Digging into the Narnia story

Narnia posterWhen conducting interviews, most reporters conduct themselves knowing that their notes, questions and side remarks will never be seen by anyone other than themselves, even their editor. In the rare occurrence of a subpoena of their notes, a handful of lawyers may have the opportunity to pour over the material, but it would be extremely unusual for the world to have that opportunity.

This could be changing with the Internet and a great example is this online package on the upcoming movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Most people who caught this program on television will allow the content and the interviews — which include our own Tmatt — to slip into a forgotten part of the past. But this is no longer the case.

(Don’t forget to check out some of our past posts on the release of the film, here, here and here.)

For people like myself, who missed the live broadcast, the transcript of the program along with the video is available for any and all with an Internet connection. But that’s not all. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly was kind enough to post the transcripts of the interviews with Tmatt and author and Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs for the piece so we could analyze ourselves the questions asked and the thoughts of the person actually doing the reporting. For those analyzing the media’s coverage of anything, this is an incredible tool and in an ideal world, the way it should always be.

Kim Lawton’s report on the film is a solid piece of work. It focuses on the film, the targeted audience and the producer’s marketing approach, and from what I could tell, Lawton uses the material from her interviews quite fairly and accurately. For time’s sake, not all quotes are completely intact, but that is to be expected. For instance, take this quote from the edited version:

Mr. MATTINGLY: The major symbolism, of course, is the death and resurrection of a Christ figure. And all of this is interpreted with language that is not out of the Bible, but you would have to be pretty blind not to see what the symbols mean and to hear what the words mean.

And here it is in the entire section:

Q: What are the key religious themes and symbols in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE?

A: The major symbolism, of course, is the death and resurrection of a Christ figure. It’s interesting in the sense that there is no attempt to create a cross. Instead, Lewis, who, like Tolkien, loved ancient mythologies and loved those stories, goes with a much more ritualistic image of an altar, a stone table, an Aztec stone knife, and a witch who just slays him. But then you have a very vivid and literal resurrection. All of this is interpreted with language that is not out of the Bible, but you would have to be pretty blind not to see what the symbols mean and to hear what the words mean.

Tmatt told me that he was thankful that they ran the entire interview. And why not? It was a 45-minute ordeal and that type of information should not be left to just the producers to cut and paste into a nice package. We the viewer/reader should be able to examine the interview in its entirety.

Is this the way of the future? Will the interviews I conduct for my day job end up online uncut and unedited? How will this change reporting? Will I be more formal with those I interview? It sure didn’t seem to hold back Jann Wenner in his interview with Bono. But did he know at the time that the tape of the interview would be thrown out on the Web for anyone to download?

When I cite a document when writing a story for my day job, I consistently link to the original document if possible. In the next year, will I start linking to the mp3 of an interview when I quote a source?

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Can a priest say “repent” in confession?

Chapel courtyard JPGWe seem to be nearing the end of the Vatican trial-balloon marathon about its document on the future of seminarians who disagree with the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality.

Please notice that I did not say that this story is about the future of gay seminarians. Hold on to that thought for a minute because we have lots of ground to cover.

Yesterday’s stories were more trial balloons that did not look like trial balloons. It does seem that someone has leaked a copy of the Vatican document. Here is a typical posting on the World Wide Web. However, it is crucial to note that the official document is still not out, as far as the church is concerned. Also, there may be translation issues. Some Catholic bloggers are also raising some questions about authenticity.

Anyway, let’s say that this is the document. If so, I thought the Los Angeles Times had the most arresting first-day money quote, in the hard-news story — “Vatican Issues a Qualified Ban on Gays in Priesthood” — by Tracy Wilkinson and Maria De Cristofaro.

The document was quickly criticized by some gay rights sympathizers, who say the church does not understand homosexuality. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the instructions would have little, if any, effect on how seminaries in the Los Angeles area admit candidates.

In other words: Business as usual. No problems.

This is interesting, because this story comes not that long after a stunning Times report by Paul Pringle about life at St. John’s Catholic Seminary (pictured) in Camarillo, Calif. On one level, this story — “Trail of Abuse Leads to Seminary” — is about sex. Truth is, this is a story about seminary life and, thus, about doctrine.

The 66-year-old institution has trained hundreds of clerics for the archdiocese and smaller jurisdictions across Southern California and beyond. It is the alma mater of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod Brown and other prominent prelates. Former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, now the Vatican’s chief enforcer of doctrine, taught at the school.

But St. John’s, the only seminary operated by the archdiocese, also has produced a disproportionate number of alleged sexual abusers as it prepared men for a life of ministry and celibacy, records show.

About 10% of St. John’s graduates reported to have been ordained in the Los Angeles Archdiocese since 1950 — 65 of roughly 625 — have been accused of molesting minors, according to a review of ordination announcements, lawsuits, published reports and the archdiocese’s 2004 list of alleged abusers. In two classes — 1966 and 1972 — a third of the graduates were later accused of molestation.

You can read the details. The key is that former seminary students insist that their professors had little interest in teaching or defending the Catholic faith’s doctrines on sexuality. Thus, they also had little interest in enforcing policies on sexuality. They did not see what they did not want to see.

Several former students recall a licentious atmosphere at St. John’s that might have accommodated a range of sexual behavior, especially in the years before the 1990s. They say that many classmates routinely broke their celibacy vows, that emotionally troubled students were allowed to drift though the seminary, and that administrators either were ignorant about sex on campus or turned a blind eye to it. Some told of seminarians having sex in St. John’s dormitories, bathrooms and orange groves.

There are many more details, but we need to move on. The key, as I noted in a column for Scripps Howard, is that this Vatican document on homosexuality is being released just as teams of Catholic examiners begin a wave of confidential “Apostolic Visitations” at the 229 U.S. seminaries. If you read the seminary document, you will see that this 12-page text has lots to say about the practice of celibacy and not much to say about homosexuality.

This brings us to today’s coverage of the “Vatican crackdown” on gay seminarians.

This is a day when the many liberal Catholics who work in the U.S. Catholic establishment wish that there were not so many liberal Catholic insiders and activists with telephone numbers locked in the speed-dials of so many reporters in the U.S. journalistic establishment. Progressive Catholics who wield power need quiet, right now, and they may not get it. Meanwhile, many conservative Catholics will stew in silence or take their critiques into the blogosphere.

You see, the question remains the same: Will anyone in Catholic seminaries teach, defend and enforce the church’s teachings on homosexuality (or, come to think of it, sexuality in general)? This question leads to even tougher questions, such as: “Will anyone openly discuss the fact that most cases of clergy sex abuse have been rooted in “ephebophilia” (sex with under-aged young people, almost always boys in this case) instead of “pedophilia” (sex with prepubescent children)?

MSM coverage continues to focus on the prevention of “pedophilia,” even though such cases are very rare and there is little or no evidence that gays are more likely to be pedophiles than are straights. Pedophilia is actually the safe subject, because most of the clergy scandals involve “ephebophilia.”

The Vatican documents seem to be stepping into a different minefield — gay sex and the moral defense of the same. This is where the going gets tough.

Here is the bottom line: The Vatican is trying to find men who will teach that sex outside of marriage is sin. cassromanfl 01

Note the word “sin.” Sin is supposed to lead to another word — “repentance.” This is, in Catholic tradition, supposedto be linked to another word — “confession.”

Thus, Laurie Goodstein has nailed the heart of this story (terrible headline, by the way) in the New York Times. It seems that the Vatican is suggesting that spiritual directors at it seminaries might want — in the context of confession — to suggest that gay seminarians, well, repent of any sinful acts or convictions and, well, consider leaving the seminary.

This makes total sense, if you believe the Catholic Church’s teachings are the truth. It makes no sense at all if you do not. There’s the rub. Many Catholics oppose the teachings of their church, including many in clerical collars and some in bishop’s vestments. They think it is time for doctrine to progress.

Some priests who talked to the New York Times said this policy would:

… (Turn) the confessional and spiritual counseling sessions, which seminarians previously regarded as private and supportive meetings, into a tool for weeding gay men out of seminaries.

“The relationship between a seminarian and his confessor or his spiritual director should not be about enforcing church documents, but to serve as spiritual guides,” said the Rev. Michael Herman, a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago who has recently publicly identified himself as gay in order to speak out against the Vatican’s action. …

His reaction to the document was echoed by other priests and Roman Catholic organizations, who said that the church’s decree was discriminatory and hurtful to faithful chaste gay priests and would only exacerbate an already dire shortage of Catholic clergymen. But that was only one reaction to a Vatican directive that church experts say is intentionally sprinkled with undefined terms and left open to interpretation.

However, insiders are already saying that there is nothing in this document that will actually change what is happening at Catholic seminaries, unless the leaders of those seminaries want to make changes. Do these Catholic leaders — some, or even many, of them gay — want to make changes? Can the Vatican force them to make changes?

That’s the story, here. As the always candid Catholic progressive Father Donald Cozzens told the Washington Post:

“The first thought that comes to my mind is that this document is going to cause a good deal of human suffering,” said the Rev. Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector and a professor at John Carroll University in Cleveland.

“Gay, committed, celibate priests and seminarians, and bishops, too, that happen to be gay, are going to find this instruction a source of spiritual pain,” Cozzens said.

Yes they will and many will want to fight back. Quietly. Silently. Without speaking to reporters. There is the heart of the story.

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New round of GetReligion ch-ch-ch-changes

printingpress 01We are creeping up on an interesting landmark here at GetReligion — Feb. 1 is the second anniversary of the birth of this blog. On one level this is not all that surprising, seeing as how we have already hit 1200-plus posts and more than 8,000 comments (and that’s just counting Michael, Stephen A. and Avram).

GetReligion started out with Doug LeBlanc and myself, and we were soon joined by young master Jeremy Lott. That honorary title was eventually handed over to Daniel Pulliam.

In the beginning, Doug was the guru of technology and did almost all of our start-up work. Over time, his work load has increased elsewhere and he has been writing less for the blog. Now he needs to take another step back, in part due to loads of international travel in the near future. Doug is not leaving the blog and will try, in particular, to keep sending us missives every now and then about the state of religion news in major magazines.

Thus, we face another round of changes as we approach that Feb. 1 signpost. We hope, for example, to rearrange and consolidate a few of the features on our left sidebar to help readers navigate more quickly within the growing contents of the blog. We’ll be asking readers for some feedback on that in the near future.

And with Doug writing less, we are excited to be adding the voice of another mainstream journalist to GetReligion.

Mollie Ziegler is a reporter in Washington, D.C., for the Federal Times, a Gannett newspaper that covers the ins and outs of the federal government. A second-career journalist, she began her reporting career in 2002 with a stint at Radio & Records. She began venturing into religion writing came a few months later with her first Houses of Worship column in the Wall Street Journal.

In 2004 she won a year-long Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship which enabled her to write a book about religion and politics in America, with a special emphasis on the changing language of faith in the public square. She stresses that GetReligion readers will be expected to buy multiple copies when it is published. Her work also has appeared in The New York Sun, Confessio Augustana, Higher Things and Doublethink.

Mollie’s undergraduate degree in economics was obtained at the University of Colorado, located in the alternative universe known as Boulder, Colo. She is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va., and serves on the Board for Communication Services of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Mollie — who lacks a GetReligion nickname at this time — will begin writing on or about Dec. 1st, but I hope she will write her own “what you need to know about me” post in the next few days. We all roam around the Godbeat a bit, but Mollie will pay special attention to religion writing outside the axis of the elite East and West Coast newspapers. Believe me, we know that we need to do more in this area.

Is is, at times, hard to find the work of religion reporters at newspapers that do not provide logical links and specialty pages on their websites. I have barked about this in the past and urged GetReligion readers to help us find more stories to praise and dissect. Mollie will be trying to crack some of these tough cyber-cases. We will also create, in the left sidebar index, an “All-Stars” category to salute fine religion writing wherever we find it, in markets large and small.

So welcome Mollie to the blog. She’s a live wire.

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Faith in that redneck music

rednecks 265x397As the old saying goes, the secret to country music’s appeal is that it can deal with what happens on Sunday morning as well as Saturday night.

Or, as Naomi Judd once told me, if you’re going to write songs about sinning, it helps to have some listeners to still think that sin exists. You don’t hear many cheating songs on MTV because cheating songs imply that there is something holy called marriage to cheat against.

The religious side of country music — this is not a “ghost,” because it’s right out there in the open — is one of the subplots in my friend Chris Willman’s new book entitled “Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music.” He is one of the senior music writers at Entertainment Weekly and when it comes to the smart side of popular music, he has been there and done that for, well, ages and ages.

By all means, rush out and buy the book. But if you want to sample it for free, the Dallas Morning News recently featured a chunk of it in its Sunday Points magazine. Here is one section that I found especially interesting, in a GetReligion-ish sort of way. Why is country music the true “folk music” of the modern American mainstream?

… (Consider) the varying musical responses to 9-11. In the world of rock, Paul McCartney, one of the great songwriters of the 20th century, delivered a spirited new anthem called “Freedom.” It really did unite a wounded nation, if only in unanimous declaration that this was the suckiest composition of his storied career.

Neil Young might have seemed better equipped for such a topical task. Three decades earlier, the mercurial rocker had written a song about “four dead in Ohio” and released it within two weeks of the actual event. But 45 dead in Pennsylvania seemed to vex him. “Let’s Roll,” a tribute to the heroic passengers who fought with terrorists on doomed Flight 93, was well-intentioned, yet curiously unmoving.

So who did step up to the contemplative plate and become America’s poet laureate at the end of 2001? A guy whose last single was “It’s Alright to Be a Redneck”: hat act Alan Jackson, whose reflective “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” caught the attention of even a lot of non-country fans, who whispered to themselves: Out of the mouths of rubes …

You remember that song, don’t you? That’s the one that had a chorus that would have turned an MTV programmer into a pillar of salt. Let’s see, it went something like this:

“I’m just a singer of simple songs. I’m not a real political man. I watch CNN, but I’m not really sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran. But I know Jesus and I talk to God and I remember this from when I was young. Faith, hope and love are some good things he gave us, and the greatest of these is love.”

And all the people said: Amen.

You know, I think that Johnny Cash guy understood this stuff, too. Somebody ought to make a movie about that.

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Sorting out the mission

he said she saidThe “He said she said” story can be one of the most difficult for a journalist to root out. One side says one thing and the other does their best to contradict. The lazy reporter will do little to resolve the difference, offering little evidence and a handful of quotes that offer an equal number of lines for each side. But does that really serve the reader?

Ignorant quotes by sources who don’t know what they are talking about or lack the credibility to speak on the subject do little public good, but it’s easy to find Mr. Other Side to spout off in support of or against a position in the name of balance. The dedicated hard-working reporter, or something along those lines, searches out The Truth, or the best version they can come up with by press time.

Such as the case in this solid bit of reporting by Chris Kraul of the Los Angeles Times. Here is the heart of the story:

Last month, Chavez ordered the expulsion of about 200 evangelical Baptist missionaries from the country’s Amazon rain forest. He accused them of spying, mining, exploiting indigenous tribes and using jungle airstrips for “imperialist penetration.” Last week, the missionaries were given 90 days to leave the zone.

Some observers see the expulsion, which targeted the Florida-based New Tribes Mission and its offshoots, as a part of a hardening attitude toward religious groups since U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson suggested in August that someone assassinate Chavez. The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints announced last month that it had withdrawn all 219 of its U.S. missionaries from the country because of increasing delays and difficulty in obtaining or renewing visas.

Chavez has also sparred with the Roman Catholic Church. Retired Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, a Venezuelan who was a confidant of the late Pope John Paul II, has accused Chavez of being increasingly autocratic.

I guess Chavez never received the memo that Tmatt has called for Robertson’s excommunication. But there is something deeper to Chavez’s hostility towards the missionaries. It involves the country’s inability to provide basic social services to its poor. Here are those on Chavez’s side:

Some anthropologists and government officials cheered Chavez’s action, saying the expulsion was a welcome conclusion to a 60-year debate in Venezuela over whether the evangelicals threaten cultural diversity by forcing assimilation and modernity on the tribes, even as they deliver much-needed services.

They say the problems posed by the missionaries are not espionage or unbridled capitalism, but the religious and behavioral changes that the missionaries force on tribes in exchange for material and medical help. Those changes are destroying tribes’ primitive rituals and robbing people of what the United Nations has termed world cultural patrimony, the critics claim.

“New Tribes activity amounts to cultural genocide for which the state has to share responsibility,” anthropologist and former Sen. Alexander Luzardo said in an interview in Caracas, the capital.

Did Kraul bother to ask Greenwood whether they required “religious and behavioral changes” in order to receive material and medical help? And what were those behavioral changes? Last time I checked, it was the missionaries in India that fought to end the Hindu practice of sati, where the a widow would allow herself to be burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. Kraul did part of his job and went to Greenwood and to those who support his work:

Ingrid Turon, a city council member and member of the Yeguana indigenous community in the village of Toki, six hours by outboard motorboat from here, said those who oppose missionaries want to deprive indigenous people of the advantages of modern life.

“For them, we are like animals in the zoo that people should pay to come see, so they can charge admission, publish their books and take pictures,” Turon said. “They want to deny us the progress that they want, that the entire world wants.”

Greenwood, the missionary, said living among the Indians as a “friend and neighbor” gives him a different — and, he said, more caring — perspective than that of the anthropologists who visit periodically to study the communities and their customs.

“That’s where we are a little bit critical of the scientists who look on the Yanomami as a classroom project. These aren’t objects — these are people,” Greenwood said. “If you have a textbook approach to them, rather than relational, the Indians suffer as a result.”

Greenwood didn’t deny that he wanted to teach the Indians the Bible, which has been translated to the Yanomami language, and to show them the “way of the Lord.” Those teachings include discouraging Yanomami from taking alcoholic or hallucinatory substances, from committing polygamy and incest, and from engaging in inter-tribal violence.

But he insisted that none of the Indians in Cuwa were denied clothing, food or medicine for failing to follow his religious teachings.

I have trouble determining the veracity of both side’s statements. Who are these people and what are their relationships to both the government and to the missionaries? There isn’t enough time or space to vet either side’s claims so the reader is forced to make a judgment, which usually resorts to already-established biases or perceptions.

The remaining part of the story relies on what must have been more than a couple days worth of reporting and observing the Greenwood’s at work. Snippets of their daily lives seem to back up their claims that they are trying to provide basic services while sharing their faith with those in the community. While Kraul doesn’t come right out and say it, the reader who finishes the piece should come away knowing that they have a better idea of the truth.

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‘Jack, get out of my line of fire’

0060634472Just came across this wonderful little anecdote about Mr. and Mrs. C.S. Lewis from an interview by Washington Times reporter Jen Waters with Douglas Gresham. Gresham — the executive producer of the new Narnia movie — is one of the two sons of Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis and, thus, one of the adopted sons of Jack Lewis.

It seems that Lewis had one strong woman on his hands.

A favorite memory of Mr. Gresham’s happened one day while walking behind his mother and stepfather at the Kilns, Lewis’ home. His mother was apt to carry a shotgun and hunt pigeons in the trees.

While enjoying the outdoors, a young man jumped from the bushes carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. When Lewis asked him to leave the property, the man pointed the arrows at him and Mr. Gresham’s mother.

“Immediately, Jack displayed his chivalry, his courage and his sense of duty by stepping in front of my mother to shield her from the arrow,” Mr. Gresham says. “He stood there for a few seconds, until he heard my mother … behind him saying, ‘Jack get out of my line of fire.’ “

I did a little interview with Gresham myself, several weeks ago, about his new biography of Lewis for children.

However, anyone seeking a major biography of Lewis by someone else who knew him inside out should turn to “Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times” by the apologist’s former student and walking companion George Sayer. Click here for a 1998 interview with Sayer, who deals with all of the tough subjects — yes, the sexy ones too — in Lewis’ life, yet does so by interviewing others who knew him and quoting relevant documents.

It’s an old-fashioned kind of biography, in other words, with no pop psychology allowed. Journalists covering the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe should look it up as a reference book.

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Read this and weep (honest)

nk schoolchildrens palace kimilsungWhile in Orange County, Calif., last week, I had a chance to read the following story about North Korea and religious persecution in an actual dead-tree-pulp edition of the Los Angeles Times. I thought that reporter Barbara Demick did a good job of handling the brutal details without letting things get out of control.

I did, however, wonder if the basic “rice evangelism” anecdote was the most powerful lead for this story.

SEOUL — A few years ago, an astonishing rumor spread among the teenagers of Musan, a sad, hungry mining town hugging the North Korean side of the border with China. If you slipped over and looked for a house with a cross, the people inside would give you a lecture on Christianity and a bowl of rice.

Choi Hwa knew this was dangerous stuff. Back when she was an impressionable 12-year-old, she and her classmates had been called
out to watch the execution of a young woman and her father who were caught with a Bible. But Choi knew as well that the pangs in her stomach meant she might soon succumb to the starvation that had killed dozens of neighbors. The girl followed her stomach. Through it, she found her way to faith.

After all, this story also included some hellish accounts of persecution and martyrdom, as believers struggled to express their faith while living in the shadows of the allegedly divine Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il. I especially liked the detail from Demick that the North Korean PR writers have a special distaste for Christian faith because they have plagiarized certain sacred details to flesh out their own stories. For example, “doctrine has it that Kim Jong Il’s birth was heralded by a bright star in the sky.”

I also flinched while reading this account about the deaths of five middle-aged men accused of running an underground church.

They were forced to lie on the ground and were crushed by a steamroller, said a 30-year-old North Korean defector, who added that he witnessed the incident while he was in the army. “At the time, I thought they got what they deserved,” said the defector, who related his story to The Times. Now a theology student in South Korea, he asked to be identified only by his English first name, Stephen.

Days later, a friend (hat tip to Rod Dreher) sent me a slightly different account of the same event. This is the rare case in which the writing in a bookish journal of theology and culture — the weblog of First Things, actually — is more gripping than the reporting in a world-class newspaper. This account is taken directly from the printed reports of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, based on eyewitness accounts.

You be the judge. Which is the more memorable? Does the First Things version go too far?

… (In) the building of a highway near Pyongyang, a house was demolished and a Bible was discovered hidden between bricks. Along with it was a list identifying a Christian pastor, two assistant pastors, two elders, and 20 members of the congregation. All were rounded up and the five Christian leaders were told they could avoid death if they denied their faith and swore to serve only Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung. …

Refusing to do so, they were forced to lie down and a steamroller used in the highway construction was driven over them. The report continues, “Fellow parishioners who had been assembled to watch the execution cried, screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed beneath the steamroller.”

I think I need to get a copy of that report. Ditto for other journalists who care about basic human rights.

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All business

business in chinaWhat to make of the media’s coverage of President Bush’s visit to China? Keeping track of the unraveling battle between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government is a job unto itself, but when the Leader of the Free World stops by for the weekend, the stories become all the more numerous and compelling.

Appropriately, The Washington Post‘s Peter Baker and Philip P. Pan lead with Bush’s Sunday morning church service. It actually was a nice piece to wake up to Sunday morning:

BEIJING, Nov. 20 — President Bush challenged China’s repression of religion Sunday as he opened a diplomatically sensitive visit here, but he kept most of his focus on an economic and security agenda that included a multibillion-dollar sale of U.S.-built airplanes.

In his first public appearance, even before the welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, Bush attended a service at a state-sanctioned Protestant church to send a message about free expression of faith in a country that harshly smothers it. The president has been offended by the recent harassment of religious people trying to practice their faith without state approval at underground churches, aides said.

“My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly,” the president told reporters outside Gangwashi Church, a modest brick building and one of a handful of official Protestant churches in Beijing. “A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths.”

Somehow, despite the church-service lead, I feel that this story belongs on the business page because that is the primary reason for the Bush-to-China trip, and where the real news is being made.

As you will read in this piece, China’s state television gets to define the trip for the billions of Chinese with what amounts to a mountain biking stunt by Bush (sound like a familiar strategy in the U.S.?) and the White House promotes that church-going image of Bush for his religious base in the States.

But it’s all business business business.

In making his appeal for greater religious freedom, Bush was careful to avoid provocative language and planned to spend the rest of his visit talking about trade and nuclear nonproliferation issues. As the president flew to Beijing on Saturday night, a top White House official aboard Air Force One disclosed that China planned to sign a deal Sunday to purchase 70 jetliners from Boeing Corp., a sale he called vindication of the administration’s nuanced approach to relations with China.

To establish the friendly tone of the visit here, the third of Bush’s presidency, the White House arranged for Bush to go mountain biking Sunday with China’s Olympic athletes, an event that aides said they assumed would be widely shown on state television and become the defining image of the trip. The idea, they said, was to signal directly to the Chinese people that no matter what they hear from their government, Bush is not hostile toward their country.

As many of you will remember, the first President Bush and Bill Clinton attended services in China, so these business trips to China are nothing new to American presidents. According to several reports, Bush did make more of an effort to address the lack of religious liberties in China, but in this case, business still managed to dominate the issues and the news.

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