Methodists

Friday Five: Wuerl resignation, freed American pastor, Tebow's J-word, Texas accused, Mormon identity

Friday Five: Wuerl resignation, freed American pastor, Tebow's J-word, Texas accused, Mormon identity

Among the religion news breaking today: Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C.

As the Washington Post reports, Wuerl is a “trusted papal ally who became a symbol among many Catholics for what they regard as the church’s defensive and weak response to clerical sex abuse.”

But even in letting Wuerl go, Francis offered him a “soft landing,” as the Post described it.

Stay tuned for more GetReligion analysis of media coverage of that big story.

Another major religion story today: American pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after being detained for two years in Turkey, as Christianity Today reports. Look for more commentary on that news, too.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Tim Funk’s exceptional Charlotte Observer deep dive into the sordid history of a North Carolina pedophile — a former United Methodist pastor — is my pick for must-read Godbeat story this week.

As I noted in a post earlier this week, Funk’s 5,000-word report “is both conversational in tone and multilayered in terms of the depth of information provided.”

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From award-winning religion writer, a primer on how to tell a difficult story about a pedophile

From award-winning religion writer, a primer on how to tell a difficult story about a pedophile

Dear young journalists (and old ones, too): Want insight on how to report and tell an extremely difficult story?

Check out Charlotte Observer religion writer Tim Funk’s in-depth feature on the daughters of a pedophile pastor. Funk, a veteran Godbeat pro, was among the winners in the Religion News Association’s 2018 annual contest. His latest gem might well win him accolades again next year.

The 5,000-word piece (don’t let that count scare you; it reads much shorter) is both conversational in tone and multilayered in terms of the depth of information provided.

Funk’s compelling opening immediately sets the scene:

Their crusade began when Amanda Johnson visited the church of her childhood and saw a picture of her father on the wall.

She froze in fear, and felt the blood draining from her face. Then, she told the Observer, “I literally ran back to the car.”

For five years, she didn’t tell her older sister, Miracle Balsitis, who had asked her family not to mention her father’s name or any news about him.

But earlier this year, when Johnson found out from a friend that the photo was still on the wall, she finally told her sister.

Balsitis was shocked. Didn’t Matthews United Methodist Church know that Lane Hurley, their father and the church’s former pastor, was in prison because of child sex abuse crimes committed three years after he left the Matthews church?

Why, the sisters asked themselves, would a framed photo of him still be hanging next to pictures of other past clergy in a place of honor reserved for what a nearby plaque called “The Faces of Spiritual Leadership”?

The two sisters had left the Charlotte area 24 years ago — Balsitis, 39, now lives in California; Johnson, 35, in Kernersville.

They decided it was time to confront Matthews United Methodist about the picture.

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When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

I don’t believe I’ve ever met the Rev. Bob Long, even though my time as religion editor for The Oklahoman overlapped with his tenure as pastor of a large United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.

But I know his voice.

For years, I’ve heard Long on the radio, often while driving to work. Long is a mini-celebrity here in Oklahoma, known for inspirational radio messages that include cheerful music and a quick life lesson from the pastor.

“That’s something to think about,” he concludes each 60-second segment. “I’m Bob Long with St. Luke’s Methodist Church.”

This week, Long has gained notoriety for a different reason — for a sermon in which he put the face of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his church’s big screens.

As The Oklahoman’s Carla Hinton (who succeeded me as religion editor in 2002) reported on Wednesday’s front page, a social media storm erupted with a tweet from a churchgoer who was not pleased with Long’s choice of optics.

The church posted both written and video messages from Long apologizing for the hurt feelings his sermon caused.

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Ghosts of Elizabeth Warren: Potential White House contender seeks to 'reclaim' Oklahoma past

Ghosts of Elizabeth Warren: Potential White House contender seeks to 'reclaim' Oklahoma past

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren traveled to her native state of Oklahoma recently to speak at a teachers’ rally at her old high school, Northwest Classen in Oklahoma City.

The Los Angeles Times used the occasion as a perfectly reasonable peg for an in-depth profile of the potential 2020 Democratic candidate for president.

The original headline on the Times story, published today, was this:

Elizabeth Warren is trying to reclaim her past as she prepares for the ‘fight’ in 2020

As I type this, there’s a tweaked headline atop the story (“Elizabeth Warren goes back home to Oklahoma, as she forward to 2020”), but I actually think the original title better encapsulates the profile’s general thrust. (Quick note on the new headline: Hopefully, someone will notice the missing “looks” before “forward.”)

In reading the Times piece, I was extremely curious to see if religion would figure in the descriptions of Warren’s Sooner background and her effort to appeal to a Bible Belt state known for its conservative values and voting patterns.

After all, the Boston Globe noted in a 2012 profile that during Warren’s early years in a community south of Oklahoma City, “Life in Norman revolved around church and the military, in that order.”

Later, the family moved to Oklahoma City, as the Globe recounted:

And the culture was then, as now, deeply religious and deeply conservative. Warren’s family attended a Methodist church, where her mother taught Sunday school.

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What happens when modern Mennonites attempt to find peace on LGBTQ issues?

What happens when modern Mennonites attempt to find peace on LGBTQ issues?

You know that times are tough when even the Mennonites are fighting.

As is almost always the case, reporters who dig deep will find that they are dealing with a conflict that is rooted in theology, not politics (as defined in the actual James Davison Hunter “Culture Wars” book).

Yes, as is almost always the case, we are talking about another doctrinal dispute about the Sexual Revolution — LGBTQ issues to be specific. That brings us to an important Religion News Service update on the Mennonite wars.

Pay close attention to this story’s reference to the “consensus” decision-making traditions in this flock and its attempts to live in peace, despite clashes over doctrines rooted in centuries of Christian tradition. After all, we are talking about some of the freest of all “free church” believers. We will come back to that. Here is the overture:

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (RNS) — The 80 or so people who gather on Sunday at the Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, like many other members of the Mennonite Church USA, are accustomed to singing hymns a cappella in four-part harmony and making decisions by consensus.

It was by consensus more than two years ago that the congregation decided, after a year of study, to welcome LGBTQ people into the full life of the church — a decision that led its pastor perform a same-sex wedding between two women. That wedding tested core Mennonite tenets about sexuality and hastened a growing realignment in this denomination that traces its roots to the 16th-century Anabaptists.

The response from Chapel Hill’s regional body was swift: The Virginia Mennonite Conference immediately suspended pastor Isaac Villegas’ ordination credentials and put off any review or resolution.

In response, the congregation transferred its membership this summer to a conference of Midwestern churches in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The Central District, with its headquarters in Goshen, Ind., not only admitted the North Carolina congregation into full membership; last month it also restored Villegas’ ordination credentials.

Sound familiar?

If you have followed the Sexual Revolution wars in oldline liberal Protestantism, you will recognize what is happening here. It’s called the “local option” approach to doctrine.

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Friday Five: Lifetime achievement winner, Willow Creek drama, Spikeball Mennonites and more

Friday Five: Lifetime achievement winner, Willow Creek drama, Spikeball Mennonites and more

Talk about a slam dunk!

The Religion News Association announced its 2018 William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award recipient this week.

What a fine choice the RNA made:

When the Vatican ordered the bishop of Pittsburgh to reinstate a pedophile priest, then Pittsburgh religion reporter Ann Rodgers received the decision even before the bishop himself.

When an evangelist was making false claims about miracles in a Houston hospital, Rodgers did the hard yards of investigation and spotted the fake.

And when she was invited to join Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday procession in St. Peter’s Square, Rodgers waved a palm and reported back to Pennsylvania on the experience.

In addition to serving as president of the Religion News Association during a time of significant transition and growth, Rodgers faithfully served on the religion beat in New Hampshire, Florida, and finally in Pittsburgh, Pa., for more than three decades.  

For her many years of work in religion newswriting and service to RNA, Rodgers will receive the William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award at the 69th Annual RNA Conference in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 15.

The William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award was created in 2001 and is presented to individuals who demonstrate exceptional long-term commitment and service to the Religion News Association and its members, and to the field of religion newswriting.

Read the rest of the release.

Let's dive into the Friday Five:

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News mystery: Why so little interest in 'mainline' Protestants' liberal politicking?

News mystery: Why so little interest in 'mainline' Protestants' liberal politicking?

The dominant religion theme in the U.S. news media across the past two years, without question, has been political fealty to Donald Trump and his works among grassroots evangelical Protestants and a like-minded coterie of old-guard clergy celebrities.   

In the same period, “mainline” Protestant groups have been ardent in politicking for leftward and anti-Trump causes, perhaps even moreso than with the typical evangelical congregation.

You would barely know this, if at all, from reading or viewing most news media reports.  

Take the United Methodist Church (UMC), America’s second-largest Protestant body with 7.7 million members and millions more in overseas jurisdictions. Yes, the UMC is much in the news but only regarding its internal doctrinal dispute over whether to liberalize LGBTQ policy, per last week’s Guy Memo

UMC proclamations come from the General Board of  Church and Society, whose office hard by Capitol Hill is more than strangely warmed (to quote John Wesley) about President Donald Trump. The board has issued repeated directives urging churchgoers to phone or e-mail protests against Trump's actions to members of the House and Senate. (Years ago its former leader Jim Winkler, now National Council of Churches president, called for impeachment of President George W. Bush, a fellow Methodist, over his war policy.)        

Recently, U.S. religious bodies across the board denounced the Trump policy, now  rescinded, of separating “undocumented” immigrants from their children. But the UMC went further, urging funding cuts for immigration enforcement and border protection, and an immediate halt to all arrests and detentions of undocumented border-crossers.

The Methodists were aggrieved at the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding Trump’s travel ban against seven nations, five of them majority Muslim. Rejecting the court’s reasoning and the government’s national-security rationale, the church charged that the policy “institutionalizes Islamophobia, religious intolerance, and racism.”  


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Twists, news pegs, names and questions in impending United Methodist LGBTQ showdown

Twists, news pegs, names and questions in impending United Methodist LGBTQ showdown

At long last, the United Methodist Church has posted detailed proposals (.pdfs here) from its emergency “Commission on a Way Forward” to address what it calls the “deepening impasse” over whether to approve actively gay clergy and same-sex weddings. 

Leaders of America’s second-largest Protestant denomination hope to end this 46-year conflict and avoid schism by uniting around one of three plans from the commission at an extraordinary General Conference, next Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.

An added news peg: The Council of Bishops is asking the Oct. 23-26 meeting of the UMC’s highest court (Judicial Council) to rule on whether each concept is constitutional. Consider that headline: If the jurists reject one, or two, or all three of the plans, could the General Conference legislate an outlawed proposal anyway?  

Watch for reactions to the three plans from this weekend’s (July 26-29) meeting at the St. Louis Airport Hilton of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition. Its 12-member caucuses want “full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.” Speakers include the UMC’s first married lesbian bishop, Colorado-based Karen Oliveto (bishop@mountainskyumc.org, 303-733-0083). A key coalition source will be Jan Lawrence (jan@rmnetwork.org, 773-736-5526),  executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network. 

Here are salient aspects of the study commission’s proposals. 

* One Church Plan -- The majority of bishops and commission members favor what amounts to “local option” across the U.S. Regional units (“annual conferences”), congregations, bishops and pastors would be free to decide whether to uphold or reject the UMC’s existing stance against  homosexual relationships. Conservative congregations could still avoid gay clergy. Pastors and clergy candidates on either side could switch from annual conferences or congregations they disagree with. Proponents say this will end church trials and other tumult, and honor consciences on both sides. This also changes, of course, the church's commitment to centuries of Christian doctrine.


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A side question re: that viral story about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage: Which Bible to quote? (updated)

A side question re: that viral story about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage: Which Bible to quote? (updated)

Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage?

Everyone seems to talking about that viral religion story, as The Tennessean faith reporter Holly Meyer points out. 

In case you missed it, the Indianapolis Star reports that the three biblical figures "were incarcerated behind a barbed wired-topped, chain link fence on the lawn of Monument Circle's Christ Church Cathedral on Tuesday."

The reason:

The Rev. Stephen Carlsen, dean and rector of Christ Church, said the caged Holy Family is a protest to President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy that is holding families in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I know what the Bible said," Carlsen said. "We're supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves."

It's a fascinating story, and I'd urge you to check it out. But for the purposes of this post, I have a side question: Which version of the Bible should a news organization quote in a story such as this?

I'll admit surprise at the one the Gannett newspaper chose to quote:

The Rev. Lee Curtis, who came up with the idea for the demonstration, said the Biblical trio was a family of refugees seeking asylum in Egypt after Jesus' birth. 

"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him,'" the Message Bible says in Matthew 2:13-14. "When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt."

"This family is every family, and every family is holy," Curtis said. 

For those not familiar with The Message, it's a contemporary version in modern English. The religion satire news site Babylon Bee has published stories such as "‘The Message’ Now Available In Popular Comic Sans Font" and "7 Updates ‘The Message’ Totally Needs." Among the proposed updates: Substituting all references to Jesus with "The J-Man." That gives some indication of how seriously (read: not) some take that translation.

I'm not sure I've ever seen The Message be the go-to version quoted in a news story. (I'll eagerly await all the links proving me wrong.) My first thought was perhaps the Star was trying to put the verses in language readers could understand.

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