white supremacy

Beyond covering vigils and funerals: What’s the Catholic church’s position on guns?

Beyond covering vigils and funerals: What’s the Catholic church’s position on guns?

I have attended many vigils and funeral services in my years as a news reporter. I did so primarily as a general assignment reporter covering crime in New York City throughout the early 2000s.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I attended dozens of funerals for firefighters and other first-responders who perished during the collapse of the World Trade Center in the biggest terror attack on American soil.

There is a new terror threat that faces our nation. The rise of domestic terrorists with easy access to guns have made even a routine weekend trip to the mall something to fear. Those memories of covering vigils and funerals — many involving children and teens shot and killed in senseless gang violence — came flooding back to my mind this past weekend.

The back-to-back massacres — one at a Texas Walmart on Saturday and another in an Ohio nightclub the following day — cast a pall on our nation at a time when many families are enjoying time at the beach.

Again, the violence had to do with guns. As flowers and candles piled up at both scenes of the tragedy, the political response was all about finger-pointing and racism. It was yet another example of our country’s increased political (and news media) polarization. Mainstream media news coverage could be summed out this way: Democrats blamed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, while Republicans pointed the finger at mental illness and violent video games.

The news coverage was predictable, boilerplate even. As usual, it lacked any real focus on religion, either in the many main news stories of the first few days or the sidebars that evolved. You would think the aftermath of two major tragedies wouldn’t lack talk of faith. Instead, the focus was politics — both regarding the motives of the shooters in each case and the need for gun control.

It’s a topic that comes up each time there is a mass shooting. And each time the coverage lacks any real consideration for what faith-based organizations are doing to try and stop future incidents. That is, have religious leaders offered more than prayers.

In this case, what the Catholic church has done to reduce gun violence has gone largely unreported or underreported the past few years.

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Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what

Weaponized Calvinism? Accused shooter said his salvation was assured, no matter what

At this point, I think reporters have no choice but to dig into the Calvinist themes in the manifesto published by John Earnest, the accused shooter at Chabad of Poway.

It’s crucial to find out, of course, what he learned during his many hours in the pews at Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It would appear that Earnest then blended pieces of Calvinist theology into the white supremacist beliefs that he says that he learned elsewhere.

Here is the key question at this point, as I see it: Was there an online website (a specific writer, even) that twisted Calvinist doctrines into the form that Earnest blended into a radicalized, violent white nationalism that embraced some things that he heard at church, while rejecting others?

Let’s take this one step at a time, starting with the following, from my first GetReligion post on this subject:

Yes, reporters … need to note that Earnest said, in that same manifesto, that he didn’t soak up this twisted version of Christianity while frequenting church pews with his family. His hateful, deadly heresies grew out of a private, secret life online, listening to true radicals. Church members tried to talk to him, but he turned away.

Nevertheless, there is no question that reporters will have to deal with two clashing versions of Christianity when covering this story — that white supremacist brand proclaimed in this digital testimony and the Orthodox Presbyterian — uppercase “O” is part of the name — faith taught in his family’s congregation. In this case, the accused gunman did everything that he could to put the word “Christian” into play.

This brings us to two Washington Post stories that can — by savvy readers — be read together. They cover two parts of the same equation.

Here’s the headline on the first one I’d like readers to study: “Ancient hatreds, modern methods: How social media and political division feed attacks on sacred spaces.” And here is the overture, which covers the crucial ground:

Inspired by the devastating impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and enabled by the largely unchecked freedoms of social media, individual extremists have launched a steady series of assaults on religious institutions around the world, the latest at a California synagogue. …

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Does the race card work? Christian school bans long hair for boys, including dreadlocks

Does the race card work? Christian school bans long hair for boys, including dreadlocks

It would be hard to imagine a click-bait story that features more unfortunate stereotypes about race and religion than the USA Today report about the young Florida student who was forbidden to enroll in a small Christian school because of his dreadlocks.

Turn up the social-media heat under this headline: "Florida school receiving death threats after turning away 6-year-old with dreadlocks."

Actually, the Washington Post piece on the same topic went one step further by putting everyone's favorite religion F-word in the headline: "A little boy with dreadlocks enrolled at a fundamentalist Christian school. It didn’t go well."

Let's stick with the USA Today piece, which is more compact and less sensationalistic. Here is the overture:

A private Christian school in Florida is facing backlash after a 6-year-old black child was turned away on his first day of class because of his dreadlocks.

Clinton Stanley Jr. was all set for his first day at A Book’s Christian Academy, but when he arrived, he was denied entry because of his hair. His dad, Clinton Stanley Sr., expressed his frustration in a now-viral video on Facebook Monday.

“My son just got told he cannot attend this school with his hair,” he said in the video. “If that’s not bias, I don’t know what is.”

The question hovering in the air is simple: Is this a case of racial bias at a predominately white Christian school? Hold that thought, because there is a crucial fact here that probably belongs in the lede -- especially with the Post using "fundamentalist" in its headline.

But first, consider this factual question: Was the dreadlocks card played as a racial ace in this case?

As it turns out, the school's policy is clear. USA Today notes:

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Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

It's time for a trip into my thick guilt file of news pieces that I wanted to get to a week ago (or more). However, most of my work this past week focused on Las Vegas, for reasons I am sure readers will understand.

Instead of Las Vegas, this post is about Southern Baptists and Phoenix. It's also about the negative side effects, in terms of news, of current trends in newsroom budgets (and I'm not just talking about editors declining to hire religion-beat professionals).

Now, please trust me when I say that I have spent lots of time studying the economic dominoes that keep falling in newsrooms during our industry's money crisis, which is primarily being caused by weak revenues from advertising, both digital and analog.

I know that there are fewer reporters, even in the healthiest of newsrooms. I know that those reporters are being stretched thinner and thinner, with some being forced -- often by editors -- to cut corners while delivering more news, in more formats, on shorter deadlines, with fewer copy editors watching their backs.

At the same time, travel budgets are thinner than ever (maybe even for crucial subjects, like sports and, gasp, politics).

So I understand why many newsrooms are not sending reporters -- in the flesh -- to cover some major news events that drew live coverage in the past. Take this summer's Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.

However, CNN showed up -- in the person of feature correspondent Chris Moody. I will argue that, because Moody was there in person, the odds may have been tilted in his favor when it came time to land a major scoop the other day, the one with this headline: "Exclusive: Evangelicals urge more action from Trump against alt-right."

Hold that thought.

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Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Debates about Confederate monuments remain in the news and there is little sign that this story is going away anytime soon.

In fact, it could broaden. For example, there are now questions here in New York City (where I am teaching right now) about the majestic tomb of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, because of anti-Semitism. As president, Grant repented of his actions. Meanwhile, defenders of Gen. Robert E. Lee insist that he repented of his sins against the Union and took strong stands for reconciliation.

This brings we to the think piece for this weekend, which probes deeper into discussions among Episcopalians about Lee and his faith. Earlier this week I praised a Washington Post report that paid careful attention to voices on both sides of that debate in Lexington, Va., where a parish is named in Lee's honor, on the edge of the campus of Washington and Lee University.

That headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?" A key paragraph:

Church debates about the name have focused on the fact that Lee chose after the war ended not to continue -- as some Southerners wanted -- an insurgency, and instead to move on, “to try and rebuild and reconcile and repair damage he had no small part in creating,” said David Cox, a historian of Lee, a former rector and current member of the parish.

An independent journal for Episcopalians, The Living Church, took the discussion of some of these issues further with an interview with Father Cox. The byline on "Drowned Out by Outrage" will be familiar to longtime GetReligion readers, since Doug LeBlanc was the co-founder of this weblog nearly 14 years ago.

So who is Cox? He is the author of "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee," which was published in April by Eerdmans. Here is a passage that sets the tone:

When members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville in a torchlit parade and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Cox said, “that had nothing to do with Lee.”

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Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Yes, we saw the story about ESPN and sports announcer Robert Lee, who was switched off the upcoming broadcast of a University of Virginia football game because his name is Robert Lee.

I would assume that "Robert Lee" is not all that unusual a name for an Asian man. But, hey, we are talking about Virginia and that's almost the same name as He Who Must Not Be Named.

So I thought this story was from The Onion and said so on Twitter. I was not joking. It has now been confirmed -- by The New York Times and the rest of the journalistic universe. For the life of me, I cannot think of a religion angle to that story. But it's so RIGHT NOW.

In case you haven't noticed, things are a bit tense right now when it comes to statues, Civil War history, white supremacy and other topics that some people believe are linked and others do not. There are religion angles in there and many are painful.

(Quick statement: I'm in favor of saving Confederate statues in cemeteries, battlegrounds, museums, academic facilities [linked to the study of Civil War history] and similar sites. I favor taking statues down in civic squares, once government officials have legally chosen to do so. But I'm with Peggy Noonan. It's usually better to build new statues, rather than destroy old ones. Raise statues to praise those who created a better union.)

But here is some good news. If you want to read a news story that wades into a Gen. Robert E. Lee controversy and listens -- hard -- to voices on both sides, then check out The Washington Post religion-desk feature with this headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?"

This story, by religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein, struck home for me because I spoke at Washington and Lee University last spring, doing a seminar on the challenges and rewards of Godbeat work. I had a long talk with a journalism professor (and ethics specialist) about the ongoing debates about this church and, of course, about challenges to the name of the university.

Here is the essential question stated, carefully, in the feature lede:

Could “R.E. Lee Memorial Church” commemorate the postwar fence-mender who had led their church and city out of destitution? Or could it only conjure the wicked institution of slavery for which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fought?

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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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What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

So in the end, what was the big news story at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix?

Was it the resolution slamming the alt-right that "messengers" from churches in America's largest Protestant flock passed or the strange timing of the action to pass it?

Was it the painful chaos after SBC leaders decided not to send the original resolution to the floor for debate, a decision raising myriad issues about Southern Baptist tensions linked to race and politics in the age of Donald Trump? Or was it the successful protests from many younger pastors -- white and black -- demanding a chance to speak to America about this issue?

The answer, of course, is all of the above.

As always, journalists faced the challenge of crunching that complex reality into as few words as possible, in a form that average readers could understand. Clearly, it helped to have a veteran religion reporter on hand to do this work (or someone who spoke fluent Southern Baptist).

Here is the good news: The Associated Press produced a punchy, highly accurate report from Phoenix, which means that your average newspaper reader had a chance to get the basic facts. Note the sequence of news elements at the top of this report (produced by an AP reporter on the scene, and veteran religion-beat pro Rachel Zoll in New York):

PHOENIX (AP) -- Southern Baptists on Wednesday formally condemned the political movement known as the "alt-right," in a national meeting that was thrown into turmoil after leaders initially refused to take up the issue.
The denomination's annual convention in Phoenix voted to "decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and "denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil."

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