social justice

Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

It's a question I have heard over and over during the nearly 14 years that GetReligion has been online. It's a question that I am hearing more and more often these days, as the reality of online economics shapes what we read, see and hear.

The question: Why doesn't GetReligion address journalism issues in opinion pieces, as well as in hard-news stories?

After all, major news organizations keep running more opinion pieces about major events and trends in the news, often in place of actual news coverage. Why does this keep happening?

There are several obvious reasons. First, as your GetReligionistas keep noting, opinion is cheap and hard-news reporting is expensive. All kinds of people are willing to write opinion pieces for next to nothing, while reporting requires lots of time and effort by professionals who, you know, need salaries.

Opinion pieces are also written to provoke and, most of the time, to make true believers shout "Amen!" before they pass along (click, click, click) URLs on Twitter or Facebook. You can usually tell a news organization's worldview by the number of opinion pieces it runs that lean one way or another, while appealing to core readers. In the South this is called "preaching to the choir." Check out the opinion-to-news ratio in the typical "push" email promo package sent out each morning by The Washington Post.

It also helps that it's hard to blame news organizations for the slant or content of opinion pieces they publish. Editors can say, and this is true: Hey, don't blame us, that's his/her opinion.

Finally, there is a deeper question behind this question: How does one critique an opinion piece on issues of balance, fairness and even accuracy? After all, it's not real news. It's just opinion.

Yes, I am asking these questions for a reason. Yesterday, my Twitter feed was buzzing with reactions to an "Acts of Faith" essay published by The Washington Post. It was written by Michael Frost, an evangelism professor who is the vice principal of Morling College, a Baptist institution in Sydney, Austrailia.

The headline: "Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees."

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No match? Britain's Guardian misses church context in Salvation Army's down-under funeral venture

No match? Britain's Guardian misses church context in Salvation Army's down-under funeral venture

You might wonder what a video about The Salvation Army starting a match factory 129 years ago in London's East End has to do with commercial funeral services in Australia, but there's a connection, trust me. (Click the "match factory" link above to see the Army's take. It's worth your time, I believe.)

In that connection lies a tip for Godbeat journalists today: look beyond the immediate story for any deeper background. Both you and your readers will be rewarded.

My thoughts turned to the "Match Girls' Strike" of 1888 when I read this article from Britain's Guardian about a new company in Australia promising to cut the burdensome costs of cremations and funerals:

The Salvation Army has entered Australia’s funeral industry, a move welcomed by consumer advocates concerned by a “long history” of unscrupulous providers taking advantage of the newly bereaved and a lack of competition.
Salvo Funerals officially launched in Sydney this week, following a successful six-month trial in which it delivered more than 90 funerals. Malcolm Pittendrigh, the chief executive, said it was a social enterprise designed to both meet the needs of the community and return money to the not-for-profit.
He had worked at the Salvation Army as an accountant for nearly 20 years and pitched the idea of a funeral service to senior leadership as a “natural extension” of its work.
“Part of our approach was a lean, start-up methodology, where you build, you test, you learn – just to prove that you have something that’s worthy of putting into the community.”
In a market dominated by “a couple of big players”, he said Salvo Funerals’ point of difference was its lower-cost offerings.

There's little doubt that The Salvation Army, with 152 years of service as an evangelical Christian church and about 2 million adherents worldwide, could use some positive press in Australia. Decades of alleged physical, emotional and sexual abuse have been reported in children's shelters there, and a plan to redress victims is in the works.

There is, of course, no excuse for mistreating young people, and the Army has deservedly paid a heavy public price for these transgressions.

But Salvo Funerals -- "Salvo" being the Aussie colloquialism for the organization -- offers a chance for some public redemption. So, on that level, it's certainly valid news.

What's missing?

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DC church reaching millennials with evangelical, but strangely noncontroversial take on life

DC church reaching millennials with evangelical, but strangely noncontroversial take on life

Trust me. As a guy in his early ‘60s, after studying trends in American religion for more than four decades, I have seen plenty of news stories explaining how this church or that parachurch has found the magic formula for reaching people who are young and/or sick of organized religion.

These news stories come along every decade or so and are usually rooted in concerns stirred by research into the minds, hearts and lives of another a new generation. This was true with Baby Boomers, Generation X and now the millennials.

I’m not being cynical. We are talking about serious issues for clergy of all kinds, as they try to discern how changing times affect young people heading into the big spiritual gateways of life — marriage, career, children, mid-life angst, retirement and, well, you know.

Right now, the journalism ground is still shaking about you know what -- that headline-grabbing (still) 2012 Pew Forum study about the sharp rise in the number of people, especially the young, who openly describe themselves as unaffiliated, when it comes to institutional religion. Yes, lots of single young adults are sliding into the “Nones” zone.

This brings me to a long “Acts of Faith” feature, written by a freelance writer, that ran the other day at The Washington Post with a headline that, trust me (again), I felt like I had read (with a different noun at the end) several times in my professional life: “A new crop of D.C. churches has discovered the secret to appealing to millennials.” 

Here is the overture, complete with a 36-year-old pastor who — in the post-Associated Press Stylebook world in which we live — doesn’t have “The Rev.” in front of his name.

Aaron Graham is talking to Washingtonians about power.

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The Sanders speech at Liberty U: Did it lead to any debates on that campus?

The Sanders speech at Liberty U: Did it lead to any debates on that campus?

So gentle readers, raise your hands if you are already tired of the numbingly predicable acts of political theater that are being called "debates." 

My hand is way up. I realize that the CNN ratings were really high for the recent GOP gabfest, but that doesn't mean that -- other than in their opening statements -- the candidates actually said much that would help citizens grasp their stands on real issues.

But something did happen the other day that served as a brief ray of sunshine in national political discourse. I am referring to the visit that Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont made to Liberty University. It isn't every day that a self-proclaimed socialist, and secular Jew, pops in to speak during convocation at one of America's most symbolic evangelical -- or even small "f" fundamentalist -- universities, one founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

I wrote a GetReligion post about some of the coverage of the Sanders speech and it also provided the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune in on that.

During that podcast, I wondered if Sanders asked to speak there or if Liberty leaders asked him to speak in convocation. As it turns out, it was Liberty that -- to its credit -- extended the invitation. Bravo for that invitation and for the candidate's decision to accept it.

As you would expect, the text of the Sanders speech -- click here for The Washington Post annotated version of that -- was packed with biblical references making a case for common ground on issues of economic and social justice. He also was very blunt in stating that he hoped for civil discourse on these matters, even though he completely disagreed with Liberty, and traditional Christian doctrine in general, on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

However, I thought that the most interesting moment came in the question-and-answer session when the candidate was asked (this inquiry drew a wave of applause) why his concerns for children didn’t extend to those in the womb.

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Is China's economic imperialism a religious issue and, thus, a story for religion scribes?

Is China's economic imperialism a religious issue and, thus, a story for religion scribes?

Four years ago while vacationing in the Central American nation of Belize I noticed that the preponderance of grocery stores in the coastal and interior towns I visited were operated by Chinese immigrants. How come?

Few of the adults appeared to speak any Spanish or English, Belize's two most important languages, indicating to me that they were recent immigrants. Their children, it seemed, handled all their business translation needs, a not uncommon occurrence among first-generation immigrants everywhere.

I concluded that Belize, a small, seemingly unimportant geopolitical player with a polyglot population and limited infrastructure, had become another object of Chinese government economic imperialism meant to gain influence and create financially dependent allies across the developing world.

China, as one New York Times writer put it, engages big time in "buying loyalty." It does so by showering needy governments with loans and investments and sending its people to establish economically Important footholds.

I may be reaching here, but my gut tells me that, given China's miserable human rights record -- and in particular its treatment of religious movements -- that Beijing's ever-spreading tentacles is an issue to which American religious groups should be paying more attention.

Yes, that means that this is also a topic to which religion-beat journalists should be paying more attention.

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Hero or troubled soul: Dallas pastor takes his life

Hero or troubled soul: Dallas pastor takes his life

Right from the start, a long Page 1 story in The Dallas Morning News portrays the Rev. Charles Moore as a hero.

The headline on the weekend story:

In dying act, minister hoped to inspire social justice

The top of the 1,750-word story:

From segregated churches of East Texas to destitute slums of India, the Rev. Charles Moore fought for human rights.

He delivered sermons about racism and sexism. He stood vigil against the death penalty. He went on a hunger strike to protest discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But during retirement, the United Methodist minister questioned whether he had done enough. He saw the broken world around him.

So how did Moore — according to the Morning News — take his final, courageous stand?:

On a Monday afternoon in June, Moore, 79, drove from his home in Allen to Grand Saline, the town of his childhood about 70 miles east of Dallas. He traveled along country roads near fields of wildflowers and grazing cattle. In a strip-mall parking lot, outside a dollar store, beauty salon and pharmacy, he knelt down, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.

As flames engulfed him, he screamed and tried to stand. Witnesses rushed to put out the blaze with shirts, bottled water and, finally, an extinguisher.

He was flown unconsciousto a Dallas hospital, where he died from burn injuries.

Keep reading, and the Dallas newspaper uses Moore's own terminology — self-immolation — to describe the nature of his death:

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Brazil's faith in football: What happens after the apocalypse?

Brazil's faith in football: What happens after the apocalypse?

If you know anything about the sport the world calls "football," then you know that an apocalyptic event took place yesterday in Brazil.

If you know anything at all about the host nation for the 2014 World Cup, then you know -- everyone chant the mantra together -- that football is the true religion of Brazil. Here is a typical blast of this faith language, drawn from today's Los Angeles Times piece about Germany's 7-1 shredding of what is left of this year's battered Brazilian team.

It had been 64 years since Brazil staged a World Cup at home. And in a country so passionate about the sport it is worshipped like a religion, even now that 1950 final loss to Uruguay is remembered as a national tragedy.

This year's team, though, was expected to erase that stain. And when the Brazilian government lavished a record $11.5 billion on the preparations for this World Cup, the pressure on the national team increased. A World Cup title was seen as the only way to justify the cost. So hundreds of fans began gathering daily outside the gates of the team's training facility while hundreds more lined the roads when the team's bus would pass.

All of them were seeking deliverance as much as they were a championship.

Finally, if you know anything about football in Brazil, if you have watched any of the national team's matches over the past decade or more, then you know that many members of the team are outspoken Christians. In fact, several of the young superstars are part of the emerging face of born-again and Pentecostal Protestantism in this historically Catholic nation.

In a fine feature before the Germany match, BBC covered the essential facts and added some color, as well. The first statement is crucial:

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