Who are these ‘Christian’ missionaries?

A few days have passed since I first read it, but a weekend story from the Detroit Free Press keeps nagging at me.

The story concerned “Christian missionaries” — get used to that terminology — taunting Muslims at an Arab-American festival in Dearborn, Mich.

The top of the 500-word news report:

Tensions flared Friday evening at the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn as members of some Christian missionary groups — including one called the Bible Believers — taunted Arab Americans with a pig’s head and signs that promoted hatred of Islam.

“You’re gonna burn in hell,” one missionary shouted at a group of young Arab-American boys listening to him speak on Warren Avenue, where the festival takes place.

The festival continues today in Dearborn, but the members of the Bible Believers won’t be there because they’ll be protesting a gay festival in Ohio, said Arab Festival organizers.

The three-day festival is the largest public gathering of Arab-Americans in the U.S.; it has drawn Christian missionaries for years, but in 2009, some become more aggressive, leading to arrests and legal feuds. Dearborn has the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the U.S., many of them Muslim, making it a magnet for some Christian missionaries.

Here’s what bugs me about this story: the repeated vague references to unidentified Christian missionaries.

In all, the report makes 15 references to the term “missionary” or “missionaries.” Yet not a single missionary is identified. Apparently, not a single missionary was interviewed. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe the police kept the reporter from contacting them, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t the story say so?

To be fair, the story is equally vague in reference to other sources. “Arab Festival organizers” are quoted, but not by name. “Young Arab Americans” are referenced, but none is identified.

The only name in the entire story appears in this paragraph:

In his Friday sermon, the imam of the mosque, Hassan Al-Qazwini, warned parents that some missionaries at the Arab Festival could target their children for conversion: ”Be careful. … They could be taken (spiritually) from us.”

The reference in the lede at least ties some of the vague missionaries to a group called the Bible Believers. That’s an improvement from the original version of the story that I read. It did not even mention that group. Of course, it would be nice for the story to provide a little context on who the Bible Believers are and maybe quote one of them.

Have I totally lost my mind? Do news stories not require named sources anymore? Should a reporter not ask the protesters and counter-protesters who they are (please spell your name, please), why they’re there, what they believe and what group, if any, they represent? Are readers in Detroit — or anywhere, for that matter — really satisfied with vague references to “Christian missionaries?”

Please, somebody help me out here. Explain why this story is not as bad as it seemed to me.

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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.

  • Dave

    They seem to have covered this confrontation as they would a clash between two gangs. You might get one sentence that “one of the Sharks said a Jet disrespected his sister” but no in-depth interview with either cohort. It’s a classic “doesn’t get religion” story.

  • Jerry

    One story noted the festival organizers: The Dearborn festival, hosted by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, http://www.onislam.net/english/news/americas/457608-us-arabs-conclude-dearborn-festival.html

    That story also stated that the Bible Believers were the confrontational missionary group but there were others there handing out literature.

    The Bible Believers also protested at last year’s Arab Festival, holding up both anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic signs and causing one Arab-American Muslim girl to cry.

    About a dozen with the group stood facing the festival on Friday with signs that made bigoted remarks about Islam and its prophet, Mohammed.

    Some of the signs the missionaries held read: “Islam is a religion of blood and murder”

    Other missionaries at the festival were less confrontational, handing out fliers telling Muslims to convert and handing out free Christian books.

    So we got a bit more information on the Bible Believers group from a Muslim web site’s version of the story. Sigh

  • Martha

    Looks like some of those reporters never watched Kermit the Frog in action on Sesame Street’s “News Flash” segments – get on the ground, identify the persons involved, talk to them and check the facts so you can attribute what really happened to the person who really said and did it :-)

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    “…explain why this story is not as bad as it seemed to me.”

    Well, unless it was written as an entry in the “I don’t really care whether I do my job or not” contest or perhaps by an 11-year-old who couldn’t get his parents to drive him to interview people, I’m afraid I have no explanation. The story is just as bad as it seemed to you.

  • sari

    Interestingly, Niraj Warikoo has a Bachelors in PoliSci and a Masters in Journalism, both from Columbia University.

    http://nirajwarikoo.wordpress.com/bio/

    He also seems to have drawn heavily from the article posted by Jerry. Who knows, he may have authored it as well.

    Doesn’t reflect well on Columbia’s school of journalism, does it?

    Bobby, while I agree that the alleged “missionaries” should have been interviewed and identified, it’s pretty clear that at least some of the Christians present were there for that purpose. Warikoo failed to delineate between those there strictly to proselytize and those there to heckle or engage in hateful behavior. The same groups of people frequent almost every major Jewish event held in a public venue. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…you probably get the picture.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Couple of points:

    1. Looks to me like the website cited by Jerry copied and pasted part of the Free Press article.

    2. I generally avoid naming the writers in negative story critiques because (a) I may have missed 20 wonderful stories the person wrote and (b) there’s no way to know what role an editor or editors played, what else was on the writer’s plate that day, what the unusual circumstances were on that particular event, etc.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    It would have been really good to get an interview with the Bible Believers at the event and ask: What do you think the Muslims think about Jesus now, based on your activities? Have, say, pigs’ heads been effective at eliciting the conversion of people from Islam to Christianity at these sorts of events in the past?

    Also, I found this sentence interesting, noting that it was an Arab (not Muslim) International Festival:

    Dearborn has the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the U.S., many of them Muslim, making it a magnet for some Christian missionaries.

    Did the festival include non-Muslim Arabs? After all, there are (or were…) many Christians of ethnically Arabian heritage.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Now, if the press would try to ask who is funding the $120 an hour rock star bus used by the “nuns in a bus” tour.

    presumably it is the “catholic” lobbying group NETWORK, but I had read somewhere that group no longer is funded by Catholic charities, so where do they get their money?

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    sorry: placed comment on wrong thread.

  • Julia

    Dearborn has the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the U.S., many of them Muslim, making it a magnet for some Christian missionaries.

    This is sooooo typical – very little recognition that there are (or were) lots of Christians in Arab majority countries. And Christian friends from the Middle East tell me that they were predominantly urban in their homelands and more likely to belong to an American chamber of commerce than Muslims.

    It would be interesting to know if these Bible Believer people think that Orthodox and Catholic Arabs are infidels.

    BTW You can find out more about these Bible Believers at this website.

    http://www.biblebelievers.com/

  • Maureen

    Dearborn used to have a heavily Christian Arab, Lebanese, etc. population. Now they seem to be pretty well outnumbered. I gather that the local churches with a lot of ethnic Arabs in them (Maronite, Coptic, etc.) have given up participating in these sorts of festivals to avoid harassment (by militant Muslims), but I don’t know if that’s true or not.

    Gosh, what if there were people who would go places and report on what was happening?

  • Harris

    On a journalistic note, the Freep is one of those three times a week papers (as are most papers in Michigan). Leave it to the hyper-local journalism of the DearbornPatch to have the goods, including how the Bible Believers had even lined up legal muscle for their demonstration.

    The Bible Believers are a group led by a street preacher, Reuben Israel. Interesting d

  • JChasen

    In the United States there is quite a population of “Arab Americans,” but what many “conveniently” forget is that only 24% of Arab Americans are Muslim, 63% are CHRISTIANS and 13% are of other religious persuasion/did not answer on the last census. This was an ARAB AMERICAN FESTIVAL – so many lies to label this as MUSLIM which it was NOT and was NEVER LABELED AS SUCH! Obviously the video which has been reported by right-wing and Tea Party supporters is the video shot by the protesters, although there are several other videos which were shot by festival attendees of these self proclaimed “Christian” protesters. If you decide to waste your time viewing the protesters video you will note a lot of editing, first off, not to mention the absolute tastelessness of beginning the video as the group screeched and marched directly into an area where the were quite a lot of CHILDREN, young children most under the age of 12, some little girls under the age of 7 with ice cream cones and their jaws dropping at this completely unexpected disruption to a beautiful summer evening and probably many hopes at taking part in an enjoyable time. This group’s mis-labeling and mis-representation of this event is all due to the fact that it was held in Dearborn. There are Greek festivals, Italian festivals, even sexually oriented parades and festivals. Do these brutes have nothing better to do than scare the dickens out of small children until older children approached the “protesters” in order to just make them leave! The only adult on film aside from the police was an 18 year old young man who was just standing there in front of the protesters – and one of the “Good Christians” started screaming at him to go back to his home in Afghanistan and the boy replied that he is from Iraq and they told him go back wherever you’re from – we don’t want you here!, and they further taunted him, he replied that he’s lived here all of his life and is a US Citizen. Do they go to Jewish festivals and order everyone back to Israel or Europe? What cowards to barge in to an area highly populated with small children, espousing their opinions of the beliefs of others – is that what was taught in the Bible, it looks like it may have come from a Hell’s Angel handbook just like the way the “protesters” appearance looked like it was modeled after and their conduct and behavior. Pick your battles, but use good judgment. If they are so wise and educated about Christianity that they state that their purpose is to recruit, maybe they should consult their Holy Book about the proper conduct and sincerity to do so, as well as the proper environment to share their message. I’m currently suffering from inoperable brain cancer, and I can tell you that being a widowed single mother of a young daughter, this story – not just on this site disturbs me severely. Life is too short for pulling stunts in order to pick the next victim group in the USA. It’s just so sad that people have nothing better to do than write Anti-Muslim websites, feature Muslims as the only stories on Right Wing and Tea Party sites and online “newspapers.” If there exists and religious people out there regardless of belief, check out the Pew Reports for accurate information regarding Muslims and other religions, and the true facts on terrorism, population, and open your minds to read reliable information about Shar’ia instead of gulping down everything the true haters out there are trying to feed the USA. Think for yourselves, if you don’t, why should anyone count your votes or elect the educated candidates that are out there. Regardless of religion or personal belief, I don’t know a single parent worth his/her salt that wouldn’t be offended, disgusted, and quick to protect his/her child in the face of those “protesters,” a lot of people I know would have lost their cool and said and done things they might later regret, but fortunately after several days of taunts, offensive signs, aggressive behavior and the overall inexcusable conduct of those “protesters” resulted in a small number of charges with the authorities. Who wants to live in a country where it is restricted, based on the religious population of where you live decides whether or no you are entitled to put together a recreational event which is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, or to attend such an event alone, with friends or family, without fear of THUGS who will stop at nothing in order to blacken the truth and ideals of the beliefs of a percentage of attendees. People in this country with a shred of decency or common sense should JUST SAY NO to this grandstanding and LARGE SCALE BULLYING! That is ALL it is! I have PhDs in religious studies from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and not one of those religions propose or require this behavior – and I’ve read the Talmuds and Judaic texts more than 3 times, the Bible six times, and the Qu’ran five times. Maybe their true religion is how to harass, provoke, videotape, publish on YouTube or any Right Wing website and promote, promote, promote into a product that looks like a cast-off video from Backyard Wrestling?
    NO MORE BULLYING!


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