‘Sin’ gets scare quote treatment in Portland, Ore.

Be very, very afraid, Portland!

The Christians are invading Oregon — and they want to tell your children about Jesus.

That’s scary stuff, I know.

But somehow I missed — until now — the newspaper story earlier this month about some residents’ concerns about an after-school Bible study club. I promise this headline is from The Oregonian, not The Onion:

Evangelical Christian clubs coming to Portland-area public schools — opposition says curriculum is ‘hardcore fundamentalist indoctrination’

If you need me, I’ll be hiding under my desk.

Then again, it’s probably best not to delay this dramatic news:

Hundreds of Portland-area residents are organizing to stop a network of Christian clubs from proselytizing to children on public school campuses.

The Good News Club has been controversial around the country, but Portland may be the first city to organize on such a large scale against the group.

“We think if people have enough information, they’ll choose not to do it,” said Robert Aughenbaugh, a co-founder of Protect Portland Children. His said the group purchased a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Willamette Week.

The Good News Club’s curriculum includes teaching children that every person is a sinner. In the eyes of many Christians, “sin” is any failure to meet God’s standards. The Bible states, for example, that “all have sinned.”

“We believe that these doctrines are harmful to 5-year-old children,” Aughenbaugh said. “They teach fear. They teach shame.”

Did you catch the scare quotes around “sin?”

Here at GetReligion, we’ve become accustomed to seeing scare quotes (which according to Merriam-Webster, express “skepticism or derision concerning the enclosed word or phrase”) around terms such as “religious liberty” or “religious freedom.”

But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen scare quotes around “sin.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a newspaper feel the need to define that term. Then again, I’m a Bible-believing Christian who lives in the heart of the Bible Belt.

Actually, however, the story isn’t terrible. (I wish I could say the same about The Associated Press’ extremely lame rewrite.)

Keep reading, and the newspaper provides crucial context on the program’s constitutionality and gives a voice to all sides, including the Christians. In fact, the report gets down to some important (albeit humorous, if you know anything about evangelical Christianity) nitty-gritty:

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Jews and Jesus: A ‘Spiritual Incursion’ in St. Louis

The breaking news — only 2,000 years old — that Christians and Jews have vastly different views of Jesus made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the weekend (and was picked up nationally by Religion News Service this week).

To be more specific, the Post-Dispatch featured a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation that seeks to convert Jews.

The newspaper’s main headline immediately cast the effort in a negative light:

SPIRITUAL INCURSION

Now, according to my online dictionary, incursion implies “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory.” Perhaps the headline is a major reason that the story upset so many folks in the LCMS. That, and the fact that the piece used phrases such as “targeted for conversion” to describe evangelism efforts by the Lutheran congregation.

The subhead was equally tilted:

Lutheran outreach draws criticism from Jewish groups

Contrast that with RNS’ much more down-the-middle headline, which perhaps sets a different tone:

Lutheran ministry seeks to convert Jews 

Now, at major newspapers such as the Post-Dispatch, copy editors — not the person with the byline on the story — typically write the headline. I thought the story itself, written by a Godbeat pro, was actually pretty good. Of course, given my role as a media critic, I do have a few quibbles with the piece. Call it an occupational hazard.

Let’s start at the top:

In a small storefront in Dogtown, a St. Louis neighborhood known for its celebration of the Christian missionary St. Patrick, sits a congregation dedicated to converting Jews.

Congregation Chai v’ Shalom is tiny by most standards, with weekly attendance averaging somewhere between 30 and 40 members. But it has the backing of the 2-million member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

And its mission fits squarely into the Synod’s controversial effort to preach the message that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews, in hope that they will become Christian and gain salvation.

On a recent Sunday morning, a couple dozen gathered at Congregation Chai v’ Shalom, a makeshift space where stars of David, one with a cross placed in the middle, hang prominently on the walls, alongside what looks like a random collection of paintings.

The vast majority of those who attend Chai v’ Shalom are not Jewish, but they are interested in reaching out to Jews. The service itself even caters to Jews, where the Shema, a central Jewish prayer, is recited and much of the lively singing is in Hebrew.

That’s a nice lede, filled with important detail and colorful description.

My quibble is a single word that has become cliche: “controversial.” Would the lede be any less effective without that adjective? Would the writing be any more precise? To me, inserting that term there adds an unnecessary level of editorializing — even without the headline and subhead.

Instead, why not present the facts and let the readers decide if this approach is, in fact, controversial? 

Let’s read some more:

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Pod people: Proselytization, blasphemy and Gosnell

On this week’s Crossroads podcast with host Todd Wilken, we talked media coverage of the Pentagon and proselytization, religious freedom and the Benghazi whistleblowers and the trial of Kermit Gosnell. So yeah, we packed a lot in there.

Partly we discussed the Pentagon because of recent GetReligion posts such as “I share, you evangelize, they proselytize” and “Media treatment of Mikey Weinstein under scrutiny.” I also wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s Houses of Worship column on the matter, which you can read here. For this piece, I had a fairly nuanced point. While many of the claims that generated alarm were exaggerated, taken out of context or wrong, that doesn’t mean that things are totally calm on the religious liberty front. While I think that partisans on either side of the issue may take issue with my middle-of-the-road approach, I received excellent feedback both from folks in the military and traditional religious liberty advocates. So that’s always nice. Also, Joe Carter should like it since not only did he complain about the lack of media coverage given Southern Baptists who expressed concern about the Pentagon’s approach but also because I quoted him in the piece. And, again, major props to The Tennessean for covering this story thoroughly and with exactly the kind of balance that is ideal. One thing I loved about that paper’s approach was that it quoted people without buying into their arguments — on either side. Whereas some conservative outlets just ran with the more alarmist claims, some mainstream outlets responded by just uncritically accepting the view of the military. If this week has taught us anything, perhaps it’s that skepticism of the official line is in good order.

Speaking of, we also talked a little bit about the religion angle to the Benghazi situation. Or angles, I should say. Obviously the religious motivations of the attackers should receive coverage. Some papers have handled that brilliantly in recent months, it’s worth saying. Another religion angle I was thinking of was how the initial false reports that placed blame on a YouTube video may have contributed to a perception that Muslims are irrational and easily led. But an angle I really wish we’d see more coverage of is how the false reports about the YouTube video led some prominent politicians and media types to call for limits on religious expression. It even led to statements from high U.S. officials that we’d get the YouTube video and punish him. Which we did (ostensibly not for the Benghazi killings but you’d be forgiven for thinking so).

Finally, we discussed a bit more about the continued downplaying of the Gosnell trial. If you were a reader of some papers or a watcher of some newscasts, you could very easily know nothing about this trial. I’m not surprised but, as a fan of the mainstream media model, I’m disappointed.

I share, you evangelize, they proselytize


Many moons ago, before I came to write for GetReligion, I was a devoted GetReligion reader. And I remember reader Will Linden used to comment something along the lines of:

I share, you evangelize, they proselytize.

Such wisdom in that line. I thought of this when I saw the tweet above.

Let’s look at the definitions of both terms.

pros·e·lyt·ize
1. Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.
2. Advocate or promote (a belief or course of action): “Davis wanted to proselytize his ideas”.

Synonyms
proselyte – convert

e·van·ge·lize
1. to preach the gospel to.
2. to convert to Christianity.
Synonyms
homilize, preachify, proclaim, proselytize, sermonize

So you can do one and not the other. You can convert but you can’t convert? Sounds confusing. Precisely what do the regulations say?

The Religion News Service piece mentioned above attempts to tamp down some Christian concern that erupted this week. And tamping down is good, in one sense, since there was bad information out there that suggested a policy change by the military. (If you want to get up to speed, you can do no better than this piece from The Tennessean, which lays out the current environment very well.)

Back to the RNS piece. Basically the military already has a regulation against proselytism but some anti-religion activists who are used as consultants by the military have been pushing the military to change how they enforce those regulations against people who “share” their religion.

So while the headlines of “sharing Jesus will totally get you court-martialed” were inaccurate, I’m not entirely sure that headlines definitively stating you won’t get court-martialed for sharing Jesus are on much stronger ground. At least from what I’m reading in the news stories.

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