Pod people: Baptists and Bachmann-district bullies

On this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about media coverage of a possible name change by the Southern Baptist Convention.

That coverage was the topic of a post I wrote earlier this week:

I woke up this morning ready to question why no one in the secular media picked up on this mildly important religion story.

But it turns out that there’s no reason for me to weep or gnash teeth today. Darn it!

In fact, the story made the front page (above the fold, no less) of The Tennessean. … The Houston Chronicle’s Kate Shellnut blogged about the proposed name change. And at Fox News, Todd Starnes (a former Baptist Press editor) developed the story for a national audience.

Wilken and I discussed why the initial coverage surprised (and pleased) me and why this is a story with plenty of time to develop (a name change would require approval at two straight Southern Baptist annual meetings).

In Googling to find any coverage not discussed in the previous post, I came across a nice piece by Godbeat pro Peter Smith of the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal:

At least eight times since the 1960s, Southern Baptists have considered changing their name, and the idea went nowhere.

But the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bryant Wright, has appointed a task force to study the idea again.

The “convention’s name is so regional,” Wright said of a denomination that has continent-wide evangelistic ambitions.

It’s “challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name,” he said.

“Southern Baptist” has certain connotations that don’t play well outside the heartland. Leave alone the fried chicken, sweaty-browed revivalists, dark suits and opposition to Disney — trappings that the young, goateed church planters are trying to shed north and west of Dixie, and even within it.

There’s also the reason there’s a “Southern” convention in the first place — a split with northern Baptists in an attempt in 1845 to marry slaveholding with Christianity.

Also on the podcast, Wilken and I revisited my recent post on a New York Times story on bullying of gay students in a school district that is a part of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district.

The gist of that post:

The larger issue here is journalistic: Have Times editors essentially decided that one-sided, advocacy, European-styled journalism coverage is justified? If so, what is the issue being debated? Is there evidence that anyone is actually pro-bullying? Or is this a clash between truth claims based on gay rights and truth claims based on religious liberty?

In the post — and on the podcast — I advocated a more well-rounded story including a fuller array of voices. A journalistic approach, in other words.

A Southern Baptist by any other name …

From time to time here at GetReligion, we post “Got news?” items and wonder why the mainstream media haven’t tackled a particular issue or topic that we deem newsworthy.

Yesterday, denominational press links circulated among your friendly neighborhood GetReligionistas concerning a possible name change by the Southern Baptist Convention. (See one report from Baptist Press and another from the Associated Baptist Press.)

I woke up this morning ready to question why no one in the secular media picked up on this mildly important religion story.

But it turns out that there’s no reason for me to weep or gnash teeth today. Darn it!

In fact, the story made the front page (above the fold, no less) of The Tennessean. Perhaps we should all take a moment and pay homage to the writer, Bob Smietana, the Cornell Religion Reporter of the Year. (Smietana is a Red Sox fan, so he needs all the encouragement he can get these days. Go Rangers!)

Seriously, the top of Smietana’s report:

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination may be getting a new name.

The Southern Baptist Convention isn’t just for the South anymore, its president contends, and rebranding could open up other parts of the country to new churches. It’s a strategy other denominations are trying, and at least one is claiming success.

SBC President Bryant Wright announced Monday at an executive committee meeting in Nashville that he’s set up a study group to research changing the 166-year-old denomination’s name.

“There are not a lot of folks in New York City interested in going to a Southern Baptist church,” he said. “Or in Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Boise, Idaho.”

(I know Smietana was on deadline for a daily story, but it would have been interesting to contact a Southern Baptist pastor in Cheyenne or Boise and find out his thoughts on a possible name change.)

But Smietana was not alone in smelling mainstream news: The Houston Chronicle’s Kate Shellnut blogged about the proposed name change. And at Fox News, Todd Starnes (a former Baptist Press editor) developed the story for a national audience.

As the news reports indicate, this is not the first time Southern Baptists have contemplated a possible name change. In a 2004 interview for The Associated Press, I remember discussing the subject with the Rev. Jack Graham, then the convention’s president:

Q: And I understand that you have proposed studying whether even to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A: I have made that proposal and there will be a motion at this convention from the floor that a study be done and that we consider the possibility of a new name that would reflect this national and international presence of Southern Baptists.

Q: Any names that come to your mind?

A: No, that will be the challenge of this committee will be to find a name that would somehow better represent us. There are many Baptist groups and there are many names and we don’t want to confuse people as to who we are or our identity. There is a certain value of our current identity.

Concerning the latest discussion, it’ll be interesting to see if the story gains legs outside Southern Baptist strongholds (such as Houston and Nashville) and outside the conservative press (talking about you, Fox News).

Some thought-provoking angles, IMHO:

Possible names: How about American Baptist Association? National Baptist Convention? United Baptists? World Baptist Fellowship? Oops, all of those are taken. International Baptist Convention has been proposed — and rejected — in the past, according to the Associated Baptist Press article.

North vs. South: How far has the Southern Baptist Convention really come from its slave-era roots? How diverse is the convention? What do black Southern Baptists say about the proposed name change and the need for it?

From The Tennessean story:

The Rev. Michael Allen of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, a member of the name change study group, thinks the time is right for rebranding. He said the Southern Baptist Convention traces its roots to the Civil War — Baptists in the South wanted to appoint slaveholders as missionaries, and Baptists in the North disagreed.

Baptist or not?: In a post-denominational age, do the Southern Baptists want to drop just “Southern,” or will they consider chopping the “Baptist” too?

By the numbers: The Southern Baptist spin is that a name change may be needed because the denomination has a national and international reach. But what number of Southern Baptists really reside outside the South? It would be interesting to see a specific chart of membership by state and country. (GetReligion readers may remember the media confusion created last year by Southern Baptists from Idaho who got in trouble for trying to take orphans out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti.)

Marketing: What are the pros and cons of a name change? The costs? The legal ramifications?

Got news? It would appear so.

No Times for middle ground on bullying?

Do you beat your wife in the morning or at night?

Do you support public schools promoting sexual diversity or do your bigoted religious beliefs require you to advocate the bullying of gay students?

So gentle readers, do you see any problems in the way those questions were framed?

Which leads to the topic of this post, a New York Times story this week that opens like this:

ANOKA, Minn. — This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

Also this summer, parents and students here learned that the federal Department of Justice was deep into a civil rights investigation into complaints about unchecked harassment of gay students in the district. The inquiry is still under way.

Keep reading, and there seem to be two distinct sides to this story: Those who favor that lessons in sexual diversity be taught in the public schools and those who prefer that harassment of gay students go unchecked. There’s no middle ground, right?

This 1,000-word report is short on nuance and long on broad statements attributed to vague sources — not exactly a recipe for quality journalism. We get half a dozen references to various forms of “gay rights advocates” and “conservative Christians.” But if the sources actually quoted by name are any indication, the story leans heavily in one direction. You can probably guess which direction, since this is The New York “cheerleading” Times.

Five sources actually are quoted by name. The school’s superintendent, Dennis Carlson, takes the middle ground. Then three real people are given a voice: Kyle Rooker, a 14-year-old plaintiff who says he suffered bullying because he was perceived — rightly or wrongly — as gay; Jefferson Fietek, adviser to a recently formed Gay-Straight Alliance at his school; and Colleen Cashen, a middle school psychologist and counselor who says the district’s policy singles out homosexuality and creates “an air of shame.”

The only person quoted in favor of the district’s policy appears near the end of the story:

But conservative parents have organized to lobby against change. “Saying that you should accept two moms as a normal family — that would be advocacy,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council. “There should be no tolerance of bullying, but these groups are using the issue to try to press a social agenda.”

To be fair, the Times team notes that a group of parents closely allied with the family council declined to be interviewed, as did Bachmann.

But in a school district with 38,000 students, are there no conservative Christian parents who might share their perspective on why they support the district’s policy? Are there no pastors or other clergy members with a traditional view of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality who might be interviewed? Are there no heterosexual students who attend evangelical churches who might speak to whether they believe in bullying classmates because of their sexual orientation?

In other words, is this an issue in our public square on which there really is no middle ground? Over at his American Conservative blog, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher notes:

So let me get this right: if the public schools are seen as endorsing any particular form of religion, they’re being unconstitutional and oppressive. But if they refuse to endorse a particular and controversial view of homosexuality, they are being unconstitutional and oppressive. Got it. If these plaintiffs prevail, how sympathetic do you think the courts will be to the argument that the school system’s affirmatively gay policies stigmatize traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim kids as bigots, not because they have mistreated gay students, but because they are guilty of the thoughtcrime of believing in their religion?

Remember this when liberals accuse conservatives of provoking a culture war. The school system is trying to stay neutral on this issue, but it’s the cultural left that’s taking them to court to force them to take sides, when taking sides is not necessary to do what the left claims it wants them to do. This is not about protecting gay kids, but about propagandizing all the others, and using the false flag of suicide to wage culture war.

The larger issue here is journalistic: Have Times editors essentially decided that one-sided, advocacy, European-styled journalism coverage is justified? If so, what is the issue being debated? Is there evidence that anyone is actually pro-bullying? Or is this a clash between truth claims based on gay rights and truth claims based on religious liberty?

But enough of all that. Be honest: Do you beat your wife in the morning or at night? And how would you explain your actions to a reporter from the Times?

Image: Screenshot of photo that appeared with New York Times story.

Time does not have layers

The other day, I praised the “Shrek-like” nature of a CNN story exploring what religious leaders planned to say on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

You know what I mean if you’ve seen the movie (“Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.”). This story has layers. The writer talked to religious leaders all over the nation. He quotes a United Church of Christ pastor, Catholic priests, a Southern Baptist chaplain, a Jewish rabbi, a daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham and a spectrum of other voices.

I thought of that description as I read a Time magazine story, ostensibly on the same topic, passed along by a GetReligion reader. Unfortunately, I came to this conclusion: Time does not have layers. At least this particular piece does not.

The Time lede is not terrible:

On the 10th anniversary of September 11 Sunday morning, some 120 million Americans will be sitting in church pews.

Waiting nearby in half a million pulpits will be much of the nation’s clergy, sermons in hand.

The question is, What will they preach?

But after referencing 500,000 pulpits, Time proceeds to quote only three clergy members by name. Guess how many of them are Episcopalians?

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! If you guessed “all three,” you win the prize.

More from the story:

This Sunday’s sermon has been a hot topic for pastors across the country for months. Barbara Brown Taylor, a critically-acclaimed Episcopal preacher and Islam professor at Piedmont College, has become a go-to for sermon counsel. “I would focus on wisdom gained. I would try to think about what we have learned over these 10 years,” she says of the anniversary Sunday. “What we have learned about our religious neighbors, what we have learned about ourselves, and what does our tradition teach us about how to go forward?”

Now, I have no reason to doubt that Taylor is “critically acclaimed” (without the hyphen, please!). But way back in Journalism 101, they teach reporters (and future editors) to give the source’s credentials and let readers decide if she’s “acclaimed.” Or at the very least, quote someone describing her as such. That’s called attribution, which, come to think of it, isn’t exactly a strong point of this report.

I also praised CNN for not being afraid of religious words. For instance, the CNN report made reference to “the lectionary, a standardized collection of scripture readings.” We get this from Time:

This week’s lectionary lineup offers powerful passages for reflection along these lines.

Notice the difference? CNN used five words to explain what “lectionary” means. Time did not. Thus, you get a word in the middle of the story that not every reader is going to understand.

Speaking of layers, I guess the opposite of peeling back journalistic onions would be making broad statements with no attribution or effort to provide context or deeper understanding. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! More from Time:

In the back of many preachers’ minds lingers the painful reality that a tiny minority of Christians proclaimed not reconciliation but planned Quran burnings and mosque relocation wars.

And this:

On the whole, this decade has brought Christian efforts to better understand other religions, especially Islam.

Basically, what we have here is one journalistic organization that devoted real reporting and resources to telling a story. And another that phoned it in. The difference between the two pieces could not be more stark.

Sorry, Shrek.

P.S. I’d be curious to know how your local paper handled the religious angle on 9/11. Please provide links and let us know whether you were impressed with the caliber of journalism.

Asking why on 9/11 anniversary

Like everybody, I remember what I was doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

At the time, I was religion editor of The Oklahoman, the metro daily in Oklahoma City. I was running a few minutes late that Tuesday because I stopped at Walmart to buy a new pair of cleats for a company softball team starting the fall season that night. As it turned out, we didn’t play.

As I flashed my company ID at the security guard outside the newspaper building, he asked if I’d heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York. I had not. Minutes later, after I arrived in the ninth-floor newsroom, my colleagues and I watched on television as a second plane hit the twin towers. Almost immediately, ABC anchor Peter Jennings likened the attack to Pearl Harbor. That’s when I grasped the significance.

The rest of that day is a blur. Like my reporter colleagues all over the nation, I immediately put aside any personal feelings and operated on journalistic adrenaline. I wrote four bylined stories for the next day’s paper: one on the religious community’s response, one on Muslim fears of a backlash, one on Oklahoma City bombing victims’ reactions and one on a eyewitness account by an Oklahoma professor’s daughter. Like many (most?) Americans, I tossed and turned that night.

In the days and weeks after 9/11, I recall interviewing religious leaders and ordinary congregants as they looked to God and sought to explain the seemingly unexplainable. Ten years later, many of the questions remain the same. I was pleased to see a story this week by CNN Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi exploring what pastors plan to say this weekend:

(CNN) – The details of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the plane crash in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, will be remembered at length this week.  What, when, how and who will dominate the headlines.   As people across the country head to churches, temples and mosques this weekend, they will once again wonder why. They will look to the pulpit and listen for an answer.

This week, clergy of all faiths are preparing answers as their congregants ask why 9/11 happened, how it should be remembered and what their response should be as they go out from their sacred space and back into the secular.

For some, there will be calls to patriotism among the prayers.  Others will shy away from country.

Now, my main complaint with this story is that it uses two spaces after each sentence. (Please refer to this Slate piece on “why you should never, ever” do that. Smile.)

Seriously, this is a terrific story:

1. It’s fresh. Yes, it’s a fairly obvious angle, but it’s an important one. Better yet, it’s ahead of the curve. Put it another way: Would you rather read what pastors are going to say right now or wait until Monday to see what they said Sunday? I don’t know about you, but by Monday, I suspect I’m going to be approaching 9/11 overload.

2. It’s Shrek-like. You know what I mean if you’ve seen the movie (“Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.”). This story has layers. The writer talked to religious leaders all over the nation. He quotes a United Church of Christ pastor, Catholic priests, a Southern Baptist chaplain, a Jewish rabbi, a daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham and a spectrum of other voices. The only omission (and this may fall in the category of “glaring”) is that there’s not a Muslim voice. It would have been nice to hear from at least one imam.

3. It’s not afraid of religious words. Read it, and the story mentions the lectionary, Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, specific passages in Matthew and 2 Chronicles, etc. And it does so in a way that’s incredibly easy for the religious and non-religious alike to understand. You feel like the writer knows his stuff. (Maybe that’s because a Godbeat pro wrote it.)

Even at 1,800 words, there’s no way this story could include every voice and perspective. All of us probably could suggest other angles or sources that could have been included.

But it’s a nice read. Check it out.

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?

Anonymous sources: Perry impresses evangelicals

Imagine how frustrating it must be for journalists when a leading presidential candidate — say Texas Gov. Rick Perry — holds a private retreat with 200 potential supporters sworn to secrecy. (As a believer in freedom of information and open government, I share their pain.)

In such a situation, what’s a reporter to do?

Find some loose lips willing to — pssssssst — share the behind-the-scenes details anonymously, of course.

Unfortunately, that brand of reporting — out of necessity or not — produces rather thin and credibility-challenged journalism. Among those resorting to quoting unnamed participants: the Texas Tribune and U.S. News & World Report

I may have missed other reports (feel free to share the links if I did), but I want to focus on a story in today’s Los Angeles Times. The top of the 1,100-word report, which relies heavily on three anonymous sources:

Reporting from Washington — On a remote ranch more than 70 miles west of Austin, Texas, top evangelical leaders from around the country assembled last weekend for a private two-day retreat.

It wasn’t a religious revival that drew the group of 200, which included luminaries of the Christian right; it was the chance to hear the personal testimony of one man: Rick Perry.

Inside an air-conditioned tent, the Texas governor and Republican presidential contender was grilled about his beliefs and his record in extraordinarily frank sessions. He responded by describing his relationship with Jesus and pledging to pursue the antiabortion and anti-gay-marriage agenda championed by the evangelical right, according to multiple participants.

Quick, define “top evangelical leader.” But I digress …

Two thoughts strike me after reading that opening

– First, I wonder if the anonymous sources quoted in this piece are “authorized” leaks by the organizers. I could be wrong, but the portrayal of the meeting (“extraordinarily frank sessions”) sounds like someone pushing Perry’s candidacy. The alternative is that the sources promised not to talk about the event and then did, which would raise questions about their trustworthiness, right?

– Second, the phrase “anti-gay-marriage agenda championed by the evangelical right” gives me pause. Is it an “anti-gay-marriage agenda” or a “pro-traditional-family agenda?” And has the evangelical right pushed it, or has a broader group of social conservatives — including Catholics and others — done so?

More from the story:

“I don’t see how it could have gone any better for Gov. Perry — he had all the right answers,” said one prominent figure who attended the retreat and declined to be named, citing a pledge to the organizers that participants would not discuss the event publicly.

And this:

He spoke openly about his faith and unabashedly so,” said one leader who was present. “I think he resonated because he was very honest and very real. People could ask any questions, and he never dodged one.”

And this:

“It was an extraordinary gathering,” said one participant. “Virtually anyone who is a significant player in the social conservative movement either was there or had a representative there. And this was in the middle of nowhere.”

And after the interviews, the sources and the Times reporters paused and sang “Kumbaya.”

Your reaction? Is the story important enough to rely on anonymous sources? Is this report credible? Who’s using whom here — the Times taking advantage of sources or sources taking advantage of the Times? Maybe this is simply the way the game is played in Washington. (Thought I’d say it before someone else could.)

On the bigger religion front, does the piece provide any insight on Perry’s faith or just rehash what’s already known (that he’s a Methodist who attends an evangelical megachurch)?

Inquiring minds want to know. By all means, read the story and respond. Let’s talk journalism (as opposed to politics, but loyal GetReligion readers already knew that).

Touchdown! And another touchdown!

After the “Offseason from Hell,” college football returns this weekend. (Insert loud whoops here.)

Last week, I critiqued a Tulsa World story on the faith of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. This week, the faith of another quarterback — Case Keenum — drew the attention of a major newspaper. In fact, this was the headline on the Houston Chronicle’s 1,500-word story on Keenum:

Faith, family, friends help UH’s Keenum bounce back from injury

Yet it’s not until the 21st paragraph that Keenum’s faith enters the picture — and even then, that key angle takes up only a small section of the report:

The struggles also helped Keenum come to a realization about his football career. And as he always has, he leaned on his faith.

“That’s when you realize that your body is going to fail one day, no matter what,” he said. “Whether you’re in the best shape or the worst shape, one of these days it’s going to be you and God. All that stuff – records, championships, awards – all that stuff is not going to matter. It’s going to be, ‘Do you have Jesus Christ in your life or not?’?”

Even in high school, Keenum’s Christian beliefs were important to him. Sandifer said Keenum was part of a group of about 15-20 players who participated in Bible studies the day before Wylie games. The church he and his family attended, Beltway Park Baptist Church, sits directly across the street from Wylie Junior High and little more than a stone’s throw from the family’s home.

With the support of his family and faith, Keenum progressed through his rehabilitation on schedule and was cleared for all activities over the summer. He has been able to take his normal first-team repetitions with the Cougars during fall practice, though coach Kevin Sumlin was sure to give him a couple of days off.

But you know what? I have no problem with how this story handles the faith aspect.

This is a sports story, not a religion feature. Faith obviously is a big part of Keenum’s life, and the Chronicle both acknowledges that fact and answers key questions about Christianity’s role in this athlete’s life. The paper even allows the player to discuss his faith in his own words (“Do you have Jesus Christ in your life or not?”).

Most refreshingly, faith is presented as a natural part of the story. That angle blends seamlessly into the overall context of this athlete’s road back to the gridiron. Isn’t that what we at GetReligion advocate all the time — the elimination of religion ghosts?

Score a touchdown for the Chronicle.

And as long as I’m lofting praise into the end zone, I want to call your attention to a 1,600-word feature on the faith of Sooners wide receiver Ryan Broyles in The Oklahoman.

As you may recall, Broyles was quoted in the World story about Jones that I reviewed, prompting me to complain:

It surprised me to hear Broyles talking about Jesus because I had read about off-the-field troubles early in his Oklahoma career. Did Broyles have a come-to-Jesus experience of his own? The story provides no clue.

Ask and you shall receive, albeit from a different Oklahoma daily. The Oklahoman story is filled with revealing insight and details, including this section:

He remembers Sunday morning at Mission of Hope, standing in the church service looking down at the children as they sang. They had their heads thrown back and their arms raised up. They didn’t care who was around. They worshipped with every ounce of their bodies.

Something clicked inside him during that trip.

Longtime girlfriend Mary Beth Offenburger met Broyles at the airport when he returned from Haiti. The person who hugged her as tears streamed down his face was not the same person she’d told goodbye a week earlier.

“There’s no going back,” Broyles told her.

No going back to the way he was.

Offenburger marvels at how much Broyles has changed. He eats better and stretches more because his body is a gift from God. He takes bike rides just so he can enjoy God’s creation. He studies the Bible daily with her — and sometimes without her.

Score a touchdown for The Oklahoman, too.


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