Persecution in India: It matters only if it’s about Muslims

Nice to know the New York Times cares so much about religious freedom in India — at least for Muslims.

“For Nation’s Persecuted Muslim Minority, Caution Follows Hindu Party’s Victory,” warns a headline in an 1,100-plus-word story on that nation’s elections Friday. And the newspaper wastes no time in sympathizing, with these as the third and fourth paragraphs:

Discrimination against Muslims in India is so rampant that many barely muster outrage when telling of the withdrawn apartment offers, rejected job applications and turned-down loans that are part of living in the country for them. As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment and economic status, with persistent discrimination a key reason. Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities and less likely to qualify for bank loans.

Now, after a landslide electoral triumph Friday by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Hindu nationalists, some Muslims here said they were worried that their place in India could become even more tenuous.

The article then quotes an amazing nine sources: journalists, small businessmen, even a professor in London. They remind us of modern India’s violent birth in 1947, when most Muslims were split off into Pakistan. They tell about housing discrimination, with some Hindus even complaining that Muslim neighbors would lower property values.

The sources tell about 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, who died in riots in 2002 in Gujarat, Modi’s home state in India. (However, Modi was personally cleared of any participation.) And a member of the “liberal intelligentsia,” as the Times calls him, fears that Modi is a “threat to India’s secularism.”

All that is certainly newsworthy stuff when 15 percent of all Indians belong to the world’s second-largest religion. Helping nearly 190 million people feel safer is a good idea. But what about the safety of Indian Christians and other religious minorities?

Sure, they may amount to less than 28 million Indians, but they’re members of the world’s largest religion — which, of course, is the majority of the Times’ American readers. Yet a search of recent Times stories, especially connected with the election, shows no such concern for them.

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World Vision’s gay firestorm and A.D. 2064

PAUL ASKS:

(Regarding the World Vision relief agency deciding U.S. employees can live in same-sex marriages): What does the Religion Guy think?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This question was prompted by that dramatic policy change by a prominent Christian organization, but a mere two days later World Vision restored its limit of employees’ relationships to male-female marriage. A news reporter’s job isn’t to tell agencies what to do but to analyze what’s going on, and The Guy thinks these neck-snapping events say much about U.S. Protestantism during, oh, the next 50 years.

Why only Protestants? There’s little chance this sexual teaching will be open to reconsideration among the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, independent churches in the developing world, Mormonism, Orthodox Judaism or Islam. With the World Vision furor the irresistible force of cultural evolution met the immoveable object of Bible traditionalism. “Parachurch” agencies like World Vision with backing from all sorts of churches are especially vulnerable. This U.S. Protestant culture war is perhaps as divisive and intense as any since slavery, fortunately minus bullets this time.

No matter what secular laws say, it’s now obvious that there’s no middle ground on whether Christianity should approve same-sex unions and marriages. Mennonite seminarian Benjamin Corey sees “the death of Evangelical Christianity in America as it once was,” namely a big-tent amalgam of moderates and conservatives. The dispute harms everybody. Those who in conscience uphold church tradition are portrayed as hard-hearted bigots who blindly refuse to accept changing reality. Churches that advocate change on grounds of compassion and justice can appear confused if not unprincipled by shedding a belief they so long preached (and they’ve lost members).

Consider the verbal arrows shot through cyberspace, including patheos.com. Episcopal priest David Henson denounced “the vile theology spewed” by evangelicals, said to “have a hate problem.” Author Rachel Held Evans declared, “I have never in my life been more angry at the Church or more embarrassed to be a Christian.” Feminist Libby Anne said conservatives appear “akin to racists.” And youth ministry guru Jonathan McKee said “Christians come out looking like idiots.”

Meanwhile, Oklahoma state legislator Rebecca Hamilton said World Vision flirted with “public apostasy” so she now wonders “can we trust them?” Radio host Michael Brown denounced “a betrayal of the Lord.” The social-issues spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention (with 45,000 local congregations) said “the gospel of Jesus Christ” is at stake and called the change “devilish.” Before the reversal, the Assemblies of God (12,500 local congregations) asked its flock to gradually shift charity donations elsewhere.

It’s crucial to understand that since 1950, World Vision, a massive international service provider, has become a pride of the evangelical movement, yet also with large non-evangelical support.

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Mysterious role of religion in Newsweek resurrection?

It’s hard to miss the religious zinger in this passage from a New York Times article about the return of Newsweek to ink-and-paper reality after its quiet existence in cyberspace ever since that famous final cover.

This isn’t very subtle.

Etienne Uzac, 30, and Johnathan Davis, 31, founders of IBT Media, believed they could recreate Newsweek as a vibrant and profitable web-only magazine. But now, having tripled Newsweek’s online traffic, they plan to punctuate the magazine’s comeback by turning on the printing presses again. Hard copies are expected to hit newsstands on Friday.

Break out the banner headline: Newsweek Is Back From the Dead!

Now is that just an over-the-top metaphor or are the editorial troops at the great Gray Lady trying to tell us something?

A former GetReligionista send the URL in the end of the article highlighted. More on that in a minute.

It seems to me, after reading that passage, that there are several GetReligion-related questions implied.

* What kind of religion coverage can readers expect to see in the resurrected newsweekly, both online and in print?

* Will the magazine staff include a trained, talented Godbeat specialist? Lord knows there are plenty of talented folks — young and old — available at the moment.

* Might the religious content of the renewed publication be influenced by the professional and personal backgrounds of the new owners?

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Got news? A Baptist emerges as acting president of Ukraine

The news rolls on in Ukraine, with leaders of the opposition attempting to get some work done after the chaos. As you would expect, the tensions remain highest in the Eastern half of the nation, where cultural and, yes, religious ties to Russia are strongest.

However, one of the first things that caught my attention in the following Los Angeles Times piece was a simple question of Associated Press style. Can you catch the problem at the top of the report? Let’s just say that it’s linked to a key element of the headline: “Ukraine’s acting leader still seeking consensus on interim government.”

KIEV, Ukraine – Hoping to reach a consensus that would heal some of Ukraine’s wounds, the country’s acting president on Tuesday delayed the seating of an interim government for at least two days, even as opposition colleagues appealed to the Hague criminal tribunal to try fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovich on charges of crimes against humanity.

Reports of mounting discord among ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and gunshot wounds suffered by a top aide to Yanukovich further heightened a sense that Ukraine’s stability is threatened as politicians jockey for position before the May 25 presidential election.

A multiparty transitional leadership had been expected to be announced Tuesday. But acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told lawmakers that it would take until at least Thursday to get consensus on a Cabinet that would have the trust of the entire nation.

Well, I guess there is the fascinating question (for obsessive former copy editors like me) of when the “opposition” ceases to be called the “opposition” and becomes the people in power.

But, no, that isn’t what caught my eye (which may or may not be winking).

Let’s put it this way. What is the key difference that you spot in this lede from the online news team at Christianity Today?

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Is new Calvinism new news for the New York Times?

Mark Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar …

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Act 3, Scene 2.

Should we bury the New York Times today, or praise it for reporting on the resurgence of Calvinism?

Mind you, the Times does not have the story wrong, but it’s timing is bit off. This story has been making the rounds of the religious and secular press for close to a decade, while claims of a Calvinist revival have appeared every few generations in America.

Has the New York Times made the same error as the Washington Post, which last month reported as new news the interest in liturgy by non-liturgical Christians? Or, has the Times gathered the disparate elements of this story and repackaged it for a secular, theologically illiterate audience?

In the circles in which I travel, this story was greeted with ridicule. The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s  Barton Gingerich (with pith and vim) encapsulated the views of  the critics.

Johnny-Come-freaking-Lately. The Restless and Reformed Movement has been running at full steam for at least half a decade now. Remember when religion reporters for newspapers had to, you know, keep on the cutting edge of things?

Ridicule or praise? Perhaps snark? Which shall it be?

The article entitled “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival” published in the January 4, 2014 edition reports:

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.

The article defines its terms stating:

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

Also, it briefly mentions the battle over Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention, noting that “in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism.”

Support for the Times‘ thesis comes through an interview with Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a “man in the street”, Collin Hansen, the author of “Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists” and academics who in turn condemn the phenomena and opine that it might catch on even in liberal denominations. (Oh, and as an aside, why has the Times dropped the use of the honorific “the Rev.”? It does not appear in this story but several ordained ministers are quoted or cited. Get an Associated Press Stylebook, people.)

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Wait, not all home-schooling is stupid and harmful!?

What she said.

Last summer, I did a GetReligion post titled “WPost: Virginia law highlights stupidity of home-schooling.” In that post, I characterized as “lousy journalism” the Post’s 2,500-word report on a Virginia religious exemption that allows families to opt entirely out of public education:

The Post takes the absolute worst-case scenario — a family that goes the home-schooling route and apparently flubs it — and uses it as the overarching lens through which to view the issue. That’s unfortunate. And biased. And bad journalism.

Hmmmm, do you think I was too subtle?

I had no problem at all with the newspaper reporting on the negative side of home-schooling. That’s journalism. The issue was that the Post neglected entirely to tell the other side of the story, such as home-schoolers who make perfect scores on their college entrance exams.

Fast-forward to this week when I came across a Christianity Today blog post with this intriguing headline:

The Normal, Drama-Free, Totally-Healthy Christian Homeschool Movement

In that post, CT’s Ruth Moon suggests that in a culture that loves shock value, typical evangelicalism rarely makes news. CT is, of course, a leading magazine for evangelicals. She notes that she grew up in the conservative homeschool culture and adds:

When American Prospect published Kathryn Joyce’s recent article on the “apostates” among us, I took note. In fact, I couldn’t stop reading. It was a little like watching a train wreck with family members on board.

Joyce’s piece profiles several homeschooling horror stories—narratives of children raised by hypersensitive, overbearing parents, parents who used mental and physical punishment. The article ties those stories to the history and culture of the broader homeschooling movement, which became popular in the 1980s and spread in the last few decades to more than 2 million practitioners.

While I know the kinds of heartbroken children of homeschooling Joyce profiles, I also know the other side. For every mistreated homeschooled kid who’s grown up to be an outspoken rebel against the culture — and I know a few — I know a half-dozen young adults who grew up to go to college, get a real job, and find a healthy place in society without too much drama.

Stressing that she means not to discount the negative experiences of some, Moon acknowledges that the American Prospect piece and a recent Daily Beast article on home-schooling “do their part to shine light on the dark places of the homeschooling world.” But she adds:

These articles also remind me of the danger of letting news define our view of the world. It’s no secret that news highlights the odd, often at the expense of the normal. As Catholic novelist and journalist G.K. Chesterton noted in 1909, journalism’s biggest flaw is that it is a “picture made up entirely of exceptions.”

And later:

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Not 5Q+1: Thoughts from Michael Luo on faith and ink

A long, long time ago, during the gentle, mild reign of GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey, we used to have “5Q+1″ features in which we asked journalists — including many not on the religion beat — a set of questions about their views on religion and the news.

Maybe we will bring that back sooner or later. That think ye?

As time went by, Sarah broadened the feature to include a wider variety of questions. In one such interview, she e-chatted with Michael Luo of The New York Times about a variety of subjects, including that whole “Linsanity” explosion in Madison Square Garden and the NBA in general. Click here for a refresher on that. One of the key exchanges went like this:

I grappled a good bit with what exactly I could say in my essay that was new and potentially instructive about Jeremy Lin. I thought about just explaining my emotional connection as an Asian American, which is arguably applicable to a broader swathe of people. But I realized writing about him as an Asian American Christian, specifically, could be illuminating, because it is a sub-category on the religious continuum that is not widely known. It is also a huge part of Lin’s identity. Understanding that he is an Asian American Christian, specifically, is important to understanding him, I felt. Of course, that is not what the entire piece was about. I was trying to explain this welter of emotions inside of me that he evokes and this multi-layered sense of connection.

Certainly, there is a danger in lumping all theologically conservative Christians, or “evangelicals,” together, because there are distinct differences in the histories, cultural milieus and general orientations of white, black, Asian and Latino evangelicals. Has the media papered over these distinctions? Sure. Part of it is our under-coverage of religion in general. The other part of it is just getting out there and covering these communities in thoughtful, in-depth ways.

When you tweeted that it was a vulnerable column, did you feel like you were risking something by writing about yourself? How do you think reporters who are open about their faith are perceived internally at their media outlets or externally as a reporter?

As a journalist, my instinct, in general, is to shy away from making myself the story in any way. The risk in identifying myself, as I did in the article, as one of these “every-Sunday-worshiping, try-to-read-the Bible-and-pray” types is on two levels. There’s the personal risk in terms of what others might think of me, whether they will instinctively try to put me in a certain box, or ascribe certain stereotypes onto me, which no one likes. There’s also the journalistic risk, in terms of whether it might affect my ability to do my job and be credible as an objective journalist. …

Now, journalist Paul Glader of The King’s College faculty (best known for his Wall Street Journal reporting) has explored some of the same material with Luo in an interview featured in the current issue of Christianity Today.

There is material in this piece that I know will interest regular GetReligion readers, since it relates directly to interactions between religion and journalism and religion in major newsrooms, such as The Times. The key is that Luo sees the connections between religion and real life, including his own work covering criminal justice.

For starters, there is this:

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Did mainline churches lead or follow the culture?

I love it when a good religion story gets people chatting. The New York Times has accomplished this with the publication of “A Religious Legacy, With Its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered.” It’s a news story in the Books section of the paper and begins:

For decades the dominant story of postwar American religious history has been the triumph of evangelical Christians. Beginning in the 1940s, the story goes, a rising tide of evangelicals began asserting their power and identity, ultimately routing their more liberal mainline Protestant counterparts in the pews, on the offering plate and at the ballot box.

But now a growing cadre of historians of religion are reconsidering the legacy of those faded establishment Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, tracing their enduring influence on the movements for human rights and racial justice, the growing “spiritual but not religious” demographic and even the shaded moral realism of Barack Obama — a liberal Protestant par excellence, some of these academics say.

Remember, of course, that when the New York Times talks about human rights they are not including the youngest humans, a group that they and mainline Protestants tend to either ignore or dehumanize. But parsed through the newspeak code, you get the point. How could one say, when looking at the culture around us, that mainline Protestants have been anything other than wildly successful? If you look in their pews, it may look dire — but looking at the general academic, media, arts, and political culture, mainline liberal churches seem to have prevailed.

And isn’t this a great idea for a story? I love it. It’s based on the fact that a rash of books have come out with this “new look” on religious history. The story notes the dominant newspapers –  “The Christian Century, the de facto house magazine of mainline Protestantism” and “Christianity Today, the magazine founded in 1956 by the Rev. Billy Graham.”

We get a bit of the debate in question:

But other scholars take a markedly different view. In “After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History,” published in April by Princeton University Press, Mr. Hollinger argues that the mainline won a broader cultural victory that historians have underestimated. Liberals, he maintains, may have lost Protestantism, but they won the country, establishing ecumenicalism, cosmopolitanism and tolerance as the dominant American creed.

We hear that Hollinger’s argument got people talking. But I’d like to know why.

Sadly, it’s not included in the story. Here’s why I think it should have been: Few people would argue that the doctrines that mainline Protestants espouse have cultural dominance. In fact, those critics of mainline denominations might be hollering that the loudest. The typical critique is that as mainline Protestants have chased the culture, they’ve lost both traditional Christian teachings and souls in the pews. That the culture shares their values is not as newsbreaking as it seems in this story. It’s kind of the point of much criticism leveled against mainliners.

Still, I greatly enjoyed the story. It gave a nice little look at one corner of academia. It quotes Leigh E. Schmidt, one of my favorite religion historians. It does get a bit clunky at the end of the piece, but in a way that makes me wish editors would have permitted more space for a fuller discussion.

For instance:

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