racism

Amid furor over Trump tweets, NPR visits two very different Friendship Baptist Churches in Virginia

Amid furor over Trump tweets, NPR visits two very different Friendship Baptist Churches in Virginia

NPR’s Sarah McCammon visited two Friendship Baptist Churches for a report that aired this week.

I loved the idea behind her story on congregations in the same state with the same name but different perspectives on President Donald Trump. And I mostly loved the implementation.

But before we delve into her feature, let’s start with the online headline: I’m not 100 percent sold on it.

Here it is:

In Virginia, 2 Churches Feel The Aftermath of Trump’s Racist Rhetoric

My problem with the headline is this: It labels Trump’s rhetoric — as a fact — as “racist.” I’m an old-school- enough journalist that I’d prefer the news organization simply report what Trump has said and let listeners/readers characterize it as racist. Or not.

I know I’m probably in the minority on this — evidence of that fact can be found here, here, here and here.

But back to the story itself: It opens this way:

A welcome sign on the way into town reads "Historic Appomattox: Where Our Nation Reunited." But here in Appomattox, where the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, there are still reminders of division.

Not far away, a sign posted in front of Friendship Baptist Church reads "AMERICA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT."

Pastor Earnie Lucas said he posted that message on his church sign several weeks ago. It was around the same time that President Trump tweeted an attack on four Democratic members of Congress — all women of color — saying they should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Lucas, 85, is white and has been a pastor in this community for decades. He defends his sign and expresses anger about the response it has received online and in news reports.

"Don't talk to me about that flag out yonder, or that sign out yonder!" he thundered from the pulpit. "This is America! And I love America!"

Lucas asks if anyone in the small, all-white congregation is "from Yankee land." No one raises their hand

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BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

Once upon a time, I was an expert on life in Waco, Texas. I spent six years there in the 1970s — doing two degrees at Baylor University — and have had family ties to Jerusalem on the Brazos for decades, some of which are as strong than ever.

The Waco I knew didn’t have lots of civic pride. For many people, things went up and down with the state of affairs at Baylor. Even the great Willie Nelson — who frequently played in a Waco salon back then — had Baylor ties. And talking about Baylor means talking about Baptists. We used to joke that there were more Baptists in Waco than there were people. We had normal Baptists, conservative Baptists, “moderate” Baptists and even a few truly liberal Baptists. Welcome to Waco.

This old Waco had a dark side — a tragic, but normal, state of things in light of America’s history with race and poverty. Many of the locals were brutally honest about that. And in recent decades, Waco has had tons of bad luck, media-wise. Say “Waco” and people think — you know what.

As you would imagine, the fact that Waco is now one of the Sunbelt’s hottest tourism zones cracks me up. But that’s the starting point for a long, long BuzzFeed feature that I have been mulling over for some time. Here’s the epic double-decker headline:

”Fiixer Upper” Is Over, But Waco’s Transformation Is Just Beginning.

HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines helped convert a sleepy Texas town into a tourist mecca. But not everyone agrees on what Waco’s “restoration” should look like.

There is an important, newsworthy, piece of news writing buried inside this sprawling, first-person “reader” by BuzzFeed scribe Anne Helen Petersen. It’s kind of hard to find, since the piece keeps getting interrupted by chunks of material that could have been broken out into “sidebars,” distinct wings of the main house.

Here’s the key question: Is this story about Chip and Joanna Gaines and their Magnolia empire — the hook for all that tourism — or is it about Antioch Community Church and how its evangelical, missionary mindset has shaped efforts to “reform,” “reboot” or “restore” distressed corners of Waco?

The answer, of course, is “both.” That creates problems, since there are so many elements of the “good” Waco news that clash with BuzzFeed’s worldview. Thus, the goal here is to portray (a) the shallow, kitschy aspects of Waco’s current happiness before revealing (b) the dark side of this evangelical success story.

This vast, multilayered feature is built, of course, built on Peterson’s outsider status and her contacts with former — “former,” as in alienated — members of the Antioch-Gaines world. There’s no need to engage with the views of key people who are at the heart of these restoration efforts because, well, this is BuzzFeed, a newsroom with this crucial “ethics” clause in its newsroom stylebook:

We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women's rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides. 

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Evangelicals face Trump-era exits by blacks: This may have something to do with religion

Evangelicals face Trump-era exits by blacks: This may have something to do with religion

Ever since the Promise Keepers movement in the late 1990s (remember the giant rally on the National Mall?), one of the most interesting stories in American religion has been efforts at racial reconciliation in some (repeat some) evangelical and Pentecostal churches and denominations.

Pentecostalism, of course, began as a racial integrated movement and, ever since, that movement has been more multicultural and interracial than any other form of church life. Evangelicals? Not as much. However, it has been hard to miss the Southern Baptist Convention wrestling with its demons in the past decade, in particular.

This brings me to a must-read piece that ran the other day in The New York Times: "A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches."

You will be shocked, I am sure, to know that the answer to that "why?" question is (wait for it) -- Donald Trump.

You'll also be shocked to know that, at the heart of this story, is the white evangelical monolith theory stressing that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and were very happy to do so (yes, ignore the coverage in Christianity Today). It ignores that Trump's take on immigration and his tone-deaf (at best) language on race infuriated many evangelical leaders.

All that said, I think this Times story gets the political half of this painful equation just about right. However, the editors aren't very interested in what is going on in terms of religion. I know -- it's shocking. Plus, where’s the hard reporting? Can you base a long feature like this on anecdotes, alone?.

The story is unfolds through the eyes of Charmaine Pruitt of Fort Worth, explaining why (sort of) she began attending the giant predominately white Gateway Church, led by the Rev. Robert Morris. Then it explains why she left. Here is a key piece of framing material:

In the last couple of decades, there had been signs, however modest, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning might cease to be the most segregated hour in America. “Racial reconciliation” was the talk of conferences and the subject of formal resolutions.

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Doing the right (reporting) thing: Washington Post keeps digging on Klanner-turned-priest tale

Doing the right (reporting) thing: Washington Post keeps digging on Klanner-turned-priest tale

The late Phillip Graham, onetime publisher of The Washington Post, is widely credited with saying journalism is "the first rough draft of history." But, as journalist Jack Shafer noted seven years ago, another writer named Alan Barth may have originated it.

Regardless of who said it first, and as Shafer noted in the article linked above, the words ring true. A news story is generally the first take on something that's happened. Many newspapers will stay with an important local (or national) story as events unfold. Conscientious newspapers will flesh out their follow-up reporting with greater detail and insight.

Fortunately for those of us who decry when the media fails to "get" the religion angle, The Washington Post has -- in one recent case -- come through with reporting (and even a first-person commentary) that shows they do "get" it.

I'm speaking of the continuing story of the Rev. William Aitcheson, a Catholic priest who once-upon-a-time wore a very different set of vestments: the robes of an "exalted cyclops" in an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. The Post, which broke the story in the general media, has stayed with it, From its follow-up story:

The reason behind Aitcheson’s revelation also has been called into question. Maria Santos Bier, a freelance journalist and member of the Arlington Diocese, had contacted the diocese a few days before Aitcheson wrote the essay to ask about Aitcheson’s KKK history -- and told them she might write about it.
In an essay published in The Washington Post, Santos Bier described her experience as a history student of Aitcheson’s while she was home-schooled in the early 2000s in Woodstock, Va. Aitcheson was a “fervent advocate of the Confederacy” who would joke about “Saint Robert E. Lee” in homilies at the church, and seemed so knowledgeable about history, Santos Bier wrote, that “I trusted him when he taught us that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, not slavery; that the South’s cause was noble and just.”

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Klanner-turned-Catholic priest story raises question about (wait for it) repentance

Klanner-turned-Catholic priest story raises question about (wait for it) repentance

Just when you thought things couldn't get any more exciting in the aftermath of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., where a protester was mowed down and killed by a white-supremacist, there comes a story that I can't imagine anyone anticipated.

An active, currently serving Roman Catholic priest admitted he had been a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and burned crosses on people's lawns, before entering the priesthood. The priest, Father William Aitcheson, has now taken a leave of absence from his role as an associate pastor at a parish in the Arlington, Va., archdiocese.

While it didn't make front page news in The Washington Post -- of which more here shortly -- it was the lead item on the local NBC-TV station, WRC. Their story, buttressed by an online version, was a very basic account:

A Virginia priest took a leave of absence on Monday after he admitted that he was previously a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Father William Aitcheson, a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, burned a cross on an African-American couple's lawn in College Park, Maryland, in the 1970s. 
Aitcheson, 62, wrote about his past Klan affiliation Monday in The Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocese's newspaper. He currently is an associate pastor at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

The WRC-TV story offers an intriguing insight into the genesis of this disclosure, but then tapers off:

Aitcheson wrote in the essay that images from violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, inspired him to speak out. But a reporter's inquiry may have played a role. 
The diocese said in a statement issued Wednesday that a "freelance reporter, who introduced herself as a parishioner" contacted the diocese and said she knew that Aitcheson's name matched that of the man convicted of cross-burnings. 

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In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

It is a, well, mantra here at GetReligion that we don't analyze the reporters who write a given story as much as we discuss the story itself and the outlet that produced it. But I'm going to plead for an exception here, and I believe with good reason. More on that in just a moment.

First, the facts: Acrimony surrounding President Donald J. Trump's reaction/tweets/statements concerning the tragic events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a protester was killed by a car driven by an alleged white supremacist, has caused a number of business leaders to rethink any association, however cursory, with the current administration. Two of Trump's business-related advisory groups have folded as a result.

This leads us to a New York Times story on "The Moral Voice of Corporate America," in which reporter David Gelles uses 2,718 words (subheads included) to explain what's going on. Well, almost, since I believe some crucial voices are missing.

Four paragraphs in, we learn how corporate America has found its voice:

In recent days, after the Charlottesville bloodshed, the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, called on people to “come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us — tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan said, “The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”
Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, criticized Mr. Trump by name for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville, and called for healing. ...

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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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Thinking about the past: CNN reporter follows his own roots into SBC's Russell Moore wars

Thinking about the past: CNN reporter follows his own roots into SBC's Russell Moore wars

Let's flash back about a month to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix. You may recall that the hot story turned out to be the mishandling of a stirring resolution on politics and race that, for America's largest Protestant flock, attempted to drive a stake into the heart of the alt-right.

In terms of the religion beat, it was interesting to watch major news operations scramble to cover the story, since -- in this age when few Godbeat reporters are granted even minimum travel budgets -- hardly anyone had boots on the ground in Arizona.

However, to the surprise of your GetReligionistas, CNN was there -- in the person of multimedia specialist Chris Moody of the network's political team.

Now, let me stress right here that I have long ties to Moody and to his family. For starters, he was one of my best students at Palm Beach Atlantic University and then in the first, very experimental semester of the Washington Journalism Center. Decades earlier, Moody's grandfather -- a legendary Southern Baptist preacher, the Rev. Jess Moody -- was a good friend of my late father.

Chris Moody headed to Phoenix while reporting a background feature on what everyone expected to be the hot story at the 2017 SBC meetings -- the battle over the future of the Rev. Russell Moore, the outspoken (and very #NeverTrump #NeverHillary) leader of the convention's Washington, D.C., office.

Apparently, Moore to more than survive in Arizona. He also played a high-profile role in the alt-right drama, contributing a 5-star soundbite on that front. That quote made it into a new Moody feature about Moore, that is now online. Moore said this, concerning the revised SBC resolution. The opening image sounds like something from a Johnny Cash song.

“This resolution has a number on it. It’s Resolution Number 10. The white supremacy it opposes also has a number on it. It’s 666,” [Moore] said, referring to the biblical number representing the devil.

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Ongoing drama of Southern Baptists and race: Who was there to cover alt-right debate in Phoenix?

Ongoing drama of Southern Baptists and race: Who was there to cover alt-right debate in Phoenix?

For quite a few hours now, the most popular article at The Atlantic website has been Emma Green's strategic piece with this double-decker headline: 

A Resolution Condemning White Supremacy Causes Chaos at the Southern Baptist Convention
At its annual meeting, the evangelical denomination initially declined to consider a statement of its opposition to the alt-right.

Look for this right there on the website's front page, under the advertisement for "The Handmaid's Tale."

I'm waiting for the update on that timely piece and I have no doubt that it's on the way. It appears to me that her piece was a key domino in this coverage.

It has been a remarkable day, watching journalists tune into the 2017 gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention. Better late than never. In this day of tight travel budgets, and fewer slots for trained religion-beat professionals, it's appears that there are few journalistic boots on the ground there in Phoenix (see Julia Duin post here), in terms of mainstream media.

But you know what? It's hard to tell, with the SBC streaming the main proceedings and with a waterfall of #SBC17 tweets pointing reporters, those with the eyes to see, to all kinds of voices and perspectives.

The pre-convention buzz centered on the fate of the Rev. Russell Moore, leader of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Instead, the story of the convention turned out to be a bumbling, but ultimately convicting, SBC effort to deal with race and one of the hottest of hot-button labels in current American life -- "alt-right." The end result was a major win for the convention and, in particular, the SBC's growing number of black church leaders -- who are among Moore's strongest supporters.

Moore stood to deliver a sure-fire soundbite for the night. Look for this in news coverage tomorrow.

Basically, he said the resolution in question has a number on it -- 10. Then he added that the alt-right has a number on it -- 666.

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