Thou shalt read these stories

To every thing there is a season, and Religion News Service this week chose to publish an excellent package of stories and sidebars — eight items in all — on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. (Here and here, Sarah earlier highlighted some of the coverage of the KJV milestone.)

The RNS package includes a piece on books tied to the anniversary, a Q&A on how the KVJ came to be and survey data on how many Americans own KJV Bibles. Short sidebars explore humorous KJV printing errors in the days before spell check and list 12 popular phrases believed to have originated with the KJV.

But the meatiest elements of the package — in my humble opinion — are three stories that tackle neat yet newsworthy angles that I have not seen in other coverage. And yes, I understand — and embrace — the irony of using an adjective such as “neat” in a post related to The King’s English.

• In the first story, Daniel Burke examines “why the KJV is the only Bible with the power to unite”:

Twentieth century advances in technology, language, biblical scholarship and niche marketing gradually dethroned the KJV, leading to a more democratic variety of competing translations.

But as the KJV marks its 400th birthday this year, some Christian scholars are hoping to spark interest in a new Bible translation capable of attaining the KJV’s cultural authority, poetic power and theological depth.

Chief among them is David Lyle Jeffrey, a professor of literature and humanities at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and an expert on the KJV.

“The celebration of the KJV has made us realize that there is a job to be done to create something of similar anchoring value for readers of the Bible in English,” he said.

Scholars in the RNS report lament “the lack of an up-to-date English translation with the majesty and musicality of the KJV.” It’s a compelling angle, filled with superb background and history.

I do wish that a few more details had been included concerning sales figures and rankings of modern-day translations. This section of the story, for example, begs for elaboration:

Bible translation is inherently theological, Larsen said, and getting contemporary Christian camps on the same page, so to speak, would be next to impossible.

As a result, Bible use is more democratic today, with no one translation wearing the crown, which some experts say is a good thing.

My understanding is that the New International Version has, at least in some circles, become the king of modern translations. According to one sales chart, it’s the only translation with higher sales than the KJV.

• In the second story, Adelle M. Banks writes about the enduring popularity of the KJV in black churches:

(RNS) On Sundays, C. Elizabeth Floyd, shows up for worship at Trinity Baptist Church of Metro Atlanta, with her Bible in hand.

But the large, black leather Bible with dog-eared pages and hand-written notes in the margins isn’t just any Bible: It’s the King James Version.

And Floyd, like many African-Americans, wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s more than mere tradition. A civil rights veteran called the KJV’s thees and thous “romantic,” and a scholar spoke of black churches’ “love affair” with the king’s English.

I knew that the KJV was preferred among black congregations of my own fellowship — Churches of Christ — but Banks’ story explains the trend on a larger scale, with excellent analysis.

I would appreciate more concrete details on what number and percentage of black churches use the KJV, but this is as close as the RNS story comes:

More than other Americans, African-Americans have clung to the KJV’s 400-year-old elevated prose. According to a recent study by LifeWay Research, only 14 percent of African-Americans have never read the KJV, compared to 27 percent of U.S. adults overall.

I suspect that more precise stats are just not available, but I’d love to see them if they are.

• In the third story, Peggy Fletcher Stack offers a great primer on why Mormons use the KJV along with the “Book of Mormon”:

(RNS) Though many early Mormon texts and speeches mirror the English prose of the King James Bible, it was not always the Mormons’ only authorized version of Holy Writ.

In fact, Mormon founder Joseph Smith had so many reservations about its language that he stated his new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believed the Bible to be the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.”

It took more than a century and a half after the church’s 1830 founding for the Utah-based LDS Church to make exclusive use of the King James Version “official.”

The KJV’s move from “commonly used” to “official” began in the 1950s with the leadership of J. Reuben Clark, then a member of the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency, explains Philip Barlow in his book, “Mormons and the Bible,” and in an essay in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

I do wonder if there is any dissension in the Mormon ranks as far as using the KJV or other translations.

But overall, it’s a terrific story.

Kudos to RNS for a wonderful example of enterprise reporting by a team of Godbeat pros.

Image: Title page of the first edition of the King James Bible, housed in the British Museum.

‘Something’ explains humble Thunder star

Here in Oklahoma City, folks are just a bit excited about a basketball team called the Thunder.

A USA Today column today by Mike Lopresti made me chuckle:

And now, the question never posed before at this level of the postseason in any major professional sport.

Who here is pulling for Oklahoma City?

Never mind the usual bright lights and glitzy big cities. A lot of the familiar gothams are missing. This time, the road to the NBA Finals goes through an oil field on Route 66.

For the record, a few of us do have running water in this small town of 580,000 people — 1.25 million if you count the entire metro area.

As the Thunder play the Texas rival Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City’s star former Longhorn — Kevin Durant — is generating quite a bit of media attention.

Over the weekend, published a 5,000-word profile with this simple title:

Kevin Durant humble in the heartland

The story focuses on what makes the 22-year-old, two-time NBA scoring champion tick. The writer weaves a fascinating tale as he explores Durant’s background and major turning points in his life:

Something has made him this way. Something has made Durant probably the least pretentious megastar in pro basketball. He’d rather have a key to the gym than a key to the penthouse. It may sound clichéd, but he really is usually first to practice and last to leave. He’s not clamoring to take his talents to South Beach; instead, he just re-upped for five more years with Oklahoma City.

“Oklahoma City’s got a basketball team?” he was asked during another stroll in the mall one day.

“Yeah, we’re relatively new,” he answered.

It’s a riveting, revealing story. It’s an educational piece for anyone who wonders how Durant — and the Thunder — went from a 3-29 start just a few years ago to one of the elite teams in the NBA.

There’s just one major flaw.

This is GetReligion, so you may be able to guess what it is.

Religion ghosts haunt this piece throughout. The role of Durant’s Christian upbringing and the influence of faith in his life make cameo appearances in this story. But the writer never seriously examines either. In fact, he almost seems to go out of his way to avoid meaty discussion of the subject.

We find out that Durant’s mother took him to church on the weekends, but then the piece quickly makes a detour to weekdays at the rec center. We find out that Durant played high school basketball at the National Christian Academy, but then the piece quickly makes a detour to famous college coaches and free sneakers. We find out that Durant turned around a rough spot in his basketball career when he stopped snoring in church, but then the piece quickly makes a detour to, well, basketball statistics — with no explanation of how church benefited his playing.

You get the idea.

In a 5,000-word story, the writer can’t help but include a few quotes where Durant mentions God. But each time, God disappears as quickly as a fast break.

The closest the piece comes to getting religion is this, and even here, it misses the net by about half a court:

What’s made him this way is his soul. He recently purchased a 3,460-square-foot home in the upscale Gaillardia section of Oklahoma City. Just when he was reveling in the scale of it all, he began talking with one of community’s security guards.

The Oklahoma City bombing came up, and the guard mentioned he’d lost his wife in the explosion. Durant, who had a bible in his backpack, told the man he’d pray for him.

Lowercase bible? That’s not AP style. I wouldn’t figure it would be ESPN style.

I’m still waiting to read a story on Durant’s faith that goes below surface level. The Oklahoman had a spot story last month on Durant committing to read his Bible every day, but it didn’t delve all that deeply. The Dallas Morning News mentioned the Bible in Durant’s backpack (and even capitalized Bible) but didn’t address the faith issue. I did come across an interesting Beliefnet interview with Durant on faith, family and fame. And Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel had a neat column on the Thunder’s lack of success when they don’t rest on Sunday.

As for the Thunder-Mavericks series, I’m relatively new to the Oklahoma City bandwagon (baseball is my sport). But I’ll go ahead and make a bold prediction: Thunder win in six games.

Ghosts in Haiti earthquake feature

Aggregation is an interesting thing.

For instance, the lead story on USA Today’s Religion page right now is a heartwrenching feature about a father and daughter who suffered indescribable loss in the Haiti earthquake last year.

The top of the story:

MIAMI — Ernst Leo is trying to recover from the unimaginable.

He has the trappings of a normal life: a new job, car and apartment. His daughter Therissa, 8, is flourishing in third grade.

Yet he can’t escape the painful memories of his former life. The earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, that destroyed Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, killed his wife and childhood sweetheart, Naomie, and their daughter, Faitza, 12, when their apartment collapsed.

Therissa was trapped under the rubble for two days before she was rescued; her right arm had to be amputated.

Sitting in the living room of his parents’ home, Leo, 35, says, “I feel well. But there are some things you can’t forget what happened. So I have some pictures in my mind. I try to live with them.

“I’m trying to rebuild my life for myself and for Therissa.”

Now, given the cyber-real-estate that this story occupies — the Religion page — a reader might assume that the piece has some kind of angle related to faith and values.

Then again, you know what can happen when you assume.

In fact, the piece skates around the edges of a faith peg — religion ghosts, anyone? — but never tackles the obvious, crucial questions.

This is a story that fails to get religion in an extraordinary way.

Readers learn that “church people” came to the father and daughter’s aid after a previous USA Today feature on them:

The newspaper story brought him a small measure of fame and an even greater measure of help. Church groups and individuals sent him e-mails of support and cash assistance.

Among those who responded was Louie Giglio, pastor of the Passion City Church in Atlanta and founder of the Passion Movement, an annual Christian conference for university students.

Giglio was sitting on a plane at the Atlanta airport when he read about Leo and Therissa.

“It pierced my heart,” he says. “I don’t know how to solve Haiti’s problems. I don’t know how to even think about solving Haiti’s problems. But I knew we could help Ernst Leo.”

Then there’s this mention:

Another church group, Calvary Chapel Kendall in Miami, helped with rides to the prosthetic specialist, money for car insurance and a makeover of Leo’s one-bedroom apartment. They painted the bedroom, which Therissa uses, bright green and decorated it with Dr. Seuss books, stuffed animals and flowery bedspreads.

But what motivated the church people to act? What role did — and does — their faith play in their reaching out to these Haitians they had never met?

Really, these are simple questions for a Religion story. However, this report fails to answer — or even to ask — them.

As for the faith or religious background, if any, of the father and daughter, again, this report sees no need to provide such highly relevant information. This is as close as the story gets to that kind of insight:

His eyes fill with tears when he thinks about what Therissa has suffered, the nightmares she still has, and how much she misses her mother and sister. He doesn’t know how to fill the gap.

“Now I am her mother and father,” he says.

Did a human or a computer program make this the lead story on the Religion page?

Aggregation is an interesting thing.

What ‘new banner’ do you mean?

Perusing the Faith and Values section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I came across a little story — 335 words — about a little church — Sunday attendance of 15 — that decided to disband and start over.

Folks at the First Baptist Church of Valmeyer, Ill. — soon to be called GraceRidge — are extremely open about where they think they went wrong:

“In the past, we may have unintentionally alienated ourselves from the community and possibly focused too heavily on nonessential issues,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Rob Gion Jr.

The church opened in the 1950s but somehow lost its mission along the way, he said. …

In a recent letter to church members, Gion said the church in the past may have displayed a message of condemnation rather than grace, made people think that church’s members are better than others, and been narrow-minded about issues like drinking and dancing.

Gion said members stayed away from an annual picnic of churches in Valmeyer because alcohol was served, for example.

Church member Darlene Kettler, 57, said they gained “a bad reputation” and that something had to be done.

“We’ve done an awful lot of prayer on this,” she said.

The online version of the story links to a letter sent to neighbors.

Readers learn that the church plans to remain affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention while making a fresh start:

Gion said members came together to reflect on the role of the church and the message they were preaching.

“We looked at where the church is at now and the history, and we didn’t feel like we are or have been all that God would want this church to be,” he said.

The problem with the story?

It is so utterly vague as to what, if anything, this little church still believes or plans to preach in the future. What does God want this church to be? I have absolutely no idea after reading this story.

My suspicion is that this piece was written by an overworked suburban writer filing stories in the same day from the local police blotter, fire department reports, the zoning commission and, yes, this little Baptist church.

That said, in a perfect world, a “slice of life” like this could be developed into so much more.

Neighbors could be interviewed about their perceptions of the church and their reactions to the planned changes. Members could go into more detail about their faith and how it’s evolved (specifics, please).

Context could be added about other Baptist churches (and United Methodist Churches and Churches of Christ and so on) eschewing name-brand labels in a non-denominational age. Background could be offered on whether there’s any evidence that a dying church filled with older members can remake itself at this stage.

The headline on the story proclaims:

Valmeyer church regroups under new banner

I’d sure love to know what that banner is.

Religion angles twist in Tornado Alley


Tornado Alley. 

The Bible Belt. 

Do the two comprise the same general area or not?

Just a random question that entered my mind as I perused coverage of the April 27 tornadoes that killed hundreds and injured thousands in the South — and I don’t imagine that there is one right answer.

But I wondered about it when I read this Reuters headline:

In tornado-ravaged Bible Belt, churches mobilize to help

Anyway …

Last week, I highlighted coverage of faith and hope after the nation’s deadliest twister outbreak in decades. Now, nearly two weeks after the big storm, faith-based relief efforts are gaining media attention.

The Reuters story gave this breathless description of church relief workers:

These are not naive, disorganized do-gooders. They are professional volunteers with first class equipment and meticulous training.

Smelley’s crew maintains a trailer filled with chainsaws, safety glasses, chaps, gloves, extra chains and chainsaw repair tools. It is parked at a church member’s home for fast access. Similar trailers dot the parking lots of churches from nearly every religious denomination in Alabama.

Some trailers open out into “feeding units,” such as one maintained by the Baptist denomination that is a 53-foot semi-truck and can issue 25,000 meals a day.

Other units include a shower and laundry truck, emergency child-care trucks, supply trucks, and tool trucks like the chainsaw trailers, according to Keith Hinson, spokesperson for Baptist Disaster Relief. Several warehouses store the trailers packed with supplies and equipment.

The New York Times, similarly, sang the praises of Baptists:

Of course, thousands of church members are doing their part to help the South recover from the tornadoes. They raise money, sort clothing donations and hand out water.

They are what the veterans of large faith-based relief efforts call S.U.V.’s — spontaneous untrained volunteers. The efforts are welcomed, but they have nothing on what the Southern Baptists bring to a disaster.

From an elaborate “war room” in a church building in Montgomery, Ala., to direct lines of communication with federal and local emergency agencies, the Southern Baptist disaster ministry is a model of efficiency.

I promise. That’s from the Times, not Baptist Press.

I think it’s wonderful that major media are recognizing the crucial role that faith-based groups play in disaster relief and reporting on it. But I would prefer — please don’t hate me, Baptists — that a news story provide a source when characterizing an organization as a “model of efficiency.”

Then again, the Times includes attribution (general as it is) but not a lot of concrete evidence to back up this statement:

But when it comes to disaster relief, the link between church and state has never been stronger than during the most recent storms in the South, say federal officials and the leaders of faith-based disaster relief work.

Alas, this is the Times, so a story like this would not be complete without a section about (cue the dramatic music) “proselytizing victims”:

Religion and secular rescue efforts do not always mix easily. Jessica Powers, a Red Cross volunteer from New York who ran the feeding operation in conjunction with the Southern Baptist group here, said that on a disaster mission in Louisiana, a Baptist worker riding along with the Red Cross was proselytizing victims.

“I had to say to him that the Red Cross is a humanitarian organization, and one of our positions is neutrality,” she said.

For the Baptists, spreading the word about Jesus Christ is an essential reason they head into disaster zones over and over.

“You have an opportunity to tell people that the Lord loves you,” Mr. Blankenship said. “When you hand someone food when they’re hungry, the door’s open.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press did a story on churches of different denominations forging bonds after the tornadoes. It’s a laudable attempt at enterprise reporting, but it seemed to me that it tried to stretch a relatively weak anecdote into too large a story.

The AP report opened with a Baptist pastor leaving a voice mail at an Assemblies of God church. The Baptist pastor offered the Assemblies of God church — damaged in the storm — any help that it needed, including use of the Baptist building. Maybe it’s me, but that did not seem like a remarkable phone call. It impressed me as something many pastors of different denominations would do.

Later in the story, though, we find out that the Assemblies of God church did not accept the Baptist invitation:

Despite the offer from Watkins, Jacks moved his Assembly of God congregation of about 400 for a Thursday evening service to the non-denominational Peoples Church in nearby Hueytown, where he once served as worship leader and where the services are closer to his own Pentecostal denomination’s exuberant style of raised hands and singing and clapping.

Besides, the pastor, Buddy Poe, is an old friend who says God came to him and told him to open his door to Jacks and his congregation. Jacks says God delivered a similar message to him.

Besides? Am I the only one thinking those paragraphs out of order? Um, if God made a personal visit (“came to him”) to one pastor and “delivered a similar message” to the other, did that perhaps play a bigger role than the style of worship?

Alas, those are the only two sentences in the entire story about God’s role in where the congregation decided to meet. The AP drops that angle like a hot potato!

Finally, and I have saved the best for last, if you like a fantastic story told in a compelling way, you must read CNN’s piece on faith and football — and even the history of race relations — in tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa, Ala.:

On April 27, a mile-wide tornado tore through Tuscaloosa, one of nearly 200 twisters to strike the South as part of a record storm. Hundreds died, including dozens in this college town – many of whom lived in the area known as Alberta City where College Hill Baptist sits.

The church lies at the center of the damage, as well as at the crossroads of faith, football and Alabama history. In a community where gospel and gridiron are interwoven like a hand-stitched Southern quilt, it all comes together at College Hill Baptist.

I’ll resist the urge to copy and paste giant sections of the 2,400-word story, but I will share my favorite graf of the entire piece:

A pious man with veins that bleed Crimson Tide and Bible scripture, Greene says the tornado looked like the devil when it came through. “It began to make a tail,” he says in an accent as thick as sorghum. “It went up in the air, like it had arms and shoulders.”

Read the whole thing. It almost made this Sooner fan (and resident of Tornado Alley/the Bible Belt) want to scream, “Roll Tide!” But not quite.

It won’t be long now

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I first posted on the impending end of the world back in early January, bidding farewell to life as we know it and voicing a few concerns about an Associated Press story.

I posted again on the same subject in March, showering an apocalyptic level of adoration on CNN’s “Road trip to the end of the world.” The CNN story is still the best I’ve read on this subject.

Alas, Doomsday is May 21 — only two weeks away. And we all know that many journalists work best on deadline. So we can probably expect more media reports before, well, you know, the end.

The Washington Post and NPR both covered the story this week. I liked the NPR report. As for the Post piece? Not so much.

Here’s the lede from the Post:

The unexpected and potentially rotten news that the world will end on May 21 rolled into the District on Thursday morning, plastered on a caravan of five recreational vehicles that parked near the Washington Monument.

“Have you heard the awesome news?” the side of the RVs asked, in big bold letters. “The End of the World is Almost Here!”

As if the message weren’t scary enough, the dozen or so occupants of the RVs –vanguard of a national campaign funded by a fundamentalist Christian radio network and fueled by bus ads and Internet buzz — wore highlighter-bright yellow shirts that said “Earthquake So Mighty, So Great.” They offered pedestrians handouts saying there was “ marvelous proof” that “Holy God will bring judgment day on May 21, 2011.”

The Rapture, they warned, is upon us.

The Post pretty much brushes aside the end-of-world folks as crazies. We get quotes like this from those rolling into D.C. in the RV caravan:

Tony Moise, a 47-year-old insurance underwriter from Silver Spring, quit his job to prepare. “It will be hell on Earth,” he said, taking a break from handing out material. “You won’t want to be around on May 22. There will be no electricity, no power, no water.”

What we don’t get is any serious exploration of what these people believe — or who they really are. That kind of fair treatment, even amid the seemingly preposterous claims, set the earlier CNN story apart.

It’s easy to write a story making fun of the end-of-worlders. It’s harder to write one that makes people scratch their heads and say, “I still think they’re crazy. But at least I have a little more insight into what makes them tick.”

Contrast the Post story with NPR’s coverage, which at least tries to tell the story from the perspective of the end-of-worlders, including Brian Haubert and Kevin Brown:

“I no longer think about 401(k)s and retirement,” (Haubert) says. “I’m not stressed about losing my job, which a lot of other people are in this economy. I’m just a lot less stressed, and in a way I’m more carefree.”

He’s tried to warn his friends and family. They think he’s crazy. And that saddens him.

“Oh, it’s very hard,” he says. “I worry about friends and family and loved ones. But I guess more recently, I’m just really looking forward to it.”

Haubert is 33 and single. Brown is married with several young children, and none of them shares his beliefs. It’s caused a rift with his wife — but he says that, too, was predicted in the Bible.

“God says, ‘Do you love husband or wife over me? Do you love son or daughter over me?’ There is a test. There is a trial here that the believers are going through. It’s a fiery trial.”

As May 21 nears, Brown says he feels as if he’s on a “roller coaster.” What if he is raptured but his family is left behind?

“I’m crying over my loved ones one minute; I’m elated the next minute,” he says. “It’s all over the place.”

The dilemma for reporters and editors is: Do you do a serious story about this movement? Or a sarcastic one? Or do you ignore them altogether? I’d love some insight from GetReligion readers on these questions. (Also, if you’ve seen any other coverage — good or bad — please provide links.)

While you ponder that (and prepare to comment), Godbeat pro Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., this week offered one of the best, easiest-to-understand explanations of the May 21 date:

The argument goes something like this: One verse in the New Testament book of 2 Peter says that a thousand years are as a day in the eyes of God.

Camping contends that God warned Noah that global judgment would occur in seven days. From that he concludes that this refers not only to the Genesis account of the flood but also another day of judgment seven “days” (millennia) later. And to top it off, he concludes that this decree can be dated back exactly 7,000 years from May 21 (based on the Hebrew calendar.)

“The Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment,” said his website.

Cheers. Enjoy the weekend. While you still can.

Same-sex debate in New York

The New York Times reports that faith groups are campaigning to block gay marriage in the state of New York:

Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, determined to head off momentum for same-sex marriage in Albany, say they are mobilizing an extensive campaign to block legislation that would make New York the sixth state to allow gay men and lesbians to wed.

“Our pastors are fired up by the governor’s assault on marriage,” said the Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a lobbying group that represents evangelical churches in the state. “We’re already in gear.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage have already financed a wave of 500,000 automated calls urging voters to contact undecided lawmakers. And the traditional religious coalition that has fought same-sex marriage in previous legislative sessions now counts among its members Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who played only a muted role the last time the issue was debated, in 2009, when he had just been appointed to lead the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

It’s a 1,000-word news story by religion writer Paul Vitello that sticks to the facts, gives relevant background and — it seems to me — treats opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage fairly.

I did find myself wishing for more specifics and more details on certain elements of the story. The relatively short length of the piece probably contributed to some of the missing information. But in a perfect world, a story leading with a reference to New York possibly becoming the sixth state to do something would have mentioned the five that already have.

Moreover, “evangelical” has become such a vague, catch-all term that I believe more precision was needed to explain exactly what churches make up New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. Similarly, it would be nice to know Rev. McGuire’s denominational affiliation. The story later quotes a state senator who is a Pentecostal and the vice chairman of a Missionary Baptist convention. Are they part of the evangelical group?

The story provides this background on religious objections to same-sex marriage:

Religious opponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have already begun using church bulletins, diocesan newspapers and sermons from the pulpit to encourage their followers to contact legislators and let them know how they feel. They make a two-tiered argument. First, they cite biblical injunctions against homosexuality. Second, they warn that social services, like foster care and adoption, provided by religiously sponsored charities could be endangered by the legalization of same-sex marriage. They point to Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where Catholic Charities stopped participating in adoption services rather than face a mandate to place children in homes without regard to the sexual orientation of the couple.

Nathan Diament, a lobbyist for the Orthodox Union, the largest association of Orthodox Jewish congregations in the country, said many Orthodox rabbis had contacted him for information about this year’s marriage bill. “Aside from the moral issues, their major concern is religious liberty,” he said.

But State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has co-sponsored the same-sex marriage bill in past years, said civil liability for violating discrimination laws was already a fact of life. As for adoption, which is already legal for same-sex couples in New York, she said, “My guess is that most same-sex couples skip over the Catholic adoption services in the Yellow Pages.”

Concerning the state senator’s argument, my guess is that it wouldn’t take many same-sex couples seeking an adoption through a Catholic agency to create a major issue. In fact, it might take just one such couple to launch a significant legal battle. I wonder if an expert might have made that point in the Times story.

But overall, the good old-fashioned journalism evident in this report impressed me. Nice job, New York Times.

Faith and hope amid the ruins

First, there was that one big story.

Then, there was that EVEN BIGGER STORY.

Down South, though, about 350 people are dead and thousands more hurt and homeless after a swath of tornadoes cut a deadly path across seven Southern states — hitting Alabama hardest — last Wednesday night. It’s the nation’s deadliest twister outbreak since the Great Depression and America’s worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina, according to the news reports I’ve read.

We exist here at this friendly little weblog because the mainstream media often do not GetReligion.

It does not take an editor with a seminary degree, however, to know that on the Sunday after a big disaster in the Bible Belt, reporters better crawl out of bed long before noon and go to church.

In my Associated Press days, I always loved these assignments because the guild contract required paying reporters a full day’s salary even if they only worked a few hours of overtime on an off day. So you’d go to a morning service — or maybe two or three — feed your quotes to the person writing the day’s big roundup and be home by noon with a nice little bit of extra pay.

But I digress …

It appears that most of the major media — and of course, the local newspapers in storm-ravaged communities — got the memo about the importance of going and writing the “faith and hope amid the ruins” stories.

And quite honestly, most did an incredible job with these stories. Most followed the same formula, opening with a pastor addressing his weary congregation and discussing God’s presence in the storm. But wow, such stories can be powerful — no matter how many times you’ve read them. It’s almost as if faith plays a tremendous role in people’s lives.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Alabama pastor Tommie Lewis took one good look at his congregants and asked, “Why?”

Four days after tornadoes ravaged their town and their state, they came ready to listen, and he came ready to preach.

“Why is it that the deaths are now beyond 200 and approaching 300? Why do good people who live in their homes 50 years, never bothering nobody, have to get swept away? Why do folks who paid their car notes every month now have no cars? Why?”

Across the South, this day of worship couldn’t have come soon enough. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and others dusted themselves off, reached for their finest clothing — some donated, some borrowed — and flocked to God to refuel their faith and gather hope on a Sunday that Alabama’s governor had declared a Day of Prayer.

From the Wall Street Journal:

GLENCOE, Ala. — Pastor Allen Murphy, 61 years old, spoke to worshippers Sunday at the new Mamre Baptist Church, framed by a stained-glass window of Jesus kneeling and looking upward. Above, the church roof was torn away.

“We’d be lost and undone without Jesus,” he told the assembly of about 100 people.

Two Mamre Baptist Churches in northeast rural Alabama, the old and the new, were destroyed by last week’s tornadoes. One church member died and several others were injured in the old church, where they had sought shelter.

The last words of Spencer Motes, 33 years old, according to witnesses, were, “Get on your knees!” as the door of the church basement blew open and the structure fell in.

Throughout the service, in the new church down the hill from the old one, people called out amens and raised trembling hands. They sang “Victory in Jesus,” calling for salvation and rebirth.

From AFP, the French news agency:

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – Grieving storm survivors turned to prayer and the good grace of volunteers Sunday across the US south as shattered communities looked to rebuild after the second-worst tornado disaster on record.

Churches from Mississippi to Virginia flung open their doors for prayers, some in the very houses of worship destroyed by powerful tornadoes that claimed nearly 350 lives on Wednesday.

“This is the Bible Belt. Church goes on regardless,” Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt told AFP.

In hardest-hit Alabama, where Governor Robert Bentley declared a state-wide day of prayer, the faithful gathered under open skies, in parking lots and church sites on the first Sunday since the historic disaster wiped several of their churches off the map.

In the town of Phil Campbell, congregants erected a makeshift wooden cross and sang hymns on the concrete slab where the Church of God once stood, before some of the most powerful tornadoes on record left it and thousands of homes and businesses in splinters.

Alabama papers also had some nice writing — including here, here and here — on the Sunday after the twisters.

From the Tuscaloosa News:

ALBERTA – As they gathered around and held hands to sing the standard gospel song “Amazing Grace,” many members of Alberta Baptist Church began to cry, but implicit in the prayer was the resolve to carry on.

“We pray, oh, God, for your mercy, for your precious strength and provision…,” the Rev. Larry Corder prayed later in a small service in the parking lot outside the church building that stood for nearly 60 years before the tornado last week nearly demolished it.

“We thank you, Father, for what you’re going to do in our lives and in this community in the days that lie ahead.”

Even the New York Times made it to church.

For whatever reason, though, the Times didn’t stay long. The paper’s story hits the faith angle, then quickly switches to government officials:

All across the South on Sunday, worshipers arrived in borrowed or newly bought clothes, carrying tattered family Bibles found among the ruins. They sang hymns, gave thanks for miracles and celebrated tearful reunions. And they looked for answers.

“Why?” asked Reverend Lewis. “Why? Why is it that the death toll now is beyond 200, approaching 300, and they’re still counting?”

While the preachers wrestled with the big questions, governmental officials focused on more concrete matters.

On Sunday afternoon, White House officials visited Pratt City and Smithville, Miss., touring the ruins with state and local officials, pledging federal support and addressing the priorities of the response.

“Obviously housing will be perhaps the single most critical part of the recovery, and we have a number of efforts under way already,” said Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, who was accompanied by the secretaries of homeland security and agriculture, among other officials.

Insert yawn here.

Seriously, “carrying tattered family Bibles found among the ruins” is a nice turn of phrase. But dare I ask for a source? Dare I expect to see someone actually quoted who carried one of these Bibles? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m thinking that person might have a much more interesting story than White House officials.

The Times eventually returns to the faith angle, but — and maybe it’s just me — its piece seems to lack the true emotion and raw depth of most of the other major media reports.

I saved the best for last, however. Did I mention that the AP has experience with these kind of roundups? I especially loved the lede on AP’s story as it opened with a slightly different angle than the other reports (and then came back later with a little more detail on the Muslim and Baptist referenced):

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Macolee Muhammed accepted the prayer of a relief worker who stopped by what was left of her Birmingham home. It didn’t matter that she was Muslim and he was a Southern Baptist.

“If you came here to help, the only person who sent you was God,” she said.

The storms that roared across the South last week flattened churches and crushed the homes of pastors and parishioners in a ragged stretch from Mississippi to Virginia. At least 342 people were killed and thousands more hurt.

So on the first Sunday after the disaster, believers streamed into houses of worship to give thanks for being spared, to mourn the dead and to ponder impossible questions. Why did some survive without any explanation? Why did others die for no apparent reason?

Many people in this highly religious region saw God at work, even amid the devastation.