We still like Harry Potter—and we're getting tired of being asked why we hate it
Yesterday, Weblog got a call from MSNBC's Buchanan and Press show. They were putting together a segment on Christians' response to the Harry Potter books since the fifth book in the series is being released Saturday. The booking producer had heard that Christianity Today had published some articles about the books. Would we be interested in talking about them?

Certainly, Weblog said, and directed the producer to this page, which has all of our Harry Potter coverage (as well as articles from our sister publications) neatly arranged in chronological order. I summarized our point of view: we like the Potter series because …

Sorry, she interrupted. We're looking for someone who opposes the books. That's not you, huh?

No. That's not us. It's not much of anyone—as we've repeatedly explained, criticism of Harry Potter is coming (indeed, has always come) from individual parents. There's no organizational opposition to Potter—even from groups that comment on just about every issue under the sun.

Too bad television news rarely cares about what's really going on in the world. If the producer had done a simple Google search, she would have found a great article from Reuters.

"The evil Lord Voldemort may still have it in for the boy wizard, but the lawyers, preachers and family groups seem ready to give it a rest," writes Broward Liston, who usually reports on space matters. In fact, he notes, "many conservative Christians have come to embrace the books, in part drawn by a portrayal of evil that has grown increasingly sophisticated, almost Biblical, with each book."

Even former critics of the book are silent this time around. "I've moved on. I have other things to do," says Richard Abanes, author of Harry Potter and the Bible. "Within the Christian media and the Christian community, there is much less vocal response to this new book. I don't particularly think we're going to see any more huge book burnings and demonstrations and lawsuits and things like this. I think everybody already knows where they stand on Harry Potter."

That's not to say that there aren't evangelicals who aren't concerned about whether the Potter books will encourage kids to try witchcraft—especially with articles like this claiming that the books are, at least in part, responsible for a surge in paganism in the U.K. But if shows like Buchanan and Press send camera crews to show book burnings Saturday night, they'll be very lonely.

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Nightline examines preaching evangelical teens
Okay, having let off some steam about television news, it's time for Weblog to calm down and praise ABC's Nightline, which daily demonstrates that serious reporting can be done for television. In a two-night Nightline series called "The Messengers," the network returns to a subject it hasn't done much with since it laid off religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer two years ago

The program, which begins tonight, follows the American Association of Christian Schools preaching competition at Bob Jones University, and by all accounts it's very good.

"What makes this story such an inspired choice for Nightline is the window it gives into what is not just a belief system for tens of millions of Americans, but a way of life," says the Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart. "These young men embody a dilemma faced by evangelicals. They want to follow a godly path in a society that has a very different idea of success."

That was the whole point, says executive producer Leroy Sievers. "Our goal with this series is not only to tell a great story but to begin to pay more attention to a large community in this country that often goes uncovered," the Rocky Mountain News quotes him saying.

They succeed in that goal, says the Chicago Tribune's Steve Johnson. "Religion in general and evangelical Christianity in particular are rarely covered in mass media, unless somebody has been caught in an act of blatant hypocrisy," he writes. "Nightline's achievement here is to take us into this world when it is behaving in a fashion closer to the norm. … Nightline's hard-bitten Washington insiders paint their portrait of these teens and their backgrounds with compassion, with an honest search for understanding and, yes, with grace."

Perhaps Nightline's smartest decision was to avoid narration, says Elizabeth Jensen of the Los Angeles Times. "It's a world some viewers are sure to find intriguing and others will find controversial—some of the subjects in the report say so themselves—but what we don't hear is any kind of judgment, outside commentary or even basic journalistic 'here's what critics think' questioning about the boys and their calling."

Some articles make it clear that television is hurting from the lack of religion reporters like Wehmeyer, whose job it would be to find compelling stories like this. The idea for this series didn't come from anyone at ABC News, but from commercial producer Matthew Kaufman, who attended the preaching competition in 2001.

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"It's high time we started doing more" reports on the evangelical community, Sievers told the Los Angeles Times. Maybe this will be the start of it, says The Baltimore Sun, noting that observers think religion coverage is improving in public broadcasting and the print media. "There have been great strides in the complexity and diversity of the kinds of coverage," Religion Newswriters Association Executive Director Debra L. Mason tells the paper.

A few other papers cover the competitors profiled in the Nightline broadcast, but Weblog won't spoil the ending.

More articles

Ugandan rebels ordered to kill Catholics:

  • Church fears Uganda rebel threat | After attempts by church leaders to mediate a ceasefire between the rebels and the government, LRA leader Joseph Kony is reported to have ordered Catholic missions to be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed and nuns beaten up (BBC | audio1 | audio2)

  • Ugandan rebels ordered to attack Catholic missions (UN-IRIN)

  • Why kill the messenger? | It is not the first time that the LRA have issued such threats. The difference this time round is that the credibility of the report has been strengthened by the use of the Catholic Church's own local radio network (Editorial, The Monitor, Kampala, Uganda)

Persecution in China:

  • China arrests eight underground Christians | Police in southwestern China have arrested eight members of an underground Christian church on charges of spreading "feudalistic superstition," the local religious administration said on Thursday (Reuters)

  • Chinese Christians arrested | The authorities in China have arrested 12 members of an underground Christian church, officials said on Thursday (BBC)

Gay marriage in Canada:

  • U.S. gays who marry in Canada face hurdles | Gay Americans who visit Canada to marry will come home to a confusing patchwork of overlapping jurisdictions and competing laws (The New York Times)

  • Canada's celebration of marriage | Same-sex couples married in Canada should be treated as legally married people in the United States (Editorial, The New York Times)

  • Gay marriage plan: Sign of sweeping change in Canada | Increasingly, Canada has been on a social policy course pursued by many Western European and Scandinavian countries (The New York Times)

  • It's over? | There are battles ahead too over adoption, over new reproductive technologies, even over language (David Frum, National Review Online)

  • Not leading the world but following it | Disparities in the legal treatment of lesbians and gay men in the United States and their treatment in the rest of the world are becoming more pronounced (Laurence R. Helfer, The New York Times)
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Anglican splits over gay bishops:

Another Anglican battle—this time, in Australia

  • The new Reformation | A fierce battle is under way for the soul of Australia's Anglican Church (Insight, Special Broadcasting Service, Australia)

  • NSW dioceses send message to Sydney | It is not the evangelical emphasis in Sydney and Armidale which offends Anglicans in other dioceses but the impression given that those others are inferior Christian (The Canberra Times, Australia)

Church abuse scandal:

  • U.S. Catholic bishops meeting face shocks | U.S. bishops had hoped their three-day session starting Thursday would mark a return to the routine after 18 tumultuous months of clerical sex abuse scandals. Instead, the credibility of church leaders is under intense scrutiny again (Associated Press)

  • Bishops gather under double cloud | 2 resignations shatter hopes for calm during St. Louis talks (Chicago Tribune)

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  • As bishops meet, uneven progress | Catholic leaders, meeting in St. Louis, continue to be dogged with questions about the handling of abuse cases (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Catholic bishops look for leadership | Abuse scandal reshaping hierarchy (The Washington Post)

  • Priest's rape trial ends with hung jury | A judge declared a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the case against Cyriacus Udegbulem (Associated Press)

  • A few bad shepherds | The issue is deeper than sex and abuse of power, as radicals are using the weakened authority of the hierarchy to further their agenda for leftist reform in the church (Editorial, The Washington Times)

  • Finding hope in my faith | I remain optimistic that the church—my church—will ultimately protect the innocent and enforce the zero-tolerance charter against child sexual abuse (Frank Keating, The New York Times)

  • 'Unraveled' by sex abuse crisis in diocese, Phoenix bishop quits | Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien succumbed to a year of turmoil over the sexual abuse crisis in the church and the more personal disgrace of being arrested in a hit-and-run accident (The New York Times)

  • Embattled Phoenix bishop resigns | O'Brien's departure follows fatal accident, abuse scandal (The Washington Post)

  • The bishops bungle another power play | Given the image the bishops have created for themselves, the Keating affair looks like one more dumb move by men determined to hold on to their illusion of power no matter what the cost to their credibility (Andrew Greeley, New York Daily News)

  • Black & white collar crime | Jesus was a carpenter, and so was Jim Reed, the 43-year-old father of two mowed down by the "hit- and-run bishop" in Phoenix (Ellis Henican, Newsday)

Life ethics:

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Restoring churches:

  • Financial aid: When church meets state | By awarding a grant to Old North Church, is the federal government preserving history or subsidizing religion? (Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune)

  • Federal aid for historic church | Churches that are open to all and have played a major role in America's history shouldn't be excluded from consideration (The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.)

  • Saving the nation's religious treasures | National Trust aims to help preserve urban houses of worship (The Washington Post)

  • California missions crumble—and wait | After months of unexpected delay for legislation that has virtually unanimous support among California's powerful delegation, Congress is about to go to work on a rescue package for the state's 21 historic missions, some of which are in grave condition (The Sacramento Bee, Calif.)

Church land disputes:

  • Don't sell land, priests warned | Central Buganda diocese has warned priests engaged in selling and lending church land, saying the act is illegal (New Vision, Kampala, Uganda)

  • Meeks' church wins test for new site | In the battle between expansion and preservation in the historic Pullman neighborhood, the score is Rev. James Meeks 1, residents 0 (Chicago Tribune)

  • Hallandale Beach bans churches on S. Federal Highway | City commissioners said the mile-long corridor is ripe for offices and hotels that will increase tax revenues (The Miami Herald)

  • Jury favors city in church lawsuit | The city did not violate a church's religious rights when it denied a zoning variance that would have allowed the local congregation to build a day-care center, a federal jury decided Tuesday (Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)
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Church & State:

  • Suit challenges firefighter-chaplains | Federal court in L.A. will hear case that alleges improper insertion of religion into workplace (Los Angeles Times)

  • Render unto Caesar | The appeals panel in Alabama considering Roy Moore's Ten Commandments case needs to make it clear that this nation has endured because of its religious tolerance and secularism, not in spite of it (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

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  • School Board will keep meeting prayer | For the first time since a parent objected to the prayer last month, one of the five board members Monday broached the subject of moving to a more inclusive prayer. But there wasn't enough support from the rest of the board to make the change. (The Herald Tribune, Sarasota, Fla.)

  • Call for Queen to lose title as head of Church | The Queen should be stripped of her title as Supreme Governor of the Church of England so that the royal family better reflects the religious and ethnic diversity of the United Kingdom, according to a major report on the monarchy (The Observer, London)

Church life:

  • Lights, camera … prayer | An Orlando architecture firm has begun designing churches to accommodate services that feature 18-piece rock bands, dramatic skits and ministers' messages illustrated on electronic screens with clips from movies and TV shows (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Church gives dads royal treatment | Fathers get special seats at two Evangelical Free services on Sunday (The Independent, Grand Island, Neb.)

  • Sometimes the news is sinfully good copy | Some transgressions are of such biblical proportions they just can't be ignored (Dana Parsons, Los Angeles Times)

  • Clergyman, wife sue TV station | David and Sonya Moore object to reporting aired when he left a large church in Indian Wells (The Press-Enterprise, inland Southern California)

  • Central pastor agrees to retire | 'Improper' situation doomed Dr. Latimer (The Commercial Appeal, Memphis)

  • Growth of church reflects burgeoning Ethiopian influence | Worshipers pack second Presbyterian site (The Washington Post)

  • Rural churches struggle to fill holes | Whether Sunday morning finds 12 in the pews or 200, rural churches face a variety of challenges—from a lack of finances to a shortage of candidates for the pulpit—and they've found many ways to adapt (The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY)

  • Latino churches rise up to shepherd economic programs |Local congregations are learning to invest in their neighborhoods and create jobs (Los Angeles Times)

  • The words of Jesus | 'It was Christ's language and the language of the disciples. Christ gave us the Lord's praise in Aramaic, so that is the language we use to give him praise,' says a member of a new Syrian Orthodox congregation in Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Tex.)

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  • Landmark? Just wait till it's finished | The news for most New Yorkers will probably be that as this day began, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine was not a landmark (The New York Times)

Southern Baptist meeting ends:

Roman Catholicism:

Related Elsewhere

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