Why a Georgia church elder is making news at U.S. Supreme Court


Why a Georgia church elder is making news at U.S. Supreme Court (reporting from Rome, Ga.): In a death-row murder case, all the potential black jurors — including Eddie Hood — were excluded. 

ROME, Ga. — Eddie Hood chuckles when discussing his newfound celebrity status.

Hood, 75, serves as an elder for the 125-member Callahan Street Church of Christ in this northwest Georgia city of 36,000.

He worked for a paper mill for 33 years, but now he’s enjoying retirement.

“Working in the Lord’s church,” the grandfather of eight said of how he spends his time.

I showed up at Hood’s house — painted bright yellow with a U.S. flag flying by the front door — after seeing his name in national news reports.

Hood, it turns out, was as surprised as anybody when he ended up in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some background: In 1987, Hood was a potential juror for a capital murder case in which Timothy Tyrone Foster, an 18-year-old black man, was charged with killing Queen Madge White, a 79-year-old white woman.

However, prosecutors used challenges to remove all four prospective black jurors — including Hood.

This column appears in the December 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

‘He’s with me, and he’s fighting’


‘He’s with me, and he’s fighting’ (reporting from Atlanta): Brain-injury victim’s wife and parents pray for healing, while trusting in God’s will. 

ATLANTA — Raindrops tap the roof of Hayley Waldron’s temporary home in an Atlanta suburb.

It is Day 87, she realizes as she opens her eyes. Nearly three months have passed since tragedy interrupted the 22-year-old’s life and that of her 23-year-old husband, Harrison.

Please, God, she begs. Let today be the day he wakes up and begins his full recovery.

Hayley dresses, grabs a quick bite to eat and sets off on the 25-minute drive to the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation hospital dedicated to caring for those with brain and spinal injuries.

For the next six hours, she’ll sit with her husband. When possible, she’ll assist with Harrison’s speech, occupational and physical therapy.

They might watch The Weather Channel or the news together. Perhaps his younger sister, Laura, will come by to read the Bible to him, or their parents may visit to hug Hayley and speak softly to Harrison.

“I’m so thankful that I still have him,” she said, “that I can come talk to him and hang out with him still.”

This story appears in the December 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Beside Stillwater: Campus ministry helps Oklahoma State heal


Beside Stillwater (reporting from Stillwater, Okla.): Campus ministry helps Oklahoma State heal.

STILLWATER, Okla. — Campus minister Matt Mills heard the sirens, but he had no idea of the extent of the tragedy.

On football Saturdays in this college town, the Church of Christ University Center at Oklahoma State University organizes a pregame tailgate party. Students involved with the “UC at OK State” enjoy burgers and soft drinks. Guys bring cookies. The girls? Chips.

As Mills prepared for the party after Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade Oct. 24, friends and family began texting and calling.

Are you OK?” they wanted to know.

A woman had crashed her car into a crowd assembled to watch the parade, killing four people and injuring more than 45. The disaster occurred just four blocks from the UC at OK State, a ministry of the Stillwater Church of Christ.

As Mills grasped the news, four of his own students showed up. The two male and two female students had witnessed the crash up close. They were physically fine but emotionally shaken.

“The car went right in front of us probably about 5 feet or so,” said senior Ryan Watson, who grew up in the Draketown Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ark. “We heard the impact … and screams.”

Immediately, Mills and women’s minister Elyse Tharp formed a prayer circle with Watson, his three friends and a few other students.

“We talked and prayed for an hour,” said Mills, whose contribution to helping the campus of 26,000 students heal was just beginning.

This story appears in the December 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

The growing need for cyberliability insurance


The growing need for cyberliability insurance: How increased online and electronic activity exposes congregations to new risks.

In recent years, major data breaches involving millions of stolen credit card numbers have targeted national retailers such as Target and Home Depot. Experts warn, though, that smaller organizations — including churches — increasingly fall victim to cybercrimes and other online mishaps.

As congregations wade further into the world of technology usage, they handle rising volumes of sensitive personal data about staff, volunteers, and members — from payment information tied to “e-tithing” to Social Security numbers obtained to run background checks.

Churches also stream intellectual property on their websites, use email and social media to interact with both members and nonmembers, and publish or distribute prayer requests electronically that sometimes reveal private, confidential details of people’s lives.

All of this electronic activity potentially exposes congregations to greater liabilities, be it a copyright claim for a song distributed through online streaming or a libel claim after a disgruntled staff member uses a church-owned social media platform to reveal damaging information about someone.

Given these heightened liabilities, insurance carriers have responded by developing special “cyberliability” coverages — beyond prototypical general liability policies — to cover technology-related claims and damages.

This article appears online at ChurchLawandTax.com, a website of Christianity Today.

Continue reading “The growing need for cyberliability insurance”

November 2015: GetReligion


Hey journalists, if the Greater Church of Lucifer says it’s not Satanic, check it out. Published Nov. 2.

Reading, writing, arithmetic — and the Rapture: Welcome to a real Texas Supreme Court case. Published Nov. 3.

Big news report card: Grading coverage of Houston’s defeated ordinance on gays, transgenders. Published Nov. 4.

Attorney for suspect in Oklahoma State parade crash mentions God … and crickets chirp. Published Nov. 5.

5Q+1 interview: Ken Chitwood on teaching ‘Religion and the News’ at University of Florida. Published Nov. 9.

Crime Reporting 101: Into sad tale of murder, blood and drugs, enter God and forgiveness. Published Nov. 10.

Delving into CNN’s ‘dirty little secret’ about religious conversions and Ben Carson. Published Nov. 11.

Wow! Wall Street Journal demonstrates how to cover gay rights vs. religious liberty. Published Nov. 12.

In story on Paris attacks, U.S. politics and Syrian refugees, is there any room for theology? Published Nov. 16.

‘Would Jesus take in Syrian refugees?’: Washington Post asks the right question. Published Nov. 17.

Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why? Published Nov. 18.

Here’s what’s missing in that Associated Press story on America’s Little Syria. Published Nov. 22.

Three things to know about ‘Spotlight,’ the new movie about journalists investigating clergy sexual abuse. Published Nov. 23.

$15 million lawsuit threat: Muslim ‘clock boy’ Ahmed Mohamed looking to strike it rich? Published Nov. 24.

How to fix children’s Sunday school? Get rid of the Bible, Wall Street Journal reports. Published Nov. 25.

A tale of two Colorado Springs media streams: crazed gunman vs. anti-abortion soldier. Published Nov. 30.

Oklahoma State, faced with another tragedy, prays for healing


Oklahoma State, faced with another tragedy, prays for healing (reporting from Stillwater, Okla.).

People in this college town grieved again Sunday.

It was about four years after a plane crash killed two women’s basketball coaches and almost 15 years after 10 people died when a plane carrying members and coaches of the men’s basketball team went down.

And it was one day after four people were killed when a woman drove her car into a crowd gathered to celebrate Oklahoma State University’s homecoming football game. Five of the 47 who were injured at the parade were listed in critical condition Sunday.

Worshipers prayed at regular Sunday morning services, and people brought flowers to a makeshift memorial erected at the crash site. They counted on faith and their neighbors to again help them heal.

After a sleepless Saturday night, Anthony Wyatt came to the memorial, the place where he had seen the 2014 Hyundai Elantra speed through the intersection. Wyatt was on a float for his construction firm, based in Ponca City, Okla., about an hour north of Stillwater.

“I can’t get it out of my head,” he said. “It’s horrible — innocent people. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”

About 46,000 people live in this town about 65 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. But the population swells on fall Saturdays when the Cowboys are in town, as thousands of people hold picnics or tailgate parties. The stadium seats 60,000 and usually sells out, and people who can’t get seats watch the game at local bars such as Eskimo Joe’s.

This story appears on the front page of the Oct. 26, 2015, edition of The Washington Post.

God, guns and keeping Christians safe


God, guns and keeping Christians safe: Pistols in the pews make some feel more secure, but others are leery.

At many Churches of Christ across the nation, Christians bring more than their swords — as some refer to their Bibles — to Sunday worship.

An untold number also carry concealed handguns into the assembly, church leaders told The Christian Chronicle.

As mass shootings make all-too-frequent headlines in America, some see pistol-packing church members — and even preachers — as protection, the Chronicle found in interviews with dozens of ministers, elders and deacons in 15 states.

“I do not believe that Jesus — or even the old law — taught members to cower in the face of danger,” said Chris Gallagher, minister for the Gadsden Church of Christ in Alabama. “It was Jesus who told his apostles to take a sword in Luke 22.

“A gunman coming into our services to cause harm to men, women and children through his evil desires should be stopped,” added Gallagher, noting that he usually locks his own Ruger .380 pistol in his office when he preaches. “Shall we let the evil of one man injure and harm a collection of God’s people?”

Four months ago, a gunman opened fire at a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and killed nine people before fleeing unharmed. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested the next day in North Carolina.

Related stories:

• Christian universities review crisis plans after Oregon rampage 

• Abduction makes Arizona church secretary more cautious

• ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Christian universities debate allowing firearms on campus 

These stories appear online and/or in the November 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

What he said: ‘I’m really proud that the Texas Rangers are my team’

Ready to see #Rangers win the #ALDS! #NeverEverQuit #rangersscoreboard

A photo posted by Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyrossjr) on

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“Take me out to the ball game” is my blog on major-league ballparks and the wonders of witnessing America’s favorite pastime up close.

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By Bobby Ross Jr.

The stadium felt like a furnace — think obnoxious Texas heat in early July — when I walked into my first major-league baseball game at age 14.

By then, of course, I was already a big baseball fan, with thousands of baseball cards, an autographed picture of Pete Rose and a dream of growing up to do radio play-by-play. For all the hours I had spent watching televised games and poring over newspaper box scores, though, I had never actually been to a game.

But in 1982, my family moved to Dallas-Fort Worth, and a heaven with the greenest grass I had ever seen beckoned us.

We made it to our bleacher seats in the bottom of the first inning, just as Texas Rangers slugger Larry Parrish stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. That Saturday was “Bat Day,” so 10,000 wooden bats banged thunderously against the concrete and the crowd roared at an obscene decibel as the ball sailed over the fence — a grand slam!

A young lifetime of rooting for the Cincinnati Reds suddenly vanished. I fell in love with the Rangers that day. (They have won exactly one playoff game since.)

ARLINGTON, Texas — In my 2006 Christian Chronicle column “For love of God, family and baseball,”  I shared the story of how I fell in love with the Texas Rangers.

In the decade since I wrote that column, my Rangers have provided more than a few postseason thrills. They advanced to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 (please don’t mention Game 6). And they rode a #NeverEverQuit mindset to an improbable American League West Division championship this season.

Alas, the 2015 season ended in brutal fashion Wednesday in Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Toronto Blue Jays:

Continue reading “What he said: ‘I’m really proud that the Texas Rangers are my team’”

October 2015: GetReligion


Same-sex wedding cake wars draw more headlines — and more RNS snark. Published Oct. 1.

‘Are you a Christian?’: Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting. Published Oct. 5.

Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister. Published Oct. 6.

From faith and forgiveness to a furor over finances at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. Published Oct. 7.

In coverage of evangelical conference on homosexuality, why’s it all about the protesters? Published Oct. 8.

#Duh: Yes, hashtag advocacy is an ethical question for journalists. Published Oct. 12.

Wait, Jim Romenesko is new editor of Religion News Service? Nope, but welcome Jerome Socolovsky. Published Oct. 13.

Shocking! Leading Southern Baptist urges Christians not to attend same-sex weddings. Published Oct. 14.

Feature on inspirational Texas Rangers fan is a joy to read, except for a holy ghost. Published Oct. 15.

About the Republican presidential race and that ‘Christian army’ assembled Sunday in Texas. Published Oct. 19.

Detroit Tigers pitcher with cancer believes in ‘power of prayer,’ but why? Published Oct. 20.

Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain’t so. Published Oct. 21.

In an email, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis says she’s a ‘soldier for Christ’ — so what? Published Oct. 22.

Budget woes on the mission field? Wall Street Journal has the intriguing story. Published Oct. 26.

Faith of Kansas City Royals’ Ben Zobrist: ‘a missionary in the big leagues.’ Published Oct. 27.

As Associated Press extols LGBT protections, looking for an anti-HERO in Houston. Published Oct. 28.

How ’bout a little context to go with outrage over Muslims in Veterans Day parade? Published Oct. 30.

The long road from Baghdad


The long road from Baghdad (reporting from Dearborn, Mich.): Wissam Al-Aethawi endeavors to take the Gospel to the epicenter of Arab life in America. 

DEARBORN, Mich. — In the heart of this Detroit suburb, Muslim women who wear hijabs to cover their heads abound.

Signs for Middle Eastern restaurants, halal meat markets and even national chain stores such as Walgreens appear in Arabic and English.

Cedar trees — the national symbol of Lebanon — line the streets.

A century after Henry Ford recruited thousands of Lebanese, Yemeni and other immigrants to work in the auto industry, this Michigan community boasts the largest concentration of people of Arab origin outside the Middle East. They comprise roughly 40,000 of Dearborn’s total population of 100,000.

“I call it the Arab Chinatown,” Christian missionary Wissam Al-Aethawi, 36, says as he drives along Warren Avenue, the city’s business and cultural hub.

Al-Aethawi, a one-time Iraqi soldier and engineer, believes God led him here — to the epicenter of Arab life in America and the home of the largest mosque in North America — to share the hope he found in Jesus.

This former Muslim’s dream: to establish an Arabic-speaking Church of Christ in Dearborn.

This story appears in the October 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.