Godbeat

It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

If you are following the Southern Baptist Convention's #MeToo crisis, with the not-so-graceful retirement of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, then there is no question about the newsiest "think piece" for this long weekend.

But let's pause a second before we get to that commentary -- "The Wrath of God Poured Out: The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention," by Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, Jr.

The big story behind the story of Patterson's fall is a high-stakes showdown between two generations of Southern Baptist leaders.

Patterson is one of the iconic figures in the old-guard SBC wing that is linked to the old Religious Right. While Mohler is 58 years old, he became president of Southern when he was 33 and, ever since, has been a cornerstone personality in a wave of SBC leaders who are very theologically conservative, but have a radically different style and agenda than the old guard, especially on matters of race and other hot-button issues in public life.

So glance, for a few moments, at the YouTube video at the top of this post. It's a 2015 panel at Midwestern Baptist Seminary discussing this topic -- ""Passing the Baton: Raising Up the Next Generation of SBC Leaders." The moderator is Paige Patterson. Mohler is one of the panelists. Listen long enough to get the flavor of things.

Then head over to this much discussed Christianity Today commentary by another symbolic SBC leader, the Rev. Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College, who holds the Billy Graham chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism. This piece followed an earlier Stetzer piece asking Patterson to stand down on his own -- pronto -- including his high-profile role as keynote speaker in June at the national SBC gathering in Dallas.

In the new piece, Stetzer added:

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How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

The Internet furore over the violent baptism of a Greek Orthodox baby has seeped into the mainstream press.

The story in itself is amusing, but it also provides a teaching moment on how not to do journalism.

The difficulty is how to report on YouTube videos. Is seeing believing? How do you report accurately and fairly on a video that cannot be authenticated?

On my Facebook and Twitter feed I received a post linking to a video of an extraordinary baptism. Within a few days the story made its way into The Sun, The Daily Mail, The MirrorNews Corp., and other television and press outlets. 

The British tabloid The Sun, which was reprinted in News Corp.’s Australian and New Zealand papers, had this story, opening like this: 

A GREEK orthodox bishop has come under fire after appearing to baptize a tiny tot a little bit too vigorously. In the footage that has appeared online the man of the cloth repeatedly dunks the naked baby into the baptismal font.

The tot is rapidly dunked three times into the water before being handed back to his unperturbed parents. According to reports the footage was taken in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, at a Greek Orthodox church.

With the church, baptisms are usually done ‘forcefully’ which is seen as a solution to the declining birth rate. Many online commentators have criticised the bishop’s rather rough approach.

The article closes with a summary of comments and criticisms of what viewers saw in the film. The Daily Mail ran a condensed version of the story, omitting the word “Greek” from the text as well as the extraordinary assertion that aggressive dunking results in a population boom. The Mirror kept the cleric Greek Orthodox and promoted him to archbishop.

What nobody appears to have done is ask the Greek Orthodox Church about this baptism.

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The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The other day, I pointed readers toward a piece of student journalism from the famed Columbia University School of Journalism -- a kind of a "Religion Beat: The Next Generation" nod. Click here to see that post: "Meet the Muslim Man Who Rents Crosses in Jerusalem."

Several readers asked if this was new territory for GetReligion, since we are not critiquing these pieces. In a way, it is new ground. However, readers should consider this part of our years of work trying to show newsroom managers that there are young journalists in the pipeline who want to cover this important beat.

The faculty member behind this project is the great religion-beat pro Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, who serves as director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life. With his cooperation, The Media Project website is running some student stories reported and written in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars -- with hands-on reporting work overseas.

This story by reporter/photographer Augusta Anthony is about one of the most famous and sacred sites in global Christianity. The headline: "Unity in the Divided Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The symbolic-detail lede:

JERUSALEM -- There’s a ladder in the Old City of Jerusalem. It perches on a stone ledge beneath the second floor window at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. According to local lore, the ladder has been there since at least 1852 and it is not to be moved.

The “immovable ladder,” as its known, symbolizes the complications that arise when six different Christian denominations occupy one of the holiest sites in their theology. Someone -- no one knows who -- left it there in the mid-19th century and to this day none of the churches has agreed who the ladder belongs to. So it sits there, on a ledge above the sturdy wooden doors, a reminder of the contested ground beneath it.

“They are always asking about the ladder,” said Archbishop Hierapolis Isidoros with a sigh.

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Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

A bit of U.S. “mainline” Protestant history was made May 11. The Rhode Island State Council of Churches announced that its 70-year-old executive minister, American Baptist Donald Anderson, will take three months off for an unspecified “process of transitioning” to female identity.

The council’s board is “totally supportive,” stated its  president, a United Church of Christ pastor, and anticipates Anderson’s September return under the new name of Donnie. The council sponsored an April 24 “merciful conversation on gender identity and expression” at an Episcopal church.

By coincidence, the April 25 edition of The Christian Century, a prototypical “mainline” voice, published a noteworthy article on “nonbinary gender” as part of God’s good creation.

The piece was an excerpt from a new release by the Presbyterian Church (USA) book house, “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.” Author Austen Hartke, creator of the youtube series “Transgender and Christian,” is a recent graduate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he won an Old Testament prize.

This frontier in modern moral theology confronts many U.S. religious groups head-on, and just after legalized same-sex marriage, causing religious-freedom disputes the news media will be covering for the foreseeable future. 

The transgender cause contrasts with the heavily “binary” and “cisgender” culture throughout the Bible and the Quran that shapes the beliefs of traditional Christians, Jew and Muslims.

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Pope worries about Europe 'hemorrhaging' priests, nuns: Spot big hole in short AP story? (updated)

Pope worries about Europe 'hemorrhaging' priests, nuns: Spot big hole in short AP story? (updated)

I apologize for going on and on about this subject, but when it comes to the religion beat this is only one of the most important Catholic news stories in the world.

Come to think of it, questions about changing birth rates and demographics are important when covering Judaism, Islam, Pentecostal Christianity, Mormons, liberal Protestantism and other major faith groups, as well.

So let's connect some dots here, starting with another one of those formal Pope Francis statements that receives little mainstream news coverage, as opposed to the off-the-cuff or maybe even misquoted Francis statements (click for the latest) that leap into the headlines.

So here is the top of a short Associated Press report that probably didn't appear in your local newspaper. Yes, this is a summary of some very familiar trends:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis voiced alarm Monday at the “hemorrhaging” of nuns and priests in Italy and Europe, saying God only knows how many seminaries, monasteries, convents and churches will close because fewer people are being called to lives of religious service.

Francis told Italy’s bishops he was concerned about the “crisis of vocations” in a region of the world that once was one of the biggest sources of Catholic missionaries. He said Italy and Europe were entering a period of “vocational sterility” to which he wasn’t sure a solution exists.

The number of Catholic priests worldwide declined by 136 to 415,656 in 2015, the last year for which data is available. But according to Vatican statistics, the decrease was greatest in Europe, where there were 2,502 fewer priests compared to 2014. The number was offset by increases in priestly vocations in Africa and Asia, where the church as a whole is growing.

Let's pause for a moment and ask: Why are the statistics for vocations so much higher among Catholics in Africa and Asia? Might this have something to do with that familiar duo of doctrine and demographics?

So what did Pope Francis have to say, this time around, in terms of the cause of the current crisis in Europe?

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Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

The word that keeps coming to mind as I attempt to wrap my head around last week’s deadly violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the formal opening of the American embassy building in Jerusalem is, “played.”

That’s played as in “being played.”

Palestinians were played by Hamas, the radical Sunni Muslim group that runs Gaza with minimal concern for those it rules. Israelis were played by their prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, whose political staying power is rooted in Israeli Jewish fears that their Arab and Iranian enemies are circling for a kill.

Then there’s President Donald Trump, who played his right-wing evangelical Christian base — allowing two of its prominent leaders to play Judaism and Jews at the embassy opening by reducing them to props — and disposable ones at that — in their eschatological vision. (I’ll say considerably more on this below.)

In short, it was a devilish display of the worst kind of cynicism imaginable, the sort that gets people killed in support of someone else’s political or religious agendas.

By now, GetReligion readers are surely familiar with the details of what happened -- the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, the presence of the Revs. Robert Jeffress and John C. Hagee at the embassy opening, the opprobrium directed at Israel by its global critics, the arguments by its supporters that Israel acted only in self-defense.

None of it was surprising, and most of it mirroring the usual reactions coming from the usual suspects -- all of it amplified by the Internet echo chamber.

Minds are pretty much made up on who’s at fault for the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict; among members of the news media, among members of the public, among the various NGO’s who view the conflict as their concern, and among the myriad political and religious organizations who claim skin in the game.

Why repeat all those arguments and positions here? Instead, let’s keep to a minimum the usual barrage of links to news and analysis pieces I provide to bolster my points. There’s too many to cite, anyway, and -- the truth is -- picking journalistic winners and losers is largely a function of which side in the conflict you identify with.

I've been scouring the web for pieces that reflect as many viewpoints as I can find, but my conclusions about the coverage merely reflect my own bias.

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Inquiring minds still want to know: Was Meghan the wrong kind of 'Protestant,' or what?

Inquiring minds still want to know: Was Meghan the wrong kind of 'Protestant,' or what?

No matter that happens today (the big US news is tragic), for millions of people the force of gravity in global news will pull toward St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

We are talking about a wedding rite in the Church of England, so royal wedding coverage has included all kinds of dishy details about liturgical issues rarely seen in the press. That has been the case for several months now for one simple reason: American actress Meghan Markle was raised as a Protestant by her mother Doria Ragland, while her father is an Episcopalian (and, thus, part of the global Anglican Communion).

Thus, an unanswered question still hovers in the background, because of silence from Kensington Palace: Precisely what kind of Protestantism are we talking about, in Markle's case? For a refresher on this drama, see my earlier post: "Royal wedding quiz: Must a 'Protestant' be baptized in order to become an Anglican?" In that post, I noted:

... The Church of England split off from the Church of Rome. For most people, especially low-church Anglicans, this (a) makes it part of the wider world of Protestantism. However, it should be noted that some people argue that (b) the Anglican via media -- a "middle way" between Protestantism and Catholicism -- is its own unique form of faith. The odds are good that some Anglican readers will be offended by my description of (a), (b) or (a) and (b). This is complicated stuff.

There continue to be clues that Markle was the "wrong kind" of Protestant, since she was baptized -- Again? -- before being confirmed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Anglican. How does that theological question affect the royal rite?

Read carefully this passage from an explainer piece in The Washington Post, that ran with the headline: "Why Meghan Markle, raised a Christian, still got baptized before her royal wedding."

“Miss Markle did not need to become an Anglican in order to marry Harry in church, but at the time of their engagement last November she made clear she had chosen to be baptised and confirmed out of respect for the Queen’s role as the head of the Church of England,” the Daily Mail wrote.

The Church of England recommends that couples either include a Communion service during their wedding or take Communion shortly after getting married. That means that Markle, if she wants to take Communion with Harry (italics added by tmatt), did need to be confirmed in the Church of England or in another Anglican church, such as the Episcopal Church, which the Church of England welcomes to take Communion at its services.

Wait a minute.

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Friday Five: Atheists and hell, unsafe church vans, royal wedding, 'I'm Batman' and more

Friday Five: Atheists and hell, unsafe church vans, royal wedding, 'I'm Batman' and more

There was breaking news this week in the world of religion, as noted by Religion News Service's Aysha Khan.

"We now believe in hell," American Atheists announced on Twitter.

The impetus for this major change in (lack of) theology?

It was a New York Times report that "a television show featuring Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who is suing President Trump on behalf of a pornographic film actress, and the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was pitched to two cable networks in recent weeks." 

Yes, I believe we'll all be reassessing the state of the universe now.

In the meantime, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The Louisville Courier-Journal's investigative report headlined "Is your church van a death trap?" is the must-read religion story of the week. 

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The very definition of old news, and what a joy to read: A feature on a 400-year-old church

The very definition of old news, and what a joy to read: A feature on a 400-year-old church

About five years ago, I traveled to rural Iowa to report on a 156-year-old church surrounded by corn and soybean fields and a cemetery where generations of deceased members rest in peace.

The news angle was that the tiny congregation was working hard to survive despite immense challenges facing it and similar houses of worship.

As part of the same "Rural Redemption" project, I spent a Sunday with a 200-year-old assembly in the farming and coal-mining country of southeastern Ohio.

I thought those churches had long histories!

But Washington Post religion writer Julie Zauzmer recently wrote about an Episcopal congregation in rural Virginia that is marking 400 years — 400 years! — in 2018.

The Post's headline pretty much nails it:

This 400-year-old church is older than almost any institution in America

This won't be a long post because my basic message is simple: This is an interesting, well-reported story, and I'd urge you to read it. 

What did I like about it? I'll quickly mention three things.

But first, let's set the scene with the compelling lede:

BURROWSVILLE, Va. — Long before American independence, before the Pilgrims even landed at Plymouth Rock, there was Martin’s Brandon Church.

And now, the Rev. Eve Butler-Gee looks at her flock at the same Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church in amazement. “They’re faithful. Every single one of them is engaged and active,” she said. But then again, it’s no wonder: “They’ve been doing this for 400 years, and they’re not about to stop now.”

The church, one of the oldest in the United States that still operates, celebrates its 400th birthday this year. And for many families in the rural congregation, the pink-colored house of worship near the James River has been part of their family stories for a very large portion of that time.

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