Politico’s long-but-shallow exposé on Hobby Lobby family

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Cue the dramatic music.

Politico has a breathless, 2,200-word profile of the Greens — the Hobby Lobby family — out this week with this sensational headline:

Hobby Lobby aims for Obamacare win, Christian nation

Stop the presses!

In one sense, it’s a long piece seemingly designed to expose the Greens’ desire to promote the Bible as truth. At the same time — despite its length — the report ends up feeling rather shallow in the true depth it provides.

Like a child playing with a water gun on a hot summer day, Politico attempts to cover a lot of territory. But nothing really seems to stick in this game of journalistic hopscotch.

Let’s start at the top (and don’t bother looking for any named sources up high):

The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage. They’re also using their billions to sell the American public on the literal truth of Scripture — through a public school Bible curriculum, a huge museum around the corner from the Smithsonian and public forums on the faith of the Founding Fathers.

The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal government can force the Greens to include methods of contraception they deem sinful as part of employees’ health insurance.

The pending Hobby Lobby ruling has thrust the Greens into the national spotlight, but the family’s mission is far bigger than a single court case. The Greens are spending hundreds of millions on a quiet but audacious bid to teach a wayward nation to trust, cherish — and heed — the Bible.

They’re building a huge museum dedicated to the Bible a few blocks from the Mall in Washington , with as much public space as the National Museum of American History. They’ve financed a lavish traveling exhibit as well, complete with a re-created Holy Land cave, a “Noah’s Ark experience” for kids and animatronic characters such as William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for daring to translate the New Testament into English.

The Greens are sponsoring scholarly study of the Bible and hosting forums such as a recent panel on faith’s role in shaping early America, which they hope to package for national broadcast.

Most provocatively, they’ve funded a multimillion-dollar effort to write a Bible curriculum they hope to place in public schools nationwide. It will debut next fall as an elective in Mustang High School, a few miles from Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City headquarters.

I previously critiqued a one-sided Associated Press report on the Mustang Bible elective. Politico never gets around to identifying the source or explaining the specifics on the “multimillion-dollar effort.”

Roughly 600 words into the story, the first named source — besides a reference to a Steve Green quote last spring — shows up. That source is a critic:

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Faith and fitness: LATimes explores God’s role in weight loss

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There’s a healthy dose of religion news on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times.

“God is their fitness co-pilot,” proclaims the print headline on this Column One feature. The online version goes with “Cross training” (get it?).

Believe it or not, there’s no mention of that Northwestern University study from a few years ago that prompted Time magazine to report  “Why Going to Church Can Make You Fat” and USA Today to suggest “The devil may be in the pepperoni.” But I digress.

Let’s start with a large portion of the LATimes opening:

When Jim Black leads people on a robust walk three times a week on the grounds of the 120-acre Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, he’s got powerful company: God.

The several dozen people who join him have shown up with the same hopes that anyone brings to an exercise plan: They mean to lose weight, ditch inhalers, get stronger.

But at Saddleback, there’s a lot more going on. Pastor Rick Warren is using the power of his church, one of the biggest in the country, to impress upon his followers that their bodies need the same care as their spirits.

After two months on “The Daniel Plan,” Black gave up his diabetes medication. He has given up wheat, dairy and sugar. He recently bought a bicycle. In a year, he lost 90 pounds; his wife lost 40.

“It’s that one scripture: My body is not my own, my body is on loan and someday I’ll have to account for it,” said Black, 48. “I wanted to serve God at a higher level. And I wanted to be able to fit in the seat of a roller coaster and buy one seat on the airplane instead of two.”

Yeah, that one Scripture (AP style is uppercase when referring to the religious writings in the Bible).

But just to be clear, exactly which Scripture are we talking about? The LATimes just brushes right past that obvious question. I assume Black is referring to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. From the New International Version of the Bible:

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

The missing Scripture aside, I like the LATimes lede. It is interesting and draws me into the story. I am compelled to read more (even if I weren’t a GetReligion critic):
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A touching Father’s Day profile from down in Georgia

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It’s Father’s Day (and I need a nap after the special lunch my wife made), so I’m going to forgo a normal GetReligion critique.

Instead, I’m going to point you toward a touching feature about a father of 10, via the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia:

Psalm 127 says a man with many children is like having a quiver full of arrows.

The Rev. Andy Merritt and his wife, Kathy, have taken that passage seriously — producing 10 children in their 40 years of marriage.

“The reason we wanted to have a large family is that we believe each of those arrows has a destiny and a target to hit,” said Merritt, reflecting on his life as a father. “We felt that probably the greatest way to impact the world we live in would be to raise children that would come to know Christ. We really viewed it as an opportunity to express our Christian faith and even advance it through the lives of our children.”

Merritt, 62, is senior pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church on Forrest Road, where he’s served for 37 years. He and his wife have three sons and seven daughters, from ages 39 to 19. All but the two youngest are now living on their own, and many have started their own families. Two of their sons are pastors, and most of the other children are in some form of ministry.

So far, the children have blessed the Merritts with 18 grandchildren.

Merritt said he’s not the perfect father, but he has relied on God for guidance.

“I came out of a broken home and always believed I came into marriage and family with a great deficiency,” he said. “I think I learned more from my errors than anything I’ve done right. It’s only been by God’s grace.”

Keep reading, and the reporter describes the parents’ faith journey and the inspiration behind their children’s names.

Then readers learn about Charissa, the Merritts’ youngest child:

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Demon ‘deliverance’ in Big D: ‘The Exorcists Next Door’

A burp or a yawn? Either might signal an exiting demon.

So say Larry and Marion Pollard, the subjects of a 4,400-word D Magazine profile with the provocative title “The Exorcists Next Door.”

When Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher proclaimed the piece a must-read, we knew we needed to check it out.

Let’s start at the top:

The trees and rolling hills lend a warm, suburban vibe to Marion and Larry Pollard’s West Arlington neighborhood. Shouts of children from a nearby elementary school waft in on waves of heat as you step inside the foyer of their comfortable ranch home, where you’re surrounded by portraits of the grandkids—eight of them, ranging in age from 5 to 22.

To the right is the Pollards’ office, looking like any pastor’s study, with a desk, a trio of chairs, and bookshelves lined with Bible commentaries. A box of tissues sits discreetly beside one chair. A football-sized terrier named Bella bounces in and nestles behind you when you take a seat.

You won’t hear bland Bible homilies in this place, however. The Pollards are exorcists, practitioners of an ancient specialty mostly lost since the early days of the church, and their job is to cast out demons. The demons come out through gagging and coughing and shaking and yawning, with minimal histrionics, because Larry “binds” the theatrical antics of demons, such as flinging bodies across a room. They call it gentle deliverance.

Pastors and Christian mental-health professionals from all over the country quietly refer clients they just can’t help to the Pollards, after trying everything. In the 15 years or so since the Pollards started their ministry, there has been no shortage of tortured souls.

For the next four hours, I will witness an exorcism—or, as they prefer to call it, “deliverance session”—and it will blow my mind. Not because I haven’t seen a deliverance before. I have, but it was while on Christian church missions in Nigeria and Botswana. I’ve never seen this: the juxtaposition of these plainspoken, ordinary West Texans and the Dantean drama that plays out in front of us, via the soft frame of a 38-year-old suburban mom we’ll call Ruth.

Writer Julie Lyons, whom Dreher describes as “a friend from my Dallas days and a heck of a writer,” approaches her subject with seriousness and respect — and even allows herself to become a part of the story (don’t miss the twist at the end!).

She complements her detailed narrative of what she witnesses inside the Pollards’ house with historical background and modern-day insight from theologians:

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Ghosts after Seattle Pacific shooting? Not in this story

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Here at GetReligion, we blog often about holy ghosts in news coverage. However, we much prefer stories that leave no room for spiritual ghostbusting.

Such is the case with an exceptional Seattle Times report on the “grief without despair” that followed last week’s shooting at Seattle Pacific University.

Given the university’s evangelical Christian ties, religion has been a part of this tragic story from the beginning, as tmatt noted earlier.

In a piece published Sunday, the Times explores the faith angle in a simple-but-remarkable way:

In the hours after a gunman killed one Seattle Pacific University student and wounded two others, what struck many was the way the students responded.

They clasped hands in prayer circles; lifted their voices together to sing hymns; prayed for the shooter as well as the victims.

“I have never been more proud of this institution,” Richard Steele, a professor in SPU’s School of Theology, wrote in an email to friends. “The faith, courage and calmness were just stunning,”

The response of the students, faculty and staff to Thursday’s startling violence highlights the role of religious belief at SPU. The small evangelical Christian college, on the north slope of Queen Anne Hill, stands out in the Seattle area for the degree to which it works on developing students’ faith and for fostering a tight-knit community.

Yes, the reporter — a former Godbeat pro named Janet Tu — provides relevant background on Seattle Pacific:

All undergraduates must take at least three courses in theology, and are encouraged to attend worship services, Bible studies, Bible retreats and other such activities to nurture their faith. They are expected to adhere to a code of conduct that prohibits premarital, extramarital or homosexual sex, as well as the use of alcohol or tobacco on campus, and marijuana on or off campus.

The some 4,000 students are predominantly Christian, although there are a few non-Christians at the school, which was founded in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church of North America.

Faculty and staff must be professing, practicing Christians.

But this story (relatively concise at 1,000 words) is at its best when Tu steps backs and allows her sources — three professors and two students — to discuss the role of faith in their own words:

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#SBC14: Race, sex, Muslims make Baptist headlines

Race. Sex. Muslims.

As Southern Baptists convene their annual meeting in Baltimore — home of editor tmatt — all could make headlines. In fact, they already are.

Sunday’s front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune featured a 2,500-word farewell profile on the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who is wrapping up two years as the convention’s first black president.

A big chunk of the top:

A few blocks from where he grew up in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, in a wet and rising wind, Rev. Fred Luter Jr. is pacing behind a microphone. In his last weeks as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the leader of the United States’ largest protestant denomination is here in an official capacity, to speak at the dedication of a non-profit health clinic. But the event also marks a homecoming of sorts.

Here are the streets Luter walked as a boy. He can point to where his mother went to church, and to the barber shop where he honed a gift for speaking. Those buildings are now boarded and the streets marred by blighted homes, by empty lots — evidence of deep racial inequalities that Luter has seen as his life’s work to resolve.

The first African-American president of the Baptist branch that broke from the church to retain its pro-slavery stance, Luter has served a whirlwind two years. His term ends Wednesday. As president, Luter has traveled the globe, preaching in mud huts in Uganda, in the freezing February of an Alaskan winter. He speaks of his sympathy for human suffering, a sympathy that extends outward in every direction, to everyone he meets.

But he has retained a special sympathy for the problems facing his hometown. For the April 28 dedication of Baptist Community Health Services Inc., he spoke not of what he has accomplished abroad but of what he would like to do here. Embarking on a biblical anecdote of those who once doubted Christ, he said skeptics, upon hearing that Jesus was born in the backwaters of Nazareth, asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Fred Luter Jr. in the Lower 9th WardThe first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, pastor Fred Luter grew up blocks away from a new health clinic in the Lower 9th ward. He speaks at its opening ceremony.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” Luter said, his voice gaining vim, “Washington D.C. one time asked. Baton Rouge one time asked. All over Louisiana, the question was one time asked: ‘Can any good thing come out of the Lower 9th ward? Can any good thing come out of Tennessee and St. Claude streets? Can any thing come out of the Lower 9th Ward area?’”

“Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “We know there are good things to come. We’ve seen it ourselves.”

Luter standing there was the only answer that was needed. His life could answer the question he asked.

It’s an interesting, insightful story by a newspaper to which I haven’t paid much attention since Godbeat veteran Bruce Nolan’s layoff in 2012.

As Southern Baptists prepared to choose Luter’s successor, The Associated Press’ Monday advance on the annual meeting touted the possible election of a Korean-American:

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United (for now) Methodists and the same-sex debate

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Amid talk of a possible schism over homosexuality, the United Methodist Church is back in the news.

On the heels of an exceedingly positive profile of Methodist gay-rights advocate Frank Schaefer, the Washington Post reported this weekend:

Hundreds of American pastors from the United Methodist Church have signed a proposal released Friday that aims to keep the global denomination of 12.5 million members from splitting over the issue of homosexuality.

It offers churches and regional bodies the option to make up their own minds on issues like affirming gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

The proposal, titled “A Way Forward,” includes some prominent pastors, including Adam Hamilton, who leads an 18,000-member church in Kansas and delivered the sermon at President Obama’s 2013 inaugural service, and David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

The gist of the proposal, as described by the Post:

“The Church leaders that offer this proposal believe that the current debate is virtually irresolvable if left to the choices that the General Conference has been faced with recently. These leaders believe division would be shortsighted, costly, detrimental to ALL local congregations, and out of step with God’s will,” Friday’s statement read.

“One side believes the ‘practice of homosexuality’ is incompatible with Christian teaching. That is what’s written into the UMC Book of Discipline. The other side believes that scriptures related to homosexuality reflect the values of the time period in which scriptures were written more than the timeless will of God.”

The response from those opposed to budging on homosexuality? More from the Post:

It wasn’t possible to get immediate comment from the leaders of the traditional wing of the church, but the proposal came a few weeks after a group of conservative pastors issued a call of their own for “a way forward” that sounded more like a request to split.

It wasn’t possible? Seriously, what does that mean? Would the traditional leaders not answer their phones? Did the Post get the story too close to deadline? (But give the Post credit for including after that paragraph the most recent statements from the denomination’s traditional wing.)

In most of the reporting on debates such as this, you have one side pushing for something — such as compromise on the issue of homosexuality — and another side opposing it. To a large extent, that’s the nature of news. At the same time, these debates — in real life — often are marked by as much gray as black and white.

With that in my mind, I found a Florida Today story this weekend refreshing in that it reflected the complexity of the discussion among many Methodists:

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We don’t need no religion education, or do we?

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I’m on the road this week, sunburned and tuckered out.

So rather than do a normal GetReligion critique, I’m going to ask a couple of journalism questions that are related to what we do here.

First question: Do you know any journalists who could benefit from advanced study of religion?

If so, I have terrific news. The Religion Newswriters Association invites journalists to apply to its Lilly Scholarships in Religion Program. According to an RNA news release, the scholarships give full-time journalists up to $5,000 to take any college religion courses at any accredited institution at any time.

What a deal!

More from the news release:

Religion headlines are dominating news coverage—politics, religion, Islam in America — now is the perfect time to dig deeper into today’s hottest stories. More than 290 people have already taken advantage of RELIGION | NEWSWRITERS’ Lilly Scholarships in Religion Program for Journalists.

Topics reporters have studied include: Religion & Politics in the 20th Century and Beyond, God & Politics, Buddhism in the Modern World, Politics of International Religious Freedom, Religion and Social Justice, Violence and Liberation, Muslim-Christian Relations in World History and many more.

“The courses led to dozens of story ideas and new resources. I came out a sharper researcher and writer, two benefits I was not expecting going in,” said Eric Marrapodi of CNN who took four Lilly scholarship courses in three years at Georgetown University.

The scholarships can be used at accredited colleges, universities, seminaries or similar institutions.

Read on for more info.

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