Nazarenes

Gray Lady visits buckle of Bible Belt: Ignores historic Christian roots in booming Nashville

Gray Lady visits buckle of Bible Belt: Ignores historic Christian roots in booming Nashville

I have been in and out of Nashville since the mid-1980s and I have heard that great city called many things.

Of course, it is the “Music City,” but I am more fond of the nickname “Guitar Town.”

Southern Baptists used to refer to the national convention’s large, strategically located headquarters as the “Baptist Vatican.” Then again, the United Methodist corporate presence in Nashville is also important.

This points to another reality: The historic synergy between the country music industry and the world of gospel music, in a wide variety of forms (including Contemporary Christian Music). Nashville is also home to a hub of Christian publishing companies that has global clout. All of that contributes to another well-known Nashville label: “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”

It’s an amazing town, with a stunning mix of churches and honky-tonks. As country legend Naomi Judd once told me, in Nashville artists can sing about Saturday night and Sunday morning in the same show and no one will blink.

This brings me to a massive New York Times feature that ran with this sprawling double-decker headline:

Nashville’s Star Rises as Midsize Cities Break Into Winners and Losers

Nashville and others are thriving thanks to a mix of luck, astute political choices and well-timed investments, while cities like Birmingham, Ala., fall behind.

That tells you the basic thrust of the story. What interested me is that the Times covered the rapidly changing face of Nashville — many Tennesseans moan that it’s the new Atlanta — without making a single reference to the role that religious institutions have played in the city’s past and, yes, its present.

That’s really, really hard to do. But the Times team managed to pull that off.

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Episcopalians closing more African-American churches: Other big trends in this story?

Episcopalians closing more African-American churches: Other big trends in this story?

No doubt about it, get ready to see more and more stories about church closings.

You know a topic is big news when Pope Francis starts talking about it.

These stories are valid, of course. The question is whether reporters will keep asking questions about the trends behind all the “For Sale” signs.

Obviously, this is a complex story that involves urban demographics, real estate, birth rates, worship trends, rising statistics about the “religiously unaffiliated (nones)” and other realities. However, ever since a National Council of Churches executive named Dean M. Kelley wrote That Book (“Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion”) in 1972, journalists and church-growth activists have been arguing about the role of theology in this drama. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

First, here is the context for this discussion — a Religion News Service feature that ran with this headline: “As one historically black Episcopal church closes, others face strong headwinds.” Here’s the poignant overture:

WARRENTON, N.C. (RNS) — On a chilly December morning, 100 years and one week after its sanctuary opened, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, an African-American congregation with a proud history, was formally closed.

Bishop Samuel Rodman presided over the Eucharistic service in an elementary school a block away from the church, where weekly services ended more than three years ago. Several longtime members returned to read Scriptures and sing hymns. Afterward, the group of 100, including history buffs and well-wishers from North Carolina and Virginia, shared a meal of fried chicken and baked beans.

All Saints is hardly alone among mainline Protestant and Catholic congregations. Faced with dwindling members, crumbling infrastructure and costly maintenance, some 6,000 to 10,000 churches shutter each year, according to one estimate. More closures may be in the offing as surveys point to a decline in church attendance across the country.

But All Saints is an example of an even sharper decline. Historically African-American churches across the South are fast disappearing.

What do the numbers look like? The story notes that the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina “once boasted 60 such churches. Today, a mere dozen are left and, of those, only three have full-time clergy.” This long, deep, story has few, if any, signs of hope for the future.

Note that this feature is focusing on trends in “mainline Protestant and Catholic” churches.

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Yes, calling evangelical pastors 'priests' is a mistake: But who made that mistake?

Yes, calling evangelical pastors 'priests' is a mistake: But who made that mistake?

It's time for a quick trip into my GetReligion folder of guilt to deal with a headline on a report at NBC.com that annoyed several faithful readers.

That headline: "20 evangelical priests among those killed in Cuban plane crash."

Yes, you read that right -- "evangelical priests."

Now, that's a rather basic mistake and it's easy to point that out. However, in this case, the more interesting question is this one: Who actually made this mistake and why did they make it?

The easy answer is to say that the editor who wrote the headline got confused or just didn't care about the facts. At the very least, the headline writer passed along a mistake made by a different journalist earlier in the reporting and editing process.

Let's look for clues at the top of the report. Here is the lede:

Twenty evangelical priests are among more than 100 people killed when a plane crashed outside of Havana on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Ah, so this was an AP mistake. Hold that thought, while we read on a bit.

“On that plane were 10 couples of pastors. 20 people. All of the Nazarene Church in the eastern region,” confirmed Maite Quesada, a member the Cuban Council of Churches.


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So, you thought the bizarre crisis at Newsweek was complicated enough already?

So, you thought the bizarre crisis at Newsweek was complicated enough already?

If you are a long-time reader of weekly news magazines (many old people like me will raise their hands), then it is has been bizarre trying to follow the bizarre reports coming out of the Newsweek newsroom.

We are, of course, talking about news reports ABOUT Newsweek, not reports BY Newsweek about others. Then again, there have also been headlines about Newsweek reports about events at Newsweek, and the fallout from all of the above. This New York Post headline (of course) captures the mood: " 'Bats–t crazy’ Newsweek staff meeting quickly goes off the rails."

Confused? To top it all off -- from a GetReligion perspective -- there are several very complicated religion angles (think arguments about the end of the world and a possible messiah) buried in the details here. Reporters need to be careful.

First, what the heckfire is going on? Let's walk into a CNN Money report for a few basics:

Employees at Newsweek have been told that editor-in-chief Bob Roe and executive editor Ken Li have been fired, sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
A reporter, Celeste Katz, who had written articles about financial issues at the magazine as well as an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's office into its parent company, Newsweek Media Group, was also let go, the sources said.
Katz declined to comment to CNN but tweeted on Monday afternoon, "My warmest thanks to the brave Newsweek editors and colleagues who supported and shared in my work -- especially our recent, difficult stories about the magazine itself -- before my dismissal today. I'll sleep well tonight... and I'm looking for a job!"

OK, it helps to know that, earlier, co-owner and Newsweek Media Group chair Etienne Uzac resigned, along with his wife, company finance director Marion Kim. Oh, and in January the Manhattan District Attorney's office raided Newsweek offices -- exiting with several computer servers. Then there was the BuzzFeed report about pre-Newsweek allegations about sexual abuse by chief content manager Dayan Candappa.

I think that's enough context. So now, the religion angles.

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Clickbait sins and social media: So who was that Nazarene pastor calling 'demonic'?

Clickbait sins and social media: So who was that Nazarene pastor calling 'demonic'?

Please allow me to put on my journalism-professor hat for a moment as we take a second look at the media coverage of that Florida pastor's viral Facebook post about the recent rally for President Donald Trump in Melbourne, Fla.

When recording this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken asked me a question that focused on the journalism nuts-and-bolts of this mini-mediastorm. That question: How did a single social-media post -- with no follow-up interviews or research -- end up becoming a news report that ran in mainstream media around the world?

Good question. But before we get to that, please pay close attention to the very first few seconds of this CNN interview in which the Rev. Joel Tooley, senior pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Melbourne, was asked about his Facebook post and the events that inspired it.

The CNN pro begins by noting that this Florida pastor walked out of "President Trump's weekend rally, calling it 'demonic.' He says that his 11-year-old daughter was traumatized and in tears. ..."

Tooley immediately responds: "Well, first of all, to clarify, I didn't describe the event as 'demonic.' There was some ..."

The CNN host interrupts to say: "A headline described it as that. ..."

It's safe to assume she was referring to the headline on the Washington Post "Acts of Faith" news feature that read: " ‘Demonic activity was palpable’ at Trump’s rally, pastor says." That led to my post on the topic this week.

As the interview began, a CNN graphic made sure that viewers got that point.

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Idaho Statesman lavishes multi-story package on another evolving theology professor

Idaho Statesman lavishes multi-story package on another evolving theology professor

I make it my practice to scan newspapers all over the West for interesting pieces on religion and sadly, it’s newspapers in large cities that provide 99 percent of the coverage. Smaller newspapers tend not to have the budget for a full- or part-time religion reporter, even though there are lots of good religion stories out there.

Recently someone forwarded me a lengthy piece in the Idaho Stateman, a 47,855-circulation newspaper based in Boise. Seeing a two-story-and-sidebar package about a controversial theology professor at a local Nazarene university is a rarity for a newspaper that size.

Come to think of it, though, Boise, pop. 214,237, is larger than Salt Lake City (which has religion reporters at both of its newspapers), but there are no listings in the Religion Newswriters Association database for members in Idaho. So, it was a surprise to see the following Aug. 14 story in the Stateman’s Sunday paper:

Why does God allow evil?
How come my loved one dies of cancer, even though I pray for recovery, but others survive without faith or prayer?
Where did creation come from?
These are the kinds of tough theological questions that many people spend their lives wrestling with.
The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord wondered about these questions, too. But the answers he gave likely mean the popular theology professor at Northwest Nazarene University never works at a Nazarene university again.

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