Nolan Ryan’s son and the F-word

In his 27-year major-league career, Nolan Ryan regularly fired 100-mph fastballs. He pitched seven no-hitters and struck out 5,714 batters — both records.

Now the CEO of my beloved Texas Rangers, the 66-year-old “Ryan Express” is a baseball legend — a Hall of Fame right-hander who needs no introduction to fans.

Nolan’s son Reid Ryan, 41, is a different story.

Except for his famous father, the younger Ryan remains relatively unknown. However, the Houston Astros hired him as team president in May, increasing his profile in the Lone Star State.

Enter The Dallas Morning News.

Over the weekend, the Dallas newspaper ran an in-depth, “what makes him tick” feature on Reid Ryan.

Unfortunately for non-subscribers, most of the 1,700-word profile is hidden behind a paywall. Fortunately for you, kind GetReligion readers who so much enjoy posts on sports stories, I am a subscriber and read the whole ghost-ridden thing.

Since I pay $9.99 a month mainly to peruse the Morning News’ behind-the-scenes Rangers coverage, I was enjoying the story as a baseball fan when the first holy ghost caused my GetReligion antenna to rise.

Early in the piece, the writer eloquently describes the major turning point in Reid Ryan’s life. It occurred when he was 7 years old and was hit by a car. Let’s enter that scene:

At the hospital, the doctors had no trouble diagnosing Reid’s shattered left leg.

After the surgeons carved him open to check for internal injuries, they removed his severed spleen. When the pain lingered into the next week, they opened him up again and removed a damaged kidney they had hoped to save.

Then came the body cast.

It was sometime during his confining next two months in the hospital that Reid, described by his mother as previously “vivacious” but turned eerily “subdued,” took a silent oath.

“God blessed me with a second chance,” Reid Ryan says 34 years later. “That time shaped how I look at the world. I decided that no matter how many more years I had on this earth, I was going to be extremely positive in everything I do.”

Let’s see: The money quote that describes the most significant event in Reid Ryan’s life involves G-O-D.

Did anyone at the Morning News catch that reference or consider delving more deeply into the role of Ryan’s faith? Apparently not, because the story immediately heads in a totally different direction using a, shall we say, ironic description given the ghost just mentioned:

(more…)

Ho ho ho and Merry F-word!

On its Money section cover today, USA Today celebrates a business that’s using an R-rated word to market its products during the Christmas shopping season.

The headline in the print edition:

Urban Outfitters swears by naughty holiday catalog

The top of the story:

For Urban Outfitters, the choice of being naughty or nice in its 2012 Christmas holiday catalog was easy: naughty wins.

The edgy apparel seller has shipped out a holiday catalog that’s chock-full of naughtiness, including a $16 “It was f—ing awesome” photo album and a block candle that boldly spells out the f-word in wax. There’s even an $18 “Let’s f—ing reminisce” book.

Just a few years ago, Urban Outfitters might have received some serious, verbal raps on the knuckles from parents and protesters angered by the ultra-spicy language. But in today’s social-media environment, along with those verbal raps, it’s also receiving some surprising kudos from brand and marketing gurus.

“It’s brilliant, explosive, short-term marketing that generates buzz,” says Marian Salzman, a national trend-spotter and CEO of Havas PR. “It’s the right voice for the teen market.”

My first question for GetReligion readers: What do you think of including the majority of that word in print? Does the hyphen-hyphen-hyphen used in place of the missing three letters eliminate the shock value? Or would it be better to put, say, (expletive) in place of the word? Or  — as long as the nation’s newspaper deems the story newsworthy — would anyone advocate printing the entire word?

Speaking of newsworthy, do you consider this story such? Or does it appeal to the lowest common USA denominator?

The story is relatively short — about 400 words — and does not jump inside the Money section. So after reading the first part of the report, I was not overly optimistic that USA Today would bother to quote anyone with concerns about the, um, “ultra-spicy language.”

But to my surprise, the story proceeded to quote both a marketing expert and a Christian activist critical of the approach:

Not everyone is impressed.

“It’s all about getting up on Instagram or someone’s Facebook page,” brand guru Peter Madden says. “But this kind of marketing really isn’t so rebellious. It’s just kind of stupid.”

Worse than that, says Monica Cole, director of the activist Christian group One Million Moms, “it’s tasteless and vulgar.” Her organization, which is affiliated with the American Family Association, isn’t calling for a boycott but is asking its members to think hard before purchasing any Urban Outfitter products. “They’ll be losing business from conservative families,” she says.

Is that enough of the “other side” of the story? In a report this concise, probably so.

At the end of the story, I learned something new (sarcasm intended):

Specifically, to today’s teens, the f-word doesn’t even mean what it means to most adults, Salzman says. It no longer even has sexual connotations, she says. “It’s almost a synonym for ‘give me a break.'”

Would I sound like an old fuddy-duddy if I responded, “No, give me a break!”

Image via Shutterstock

The Air Force, faith and a very dangerous ‘f-word’

If anyone is interested, here is an short update on GetReligion’s recent move to Patheos. The RSS feeds seem to be working for the vast majority of users. We are still trying to get some art issues — past and present — worked out. A few tweaks continue, thanks to the patient Patheos staff. Some people think we have moved to a liberal site. Some people think we have moved to a conservative site.

Par for the course. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

At least once a day, I have found myself wondering to what degree I need to take into account the fact legions of new readers have not followed the six million words or so published on this blog since 2004. There’s quite a bit of history here, including some insider lingo and subjects that are so familiar that we rarely pause to explain them.

Now then, what we have here (a phrase I use quite a bit, actually) is a perfect example of one of the white stags that we have been hunting for a long time. Yes, your GetReligionistas dream of a day when many mainstream journalists will repent of their sins and decide to heed the following wisdom from the pages of the news bible known as The Associated Press Stylebook:

“fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”

This leads us directly to an oh-so-familiar passage in an NBC News report that, online, ran under the strange headline, “Air Force rules limit size of tattoos, role of gospel.”

So is that the role of the Christian Gospel among inked-up folks or are we talking about the gospel of tattooing? Or neither?

Whatever. This is another update from the religion wars in the U.S. military, a zone in which some evangelical officers do not seem to know how to take no for an answer, when starting discussions of faith, and some activists on the secular left seem to be seriously uncomfortable with equal-access laws and other traces of First Amendment rights among people in uniform (please note the word “traces” in that sentence).

Thus the lede:

Just days before retiring as Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Norton Schwartz issued a document designed to dictate the conduct of U.S. airmen worldwide — all violations enforceable by military law. For the first time, amid regulations on tattoo size and flag handling etiquette, it laid down the law on religious proselytizing by leaders: Don’t do it.

Section 2.11 of the 27-page Air Force Instruction AFI 1-1 Standards of Conduct is the latest salvo in a battle over religious bias and Christian proselytizing in the military branch. It calls on officers and supervisors to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”

Now, if you care about church-state issues, the first thing that pops into mind is the following question: What does “proselytizing” mean?

Well, the story never tells us, which is a big problem. The definitions that can be found with a few clicks of a mouse tell us that this is a word that transcends doctrine and, amazingly enough, even religion.

pros·e·ly·tize

1. To induce someone to convert to one’s own religious faith.

2. To induce someone to join one’s own political party or to espouse one’s doctrine. … To convert (a person) from one belief, doctrine, cause, or faith to another.

So what is going on here, according to NBC? What does the word “proselytize” mean in this news report? Sure enough, a timely usage of the “f-word” tells us pretty much what we need to know.

As in U.S. public institutions more broadly, there has been a long string of battles between those in the military who want to root out religious content and others, mainly fundamentalist Christians, who argue that to do so impinges on religious freedom.

The conflicts have arisen over military leadership promoting Christian religious meetings through official channels, military courses incorporating Biblical material in coursework, officers trying to convert non-Christians and allegedly favoring “born again” Christians and using Christian doctrine and imagery in logos and official military materials and Christian prayer in official events.

The military has been sued for using Christian doctrine to recruit new members, and pressured to change logos and review course materials that incorporate Christian doctrine, and more recently, those that are anti-Islam. In 2006, after complaints by non-Christians that they were being pressured by evangelicals to convert, the Air Force issued guidelines cautioning superiors from pressing their personal religious views on subordinates. But months later they eased the guidelines after Christian conservatives argued that the guidelines restricted freedom of religion.

In this context, it is almost impossible to figure out what the word “fundamentalist” is supposed to mean. Apparently, in the world of NBC News, Christian doctrines about spreading the faith only apply to the world of Protestant Christianity defined by the Fundamentals of the Faith documents in the early 20th Century.

Please do not misunderstand: There is a serious story here and, based on the reading I have done, there are evangelicals in the Air Force who have abused their powers in the name of evangelism. But there were others who did not, yet appear to have been targeted as wrongdoers.

The key, for journalists, is to connect “faith to facts.” Readers need to know what the words mean and, most of all, they need one or two examples of behaviors that have been ruled out of bounds and those that have not. Like what?

It is wrong for an evangelical officer (or a pagan officer) to do ________.

It is not wrong for an evangelical officer (or a pagan officer) to do ________.

If an active Orthodox Jew invites a secular Jew to a Seder, is that “proselytizing”? If a gay Episcopalian, a chaplain, invites a conservative Anglican of a lower rank, also a chaplain, to a workshop on healing homophobia, is that “proselytizing”?

Like I said, this is a serious story and, when reporting hot-button stories of this kind, it is crucial that reporters talk to informed, qualified voices on both sides of the issues (and some of the folks in the middle, on this one). NBC News did not do that. No way.

Which explains that non-journalistic use of a dangerous “f-word.”

Calvin the Fundamentalist and other General Synod myths

Monday’s vote by the General Synod to allow women bishops has put the Church of England onto the front pages of the world’s press. News reports and commentary from around the globe have weighed on this development giving voice to a variety of opinions. Some of this reporting has been quite good, most of it average, while a few pieces have fallen short.

The Huffington Post‘s piece contained two errors of note. At the end of the piece the article confused the numbers for the Church of England for the wider Anglican Communion. A correction subsequently noted:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that the Church of England has 80 million members in more than 160 countries. Those are the figures for the worldwide Anglican Communion.

A minor slip, but the second raised questions as to whether the Huffington Post followed the debate, or recycled information it had gleaned from second hand sources. The article stated:

Like the vote that year, more traditional Anglicans, including evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, argued in front of the synod that having women as bishops would go against the teachings of Jesus. If Jesus intended women to be among the top church leaders, he would have had a woman among the Twelve Apostles, some of the traditionalists said.

By my reckoning, of the almost 100 speakers in the day, only one (lay delegate Jane Bisson from the Diocese of Winchester) raised the issue: “If Jesus intended women to be among the top church leaders, he would have had a woman among the Twelve Apostles.” The overwhelming majority of voices opposed to the change in church teaching couched their arguments around the Apostle Paul’s teachings on “headship” and the role of women in church assemblies — with arguments from tradition running second. Check for yourself.

Summarizing the arguments against women bishops along the “Jesus intended” line does a disservice to the debate in Synod and across the church. Painting the opponents of women bishops as Biblical-literalists is lazy reporting.

An otherwise excellent news analysis piece in The Guardian also makes this error — but this time John Calvin is the “fundamentalist” in question.

Calvin was not a fundamentalist. The Guardian Style Guide does not contain an entry for “fundamentalist.” However, as noted many times here at GetReligion, the Associated Press Stylebook makes this observation:

 “fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

(more…)

NYTimes: Waves of generic refugees run for their lives in Iraq

http://youtu.be/_-4hjgmuKJM

The news from Iraq grows more and more distressing, at least for those who favor old-liberalism virtues found in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations. Here is a typical mainstream-news update, care of The Los Angeles Times.

But let’s back up for a moment and look at two key elements of one of the first major stories that shook the mainstream press into action. I refer to The New York Times piece that ran under the headline “Sunni Militants Drive Iraqi Army Out of Mosul.”

I concede, right up front, that I am concerned about two key issues: (1) the symbolic and practical importance of Mosul to Christians and members of other religious minorities in the Middle East and (2) the tactics and goals of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the militants behind this drive into Iraq. At the top of its report, the Times paints this horror story in very general terms.

BAGHDAD — Sunni militants spilling over the border from Syria on Tuesday seized control of the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, in the most stunning success yet in a rapidly widening insurgency that threatens to drag the region into war.

Having consolidated control over Sunni-dominated Nineveh Province, armed gunmen were heading on the main road to Baghdad, Iraqi officials said, and had already taken over parts of Salahuddin Province. Thousands of civilians fled south toward Baghdad and east toward the autonomous region of Kurdistan, where security is maintained by a fiercely loyal army, the pesh merga.

The Iraqi Army apparently crumbled in the face of the militant assault, as soldiers dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms for civilian clothes and blended in with the fleeing masses. The militants freed thousands of prisoners and took over military bases, police stations, banks and provincial headquarters, before raising the black flag of the jihadi group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over public buildings. The bodies of soldiers, police officers and civilians lay scattered in the streets.

OK, so we have thousands of generic civilians fleeing.

Is there anything else that can be said about that word “civilians”? Veteran human-rights activist Nina Shea — yes, writing at the conservative National Review Onlinenotes a few crucial details about the symbolic importance of Mosul. It helps to know that Iraq’s second-largest city has been the final safe zone for believers in the nation’s 2,000 year-old Christian community and for those in many other small religious minorities. Thus:

Mosul’s panic-stricken Christians, along with many others, are now fleeing en masse to the rural Nineveh Plain, according to the Vatican publication Fides. The border crossings into Kurdistan, too, are jammed with the cars of the estimated 150,000 desperate escapees.

The population, particularly its Christian community, has much to fear. The ruthlessness of ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, has been legendary. Its beheadings, crucifixions, and other atrocities against Christians and everyone else who fails to conform to its vision of a caliphate have been on full display earlier this year, in Syria. …

(In) February, it was the militants of this rebel group that, in the northern Syrian state of Raqqa, compelled Christian leaders to sign a 7th-century dhimmi contract. The document sets forth specific terms denying the Christians the basic civil rights of equality and religious freedom and committing them to pay protection money in exchange for their lives and the ability to keep their Christian identity.

News consumers who have been paying close attention know that ISIS isn’t just a group that is linked to al-Qaeda, it is a group that has been so ruthless and violent that it has been shunned by many jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The bottom line that might interest American readers: One of the world’s most ancient Christian communities is literally running for its life, trying to escape militants who are too violent to work with al-Qaeda.

Now, read the bland Times report and try to figure out that this is one of the key elements — yes, I said ONE — of the tragedy that is unfolding. Here is how these realities are reported by America’s most powerful newsroom:

(more…)

BBC: Another generic, mysterious ‘honor killing’ (updated)

This time the bloody honor killing took place in a public place, for all to see — outside the Lahore High Court. The short BBC report noted:

Police said 30-year old Farzana Bibi died on the spot after being attacked with bricks and sticks. Her father handed himself in, but police say her brothers and former fiance, who also took part in the attack, were still free. …

Farzana Bibi’s parents accused her husband, Muhammad Iqbal, of kidnapping her, and had filed a case against him at the High Court. However, she testified to police that she had married him of her own accord. Police said the couple had been engaged for a number of years.

Religion, apparently, had nothing to do with this event, which was said to be a mere cultural phenomenon. However, the report ended by noting:

Under Pakistani law, the victim’s family is allowed to forgive the killer. However, in many cases family members are themselves responsible for the killing.

And what legal system forms the foundation of Pakistani law? What, for example, has been the root cause for the headline-generating Pakistan cases in which believers in a minority faith, usually Christianity, are accused of apostasy against the faith at the heart of the nation’s government and culture?

(By the way, the Associated Press included — in its lede — another detail BBC missed or omitted, the fact that Bibi was pregnant at the time she was murdered.)

There is no need to dwell on the Islamic element of this crime and it would be wrong to suggest that all Muslims in Pakistan, and elsewhere, practice, accept or ignore “honor killings.” In fact, a Washington Post report on this same crime did an excellent job of including the essential details. For example:

(more…)

Falwell’s 2014 Liberty: ‘Fundamentalist Baptist’ university?

Here at GetReligion, the “F-word” always catches our attention.

I’m referring, of course, to fundamentalist.

It’s a loaded word that can carry a negative connotation when applied to religious groups or institutions.

The Associated Press Stylebook — “the journalist’s bible” — contains this entry:

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

That brings us to a Washington Post story this week on former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell taking a part-time teaching job at Liberty University.

From that story:

McDonnell began the job this semester by giving a few lectures at the fundamentalist Baptist college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., who died in 2007. He will resume the lectures in the fall, making six to eight appearances per semester, said Johnnie Moore, a senior vice president at the school.

Here’s the question — actually, two questions: Is Liberty fundamentalist? And is Liberty officially Baptist?

In an email thread among your inquiring-mind GetReligionistas, editor tmatt noted:

(more…)

Seeking the sympathetic critics of Bob Jones University

As any journalist knows, institutions — secular or religious — do not like to talk about their failures, let alone their sins.

Often this is caused by their lawyers who are anxious to head off lawsuits or to protect their client’s rights when conflicts take place. When this approach is applied to media relations, the result is either total silence or a bullet-proof form of public relations that seeks to protect the mother ship — period.

We talk about this all the time in classes at the Washington Journalism Center, where my students come from a variety of different kinds of Christian college and university campuses, most of them linked to evangelical Protestantism. Sometimes it’s hard to separate legitimate legal concerns from a faith-lingo-soaked “do not hurt your Christian brother” brand of public relations that rejects all attempts to do journalistic work in times of pain, crisis or scandal.

Trust me. This is not a conservative vs. liberal situation. As a reporter, I have faced toxic denial among liberal faith leaders as well as conservative. As I have said many times here at GetReligion, the hellish sins in the clergy sexual abuse crisis touched liberal Catholic heroes as well as conservatives. There were devils on both sides, as well as heroes.

This brings me to that important, but strangely shallow, New York Times report about a sexual-abuse scandal that is unfolding at Bob Jones University, one of America’s most important academic institutions that can genuinely be called “fundamentalist.” The copy desk showed restraint in leaving the f-word out of the headline: “Christian School Faulted for Halting Abuse Study.”

As you read the story, look for the tell-tale marks left by lawyers and public-relations professionals. Here is the opening of the report.

GREENVILLE, S.C. — For decades, students at Bob Jones University who sought counseling for sexual abuse were told not to report it because turning in an abuser from a fundamentalist Christian community would damage Jesus Christ. Administrators called victims liars and sinners.

All of this happened until recently inside the confines of this insular university, according to former students and staff members who said they had high hopes that the Bob Jones brand of counseling would be exposed and reformed after the university hired a Christian consulting group in 2012 to investigate its handling of sexual assaults, many of which occurred long before the students arrived at the university.

Last week, Bob Jones dealt a blow to those hopes, acknowledging that with the investigation more than a year old and nearing completion, the university had fired the consulting group, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Grace, without warning or explanation. The dismissal has drawn intense criticism from some people with ties to Bob Jones, and prompted some victims and their allies — including many who were interviewed by Grace investigators — to tell their stories publicly for the first time, attracting more attention than ever to the university’s methods.

At this point, it helps to know several things. First of all, the Grace organization has major evangelical credibility, but I stress the word “evangelical.” As the story notes, Grace was founded by Basyle J. Tchividjian, a grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham and a law professor at Liberty University, which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. In other words, the current leaders of Bob Jones sought help from an organization linked to two Christian leaders who had been condemned as inadequately fundamentalist by previous Bob Jones leaders.

Second, it appears that the vast majority of the reports being discussed here are about abuse that is alleged to have taken place in churches, institutions and homes that shaped students before they arrived on the Bob Jones campus. In other words, there are other lawyers of lawyers involved.

But here is the phrase that most interested me in the opening chunk of the story.

(more…)