Search Results for: JONAH

Covering warfare in a Byzantine maze — literally

It goes without saying that I have received quite a bit of email from GetReligion readers, and others, wanting to know my take on last Friday’s resignation, and now the ongoing humiliation, of Metropolitan JONAH of the Orthodox Church in America. In a way, this news was rather shocking, yet not all that shocking because the bitter infighting between the OCA’s old guard and its idealistic young leader has been building for more than a year.

If you need a refresher course on the borders of this truly Byzantine scandal, then click here for the large Washington Post Sunday Magazine feature on the early stages of the fighting.

For journalists, I would also recommend the following essay, “Same Sex Marriage and the Revolt Against Metropolitan Jonah,” published by Father Johannes Jacobse at the doctrinally-conservative American Orthodox Institute. While this article was written by Nicholas Chancy, an openly pro-Jonah leader in the OCA’s growing Diocese of the South (in many ways, this controversy is linked to the growth of the Diocese of the South), the key for mainstream reporters is that it points, naming names, toward many of the key figures in the drama — on the doctrinal left and right — and offers info that hints at how to track them down.

It will be hard to get voices on both sides to talk. However, that is what reporters will need to do, if they want to tell this story in a journalistic manner. Also, I would suggest that journalists tap Catholic and evangelical sources linked to recent debates about religious liberty issues, since Metropolitan JONAH’s work with them was so controversial to leaders on the Orthodox left (yes, there is a doctrinal left in some OCA circles). And someone needs to contact Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s point man on relations with other religious groups, Orthodox and otherwise.

There is much more I could say, but will not, since Metropolitan JONAH was a friend of my own parish, which is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. However, in the end, what we do here at GetReligion is discuss the mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion news.

This brings us to the first serious mainstream story on this affair, by Manya A. Brachear of The Chicago Tribune. The early versions of this report covered the press release, and little more. However, Brachear has waded several paces into this maze and now has some — limited — on-the-record quotes from key players. For example, there is this:

“People were looking for that new wind of leadership that he seemed to embody,” said the Rev. John Adamcio, rector at Holy Trinity Cathedral, the seat of the Chicago Diocese. “He was under an awful lot of pressure to right the ship and keep the church on course.”

Metropolitan Jonah didn’t just try to correct the course. He also tried to shift the direction of the Orthodox Church in America, part of a constellation of churches separate from the Roman Catholic Church since the 11th century. He insisted on amplifying the church’s voice in the public square, moving the church’s headquarters from Syosset, N.Y., to Washington and speaking up against abortion rights. In 2009 he led a handful of Orthodox clergy to sign the Manhattan Declaration, a pledge to disobey laws that could force religious institutions to participate in abortions or bless same-sex couples.

The Rev. Mark Arey, director of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said Metropolitan Jonah’s approach was not typical of Orthodox Christianity. “Orthodoxy is not in favor of abortion, but we don’t campaign in the same way you see evangelical groups,” Arey said.

But the Rev. Johannes Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute, agreed with the primate’s foray into politics.

“He saw what needed to be said, and he wasn’t afraid to say it,” said Jacobse, an Antiochian Orthodox priest. “That kind of independence is threatening to a church that has operated by the same rules and assumptions for a long time. Part of this, too, was he represented a cultural shift inside the church that some thought should not have taken place.”

Of course, it is “politics” when an Orthodox leader defends the church’s doctrines in public. It is not “politics” when liberal activists inside the church work to silence the voice of the church, while quietly lobbying in seminaries and elsewhere to redefine those same doctrines. Gosh, that logic sounds rather familiar.

One more point: Voices on both sides are going to speak, at length, about Metropolitan JONAH’s self-confessed failures as an administrator. At some point, reporters will have to face a crucial question (should ecclesiastical or secular court proceedings come to past): What do the OCA’s own canon laws say about the events, the actual OCA synod and Metropolitan Council meetings, that led to Metropolitan JONAH’s fall?

Yes, reporters will need to find informed voices on both sides of those questions, too. Good luck with that.

PHOTO: Metropolitan JONAH, center, during a 2011 Divine Liturgy in Moscow, with Metropolitan HILARION, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations.

Bulgarian bishops galore

Regular readers of GetReligion will appreciate this story in today’s Toledo Blade concerning the consecration of an Orthodox bishop. The story entitled “Bulgarian Diocese to install new bishop” by religion beat professional David Yonke is nicely crafted. It balances the news of the consecration of Dr. Alexander Golitzin with  just the right amount of human interest. It is a really good local news religion story.

It begins:

Nearly five years after the bishop’s chair became vacant, the Rev. Alexander Golitzin is to be consecrated today as Bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

The consecration is to take place in a three-hour ceremony at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, with nine bishops from across North America scheduled to participate. Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be the main celebrant.

Bishop-elect Alexander, a native of California, will become only the second bishop of Toledo, succeeding Archbishop Kyrill, who led the diocese from 1964 until his death in 2007 at age 87.

Today’s consecration ceremony marks a new era for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which until now required all bishops to be born in Bulgaria.

“Before even the selection process began, we had to change our diocesan constitution,” said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, a Fort Wayne pastor who headed the bishop search committee. “Basically we acknowledged that realities have changed. We are in America and there is a much broader base of people we minister to now in our parishes. They are no longer just the Bulgarian faithful.”

The story presents some interesting bits about the new bishop’s background — studies at Oxford under Kalistos Ware, a year at Mt Athos, professor at Marquette University, and a touch of Hollywood (nephew of art director Alexander Golitzin — winner of Academy Awards for The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.)

The article also gives background on the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America: its history, previous bishops and demographics. All in all a great local news story.

My question for GetReligion readers is whether it would have been appropriate to mention that there are two Bulgarian Orthodox dioceses belonging to two different churches in the U.S? The article states up front that this consecration is for the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). However there is also a Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia that is part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.

The article states the:

Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese has 16 parishes in the United States and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, with a total of 5,000 parishioners. The OCA to which it belongs has about 200,000 U.S. members, according to Father Andrew.

The other diocese is based in New York and around 25 congregations and monasteries. There is a degree of bad blood between the two groups — and there is a rivalry between the OCA and the Sofia-based Bulgarian Orthodox Church (as well as with some of the other ethnic Orthodox Churches in the U.S.) This article from a Russian-based website claims that ethnic Bulgarians in the OCA’s Bulgarian diocese are upset with the influx of non-Bulgarian clergy and want to jump ship.

Bulgarians living in the U.S. and Canada are gathering signatures on the petition to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church. The letter will contain a request to the Synod about the transfer on Bulgarian parishes that are currently under the jurisdiction of the OCA, to the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia. This jurisdiction, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, currently has 27 parishes and monasteries.

The petitions states that today 80 percent of the clergy in Bulgarian churches are not Bulgarian, do not celebrate the feast days of Bulgarian saints, or observe Bulgarian national holidays and traditions.

The Toledo Blade article does not mention the other diocese, and uses language that would lead someone not familiar with the Bulgarian Orthodox ecclesial scene to believe this is the only Bulgarian game in town. The article does speak to the transition from an ethnic to an American church — a point of contention for some in the church — but does not develop this angle.

My point, however, is not to play the game of spot the real Bulgarian bishop — but to raise the underlying journalistic question of how to deal with schisms and splits and multiple claimants to a church brand name. Who is the “real” Bulgarian bishop? It is the same question as “who is the real Anglican?”

While there are a plethora of Protestant denominations sharing a Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran or congregational background — the Orthodox Churches (as well as the Episcopalians) have an ecclesial self-identity that does not contemplate multiple expressions of a single polity. In the Orthodox polity — as well as Anglican polity — there is only one bishop in a city. Yet the reality is that there are overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions and with the formation of the Anglican Church in North America there is now a rival to the Episcopal Church.

Where does the reporter’s duty lie in explaining or articulating for his readers these schisms? In the Toledo Blade article highlighted in this story should there have been a line mentioning the other Bulgarian Orthodox body? In stories that reach a national audience, should the distinctions between rival claimants be noted?

How much information is too much? How little is too little? Does it make a difference to the story? And — if a distinction is made, is it proper for a journalist to separate Bulgarian sheep from Bulgarian goats? What say you GetReligion readers?

Media ignore women, for women

Yesterday, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee had a hearing on threats to religious liberty. The Republicans on that committee were trying to make President Obama look bad, because of his recent edict requiring religious groups to provide insurance policies that violate their doctrines. The Democrats on the Committee staged a walkout because some of the panelists who were brought on to discuss questions of religious liberty had male parts.

Guess what happened with the coverage!

Yesterday I noted Politico: “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing. ABC News: “Rep. Darrell Issa Bars Minority Witness, a Woman, on Contraception”. CBS: “Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule.” A reader noted:

Mollie, you missed the absolutely wretched CNN article

You would have thought that none of the clergy were present and that only the grandstanding politicos were there.

Because it’s so rare to have the head of my church body speak on these things, our members were surprised (or at least disappointed) to the see the disparity between what actually happened in the hearing (and many of them watched) versus what was reported in the media. It was almost like a parallel universe. And they haven’t even gotten basic facts right, attributing to Metropolitan Jonah what was said by the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. (Hint: they both have facial hair but very different facial hair.)

What’s interesting to me is that if you were going to focus on grandstanding Democratic politicians, I found the remarks of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in which he went after the panelists and dismissed the hearing as a sham much more interesting. And he staged a walkout, too!

But the idea that the media would just swallow the public relations spin of one party and ignore or downplay the substance of the hearing … is frustrating.

My church body never engages in politics, for doctrinal reasons. But here even when we are compelled to speak out, the words that our elected President spoke aren’t important because he’s male? By falling for partisan spin about gender inequality, reporters have completely marginalized me and the millions of women who were being represented yesterday. It’s infuriating. It is sexism, but not the type that they recognize.

In any case, we already showed how laughable the oft-repeated, obsessed-over stat is, the one regarding 98 percent of Catholic women who, we’re told, use birth control for fun all of the time. We showed how that statistic was invented and, rather, showed that 87 percent of Catholic women who are not open to life in general but who report fighting contraception in particular use contraceptives. Or, as we could say 87 percent of Catholic women who are not pregnant, not post-partum, not pre-partum and are having sex right now and are between the ages of 15-44) are using contraceptives. The White House put it in talking points and the media swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

You may be interested in this statistic from CNN reports that a full 22 percent of Catholics support Catholic teaching on birth control. This is a statistic that has nothing whatsoever to do with the religious liberty concerns being addressed by a wide variety of church officials, but at least it addresses how many Catholics support Catholic teaching.

I’ll note a similar statistic from another poll. Guess what percentage of Catholics go to mass weekly? Take a random guess. Did you guess … 22 percent?

Oh, and polls show that a majority of citizens oppose the new HHS policy. Do you think that story is being accurately set forth? The opposite?

I read a piece in the New York Times that mentioned the debunked 98 percent statistic and I decided to follow the link of supposed substantiation. It went to, and I’m not joking, a Politifact story that rated the fraudulent statistic … yes … “mostly true.

The piece admits that characterizations of the study were deeply flawed, although it only mentions some of the flaws with that characterization, before giving the ruling. The article basically says that, despite evidence showing problems with the study design relative to the claims of the study, Politifact says “who cares? Mostly true. Hiccup!” To see what an actual fact-check looks like, as opposed to writing what you wish were true, you can check out the links in this post from a few days ago. And a reader points out that special credit simply must be given to commenter Bain Wellington, who really nailed the problems with that stat before others.

Do check out Glenn Kessler’s fact check of the statistic over at The Washington Post:

The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul

He simply explains what’s flawed with the statistic without denying that many Catholic women do contracept:

If a statistic sounds too good to be true, be wary. A spokesman for Pelosi said she was saying that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives — because that is how the media characterized it.

But, judging from the examples above, the media has gotten it wrong. The journalistic shorthand has been that “98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.” But that is incorrect, according to the research.

“The shorthand is not what our statistic shows since we only looked at women aged 15-44 who have ever had sex,” Jones said.

The NSFG data on women of child-bearing age certainly may still be relevant to the debate over contraception, because these are the women who today might have a need for access to free birth control. The data also shows that there are few differences between women of different religions in terms of contraceptive use; there was not much difference back in 1973 but the gaps have narrowed even further today. But that still does not excuse the media’s sloppy shorthand for this statistic.

Two Pinocchios — to the media

Sounds fair. Now, it’s also true that journalists haven’t explained how the percentage of parishioners who violate a church teaching becomes the basis for determining whether it’s ok to violate religious liberty. There are arguments in favor of this and against it, and it should not be assumed.

Breaking news about the pope of Rome

What we have here is an example of a very serious religion-news story, one that is worthy of serious coverage in the mainstream press. A newspaper has covered it and that is good.

Kind of.

However, this story from Toronto also contains one of the scream-out-loud hilarious mistakes that I have seen in the entire history of GetReligion. You literally could not make this one up. No way.

So where to start? The serious story, of course. What we have here is another clash between an ancient faith (in this case Coptic Orthodoxy) and the moral tug of modernity (symbolized this time around by the government of Canada). What makes this case interesting is that educators in Catholic institutions have been caught in the middle of the conflict.

Here’s the top of this Toronto Star report by the “visual arts” (?!?) reporter:

The president of the Canadian Egyptian Congress is urging parents to reject a call by a Coptic Orthodox priest to pull some 4,000 children out of the Catholic school system if it adopts a policy more accepting of homosexuality and religious difference.

The school board has proposed an Equity and Inclusive Education policy, to be voted on at the end of August, that softens some strictures of Catholic doctrine to fall more in line with provincial standards.

“The kids have friends, they have a place to go, and they would lose that,” Nazeer Bishay said. … “And besides, we don’t have enough schools for all of them. So we will lobby, we will pressure the board, we will keep up the fight. But we do not recommend withdrawal.” He and others in the Coptic Orthodox community plan to schedule a meeting with the Toronto Catholic District School Board to discuss their concerns.

At this point, the Star does something very logical, which is to explain why Coptic Orthodox children would be attending Catholic schools in the first place.

Oh, sorry, the story doesn’t really do that. That would have been an interesting point to make, since I would be willing to bet that Coptic parents have been making these decisions in order to send their children to schools with moral doctrines that echo those in their own faith. In this case, the parents may also have hoped that the schools would stand firm on underlining the differences between ancient Christianity and Islam, a subject that matters to Copts.

However, what this story does attempt to do is, in one paragraph, explain the differences between Copts and Catholics, since someone must have mentioned that both churches have hierarchies that feature a leader with that highly newsworthy title — “pope.”

If you are holding a beverage of any kind, please put it down on a flat surface several feet away from your computer keyboard.

Ready? Proceed with caution.

Though most in the Coptic Orthodox community send their children to Catholic school, they are not Catholic themselves. The differences are slight — they use the same liturgies, though Orthodox Christians differ from Roman Catholics in their belief that the Pope is a human being, not a divine figure — which has meant Coptic Orthodox children most often are sent to Catholic school.

All together now: Catholics teach that their pope is WHAT?!?!

A “divine figure”? What in the world does that mean?

While we are at it, in Associated Press style the word “pope” should be lower-case when it stands alone. Also, I should mention that there are major liturgical differences between the Divine Liturgy as celebrated in Coptic Orthodox congregations and the Mass as observed in Western Rite Catholic parishes.

All of that, needless to say, is small potatoes compared with the howler about the pope somehow sliding into the Holy Trinity or Holy Quartet as some kind of “divine figure.”

Obviously there should be a correction. However, it does not appear that the editors of the Star will take that honorable path. Instead, the online version of the story now reads:

Though most in the Coptic Orthodox community send their children to Catholic school, they are not Catholic themselves. The differences are slight, which has meant Coptic Orthodox children most often are sent to Catholic school.

No mention of an error being corrected.

Nothing to see here. Please move along.

Images: Coptic Pope Shenouda III and, second, Pope Benedict XVI.

Greeks back gay education push?

So I am sure that GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked to know that gay-rights conflicts continue in the great state of California and that a hot new conflict on the horizon is linked to a giant project in public schools.

This is not rocket science, for journalists. This new conflict, of course, will lead to public conflicts about human rights, values and, yes, religion. Here is the script so far in this latest round in a larger fight, care of a Los Angeles Times article that I have been meaning to get to since early this month:

Reporting from Sacramento – As the battle over same-sex marriage makes its way through California’s courts, another gay rights fight is smoldering in the Legislature.

Democratic lawmakers have revived a plan to require state schools to teach about the contributions of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans. They are reigniting a movement that halted five years ago when legislators approved such a requirement only to run into opposition from then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now, with a Democrat in the governor’s office, the lawmakers and gay rights activists are more hopeful that school curricula will be revised. Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a position on the proposal. But the push has divided religious leaders, educators and lawmakers and prompted accusations from opponents that those behind the effort seek to impose their values on the state and on students and parents who find same-sex relationships objectionable.

I am sure that none of that information surprised any regular readers of this weblog.

Now, you will also not be surprised to know that different churches are taking different stands on this matter. After all, there is a Religion Right and there is also a religious left — although only one of these camps tends to get the capital-letters treatment in the mainstream press. I mean, click here and then here in the current contents of Google News. Note the rather obvious difference in these numbers (and, while you are at it, search for mainstream media references attached to both of these labels).

Religion is part of the story. Thus, there comes a point in the story where the Times team needs to separate the sheep from the goats for its readers. That looks like this, in a criminally brief and shallow reference:

The measure is backed by California Church Impact, a group whose members include the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Greek Orthodox Church and others. But lawmakers have been flooded with letters of opposition from groups including the California Catholic Conference, the First Southern Baptist Church and the Thousand Oaks Christian Fellowship.

The first sign of trouble, for those paying close attention, is that there is an Orthodox body on the left and then the Catholic Church on the right. That is rather strange.

You see, one would be hard pressed to find a major doctrinal difference between the two giant ancient churches when it comes to teachings linked to homosexual behavior as well as on the more complex theological issues linked to the mysteries of same-sex orientation.

Meanwhile, savvy readers may be asking: What’s up with this reference to the Greeks, alone?

Well, click right here and all will be made clear.

California Church Impact is backed by or part of the California Council of Churches — think National Council of Churches on the state level — and the Greek Orthodox Church remains a member of that left-leaning ecumenical body. What about other Orthodox bodies and the NCC? Now that is becoming a more complex issue.

It’s possible that the Greeks out West have taken a moral stand on this issue that would be quite shocking to the rest of the Orthodox. Also, I do not deny that there are rumblings, from time to time, when Orthodox leaders make common cause on moral and cultural issues with evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics.

However, that isn’t what I think is going on here. It looks like the Times just plugged in the names of some members of the California Council of Churches and went with it. It looked good. It felt good.

So what IS the Greek Orthodox position on this public-school issue in California?

Alas, to find that out a reporter might actually have to call some Orthodox leaders. And who wants to take the time to do that?

Covering an outspoken Orthodox shepherd

I have heard one question over and over in the past three or four days: “What do you think of the Washington Post Magazine story about the whole uproar in the Orthodox Church in America about Metropolitan JONAH?” Or words to that effect.

Many Orthodox readers then add something to the affect of this: “Don’t you think that the story was a little out of date or incomplete?” Or more words to that effect.

First let me note that many people are incorrectly saying that the piece ran in the newspaper’s Style section. That is simply inaccurate. It ran in the Sunday magazine, a section that has early, early, early deadlines compared to the rest of the daily newspaper. That is crucial, since the events and interviews on which the piece is built took place some time ago. This is not the fault of Julia Duin, the reporter, or her editors. It’s just a fact of production deadlines.

Veteran journalist Rod Dreher — an Orthodox Christian who is interviewed in the piece — offered the following words of explanation in one online forum. The “Santa Fe” reference refers to a recent meeting linked to disputes about the directions of Metropolitan JONAH’s leadership.

The piece was always was scheduled for mid-March, as far as I know. Santa Fe happened with only days before the final deadline, beyond which nothing could be changed in the text. Julia Duin and her editors were understandably concerned because of the possibility that something major could happen (e.g., +Jonah deposed) before the story ran. The point I’m trying to make here is that Duin was unable to do any reporting on the post-Santa Fe intrigue, because her advanced deadline had passed. Almost nothing that has happened since Santa Fe could have appeared in her story — something that’s not at all obvious to people reading it on the Internet, where they can’t see that it was in the magazine section, and/or people who don’t understand that because of production requirements, newspaper magazine section stories have to be “put to bed,” as we say, a lot earlier than stories appearing in the daily paper.

Now, before I go on I need to note several obvious facts. First of all, the author of the magazine piece has been a friend of my family for a quarter of a century (give or take a year or two). Dreher also has been a close friend for, oh, coming up on two decades. Trust me, I have friends, associates and even loved ones involved at almost every possible level of this story. There is much that I know that I am not going to say.

So here is what I am going to do.

I am going to highlight the heart of Duin’s report and urge you to read it on your own. There are a few nit-picking things in here that, most likely, are the result of editing (Julia certainly knows that the Catholic church does ordain some married men). There are many, many things that Duin would certainly want to update.

But she starts with a key event in this drama — the March for Life — and she also pinpoints another crucial point of contention — the metropolitan’s strong statements defending Orthodoxy and the church’s doctrine in the U.S. military chaplaincy program.

On the morning of the march, Jonah preached an uncompromising Gospel at the cathedral. “We need to see and call things what they are and not in some disguised politically correct language,” he said, dressed in resplendent gold brocade vestments, his salt-and-pepper beard making him appear like an Old Testament prophet. “Abortion is the taking of human life.”

Jonah continued: “So often, people think that if we name sin for what it is, that we’re judging people. No, we’re just pointing out reality. It is not a matter of judgment to say abortion is a sin. It is not a matter of judgment to say that homosexual activity is a sin. It is a matter of simply stating the truth of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.”

A few hours later at the march — while 80 Orthodox seminarians from New York and Pennsylvania stood, shivering, underneath a large “Orthodox Christians for Life” sign — Jonah told his listeners to stand firm against “the plague of abortion.” He received a rousing ovation. As he swept away down the steps, various clergy kissed his hand, and Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl came up to greet him.

“He is energetic and anxious to move quickly,” said the Rev. Chad Hatfield, chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary who had accompanied several dozen students to the rally. “Jonah is not as cautious as some people would like him to be. He is bold, forthright and speaks his mind.

“Sometimes that can be messy.”

As Metropolitan Jonah already has found out.

Now, it is crucial to know that this story is unfolding on two fronts, with activists on both sides slinging digital ink with a vengeance.

The key is how to define the nature of the battle line that divides the two sides, the divide between those who see Orthodoxy as a partner for the Church or Rome and most evangelicals and an old guard who want to retain their decades of ties to the Protestant left and the National Council of Churches. Yes, there are moral issues and doctrines at stake in this fight. It is hard to see this because Orthodoxy is not going to openly change its doctrines. The question is whether these doctrines will be clearly articulated and defended — in parishes as well as in public life. At the same time, it is crucial to note that people on both sides believe that +JONAH has made administrative errors and that this very young leader needs to improve his ecclesiastical gamesmanship.

You can see the outlines in the Duin piece, which is a compliment to her skills when one considers her deadline and the degree to which key players could not afford to speak on the record. Meanwhile, you can tap into the venom behind this battle — for starters — by clicking here and then here. Then go take a shower.

By the way, please limit your comments to the actual journalism issues faced by the Post team in preparing and publishing this piece. Any other comments must be accompanied by URLs to real information. It’s Lent, folks.

Judgment Day for CNN

Back in January, I bid farewell to life as we know it and voiced a few concerns about an Associated Press story on the impending end of the world.

With Judgment Day only about 10 weeks away, I thought I’d focus on another major media report on this topic — while there’s still time.

Now, I am fully aware of the Doomsday scenario that typically befalls the comments section of any GetReligion post that praises the mainstream media. Nevertheless, I intend to shower an apocalyptic level of adoration on CNN’s “Road trip to the end of the world.”

The top of the story:

From Jacksonville to Tampa, Florida (CNN) — If you thought you had less than three perfectly healthy months to live, what would you do? Would you travel? Spend time with loved ones? Appreciate the joy life has given you?

Or would you ditch your kids and grandkids, join strangers in a caravan of RVs and travel the country warning people about the end of the world?

If you’re Sheila Jonas, that’s exactly what you’d do.

“This is so serious, I can’t believe I’m here,” says Jonas, who’s been on the road since fall. Like her cohorts, she’s “in it ’til the end,” which she believes is coming in May.

She won’t talk about her past because, “There is no other story. … We are to warn the people. Nothing else matters.”

Such faith and concern drove her and nine others, all loyal listeners of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio, to join the radio station’s first “Project Caravan” team.

This is the kind of story that — just a few years ago — the old-school newspaperman in me would have argued that only a print journalist could produce. Yet here is a 3,300-word multimedia feature by the Cable News Network that provides a remarkable window into a major 2011 religion story.

First of all, this is a story, not a report. It unfolds naturally and develops characters, not stereotypical cardboard cutouts. And it does so in a way that takes the subject matter seriously, but not too seriously.

In other words, there is room for humor.

My favorite section in the whole piece occurs as the end-of-the-worlders struggle to line up their five RVs — numbered 11 to 15:

“Eleven, 15, go back please,” a voice crackles over the walkie-talkies.

Spin around. Veer right. Stop. Wait.

“Is everyone in order and ready to come out of there?” Crackle, crackle. “13?”


“I hope the Rapture is smoother than this,” one driver says.

That’s real journalism — the kind that occurs when a reporter has the time and resources to go behind the scenes and tell the story.

But please don’t misunderstand: This story isn’t all fun and games. The journalist takes care to provide specific details about the faith journeys of the people who have left their regular lives to go on the road and spread an end-times message. And the writer includes specific biblical references:

They have been chosen by God to spread the news few understand, the ambassadors say. They liken themselves to biblical figures, including Jonah, who God commanded to warn the people of Nineveh of their city’s destruction.

They say their work comes with ample precedence, that the God they believe in would never bring judgment on his people without warning them first. Their job is to “sound the alarm,” they say, pointing to Ezekiel 33. Just by being out in their RVs, wearing their T-shirts, jackets and caps, and passing out their pamphlets — which they call tracts — they are fulfilling a mission.

Moreover, the piece contains important background on Harold Camping, the broadcaster behind the end-of-the-world prediction, including the fact that he has gotten the big day wrong in the past:

He has dissected scripture and crunched his biblical numbers to come up with the fateful dates. He rattles off mathematical explanations of how he did this work, throwing out Bible verses and calculations that leave an outsider’s head spinning.

But Camping also happens to be the man who once said September 6, 1994, would be the big day. …

This time around, he has no doubts.

“I know it’s absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true,” he says. “If I were not faithful that would mean that I’m a hypocrite.”

This is one of those stories where I’m tempted to copy and paste nearly every word as a blockquote. But I’ll resist the urge and simply encourage you to read it yourself.

Feel free to offer your own reflections on the piece. Of course, comments will mess up my entire Doomsday scenario. But that’s OK.

What’s in an Old Testament name?

I’m not exactly a Southern Conference basketball fanatic.

To put it more precisely, I’m not certain I knew there was such a thing as the Southern Conference until a GetReligion reader drew my attention to a 2,100-word profile of the league’s reigning top player.

However, the profile of Wofford’s Noah Dahlman grabbed my attention and made me want to read every word.

Nice writing and compelling subject matter will do that.

The top of the story:

By day, Wofford’s Noah Dahlman prefers to be called “Mr. D.”

It’s not a nickname for the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year, the dominating big man on campus who last season led the Terriers to their first league title and NCAA tournament appearance.

It’s not a title bestowed upon the descendant of basketball royalty who was raised on a farm in small-town Minnesota to become a rebounding legend and eventually one of the most relentless scorers in the nation (20.6 ppg).

No, Mr. D. is simply what his students call him. While Dahlman, in his senior year, is leading Wofford at the top of the SoCon South Division standings, he is also spending his final semester in a unique classroom setting, teaching American history to 11th graders at Chesnee (S.C.) High School.

Pulling double duty about a half-hour away from the Spartanburg campus requires him to rush back for 4:15 p.m. practices, leaving him little time to make the necessary costume change.

“It looks like Superman tearing the tie off,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “In about two minutes, he’ll be in shorts. He’ll be playing like he’s been resting all day.”

Go ahead. Read the whole story. Enjoy it — mostly — but feel free to lament the giant religion ghost.

OK, done reading?

Did you spot the ghost?:

Nathan Dahlman and Kathy Kundla were coaching basketball at the same high school when they met, and their children, with names straight out of the Old Testament — Isaiah, Noah, Jonah, Hannah, Rebekah and Zachariah — will all likely end up having played college basketball. About an hour north of the Twin Cities in Braham, Minn. — population 1,660 and still without a stoplight — the siblings grew up with the game as a way of life.

Living on an 11-acre farm that sits on a dead-end gravel road about five miles from town, the family by choice does not own a television nor do they have the house wired for Internet access. But behind the barn that overlooks a grassy field, there is a basketball court, one in which an errant ball might bounce into the pigpen.

Names straight out of the Old Testament. Do you think there might be a religious tie there? Me too, but the story breezes right over that obvious question. At the same time, the purposeful lack of a TV or Internet access would seem to add urgency to that question. Perhaps there is no religious reason for that decision, but it certainly seems to demand the reporter ask — and let readers know. Right?

Curious, I spent at least 20 minutes trying a variety of search terms on Google. But this reference from a 2005 USA TODAY story focusing on Noah Dahlman’s brother Isaiah was all I found:

He is the oldest of six children. His siblings — Noah, Jonah, Hannah, Rebecca and Zachariah — sound like an Old Testament roll call. “My parents are religious, and the names are a constant reminder of the Bible,” Isaiah says.

Even that little bit of detail would have improved the ESPN story. Still, I’d love to know more — much more — about the role of religion in the lives of this basketball family.