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Weekend Plug-in: June 19, 2020

The Best Religion Coverage This Week, Plus Bob The Tomato

Bobby Ross Jr.

Editor’s note:“Weekend Plug-in,” featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced by Religion Unplugged. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling Monday barring workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender workers certainly seemed to catch some by surprise. 

Take USA Today, for example.

The URL on the national newspaper’s story indicates that the court denied protection to LGBT workers. Oops! 

Kelsey Dallas, the national religion reporter for the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News, closely follows high court cases with faith-based ramifications.

“Genuinely shocked,” she tweeted concerning the 6-3 decision. “I had prewritten only one version of this story and predicted a ruling against gay and transgender workers based on debate during oral arguments.” 

Why was Dallas so surprised?

I asked her that in a Zoom discussion that also included Elana Schor, national religion and politics reporter for The Associated Press; Daniel Silliman, news editor for Christianity Today; and Bob Smietana, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service.

Watch the video to hear Dallas’ reasoning. (Hint: It’s not just that Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.)  Learn, too, what all the panelists think the decision means for religious hiring practices, the court’s 5-4 conservative split and the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Among related must-read coverage: Schor’s AP story on why the religious right laments the ruling but sees opportunities, Yonat Shimron’s RNS story on conservatives looking to the next cases on religious liberty and Elizabeth Dias’ New York Times story on the “seismic implications.”

Why did the decision rattle Christian conservatives? The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey explains.

At the Deseret News, Dallas asks, “Are we headed toward a federal version of the Utah Compromise on LGBTQ rights?” And Religion Unplugged’s Timothy Nerozzi talks to legal experts worried about what the ruling means for religious institutions and employers.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey delves into how the ruling complicates President Donald Trump’s effort to hold evangelical voters.

Power Up: The Week’s Best Reads

Racism. Violence. A slowly dying son. 5 years after the Emanuel massacre, echoes abound: Wednesday marked the five-year anniversary of a white supremacist’s massacre of nine black worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. 

As always, Pulitzer Prize-winning Post and Courier writer Jennifer Berry Hawes’ coverage of that milestone is powerful and graceful, as one journalist described it. And if you haven’t already, definitely read Hawes’ book “Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness.”

Atlanta megachurch pastor Louie Giglio sets off firestorm by calling slavery a ‘blessing’ to whites: The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports on the ruckus over Atlanta megachurch pastor Louie Giglio saying “during a recorded event at his church that the phrase ‘white privilege’ could be replaced with the phrase ‘white blessing.’”

As a bonus, Bailey does a Q&A with Lecrae, the Grammy Award-winning rapper, over his role in the controversy. On Twitter, Bailey’s Post colleague Michelle Boorstein said this isn’t the first time that white evangelicals have put the black rapper in an “awkward situation.”

The wedding that started a Republican civil war: The Atlantic’s Emma Green brings her usual writing and reporting flair to this piece on a Republican congressman from Virginia booted from office for presiding over a gay wedding.

Green saw some irony in the timing of that event, which came on the weekend before the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on LGBT employment.

More top reads: Leaving Liberty: A tweet sets off departures of black students, staff at evangelical university, Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today … What it’s like to be black at Liberty University, Ruth Graham, Slate … In a Bronx shelter, friars and homeless have weathered the coronavirus quarantine together, Zoe Chevalier, Religion News Service … West Virginia sees coronavirus outbreak in churches, Alexander Nazaryan, Yahoo News … Pastor: ‘Not the same Chris Hodges I was two weeks ago,’ Greg Garrison, Birmingham News.

Behind The Bylines

In my time with The Associated Press, slow days (believe it or not, there were a few) offered a chance to work on obits for famous and prominent people.

Sometimes, those obits would be prepared because someone was ill. Other times, the wire service just didn’t want to be caught scrambling for biographical details if a tragedy occurred.

In some cases, that work would be filed away and not called upon for many years. Which is how my former AP colleague Matt Curry came to help — 13 years ago before he left journalism for ministry — on the obit for Marj Carpenter, who died this past weekend.

Carpenter, who was 93, “pushed international missionary work while briefly leading the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination in the mid-1990s following a journalism career in West Texas that included covering millionaire swindler Billie Sol Estes,” noted the AP obit.

In Case You Missed It

Here is where you can catch up on recent news and opinions from Religion Unplugged. 

The Final Plug 

When Bob the Tomato talks, people listen.  OK, that’s actually “VeggieTales” creator Phil Vischer, but still, his words on white, conservative Christians and racial justice went a little viral this week.

By the way, if you’d like a special tune stuck in your head the rest of the day, just click here.

Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor in chief of The Christian Chronicle. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service. 

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Bobby Ross Jr.
Bobby Ross Jr.

A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, he blogs about the intersection of faith and the media for GetReligion.

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