NYTimes late to the story on ‘Women at the Pulpit’

Proving that when there isn’t really news, one can perhaps manufacture some, The New York Times is, once again, late to the story on a topic of religious significance. When last GetReligion examined the Times‘ timing on a story, George Conger found the Gray Lady, as the paper is known, to have just discovered the rise of Calvinism in non-Calvinist precincts — a good five years of so after many other media outlets had done so.

Now, the Times has made another one of these startling discoveries: there are women folk — yep, females! — in some of New York City’s pulpits! They’re actually preaching and leading congregations! The Times even has pictures! (Although, to be candid, the image shown here, of the late Aimee Semple McPherson, who was definitely a woman and definitely not a New York City pastor, isn’t among those photos.)

My gripe isn’t so much with the story itself, per se, but rather the “newness” of this, not to mention the tremendous assumptions buried in a paragraph such as this one:

Contributing to the growing numbers of women becoming pastors are real estate and denominations. Churches formed in nontraditional spaces, like storefronts, offer aspiring pastors more opportunities to preach. And in Holiness and Pentecostal churches, ordination and authority often come directly from the Spirit, said the Rev. Dr. Dale T. Irvin, president of the New York Theological Seminary.

Now that is quite a mouthful, isn’t it? They’ve had storefront churches in New York City for, what, 50 or 60 years at least? And only now are women empowered to preach in them? I’m sorry, but as a native of New York City (born in Manhattan in 1957 and having lived in the borough of Queens, chiefly, through 1985) who has returned scores of times since leaving, I recall lots of situations involving women in preaching situations long before this sudden “boom.”

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NYTimes mostly ‘gets it’ on German schools and Islam

A few days ago, George Conger took to this space to “bury“ The New York Times for suddenly noticing the rise of Calvinism in unlikely Protestant venues, such as (Southern) Baptist churches.

Today, I’d like to congratulate the Times for, mostly, “getting it” when it comes to Germany’s public schools and religious instruction, in this case about Islam. Here’s the top of that report:

FRANKFURT – For the first time, German public schools are offering classes in Islam to primary school students using state-trained teachers and specially written textbooks, as officials try to better integrate the nation’s large Muslim minority and counter the growing influence of radical religious thinking.

The classes offered in Hesse State are part of a growing consensus that Germany, after decades of neglect, should do more to acknowledge and serve its Muslim population if it is to foster social harmony, overcome its aging demographics and head off a potential domestic security threat.

The need, many here say, is ever more urgent. According to German security officials and widespread reports in the German news media, this past semester at least two young Germans in Hesse — one thought to be just 16 — were killed in Syria after heeding the call for jihad and apparently being recruited by hard-line Salafist preachers in Frankfurt.

This is, in my opinion, Times reporting just about at its best: a crisp, clean lede, and a close-to-the-top explanation of what it means.

Granted, it’s a bit late, I would suggest, in terms of Germany’s government, since questions about assimilation of “guest workers” from predominantly Muslim nations, beginning with Turkey, has been an issue for decades. But better (very) late than never, one supposes.

There’s also a bit of explanation on how “religious instruction” has come to be in “public” (i.e., state-sponsored) schools, a concept that might be a tad jarring in the U.S. of A., where even bringing candy canes to class can get a grade-schooler in trouble. Read on.

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Is new Calvinism new news for the New York Times?

Mark Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar …

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Act 3, Scene 2.

Should we bury the New York Times today, or praise it for reporting on the resurgence of Calvinism?

Mind you, the Times does not have the story wrong, but it’s timing is bit off. This story has been making the rounds of the religious and secular press for close to a decade, while claims of a Calvinist revival have appeared every few generations in America.

Has the New York Times made the same error as the Washington Post, which last month reported as new news the interest in liturgy by non-liturgical Christians? Or, has the Times gathered the disparate elements of this story and repackaged it for a secular, theologically illiterate audience?

In the circles in which I travel, this story was greeted with ridicule. The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s  Barton Gingerich (with pith and vim) encapsulated the views of  the critics.

Johnny-Come-freaking-Lately. The Restless and Reformed Movement has been running at full steam for at least half a decade now. Remember when religion reporters for newspapers had to, you know, keep on the cutting edge of things?

Ridicule or praise? Perhaps snark? Which shall it be?

The article entitled “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival” published in the January 4, 2014 edition reports:

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.

The article defines its terms stating:

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

Also, it briefly mentions the battle over Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention, noting that “in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism.”

Support for the Times‘ thesis comes through an interview with Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a “man in the street”, Collin Hansen, the author of “Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists” and academics who in turn condemn the phenomena and opine that it might catch on even in liberal denominations. (Oh, and as an aside, why has the Times dropped the use of the honorific “the Rev.”? It does not appear in this story but several ordained ministers are quoted or cited. Get an Associated Press Stylebook, people.)

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Hey, guess what, all Baptists are Calvinists

Where’s Joe Carter when you need him?

Oh, right. I forgot.

Before his premature departure, Carter served as GetReligion’s resident expert on Calvinism. Trust me, I am a poor fill-in, although I posted a few months ago on media coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention debating that subject. (At that time, I acknowledged that I flunked Professor Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Calvinism 101 course.)

So, I am stepping into this post with fear and trepidation — and under duress from Editor tmatt, who sent me the relevant link with the note, “Take it away, Bobby.”

So, as instructed, I am taking it away. Let’s just hope it doesn’t crash and burn.

The featured story, titled “The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real,” appeared in Pacific Standard magazine. Let’s start at the top:

Why do we work the way we do? For years Americans have been arguing over whether or not it has something to do with the country’s religious history. Does a history of Protestant religiosity make us work harder? Now we’ve finally got some answers.

The influence of Protestantism on American capitalism has been a matter of considerable debate since German sociologist Max Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. The book wasn’t even translated into English until 1930, but it’s particularly interesting to this country because Weber argued that capitalist success stems from Calvinism.

Today just 53 percent of Americans identify with some sort of Protestant church, and only the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Baptist denominations (which directly influence less than five percent of the American population) can be called churches in the Calvinist tradition. But Calvinists were the religious ancestors of our Puritans, the English Calvinists who helped establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony so that they could have a place to practice their (rather extreme) religion in freedom. Because they were some of the first major settlers of the United States, they had a rather profound influence on our country’s economic development.

OK, since I already declared my ignorance, I’m going to admit that I’m confused.

First question: Is this story suggesting that all Baptists are Calvinists? If so, why did the reporting I read this past summer include background such as this?:

Calvinism, which is traditionally the domain of Reformed churches like Presbyterians, differs from traditional Baptist theology in key aspects, particularly on the question of salvation.

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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What The Economist Gets Wrong About Calvinist Baptists

Image source: Christian Post

Today is the 504th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (July 10, 1509) — and the 497th anniversary of misunderstanding Calvinists.

To commemorate the event, let’s look at a recent notable example provided by The Economist. The article is out-datedly titled, “Dippers divided” and the subhead is “Where evangelicals disagree.” Where evangelicals disagree, apparently, is on whether to maintain,

the “theocon” alliance in American politics between Catholics and evangelicals, who have set aside their doctrinal differences (over the Virgin Mary, for example) to take a joint stand against abortion and in favour of the traditional family.

What could be causing the rift between Catholics and evangelicals. According to The Economist, the alleged culprit is Calvinists in the Southern Baptist denomination.

. . . the effectiveness of the Catholic-evangelical axis may be compromised by a deepening ideological fissure within the evangelical camp; or more specifically within America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which has about 16m members.

Broadly speaking, the difference is over whether Jesus Christ died to save mankind as a whole, or sacrificed himself only for a particular group of human beings, the elect, whom God had chosen in advance. The latter view is associated with John Calvin, the French reformer of the 16th century; critics find it too fatalistic, and inconsistent with the idea of a loving God. Taken to its logical extreme, some say, Calvinism can lead to an introverted, exclusive mindset: if most of humanity is irrevocably damned, what’s the point of engaging with the world?

Who is this “some” who “say?” Probably the same “some” who claim that premillennial dispensationalists (who are rarely, if ever, Calvinists) also believe that if most of humanity is irrevocably damned (see: the Left Behind novels), there is no point of engaging with the world. Of course, these same groups — Calvinists and dispensationalists — are frequently portrayed as also wanting to create a theocracy in America, so who knows what to believe. The “some” have a tendency to “say” contradictory things.

The Economist adds,

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Religion journalists save the day for young scribes

Last night I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion for The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism. This summer program gives students internships at media organizations, coursework in politics and economics, and other features (such as mentors to guide you as you start your career).

Anywho, the director asked me to put together a panel of religion journalists and I was thrilled that both Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton, managing editor of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, graciously gave their time and wisdom to the students of the program.

First, here’s a bit of a scene-setter.

In high school, my journalism teacher told us a story about a horrible interview she once watched. A major flood had swept through a canyon in Colorado. A reporter approached a man who’d just seen his wife and kids swept away and asked him how he felt. Everyone was understandably appalled at the lack of humanity that reporter displayed in putting a man on camera and asking such a question at the worst moment of his life. I try to keep that in mind when I’m talking to people who have undergone some tragedy. And it makes me reticent to approach some people or ask too many questions.

Lawton told a wonderful story about reporting on a disaster zone that really moved me.

Arriving after some horrific travel delays, she had to rush to complete her interviews. As she got to the village where her interviews would take place, she said she just felt icky about the work she was about to do — like a vulture descending on these poor people. But she had to do her work and so she began asking people about how they felt regarding the tragedy they’d endured. As she got going, the crowd of people wishing to tell their stories grew and grew. She ended up unhooking the microphone from the camera so the camera man could complete the footage they needed to gather and just stayed there long after her own purposes, letting people speak into the microphone about their story.

I’m probably doing a disservice to the story, but it was such a wonderful reminder that journalism need not be invasive or an unwelcome necessity. It can also be healing and a beautiful way to connect with our fellow man.

Eckstrom gave great advice to the young whippersnappers — all college-aged kids — about the importance of mastering multimedia journalism. Basic reporting and writing skills are essential, but you can’t just be a writer these days, you have to figure out how to shoot and cut video, too. He also encouraged the students to be creative about how they present information.

Which is all a long way of getting to what I wanted to highlight.

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Calvinism debate shakes up Southern Baptist Convention

Just how much do you know about Calvinism?

Former GetReligionista and current Religion News Service national correspondent Sarah Pulliam Bailey developed a short quiz to gauge readers’ knowledge:

See if your score is predestined, or if you have free will to determine your score.

Go ahead. Take the quiz.

I scored — gulp — 58 percent.

In other words, I probably should start this post by referring to Matthew 15:13-14, where Jesus talks about “the blind leading the blind.” My apologies, GetReligion readers, if I lead you into a ditch with this post.

In yesterday’s critique of an Associated Press story on the political influence of the Southern Baptist Convention, I promised a follow-up post on a mystery subject covered by AP and RNS. That subject: the theological debate over Calvinism simmering in Southern Baptist circles.

In about 900 words, AP covered the debate in a story advancing the SBC’s annual meeting, which starts today in Houston:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Is God’s saving grace free to anyone who accepts Jesus, or did God predestine certain people for heaven and hell before the beginning of the world? That’s a 500-year-old question, but it is creating real divisions in 2013 in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

Calvinism is named for the 16th Century theologian John Calvin. Among other things, it teaches that Jesus died only for those who have been elected by God for salvation. That idea does not sit well with many non-Calvinist Baptists, who believe Jesus died for the whole world.

Some of the theological differences between Calvinists and non-Calvinists can get pretty far into the weeds, but what may seem an arcane controversy has become very heated, especially over the past few months.

RNS took AP’s 900 words and countered that it could “Name That Tune” in only 700 words.

The top of RNS’ story:

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Southern Baptists on the downhill slide?

This just in from The Associated Press: Southern Baptists are having a tough time.

But it’s not what you might think.

Instead of declining membership and baptisms, the big worry for Southern Baptists appears to be — you guessed it — a weakening influence in American partisan politics:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A decade ago, the Southern Baptist Convention was riding high.

The president of the United States was a conservative evangelical Christian who personally addressed the group’s annual meetings, either by satellite or video, at least four times in two terms, and SBC leaders were feeling their influence at the highest levels of government.

Ten years later, as members prepare for their 2013 annual meeting in Houston on Tuesday, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination finds itself in flux: It has less influence in government and a growing diversity that may be diminishing its role as a partisan political player. And some Southern Baptists are beginning to cry foul at what they see as discrimination by gays and liberals that violates their religious liberty.

“For 100 years the Southern Baptists have been the dominating religious entity of the South,” said David W. Key Sr., director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and a Southern Baptist. “Now they are starting to feel religious victimhood. … In many ways, Baptists introduced pluralism to America. Now they are feeling like victims of that pluralism.”

Certainly, the Southern Baptist political influence is a legitimate angle for a news story. I remember asking Texas pastor Jack Graham, then the SBC president, about that issue in 2004 when I served as an AP religion writer in Dallas:

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