life was a researcher named Lyle Schaller.

Schaller was -- yes, this sounds a bit odd -- a United Methodist expert on evangelism. He was the rare mainline Protestant leader who was actually interested in why some churches gained members, while others were losing them.

Back in the mid-1980s, I interviewed him about the difference between so-called "Easter Christians" -- people who only show up at Easter -- and "Christmas Christians." I bring this up because of an excellent Religion News Service feature by Adelle Banks that ran the other day about churches that hold "Blue Christmas" services in the days leading up to Dec. 25. Journalists need to file this story away for future reference.

Hold that thought. First, let's return to Schaller. This is from the tribute column I wrote when Schaller died in 2015:

The research he was reading said Christmas was when "people are in pain and may walk through your doors after years on the outside," he said. ...  Maybe they don't know, after a divorce, what to do with their kids on Christmas Eve. Maybe Christmas once had great meaning, but that got lost somehow. The big question: Would church regulars welcome these people?
"Most congregations say they want to reach out to new people, but don't act like it," said Schaller. Instead, church people see days like Easter and Christmas as "intimate, family affairs … for the folks who are already" there, he said, sadly. "They don't want to dilute the mood with strangers."

Christmas, he stressed, was a chance for actually evangelism and healing. It has become one of the most painful times of year for many people in an America full of broken and hurting families.

The lengthy Banks feature focuses on that angle, as well as people facing Christmas after the death of a loved one. Here is the overture:

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After media horde swamps grieving Sutherland Springs, one journalist suggests: 'We can do better'

After media horde swamps grieving Sutherland Springs, one journalist suggests: 'We can do better'

Coverage of Sunday's mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, sparked a must-read opinion piece by Dallas Morning News journalist Lauren McGaughy.

"Dear Sutherland Springs, you deserve an apology from the news media" is the headline atop McGaughy's viral column.

I want to highlight McGaughy's powerful words as we dive into GetReligion weekend think-piece territory a little early.

But first, a bit of personal background: My first experience with the national news media descending on a community struck by tragedy came more than two decades ago when the unfathomable happened in Oklahoma City.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I had just stepped off The Oklahoman’s eighth-floor newsroom elevator when we heard a giant boom and saw billowing black smoke in the distance. I was one of the reporters dispatched to the scene.

In all, 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building — the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil until 9/11 six years later.

When I arrived downtown, I parked with no problem. Hours later, I found my car surrounded by news vans and television satellite trucks. This was the biggest news story in the world — and would be for weeks.

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Washington mudslide disaster: the heart of the matter

More than two weeks after the horrendous mudslide in Oso, Wash., news coverage is taking a different turn. Gone are the frenetic rescue stories and the first profiles of those lost, and in their place are more broad-based stories about those who will help residents recover long-term. From the Seattle Times comes this piece about the faith community, both local and transplanted, in the wake of the tragedy. While we would expect this type of coverage at this stage in the developing story, this report seems different. Not only is it well-sourced, but it moved me to empathy in a way I didn’t really expect.

People of faith, ministers and chaplains have responded to the deadly March 22 mudslide as a calling. They’re on the ground in Oso, Darrington and Arlington, trying to help shocked survivors pick up and go on. The transition from overwhelming loss to healing will be slow and difficult, they say.

“I’ve been ordained 38 years, so I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never been a part of something this dramatic and all-encompassing,” said the Rev. Tim Sauer, pastor at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Arlington and St. John Vianney in Darrington.

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Tears and prayers on camera: Did NBC want the full Oprah?

Anyone who has watched television coverage of tense, painful events has seen it happen. This is especially true of news events that can, in any way, accurately be described as “disasters.” Years ago, I had a conversation with the late Peter Jennings about what happens next on camera:

Inevitably, a reporter confronts a survivor and asks: “How did you get through this terrible experience?” As often as not, a survivor replies: “I don’t know. I just prayed. Without God’s help, I don’t think I could have made it.”

What follows, explained Jennings, is an awkward silence.

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God and faith in Oklahoma tornado coverage

In my first-person account of the Moore, Okla., tornado last week, I predicted that the faith and resiliency of the state’s residents would be a major theme in media coverage.

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