Marriage & Family

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber flies solo: RNS offers readers a love song that avoids her critics

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber flies solo: RNS offers readers a love song that avoids her critics

It's easy to understand why the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber has always received so much attention from the mainstream news media.

Many journalists start with The Look, referring to her many tattoos, edgy hair and love of weight-lifting. Then there is the message -- a jolting mix of traditional religious language, lingering traces of her work in stand-up comedy, candor about her complicated personal life and a set of moral and political views that place her solidly on the religious left. And the aging world of old-line Protestantism is not full of pastors, male or female, who built growing urban congregations that appealed to the young.

The bottom line: Bolz-Weber is a media superstar.

So it was totally logical for Religion News Service to produce a long feature about her final service as pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America church that she started a decade ago in Denver. Here's a crucial passage:

Bolz-Weber said she had decided to step away only recently and still can’t entirely explain what made her feel like it was the right time. She reached a point, she said, where “the church still loves me, but I don’t think the church still needs me.” ...

But there were signs, too, that she had done all she could do at HFASS. “I didn’t come to this job with everything, but it felt like I was equipped with the ability to welcome thousands of people through the doors,” she said. “I was at a retreat recently where there were 30 people I didn’t recognize, and I just had this feeling like, ‘I can’t welcome any more people.’”

Bolz-Weber’s signature talent is welcoming people who think the church wouldn’t welcome them. The eight people who showed up in her living room for a Sunday evening service in 2008 were mostly LGBT people, those with religious baggage, addicts and others who don’t fit at many Sunday services but want to experience God’s grace.

After a decade, the church has roughly 500 members. That's a rather average-sized church in megachurch friendly Denver, but that is a very large church in the context of liberal Protestantism.

Needless to say, Bolz-Weber has critics as well as fans.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Who you gonna call? New York Times offers a spiritual piece of the Bill Hybels puzzle

Who you gonna call? New York Times offers a spiritual piece of the Bill Hybels puzzle

It would be hard to imagine darker days for believers who truly want to see repentance and reform on issues of sexual abuse in religious institutions.

Are you a supporter of traditional forms of church life, in part because you believe that local pastors and churches need supervision and structures of accountability?

Uh, consider the pain, confusion and fog surrounding the fall of Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick. Are the top Catholic shepherds doing a good job protecting the sheep?

Are you a supporter of free-church evangelicalism, because you believe ancient forms of Christian faith are cold and locked into patterns of decline?

Well, that brings us back to the ongoing efforts at Willow Creek Church to learn what did or did not happen behind closed doors during interactions between women and the church's founder and superstar preacher Bill Hybels.

How do the leaders of an independent megachurch investigate the private affairs of the man who created their empire? Who has the authority to discipline a superstar? You can see that struggle at the top of the latest New York Times story about this ongoing drama:

Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago announced ... that it plans to launch a new independent investigation into allegations that the Rev. Bill Hybels, the church’s influential founding pastor, sexually harassed female co-workers and a congregant over many years.

The announcement came one day after The New York Times reported on accusations from Pat Baranowski, Mr. Hybels’s former executive assistant. She said that Mr. Hybels had sexually and emotionally abused her while she worked at the church and lived with him and his family in the 1980s.

Heather Larson, one of two top pastors at Willow Creek, said in a statement: “It was heartbreaking yesterday to read about the new allegation against Bill Hybels in The New York Times. We have deep sadness for Ms. Baranowski. The behavior that she has described is reprehensible.”

The church’s other top pastor, the Rev. Steve Carter, resigned on Sunday. He said he could no longer work at Willow Creek in good conscience.

So, who you gonna call?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Political speeches? Hey AP! NFL This Hall of Fame class stopped just short of giving an altar call

Political speeches? Hey AP! NFL This Hall of Fame class stopped just short of giving an altar call

GetReligion readers know that I am a big sports fan, even during these days of NFL confusion. I lived in greater Baltimore for 12 years and followed the Ravens quite closely.

So, yes, I watched the NFL Hall of Fame speeches the other day, in part because Ray "God's linebacker" Lewis was a first-ballot pick and he spoke at the end of the program.

Now, you knew that Lewis was going to go into full-tilt preacher mode when given this kind of platform. Right? 

So imagine my rather cynical surprise when I picked up my Knoxville News Sentinel the next day and saw this headline on the Associated Press story covering this event: "Hall of Fame speeches get political." That was a shorter version of the AP's own headline: "Hall of Fame speeches get political in Canton, Chattanooga."

Ah come on. Yes, there was obvious political implications to many of the remarks. I get that.

But several of the speakers packed their speeches with so much Godtalk that I thought the NFL police were going to have to rush in to prevent them from ending with an altar call. Many of the most striking remarks, in terms of politics, were mixed with religious content. I mean, Lewis -- in a plea for safer schools -- even talked about prayer in American schools.

This was a classic example of one of GetReligion's major themes: "Politics is real. Religion? Not so much." Here is the AP overture, which is long -- but essential. You have to see how hard AP worked to stress the political over the spiritual.

CANTON, Ohio (AP) -- Just as the demonstrations of players during the national anthem have become a means of expression for NFL players, the stage at the Hall of Fame inductions often turns into a political platform. It certainly did Saturday night.

Ray Lewis did so with his words, and Randy Moss with his tie.

There even were political tones with a different target 600 miles away during Terrell Owens’ speech at his personal celebration of entering the pro football shrine.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

She kept stacks of journals: Bill Hybels drama enters a shocking new #MeToo chapter

She kept stacks of journals: Bill Hybels drama enters a shocking new #MeToo chapter

Is there any phrase that investigators -- in police departments, newsrooms or even in churches -- fear more than "he said-she said"?

We are talking about accusations in which one person insists that something happened. The only other person with first-person, direct knowledge of what happened is the person on the other side of the alleged incident. This person denies the facts presented by the accuser.

What is the investigator supposed to do?

Here is a hint of where we are going in this post: One of the best editors I ever had would always say something like the following, whenever I brought in a story in which crucial voices disputed what happened behind closed doors. This editor would say: Is there anything on paper? Can we prove that one or more of these people shared this information with others?

Hold that thought.

The big story, in this case, is that there has been another #MeToo development linked to the painful exit of the Rev. Bill Hybels, the founder of the massive Willow Creek Church outside of Chicago -- one of the most influential institutions in "moderate" or even "progressive" evangelicalism. Here is the dramatic double-decker headline at The New York Times:

He’s a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly.

Bill Hybels built an iconic evangelical church outside Chicago. A former assistant says that in the 1980s, he sexually harassed her 

The story opens with this anecdote:

SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. -- After the pain of watching her marriage fall apart, Pat Baranowski felt that God was suddenly showering her with blessings.

She had a new job at her Chicago-area megachurch, led by a dynamic young pastor named the Rev. Bill Hybels, who in the 1980s was becoming one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the country.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So how much do you trust Pope Francis? Here's why death penalty debate is heating up

So how much do you trust Pope Francis? Here's why death penalty debate is heating up

St. Pope John Paul II condemned the death penalty and urged government leaders to end it. 

Pope Benedict XVI did the same, in language just as strong as that used by his beloved predecessor.

Now Pope Francis has gone one step further, saying that the church can now say that the faith of the ages has evolved, allowing the Catholic Catechism to condemn the death penalty in strong, but somewhat unusual language. Is use of the death penalty now a mortal sin, like abortion and euthanasia? Well, the word is that it is "inadmissible."

This is, of course, a major news story and, no surprise, host Todd Wilken and I discussed the early press coverage in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

But what does this change really mean?

Did Pope Francis simply take the work of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI one step further? Thus, Catholic traditionalists can chill. 

Or is this an example of Pope Francis the progressive, moving one piece on the Jesuit chessboard to prepare for further shifts in the future on other doctrines? If the church was wrong on the death penalty for 2,000 years, who knows what doctrine will evolve next?

So, is this doctrinal shift a big deal or not? 

It appears, after looking at lots of commentary on social media, that the answer to that question depends on whether someone trusts Pope Francis or not. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

As I have said many times here at GetReligion, it is helpful if -- every now and then -- journalists listen to the voices of people who have been on the other side of a reporter's notepad.

This also applies, of course, to television cameras and any other form of technology used in modern newsrooms.

Thus, I would like to share a think piece that I planned to run this past weekend, only the tornado of news about Archbishop Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick got in the way and rearranged my writing plans for several days (while I was traveling, once again).

Here is the overture of a recent essay by Mark Bauerlein, published in the conservative interfaith journal First Things, that ran with this headline: "Dr. Peterson and the Reporters." This is, of course, a reference to the now omnipresent author of "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos." 

The crucial question from the other side of the notepad: Would it be a good thing if journalists actually read what Peterson has written and listened to what he is actually saying?"

 One ingredient in the astounding fame of Jordan Peterson is his capacity to show just how lazy, obtuse, unprepared, smug, knee-jerk, and prejudiced are many journalists at leading publications.

In a tendentious New York Times profile, for example, Peterson is held up for ridicule when he cites “enforced monogamy” as a rational way of fixing wayward, sometimes violent men in our society. If men had wives, they’d behave better, Peterson implied, and they wouldn’t “fail” so much. The reporter, a twenty-something from the Bay Area, has a telling response to Peterson’s position: “I laugh, because it is absurd.”

Her condescension is unearned. With no background in social psychology or cultural anthropology, she doesn’t get the framework in which Peterson speaks. But that doesn’t blunt her confidence in setting Peterson’s remarks into the category of the ridiculous. And the category of the sexist, too, as the subtitle of the profile makes clear: “He says there’s a crisis in masculinity. Why won’t women -- all these wives and witches -- just behave?” 

The problem, of course, is that Peterson is using language from his professional discipline and his own writings.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Churches for sale: New York Times visits a sexy former Catholic sanctuary in Quebec

Churches for sale: New York Times visits a sexy former Catholic sanctuary in Quebec

In case you have been on another planet for a year or two, let me state something rather obvious.

Lurking behind all of the confusion about what is and what is not "fake news" (click here for tmatt a typology on that term) is a reality that should concern journalists of all stripes. It is becoming more and more obvious that readers are having trouble telling the difference between hard news and analysis/commentary work.

For example, consider the New York Times piece that ran with this headline, "Where Churches Have Become Temples of Cheese, Fitness and Eroticism."

At the top of this piece is this label -- "Montreal Dispatch."

Now, is that part of the headline or is that a clue to readers that this is some kind of ongoing analysis feature in which the reporter is going to be given more freedom, when it comes to using loaded language and statements of opinion?

I'll confess that I don't know. I do know that this feature is an amazing example of the GetReligion truism "demographics shape destiny and doctrine does, too." It's a great story and one that will, at this moment in time, cause further pain for Catholic readers. But there is one, for me, disturbing passage that I want journalists to think about, a bit. Hold that thought.

At the center of this piece is the sanctuary known as Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours -- which was once a Catholic parish in Montreal. Here is a long, but essential, summary of the changes that have taken place there.

The once-hallowed space, now illuminated with a giant pink chandelier, has been reinvented as the Théâtre Paradoxe at a cost of nearly $3 million in renovations. It is now host to, among other events, Led Zeppelin cover bands, Zumba lessons and fetish parties. ... And it is one of dozens of churches across Quebec that have been transformed -- into university reading rooms, luxury condominiums, cheese emporiums and upmarket fitness centers.

At another event at the church, devoted to freewheeling dance, dozens of barefoot amateur dancers filled the space and undulated in a trance-like state in front of its former altar amid drums and chanting.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Intermarriage on the rise: How does Catholicism view Catholic-Jewish weddings?

Intermarriage on the rise: How does Catholicism view Catholic-Jewish weddings?

ELEANOR’S QUESTION:

Is it sinful for Catholics to attend a wedding between a Catholic and a Jew, performed by a rabbi?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

No.

But there’s much more to be said about how Catholicism views interfaith marriages. (The church is more open on this than those who adhere to Jewish tradition, as we’ll discuss below.)

An official U.S. Catholic website says that until recent decades “the idea of a Catholic marrying outside the faith was practically unheard of, if not taboo,” and such ceremonies never occurred publicly in a church sanctuary. Yet today, in some parts of the U.S. up to 40 percent of Catholics are in “ecumenical marriages” between Christians of differing affiliations, or “interfaith marriages” with non-Christians.

The site says “because of the challenges that arise, . . . the church doesn’t encourage” interfaith marriage but does seek to support such couples and “help them to meet those challenges with a spirit of holiness.” Under the law code that covers all Catholics worldwide, says a Canon Law Society of America commentary, there’ve been “extensive changes” in the direction of leniency in marriage rules since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and mixed marriages have become “more commonplace and socially acceptable.”

In Catholic belief, a marriage between a Catholic and a Jew (or someone from another non-Christian religion) is not a “sacrament.” Importantly, this doesn’t mean the church questions that the couple is truly married as a civil matter, nor does it express any disrespect toward Judaism, with which Christianity has such great affinity.

The technical term used in marriages with non-Christians is “the impediment of disparity of cult.” If an interfaith couple wishes a wedding in a Catholic church, canon law prescribes that the local bishop must issue a “dispensation” on the basis of “just and reasonable cause,” which occurs far more routinely than in past times.


Please respect our Commenting Policy

#BishopsToo has arrived? Let's see what happens at Vatican 'World Meeting of Families'

#BishopsToo has arrived? Let's see what happens at Vatican 'World Meeting of Families'

It has always been hard for religion-beat pros to convince editors to open the newsroom checkbook to back coverage of a story on the other side of the country or somewhere on the other side of the world. It's even harder today, with the horrifying economic crisis that shaking newsrooms in the age of Facebook, Google and the digital advertising pirates.

The key is to be able to link an event to a really big, really hot topic in the news. Why? That's one of the big ideas in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Let's cut to the chase: Newsroom managers! Who wants to say "Yes!" to sending a skilled religion-beat professional to cover the Vatican's World Meeting of Families, which will be held Aug. 21-26 in Dublin, Ireland?

Yes, Pope Francis will be there. But it also helps to know that this gathering -- "The Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World" -- is being run by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Note that ecclesiastical office is led by Cardinal Kevin Farrell. That's a name that has been in the news quite a bit because of he is the former auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., where he served alongside his mentor Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Editors should note that this is "Uncle Ted" -- the cardinal at the heart of the current firestorm about accusations that he sexually abused young boys and teens, as well as decades worth of seminarians and young priests

This is the same cardinal who has been given credit for helping several other U.S. Catholic leaders -- in addition to Cardinal Farrell -- win their red hats. This is the same Cardinal McCarrick who, in a remarkable speech in 2013, described his (wink, wink) behind-the-scenes role in helping elect Pope Francis.

Hey editors: Need another news hook before you write that check? 

One of the major topics at this conference will be how the church relates to young people. It's hard to imagine that decades worth of scandals linked to clergy abuse of children and teens will not be discussed. That sounds like a news hook, to me. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy