Sunday, January 30, 2005

"In Jacksonville, Faith, Hope and Charity at a Super Bowl" doesn't belong on the front page of this morning's New York Times

Robert Andrew Powell pops up on the front page of this morning's New York Times with an article entitled "In Jacksonville, Faith, Hope and Charity at a Super Bowl." The story doesn't belong on the front page.

Here are some reasons why.

1) The story carries a dateline of "Jan. 23" and any story filed seven days earlier doesn't qualify for the front page of a daily paper.

2) Rob's already read The Third Estate Sunday Review and the New York Times this morning. (Rob, I'm envious -- I've only had time for a morning run and to read most of the main section of the Times). On this article, he quotes from The Third Estate Sunday Review's "The Watchdog as Lapdog":

It's complete nonsense and, let's be really honest here, a recap of a sports game falls under entertainment, not hard news. That's really hard for a lot of never-been-jocks to understand. They went through high school with a chip on their shoulder that they didn't play sports and apparently that made them question their masculinity. So when we they get to a paper (or possibly CJR Daily), they're eager to prove what men they are by talking up a sports game as front page news. Even though it isn't.

I'm going by the pull quote (I haven't read this editorial in The Third Estate Sunday Review although other articles now up were e-mailed to this site in draft form) but I think it's a valid point. It is "arts." It is "entertainment." They can scratch their groins all they want, these editors and reporters pushing this nonsense as hard news, but it's still a spectator event (sports, not their groin groping).

I'm sure a trained sociologist could find various levels in the event itself, whether from those attending or those watching from the comforts of their couches, but it's not news. No matter how hard they push it.

I also want to note self-described "new member" Wally who found us via a link on Monday's post "The New York Times, Afraid to Break the News?" and wants to weigh in that from his "view as a 17 y.o., football is an old man's sport. An old white man's sport. Basketball is the sport more people care about today and I bet soccer will replace it in ten years. Football is something you're supposed to like but the ones most passionate about it today are the over forty crowd. It's something your grandfather and your father are passionate about. Stories like this one in the paper today are the hype coming from geezers who can't get over the fact that what they care about is fastly fading in interest."

3) Powell (geezer or not, I have no idea) misses key parts of the story. Allowing that he wrote this on January 23rd -- seven days ago -- that still doesn't account for how he could have missed the coverage for it in Florida Baptist Witness (January 20th) or why's he appears not to have looked at the web site for First Down First Coast (a web site that the paper gives the address of in the print edition).

At one point, Powell reports:

"If you want to hand out tracts, cards that say that you love someone, that's your business," Pastor [Nick] Phoenix said, winking at N.F.L. rules against overt evangelism. "Sometimes it's as easy as going out and saying, 'I just want you to know, sister, that God has a wonderful plan for your life.' Touch 'em on the hand, look 'em in the eye; it's a memory they'll never forget."

Might someone want to hand out tract cards? Though you wouldn't know it from Powell's reporting, First Down First Coast has already printed up tract cards as they report on their web site:

7) Street Evangelism. Many groups want to hit the streets and share the Gospel one-on-one with the people who will be here. We are currently creating a witness tract in the form of a collectable Football Trading card that guests will want to keep. These will be made available to any group that will use them and promises to be a better used tool than the traditional tract. We are also helping coordinate dates, times and places for groups wishing to be involved in street evangelism. This ensures more effective spreading of the Gospel and better stewardship of God’s time, energy and resources.

Something that Florida Baptist Witness saw fit to include in their reporting on January 20th (but Powell either doesn't include it or is unaware of it):

Burton told the Witness he is treating the Super Bowl like any big evangelism project and has procured tracts and soul-winning materials, along with marked New Testaments and 25,000 copies of Sport Spectrum magazine with resources made available by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

And Powell apparently is unaware of any overt evangelism that has already been planned (he should have read Florida Baptist Witness). Remember the quote from the Times article above -- ". . . Pastor Phoenix said, winking at N.F.L. rules against overt evangelism . . ."? It's planned, whether Powell knows of it or not:

Knopps said he has encountered some resistance to his approach to evangelism, but is confident that each and every project he consults on has as "part of its protocol," instructions on how to build witnessing relationships.
"If you can't do evangelism, you can't do the project," Knopps said he advises the churches. "That’s just the rule of the game."
For one project that requires volunteers to help move stage equipment for the Super Bowl half-time show, Knopps said he advises "huddles” of five, made up of 2-3 church members and their guests. That would encourage the volunteers to ride together to and from the rehearsals and the event -- giving the church members time to share about why they attend their particular church and what Jesus means to them.

Perhaps Powell's not aware of Knopps? Florida Baptist Witness introduces him (and First Down First Coast) this way:

"First Down First Coast," an evangelism effort encompassing more than 30 projects was the result of a task force on which Garrett and local pastors serve with David Burton, director of evangelism for the Florida Baptist Convention and Tim B. Knopps, founder of the Timothy Institute for Evangelism, based in Oklahoma City.

Knopps does all kinds of "outreach" including attempts to rescue Mormons (1998) from their (apparently to Knopps) sinful ways and requiring the creation of one of his little tracts to promote salvation for Mormons ("Crossovers"). One wonders how Mormons might feel about the "faith based" reporting of Powell's in today's Times that so skims the surface? On that attempt at salvation/"Crossovers" in Salt Lake City, not a raging success:

Much of the Crossover interaction with Mormons came during door-to-door visits focused on a spiritual opinion survey. Most visits were generally reported as cordial and friendly, but with little interest expressed by residents in abandoning their faith for the Christian gospel.

Although a later report did note that 1,200 in Utah " had professed faith in Christ as of noon, June 11, during Crossover Salt Lake City" and that's (as the headline tells us) "despite LDS influence in Salt Lake City."

Knopps is very much a part of First Down First Coast (plugged this morning by the Times) and maybe Powell should have done a little research into the individuals running the organization. Maybe the NFL should have as well -- they've been using Knopps resources for some time, a Josh Ruptak volunteered via Knopps for the 1998 Super Bowl. If my math is correct (always a big if, always check my math) this will Knopps ninth Super Bowl salvation attempt and why not since Knopps points out " “The Super Bowl is just the excuse to do these things. The Super Bowl is the catalyst for long-term effects."

It's interesting that the NFL is willing to allow their premiere event to utilized as an "excuse" for Knopps' efforts.

Knopps' efforts include a playbook on how to host your at home Super Bowl parties:

In contrast to Super Bowl party tips one may find in secular periodicals, this evangelism tool adds concrete ways to build witnessing into the agenda. He suggests setting aside areas for quiet conversation in the room layout and laying out witnessing material in places convenient for picking up and reading. He also suggests obtaining an NFL player’s videotaped testimony or planning to share your own testimony during commercials, halftime or pre-and post-game shows.“A Super Bowl party is just the occasion you need to tell people about Jesus. Everyone is having a great time, the atmosphere is exciting and the next thing you know someone is sharing how great it is to be a believer,” he writes.

And what of the winker in today's Times' article, Nick Phoenix?

''I think it's fantastic,'' said the Rev. Nick Phoenix, pastor of North Main Street Baptist Church in Jacksonville. ''I don't think it is anti or against anyone.''

What's he talking about? Why this:

Florida Baptists voted Tuesday to support the Southern Baptist Convention's statement of faith, a conservative document approved in June that drew opposition from Texas Baptists and former President Jimmy Carter. Through a show of hands, a majority of delegates voted to support the statement, which excludes women as pastors, condemns homosexuality and insists the Holy Bible is literally accurate and not open to interpretation.

Coming on the heels of the reporting by the Elite Fluff Patrol (Elisabeth Bumiller, David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson) and their non reporting on Friday's front page ("Bush Says Iraqis Will Want G.I.'s to Stay to Help") as well as that day's special bonus "In Bush's Words: Iraq, Abortion, Social Security, Diplomacy" (an attempt at Clarissa Explains It all from a decidedly non-Clarissa), is this really the time for the Times to be offering up so much attention to a group without giving readers a background on them?

[To read the reactions of one person with gay parents to the Times nonsense on Friday, see The Third Estate Sunday Review's Gay Parents: "I am part of a family. My family is very real and existed long before Bush got to the White House" and, no, yesterday's mop-up attempt by Benedict Cary, though a fine article, didn't excuse the Elite Fluff Patrol's actions -- see "What the Fluff Patrol (Sanger, Stevenson & Bumiller) left out of Thursdays with Bully Boy."]

The paper makes a point to front page the organization and various spokespeople but there's no examination of anything. (Does "research," for Powell, mean just taking what the person in front of him or on the phone says?) Having offended gay parents, children with a gay parent (or parents) and progressives with Friday's unexamined "reporting" is the paper really up to offending more just because Robert Andrew Powell can't do his job?

I mean, who's not potentially offended by this superficial reporting? Ticking off a list, I can see that the article's fluff/p.r. might offend non-believers, people of non-Christian faiths, Mormons,
women (and those who believe women should be ordained as pastors), gays and lesbians, those who don't believe in religious proselytizing (not all faiths, or all Christian faiths, believe in proselytizing), possibly the organization Texas Baptists, anyone (Christian or other) who doesn't believe that the Bible is "literal and not open to interpretation" and that's just off the top of my head.

There's no excuse for Powell's superficial coverage. He turned in the article on the 23rd of this month (according to the dateline). He had plenty of time in the last week to do additional reporting (and he should have done some research before he started writing it).

I also think the N.F.L. needs to be a little more careful about whom they allow to utilize their Super Bowl. The actions of Phoneix, et al, do not appear to be based on inclusion judging by their past actions and remarks. (Powell notes in his article that: "Although religion is also a fundamental component of several Super Bowl week events sanctioned by the National Football League . . . those activities are supposed to be inclusive.") The people highlighted above are, among other things, attempting to convert Mormoms, banning women as pastors, insisting that the Bible is the literal word of God (something not all Christian denominations agree with) and condemning homosexuality. This isn't inclusion. (Here's a hint, one the Times may need, send missionaries into Utah to "save" people from the apparent evils of the Church of Latter Day Saints doesn't qualify as "inclusion.") And Powell's not "reporting."

His story doesn't belong on the front page and, as reported, it doesn't even belong in the paper. It's far too superficial and lacks any real efforts at research.

[Note: Post has been corrected to reduce one quoted section's font -- reduced to "Times."]