Pod People: Prayer’s place in science, sports and submission

Where is Jahi McMath, and what is the latest installment of her story?

I’m glad you asked! Host Todd Wilken and I talked some about this and other subjects during this week’s installment of Crossroads.

(This is my third podcast, and I like to think I’m not embarrassing myself as badly with experience. This being interviewed business is tough when there’s not a delete key between you and your thoughts.)

As you’ll remember from my post last week, McMath is the brain-dead 13-year-old California girl whose parents won the legal battle to take possession of her still-ventilated body from Children’s Hospital Oakland and move it to an undisclosed location. Early reports indicated the family and their attorney had found a facility and physicians to “care for” the child and use restorative measures, presumably to bring her back to life. And prayer, lots of prayer. And they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars via their gofundme page.

We don’t know where Jahi is, nor do we know whether her heart still beats, which previously had been because of electrical currents and IV medication. Nor do we know whether they are part of an organized group of believers. We do know, courtesy of the NBC Bay Area affiliate, that her classmates have hope, and that school administrators say they’re honoring the child’s family’s wishes in what they tell the children:

Though a death certificate has been issued for Jahi McMath, many of the 13-year-old Oakland girl’s classmates still believe the “quiet leader” who laughed at jokes that weren’t funny will one day return to school — if they just pray hard enough.

“The school told us that she’s not officially dead yet,” said Dymond Allen, one of Jahi’s friends at EC Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in East Oakland, a public charter school that serves mostly disadvantaged kids. “And we should keep her in our prayers. I still hope. And God has the last say-so.”

Wilken and I also talked a bit more in-depth about my Candace Cameron Bure post from last week that dealt with the biblical concept of wives submitting to their husbands. Media outlets continue to get it wrong, both in headline and story form, by confusing the Scriptural meaning that Bure discusses with the social/relational/professional one.

The comments from readers reflect that inaccuracy. Some cite instances of spousal abuse as a reason wives should not submit to their husbands. Others point to hard-won rights and the feminist movement as proof that women have evolved to a point where they can care for themselves and should be treated in equals.

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A God-decided Super Bowl? 70 million Americans say yes

Super Bowl XLVIII is just two weeks away. And if The Huffington Post is to be believed, a huge number of folks are about to hit their knees. Not in a line stance, mind you, but in prayer.

HuffPo’s top religion story today claims “Half of Americans Say God Plays A Role In Super Bowl Winner: Survey.” (We have to throw a flag here with headline and story agreement, incidentally, as the U.S. population is estimated at 314 million, and the story alludes to 140 million sports fans. Penalty declined. Now let’s move forward with the game.)

How can you not click on that headline? I mean, who isn’t ready for some God-decided football. I, for one, think it would be a nice change from the referees deciding the outcome.

We have a poll, folks. A survey from Public Religion Research Institute indicates that millions of my neighbors, near and far, think the Almighty chooses which team gets the trophy.

“As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans — as many as 70 million Americans — believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome,” Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert Jones said in a statement. “Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game.”

Football fans … pray for their own teams to win, with 33 percent saying they ask God to intervene in games, compared to 21 percent of fans of other sports.

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What M.Z. said: Doctor Who vs. Jesus at BuzzFeed?

First things first: Yes, I am a big Doctor Who fan.

Thus, I find the role that the whole “Whovian” phenomenon plays in the following M.Z. Hemingway post to be fascinating, to say the least.

Nevertheless, suffice it to say that I think our beloved Divine Mrs. M.Z. nails this one and, yes, this is clearly a case of serious religious content giving some journalists sweaty palms.

So, I’ll simply say, “What M.Z. said.” And does the top of her post — at The Federalist, of course — sound kind of familiar here in the context of GetReligion.org? Take that double-decker headline, for example:

Why Is Religion Invisible To The Media?

A 12-year-old girl wrote herself a note before she died. It contained an amazing message of hope and redemption. That was before the media got to it.

And here is the top of the M.Z. manifesto. You really need to read it on their site to get the impact of the URLs, embedded tweets, etc.

Seven in 10 Americans identify as “very religious” or “moderately religious,” according to a recent Gallup survey. Each week, hundreds of millions of Americans go to houses of worship, pray, or just ponder the higher things related to our religious views. But it’s not news that this religious reality is not well reflected in our media.

There is some great work being done by mainstream media outlets, but much room for improvement. For those of us who are religious, we notice the weird way the media handles religion news and religious topics. We see it every time a broadcaster interviews someone live and stumbles when the subject mentions something religious. We see it in the egregious mistakes the New York Times makes about basic teachings of the Christian faith. We see it in the unmasked disdain for religious people.

But usually the media treatment of religious people and their religious views isn’t so much hostile as absent. We may not be invisible to them, but our religious views certainly are. I thought of this when I came across an interesting BuzzFeed post titled “After The Death Of Their 12-Year-Old Daughter, Parents Find The Letter She Wrote To Her Future Self.”

So here is how BuzzFeed summed up the crucial element of 12-year-old Taylor Smith’s epistle to her future self. The quotes from “Tim” are from her father, of course:

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Concerning that strange, lost Sports Illustrated Tebow epic

We are running out of football Sundays in this National Football League season, so I had better dig deep into my tmatt file of GetReligion guilt and write as short a post as possible about that amazing Tim Tebow feature that Sports Illustrated ran back before Christmas.

Are there any GetReligion readers out there who subscribe to Sports Illustrated these days?

If so, then you surely saw that massive piece entitled “The Book of Tebow.” I mean, this was a long-reader deluxe — a full 12,600-plus words with tons of photos and graphics.

And the thesis statement — focusing on Tebow’s future after being cut by the New England Patriots — was oh, so, newsworthy and screamed out for attention:

There is no real precedent for his situation. Tebow is America’s most influential athlete, according to a poll of 1,100 adults published by Forbes in May, and he is also unemployed. In 23 months he became a starting NFL quarterback, won seven of eight games in exhilarating fashion, led the Broncos to an astonishing playoff win over the Steelers and was cast aside by the Broncos, Jets and Patriots. Every other team had a chance to pick him up, and none did. Now, at 26, in his early prime as an athlete, he is trying to become what he already was.

So, SI subscribers, you didn’t see this remarkable mini-book on one of the most controversial sports figures of our era? Really?

Actually there is a good reason for that: The editors at the nation’s most prestigious sports magazine did not run this article in the magazine and, instead, slipped all 12,600-plus words of it into the online world with little or no fanfare (at least, little fanfare that I saw and I AM an SI subscriber).

This piece must have required weeks of work and quite a budget, which is another reason why the online-only decision is so interesting. In terms of potential readership, especially out there in the American heartland, this is kind of like doing a Will Smith movie and then releasing it straight to DVD.

So what happened with this piece?

Several people wrote me about this article, including a former GetReligionista who wanted to know if I thought it was — despite its length — rather incomplete. In particular, this scribe wanted to know if I thought this story was too soft and too positive.

You know what? I think this piece is too positive, if the goal was to tell the real Tebow story. It contains a massive hole in its journalistic foundation. This paragraph will help me illustrate the point:

As time went on, Tebow’s NFL career became a sort of national Rorschach test. What you saw there said as much about you as it did about Tebow. There were enough conflicting facts to build any number of arguments. What he had done on the field that year got so mixed up with religion and politics that it became dangerous to mention his name in public. Dozens of former teammates declined to comment for this story. Just as anything you said about Tebow was right, anything you said was wrong. And probably offensive to someone. To many Christians he was a hero, a paragon of virtue in an age of great sin, and this feeling complicated any rational measurement of his quarterbacking talent. Those in the mainstream media knew this, and thus began prefacing their opinions by saying Just a great kid, but. … Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but. … Phenomenal athlete, but. … but those prefaces only made it worse. Then you had the people who made a job of offending others, and for a while Tebow paid their mortgages. He was white, male, straight and Christian, so in 21st-century Western civilization you could assail him at no risk to your own standing among the politically correct. The British comedian John Oliver told an audience that if he were in a room with Tebow and Osama bin Laden and he had a gun with two bullets, he would shoot Tebow first. Did Oliver get in trouble for that? No. He was chosen as substitute host of The Daily Show.

So what is the crucial gap in this feature?

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Really? Editors who don’t know about the ‘reindeer rules’?

Sorry about this, folks, but we need to take a quick glance back at a lingering “Christmas wars” story from 2013.

You would think, by this time, that everyone within a light year or two of a newsroom and/or public courthouse would have heard of the whole “reindeer rules” battles linked to public officials allowing the erection of Christmas creches (or Menorahs) on public property. If you want a quick refresher on some related issues, check out this recent post from our resident Godbeat patriarch Richard Ostling.

As always, let me state right up front that — on the creche issue itself — I have no idea why so many religious people want to put plastic versions of the symbols of their faith on the lawns of the secular sanctuaries where you have to go to fight about traffic tickets, to have a secular marriage rite, etc., etc. If creches are all that important, why not have every single church in town put one up, along with waves of public symbolism on patches of private property, and save all of the lawyer fees for charitable use?

But back to the public-square issue and the resulting journalism issues. As I wrote about a decade ago:

We live in an age in which government officials — local, state and national — are wrestling with holiday trees, menorahs, creches, angels, ears of corn, Santa statues, plastic snowmen and a host of other secular and sacred objects that church-state partisans keep dragging into the public square. …

There are few guidelines carved in stone. The court did establish what many activists call the “reindeer rules” that allow displays of religious symbols on public property as long as they are surrounded by other symbols, which are usually borrowed from pop culture.

You remember that public Christmas display a few years ago that included, among other mocking options, the mannequin arrangement featuring “the chosen one,” Luke Skywalker of “Star Wars”? What a lovely victory for faith.

Anyway, it does not appear that the reality of the church-state era symbolized by the “reindeer rules” has made it to The Baxter Bulletin, based on the following example of its follow-up coverage of a recent Christmas wars clash in Mountain Home, Ark.

This is all pretty normal stuff, with predictable warriors, only there are some glaring journalism holes to fill:

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Wives, submission, web traffic and Candace Cameron Bure

Candace Cameron Bure (Photo by Joe Seer/Shutterstock.com)

Candace Cameron Bure, darling of ’80s sitcom television, is all grown up.

In case you’re mired in Nick at Nite reruns of “Full House” and hadn’t heard, the younger sister of fellow actor Kirk Cameron has been married for 17 years, has three teenage children and is on her second book tour. She calls herself a devout evangelical Christian and, while on tour promoting said second book, has been peppered specifically about a chapter where she explains her take on the biblical concept of wives being submissive to their husbands.

The Huffington Post deals with it thusly:

She writes in her book, “I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work.”

Bure elaborated on HuffPost Live, “The definition I’m using with the word ‘submissive’ is the biblical definition of that. So, it is meekness, it is not weakness. It is strength under control, it is bridled strength.”

Cameron has defended her view of marriage in the past. On Christian Women Online she quoted the biblical passage, “First Peter 3:1 says, ‘In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.’”

“It is very difficult to have two heads of authority,” she told HuffPost Live. “It doesn’t work in military, it doesn’t work — I mean, you have one president, you know what I’m saying?”

The Cameron family project (a nice title for a reality series, no?) seems to be focused on taking a conservative Christian message to the mainstream media, ready or not. Remember Kirk Cameron’s 2012 interview with Piers Morgan in which he came out swinging against homosexuality, declaring it “unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization.”

Fans aligned with his beliefs embraced the father of six and have supported his ministry and evangelistic film work. (As an aside, I coughed through “Fireproof” while my husband teared up, which was my indictment of the acting. Ahem.)

It seems his sister is going to tackle women’s roles in marriage and family according to her interpretation of Scripture. And while the live Q & A on Huff Post’s website went well overall, from the looks of the transcript, other sites that have picked up on the story are simply pulling one or two quotes about submission, sensationalizing headlines and hoping to light up their comment sections.

Some of the more predictable responses from readers to these efforts:

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Daily Mail: Welby ‘casts out sin’ in new baptismal rite — not

In my opinion, looking to London’s Daily Mail for religion news coverage is rather like looking to People magazine for peer-reviewed medical studies. Once in a great while there might just be a People article that accurately references some startling medical development — and the studies behind same — but that’s not the publication’s stock-in-trade.

So when the celebrity-saturated British tabloid — “Buffy The Vampire Player: Sarah Michelle Gellar has a blast with daughter Charlotte and her pal as they enjoy day at the beach” is a typical headline — dips into the Godbeat, you know something’s up. How thoroughly accurate that something will be is, well, another matter.

The Church of England, like many communions, practices pedobaptism — the baptism of infants and very young children. Its ceremony has, for years, required both parents and godparents to express their dedication to God and a repudiation of sin and Satan alike. Now, the Daily Mail revealed in a January 5 story that sparked global headlines, the CofE wants to change the script, something with which traditionalists are allegedly none-too-happy.

The report starts with a typical Mail-style headline, this time referencing a popular British soap opera: “Welby casts out ‘sin’ from christenings: Centuries-old rite rewritten in ‘language of EastEnders’ for modern congregation” is the top line. After that, the news:

Parents and godparents no longer have to ‘repent sins’ and ‘reject the devil’ during christenings after the Church of England rewrote the solemn ceremony.

The new wording is designed to be easier to understand – but critics are stunned at such a fundamental change to a cornerstone of their faith, saying the new ‘dumbed-down’ version ‘strikes at the heart’ of what baptism means.

In the original version, the vicar asks: ‘Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?’

Prompting the reply: ‘I reject them.’ They then ask: ‘Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?’, with the answer: ‘I repent of them.’

But under the divisive reforms, backed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and already being practised in 1,000 parishes, parents and godparents are asked to ‘reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises’ – with no mention of the devil or sin.

The new text, to be tested in a trial lasting until Easter, also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission.

Apart from the rather odd sight of a newspaper that trumpets the sins of A-list and D-list celebs with great fervor now discoursing on “no mention of the devil of sin,” the story’s superheated explanation for the trial change is another fun bit:

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NPR stumbles on GOP and Darwinian orthodoxy

Here’s a shocker, but not really. More Democrats than Republicans believe in evolution, or so says a survey from the Pew Research Center. Overall, Pew says:

…six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that ‘humans and other living things have evolved over time,’ while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that ‘humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.’ The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The predictable party gap seems of interest to many, though mostly political pundits.

National Public Radio is not content to leave speculation to mere political bloviators, however, and trumpets the change in party affiliation of creationists as a major political issue:

A new national survey showing that the share of Republicans who believe in evolution has tumbled from 54 to 43 percent over the past four years comes at an inopportune time.

The Pew Research poll suggests that the GOP, already struggling with an identity crisis and facing ferocious internal battles, is out of sync on the issue with independents and young voters, who are far more likely to believe in the science of evolution than their forebears.

NPR raises what it considers the key question:

But just how politically significant is the finding, which shows that the evolution belief gap between Republicans and Democrats has since 2009 grown from 10 percentage points to 24 points?

Now there are all sorts of interesting — and interested — people who could address the topic. People who are experienced in science and theology, or people who hold informed opinions about evolution or creationism. Instead, the first “expert” sought out by NPR is a political consultant, albeit a Republican one:

For Republican strategists like Whit Ayres, however, the evolution results are politically insignificant. More than anything, he says, it reflects the trend of both parties gravitating toward their more extreme wings, which, in the GOP, includes evangelical Christians. He argues that it is unlikely to define the GOP negatively or otherwise in any sustaining way.

“It’s not a particularly surprising result, especially if you follow Gallup data on how Americans interpret the Bible,” says Ayres, of North Star Opinion Research. “There’s a significant minority of Americans who believe that the Bible is the actual true word of God.”

Apart from a grammatical flaw that always annoys me — did they really talk to Ayres or someone “like” him? — why is his view on how many Americans believe “the Bible is the actual true word of God” more useful than that of Randall Balmer or George Barna or someone else who “gets” debates about doctrine and science?

NPR does link to the Gallup numbers, but again, is there another, better voice? If so, you won’t find it here.

And what about the “political” implications of this interesting and crucial passage?

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