What role does religion play in the 'Tebow time!' madness that haunts NFL life?

What role does religion play in the 'Tebow time!' madness that haunts NFL life?

When it comes to National Football League news, the early summer OTAs -- organized training activities -- are about as insider an event as there is, the kind of coverage that appeals to the most fanatical of fans. Who covers these events? Maybe an ESPN expert or two, a few local sports-beat regulars and freelancers for sports websites.

So if that is the case, why is there a media storm right now at the OTAs for the Philadelphia Eagles? Let's see if you can spot a few clues at the very top of this rather snarky little report in The Washington Post.

Yes, you read that right. The voice of the DC beltway send a reporter to cover this off-season camp in the orbit of a sort-of-nearby franchise. Did NPR staff this? I'll have to check.

PHILADELPHIA -- Here he walked again, the man at the center of so many big ideas and raised-voice debates, crossing a practice field and wearing a red jersey.
“Tebow time!” a Philadelphia Eagles player yelled as a group of roughly 105 reporters mostly stopped whatever they were doing and hurried toward the quarterback wearing No. 11.
Yes, Tim Tebow is an NFL player again, this time for the Philadelphia Eagles, whose unusual offseason has simultaneously provided the former first-round draft pick a second chance and renewed America’s biggest sport’s biggest sideshow.

Now, I would like to raise four crucial questions about this scene, in this latest GetReligion post about the life and times -- college and then pro -- of young master Tebow.

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That story on a Southern Baptist church's sunset? Yes, it's 'really sweet,' but it falls short journalism-wise

That story on a Southern Baptist church's sunset? Yes, it's 'really sweet,' but it falls short journalism-wise

On one level, there's much to like about a recent Washington Post takeout on a white Southern Baptist church that gave way to an Arabic congregation.

To its credit, the 3,000-plus-word piece out of Murfreesboro, Tenn., south of Nashville, is filled with nice color and detail: 

Attendance at the Southern Baptist church on Scenic Drive had dwindled to about 15 most Sundays. The potted plant by the pulpit was from yet another member’s funeral. There was $5,000 in the church bank account and $6,000 in bills when Larry Montgomery, a deacon, reached a conclusion once unthinkable in the heart of the Bible Belt.
“We’re just not going to make it,” he announced to the members of Scenic Drive Baptist, and then he told them he might have found a solution.
There was another congregation, he said, a small one that had been meeting in living rooms and whose pastor carried business cards that quoted from John 4:35: “Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Maybe they wanted to buy the church.
And so phone calls were placed, and a few days later, the prospective buyers held a prayer meeting about what to do.
“Abuna Semawi, nashkurak,” the pastor began in Arabic. “Heavenly Father, we thank you.”

Even Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., tweeted a link to the piece and complimented it:

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Evangelizing Muslims: The Oklahoman barely skims departing pastor's plans

Evangelizing Muslims: The Oklahoman barely skims departing pastor's plans

A pastor announces he's leaving after eight years to become a missionary to Muslims -- a pretty unusual move -- and the local newspaper story leads off with clichés.

"The Rev. Mateen Elass looks back on his extraordinary faith journey with the firm conviction that the Lord has been preparing him his whole life for 'such a time as this'," says the first paragraph in The Oklahoman.  Only in the third and fourth paragraphs does it get to the point:

Elass, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, is leaving the pastorate to devote his time to preaching the Christian Gospel to Muslims. He also wants to help equip the Christian Church to effectively do the same.
Sunday, Elass will preach his final sermon as leader of his church.

His is the only voice in this story of nearly 1,000 words. We're told that many members of the church were surprised to hear he's leaving, while others "weren’t shocked at all." We also read that many Christians say Elass has a "unique perspective about Islam," having come from that world. But none of those people are named or quoted directly.

And some crucial questions go unanswered.

Instead, we get press-release stuff like "Elass said he is motivated and passionate about his new divine assignment." What else would he say? That he's jaded and apathetic? And nearly half the text is taken with Elass' beliefs on the need for Christians to serve, not just consume.

He talks about plans to blog, go on TV and radio, even speak at debates and forums. And he plans to train other Christians to reach Muslims as well. Will he work alone or with an organization? Will he train Americans or Middle Eastern Christians?  How much will it cost per year? How will he raise funds -- crowdsourcing, private appeals, other?

And where will Elass work -- in the U.S. or elsewhere? Granted, Christian missionaries often have to be quiet about where they work, given the hostility of many Muslims toward evangelization. But even mentioning the continent or region -- Africa, the Middle East, North America, etc. -- would give us readers something.

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Offering sociological journalism about the mosques of New York City

Offering sociological journalism about the mosques of New York City

ake your pick. Tony Carnes is either a sociological journalist or a journalistic sociologist.

Either way, since 2010 he’s led a team that walks the 6,375 miles of New York City streets, block by block, for interviews, documentation, and analysis of local religious activity -- with remarkable findings. Any newswriter interested in religion or immigration in America’s largest city can acquire ample material from the online magazine Carnes edits, “A Journey through NYC Religions.”

A transplanted Texan turned patriotic New Yorker, Carnes -- full disclosure: a personal friend -- has the requisite doctorate. and academic publishing of a former college teacher and chair of a Columbia University methodology seminar. But he’s also been an active journalist, including years as a senior writer for Christianity Today. His non-profit research organization, founded in 1989, has done field work in mainland China, the dying Soviet Union and rising Russian Federation, and the United States. A college convert to evangelical Christianity, Carnes attends Manhattan’s noted Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

A series of Journey articles launched May 18 is taking a fresh ground-level look at Islam. After the 9/11 attacks, the media widely reported that New York City had 100-plus mosques (“masjids”). But an early “Journey” report  located 175.

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How quickly will journalists grant O'Malley that 'Pope Francis Democrat' label?

How quickly will journalists grant O'Malley that 'Pope Francis Democrat' label?

If Martin O'Malley hired an army of public-relations pros he could not have produced a better White House campaign slogan than the one offered by Religion News service the other day in an online headline about the former Maryland governor. This short news-you-can-use feature was part of its ongoing series offering background on the religious views of various candidates. It proclaimed:

5 faith facts about Martin O’Malley: ‘A Pope Francis Democrat’

Some folks in pews on the cultural and doctrinal right may want to contrast the tone of that with this selection from another RNS digital newsletter:

Southern Baptist bruiser:
5 faith facts about Sen. Lindsey Graham: religious right spear carrier

The RNS mini-feature -- as is the norm with this handy series -- did contain some direct links to information about O'Malley, while editorially stressing that he is, well, read this:

He’s a pray-every-morning, church-every-Sunday (St. Francis of Assisi in Baltimore) believer who sent all four of his kids to Catholic schools. Democratic Party activist and author Jonathan Miller called him, “the rare progressive to frame his strongly felt policy positions in the language of faith.

And toward the end there is this:

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Prodigal son Josh Hamilton's return to the Texas Rangers: What role is faith playing?

Prodigal son Josh Hamilton's return to the Texas Rangers: What role is faith playing?

As I mentioned in my first GetReligion post five-plus years ago — and a few zillion times since then — I am a big Texas Rangers fan.

Last week, my three children and I drove down to Globe Life Park in Arlington and enjoyed Josh Hamilton's first two games back with the Rangers:

By Sunday — when Hamilton hit a walk-off double against the Boston Red Sox to cap a spectacular first weekend back in Texas — we were back home in Oklahoma.

Why do I bring up the Rangers and Hamilton here at GetReligion? 

Because where Hamilton is concerned, faith is a huge angle. Way back in 2008, Evan Grant, who covers the Rangers for The Dallas Morning News, wrote:

SMITHFIELD, N.C. - Faith. It comes up often in the story of 26-year-old Joshua Holt Hamilton. It's virtually impossible to tell his story without mentioning his Christian faith. He'd prefer you not even try.

Faith, he regularly testifies, has put him back in baseball after four years of addiction problems so ugly you can't blame his family for not wanting to relive them. Because of faith they do - to churches, youth groups and halfway houses.

If Hamilton could shake his habit - it included downing a bottle of Crown Royal almost daily and cocaine and crack cravings so strong he burned through a $3.96 million signing bonus - and finally get to the big leagues last season, there had to be a reason.

But in the wake of recent drama involving Hamilton — his drug relapse over the winter, his impending divorce from his wife, his trade from the Los Angeles Angels back to Texas — I haven't seen anyone ask the slugger about God. (I did see a gold cross hanging from his neck after his jersey was ripped off in the celebration after Sunday's win.)

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Crux profiles martyrs who don't fit the typical categories

Crux profiles martyrs who don't fit the typical categories

Many times this blog has mourned the lack of decent coverage on the persecution religious minorities, which should be the No. 1 religion story in the world every year. The numbers of people dying for their faith -- or for stands mandated by their faith (and there is a difference) -- is at ever increasing levels according to the latest Pew research.

Which is why it was nice to see Crux’s package this past Sunday on Christianity’s new martyrs in Colombia. Assembled by veteran reporter John L. Allen (who was down that way for beatification ceremonies in El Salvador for Archbishop Oscar Romero), it concentrated on a part of the world that has gotten less attention than, say, the Middle East in terms of human suffering. Allen, of course, is the author of the book "The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution."

Allen begins with:

BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- Anti-Christian persecution is unquestionably a premier human rights challenge in the early 21st century. It’s happening not just in the Middle East but around the world, including nations where Christians are a strong majority.
Compassionate concern over that stark reality should not short-circuit legitimate debate over the positions some Christians take on social and political issues. And there is no suggestion here that Christians have a monopoly on pain, because plenty of other groups are suffering, too.
Yet the numbers nevertheless are eye-popping. Estimates vary, but even the low-end guess for the number of Christians killed each year for motives related to the faith works out to one every day.
Given the scale of this global horror, it’s sometimes easy to forget that behind the statistics are flesh-and-blood people whose experience is no less intensely personal for being part of a broader pattern.
Two encounters in Colombia last week — where a civil war has dragged on for a half-century and left 220,000 people dead, including scores of new Christian martyrs — drive that point home.

Allen said the carnage is so bad in Colombia, it's become a "factory" for martyrs.

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#DUH -- Key to Boy Scouts story is located in pews, pulpits and debates on doctrine

#DUH -- Key to Boy Scouts story is located in pews, pulpits and debates on doctrine

When I was growing up in Port Arthur, Texas -- certainly one of the most racially divided cities in America -- one of the primary forces for change was the Boy Scouts of America. My father was the pastor of an inner-city Southern Baptist congregation and working with children in the neighborhoods around our church was one of his priorities.

As you can imagine, some of the people in church pews in the late 1960s didn't share his perspectives on that issue. My father did what he could.

Thus, there was a simple reality: Look at a church's Boy Scouts troop and it told you quite a bit about the leadership of that church, as opposed to the policies of the Boy Scouts.

That's why I was interested, to say the least, in the following passage in the recent Washington Post story about the remarks by Boy Scouts of America President Robert M. Gates in which he urged the organization to reconsider its ban on openly gay Scout leaders.

... Steeped in tradition as they were, the Boy Scouts often struggled to handle change. Though the Girl Scouts formally banned segregation of its troops the 1950s -- prompting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to call the group “a force for desegregation” -- the last Boy Scout troop wasn’t integrated until 1974, according to NPR. ...

And unlike the Boy Scouts of America, from the beginning the Girl Scouts declared themselves to be “non-sectarian in practice as well as theory.” In 1993, when a prospective member protested the phrase “serve God” in the Girl Scout Promise, the organization ruled that members could substitute whatever phrase fit their beliefs. The Girl Scouts have never had a policy on homosexual members and have admitted transgender members since 2011.

The Boy Scouts, on the other hand, have long been inextricably tied to tradition and religion. The Scout’s oath pledges boys to “do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” A 2011 study of messaging in the Girl Scout and Boy Scout handbooks found that the Boy Scouts handbook relied on “organizational scripts” rather than autonomy and critical thinking, promoting “an assertive heteronormative masculinity.” Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of all troops are chartered to faith-based organizations, most of them Christian.

It doesn't take a doctorate in gender studies to find good and evil in that paragraph.

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More strange word games: Mormon leader dies, and Reuters fixates on same-sex marriage

More strange word games: Mormon leader dies, and Reuters fixates on same-sex marriage

L. Tom Perry died on Saturday. He opposed gay marriage.

And oh, yeah, he was a very important Mormon leader, as in for many decades.

OK, maybe that's a touch too harsh. But dang, look at the Reuters headline on Saturday: "Mormon leader L. Tom Perry dies at 92, opposed same-sex marriage."

What about Perry's rank as one of the top 15 leaders in a church of 15 million members? Or his leadership style, or his service as a U.S. Marine? All that seems less important to the astonishingly brief, seven-paragraph obit.

The overloaded lede throws in a lot of stuff, wire style: "Mormon leader L. Tom Perry, the oldest member of the faith's highest governing body and who spoke against same-sex marriage, died from cancer on Saturday at age 92, the church said." Reuters adds other li'l details: that Perry served a top Mormon spot for four decades, met President Obama in April, and was widowed and married again.

But then the story narrows to this:

Perry was present when Utah lawmakers and Mormon leaders introduced a landmark bill in March barring discrimination against gays and transgender people while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.
But he drew criticism from gay rights advocates in April when he told a church gathering in Salt Lake City that he opposed "counterfeit and alternative lifestyles."

Eh? "Counterfeit and alternative lifestyles"?

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