When the politics editor of *The Christian Post* refused to let the website become a court evangelical mouthpiece he had no choice but to resign

In December 29, 2019 Napp Nazworth, the politics editor of The Christian Post, resigned after The Post denounced Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Now Napp Nazworth is telling his story in a long form piece at Arc Digital.

Nazworth shows how court evangelicals tried to use The Christian Post as a propaganda tool for Donald Trump. But it also reveals how these evangelical leaders crave public attention, promote themselves through public relations firms, and seek political power.

Here are some highlights:

On court evangelical Richard Land, the Executive Editor of The Christian Post:

Executive Editor Richard Land led the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission when CP first hired him, then later became president of Southern Evangelical Seminary. He was often relied upon for his theological insights and his deep knowledge of Washington politics and the SBC.

It was wise of CP to bring Grano and Land on board. All the upper management were young, in their 20s and 30s, which meant they needed people with experience they could turn to for advice.

Land is nothing like Trump on issues of race and immigration. He was one of the primary figures leading the SBC to grapple with its racist past. The ERLC also joined the pro-immigration Evangelical Immigration Table under his leadership.

Land is also nothing like his public image. He has a great sense of humor. Since his public interviews discuss serious topics, those who don’t know him don’t get to see this other side. If the multiverse is real, there’s another Richard Land somewhere doing stand-up right now. Sharp-witted, his humor often worked on many levels. One of my favorites was when he joked that Matt Drudge, founder of The Drudge Report, is what he would be like if he had never become a Christian.

On court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress is a celebrity hound. It wasn’t uncommon for Jeffress to personally email me or our reporters to show us one of his many TV interviews in the hopes we would report on it. We often obliged. Land liked to tell a joke he heard in Southern Baptist circles that the most dangerous place in Texas to stand is between Jeffress and a television camera.

There is also a really interesting section on how court evangelicals Johnnie Moore and Paula White tried to manipulate The Christian Post to publish a White puff piece in the hopes that Donald Trump would read it.

And this:

While most of my time at CP I could write on the topics I wanted, I recall two separate occasions when I was told I couldn’t criticize prominent evangelical leaders Franklin Graham and Eric Metaxas. This made sense from a business perspective. Graham and Metaxas each have a huge and influential media presence and their audiences closely overlap with CP’s audience. All they would need to do is tell their followers to not read CP and CP would take a big financial hit. This is why it was easy at CP to be sharply critical of liberal leaders — their audiences didn’t overlap with ours, but criticizing prominent conservatives was problematic.

And more on Johnnie Moore, the self-proclaimed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer”:

In 2017, Johnnie Moore was being mentioned as a candidate for the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. He asked CP for help in advertising his credentials for the position, while also claiming he didn’t want the position. It was an odd email. If he didn’t want the position, why should we publish articles promoting him for the position? We published two articles after Johnnie Moore’s request, “Meet the 3 Leading Candidates for Trump Religious Freedom Post,” and an op-ed by Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and also a CP advisor, titled, “President Trump Should Appoint Johnnie Moore to Top Religious Freedom Post.” Trump selected Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback for the position.

We heard from Johnnie Moore often by email and occasionally on an editors’ chat. While he was supposed to provide advice to CP, when Johnnie Moore spoke, we couldn’t tell if he was really thinking about the best interests of CP or the interests his clients and Trump. This problem was understood and discussed by both editors and reporters. We appreciated that he was well connected and sometimes helped us get interviews with his clients. But sometimes he would ignore our emails and requests for weeks, then suddenly we would hear from him again when we published a story he didn’t like. Those stories were about his clients or Trump. He wanted to help us, but only to the extent we could help his clients. When it came to Trump, he expected us to behave like state media. Kwon became increasingly frustrated with this side of Johnnie Moore.

In one editor chat, we asked Johnnie Moore for help in getting interviews with Trump administration officials. He remarked that our previous “Donald Trump is a Scam” editorial was a stumbling block. Was he fishing for a quid-pro-quo? Positive coverage in exchange for an interview? I’m still not sure. After that call, I asked Grano if Johnnie Moore was speaking for the administration or himself. Grano answered that he wasn’t sure.

CP editors all understood then that our relationship with Johnnie Moore had to be kept at arm’s length. He was on Team Trump, and would always want us to spin the news in his team’s favor.

Read the entire piece here.

Religion journalist Ruth Graham joins *The New York Times*

Rith Graham

Ruth Graham

Big news on the religion journalism front. Here is the announcement:

 

Given National’s mission to understand the country in all its complexity, our coverage of religion in America could not be more important. That is why we are thrilled to announce that Ruth Graham is joining us as a national correspondent covering religion, faith and values.

Since 2018, Ruth has been a staff writer at Slate, where she has written with enormous grace and wit about the intersection of religion, politics and culture. Ruth’s work is compulsively readable and caught our eye for its sheer range in tone, subject matter and form.

She has written with sensitivity about what it’s like to be Black at Liberty University. She can bring a light touch, introducing readers to the jetsetting, Jesus-quoting Christian influencers of Instagram. She can break news, like when she traveled to rural Kansas last year to conduct the first interview with former cardinal Theodore McCarrick after he was publicly accused of sexual abuse. (If you need a brief escape from your pandemic quarters, you should stop what you’re doing and read her take on which fantasy celebrity house is best for a quarantine.)

On top of all that, she also reported and hosted the four-part narrative podcast “Standoff,” a re-examination of the 1992 federal siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho.

Born and raised in Wheaton, outside Chicago, Ruth has a B.A. in political science from Wheaton College. Her career in journalism started at The New York Sun, where she eventually became features editor. Her religion reporting as a freelance journalist appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Politico magazine, Al Jazeera America and many others. She has been a contributing writer to The Boston Globe’s Ideas section and to TheAtlantic.com.

Ruth lives with her family in a small town in New Hampshire, and plans on moving next year to Dallas for The Times, which will put her in an ideal spot to explore religion in America.

The combination of Ruth and Elizabeth Dias will create a powerhouse team for making sure The  Times covers religion and morality with depth and sophistication. We can’t wait for Ruth to start next month.

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming her.

Congratulations Ruth Graham!

Big News on the Religion Journalism Front

In case you haven’t heard:

BOSTON (April 24, 2019) – The Conversation US, Religion News Service (RNS), The
Religion News Foundation (RNF) and The Associated Press (AP) are creating a global religion journalism initiative to grow and strengthen religion, ethics and spirituality news reporting in the United States and around the world, funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. It is one of the largest investments in religion journalism in decades.

The funds will allow the establishment of a joint global religion news desk aimed at providing balanced, nuanced coverage of major world religions, with an emphasis on explaining religious practices and principles behind current events and cultural movements. Each organization retains editorial control of its respective content, which will be labeled and distributed by AP.

“Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, The Conversation can now expand the coverage we give to ethics and religion, which is one of our eight areas of editorial focus,” said Bruce Wilson, chief innovation and development officer of The Conversation. “Through this collaboration with the AP, RNF and RNS, The Conversation can bring our fresh insights to an even wider range of audiences across the country and globally.”

The Conversation US, an independent, nonprofit publisher of explanatory journalism and analysis sourced from academic experts, will work with scholars to provide readable content about religion, spirituality and ethics for the general public. The Conversation’s content is shared for free through a Creative Commons license – and through AP – with a wide and diverse network of hundreds of republishers in the U.S. and beyond.

Staffed by journalists from AP and RNS, a subsidiary of RNF, and editors from The Conversation, the global religion news desk will produce multiformat religion journalism intended to improve general understanding and analyze the significance of developments in the world of faith.

As part of the initiative, AP will add eight religion journalists; RNS will add three religion journalists; and The Conversation will add two editors to cover religion, ethics and spirituality. Additional business staff will also be hired across the organizations.

“The Global Religion Journalism Initiative grant fundamentally transforms religion journalism in the U.S. and globally,” said Thomas Gallagher, president and CEO of the Religion News Foundation and CEO and publisher of RNS. “It is deeply affirming and humbling to be entrusted with this important grant, especially at a time when competent, reliable, professional religion journalism is needed now more than ever.”

“This collaboration significantly expands AP’s capacity to explore issues of faith, ethics, and spirituality as a social and cultural force,” said AP Vice President and Managing Editor Brian Carovillano. “We are delighted to be working with these organizations to produce meaningful religion journalism that will help inform audiences across the globe.”

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s support for efforts that strengthen the public understanding of religion. Grants have helped fund other media projects, including RNF’s support for RNS and documentaries about religious leaders and traditions.

“This collaborative initiative among RNF, The Associated Press and The Conversation is  groundbreaking and demonstrates significant promise to strengthen both the volume and quality of religion news reporting,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are excited that the initiative will help to ensure that fair and accurate news coverage about religion will reach broad audiences and increase understanding about the role of religious faith in shaping national and international events.”

Alan Jacobs: “Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move”

Pence

Baylor University scholar Alan Jacobs reflects on Mike Pence and the journalists who cover him:

VP Mike Pence says, “Criticism of Christian education in America must stop.” No it musn’t. Nobody and nothing is above criticism. Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move. It would simply be a good thing if the critics made some effort to understand what they’re criticizing, though of course that’s not going to happen. I can’t imagine a cohort less likely to inform itself about conservative Christianity than the cohort of American journalists.

My caveat: There is a growing number of excellent journalists covering the religion beat who do try to understand conservative Christianity.

David Brody: Trump’s Court Journalist

Brody FileSome of you are familiar with David Brody, the Chief Political Analyst at CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News and the author of The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography.  He often claims to be a legitimate journalist and chronicler of American politics, but in reality he is a pro-Trump advocate.  Here are a few of his recent tweets:

Today Brody has a piece at USA Today titled “Supreme Court and Andrew Brunson return show God sent Trump for ‘such a time as this.'”

The title itself implies that Brody seems to have a hotline to God.  He knows that Donald Trump is part of God’s will to make America great again and restore America to its Judeo-Christian roots.  This kind of certainty about God’s will in the world has long been a hallmark of American fundamentalism.

Brody then expounds on the Old Testament book of Esther.  He writes:

Esther is considered a hero in the Jewish history books.  Evangelicals see Donald Trump in a similar way: an unlikely hero, put in a place of influence, “for such a time as this.”  No, not turn back the clock on civil rights.  Today’s authentic, Bible-believing evangelicals have no tolerance for racism of any kind.  Rather, they see God’s hand at play to usher in a new era in support of traditional Judeo-Christian principles.

Two quick responses to this paragraph:

  • This is classic Brody.  He writes about “evangelicals” in the third person as if he is only reporting on what they believe.  Yet he continues to tweet as a politico and pro-Trumper.
  • Like Brody, I don’t know many evangelicals who would say they want to “turn back the clock on civil rights” (but I know they are out there).  But I know a lot of evangelicals who will not condemn Trump’s racist comments or the way those comments fire-up the white nationalists in his base.  Let’s remember that Robert Jeffress (who Brody quotes glowingly in his USA Today article) said Trump “did just fine” in his comments in the wake of the race riots in Charlottesville.  I also know a lot of evangelicals who have no problem chanting a phrase like “Make America Great Again” or wearing a MAGA hat.  As I have said multiple times at this blog,  in Believe Me, and on the Believe Me book tour, America has never been “great” for everyone–the poor, people of color, women, etc….

Brody concludes:

Romans 13:1 declares, “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Evangelicals believe this promise, and that’s why they are supremely confident that Donald Trump and his Supreme Court have been heaven-sent.

I did not hear Brody or other conservative evangelicals making this argument during the Clinton or Obama presidencies.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify separating children from their parents at the border.

Read Brody’s entire piece here.

What is Happening at Religion News Service?

RNSI have done a lot of writing for Religion News Service over the years.  I hope to continue writing for the site.  I am also a big fan of their reporting.  When the names Yonat Shimron, Adelle Banks, Emily McFarland Miller, or Kimberly Winston come across my feeds, I take notice.

But it appears that the syndicated news service has been facing some difficult challenges of late.  It’s a complicated story and Julia Duin’s piece at Get Religion unpacks it well.  I was most interested in the part of the story dealing Richard Mouw, the evangelical theologian and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary.  Here is a taste:

Last summer, Mouw was growing increasingly disenchanted with President Trump and wondered how he should confront his fellow evangelicals about the unqualified support many were still offering the chief executive. The most obvious editorial vehicle he could use was “Civil Evangelicalism,” Mouw’s regular column for RNS. But how to do so?

Mouw remembered a time back in 1980 when the senior Falwell had echoed the words of Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith, who said that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” Falwell later said he agreed with Smith (Read this Washington Post story for details of who said exactly what) but seemed to modify his tune after a trip to New York, where he met with Jewish leaders.

However, it’s important to note that Mouw’s column said the following, concerning Falwell’s actions (without mentioning Smith):

… Then there was the time when [Falwell] said in a speech that God does not hear the prayers of Jews. This comment provoked an outcry from Jewish leaders. Your father’s immediate response was to call the folks who had criticized him and ask for a meeting. He flew to New York and spent several hours in discussion with these religious leaders. A rabbi friend who was present told me that your father was sincerely humble in his apologies. And when the meeting was over, your dad issued a statement asking Jews for forgiveness for what he had said.

Recalling this incident nearly 40 years later, Mouw, decided to post an open letter to Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the most visible evangelical supporters of the president.

“I said, ‘Look, isn’t it time to admit you were wrong about Trump?’ ” Mouw told me Wednesday. “I said, ‘Look, your dad was willing to admit he made a mistake.’ ”

RNS posted Mouw’s open letter on Aug. 9. You can read it on the website of The Colorado Springs Gazette, since this opinion piece has been deleted from the RNS home page.

It didn’t take long for Mouw to hear back from the younger Falwell.

“Within a day,” he said, “I get an email from the legal department of Liberty University saying I had defamed the character of Jerry Falwell, Sr.; that he’d never said that and I had to publish a retraction or they’d take legal proceedings against me.

Read the rest here.

 

Writer Ruth Graham on “Being Ruth Graham”

graham-head-2Slate contributor Ruth Graham, who is not directly related to the recently deceased evangelist, says that “Billy Graham has hovered over me my whole life, and not just because I share a name with his wife and daughter.”  Read her recent piece at Slate:

Ruth Graham died in 2007 when I was about to embark on a daylong hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. Browsing a rack of newspapers on a coffee run before heading into the woods, I was jarred to see my own name in the headlines. Feeling uncharacteristically superstitious, I called my dad to let him know where I was going and what time I’d be back.

I felt a similar shiver of affinity on Wednesday morning when I read that Ruth’s husband, the legendary 20th-century evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, had died at age 99. I’m not related to that Graham family, but they have hovered over my whole life in more ways than our not-uncommon last name suggests. I am the granddaughter of a theologically conservative Protestant pastor and a woman named Ruth Graham. My childhood bedroom overlooked the cupola of the Billy Graham Center, a large building that opened the year after I was born. When I was 18, I moved a half-mile across the tracks to that same campus, Wheaton College, Billy and Ruth Graham’s alma mater. And I’ve spent much of my career reporting on evangelical culture, where Graham is revered as a lion of the faith.

She concludes:

When President Obama tweeted his respects on Wednesday, his mentions lit up with rebukes for honoring a “monster” like Graham. Decency, respectability, civility—lately it feels like these qualities are sometimes read as code words for a failure to speak truth to power. Indeed, it’s tempting to daydream about what theologically conservative Christianity might look like in 2018 if Graham had been just slightly more willing to afflict the comfortable. Instead, he was a natural moderate who had the misfortune to die in a moment in which fence-sitting has fallen out of favor. Perhaps that’s for the best, at least for this moment in history. But I believe something will be lost if Graham is remembered warmly only by his fellow theological conservatives. Call it self-interest, but I hope his good name endures. 

Read the entire piece here.

Did the Supreme Court “Strike Down a Major Church-State Barrier” Yesterday?

Trinity LutheranThe title of Atlantic writer Emma Green’s article on the Supreme Court’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer is titled “The Supreme Court Strikes Down a Major Church-State Barrier.”

In case you are new to the case, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri cannot deny funds to a church because it is a religious institution.  Green writes:

Seven justices affirmed the judgment in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, albeit with some disagreement about the reasoning behind it. The major church-state case could potentially expand the legal understanding of the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is also the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that governments must provide money directly to a house of worship, which could have implications for future policy fights—including funding for private, religious charter schools.  

Trinity Lutheran is a big case that hinges on mundane facts. In 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri applied for a state grant to resurface its playground, it was ranked as a strong potential candidate for the program. Ultimately, though, Missouri denied the funding under a state constitutional provision that prohibits public money from going to religious organizations and houses of worship. “There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his decision for the majority. “A church.”

The case focused on whether this decision conflicts with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and specifically whether Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program. On Monday, the court overwhelmingly agreed that the answer was “yes.”

Read Green’s entire piece here.

Over at his blog Snakes and Ladders, Baylor English professor Alan Jacobs takes issue with the title of Green’s piece.

Here is a taste of Jacobs’s post:

Emma Green, the fine reporter who wrote the story (though not the headline), asked me to clarify, so here goes:

  1. That the story lede (the first sentence) is accurate will be seen from what follows.
  2. I called the dek (the description below the headline) “misleading,” but that is generous: it’s simply wrong. And Emma Green — who, again, is a superb reporter and rarely makes errors like this — gets it wrong in her story when she writes the source of the dek: “It is also the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that governments must provide money directly to a house of worship.” No: it is not true government “must” provide money to a house of worship or to any other organization. The ruling, rather, is that if a state or local government says that it will provide money to organizations in return for providing certain services — in this case, the maintaining of a playground available to children throughout the community — then it cannot withhold that money from churches simply because they are churches. (The New York Times get it wrong in its headline too, and in the same way: “States Must Aid Some Church Programs, Justices Rule.”) I understand that you can’t squeeze everything into a headline, but the distinction between “governments must give money to churches” and “governments cannot exclude churches qua churches from projects for civic improvement” is not an especially subtle one.
  3. The idea expressed in the hed that this decision “Strikes Down a Major Church-State Barrier” is simply absurd. What is the “barrier” that existed before this ruling and if now gone? What does this ruling do to establish a state church? After all, the ruling applies equally to churches, mosques, synagogues, and atheist community centers: by what torturing of logic could such a ruling be said to establish a state religion? Just as the Civil Rights Act helped to enfranchise people of color without disenfranchising white people, so this ruling excludes prejudice against churches qua churches (in this one minor matter) without infringing on anyone else’s rights.

Read the entire post here.

Thoughts? Jacobs makes sense to me.

Religion Writer: “Frank Deford was the “best of the best.”

DefordFrank Deford did not write about religion, but his contribution to the field of journalism recently got the attention of Terry Mattingly, one of the country’s premier religion reporters.

Here is a taste of Mattingly’s post at Get Religion: “Frank Deford: A ‘Roaring Lamb’ who was among the best of the best in journalism–period.

No one, during his career, would have dared call Deford a “Christian” journalist, because that label was way to narrow to describe what he did as a journalist.

{Sport executive Bob] Briner told me that Deford would never try to wear his beliefs on his sleeve. They were simply part of what he did. They helped inform the questions that he asked. What happened on a kneeler at church (Deford was a layperson chosen to read scripture from the pulpit at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport, Conn.) was part of his life and went into the mix when he took pen and reporter’s notepad in hand.

In other words, Deford was a reporter who dug into the finest of fine details of what made athletes and public figures tick and, if faith was part of that equation, then Deford gracefully included that in his feature stories. He asked questions. He listened.

Read the entire post here.

That Time I Scooped *The New York Times*…

…and got no credit for it.  (OK–that  sounded pretty whiny, but I think I am going to stick with it).

Yesterday I broke the Donald Trump “conversion” story here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  (Actually, the pastor Michael Anthony broke it and Charisma magazine may have posted the story around the same time that I did).

One of the people who retweeted my post was New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel:

Gabriel took the news to the pages of The New York Times here.  My post is now, with the exception of my commentary, no longer relevant.

Of course there are no footnotes in journalism, but perhaps Gabriel could have thrown a bone (in the forms of a link or reference in the piece) to a small, hard-working blogger! 🙂

Winston: There Was No Golden Age of Religion Reporting

H.L. Mencken

I like Diane Winston‘s historical chops in this piece.  Those who want to return to some kind of golden age in which journalists gave sophisticated treatment to American religion must come to grips with the fact that such a golden era probably never existed.

Winston writes:

Carl M. Cannon bemoans the current state of religion reporting as if there was a time when the press provided smart, in-depth, contextualized coverage of religious leaders, issues, ideas, and communities.

How did I miss that?

That Golden Era wasn’t in the 1980s when reporters treated evangelicals as bumblers and missed the significance of the conservatives’ takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. And it surely wasn’t during the late 1940s and 1950s when, according to Debra Mason, “the abundance of syndicated religion content says more about demand for such content than it does about the quality of religion beat reporting, given its lack of originality and its low level of journalistic skill.”

Maybe reporters did a better job in the 1920s? Well, yes, if you agree with H.L. Menken’s characterization of Dayton, Ohio’s religious populace as “yokels,” “morons,” or “hillbillies.” Or if you’re fine with the anti-Semitic undertones in the coverage of the Leo Frank trial and the anti-Hindu coverage that ran through Western newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.

Read the rest to see how Winston connects this historical overview to the current state of religion journalism and the coverage of the Kermit Gosnell story.