Man arrested for three church fires


CNN posted an article Thursday evening entitled, “Suspect in Louisiana black church fires is the son of sheriff’s deputy, officials say.”

The article summarizes the story of Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old that recently just burned down three historically black churches in Louisiana including St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, which burned on March 26. This was followed by Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and, two days later, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the same town.

The article notes that Matthews may have been influenced by black metal music and its associated history with church burnings, mentions the state fire marshal this past Thursday.

Matthews is currently being charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building. Each charge carries a penalty for over 15 years. The most ironic part of this devastating matter is that Matthews has no previous history of violence or prior arrests, officials noted. 

Matthew’s investigation is still ongoing and federal officials are looking to see whether or not the fires were meant to represent a hate crime. 

To add more irony, Matthews is the son of a local sheriff’s deputy. St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz who is reportedly very good friends with Matthew’s father broke the harsh news to him. Guidroz  mentions how the father was shocked and hurt as any father would be.

This breaking news is a reflection of the racist behaviors that continue to happen around the world. It is a sad reality but it needs to be dealt with as it is completely unfair to the African Americans who consider their church to be a safe place.  

Church changes rules for baptisms


CNN recently issued a report about the Mormon Church opening up baptism to children of same-sex couples. This marks a change from the church’s previously anti-gay policy regarding baptism from 2015. The article, written by Daniel Burke, is an excellent example of how to report on hot button topics.

First of all, the report involves a religious organization, namely the Mormon Church. Religion is a very controversial topic for many in the United States and it can be difficult to write about it without imposing personal beliefs. This article does a great job of writing about the issue without making a position statement. For example, it writes about the church’s policies and how others felt about it without the author making his own opinion about the matter known to the readers.

Secondly, it is a well-written article from a journalistic perspective. The author names his sources for his information and features quotes from various individuals. In addition, the author also includes several points to help readers who are otherwise uninformed to have a clearer idea what is happening and why.

For example, he clarifies the official name of the church, as well as establishing the background information regarding the change in policy. Specifically, he details the church’s previous 2015 policy and why the church decided to change its mind.

Overall, CNN has earned its reputation and one of the most reputable news sources in terms of the quality of its reporting. Anyone who is studying journalism should take time to read and study their article, and this report is a good example of why.

Ice cream name offends religious groups


Canadian ice cream chain “Sweet Jesus” is being boycotted by Christians as it tries to expand across the United States. Some Christians claim the chain is blasphemous, uses the Lord’s name in vain and mocks the Christian faith.

A petition has been made on to urge the Toronto-based company’s founder Andrew Richmond to change the name of the ice cream chain.  It has more than 7,600 signatures.

“We, as Christians, are deeply offended by the name of a new ice cream chain of stores calling themselves ‘Sweet Jesus.’  This is a mockery of taking the Lord’s name in vain and also highly offensive to Christians,” reads the petition.

The ice cream chain uses upside down crosses on the labels of the ice cream cups and various ads for the company use well-known Christian symbols and language.

“One ad on the company’s website shows a Nativity scene, but instead of Baby Jesus, there’s an ice cream cone,” reads the online petition.  “Many of their ads are replete with cherished Christian and Catholic symbols that are used to mock faith, including a rosary, a crucifix with a corpus, and angels.”

One ad for the ice cream company reads: “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain, but God [expletive] that’s delicious.”

Two Sweet Jesus advertisements (Photo courtesy of

The ice cream company has 19 locations in Canada.  The company has a store at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and is planning to open in other U.S. locations, such as the Mall of America in Minnesota, according to LifeSiteNews.

In covering the controversy, the Christian Post wrote an article condemning the ice cream chain and advocating for the cause of the petitioners. Their article included multiple quotes from various petitions calling for a name change.

“If anything could qualify as ‘hate speech,’ this is it! . . . Even if this were some innocent faux-pas, it would still be unacceptable!  However, this is anything but a mere mistake.  Both in their promotional materials and menu selection, it is plain to see that [owners] Richmond and Todai have every intention of mocking Christ and Christianity,” reads another petition on the Canadian site CitizenGo.

The Christian Post does not give equal coverage to both sides of the story. LifeSiteNews, another Christian news outlet, even launched its own petition condemning the company and demanding a name change. The end of the article includes contact information for the Sweet Jesus company founders.

“Faithful Christians follow the Second Commandment about not taking the name of God in vain. This means that God’s name should be used respectfully, as in prayer or in blessing. Anything else is misusing his name. Christians believe that Jesus is God and his name is holy.  St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians put it this way: ‘At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,’” wrote Dorothy Cummings McLean and Pete Baklinski for LifeSiteNews.

“I wonder what might have happened had the company been named ‘Sweet Muhammad’ and employed the same kind of plays on Islamic religious symbols as it does on Christian ones.  Mohammed Mud Pie anyone?  It would never have been tolerated.”

Secular news outlets have given much more equal coverage of the story.  The Toronto Star provided mainly facts in their article about who was opposing the ice cream chain and why.

“There are few things that feel more care-free than enjoying an ice cream cone, and Toronto-based chain Sweet Jesus servers up gigantic, Instagram-worthy soft serve cones – or blasphemy, depending on who you ask,” wrote Jenna Moon for the Toronto Star.

Along with several fiery quotes from petitioners against the company, the Toronto Star article also included the disclaimer issued on the Sweet Jesus’ company website.

“Our name was created from the popular phrase that people use as an expression of enjoyment, surprise or disbelief.  Our aim is not to offer commentary on anyone’s religion or belief systems, our own organization is made up of amazing people that represent a wide range of cultural and religious beliefs.”

CBC News, another Canadian news organization, wrote a short Web article that included many of the main quotes from the online petitions that the other stories have used.

Like the Toronto Star, CBC gave a very factual and much more equal account of the controversy surrounding the company name and advertisements.  CBC reached out to Richmond for a statement.

“We are conscious of the fact that, to some, our name can be off-putting,” Richmond told CBC.  “That fact is something we struggle with, because we sincerely do not wish to give offense or show disrespect in any way toward anyone’s personal beliefs.”

“After a lot of thought, we have decided that we will not make a change. Sweet Jesus is an honest reflection of our experiences and that of our customers and how they react when they try our product. In our experience, the majority of people understand that we’re not trying to make a statement about religion.”

The Huffington Post article about the petitions against Sweet Jesus focused on the variety of reasons the company was facing backlash.  They included quotations from many online petitioners, religious groups and YouTubers that spoke out against the company.

Sweet Jesus ad poster (Photo courtesy of LifeSiteNews).

“The first S in the word Jesus is a lightning strike, reminiscent of the Nazi style used by the SS, and the T in ‘SWEET’ is often shown as an inverted Cross on the company’s various products . . . We cannot remain silent while Our Lord is blasphemed,” wrote the Christian site Return To Order.

The Huffington Post also mentioned some non-religious reasons the company is facing condemnation and controversy.

“Others took issue with one of Sweet Jesus’ advertisements, because the child posing with ice cream running down her face looks similar to Jonbenét Ramsey, a child beauty pageant contestant who was murdered at age 6,” wrote Emma Paling for the Huffington Post.

Catholics to discuss Church, Francis


On April 7, a Catholic group, the “Friends of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra,” will be holding a conference in Rome in order to address the concerns they have about the direction the Catholic Church is heading under Pope Francis.

The group is named after recently deceased Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who opposed the new ideas expressed by the Catholic Church and the way it was being led under Pope Francis.  The conference in April is called “The Catholic Church: Where Are You Heading?”

The focus of the conference is to address the confusion in the Catholic Church.  “Its subtitle, ‘Only a blind man can deny that there is great confusion in the Church,’ is taken from comments Cardinal Caffarra made in an interview with the Italian newspaper II Foglio in January 2017,” wrote the National Catholic Register.

A main issue that the organizers of the conference are hoping to find clarity around is interpretation of Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or “Joy of love.”  The Pope broke down barriers and relaxed many of the previous principles for divorced and remarried couples within the Catholic Church in the exhortation.

“It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church,” wrote Pope Francis in the exhortation. “The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage; rather, such care is a particular expression of its charity.”

The story has been covered among an array of Christian publications, some specifically Catholic and other’s nondenominational.  The overall tone and language of the coverage of the upcoming conference varies greatly depending on if the news outlet is Catholic or nondenominational.

The Christian Post gave a very factual account of the conference and the issues it is aiming to address without inserting any opinion or biased language.

The first line of the article on the Christian Post reads, “A group of Catholics are planning to hold a conference in Rome next month in response to concerns they have about the direction of the Church under Pope Francis.”

The article on the Christian Post then follows with a series of quotes from Pope Francis’ exhortation and Cardinal Caffarra’s letter to Francis in response to the exhortation.  Their article concludes, with results from a research study interviewing members of the Catholic Church.

“The Roman conference is coming not long after Pew Research Center released a poll finding that, five years since Francis became pope, a growing number of American Catholics have concluded that he is, among other things, ‘too liberal’ and ‘naïve,’” wrote Michael Gryboski for the Christian Post.

The National Catholic Register’s coverage of the story seemed biased against Pope Francis and focused mainly on why Catholics are disillusioned by the current pope.

The first line of the article on the National Catholic Register reads, “Lay faithful as well as members of the hierarchy, clergy and religious are being invited to participate in a Rome conference aimed at helping the Church find its way after the uncertainties of the past five years of Pope Francis’ pontificate.”

“The conference was one of Cardinal Caffarra’s last wishes after he had become deeply disillusioned by the crisis of confusion, most notably regarding the issue of giving the Eucharist to Catholics engaging in sexual relations outside marriage, such as remarried Catholic divorcees and cohabitating couples,” wrote Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Registrar.

LifeSiteNews is a Christian news outlet that offers a “Standard Edition” and a “Catholic Edition.” The story of the conference was covered in the Catholic Edition and contains much biased language against Pope Francis.

The first line of the article on LifeSiteNews reads, “It’s confirmed.  On April 7, 2018 – the Saturday after Easter – a very special conference will be held in Rome whose aim is to indicate the path forward for the Catholic Church after the uncertain journey of the first five years of Pope Francis’ pontificate.”

Unlike all nondenominational coverage of the story, the LifeSiteNews article covers and explains ways in which some Catholics are seeking to reduce and limit papal authority after the exhortations of Pope Francis.

“In a Church seemingly in disarray, the key issue the conference will seek to address is the redefinition of leadership roles for the ‘people of God,’ the character and limits of papal authority, and forms of consulting the faithful on matters of doctrine,” according to LifeSiteNews.

Disney’s ‘Wrinkle in Time’ omits Christ


Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” film is facing backlash and controversy for the blatant omission of the Christian ideals and various Biblical passages that are prevalent throughout Madeleine L’Engle’s original novel.

L’Engle passed away in 2007.  The writer was a devout Christian who used her book, A Wrinkle in Time, to express her thoughts about God.

“If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, that is it,”  L’Engle wrote in her journal about the book.  “This is my psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death.”

After the release of the film adaption of the story, many noted the omission of the Christian themes of the book.  The screenwriter for the film, Jennifer Lee, gave an interview with Uproxx in which she explained why she decided to remove the Biblical references and Christian values.

“What I looked at, one of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle’s . . . had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it and she wanted to stay true to her faith,” said Lee.

Lee noted that there are Christian themes central to the book, A Wrinkle in Time, but she opted to omit or alter these for the move in order to portray a more inclusive and secular message.

“That’s what inclusiveness is to me in this film, is really looking at all of us have a role to play in this no matter where we come from or what we look like,” Lee told Uproxx.

In an article discussing the controversy, CBN emphasized L’Engle’s deep faith and how the author said her book spurred from her personal relationship with God.  CBN, in a covert manner, expressed that Lee’s adaption of the story was an attack on the Christian faith.

“It appears Lee believes espousing such Biblical truths are somewhat irrelevant and outdated in today’s modern world,” wrote CBN.

Movieguide gave a more neutral perspective on the differences between the book and the film.  Their review of the film expressed that although Christianity is omitted from the film, it still does send children a positive message.

“Overall, ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ has a positive moral, redemptive message about a relationship between a father and a daughter being restored, as well as a clear picture of good versus evil.”

Nevertheless, Movieguide did make note that the omission of the Christian themes of the story was a dramatic alteration of the book.

“A Wrinkle In Time is based on the best-selling novel by Madeline L’Engle.  However, many of the faith statements and themes in Madeline’s book aren’t included in the movie.  Instead, the movie adds lots of New Age content, including an emphasis on being one with the universe and the energy people create with positive or negative thoughts.  At one point, one character mentions every ‘spiritual,’ ‘religious,’ and historical icon, but seems to exclude Jesus Christ, as if Christianity was the one thing they didn’t want to include.  In the book, however, Jesus is the iconic figure.”

Vox wrote a lengthy article about the film giving L’Engle’s life story growing up in the Episcopalian Church and facing persecution for her fantasy writing.  In its coverage, Vox chose to discuss the trend in Hollywood of shying away from religious undertones in children’s movies from an analytical perspective on the matter.

“This may be, in part, due to the demands on big-budget fantasy ‘family’ films to easily lend themselves to theme park rides and merchandising sales, something harder to do with films that take a divisive or complicated approach to faith.  ‘Good triumphs over evil’ is a lot more salable and straightforward than ‘the universe exists because God became man,’ even if the paradox of the latter lends Wrinkle its existential weight,” said Vox writer Tara Burton.

The Washington Post covered the response to the new film with a lengthy story on L’Engle and an interview with Sarah Arthur, author of a upcoming biography of L’Engle titled “A Light So Lovely.”

“There are a lot of people who believe the strength that you need to fight the darkness is in you,” Arthur said. “But it’s because they were connected to the source of light who is Jesus.  If it’s unmoored from Madeleine’s Christian faith, it’s missing a big piece of the spiritual thrust of what she was doing,” said Arthur to The Washington Post.

The Washington Post article, similarly to the Vox article, took a more analytical approach to how Christian themes are translated from children’s books to movies and the effect that has on the box office crowds.

“Early reviews of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ are mixed, drawing a 44 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  And a film starring Oprah, who is also controversial among some conservative Christians, might not attract the same kind of crowd that soaked up films such as ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ ‘The Blind Side’ and Disney’s adaptation of Lewis’s ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’” said Washington Post writer Sarah Bailey.

Pastors welcome ‘miracle baby’


On Jan. 23, 2018, Pastor Rich Wilkerson, Jr., of Vous Church in Miami, and his wife, DawnCheré Wilkerson, welcomed their first child, Wyatt Wesley Wilkerson.

“Of course, we’re not getting much sleep, but we’re enjoying every single moment . . . . We laugh about it, and we’re having fun every step of the way.  Our home is just so full of life and we’re loving every second of it,” Wilkerson told the Christian Post.

The Wilkersons call their son Wyatt a “miracle baby” because they struggled with getting pregnant for eight years. The couple credits the Lord for the incredible blessing it was to be able to conceive Wyatt and bring him into the world.

“We waited eight years for him, and today he’s six weeks. God is so faithful and loving and merciful,” said Wilkerson.

The couple has been very open about their struggle with infertility.  Wilkerson frequently references their journey in his sermons and the couple starred in a reality show about their lives and ministry called “Rich in Faith.”

“The cool thing about that show was, my wife and I were so open about our journey, that a lot of people walked through it with us,” Wilkerson told the Christian Post.  “When a miracle did show up, people around the world were able to rejoice with us.”

Wilkerson said that he would never take back those difficult years of struggling with infertility.  “We learned so much about Jesus during that time . . . . We learned that we are complete with or without a child.  I’m just grateful that God decided to grant us this blessing.”

Vous Church is one of the biggest churches in Miami. Thousands of young Florida residents attend the services every Sunday, which have to be held in the auditorium of a middle school in order to seat the mass amounts of people.

Rich Wilkerson shot to fame in 2014 after he officiated the celebrity wedding of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. The Wilkersons together have more than 600,000 followers on social media.

“When you hold your miracle” (Photo via Instagram).

The celebrity value of the Wilkersons led the story of the birth of their son to be picked up across multiple media outlets, both religious and secular, such as People magazine.

The People magazine story does not mention God once.  Instead, the focus is on the struggle with infertility and the strains it took on the couple.

“I was told on my 25th birthday by my doctor that we would have trouble conceiving,” DawnCheré told People.  “I honestly thought the doctor was wrong.  I never dreamed it would take eight years before we heard the words, ‘You’re pregnant.’”

The article in People is considerably shorter than all articles in religious publications.  The interview and coverage of the Wilkersons in People is very generic. The quotes taken from the couple do not mention faith at all.

“I’ve talked to everyone about becoming a dad.  It’s a big step to become parents, and we know that!  Everyone’s got advice,” Wilkerson told People.

Given that the couple are both very prominent Christians, minsters of a megachurch and have dedicated their entire lives to faith, I am highly skeptical that they would not mention God in their interview with People magazine. This strikes me as very unlikely after frequenting Vous Church and reading the Wilkersons’ quotes from other interviews.

Therefore, I am led to believe that People magazine chose to cut out any quotes about God or Christianity in the article covering their interview with the Wilkersons and the birth of their “miracle baby.”

The question arises: Does not mentioning the Lord, leaving out such an important fact about the Wilkersons’ life story and their response to the birth of their son, make the People magazine story more than inauthentic – but inaccurate?  In my personal opinion, the answer is yes.

TV star overcomes insecurity with faith


Joanna Gaines, who stars with her husband, Chip Gaines, on the popular HGTV show “Fixer Upper” recently told Darling magazine that she was bullied as a child in school because she is half Asian.

“If you haven’t heard my story, my mom is full Korean and my dad is caucasian. Kids in kindergarten would make fun of me for being Asian and when you’re that age you don’t know really how to process that; the way you take this is, ‘Who I am isn’t good enough.’”

The “Fixer Upper” is one of HGTV’s highest-rated shows and is entering its final season.  The Gaines are well-liked by the American public.  Yet, Gaines revealed her long struggle with fear and insecurity, particularly during her childhood and early adolescence.

“I don’t think confidence has ever really been one of those things that came naturally for me.  if people thought I was confident, it was really just the way I masked my insecurity, because I didn’t want people to really get to know the real me,” she said.

The reality star grew up in Texas and moved to New York in her last semester of college.  Gaines said that in New York, she battled insecurity and identity issues for six months before she discovered that her purpose was to help others overcome their own insecurities.

“So while I was in New York I really felt like God was telling me that I would be able to help women who weren’t confident, who were looking for guidance or who were lonely.  And so I knew that from that place of pain there was going to be a place to reach others, because I had actually lived in that place; I had felt that pain myself,” Gaines told Darling magazine.

Gaines’s mention of how it was God calling her to help others struggling with lack of confidence and low self-esteem garnered a lot of attention for soft-news reporting on Christian news outlets such as the Christian Post.

The article on the Christian Post about Gaines’s interview is titled, “Joanna Gaines Says She Was Bullied for Being Half Asian, but God Used Her Insecurity to Help Other Women.”

Their article is centered around the star’s faith and how her family has been recognized and praised for their Christian values.

The Christian Post mentioned that notable evangelical leader, Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., commended the couple’s home renovations as examples of how God redeems and restores.

“They will take the couple to the home, and they will have this giant blown up photo of how the home used to look, and then they will pull the panels and reveal the new home – and you can hardly believe it’s the same place . . . God can take that which is outdated and antiquated and make it fresh and new,” said Laurie.

The story of Gaines’s interview was picked up by secular news outlets with the focus being on the star’s experience with bullying and how she overcame it.

AOL wrote a considerably shorter piece than the Christian Post with the headline, “‘Fixer Upper’ star Joanna Gaines says she was bullied as a child.”

AOL did include the quote from Gaines where she mentions God, but that was the only mention of faith in their article.

FOX News covered the story under the headline, “Joanna Gaines reveals struggles with insecurity, being bullied for being Asian in school.”

Similarly to the AOL story, the FOX News article recounted the star’s struggles with being half-Asian and the teasing she received in school because of her nationality.

The Fox News article provided more details on Gaines’s life and personal experiences with fear and insecurity, but did not include her quote about God until the very end of the article.

The varying ways of covering the same interview of Gaines revealing her struggle with bullying and insecurity exemplify how news outlets carefully tailor their words and coverage of events to appeal to a wide audience or a very particular niche.

Did ABC’s ‘The View’ cross a line?


Recently, former White House staffer Omarosa Manigualt, on the reality TV show “Celebrity Big Brother,” commented on Vice President Mike Pence’s faith.

“As bad as you think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence . . . everyone that is wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their life . . . I am Christian, I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things.”

On ABC’s “The View,” Joy Behar and fellow panelists discussed Manigault’s comment.  “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you. That’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct, hearing voices.”

“The View” member, Sunny Hostin, said, “I’m Catholic, I’m a faithful person, but I don’t know that I want my vice president speaking in tongues.”

Behar continued to mock the vice president.  “My question is, can he talk to Mary Magdalene without his wife in the room?”

Joy Behar on ABC’s “The View” (screengrab from YouTube)

In response to the comments on “The View,” Pence said during an interview with Axios journalist Mike Allen, “I actually heard that ABC has a program that compared my Christianity to mental illness.  And I’d like to laugh about it, but I really can’t . . . It’s just wrong.”

Pence told Allen, “And it’s an insult not to me, but to the vast majority of the American people who, like me, cherish their faith.  My Christianity is the most important thing in my life.”

CBN covered the story in favor of Pence and supported the vice president’s stand against the comments made on “The View.”

As a Christian, upon reading the quotes made on national TV mocking the vice president’s Christian faith, I was deeply offended.

Regardless of your politics, to make fun of someone’s religion, especially on national TV, in such an insensitive way is completely inappropriate.

“But I just think it demonstrates just how out of touch some in the mainstream media are with the faith and values of the American people that you could have a major network like ABC permit a forum for invective against religion like that,” said Pence on Axios.  “And I call them out on it. Not because of what was said about me.  But it’s just simply wrong for ABC to have a television program that expresses that kind of religious intolerance.”

FOX News provided more coverage of the conversation that was held on “The View” by explaining that the panelists’ conversation was surrounding the idea of Pence, an evangelical Christian, becoming the new president and what that would entail.

“He’s not very popular at all,” Hostin said.  “I think when you have a Mike Pence who now sort of puts this religious veneer on things and calls people ‘values voters,’ I think we’re in a dangerous situation.”

FOX News, which is typically criticized for conservative biased, did provide more well-rounded coverage of the story than CBN or the Christian Post.  Although CBN, the Christian Post, ABC, and Fox News cater to niche audiences, Fox News presented a broader perspective on the incident.

The FOX article mentioned the political debate unlike CBN, which only mentions the attack on Christian values.

In the FOX News article, journalist Brian Flood wrote, “Behar said hearing voices is a ‘mental illness’ before Sherri Shepard offered a limited defense of Pence.”

“As a Christian, that’s just par for the course,” Shepard said “You talk to Jesus, Jesus talks back.  What concerns me is, how long is the conversation with Jesus?”

Houses of worship gain access to aid


President Trump signed into law that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) now must provide houses of worship with equal access to disaster relief funds.  According to FEMA, the policy is effective for all disasters declared on or after Aug. 23, 2017.

Prior to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, FEMA did not allocate aid relief to houses of worship. However, after Harvey and Irma, three Texas churches and two Florida synagogues filed lawsuits against the government for not providing the same relief funding as secular nonprofit organizations received.

One of these cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.  FEMA was asked to explain why houses of worship were left out of disaster relief and the agency responded with a new policy protecting these places.

“Private nonprofit houses of worship are now eligible for disaster assistance as community centers, without regard to their secular or religious nature,” according to FEMA.

Becket, a nonprofit law firm aimed at protecting religious freedom, represented the three churches and two synagogues.

“Congress has delivered a big victory for houses of worship everywhere …. It was always strange to tell houses of worship that there is no room at the inn, when they are the first to help in time of need,” said Diana Verm, legal counsel at Becket.

Becket emphasized that houses of worship were some of the first groups to reach out to disaster victims following Harvey and Irma and they consistently reach out to those in need.

The announcement of new law is a major win for faith groups.  The news was celebrated across many faith-based organizations and networks such as CBN, the Times of Israel, and the Orthodox Union.

“We thank the Trump administration for righting this longtime wrong and treating disaster-damaged churches, synagogues and other houses of worship fairly — on the same terms as other nonprofits such as museums, community centers and libraries stricken by natural disaster,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union.

ABC News covered the announcement by telling the story of Pastor Charles Stocker, whose Hi-Way Tabernacle Church was almost destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

Stoker’s attorney, Daniel Bloomberg told ABC, Churches are “hubs for the community,” which is still recovering from the hurricane. “Denying help to them, to these churches, denies help to the community.”

“By finally following the Constitution, FEMA is getting rid of second-class status for churches,” Bloomberg stated.  “We will watch carefully to make sure that FEMA’s new policy is implemented.”

The Washington Post gave the story a different angle.  It covered the history of houses of worship fighting to receive disaster relief funds since the early 2000s.

The Washington Post also covered both sides of opinions about the announcement.

This announcement may be a big win for faith groups and religious conservatives, but some secular forces see federal disaster relief being allocated to houses of worship as a threat to separation of church and state.

The Washington Post wrote in their article that Dena Sher, assistant legislative director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said until this week the FEMA guidelines treated religious and nonreligious nonprofits equally, and determined eligibility based on what activities take place.

“Now this gives houses of worship special treatment,” she said.

“It’s troubling. We know communities need support as they rebuild and we can’t ignore fundamental principles of religious freedom. But the constitutional principle at stake says each of us gets to decide how and if to support any religion. That’s the promise the constitution makes and we should hold to it in good times and bad.”

The rising #Churchtoo movement


The #metoo movement has now inspired a new movement that is gaining traction called “#churchtoo.”  The campaign was launched over Twitter by Hannah Paasch and Emily Joy, who are both survivors of sexual assault.

The mission of #churchtoo is to bring to light the rampant sexual abuse occurring in churches and among the Christian community.

Unlike the #metoo campaign, coverage of the #churchtoo movement has been very minor by secular news networks, if it is even covered at all.

However, the Huffington Post ran a lengthy online article written by Paasch.  In her article, Paasch shared Joy’s story, told her own story and described the campaign.

Paasch wrote, “#ChurchToo is a platform not only where survivors can out their abusers — yes, names and all — but also where Christians, ex-evangelicals and agnostics alike can ask one another: How can we do better? What would a theology of consent and autonomy look like? How would we build a world in which that sort of church was not the exception?”

Time magazine was the only other well-known publication to run a story about #churchtoo.  Their article was only a few short sentences and then a series of screenshots from fiery Twitter posts using the hashtag.

Many Christian publications have written about the campaign such at CBN, Relevant Magazine, and the Christian Post.  All show support of the victims and are in favor of the campaign.

How the story of the campaign is told has varied greatly across Christian publications.  I believe this is likely due to Paasch’s blatant criticisms of the Christian church.

Paasch fervently condemns what she calls, “purity culture” preached in churches and the widespread ideology of sexual restraint in the Christian community.

“That theology of abstinence that singles out women and slut shames everyone who engages in any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage.  Purity culture is the religious antecedent to rape culture, as it lays the bulk of the responsibility for maintaining the sexual purity of both genders on women’s attire and behavior,” wrote Paasch in her article for the Huffington Post.

In her Huffington Post bio, she refers to herself as an “ex-Christian blogger.”

In CBN’s coverage of the #churchtoo campaign, Paasch’s name is not mentioned once.  Instead, their coverage focuses on pastors and prominent Christian leaders who are advocating for churches to address the issues of sexual abuse.

CBN interviewed Jimmy Hinton, who is a pastor of Someset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania and consultant for the nonprofit GRACE on sexual abuse issues occurring in churches and faith-based groups.

Hinton reported his father, who had pastored the church for years, to the police.  Hinton’s father confessed to multiple crimes against children and is now in jail, according to CBN News.

“Survivors are ready to fight for what’s right and they’re ready to fight to have their voice,” Hinton told CBN News.

CBN, a more conservative Christian network, did not quote any of the Twitter posts for the campaign or any survivor’s fiery condemnations of the Christian faith.  Nor did CBN mention anything about “purity culture.”

Conversely, the Christian Post and Relevant Magazine, ran stories about the campaign where the majority of the text was direct quotes from survivors’ Twitters.

The Christian Post and Relevant Magazine both mentioned the oppression of women in churches and told the stories of people who have left the church as a result of sexual abuse.

This raises the question, is coverage of the #churchtoo campaign another way of suppressing the voices of victims?

In my opinion, the CBN story did not suppress the voices of survivor’s.  They quoted prominent Christian U.S. gymnast, Rachael Denhollander, who was the first U.S. gymnast to publically accuse USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

“I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may some day experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me, though I extend that to you as well,” Denhollander told Nassar in her impact statement in court.

I personally enjoyed reading CBN’s story about the campaign because it focused on church reform and the big strides being made to put an end to sexual abuse in the church and faith-based organizations.  The CBN article did not dwell on the horrific crimes of the past, but rather spoke of optimism for the future.

Cake decorating case before high court


As legalization of same-sex marriage expands across the country, couples are ready to celebrate after years of waiting. Over the past few years, though, the news media have had no shortage of controversies to cover in the aftermath.

A frequently sparked debate is that between the engaged, gay couple and the Christian specialty baker. In November 2012, a Colorado couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, was refused a wedding cake by Masterpiece Cakeshop. According to Craig, “This happens all the time,” as reported in a January publication of The Guardian.

The couple would go on to take owner Catholic store-owner Jack Phillips to the U.S. Supreme Court in a five-year Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, determining the limits of free speech and what is considered discrimination.

Though lower level court cases ruled in favor of Craig and Mullins, a similar case in California Superior Court under Judge David Lampe ruled today in favor of a baker’s rights to “artistic expression.”

Catholic baker and owner of Tastries Bakery in California Cathy Miller refused to create a wedding cake for couple Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio, though she did refer their order to Gimme Some Sugar, a nearby competitor bakery.

Miller’s lawyer claimed cake decorating is a form of artistic expression. Judge Lampe ruled that, so long as Miller does not deny the same-sex couples purchases from her counter, she is free to refuse to produce a custom cake.

In acknowledgement of the case’s sensitivity, BBC News reported Judge Lampe’s warning regarding the very circumstantial nature of the court’s ruling, “A retail tire shop may not refuse to sell a tire because the owner does not want to sell tires to same sex couples,” Lampe said, clarifying the creative aspect of the case that led to the final ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.

Sequel planned for biggest film in history


Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was released in 2004 and earned a whopping $600 million on a budget of $30 million. It was the highest grossing R-rated film in North America, according to FOX News.

Fourteen years later, Gibson is working hard on the sequel.  Little has been revealed about the sequel, but actor Jim Caviezel, 49, will be reprising his role as Jesus.

Caviezel told USA Today, “I won’t tell you how [Gibson is] going about it…. But I’ll tell you this much, the film he’s going to do is going to be the biggest film in history. It’s that good.”

“Passion of the Christ” ended with the Crucifixion and Gibson confirmed in late 2016 that the sequel will focus on the Resurrection, according to the Huffington Post.

Gibson told USA Today, “The Resurrection. Big subject. Oh, my God.  We’re trying to craft this in a way that’s cinematically compelling and enlightening so that it shines a new light, if possible, without creating some weird thing.”

“Passion of the Christ” was protested by Jewish and interfaith groups.  The film was criticized for fueling antisemitism because it portrayed the Jewish people as responsible for the death of Jesus.

Most major news networks covering the sequel have not mentioned the negative opinions and protesting of the first film, but it was joked about on “The Weekend Update” for “Saturday Night Live.” Most coverage continues to be centered around the hype surrounding the film.

Gibson is no stranger to controversy himself.  In 2006, two years after the release of “Passion of the Christ,” Gibson gained a lot of negative publicity across all major news media outlets after he was caught making anti-Semitic remarks during an arrest.

Gibson later apologized for his remarks.  As time passes, it will be interesting to see how the upcoming sequel will be received by the public and covered by the press in light of this controversy.

Controversial or not, the sequel is highly anticipated, especially after Caviezel’s claims that “[the film] is going to be the biggest film in history.”

The actor also told USA Today, “There are things that I cannot say that will shock the audience . . . It’s great.  Stay tuned.”

Furthering the suspense around the film, Randall Wallace, the screenwriter of “Passion of the Christ,” told the Hollywood Reporter, “The Passion is the beginning and there’s a lot more of the story to tell.”

In an interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Gibson indicated that the sequel may not be in theaters until 2019 or 2020.  As time progresses, given the continued popularity of “Passion of the Christ” and the publicity that the Resurrection sequel is already garnering, I am predicting another major blockbuster.

Megachurch pastor finally opens doors


Houston pastor Joel Osteen came under fire earlier this week when he refused to open his church doors to Hurricane Harvey flood victims.

After backlash on social media, Osteen eventually opened his megachurch to serve as a shelter for the public Tuesday.

Millions took to Twitter expressing their anger at Osteen. Many said that the Houston pastor cares more about wealth than welfare and, that if a place of worship is not a shelter, then it is not a place of worship.

After several allegations, Osteen spoke on NBC’s “Today Show” and “CBS This Morning,” stating that the church has always been open as a shelter but faced flooding and water damage.

Osteen has also stated that the city of Houston never asked him to become an official shelter, as there was one four miles from his church. He said his church’s building was intended to be a distribution center.

After major backlash on social media, mainstream media picked up the story with most in agreement with social media. Even though Osteen has clarified that he does not pay attention to social media, various media outlets used Twitter images of people expressing their discontent with the pastor.

Major media outlets such as the Washington Post and Huffington Post have called out the pastor; denouncing Osteen’s church as prosperity gospel and stating that his initial reaction of not opening as a shelter has only reinforced this belief.

As of now the megachurch, which can fit more than 16,000 people, is open as a shelter and will remain open until conditions in Houston improve.

Pope considers married men as priests


Pope Francis has been known to be one of the more progressive popes that have lead the Catholic Church. He has been trying his best to lead the church to a more modern and up-to-date place.

He speaks openly about his acceptance of homosexuality and his understanding of why abortions can sometimes be necessary, but his most recent comment will put one of the strictest rules of the Catholic Church into question.

In an interview, Francis said he is considering letting married men become ordained priests. He said this new rule would be quite beneficial to rural areas that have very few priests. Right now, he knows he will not be completely removing the rule of celibacy.

There has been a growing issue of getting young people to fully commit to a vocation to the Church, and so this is why Francis is open to changing such strict rules.

This new type of priest would be called  a “viri probati,” which comes from the Latin meaning “man that is proven.”

The Associated Press did the original article about the statement from Francis. TIME magazine then did an article covering this topic. I think they could have down more news media coverage on this topic targeting the youth, but also it is a sensitive subject since it does deal with religion.

So with that taken into consideration, I feel they did a fare amount of coverage on this sort of topic.

Tebow prays to help ill fan


Tim Tebow, former quarterback for the Denver Broncos, prayed over a seizing fan during an autograph session, as they awaited paramedics.

However, the autograph session wasn’t after a football game, it was after a minor league baseball game.

That’s right, Tebow has changed his career path in hopes to play Major League Baseball.

Now, that’s not the point. You may be asking why I care that Tim Tebow was praying over a fan. Lots of athletes are religious and believe in something of a higher power. But Tebow is different.

He has devoted his whole life to the Christian faith. His parents are both Baptists and have spent their life doing missionary work. In fact, Tebow was born in the Philippines while his parents were doing missionary work.

He was home schooled up until college because his parents were worried that the public school system would corrupt his faith.

And now, he’s not only made a name for himself as a star quarterback/ hopeful Major League Baseball player, but also as a devout Christian.

His athletic career has been focused on playing for God and that was no different while he prayed over the fan, while he was having a seizure.

Mother Teresa declared a saint


After dedicating her life serving the poorest of the poor in India, Mother Teresa was canonized a saint by Pope Francis on Sunday, Sept. 4, just 19 years after her death.

Mother Teresa founded the religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, in 1950 to better serve the sick, dying, and lonely people of Calcutta, India. The Missionaries of Charity has grown and now serves people in need across all continents and has over 4,500 Sisters running orphanages and homes for the sick, dying and disabled.

In the wake of the canonization, media organizations, both secular and religious, have focused on Mother Teresa’s life and claim to fame, alongside her criticism. Despite Vatican reviews of Mother Teresa’s pious life and the confirmation of two accounts of miraculous healing, critics of the new saint continue to claim that Mother Teresa was a fraud.

Despite Vatican reviews of Mother Teresa’s pious life and the confirmation of two accounts of miraculous healing, critics of the new saint continue to claim that Mother Teresa was a fraud.

Hemley Gonzalez, a Miami businessman and former volunteer of a home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata’s (formerly Calcutta) Kalighat area, claims that the medical care and organization of the home was unbelievable, according to CNN.

Furthermore, the validity of the miracles aided by Mother Teresa has come into question. Many critics claim that the “miracles” were in fact medically cured, not divinely cured.

One of the critics, Seiku Murmu, exclaims his wife, Monica Besra, one of the two people cured by Mother Teresa’s intercession, was in fact cured by doctors.

“It is much ado about nothing,” Murmu said in an interview with TIME Magazine. “My wife did feel less pain one night when she used the locket [of Mother Teresa], but her pain had been coming and going. Then she went to the doctors, and they cured her.”

As a famous figure, Mother Teresa not only touches lives of Catholics but also those who are atheists, Hindu, Muslim or otherwise. The media’s account of the positive feature stories

The news media’s account of the positive feature stories, the traditional canonization mass, and personal volunteer stories allow the audience to reflect on the valid service Mother Teresa provided to the poor.

Furthermore, although controversial, the coverage of the criticism engages the audience to question components of Mother Teresa’s life work and come to an informed personal decision.

However, the coverage of the criticism, including doctors, volunteers and different organization members point to assertions without much evidence or explanation. Even if the conditions of the Missionaries of Charity’s houses are not top quality, the critics and media outlets do not explain that the first and foremost mission of Mother Teresa was to love the unwanted in society. Mother Teresa was not a doctor or a nurse, she was a religious sister who served God in the best ways she saw fit.

China’s underground churches


With descriptive language, an article in Time Magazine about Chinese people celebrating their faith in underground churches in the LightBox session is fascinating and well written.

Chinese citizens can’t express their faith legally in the country: China is officially atheist and, according to the article, the China’s ruling Communist Party only allows one religion to operate within tight parameters.

The Holy Week was celebrated in the Northern China’s Hebei Province by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association that is not recognized by the Vatican as a real entity. This association has to practice its religion in underground churches with the fear of closure and imprisonment of its priests.

The article also talks about the history of Catholic churches and worshipers in China, which were repressed after the Communist revolution in 1949. There are more Protestants now in the country that are expressing their faith, but the government is trying to hold them back and asking them to “remove their crosses” or else the churches would be demolished.

What I liked about  this story is that it has a lot of details, it is written by Time‘s East Asia bureau chief and it tells more than the current news itself, such as the history of how religions fit in the scenario of China. People are trying to express their faith even illegally and the article shows that through pictures and videos; the multimedia content brings the story to life.

In a complicated situation in which many worshipers live in China, the writer of the article knew how to stay neutral through the text and show that there are people that want to express their faith and get together with other worshipers; without taking sides but merely showing that this believers exist and need to be heard and express what they believe.

Pope Francis, Trump battle over faith


On Thursday, Pope Francis said in a press conference that Donald Trump “is not a Christian” if he advocates building a wall at the Mexican and U.S. border.

CNN quickly reported on the event with the headline: “Pope suggests Trump ‘is not a Christian.’”

Trump quickly fired back, stating that the Pope does not reserve “the right to question another man’s religion.”

While Trump has every right to defend himself and his religious beliefs, CNN and many major news networks do not understand that sometimes something as little as a headline can add fuel to an already raging fire.

The news media have the ability to stimulate divisiveness whether it is intentional or not, and only later in the article does it explain that the Pope also said he wasn’t fully informed about the situation, but was willing to give Trump the “benefit of the doubt.”

Instead, the news media capitalized on the Pope’s most controversial statement in its headline and throughout the majority of the article.

Trump now has his eyes set on the Pope, adding, “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS … I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.”

While an initial retaliation is to be expected from Trump, any growing tension between the two of them will be a product of media influence.

Because of the disproportionate reporting and over-exaggeration by the media, people will often fail to realize that the Pope is a religious leader. He was elected under the condition that he would uphold the Catholic values and, whether one agrees with him or not, he was simply answering a question about Trump in accordance with those values.

Worst European terrorism in a decade


At least 129 people have died from an ISIS attack, according to Paris city officials.

Terrorists staged attacks at six locations throughout Paris late Friday. These places consisted of the Bataclan concert venue, the Stade de France, Petit Cambodge Cambodian restaurant, the Le Carillon bar, Rue de la Fontaine au Roi, and La Belle Equipe bar.

At least 368 people were injured in the attacks, leaving seven terrorists killed. The dead attackers who have been identified by officials are 28-year-old Samy Animour, 20-year-old Bilal Hadfi, 25-year-old Ahmad Almohammad, Omar Ismail Mostefair, Brahim Abdeslam, and Salah Abdeslam. Abdelhamid Abaaoud who organized the attacks was announced dead early Wednesday. Authorities have said that they believe at least one suspect is still on the loose.

French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency across France. People’s movements are now limited, there are imposed zones of security and border controls are tightened. Hollande said that he would like the state of emergency in place for three months.

The aftermath of Friday’s attack led to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve saying that Paris mobilized 115,000 security forces. There have also been multiple raids and airstrikes over Raqaa, the Ismalic State’s de facto capital.

On Tuesday, France also sought a clause in the Treaty on European Union that obliges other member states to provide it with aid and assistance. All of the 28 member states agreed.

Nations find themselves frightened as ISIS released a video promising more attacks. Law enforcement officials in the U.S. capital are increasing security as the terrorist group mentioned targeting Washington.

George Washington University student Sarah Albright says, “I’m scared to see what will happen next. It’s hard for people to just continue their every lives when there is so much fear inside of us.”

Is the Pope’s coverage necessary?


You are Catholic and you are right; he is worth all the coverage, I mean some coverage.  He is a very important religious icon, but is it necessary to broadcast live how his plane lands in New York?

I am not spreading anti-Catholic ideas or comments, but we are also talking about a human being, the CEO of the Vatican and more than one billion followers, yet a man who takes charge in politics and controversial topics such as immigration.

Many Catholics said during interviews that they believed the Pope’s prayers will help the American government into passing an amnesty for thousands of undocumented immigrants. Others said that the Pope’s blessings will bring peace and solve all the issues in the world. 

At least we could thank the Pope for reminding individuals that today is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.

There is no doubt that the Pope’s visit deserved coverage, but a 24/7 focus by news media wasn’t necessary, I think.  On a daily basis, the trending news and news around the nation deserve the coverage, and talk about real issues such as: why is Trump raising in the polls, as well as what to do with gun control. I guess the world believes that the Pope will save the day.