Crush Davis wrestles with anger issues, with God’s help

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I realize that GetReligion readers have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of interest in the world of sports or, at the very least, media coverage of stories that mix faith and sports. I remain a pretty intense sports fan, based in Baltimore.

So it’s rather remarkable that the newspaper that lands in my front yard not only produced a major story about the life and faith of hotter than hot Orioles slugger Chris Davis (hello Red Sox fans), but put it on the front page. I am not taking about the front page of the sports section, I’m talking about A1 in the Sunday issue.

The story isn’t perfect — more on that in a minute — but it’s clear that The Baltimore Sun team let Davis talk about the arc of his life and, in the end, accurately concluded that his return to evangelical Christian faith has actually had something to do with him getting his act together as a man, a husband and as an All-Star level player.

God is in the lede, which tends to happen a lot in sports coverage. The more important fact about this story is that the God factor is — to some degree — actually fleshed out in the reporting in the story.

To. Some. Degree. Here’s the long overture to the piece:

The power? That blunt-force ability to lay wood to a baseball and propel it 400, 420, 450 feet? He had it even when he was a boy. Came from God, as far as he’s concerned.

Harnessing it? Well, that’s the work of Chris Davis’ life. There’s a paradoxical quality to the Orioles’ first baseman, who has emerged this season as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers, a likely All-Star starter who leads the majors with 22 home runs.

Growing up in East Texas, Davis was like a puppy with big paws, bowling over everything. But even as he climbed the ranks of the game he loved, he could not find the deeper fulfillment he coveted.

Before he could put all that strength to use, he had to stop trying to overpower everything in his life. He had to tone down the perfectionist streak he inherited from his dad, Lyn, who gave him his work ethic but could also be an overbearing presence. Both men acknowledge their competitive drive created friction in their relationship. That stress, which friends and teammates watched unfold as the younger Davis was blossoming into a star athlete in Texas, is what Chris Davis says helped set the course for his success today.

He had to believe that his faith, his marriage and his team could prop him up during bad times.

All of the usual themes that dominate sports features are here. The key theme that relates to faith is Davis’ struggles, not only with perfectionism, but with anger. And what is the only thing that has helped him with his anger?

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Why did a Catholic Raven skip White House visit? (updated)

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Let’s create a journalism parable.

Let’s say that there is a Republican president in office right now, one with ties to a somewhat doctrinaire form of Christianity.

So, the day comes when the team that won the Super Bowl — perhaps it’s the Baltimore Ravens — makes its traditional media-friendly visit to the White House. However, later the press finds out that one member of the team has elected to boycott the ceremony and had a very interesting reason for doing so.

We are not, by the way, talking about a minor player. We are talking about a Harvard University graduate, a consistent Pro Bowl performer and, here’s the key, the winner of the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award — in honor of his work with literacy programs for needy, at-risk children. On top of that, this rather interesting man has done what many players dream of doing: Win a Super Bowl ring and then walk away into a glorious retirement.

But there’s a problem: This player is a member of a liberal Christian denomination — let’s say that he’s part of the United Church of Christ — and because of his liberal Christian convictions he sharply disagrees with the Republican president of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Thus, he boycotts the White House ceremony as a symbolic gesture of support for the rights of gays and lesbians.

Would this be a pretty big story at ESPN? In The Washington Post? In the Baltimore newspaper?

I rather imagine that it would be a huge story and would make headlines for several days. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so.

Of course, this precise story took place the other day — only the occupant of the White House was Democrat Barack Obama and the boycott by recently retired Ravens center Matt Birk was inspired by his Catholic convictions about the rights of unborn children. Birk, who for many years played for the Minnesota Vikings, told KFAN-FM in the Twin Cities:

“I wasn’t there,” Birk told The Power Trip. “I would say this, I would say that I have great respect for the office of the Presidency but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’ … Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. … I am Catholic, I am active in the Pro-Life movement and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way.”

Now, this story has received a tiny blip of coverage, mainly in conservative news sources, but I couldn’t find any in either the Post or at ESPN. This strikes me as rather strange, especially with Birk’s recent Man of the Year stature.

And The Baltimore Sun?

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Why can’t press get religion, when covering black churches?

Let’s face it. The mainstream press really struggles when trying to cover life in African-American churches.

On one level, black churches are treated like giant political institutions that — in a city like Baltimore — speak for a crucial segment of the voting public.

There is some truth in that view. Any student of American religion knows that, for generations, the pulpits of major churches played a central role in black culture, a place where strong, prophetic voices could be heard during hard times when they were not welcome in the public square.

Thus, reporters will show up to hear black preachers talk about politics. But is there more to preaching in black churches than mere politics?

Journalists also know that the black church is a powerful force in culture, especially when it comes to music. How does anyone try to tell the story of popular music in America without focusing on the role that gospel musicians played in the birth of blues, jazz, funk and soul music?

So, yes, journalists know that the black church is a powerful force in the arts and in culture. But is there more to the music of African-American churches than that beat, that power and, yes, that soul? What about the content of the songs and hymns?

Now what else is missing in this picture?

I think it’s crucial for reporters to remember that we are, first and foremost, talking about CHURCHES, not political think tanks or concert halls.

Many times, while covering events in black churches over the years, I have heard pastors say something like this: Why is it that reporters always want to talk to me about politics, but the minute I start talking about Jesus they just aren’t interested?

I thought about that this morning while reading The Baltimore Sun obituary for the Rev. Harold A. Carter Sr., pastor at New Shiloh Baptist Church — a truly historic figure in our city on a number of different levels.

What is missing from this obituary? Try to guess.

The story starts strong and then, at a crucial moment, the Sun team simply drops the ball.

The Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr., senior pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church, whose legendary preaching spanned generations and brought him an audience beyond his congregation of 5,000 members, died of cancer Thursday. He was 76.

In 47 years of ministry, Dr. Carter preached with legends of the civil rights era, before his congregation in West Baltimore and to bigger audiences across America and in foreign countries. And for years, his resounding voice could be heard on Sundays on WBAL-Radio.

One sermon more than three decades ago — when he filled 14,000 seats in what is now the 1st Mariner Arena for an evangelistic crusade — still resonates with the Rev. A.C.B. Vaughn, the senior pastor of Sharon Baptist Church and a family friend.

“The greatest sermon he ever gave was his life,” said Vaughn. “Harold Carter was one of the crown jewels. His main thrust was prayer and evangelization. He had a passion for saving souls.”

That’s pretty good. So how does the story follow up on the key elements of his life, which were evangelism, prayer and preaching? By the way, he was also a leader in the evangelical Promise Keepers ministries for men, a major force for racial reconciliation in evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity.

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‘Christ is risen!’, for Greeks, Arabs, Russians & others

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A blessed Pascha to the Orthodox readers of GetReligion. I hope you are recovering from the long, but glorious, week of services and the middle-of-the night rites and feasts. Personally, I think it is high time for a post-Great Lent barbecue run — soon.

In terms of Pascha news, I, for one, am stunned that a quick online search found next to nothing in terms of mainstream media coverage of what is, or is not, happening in Syria and Egypt — where there are are huge, endangered communities of Eastern Christians in the middle of the news events. Maybe tomorrow’s newspapers?

Here in America, I am also seeing/hearing discussion among some Orthodox of President Barack Obama’s interesting official statement marking Pascha. On one level, it’s quite solid, and much appreciated. But on another level — maybe not. Here’s the heart of the message:

For millions of Orthodox Christians, this is a joyful time. But it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice Christ made so that we might have eternal life. His decision to choose love in the face of hate; hope in the face of despair is an example we should always strive to follow. But it’s especially important to remember this year, as members of the Orthodox community have been confronted with persecution and violence, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. For centuries, the region and the world has been enriched by the contributions of Orthodox communities in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As a nation, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting universal human rights including the freedom of religion. And in this season of hope and restoration, we celebrate the transformational power of sacrificial love.

Now, other than a direct reference to the resurrection itself (which is a hard thing for a liberal Christian political leader to discuss), what is missing from this statement?

How about something specific about an unfolding drama in Syria, one involving the kidnapping by terrorists of Orthodox Bishop Paul Yazigi — the brother of Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi of Damascus — and Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church? It’s good to mention the generalities, but an actual call for the release of the two kidnapped bishops might have actually made news. Would that have rocked the U.S. State Department boat too much?

Meanwhile, the newspaper that lands in my front yard offered a quite nice Orthodox-angle Easter story that, as usual, focuses on Greek Orthodox life. Now, let me stress that the Greek Orthodox community in the Baltimore area is large and very important. It deserves coverage. However, the team at The Baltimore Sun seems to think that the Greek community and the Orthodox community are one and the same thing. This is not the case.

Anyway, Orthodox readers, check out the top of this story and tell me if you spot an interesting detail, or two (and I’m not talking about the fact that this particular Orthodox church has pews):

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Baltimore Sun drops ball in profile of a preacher’s son

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Here we go again.

The following has become a GetReligion mantra, when it comes to mainstream media coverage of sports and religion. If journalists are going to play the God card, especially in the ledes of major stories, it really helps if they are willing to devote some part of these stories to detailing the role that faith plays in the lives of the athletes who are being profiled.

In this case, we are talking about a piece of scripture that is at the heart of a story about a player who was just selected by the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the first round of the National Football League draft. To top that off, this same piece of scripture played a highly symbolic role in the lives of several Christians on the Ravens team (think Ray Lewis, especially) during last year’s run to the Super Bowl and the NFL title.

The Baltimore Sun team gets the scripture into the lede and initially does a good job of framing its importance. This is long, but the following will show some of the context for the verse’s appearance in this young man’s life:

Long before Isaiah 54:17 became a rallying cry during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run and a fixture in Ray Lewis’ speeches, an angry and withdrawn young boy heard the words and decided to put them over his bedroom door.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

Yet to celebrate his 10th birthday and already burdened by a lifetime’s worth of tragedy, Matt Elam felt that the whole world was against him when he displayed the verse to give him a daily reminder of what mattered.

His half brother had been shot and killed four years before he was even born. His parents divorced when he was 5. Already acquainted with death and departure, Elam then had to deal with the murder of his older sister, Christina, who was at a local park when shots rang out.

Elam, just 8 years old, got the news from his neighbor and sprinted to the park to see his 12-year-old sister one final time.

“We were really close and when I lost her, I felt like everybody was against me,” Elam said Friday.

Read that carefully. We are not talking about a college player putting that scripture over the door of his bedroom. It appears — the sentence structure is quite bizarre — that we are talking about a 10-year-old boy, already burdened with tragedy and pain, putting those words over the doorway into his private sanctuary in the rough streets of the neighborhoods north of downtown West Palm Beach, Fla.

That’s really quite amazing, if one stops and thinks about it. It would appear that religious faith — the kind that teaches fairly obscure scriptures to young boys — must have played a major role in his upbringing. You think?

Yet what is going on with all of these violent events that have touched his life? Might there be some connection between the faith and the pain, some link between scripture and the realities of Elam’s tragic young life?

So how far into this story will readers have to go to find out the answer to that unasked question? Good question.

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That ghost in Dr. Ben Carson’s, well, moral theology

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The folks who edit and operate the newspaper that lands in my front yard are having a Devil of a time trying to figure out what to do with Dr. Ben Carson. Frankly, their struggles are beginning to remind me of their struggles to understand the role that the church plays in the lives of many African-Americans in the politically liberal state of Maryland.

Carson is not only one of the most famous and respected African-American leaders in Baltimore, he is one of Charm City’s most famous and respected leaders — period. In addition to being a global figure in medicine and science, the outspoken director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is also an outspoken Christian and moral conservative, which raises problems.

So what to do when he actually speaks out? Read the following material from The Baltimore Sun very carefully and look for the ghost:

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson stepped down Wednesday as commencement speaker at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after complaints from students about controversial comments concerning same-sex marriage.

The withdrawal came less than a week after medical school Dean Paul B. Rothman chastised Carson for his comments and met with graduating students concerned that the famed physician was an inappropriate commencement speaker. Carson sent Rothman a letter saying that he didn’t want to “distract from the celebratory nature of the day.”

“Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interest of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year,” he wrote in the letter to Rothman, which the dean shared with the Hopkins community. …

As Carson, 61, prepares to retire from medicine in June, he has become more outspoken about his political and social views. He criticized President Barack Obama’s health care reform law at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, which made him a darling of conservatives.

Now let me stress that my goal here is not to discuss the actual content of the public remarks that led to this embarrassing standoff between our city’s most prestigious academic and scientific institution and its most acclaimed medical superstar. Don’t click “comment” to bash or to praise Carson.

I also know — since I keep writing about this fact at this here weblog — that as a liberal private institution, Johns Hopkins has every right to limit the degree to which members of its voluntary association speak out in ways that contradict its core, defining doctrines. It appears, at this point, that the leaders of Johns Hopkins believe in cultural and intellectual diversity, so long as the members of its proudly tolerant community do not have to tolerate the views of anyone they deem to be intolerant.

What I am trying to note is how the Sun leaders have decided to frame the nature of the doctor’s comments and, thus, the current controversy.

This is the key, for me, journalistically speaking. If you read Carson’s own words on moral issues, you learn that he does not have (How does the story put it?) “political and social views” on issues linked to sex and marriage. The moral views of this political independent are pretty much defined by his Christian beliefs.

Why write about this conflict between Carson and Johns Hopkins without making a single reference to the intellectual content of his faith?

Why turn this into a story about his alleged “political” and “cultural” views on sex, marriage and family? By the way, what does “cultural” mean in this context? Is that a reference to, well, race?

So what happens when Carson is quoted in this piece?

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Abortion, rights, viewpoint discrimination and Johns Hopkins

One of the most awkward and painful truths in American higher education is that it is perfectly legal for private colleges and universities — on the left and right — to discriminate against people who refuse to follow, or at least respect, the teachings at the core of these voluntary associations. However, and this is the tricky part for many journalists, these institutions must use a truth-in-advertising approach when dealing with potential students, faculty and the public.

In other words, if a liberal school is going to limit free speech, it must say that right up front when students sign documents to be enrolled. The same thing is true for, obviously, religious schools that want to defend their faith’s moral teachings on marriage, family and sex.

At the moment, the newspaper that lands in my front yard is covering a controversy at Johns Hopkins University that is a perfect example of this legal puzzle.

To my shock, the Baltimore Sun team found a voice on the legal left that perfectly stated most of the crucial legal equation in this battle over a voluntary association’s efforts — perhaps — to practice “viewpoint discrimination” among competing student groups. But first, here is the set up for the current debate (warning: this material includes “scare quotes”):

A group of students at the Johns Hopkins University is reviving a campus anti-abortion group that members say will perform “sidewalk counseling” — attempting to discourage pregnant women entering clinics from going through with the procedure.

But critics worry that the tactics of Voice for Life will harm the vulnerable women the group says it is trying to help.

On Tuesday, a panel of undergraduates will review a decision by the Hopkins Student Government Association to deny recognition to the group. At stake are university funding and privileges that are available to officially sanctioned student clubs, with advantages that include the ability to use the university logo and host events and raise money on campus.

The effort has sparked a debate at Hopkins about abortion rights, free speech and the role of the university in accommodating a controversial group.

Now, the story makes it clear that no one disputes the free-speech rights of these students, when it comes to legal protests on public sidewalks. The issue here is whether this chapter of Voice for Life will be denied status, and funds, as a student organization promoting debate on a controversial issue. Needless to say, the campus already recognizes a wide variety of similar groups on other issues.

Enter, to my relief, a logical legal voice to discuss these issues:

David Rocah, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said it the university has the legal right to deny recognition to Voice for Life but would be “profoundly wrong” to do so.

“Even though private colleges and universities are not subject to the First Amendment, they hold themselves out as institutionally committed to the same principle of free speech and free inquiry and respect,” he said. “The student government’s actions in denying reorganization to this club because they don’t like their form of political protest is offensive, misguided and wrong, and completely antithetical to being an institution that values a diversity of opinions and viewpoints.”

Hopkins spokesman Dennis O’Shea said the student government should be “afforded the opportunity to review the earlier decision under its own policies and in light of the university’s commitment to broad debate and freedom of expression.”

Notice that, as a liberal private school, Johns Hopkins has every right to practice viewpoint discrimination. What this story does not address, however, is whether conservative students at this prestigious school are warned in advance that their rights would be — legally — limited. Was truth-in-advertising practiced here? That quote from the JHU spokesperson is not very enlightening.

So the story gets a difficult point about 75 percent right, which is a high score — unfortunately — on this type of culture wars story.

Meanwhile, I should mention that many readers will be outraged when they hit one other section of this story, a passage in which this pro-life group is compared with (wait for it):

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Playing the same-sex marriage card

Over the weekend, the better half stirred up quite a hornet’s nest for a post noting that some in the media aren’t the slightest bit interested in covering the same-sex marriage debate with any degree of impartiality or nuance. The verdict she reached is damning, and that conclusion can be reached simply by accurately quoting journalists about why they don’t bother quoting gay marriage opponents.

In any event, this lack of nuance and unwillingness to dig a little deeper tends to make a hash out of even the most basic reportage on the issue. And so we have this report from the Baltimore Sun, “‘Superman’ author’s gay rights opposition prompts local boycott.” The gist of the story is that DC Comics recently hired Orson Scott Card to write a new Superman series. Card also happens to be a practicing Mormon and a board member at the National Organization for Marriage. One comic book store in Baltimore, citing Card’s opposition to gay marriage, won’t sell the series. Here’s how the Sun introduces Card and characterizes his views:

Card, who is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, has campaigned vigorously against gay marriage. Opinion pieces the author has written have linked same-sex marriage to the end of civilization.

“[M]arriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy,” he wrote in 2008 in the Mormon Times.

More than 14,000 people have signed an online petition asking the company to drop Card.

“We need to let DC Comics know they can’t support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens,” wrote the petition’s creator, All Out, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. “By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts, you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate.”

The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide. In November, Maryland, Maine and Washington voters approved referendums legalizing same-sex marriages, making a total of nine states and the District of Columbia that allow them.

First, saying Card is “well-known” is a bit of an understatement. He’s a legend in the world of science fiction. When NPR polled 60,000 people on what their 100 favorite science fiction novels were, Ender’s Game came in third behind Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Published in 1985, Ender’s Game is about a future where, facing the annihilation of humanity, child soldiers are conscripted to fight a war against insectoid aliens.The book largely revolves around the moral implications of that terrifying scenario, and aside from being deeply resonant with a popular audience, Card’s mediation on what happens to your essential humanity when you are forced to kill for survival landed it on the reading list that the commandant recommends for the entire Marine Corps. Now Card can be excitable — he once wrote he would work to “destroy” any government that redefined marriage. But on balance, he’s hardly a fringe character, nor are his views outside the mainstream.

I understand that it’s in the interest of gay marriage advocates to make anyone who vocally opposes their agenda subject to a blizzard of negative press, but the Sun‘s report is premised on pretty thin gruel. The justification is that one local comic book store saying they won’t carry the Card-authored Superman series, and an internet petition with 14,000 signatures. There’s also the obviously loaded language — “The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide.” (Hmm. I was unaware that Card was opposed to ‘equality.’) And in a spectacular bit of editorial judgment, the article is also paired on line with a TMZ-esque video report about a comic book store owner in Dallas who is uncritically quoted as saying Card is a “bigot,” fond of “hate speech,” and “venomously anti-gay.”

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