The difference between Jesus and God

GodBless2Cathy Grossman has a profile of Franklin Graham in USA Today. It’s a really thorough and conversational piece that contrasts Franklin with his more famous father, Billy:

Billy Graham, who told the world everyone would be welcome in heaven if they just walked God’s way, retired after his June crusade in New York.

Now comes the controversial son, who never fails to say Jesus is the only way.

Did you catch that? I’m convinced Grossman can’t write about the Grahams without describing the father as inclusive and the son as exclusive.

Here’s a passage from her story last May, headlined “The gospel of Billy Graham: Inclusion“:

Franklin, however, has a more exclusive view of where and how to share the faith. Billy Graham always prayed “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” at nine presidential swearing-in ceremonies or related events.

But Franklin caused a stir by praying at George W. Bush’s first inauguration “in Jesus’ name.”

I remember this passage because I found it so interesting that praying in the name of the Triune God could be considered inclusive and yet mentioning Jesus — just one part of the Triune God — was exclusive.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that Franklin has a different style than his father, but I really am not sure that the examples she cites show a different understanding of either the exclusivity or inclusivity of Christ.

It turns out I’m not the only person who feels this way. This is from this year’s article:

Franklin objects to his media image as the “exclusive” counterpart to Billy’s image of “inclusion,” although the only way visitors will be able to enter the library is through doors cut into a three-story glass cross on the end of the building.

“You have to go through the cross,” he says, again with that crinkle-eyed smile. . . .

Americans of every faith — and none — were accustomed to Billy Graham, who used more inclusive language at civic events, such as Lord, God, Father, than he did at crusades intended for winning souls to Christ.

pledgegodIt wasn’t until I got to this part of the story that I realized what was going on. Grossman is pointing out, possibly without realizing it, that Billy Graham was the master practitioner of two religions — the Christian religion, in which he ran crusades and worked as an evangelist, and the civil religion, in which he supported the state by praying with presidents and marking sad and happy national events.

In civil religious ceremonies it is considered rather gauche to mention that you believe your fellow countrymen’s souls are in eternal jeopardy. That’s because the job of civil religionists is to unite the country behind shared values like patriotism. Like it or not, the cross of Christ is not a shared value of Americans. At civil religious events, the gathered pray to or acknowledge an anonymous, generic, all-purpose God who blesses Americans more than any other people. Civil religion also honors the country’s military and remembers the saints (usually presidents) who went before. The Pledge of Allegiance is a good example of civil religion. Despite the love affair some Christians have with it, it is not in any way distinguishably Christian. The battles over whether to recite the pledge — with the dreadfully imprecise God phrase — are battles over civil religion.

A guide for journalists trying to understand the issue mentions the importance of not getting doctrinally specific when using civil religion in inaugural events:

It is crucial that presidents never mention “Jesus” or “Christ” in this context, which would cross the line from civil religion into sacral religion. American civil religion transcends denomination and religious affiliation. The “Almighty” of civil religion could be Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Even Wiccans might feel kinship with Jefferson’s “Nature’s God.” Strict atheists, however, would be alienated.

So there you go. It would be good for reporters to help readers see the distinction between Christianity, other religions and civil religion when making the case about exclusivity or inclusivity.

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Will evangelicals rediscover crosses?

crossIn Wednesday’s Lenten post, I noted that Slate‘s Andrew Santella wrote an interesting article about the revival of Lenten practices among Protestants. I chided him for throwing all Protestants together, from those that have marked Lenten penitence since the beginning with those evangelicals that are rediscovering the practices of the church.

Well, the Baltimore Sun‘s Matthew Brown hit one out of the park with his story on the same topic. By narrowing his focus to one local evangelical congregation, he was able to tell a fascinating story:

People approached the dais one by one. Standing before them, the Rev. Jason Poling pressed his thumb into a small bowl of palm ashes and traced a cross on the forehead of each.

“Remember that you are dust,” he said. “And to dust you shall return.”

Christians throughout the world marked the start of Lent yesterday by receiving the mark that is meant to remind them of their mortality — a tradition that dates to the first millennium. But for New Hope Community Church, an evangelical congregation in Pikesville, the early-morning service was a first.

Brown describes the difference between most services at New Hope (very casual) and Ash Wednesday’s service (Poling wore a robe, draped the lectern in purple and put a cross on the platform). He quotes the pastor talking about the power of the liturgy and explaining the use of liturgical traditions to his congregation.

With the megachurch movement, too much baby was thrown out with the bath water, he says. (I’ve decided that would make a great title for a paper on how some Protestants came to reject infant baptism.) Anyway, Brown gets some outside analysis from Robert Webber, president of the Institute for Worship Studies and author of the eight-volume Complete Library of Christian Worship. In the late 1990s he surveyed evangelicals about their faith practices:

“They didn’t like contemporary worship anymore,” said Webber, a professor of ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill. “They were looking for an encounter with God, they were looking for mystery, they were looking for more Eucharist.”

The whole article is interesting. Brown ties in the anti-Vatican II sentiment among some modern Roman Catholics and writes as if he understands why some Christians use symbols, rites and rubrics and why others don’t. Knowledge of a given situation seems like a minimum requirement for reporters of religion, but sometimes it’s hard to come across. Brown interviews an evangelical congregant who used to be Roman Catholic — providing a great perspective for the piece.

Brown even includes innovative criticism of the evangelical return to ritual from an Anglican Dominican priest in Philadelphia who teaches evangelicals about rituals:

“I worry that they tend to take these practices completely out of their context and practice them in a way that I sometimes feel trivializes them to the point that, well, this is the latest spiritual fad,” [Rev. Kevin Goodrich] said.

Poling says he is sympathetic to the concern.

“Evangelicals are independent,” he said. “When we appropriate traditions, we do so on our own terms. We feel the freedom to modify them as appropriate to our beliefs and theology. But I think there is a genuine humility to us going to the well of the ancient faith.

All in all, a very nice piece by Brown — both from a local perspective and the larger religious trend angle.

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The Times salutes a smart evangelical

49480173 758136050c mThe Rev. Timothy J. Keller must be pretty smart.

You can tell that because, in reporter Michael Luo’s “Preaching the Word and Quoting the Voice” story, the New York Times stresses that the leader of the city’s Redeemer Presbyterian is not like those other evangelicals. Then the story tells the reader this again and again and again and again. (By the way, what does that headline mean? I’m lost.)

The only problem is that Keller (photo: www.djchuang.com) seems, at least to me as a reader, like a pretty typical, C.S. Lewis-reading, tuned-in, smart evangelical. There are lots of them. You run into entire seminaries full of them from time to time. I know that these people exist because I know lots of them myself, in a wide variety of denominations. Plus, I read it in the New York Times not that long ago.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a good story and I was glad to see it — finally — in the Times.

However, Redeemer Presbyterian has been a major story in that city — and several others — for a long, long time. It’s a good story, but it does contain a few “What?!?” moments that made we wonder what’s going on. Take, for example:

Over the last 16 years, Dr. Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian, has swelled to 4,400 attendees, mostly young professionals and artists who do not fit the prototypical evangelical mold, spread out across four different services on Sundays. Although Dr. Keller, 55, is hardly a household name among believers outside New York — in part because he has avoided the Christian speaking circuit — his renown is growing in pastoral circles and in the movement to establish or “plant” new churches, a trend among evangelicals these days.

Let’s skip over the “prototypical evangelical mold” part, which is just another way of saying that this impressive church attracts smart New Yorkers, which is different since ordinary evangelical churches would attract, I assume, not-so-smart suburbanites. One would not read about those churches in the Times unless they sponsored voter drives or crisis-pregnancy centers.

What interests me is that part about a movement to “plant” churches being “a trend among evangelicals these days.” This is something like saying it is a trend among Roman Catholic priests to say Mass, or a trend among opera singers to sing opera. Evangelicals plant churches like runners run, or evangelists evangelize. In this story, we even meet an expert on this cutting-edge trend:

Believing new churches are the best way to produce new Christians, evangelicals are making a major push to start new churches around the world, said Edmund Gibbs, a professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary outside Los Angeles. But only recently have some evangelicals begun to turn their focus to urban centers.

Dr. Keller “has grasped the strategic significance of the city, of the urban culture and the need to engage that very diverse culture at every level,” he said. “Our culture is urban-driven.”

By the way, this Gibbs guy is almost certainly Father Eddie Gibbs, an evangelical Anglican priest who has been doing church-planting workshops around the world for decades and is best known as an associate of former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. I first heard Gibbs speak on the urgency of addressing church life in the mega-cities of the world about, oh, 20-something years ago.

Does the reader need to know another phrase or two worth of information about Gibbs? If you were writing an article that included a reference to Jack Nicklaus helping people improve their golf games, wouldn’t you want to know that he had won, oh, 18 major gold tournaments? I realize that Gibbs is not that famous. But if you are writing about church planting, Gibbs is a global leader in this arena. The reader needs to know that.

vision1Let’s look at one more passage in this story:

Observing Dr. Keller’s professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal. While he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths, he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere. “A big part is he preaches on such an intellectual level,” said Suzanne Perron, 37, a fashion designer who is one of many who had stopped going to church before she discovered Redeemer several years ago. “You can go to Redeemer and you can not be a Christian and listen to that sermon and be completely engaged.”

Dr. Keller shies away from the label evangelical, which is often used to describe theologically conservative Protestant Christians like him, because of the political and fundamentalist connotations that now come with it. He prefers the term orthodox instead, because he believes in the importance of personal conversion or being “born again,” and the full authority of the Bible.

Uh, so normal “evangelicals” do not believe in the “importance of personal conversion or being ‘born again,’ and the full authority of the Bible” but those who use the word “orthodox” do? (I ask this question as someone who was raised Southern Baptist and is now an Eastern Orthodox Christian, so I have lived with both of these words for a long time.)

In the end, this is the rare case in which I wish the Times had called up some church leaders on the religious left and let them tee off on Keller. Believe me, they would have. Or, the Times copy desk could have visited the Vision & Values section of the church’s website and informed readers that, even though Keller is a smart man, he is a traditional Christian when it comes to hot cultural issues. People can also read his blog.

Yes, Keller is a smart man and his church is important. Someone at the Times needs to hang out more with other smart evangelicals to get a sense of who he is. They might even try hiring some smart evangelicals who have earned their stripes as journalists and letting them have some input into stories of this kind.

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American tribes go to different movies

NYET18801311348This is post is so, so, so overdue that I have decided to turn that into a good thing. Indeed, I will argue that my procrastination can be seen as a form of public service to GetReligion readers.

Why? The Atlantic Monthly is a wonderful magazine and is must reading for anyone interested in religion and public life. But some of those articles are just so long, too long even, when it comes time to reading them on a computer screen. So if you are not a subscriber, I urge you — the timing is perfect — to find a subscriber and urge them to give you that copy of the January-February issue that they were just about to pitch into the recycle bin. It’s the one with Pope Benedict XVI on the cover (more on that in a moment).

There is a very important article in this issue entitled “Tribal Relations” by Steven Waldman, the CEO over at Beliefnet, and John C. Green, the University of Akron professor who is one of America’s most quoted experts on political numbers. It is part of a package — look for the “Values Racket” headline — that tries to carve up all kinds of Culture War and Red vs. Blue political myths and actually, for me, ends up making the opposite case, underlining the fact that moral and cultural issues are at the heart of American politics these days.

In their article, Green and Waldman produce mini-profiles of what they believe are the 12 religious (or non-religious or even anti-religious) tribes in American politics. The goal is to prove that America is more complex than the old Religious Right vs. Everybody Else matrix. What they end up with is something very close to the point of view argued long ago — to one degree or another — by James Davison “Culture Wars” Hunter, evangelical statistics guru George Barna, Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce and others.

Anyone who has read GetReligion very long will recognize this theory right away: There is the true Religious Right on one side (about 12 percent) and the true-blue secularists on the other side (10 percent or so) and, in between, there is OprahAmerica.

Not everyone will agree with how Waldman and Green have defined the other folks in the Republican and Democratic tribes — the “heartland culture warriors,” the religious left, the “moderate evangelicals,” spiritual but not religious people, etc. But it was good to make this attempt, and others should spin their own versions. Anyone seeking compromises on tough moral issues has to venture into this territory, the muddy land in between the rock-ribbed religious voters who define the Republican primaries and the anti-evangelical voters who dominate the Democratic primaries and fundraising.

Here is a sample of the “Tribal Relations” material. Note the reference to “theological restructuring,” which is a kind of indirect hat tip to Hunter:

A deep-blue religious left is almost exactly the same size as the religious right but receives much less attention. John Kerry is perhaps one representative of this group, which draws members from many Christian denominations and is a product of the same theological restructuring that created the heartland culture warriors. Members of the religious left espouse a progressive theology (agreeing, for instance, that “all the world’s great religions are equally true”) and are very liberal on cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage. About a quarter attend church weekly. The religious left is somewhat liberal on economic policy and decidedly to the left on foreign policy. Its stances on both moral values and the Iraq War — but especially the latter — have pushed it further into the Democratic camp. Seventy percent backed Kerry in 2004; 51 percent had backed Gore in 2000. The religious left was the largest — and the fastest-growing — single tribe in the Kerry coalition.

103652 brokeback l 01So you may be asking, right about now: Why is there Oscar and Brokeback Mountain art attached to this post?

That’s easy. In the weeks running up to the Academy Awards, the mainstream press has been cranking out stories about the success of this movie and how this shocking “breakout” represents a major change in American culture. The latest version of this story appeared this past week in the big-story slot on page one in USA Today. Thus, reporter Scott Bowles wrote:

Brokeback Mountain already is The Movie. The film is the punch line of jokes, the subject of Internet parodies and the front-runner for the Oscars on March 5. Oprah plugged the gay-cowboy drama on her show. Howard Stern gave it a thumbs up. “Have you seen Brokeback?” has become a dinner-party Rorschach test of gay tolerance.

Brokeback also is freighted with expectations not foisted on a film in years. It leads a raft of social-issues films that are dominating the awards season. Some hail the picture as the one that will change not only how Hollywood portrays gay characters but also how gay men and lesbians are accepted by mainstream America. Those are mighty claims for a $14 million Western seen by fewer people in the three months since its release than who saw Dancing with the Stars on television last week.

Admirers say the film is erasing Hollywood’s homosexual stereotypes and raising consciousness of gay rights. Critics say Brokeback‘s destiny is to be remembered more for its marketing than its artistic achievements.

This story does — hurrah — work in a wide range of viewpoints about the movie. Still, it is yet another example of the trend that it is writing about.

At some point, you have to ask: OK, if $70-plus million at the box office is a sign of American mainstream status, then what is $288 million or even (if you catch my drift) $370 million?

Here’s the point. If you apply the Waldman and Green matrix to movies instead of to politics, then you could reach this conclusion. Brokeback Mountain is a solid, artistic niche movie for the hard left in American life — a niche that is larger than the hard right (and is dominated by Oscar voters and Hollywood’s most loyal supporters in blue zip codes).

So who will make more movies for the other tribes? Who will find a way to make movies that combine the tribes, yet are artistic enough for Hollywood to honor? That’s the question people need to ask if they want to make mainstream movies that make lots of money and force Hollywood people to grit their teeth when it comes time for the Oscar voting.

So what else is in that must-save January-February issue of The Atlantic?

There is E.J. Dionne Jr.’s poignant attempt to wish away the Culture Wars. There is Caitlin Flanagan’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Monica,” in which she seems to yearn for some kind of sexual morality in post-feminist America, but dares not propose one. And there is even the cover story, Paul Elie’s magnificent “The Year of the Two Popes,” which offers some critical insights into the differences between John Paul II and Benedict XVI, instead of rehashing all of the places where their views were so similar.

Like I said, find someone to give you a real copy of this magazine printed on high-quality dead tree pulp. You’ll get eye strain trying to read all of this wonderful stuff on a computer screen.

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J.J. Redick’s faith and his tattoos

redickIn high school, I was often terrified to play in organized basketball games. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to play basketball and to this day it is one of my favorite activities. But something made me go stiff the moment a referee and a coach were involved. The primary reason I survived four years of high school basketball was because of prayer and the support of my family and friends.

For this reason, faith and family have always gone together in my post-high school experiences in organized basketball, primarily as the coach of my younger brother’s junior high and junior varsity team for three years. Faith, while not significant in all ball players’ minds, certainly means a great deal to me, which is why I was thrilled to read this story by ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde on the faith and tattoos of Duke guard J.J. Redick:

“I didn’t get tattoos so other people would say, ‘Oh, J.J.’s got tattoos. He’s got a basketball on his arm that says King of the Court,’ or something like that,” Redick said. “I got a tattoo for me. It’s a constant reminder, every day, of what God has done and what he will do in my life.”

The reminders are etched upon the senior guard’s lean torso — one on his chest, one on his abdomen.

The script lettering on his stomach reads, “Isaiah 40:31,” referring to this Bible verse: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

The other tattoo, on his chest, came first. It’s the Japanese word for courage, and beneath it is reference to another Bible verse, Joshua 1:9. That one reads: Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

That’s the tat he got with grandma. And if there is one thing you can say about J.J. Redick, it’s this: He’s got basketball courage.

Courage is a tricky thing on a basketball court. Courage can quickly turn into cockiness detrimental to the team. I was privileged to see Redick drop 41 in a losing effort to Georgetown University last month, and I was struck not only by his ability to drill 3-pointers from 25 feet out with two guys in his face, but also his poise and unselfish behavior. Nevertheless, a big reason I believe Georgetown won was because Redick did not have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.

redick2Redick’s faith, his upbringing in a household of five homeschooled children, his struggles in his first two years at college — away from the comforts and protection of home — his recommitment to disciplining his life and his personal faith in God all make for a great story. While Pat Forde isn’t in your face about Redick’s faith in Christ, he certainly does not attempt to play it down or avoid it like some sportswriters are inclined to do.

Here’s more on Redick’s faith and his claim to fame as the world’s most hated basketball player (as of Saturday, he became the ACC’s all-time scoring leader to go along with his NCAA record 3-pointers and his all-time leading scorer status at Duke University):

It takes courage to embrace the burden of potential failure and hoist shots at the moments of maximum pressure. It takes courage to thrive as the most revered and most reviled college player in America. It takes courage to put your personality out there — the vulnerable poet’s side, the arrogant baller’s side, the unapologetic Christian’s side — for public dissection.

It would be so much easier to assume the dull automaton pose prevalent among today’s college basketball players. Redick doesn’t do easy.

“God’s got to be his comforter,” J.J.’s dad, Ken, said. “There’s got to be times in that spotlight, with that much pressure — and internal pressure from the Duke system of how you have to perform every day — when he couldn’t survive without faith, without being imbued with that spirit.

… After averaging 21.8 points per game last year and being named a first-team All-American, Redick decided he had earned a second trip to the tattoo parlor. That’s when he got the Isaiah 40:31 tat, to commemorate what he called “the best year of my life.”

“I regained my passion for basketball,” Redick said. “My relationships with my family members were as good as they’ve ever been — and my first two years, those were sometimes rocky. I met my girlfriend during that year and regained my spirituality.”

Read the whole article if you enjoy sports. If not, read it anyway to get a feel for one of America’s “Crunchy Christians” who has been reading, according to the article, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life this winter. And I’ll be watching come March Madness to see whether Redick’s faith draws further attention by the media.

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Who lit the bomb in Nigeria?

NigeriaStatesMapAnyone who knows anything about global religious-liberty issues has known for several years that Nigeria is a bomb waiting to go off. In the north, Muslim states have pressed for sharia law. In the largely Christian and animist south, leaders have struggled to embrace the rule of law, as defined in the West. The two legal doctrines cannot, by definition, coexist and, thus, Nigeria has been sitting on a legal and religious landmine.

Now the cartoon intifada may have caused the long-awaited explosion. First the MSM headlines talked about riots and deaths inspired by the Danish cartoons, complete with churches burning and Christian neighborhoods being attacked. Now the headlines are dominated by the horrific account of the second wave of violence, with Muslims facing the fury of the Christians and animists they previously attacked.

As for me, I think that the top paragraphs of this New York Times report by Lydia Polgreen did a solid job of capturing both sides of this deadly equation, under a headline that cited the source of the violence, rather than simply blaming one side or the other: “Nigeria Counts 100 Deaths Over Danish Caricatures.” Here is the opening of that story:

Dozens of charred, smoldering bodies littered the streets of this bustling commercial center on Thursday after three days of rioting in which Christian mobs wielding machetes, clubs and knives set upon their Muslim neighbors.

Rioters have killed scores of people here, mostly Muslims, after burning their homes, businesses and mosques in the worst violence yet linked to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper. The violence in Nigeria began with attacks on Christians in the northern part of the country last week by Muslims infuriated over the cartoons.

Now old ethnic and political tensions between Muslims in the north and Christians here in the south have been reignited, with at least 33 bodies still visible on the streets of Onitsha on Thursday and a local organization that has tried to collect the scattered corpses reporting that it has already picked up 80 others. The cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian violence has pushed the death toll in the last week well beyond 100, making Nigeria the hardest-hit country so far in the caricature controversy.

The hellish images and quotations speak for themselves. There is enough evil and blood in this story to cover the hands of violent people on both sides. Yet the Times did not bury the key fact that the bloodshed began, once again, with riots against the cartoons of Muhammad.

If GetReligion readers want a one-stop list of URLs for this story, they should click here and head — of course — to the Christianity Today weblog. Editor-reporter Ted Olsen jumped on the Nigeria story early enough to have posted one collection of links about the violence against the churches, with the haunting headline “Muslim Riots Move from Anti-Europe to Anti-Christian.” Now he is following up with the second wave of violence against Muslims.

nigeriaI have to admit that I was relieved when I read the Times report, in large part because coverage in the Washington Post seems to have paid more attention to the second set of riots than the first, kind of like a basketball referee who sees the second foul and not the first that inspired it.

You can see this in the series of wire service reports that covered the anti-cartoon riots (here, here and here), the riots in which the victims were Christians. Then the coverage kicks up a notch with Post editors turning to their own correspondents for coverage of the hellish violence unleashed against the Muslims. Here is a piece of one of those reports, with the blunt headline “Christians Turn on Muslims In Nigeria; More Than 30 Die.”

Christian mobs in this southern city attacked Muslim motorists and traders Wednesday, leaving more than 30 people dead, according to witnesses, as religious riots sparked by the publishing of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad continued into a fifth day in Nigeria. Nationwide, the death toll reached at least 80.

Hordes of angry men marauded through Onitsha armed with machetes, guns and boards with nails pounded into their ends, witnesses said. The mobs burned two mosques and looted and destroyed Muslim-owned shops as they sought vengeance for similar attacks against Christians in two predominantly Muslim cities in northern part of the country.

“They’ve been killing our brothers and sisters in the north,” men shouted Wednesday morning, according to Afoma Clara Adique, 40, a motorist who had driven through Onitsha. She escaped the mobs, she said, but only after speaking to the men in a regional language used by Christians. Before she could get away, Adique said, she saw burned and dismembered bodies along the side of the road. … Her traveling companion, Tony Iweka, 45, a magazine editor, said a man in the mob raised his right hand to display what appeared to be a freshly decapitated head.

The Post did note that, with all of the anti-cartoon riots around the world, this was the first clash in which there were “counterattacks by Christians.”

It is impossible, of course, for reporters to get around the need to describe who attacked who.

However, can I make a suggestion? No doubt, there are radical Islamist clerics who are firing up their people to take to the streets and do whatever it is that rioters are going to do. There may be cases in which it is accurate to say that “Muslim” believers did horrific things, perhaps even while shouting “Allahu akbar!” Now, if reporters can find Christian leaders — clerics, actually — calling for violence, then by all means quote these ministers. It certainly is relevant that some of the rioters are leaving, in their wake, violent graffiti that refer to Christians taking revenge. Reporters have to report the facts.

But here is my suggestion. Right now, I think it is safer, especially in headlines and leads, to identify the victims of the violence than to be absolutely clear as to the faith-based motives and the identity of the thugs and demons doing the violence. It is safer to say that rioters killed Christians and burned churches. It is safer to say that rioters killed Muslims and burned mosques.

It is easier for journalists to prove — with their own words — that specific Muslims or specific Christians did or said something than it is to pin the blame for those actions on entire communities. This is true in France, the Netherlands, England, Jordan, Egypt, Nigeria and many other places. It may soon, sadly, be true in North America.

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Dawn Eden writes again

trump firedFor those interested in a GetReligion flashback, today’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page includes a review of the new book Fired! by actress Annabelle Gurwitch. The book sounds interesting, especially its list of 21 synonymns that people in power use in this sensitive age in place of the blunt words “You’re fired.”

However, what jumped out at me was the update — right in the middle of the review — on the backstory about the faith-based firing not that long ago of the review’s author. That would be Dawn Eden, the former superstar headline writer of the New York Post. If you want to catch up, click here for GetReligion material on the firing.

Here is Dawn’s account of her own journey into the white light of unemployment, which is a cautionary tale about all kinds of things — from not-so-tolerant libertarian editors (I speculate freely here) to the dangers of expressing one’s faith in the blogosphere.

On the day I got the ax as a copy editor, Col Allan, the editor in chief, called me into his office and told me that he was “very concerned” about my blog, where I discuss my beliefs as a Christian conservative. He then lowered the boom (those “fired” synonyms just keep coming). But the first intimation that something was up had come days earlier.

It was then that I got in trouble with my boss, and a Post reporter, by making changes in an article about in-vitro fertilization. I was merely trying to add factual balance. (When three embryos are implanted and two “take,” the third one — it seemed worth mentioning — “dies.”) The newspaper, however, thought that the changes reflected “rabid anti-abortion views,” as a Post gossip column would later put it. When my boss refused to fire me over the incident, the unsatisfied reporter found my blog, printed out certain passages and took them to the top brass.

The word then came down from on high: “When you give an interview, if you talk about being Christian, don’t mention that you work for the New York Post.” I agreed. But I had agreed to the same thing four months before, after I gave an interview to a media-gossip Web site and my comments had stirred concern at the paper. When Mr. Allan finally fired me, then, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the reason was my blog, my beliefs or my editing.

dawneden 01We have already had some lively discussions on this blog about the copy-desk issues involved in this firing. I should also mention that this is not the only story I have heard through the years in which talented journalists were shoved out the door in disputes about a newspaper’s lack of accuracy and balance in abortion coverage. Is there anyone else out there with tales that can be told without getting anyone, well, dismissed?

It’s the blog angle that struck me this time, because Dawn is, in fact, one really blunt blogger. I would imagine that she has very few fans at Planned Parenthood. As we would say in Texas, Dawn is a pistol. She also has, as we say here inside the Beltway, “fallen up” and is working as a copyeditor and columnist at the New York Daily News. Her love of a punchy headline also shows up in the title of her upcoming book on sex and singles, The Thrill of the Chaste.

So this leaves us with an old question: Do journalists have a right to talk about their faith, or their unbelief, for that matter, in the safety of cyberspace? How about in public speeches? Does it matter if this particular reporter is on the Godbeat or the political beat? Sadly, I would assume that the answer to this has more to do with the beliefs of the managing editor than of the framers of the Bill of Rights. Anyone want to talk about that? The topic comes up every few years at national gatherings of the Religion Newswriters Association.

Oh, and at the end of Eden’s WSJ review, check out her quip about Bill Maher’s venture into unintentional quotations from the Bible. Fun stuff.

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Supply and demand

PeopleSeemToLikeItI’ll never forget hearing how my best friend’s little sister frowned upon seeing their uncle arrive at a function in his chosen get-up of women’s clothing. “It’s not that you’re wearing a dress,” she said. “It’s the dress you’re wearing.”

That pretty much sums up my feelings about Contemporary Christian Music. It’s not, obviously, that I have any problem with the idea of new Christian music. Indeed, I have friends who have written beautiful hymns in the past few years. It’s just that most of what the genre turns out is such a horrible assault on the mind and ears. But in a culture that throws out Dürer woodcuts for PowerPoint sermons and Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” for “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” it appears I’m outnumbered by the legions of poor taste.

Which is why I smiled a bit when I read Sam Hodges’ piece Saturday in the Dallas Morning News. He found that some megachurches, which ceremoniously burnt their hymnals decades ago (I kid), are bringing them back:

A funny thing happened last summer at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall. A shipment of hymn books arrived, and not by mistake.

Lake Pointe is a megachurch with contemporary-style worship. Years back, it dissolved its choir and got rid of its hymnals in favor of Christian “praise” music, played by a rock band,with lyrics flashed on big screens. That style still dominates at Lake Pointe. But in August, sensing demand, the church debuted its “Classic Service,” an early Sunday morning alternative service with choir, piano, organ and lots of congregational singing — out of those shiny new hymnals.

I thought it was perceptive that Hodges characterized the church as responding to demand. It’s such an American way of doing worship. You want coffee? We’ll get you coffee! You have Attention Deficit Disorder? We’ll make sure to hop around on stage and shout a lot! You like Peter, Paul and Mary more than Isaac Watts? No problem — we’ll give you Contemporary Christian Music! Oh, now you miss Isaac Watts? Okay, we’ll bring him back! It’s not that Lake Pointe thought that doing traditional worship was the right thing to do — it’s just that they were responding to consumer demand.

On that note, it would be interesting to explore whether some of these big music companies behind Contemporary Christian Music were behind the hymnal these contemporary worship congregations are buying. I’m not trying to pick on them, even though my personal biases are beyond clear. And at least in these Protestant churches the worshipers actually seem to like the music offered. Unlike in Roman Catholic churches where, as Amy Welborn noted last month, parishioners around the country were subjected to a less-than-stellar praise song because it seemed to match the pericope.

But some students of the contemporary style say that much of its music lacks the melodic sophistication of enduring hymns, or the poetry and doctrinal depth of lyrics penned by such writers as Charles Wesley (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”), Isaac Watts (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), Fanny Crosby (“Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine”) or Thomas Dorsey (“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”).

And while traditional worship can be stiff and uninvolving, the contemporary experience — music, big screens, mood lighting — is often derided as “church lite.”

“When done incorrectly, contemporary services are all foam and no root beer,” said Nathan Lino, Northeast Houston Baptist’s pastor. “They are entertaining, fun and high energy, but you leave with no sense of having had a meaningful time of worship. … I do think churches are beginning to realize that there is a growing desire for a shift back toward a more traditional style.”

I hope all the other drinkers loved Pastor Lino’s modification as much as I did. I think it’s also interesting — as the piece makes clear — that when these churches are bringing back traditional worship, they’re bringing back traditional Protestant worship from the very recent past. I mean, if we sang those hymns mentioned above at my church, the congregation would wonder if we were moving to contemporary worship.

Anyway, this piece is a great example of how to do local religion coverage. It’s not a puff piece, but just a great look into how decisions are made at the congregational level and what the ramifications of those decisions are. It also has a bunch of nice sidebars with further information. Good work.

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