Praying to plug the oil spill

As Gulf Coast residents deal with the worst oil spill in U.S. history, The Washington Post reports that — surprise, surprise — some people are finding comfort in prayer.

Now, that’s a wonderful angle for a story. When I saw the headline, I hoped the piece might provide some insight into how people of faith are handling this national tragedy. Instead, the 600-word account impressed me as shallow and full of details that served more as window dressing than actual conduits to explaining how the faithful view God’s role in BP’s spewing gusher.

Let’s start at the top:

CUT OFF, LA. — For a few hours Sunday night, Audie Crochet’s living room became a church. The plush green carpet supported a white pulpit. A suede sofa set and fold-out chairs served as pews. And a 52-inch television thumped out religious-themed music with the power of a full choir.

“Let’s pray to God to stick his finger in that plug,” Crochet, 53, said, his body swaying back and forth.

“Yes,” Jason Ross, 37, echoed. “Plug it.”

A day after it was announced that BP’s “top kill” effort had failed, making this gulf-dependent region feel even more helpless, many residents did the only thing they knew to do: pray.

Why the Post chose to focus its prayer story on a house church with nine people, I don’t know. The report never explains why the group meets in a home and never gives any details on their denominational background. Even worse, the piece never includes any actual prayer. What exactly are these nine people saying to God? Are they begging for an end to the oil spill? Are they asking for a speedy cleanup effort? Are they demanding the heads of BP officials? We never find out.

We do get quotes like this:

“I tell you, whoever comes up with the fix to plug this thing, they’re going to be patted on the back for years,” Crochet said. “BP won’t have enough money to give them.”

“Let me tell you,” he said. “Everyone in this room has potential. We do.”

Everyone in this room has potential. What, in the context of this story, does that quote add? What is the purpose? Seriously, somebody tell me, am I missing something? I don’t get it.

The story also provides brief references to a Catholic church and a Baptist church:

They prayed at the Catholic church on Grand Isle. “Know you are not alone facing the horrible oil spill disaster,” reads a line from the church bulletin. The Rev. Mike Tran’s sermon Sunday addressed the oil spill, and the Mass intentions for Monday and Tuesday were to be dedicated to it as well. The floor of the entrance to the church bears four images: a boat, an oil rig, a fish and a bird.

They prayed at the Baptist church up the road. “It’s a slow disaster,” said Nathan Stanford, the youth minister. “We’ve been praying, but we don’t know what to pray for specifically.” They don’t know what the final toll will be or whom it will most affect, he said. They, like other congregations, are preparing to give out financial help to residents as needs arise.

That’s it — the entirety of the reporting on those congregations. I would assume that both of those churches have Sunday morning services and that the reporter could have made it to one or both of them and still covered the Sunday night assembly at the house church. Perhaps then the piece could have included some of what Tran actually said in his sermon. Perhaps then the piece could have included some of what the Baptist church — does it have a name? — actually said in its prayers.

For more competent treatments of the faith angle, consider this Christian Science Monitor story and this Miami Herald feature on Tran’s church. The top of the Herald report:

GRAND ISLE, La. — The Rev. Mike Tran has seen the tears and heard the frustration of a congregation so tied to the water that the stained glass windows of his church are marked with starfish, seashells and sand dollars.

On Sunday, with the latest effort to cap the gushing geyser deemed yet another failure — and the next best solution an even bigger uncertainty — Tran tried to offer solace to a congregation in pain. A congregation, he noted, that would love to “give a piece of our mind to BP.”

“His faith falls upon us as we walk in this journey,” said Tran, pastor at Our Lady of the Isle on Grand Isle, one of the barrier islands that has taken the brunt of the nation’s largest environmental disaster. Fishermen can’t fish, the beaches are closed and vacation rentals are occupied by National Guard troops helping clean the beaches.

“I challenge you to live the same message,” Tran said to a full house of congregants, many of whom make a living from the water. “To live with patience, to live reaching out to one another during this time. … We need to be even more faithful to the word of God. We need to support each other.”

The Herald piece lacks cutesy details such as a suede sofa set as pews and a big-screen TV thumping out religious-themed music. Instead, it simply — and powerfully — explores the gravity of the Gulf tragedy through the lens of religion in real people’s lives. Imagine that.

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Got news? Jews for Jesus founder dies

The passing of Moishe Rosen wasn’t earth-shattering, but this was certainly news worthy of coverage on more obit pages than that of The Washington Post.

As I’ve followed Google News for a widening catalog of obituaries about the Jews for Jesus founder, who died Wednesday after a protracted battle with cancer, the only real change has been the increase in coverage from sectarian media outlets. CBN did their story, and the Jewish Chronicle another.

But no mention from the San Francisco Chronicle, despite the fact that Jews for Jesus was based in San Francisco and Rosen died there. And, as of yet, nothing else, except for this bio from the Orland Sentinel’s religion blog and this brief AP report.

So let’s take a look at the WaPo story:

Jews for Jesus, founded in 1973, is the largest and most visible part of the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Christian movement, which holds that Jews can recognize Jesus as the messiah and still retain a Jewish identity. The group has offices in 11 countries, including Israel, and employs more than 100 missionaries worldwide.

Mr. Rosen said he modeled his evangelical efforts on Vietnam War protests he saw while living in the San Francisco area. Jews for Jesus spread its ideas via street theater performances and printed pamphlets with catchy titles such as “On the First Day of Christmas My Rabbi Gave to Me . . . ” and “Jesus Made Me Kosher.”

Adherents handed out millions of copies on street corners and college campuses and at shopping malls and airports.

“[W]e must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus in order to be saved,” Mr. Rosen wrote in a statement posted online at the time of his death. “There are no shortcuts.”

The next line mentions how Rosen’s message angered Jewish leaders, and plenty of members of the American Jewish community. I can certainly understand that. I’ve long been uncomfortable with Jews for Jesus — partly because they thought that I was going to be their mole on The Jewish Journal’s staff but mostly because I think that they mislead many Jews about the cost of following Christ.

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown does a good job mentioning that perspective but not getting hung up on it. After a quote, she quickly returns to Rosen’s life in an obit that leaves little to criticize. I would have liked to have seen discussion of how Jews for Jesus differ from Messianic Jews — in short, significantly — and maybe a bit more about some of the group’s legal battles — they got to both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Israel. And Brown’s obit wasn’t as thorough as the one from the Baptist Press, which was written by the BP’s editor. But who could expect it to be?

I would, however, expect a few other daily newspapers to wake up to Rosen’s death.

PHOTO: Rosen as a Jews for Jesus council meeting last June, via Flickr.

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Rest of the Idaho Baptists story?

More than three months ago, 10 Baptist mission workers from Idaho made major headlines when they tried to take 33 children from earthquake-devastated Haiti.

The latest twist in the strange, confusing case came this week:

BOISE, Idaho — The leader of an American group detained while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the January earthquake returned Tuesday to Idaho, deferring questions about her conviction for arranging illegal travel.

Laura Silsby was freed Monday after she was convicted by a judge for arranging illegal travel and sentenced to time already served in jail. She was welcomed at the Boise airport by a cheering crowd that included her sister, mother and members of her Idaho church.

Silsby cried while hugging family members, raised her hands in the air as her pastor led the group in prayer, and sang a hymn with members of her church congregation.

“It feels incredible,” Silsby said. “I just give praise to my God and I thank him for bringing me home.”

Before I get into the meat of this post, let me say that I appreciate the description in the third paragraph of that Associated Press story. It helps paint the scene of Silsby’s homecoming. I do wish, however, that the writer — or his editors — had gone all the way and named the hymn. Or am I the only reader who wondered what hymn they sang to welcome this woman home after 100-plus days behind bars?

The Idaho Statesman included this interesting religious nugget in its story:

The three visited Silsby twice a day at the Port-Au-Prince jail, where Silsby was held in a roughly 12-by-12-foot cell that had one cot and an ever-changing number of inmates.

Some left the cell with newfound faith, Mel Coulter said.

“She witnessed to at least 10 people who became Christians,” he said. “What began as a children’s ministry became a jail ministry.”

But the point of this post really isn’t to analyze the homecoming coverage. Rather, this is my question: Is this story — which made such big headlines in the beginning — the victim of media attention-deficit disorder? It seems to me that there are still nagging questions about the Idaho mission workers and the Haiti government’s prosecution that need to be explored. Unfortunately, media interest seems to have waned.

A later version of the AP homecoming story focused on Silsby’s personal problems — including a failed business with disgruntled employees and a custody fight with her ex-husband. While those are legitimate questions, the story does not make clear the extent, if any, to which her time behind bars exacerbated those issues.

However, it seems that the storyline concerning what happened in Haiti has been paved in concrete by the media when, in fact, questions remain that still need to be investigated — questions that might be easier to pursue with the last mission worker out of custody.

Baptist Press raised a number of those questions this week in what it labeled an “exclusive” report on the 10 Baptists from Idaho. The Southern Baptist news service interviewed mission worker Paul Thompson, who gave a “radically different” account from most media reports of what transpired in the earthquake-ravaged nation. His specific claims:

– The 10 Americans did not, as has been alleged in some accounts, go through the streets of Port-au-Prince passing out flyers and going door-to-door looking for children, Thompson said. Instead, the 33 children they were trying to take across the border in a medium-sized bus came from two orphanages, and orphanage workers told them that none of the children had parents.

– The group was told multiple times before they got to the border that their documentation and paperwork — the source of the controversy — was sufficient, Thompson said. A Haitian child services official said as much, as did a Haitian policeman and an orphanage director who has extensive experience transferring orphans from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

– The 10 Baptists were arrested in Port-au-Prince, and not at the border. They thought they would go free until UNICEF — a United Nations agency — got involved and pressed charges, Thompson says.

– They were arrested on Jan. 30, and not Jan. 29 as has been reported repeatedly.

The 4,000-word account by Baptist Press goes into great detail conveying Thompson’s side of the story. Certainly, his side is just one piece of the puzzle, but delving into his claims could help shine further light on this situation. AP, among others, went to the trouble to investigate this case — or at least certain aspects of it — in the early stages.

But while the original story plot — sinister missionaries attempt to kidnap Haitian children — made for sensational coverage, the actual circumstances may be more complicated.

Will anyone in the media attempt to figure out what really happened?

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Big flood (yawn) in flyover country

Talk about bad timing. And bad location.

Someone could write a good country song — or even a bad one — about the great Nashville, Tenn., flood of 2010.

I’m sure you heard about it, assuming you didn’t take a quick restroom break and miss the full report on the news. If you somehow didn’t hear about it, the latest issue of Time carries an in-depth one-paragraph report. In a nutshell, a major American city suffered a tremendous natural disaster: $1.5 billion or more in damages, thousands of homes destroyed, two dozen or more lives lost.

But Music City chose the same weekend as a major oil spill and a failed terrorist attack to endure this fate. Call it bad timing. Worse, the city sometimes referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt staged its disaster in flyover country. Call it bad location.

However, there’s another major, perhaps bigger factor involved here. Politics. More precisely, the lack of politics to drive the story and media interest.

Newsweek weighed in with this analysis of why the media ignored Nashville. A friend of mine, Brent High, wrote this. Local blogger Patten Fuqua penned this. And here is what The Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said in response to a question earlier this week:

Q. There’s a lot of anger in Nashville from people who are convinced that the national media ignored that city’s flood and much of west Tennessee. What about it — do they have a valid point?

A. They have a completely valid point. With a few exceptions — CNN’s Anderson Cooper went there late last week — the devastating Nashville flooding was a blip on the national radar. It was, to be sure, overshadowed by the Times Square attempted bombing and the Gulf oil spill. But I also believe that because there was no political component, no one to blame, it didn’t interest the pundits much because there was nothing to argue about.

Nashville also seems to have hurt itself (in terms of media coverage) by not screwing up the disaster response. Besides the city government, Red Cross and community groups, the relief effort involves thousands of volunteers organized by churches.

Bob Smietana, GetReligion reader and Tennessean religion writer extraordinaire, shares these insights:

There’s a real sense of neighbors helping neighbors and a can-do spirit. A lot of the work has been organized by Twitter and Facebook and other social media.

Also — unless you are here, you can’t appreciate scope of the flood. So far 18,000 people have applied for FEMA relief to repair their homes — a striking number. It’s all over Nashville — from the wealthy Bellevue community to the impoverished Bordeaux community north of downtown to immigrant communities in Antioch to rural Hickman County. Unless you get your feet on the ground and into neighborhoods, you don’t get a feel for the enormity of the disaster.

The flood happened unexpectedly as well — we were supposed to get a few inches of rain and got 20 in two days. But there was no dramatic buildup — like during Katrina, or during floods in the Midwest, where the rivers rose slowly and there was time to repair. It’s a massive disaster that came literally from nowhere.

The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, has been all over this story, of course. And as you’d expect, it’s dripping with religion angles (see here, here, here, here and here for a start).

But what the story lacks is a real news peg. No, flooded homes won’t work. Neither will a herculean relief effort. What we need here are some Nashville leaders willing to step up and argue. Loudly. On TV. Give the media something worth reporting.

If the Southern Baptist Convention can’t stage a made-for-prime-time debate between fundamentalists and liberals, perhaps native son Al Gore could step in and blame the flooding on global warming — or better yet, find a reason to criticize Washington’s role in the disaster response. As a last resort, maybe Sarah Palin could bring a Flood-the-Town-with-Tea-Party event to Nashville to raise awareness and drum up media interest. Whatever it takes.

Because right now, the only story here is a devastated community and thousands of lives forever changed. Yawn.

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‘Long gone,’ but not soon forgotten

To those who love baseball, it is more than a game. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously called it “the faith of 50 million people,” as Daniel Burke noted in a recent Religion News Service feature:

It follows a seasonal calendar — begun this year on Easter Sunday — and builds towards a crowning moment. Its players perform priestly rituals, its history abounds with tales of mythic heroes, and its fans study and argue arcana with the intensity of Talmudic scholars.

Sadly, baseball has lost one of its true saints: Ernie Harwell, the longtime voice of the Detroit Tigers.

Despite his love of the game, Harwell put his faith not in baseball, but in Jesus Christ. In his final months, Harwell, 92, made no secret of his strong Christian faith and his belief that God had a better home waiting for him. In an October 2009 video interview with Mitch Albom that accompanies this post, Harwell talked about his spring-training conversion at a 1961 Billy Graham Easter crusade in Bartow, Fla.:

“That’s what made the big change. I surrendered my life completely, and now whatever he (God) wants suits me fine. … It’s a great blessing that he has given to me that in my final days, I can really know where I’m going, whose arms I’m going to end up in and what a great, great thing heaven will be.”

As you’d expect, both Detroit newspapers devoted extensive space Wednesday to Harwell’s death, with plenty of colorful baseball anecdotes and warm personal tributes.

But how’d they fare on the faith angle?

Well, the Detroit Free Press didn’t exactly strike out. But the big part of the bat came nowhere close to the ball, either. Let’s call it a weak infield fly.

Up high in its nearly 3,900-word main obituary, the Free Press references Harwell’s faith:

“I’m ready to face what comes,” he said at the time. “Whether it’s a long time or a short time is all right with me because it’s up to my Lord and savior.”

In the ensuing months, in an emotional farewell ceremony at Comerica Park, in his columns for the Free Press and in interviews with national media, Harwell referred to death as his next great adventure, a gift handed down by God.

“I’ve had so many great ones,” he said. “It’s been a terrific life.”

But that’s it. The end. There’s no mention of Harwell’s conversion experience back in ’61. No discussion of the role faith played in his life. The only other reference to God is this quote from his final broadcast in 2002:

He wrapped up the address and 55 years as a major league broadcaster by saying, “I thank you very much, and God bless all of you.”

Interestingly enough, Harwell also said something else that day, but this didn’t make the story:

“Now, God has a new adventure for me, and I’m ready to move on.”

As part of its package on Harwell’s death, the Free Press makes other quick references (in columns by Albom and Rochelle Riley) to Harwell’s faith, but nothing substantial.

Meanwhile, let’s be blunt and say that The Detroit News missed the religion angle altogether, as best I can tell. As Harwell would put it, “They stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.” Seriously, the News’ main obituary has more than 1,700 words — not a one of them “God,” “Jesus,” “Christian,” “faith” or “heaven.” We get tributes like this:

Upon learning of Harwell’s death, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said:

“Ernie Harwell was the most popular sports figure in the state of Michigan. He was so genuine in everything that he did — from his legendary broadcasting to the way he treated the fans and everyone around him. He was truly a gentleman in every sense of the word. Ernie has a special place in the hearts of all Detroit Tigers’ fans and the memories he created for so many of us will never be forgotten.”

That’s wonderful. But was there something inside of Harwell that made him such a gentleman? Was there a reason he was so genuine? Could it — just possibly — have something to do with his faith?

By contrast, I was pleased to see ESPN highlight Harwell’s faith in a significant way.

In a video accompanying its obituary, ESPN notes that Harwell started each season by referencing a Bible verse — a passage from Song of Solomon:

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

ESPN includes an AP quote from Harwell on his faith in “God and Jesus” and links to a December 2009 feature on how Harwell’s spirituality provided peace as his friends and fans said goodbye. That feature ends this way:

“I have great faith that heaven’s there and I’ll see my brothers and my mom and dad when I get there,” Harwell says. “I think it’s better than here. I think God always has the best for us.

“I just have faith. It’s just there. It’s not any big deal.”

No, it’s a real big deal, an important part of who Harwell was. Coverage of his life — and death — should reflect that.

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‘Mushy’ millennials in the news

Honk if you’ve heard the phrase “more spiritual than religious.” That, not “WWJD,” appears to be the mantra of today’s young people, even those who call themselves Christian. The movement has significant ramifications for Christianity — and religion in general — in the United States.

So when a major survey comes along that confirms the trend, it’s pretty big news, right?

Yes, if you’re USA Today religion beat specialist Cathy Lynn Grossman, whose story on the survey made Page 1-A this week:

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

The survey also drew notice in the religion press, from the Christian Post to World Magazine. I’ve also heard that Katie Couric and Glenn Beck referenced it, but I didn’t see those reports. Did you?

But in general, this story doesn’t seem to have caught fire in the media. I don’t find any other national media coverage in Google News (think Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, et al). I did come across a few interesting local reports, including one by a Pittsburgh television station and another by a Georgia newspaper.

Why the lack of coverage? Did USA Today get the scoop and scare off the other media? (That doesn’t seem to happen on other big stories, wink, wink.)

Is this latest survey too similar to other recent findings, including a study earlier this year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life? Is it that a Baptist organization commissioned the survey? Is it the loss of so many Godbeat pros?

I don’t know.

But this survey and the place of millennials in the modern American religious landscape seem to merit wider attention.

Grossman’s story did an excellent job of framing the issue through the lens of experts such as Lifeway’s Rainer. But plenty of ground remains to be plowed, including putting a better face on these “mushy” millennials.

“More spiritual than religious” is one of those phrases that makes sense when you hear it. But reflect on it a bit more and you find yourself going, “Huh? What exactly does that mean?”

Religion writer Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal tackled that exact question in an enlightening piece last month — even before the release of the LifeWay survey. Smith cited an in-depth Bowling Green State University study:

Those who self-identified as “spiritual” — whether they were also “religious” — were more
likely to have been “hurt by clergy”; to have higher levels of education and income; and to
take part in mystical and group spiritual experiences.

And those who identify as “spiritual” and who reject “religion” are less likely to pray and hold orthodox beliefs and more likely to be agnostic.

Such trends alarm Christians who emphasize Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation.

“‘Spiritual’ has, in some sense, come to mean ‘my own personal religion with my own individual creed,’” said Timothy Paul Jones, associate professor of leadership and church ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Now, that reference to “Christians who emphasize Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation” made me smile. “Are there any other kind of Christians?” I asked myself. Alas, I know the answer …

But back on topic: Have you seen any other major mainstream coverage of the LifeWay survey? Do you agree that there’s a religion ghost in the lack of headlines? Is it time for the media to get spiritual?

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Hooking up with CNN

Religion is overrated. Here in the bubble of GetReligionland, we sometimes forget that. Thank you, CNN, for reminding us.

For those of you trapped in the Stone Age — a bygone era back before students at Caveman University started drinking and having sex — we live in an era when “at least 75 percent of women have engaged in hooking up on campus.” I know that because CNN told me so:

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) — Almost every weekend, there is a tradition called raging at Vanderbilt University.

It’s a recurring, drunken activity that isn’t the proudest moment for student Frannie Boyle. After consuming large quantities of alcohol before a party, her night would sometimes end in making out with a stranger or acquaintance.

But there is wonderful news: Some young ladies are bucking this trend and demanding that, um, guys “at least invite us to dinner before expecting us to get down and dirty!” And the best part of this backlash: It has nothing to do with religion!:

“Right now, people conceive the idea of what they think from the media and friends — that the only options are to extremes: to deny everything fun, including sex, or just to hook up,” says Emily O’Connell, a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

After observing the hook-up scene as a freshman, O’Connell is starting a nonreligious group to talk about alternatives to hooking up.

“There’s definitely a middle ground, and it’s not that outrageous,” she said.

Because, of course, if someone were to deny casual sex because of religious beliefs, that would be, like, totally uncool. And so not fun. But secular abstinence — that’s where it’s at!

I could go on, but since GetReligion focuses on journalism, I probably should heap some specific praise on this piece. What makes the CNN report work? At least three main things:

1. The one-source-knows-all approach. On a subject this nuanced, a reporter could waste valuable time interviewing a number of students and experts. Much better to focus on one Vanderbilt University student and let her speak for an entire campus and an entire generation:

At Vanderbilt University, a pristine campus defined by elegant, Southern-style architecture and manicured lawns, the hook-up culture can be hard to avoid, Boyle said. The Greek scene also can create more pressure to hook up, added Boyle, who is a member of a sorority.

Boyle explained the warm weather compels some students to engage in “day fratting,” imbibing for hours in the front yard of a fraternity. Day fratting can result in “afternoon delight,” noncommittal physical activity between two people that can include casual sex.

2. The you-better-believe-this-is-a-trend method. Cite “various academic studies” to back up the stat that 75 percent of college women have hooked up, but avoid specific attribution. Credit the assertion that alcohol precipitates these activities to “studies show,” but again, remain vague. And then follow up with this:

Evidence of the backlash on hooking up on campuses can be seen in the growing popularity of the Love and Fidelity Network, a secular, nonprofit group dedicated to helping college students open the discussion for a lifestyle that doesn’t involve casual sexual activity with anonymous or uncommitted partners.

The organization, which promotes sexual integrity and defends marriage though discussion and speakers, has gained a presence on at least 20 schools from Harvard University to the University of Notre Dame since its inception in 2007. There is no official count on the number of students who participate in the Love and Fidelity Network. But at Princeton University, about 40 students have joined.

Wow, 40 students! If the group keeps growing like that, will there be a room on campus large enough to contain all the members?

3. The don’t-muddy-the-waters technique. This is perhaps the most important aspect of this piece. To make a story like this work — one that portrays all men as pigs, most Vanderbilt students as horny drunks and all young people who abstain from premarital sex for religious reasons as boring — the reporter has to avoid a lot of potential voices. This report succeeds on all counts.

Religion is overrated. So, apparently, is quality journalism. Thank you, CNN, for reminding us.

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Ghosts of gay-bashing

I’ve let this story percolate for a little while. Still, the story of the three NorCal cousins accused of shooting a man they believed to be gay with a BB gun has gotten only touch-and-go coverage, mainly from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press.

In multiple reports that the men allegedly video taped more BB-gun attacks, there has been no discussion of the men’s religion. Religion may be relevant because, you know, there are a few belief systems out there that might motivate such an attack.

From the Chronicle‘s first report:

Three cousins from Hayward have been charged in San Francisco with a hate crime and assault for allegedly firing a BB rifle at the face of a man they believed was gay, an attack the men videotaped, authorities said Wednesday.

Mohammad Habibzada, Shafiq Hashemi and Sayed Bassam, all 24, are scheduled to be arraigned today in San Francisco Superior Court. They are free on $50,000 bond apiece.

And a follow-up Friday from the AP:

Really, there’s nothing to share from that report, except that the men are considered suspects in 11 similar shootings.

Of course, bloggers are speculating that these men are Muslim and that that’s why they’re getting the free pass:

Imagine, if you will, that the BB gun attackers had been white. Or from Utah. Or from Texas. Or Laramie, Wyoming. What kind of wild adjectives would have been applied? We can only surmise. Editorializing against mainstream Americans who are now out-of-favor by the media (whites, Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, conservatives) happens everyday on America’s front pages and network news programs. But when it comes to Arab/Muslim attackers — all silence is golden for the American media.

That’s from Bruce Carroll Big Journalism. These men could, of course, be Christian. But Carroll’s general premise about media treatment is accurate. Reporters are often quick to identify as intolerant fanatics many Christian strains but are more reticent to do so when it comes to domestic members of religious minorities. (This doesn’t necessarily hold when talking and foreign members of the same religious groups.) Over at Beliefnet, Rod Dreher provides a more sober discussion of the “dark side of minority religions.” He begins with another Carroll report regarding a Muslim adjunct faculty member at Vanderbilt University agreeing at a public forum that Islam requires the death penalty for homosexuals:

The Muslim, a chaplain at the university, also said that Muslims aren’t at liberty to question this teaching. In his rather vituperative blog entry, Carroll talks about how a statement like this would have been covered by the MSM and in the blogosphere if it had been made by an Evangelical Christian.

I know what he means. When I lived in Dallas, I ran across this kind of thing with some frequency. It used to drive me crazy how journalists at my own newspaper, and at other media outlets in Dallas, showed little or no interest when leading Muslim figures would say things this outrageous, or affiliate themselves closely with those in their faith who did. If influential Christians in the community had said such things, they would have been ripped, and would have deserved it. But the media have a strong tendency to want to protect minority religions, I find. Moreover, some in the media get caught up in a ridiculous form of zero-sum thinking, assuming that if right-wing Christians are up in arms over what certain Muslims say, then maybe the Muslims aren’t all wrong. It’s seeing the complexities of our religious reality through a culture-war prism, and it’s really distorting.

Which brings us back to the original and now lingering question: What role, if any, did religion play in the anti-gay BB-gun attack?

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