Got news? Evangelicals snubbed by 9/11 service?

It could be that I’m losing my Google touch, but an intriguing religion story involving the Southern Baptist Convention seems to be drawing little media attention.

Unless you’re a consumer of Fox News, in fact, you may have missed this news:

A weekend of religious-themed observances at Washington National Cathedral marking the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks will include a Buddhist nun and an Imam, but not an evangelical Christian, leading the head of the Southern Baptist Convention to ask President Obama to reconsider attending the event.

“A Call to Compassion” will include an interfaith prayer vigil on Sept. 11th. It will feature the dean of the Cathedral, the Bishop of Washington, a rabbi, Buddhist nun and incarnate lama, a Hindu priest, the president of the Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim musician.

To see a complete lineup of the event, click here.

However, Southern Baptists, representing the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, were not invited to participate – and neither were leaders from any evangelical Christian organization.

“It’s not surprising,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “There is a tragic intolerance toward Protestants and particularly toward evangelicals and I wish the president would refuse to speak unless it was more representative.”

(Christianity Today notes that the Rev. Billy Graham spoke at a National Cathedral service in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.)

The Fox story goes on to quote a Cathedral representative:

“The goal was to have interfaith representation,” he told Fox News Radio. “The Cathedral itself is an Episcopal church and it stands to reason that our own clergy serve as Christian representatives.”

He said the Washington National Cathedral serves as the “spiritual home for the nation” and as such, he said that “diversity was first and foremost” a factor in the planning.

Later, there’s this:

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fox News Radio the lineup was better suited for the United Nations than the United States.

“Three quarters of the American people identify as Christian and nearly a third of them are evangelical Christian,” Perkins said. “And yet, there is not a single evangelical on the program.”

The Daily Caller also picked up on the story:

Another day, another religious sensitivity concern, as the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks inches ever closer.

While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to exclude all religion from his city’s remembrance ceremonies, in our nation’s capital the Washington National Cathedral commemoration’s organizers have decided to exclude evangelical Christianity.

The Cathedral’s “A Call to Compassion” on September 11 will include a bishop, a rabbi, a Tibetan lama, a Buddhist nun, representatives of the Hindu and Jain faiths, an imam and an Islamic musician. Noticeably absent from the invitation list and “secular service” — at which President Obama will be speaking — is a leader to represent the evangelical community.

And evangelicals are crying foul.

Interestingly enough, both reports neglect to mention another major group apparently left off the program: Roman Catholics. The bishop mentioned in both pieces is the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, not Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

In fact, Beliefnet seems to be confused about which bishop will attend:

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., has scheduled “A Call to Compassion” interfaith prayer vigil on Sept. 11 — however not a single protestant or evangelical has been invited to participate.

Who was invited? A Roman Catholic bishop, a Jewish rabbi, Buddhist nun, a Hindu priest, the president of the Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim musician.

Notably excluded are 16.6 million Southern Baptists, America’s largest protestant denomination. Completely left off the program was anybody represented by the National Association of Evangelicals: No Prebyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Wesleyans or Mennonites. Nobody from the Church of Christ or the Assemblies of God.

(Not to be totally disagreeable, but shouldn’t Protestant be uppercased? My dictionary defines the lowercase version as “a person who protests.” Hmmmmm…)

For reporters tackling this story — and it would be nice if a few more would — a call to the Roman Catholic archdiocese might be appropriate. Was the cardinal invited to participate? Does the Catholic church feel snubbed by not having any of its clergy on the program? Or perhaps an Episcopal bishop on the program would be seen by Catholics as having someone on the program? I’m no expert on interfaith relations or Catholic-Episcopal relations, but these seem like relevant questions to explore. (I realize that evangelicals are the ones making a fuss, but if another major group is in the same situation and not making a fuss, shouldn’t the media explain why?)

Meanwhile, a Fox announcer’s description of those invited to participate in the service as “all these really sort of fringe groups” is drawing some editorial commentary on the left.

This seems like a legitimate news story, not a Fox-only kind of story. Why so little coverage?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    FYI, The “Call to Compassion” web site referenced in that story is broken right now. I can’t get the actual event schedule either with Firefox or IE.

    I’m not surprised that various Christian groups think they should be included.

    It’s clear to me from the story that the focus of the event is meant to be universal because there are participants from all the world’s great religions.

    There are certainly competing visions. One is the universal one which echos the 9/11 headline which stated that we are all Americans.

    From another point of view, 9/11 should be about America’s loss and the participants reflective of America’s dominant religious groups which would, amongst other things, mean that Mormons and other Christian groups should be included and the participation of Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims lessened accordingly.

    This should be an important question as we remember 9/11. Should that remembrance be focused on the world-wide issue of fanatic terrorism, the losses around the world to those fanatics and the response of all religions to that challenge? Or should the focus be on America’s loss?

    Meanwhile, a Fox announcer’s description of those invited to participate in the service as “all these really sort of fringe groups” is drawing some editorial commentary on the left.

    Having Fox call billions of people members of “fringe groups” and the resulting objections are as predictable as the sun rising in the morning.

  • Patrick

    According to the Media Matters article, Jews are 1.9% of the U.S. population, Buddhists are at most 1%, Hindus are .3% and Muslims are also 1.9%*. I mean, how low of a percent would you have to be to be called “fringe” and not raise hackles?

    There are many too many media outlets.

    * The article lists numbers of millions. Take those millions and divide them by 308 million, which is the 2010 Census population of the U.S.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Jerry, I had trouble accessing the site too. Eventually did, but it seems to be off and on.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Patrick, I think the point is that the term “fringe” is pejorative. It’s an editorial comment as opposed to a less loaded word such as small/minority/etc.

  • Curtis Griesel

    Relax. As was mentioned, a Catholic leader was not invited either, and I don’t hear the Catholics whining about it, even though there are far more Catholics in the U.S. than Southern Baptists.

    Each religion got one representative. It had to be that way, otherwise you’d have Orthodox Jews asking for a seat, and then Conservative Jews, and then Sunni Muslims, and then Shia Muslims, and pretty soon they’d have to have 500 prayer leaders to keep everyone happy, and the service would last six months to fit everyone in!

    Since the Episcopalians organized this thing, they chose themselves to represent Christians. If the SBC wants a Baptist to be present at an interfaith service, maybe the SBC should organize their own?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Curtis, was any portion of your comment related to media coverage?

  • http://VideruntOmnes.blogspot.com James Coder

    Fr. Rob Eaton, one of the most interesting figures in Anglicanism – he was part of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin which Presiding Bishop summarily and uncanonnically dismissed – has an interesting take on this over at StandFirmInFaith – he notes

    How did the Southern Baptists know that there was no invitation in the first place?
    This is just yellow journalism, and Todd Starnes is the perpetrator.

    With Anglicanism loosely using the word “Christian” to include atheists (see “Who is Janet Trisk”), it remains an open question as to whether Trinitarian Christianity will be represented at all at this meeting. If President Obama does attend, this could signal either a great ignorance of matters of theology on the part of his circle of acquaintances (most likely) or an endorsement of the notion that Trinitarian Christianity should be replaced by non-Trinitarian Jesus following – the approach to religion of Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some atheists, and many top Episcopalian leaders (see here).

  • Curtis

    I don’t see where there is any news that needs to be covered. One representative from each religion was invited to speak. What is newsworthy about that?

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/ Randy

    I am not sure why the word “protestant” should be capitalized. I can see Baptist or Methodist or Catholic. Those are proper names. You can look them up in the phone book and find a church of that name. There is no such church that goes with the word “protestant.” It is more like the word “evangelical” in that it does not identify a church but describes a property of many churches.

    I do think the National Cathedral should be identified more clearly as an Episcopal church. Even your post was confusing to me. The claim that it is in that name should not be accepted as true. As a Catholic I thought you were referring to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It seems strange to accept one church that is not even close to the largest as being the National Cathedral.

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    The real story here, methinks, is why “evangelicals” — a tough word to define carefully, as most of us know — are making such a public point of feeling slighted by 9/11 observances organized by other people. There is this, and the annual commemoration at the WTC site. In both cases, there has been quite a bit of media (including, nota bene, press releases passed off as news articles), making it sound as though some grave injustice were being done — an impression that dissolves upon closer examination.

    Were I a journalist, the question I’d be asking my sources is something like this: If the SBC and the NAE want to be included in a big observance, can’t they just put one together? It would probably be huge. Why would they prefer us to know that nobody invited them to a secular service in New York or an interfaith service at an Epsicopal church in DC?

    That said, I’m with Randy, and have always wished that the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul would not call itself “the National Cathedral.” But for whatever reasons, it does. Still, since our nation has no established religion, it has to be somebody’s cathedral, rather than just the nation’s.

  • Curtis

    The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul does not call itself “the National Cathedral”. Congress called it that in 1893. …

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    FYI: Protestant (uppercased) is AP style.

  • Patrick

    @ Bobby:

    “Patrick, I think the point is that the term “fringe” is pejorative. It’s an editorial comment as opposed to a less loaded word such as small/minority/etc.”

    Oh, come on: the guy wasn’t making a substantive critique of eastern religious philosophies or their adherents; he was pointing out that religious traditions that are “marginal, peripheral, or secondary” in the U.S. population are invited, while Baptists aren’t. He is, very clearly by the transcript, using “fringe” as a *numerical indicator* – and so is the Media Matters article – and not as a substantive critique of the religious traditions.

    I guess people bent on having their sensibilities offended will have them offended. Were I in a conversation and someone referred to Hinduism as “fringe” in America, I would know exactly what they meant (and apparently Webster’s Dictionary knows what it means, too.) It ain’t a serious critique of Hinduism or Hindus, just an acknowledgement of a numerical fact.

    Like I said, many too many media outlets with nothing to report but made up slurs.

  • SouthCoast

    “He said the Washington National Cathedral serves as the “spiritual home for the nation” and as such, he said that “diversity was first and foremost” a factor in the planning.” And what nation would that be? Not, apparently, the one in which I live. (And I’m glad, btw, for the clarification about the generic “Bishop” in the article. I was wondering.)

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Patrick, “the guy” who made the fringe comment was Gretchen Carlson (a she), as the linked item noted.

    Like I said, many too many media outlets with nothing to report but made up slurs.

    Speaking of slurs, can you provide links to media outlets who have actually reported on this? The linked item was from a blog.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I just heard on the radio that, because of a crane collapse, the prayer vigil is being moved to the Kennedy Center. An odd place to move a religious service to when there must be other large churches (as in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception) available. It would be interesting to see a story on why the change from a religious venue to an entertainment-arts venue.

  • Dave G.

    Why would they prefer us to know that nobody invited them to a secular service in New York or an interfaith service at an Epsicopal church in DC?

    Perhaps because some fear that it fits a general tendency in post-9/11 America to imagine that the Founding Fathers wanted religion to be neither seen nor heard – at least in any public forum. There are actually folks who will say that’s what they meant: religion in the Church behind closed doors. Whether that number is high or not is tough to tell (media coverage can make millions seem like dozens and dozens seem like millions). But this, following the rather public ‘we don’t serve your kind here’ attitude that Bloomberg seemed to have about the NYC memorial, appears to have added fuel to the fire.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Again, we’re not here to argue about who’s right or wrong. This is a journalism site, and we’re concerned about media coverage. The key: Is it news that the Southern Baptist Convention (along with other major groups, such as the Family Research Council) is raising a stink over not being invited?

    Enough of you have made the point that you don’t like the Southern Baptist Convention’s position. Fine. But journalists report the news, not their personal preferences.

    Let’s focus on journalism and make your media-coverage-related points (as opposed to political statements and personal rants) readily apparent.

  • Jeffrey

    I’m curious about the quotes in the Daily Caller story from the CT editor. They seem awfully strident and, frankly, ugly for an editor to be making. It’s hard to imagine the editor if a Catholic publication laying out their bias so clearly.

    I wonder if the reason this story hasn’t spread beyond the conservative press and Christian press is because the grievance pose just seems
    so partisan and disproportionate.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Here’s the passage referenced by Jeffrey:

    Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief David Neff explained that participants whom the National Cathedral did select indicate something about how the Episcopal Church — or at least that branch of the Episcopal Church that calls the Cathedral home — views religion.

    “[T]he lineup of faith representatives is more or less what I would expect from the Episcopal bishop of Washington, John Chane. He represents a wing of the Episcopal Church in which evangelical faith is nearly invisible, despite its prominent place on the American landscape,” Neff wrote TheDC in an email.

    “The service would certainly be far more representative of that American faith landscape if someone like National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson, or a prominent evangelical pastor-writer like Rick Warren or Max Lucado, were to participate, but perhaps being truly representative of the American people is not Bishop Chane’s goal,” Neff added.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Episcopal News Service release on the location being changed.

  • Patrick

    @ Bobby:

    “Patrick, “the guy” who made the fringe comment was Gretchen Carlson (a she), as the linked item noted.”

    And the linked item also noted, Bobby, that by “fringe”, they took it to mean *numerical* fringe:

    “It’s not exactly clear which religions Carlson meant to call “fringe groups,” but Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are hardly fringe groups in the United States. Domestically, an estimated 6 million people are identified as Jewish; 2 to 4 million Buddhist; 1 million Hindu; and 6 million Muslim.”

    Which works out to 1.9%, 1%, .3%, and 1.9% of the U.S. population.

    “Speaking of slurs, can you provide links to media outlets who have actually reported on this?”

    Google it, Bobby: outlets with large Hindu followings already reported this. Google it in two days, Bobby, and you’ll find a blurb about it all over. Many too many media outlets.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    In fact, I did Google it. I can find no mainstream media coverage of it.

    My point: Before making a general criticism about media reporting “made up slurs,” some actual specific evidence would be helpful. Otherwise, the complaint comes across as someone who just doesn’t like the media — as opposed to someone serious about highlighting specific cases where reporting and journalistic quality could be improved.

    If I missed any relevant mainstream media coverage, by all means, please feel free to share the links.

    Thanks for the point on “numerical fringe.”

  • http://!)! Passing By

    With respect to the title “The National Cathedral”, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C. seems to have no problem with the title.

    Of course, the Beliefnet story is a hoot, what with confusing the Catholics and Episcopalians. But foot in mouth disease seems to afflict this story all around. In response to a gift from the Catholic archdiocese to help with repairs, the Dean of the Cathedral had this to say:

    Cathedral Dean Samuel Lloyd called the Catholics’ gift “a testimony to the fellowship that exists between people of different faiths.”

    So certainly, Catholics could have been invited to this “interfaith” services. :-)

    I’m not sure why the exclusion of evangelicals specifically grabs Fox News’ attention or why the evanglicals care. Given the dust-up around a Missouri Synod minister who prayed at a post-9/11 interfaith event you have to wonder if evangelicals wouldn’t have reservations similar to the Missouri Synod Lutherans. Yes, I know the latter aren’t, properly, “evangelicals”, but they have similar ecumenical sensibilities.

    Interesting about protestant/Protestant. I’ve also not regarded it as a proper name (at least in the U.S.) so didn’t capitalize it.

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.
  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Thanks, Cathy G. Looks like that NYT piece is slated for tomorrow’s front page.

  • Matt

    What exactly is the news? Is it that Episcopalians still consider themselves Christians, or that an evangelical leader can be found who complained? If even Catholics were not invited under the theory that the Episcopalians were representing them, then clearly this is not an snub directed at evangelicals. Did any Catholic leaders complain?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Is it that Episcopalians still consider themselves Christians, or that an evangelical leader can be found who complained?

    Yes and yes. And it’s not any random evangelical leader; it’s a top leader of a denomination that claims 16 million members.

    Did any Catholic leaders complain?

    Great question, as I noted in my post.

    Meanwhile … Mollie posted this morning on the NYT story referenced earlier.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bobby -

    You just said it’s news that Episcopalians still consider themselves Christians. Do you really mean that?
    :-)

    Of course, a fair number of former Episcopalians think they aren’t, but I’m not sure that news either.
    :-) :-)

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Passing By,

    I mean it’s news that the nation’s largest Protestant denomination is upset over not having an evangelical invited to a national interfaith service that the president of the United States plans to attend. And, yes, as part of that story, it’s relevant how Episcopalians see the wider Christian world as opposed to how the Southern Baptists (and some other evangelicals) view it. So, to that extent, yes, “it’s news that Episcopalians still consider themselves Christians.” :-)

  • Jeffrey

    Surely I’m not the only person who tires of GR and its commentators sneering at the Epsicopal church or using it as the butt of jokes. It is an attitude that would never be tolerated of another religious group by the GR bloggers.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Jeffrey,

    I can’t speak for other GR contributors, but I have not sneered at the Episcopal Church in this post or in my comments on it. I think we at GR do allow for some good-natured humor such as this from earlier this year:

    There’s an old joke that Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith and Baptists don’t recognize each other at the liquor store.

    Again, our purpose is to discuss mainstream media coverage of religion, not to advocate on behalf of any particular religious group.

  • Matt

    The point is that, in this case, the Episcopalians appear to have thought it unnecessary to recruit any other Christian clergy for their event because they themselves would be representing Christianity. A Baptist leader has objected, apparently because he feels that Episcopalians are not “Christian enough” to represent him, or that evangelicals and mainliners have become two separate religions that need separate representation, or something. Meanwhile, the Catholics, who similarly were not specifically invited and thus were left to be represented by the Episcopalians despite being very different from them, don’t seem bothered.

    If the Baptist leader had not objected, would there be any news story? I think clearly no, except perhaps in the mind of someone who thinks that the Episcopalians were clearly out of line. We are then left with the question of whether the parochial complaint of a Baptist leader, however senior, is newsworthy?

    I don’t generally take the side of Episcopalians, being an evangelical myself, but in this case it does seem that this story is little more than minor sniping.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    If the Baptist leader had not objected, would there be any news story?

    Huh?

  • Matt

    My question is whether the Episcopalians’ action is newsworthy in and of itself, or whether we are only talking about this because a Baptist leader complained.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Ah, OK. I think it’s a story now because a Baptist leader complained – that’s the nature of news. Otherwise, it’s probably a day-of-the-event story when they actually conduct the service and the president is there.

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    Wait a second! Bobby just brought this conversation around to a journalism question that is way bigger than this story, or even the “God-beat” per se: “the nature of news.”

    Does it seem to anybody else that a lot of the stories we read (or see on television) are only stories because somebody — meaning somebody with an event or idea for which they wanted attention — issued a press release about them? And if that’s true, doesn’t it mean that people who write press releases, especially the sensationalistic ones, basically determine what news is?

    Which, as I’ve already said, seems to be the case here.

    I’m an outsider, and I’m sure there is a lot more to editorial decision-making than “Hey, look at this email from the XYZ Foundation,” but … well, if it’s really this easy, can I get some NYT coverage for my next parish potluck?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Wait a second! Bobby just brought this conversation around to a journalism question that is way bigger than this story, or even the “God-beat” per se: “the nature of news.”

    Uh-oh. :-) I didn’t mean to open that big a can of worms.

    My point on the “nature of news” was related to the question of whether this would be news if a Baptist leader had not complained. Probably not. But that’s the nature of news in that news occurs when something interrupts the status quo. The old adage is that it’s not news when a dog bites a mailman, but if a mailman bites a dog …

    The impasse we’ve reached here is that some commenters see the Southern Baptist complaint as “more of the same” and do not view it as news. I disagree. And the world goes ’round …

  • Curtis

    The impasse we’ve reached here is that some commenters see the Southern Baptist complaint as “more of the same” and do not view it as news.

    No. This is not news, because the Southern Baptists are Christian, and Christians are represented at the event.

    Unless the Southern Baptists are now claiming that they are not Christian, and so they deserve special representation separate from Christians. That would be news, but I don’t think that is what they are claiming.

  • John Paterakis

    IMHO, the main issue is the responsibility of a cathedral church that is tagged as “the National Cathedral.”

    An important point that no one has touched on is that the planning seems to be a product of the Cathedral, not the Episcopal Church. This is not the first time they have dropped the ball. Ten years ago, a friend of mine (a fellow Orthodox Christian) wrote to the Cathedral and complained about the lack of Orthodox Christian representation at the commemorative service held a few days after the attack. He got a response from the ecumenical officer at the Cathedral (who was not an Episcopalian, but rather an ELCA pastor on some kind of exchange arrangement), who said that the goal had been merely to invite representatives of the three “Abrahamic religions.”

    I shared the note with a fellow Greek Orthodox layperson, who was the president of the National Council of Churches at the time. She shared it with the ecumenical officer of the ECUSA, who blasted the Cathedral rep the next day for his response. Apparently the national ECUSA had not been part of the conversation.

    My point is this: using the “National Cathedral” as the home of such commemorations suggests that the Episcopal Church will *always* be the stand-in for Christianity. It would be fascinating to get some reporting about (a) how other Christians besides the SBC feel about this and (b) what responsibility the Cathedral staff feel about projecting an ecumenical as well as interfaith witness.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Again, this is a journalism site. We’re concerned about news coverage. If you want to argue the rightness or wrongness of a particular group, this is not the place.

  • Tom B

    From Wikipedia:
    “In 1891, a meeting was held to renew plans for a national cathedral. In 1893, the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia was granted a charter from Congress to establish the cathedral.”
    Hence the name,


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