- Holiday musings from Brazil: Is it time for missionaries to leave indigenous tribes alone?
It’s that time of year again.We’re talking about The Holidays, the season when Thanksgiving and Christmas bookend America’s annual celebration of its history of Christian influences, even if today’s mass-media crush obscures that. It’s a season of family gatherings, annual notes to far-flung friends and acquaintances, garish holiday-themed sweaters designed to provoke smiles, and, for some, even a few religious services.It’s a big deal journalistically, too, of course. Editors/producers and reporters/content providers seek out warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good features meant to remind media consumers of the genuine goodness individual humans are capable of showing others, including strangers.We call it the holiday spirit and, except for the rampant consumerism, I appreciate the seasonal goodwill. And why not? Upbeat news is a welcome change from the disconcerting stories we’re usually fed. It’s good for the soul, and I need not subscribe to the traditional beliefs for it to warm my heart.It’s also a time when journalists seek to probe the theological aspects of our holiday narratives, often to the distaste of those news consumers who prefer the comforting familiarity of traditional tellings or even the more sobering messages of traditional Christian faith in Advent and Christmas.Such stories — here’s one example from a few years back that ran in the Guardian — are tricky, requiring solid sourcing and clear, even-handed and respectful explanations.Another category of holiday stories addresses the consequences of past Christian actions that a reporter can link to the season, even if the link is indirect at best. Take this recent Washington Post story — “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later” — on how the indigenous tribe, the Wampanoag, that first encountered the Pilgrims in what is now Massachusetts were decimated by the encounter. Here’s a large bite of it: Just as Native American activists have demanded the removal of Christopher Columbus statues and pushed to transform the Columbus holiday into an acknowledgment of his brutality toward indigenous people, they have long objected to the popular portrayal of Thanksgiving. For the Wampanoags and many other American Indians, the fourth Thursday in November is considered a day of mourning, not a day of celebration.
- 8 days ago 24 Nov 21, 4:59pm -
- Coverage of the Arlene's Flowers story may be over, but many more cases are on the way
Last week, a famous set of court cases: Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and Ingersoll and Freed v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., was settled, allowing both sides to retreat with some feeling of vindication.The case concerned Barronelle Stutzman, owner of a flower shop in eastern Washington state who was friends with a local gay male couple — but who refused to provide flowers for their same-sex wedding because of her traditional Christian beliefs about marriage.The gay couple sued her and then the state attorney general, Bob Ferguson, also sued her, saying she couldn’t discriminate on basis of religion. It wasn’t about discrimination, she said. After all, she’d served gay customers before and had employed gay florists in her shop. But her religious beliefs gave her no choice but to refuse to create floral arrangements for the wedding rite.The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court, which had just ruled on a similar Colorado case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, remanded it back to Washington state for further consideration in light of their favorable decision on behalf of the owner of the cake shop. But, true to form for those of us living in this ultra-blue state, the Washington Supreme Court ruled again against Stutzman.The case returned to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas agreed to take the case. However, that was one justice short of what was needed. (An essay at First Things asked questions about why certain other conservative justices bailed on taking this case).Now 77 and more than ready to retire, Stutzman settled this month, paying Robert Ingersoll, one of the two men, $5,000 and freeing herself of additional legal costs. You may remember that she raised some $174,000 through GoFundMe before the managers of the website rejected her beliefs and shut her down.Here's how the Tri City Herald, the local paper, covered the Stutzman’s finale:
- 9 days ago 23 Nov 21, 4:59pm -
- Complex doctrinal story or mere politics? Hmmm ... What shaped news about U.S. bishops?
Let’s face it. This Baltimore meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was a classic example of what kind of stories drive front-page news in the mainstream press.For starters, you had a complicated story about a doctrinal, moral and institutional crisis in Roman Catholicism today — the collapse of Catholic beliefs and practice related to sin, confession, forgiveness and Holy Communion.Then you had a political story that, for journalists, pitted the satanic hordes of conservative bishops linked, somehow, to Donald Trump against the wise, progressive, nuanced shepherds who sympathize with ordinary Catholics like President Joe Biden.Guess which story framed most of the coverage? Consider this headline from the journalistic college of cardinals at The New York Times: “Catholic Bishops Avoid Confrontation With Biden Over Communion.” And here’s the overture: BALTIMORE — The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States backed away from a direct conflict with President Biden …, approving a new document on the sacrament of the eucharist that does not mention the president or any politicians by name. At issue was the question of which Catholics, under which circumstances, are properly able to receive communion, one of the most sacred rites within Christianity. For some conservative Catholics, the real question was more pointed: Should Catholic politicians who publicly support and advance abortion rights be denied the sacrament? For some of the most outspoken critics of Mr. Biden and other liberal Catholic leaders, the document represented a strategic retreat.OK, here is a blunt question about that last statement: Is there any evidence that ANY DRAFT of this document — "The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church" (.pdf here) — included a single reference to Biden, the White House or the presidency? If conservatives drove the process that led to this document, as assumed in the news coverage, isn’t it logical that references of this kind would have made it into digital ink at some point?
- 10 days ago 22 Nov 21, 4:59pm -
- Plug-In: Minichurches and burned-out pastors -- four crucial COVID-19 trends to follow
COVID-19 rages on.So does the pandemic’s big impact on American religion.From in-person attendance declining to pastors burning out, here are four related trends to watch:(1) Churches changed during the pandemic and many aren’t going back (by Janet Adamy, Wall Street Journal)“The number of churchgoers has steadily dropped in the U.S. over the past few decades,” Adamy reports. “But Covid-19 and its lockdown restrictions accelerated that fall. In-person church attendance is roughly 30% to 50% lower than it was before the pandemic, estimates Barna Group, a research firm that studies faith in the U.S.”(2) Why the minichurch is the latest trend in American religion (by Bob Smietana, Religion News Service)Smietana profiles a small church in Wisconsin, noting, “Cornerstone is part of the fastest-growing group of congregations in America: the minichurch. According to the recently released Faith Communities Today study, half of the congregations in the United States have 65 people or fewer, while two-thirds of congregations have fewer than 100.”(3) The pastors aren’t all right: 38% consider leaving ministry (by Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today)“Pastoral burnout has worsened during the pandemic,” Shellnutt explains. “A Barna Group survey released (this week) found that 38 percent of pastors are seriously considering leaving full-time ministry, up from 29 percent in January.”See related coverage from the Washington Times, by former GetReligionista Mark A. Kellner.(4) Most churches find financial stability in 2021 (by Aaron Earls, Lifeway Research)“Emerging from the pandemic, most churches don’t seem to be underwater financially, but many are treading water,” Earls reports.
- 11 days ago 22 Nov 21, 2:00pm -
- From Off Broadway to movie screens: The complicated conversion story of C.S. Lewis
While historians argue about what C.S. Lewis did or didn't say, it can be stated with absolute certainty that the Oxford don never patted down his rumbled, professorial tweed jacket before exclaiming, "Where's my phone?"That line occurs at the start of "The Most Reluctant Convert," as actor Max McLean enters a movie set preparing for the first scene. Seconds later, the camera follows him into the real Oxford, England, where Lewis was a scholar and tutor at Magdalen College.At first, the famous Christian writer explains how he became an atheist. When he walks into the real White Horse pub, he orders two pints of beer, with one for the viewer. Soon, scenes from his memories spring to life, with Lewis striding through them as a narrator."Lewis is in his imagination. He's personified in his thoughts. … I do think that the structure emerged out of the fact that Lewis had a lot to say," said McLean, laughing.Thus, director Norman Stone -- a BAFTA winner for BBC's "Shadowlands" -- let the "voice of Lewis articulate his struggle, his passion. He is one of those rare individuals where one's intellect, one's emotions and one's spirituality are completely intertwined," said McLean.All of this is second nature to McLean since the film covers much of the same territory as his own "C.S Lewis Onstage." This was a one-man show at the Fellowship for Performing Arts in New York City, an off-Broadway company McLean founded and guides as artistic director. It has staged other Lewis works, such as "The Screwtape Letters" and "The Great Divorce," drawing warm reviews from The New York Times and other major publications.The first-person narration, explained McLean, was primarily drawn from Lewis' autobiography, "Surprised by Joy," and the many volumes of his personal letters.The jump from stage to screen, of course, allowed the film's creators to seek permission to film in some of the most important sites linked to Lewis' life.
- 11 days ago 21 Nov 21, 7:22pm -