Friday Five: Sister Jean's rising celebrity, Bill Hybels' #ChurchToo accusers, Pence's bunny and more

In this space last week, I highlighted Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt -- 98-year-old nun and team chaplain for Loyola-Chicago -- after her 11th-seeded Ramblers won in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday night, Sister Jean's team improved to 3-0 in #MarchMadness and advanced -- in yet another last-minute win -- to the Elite Eight.

"I don't care that you broke my bracket," she quipped after Loyola's latest victory.

With each game, Sister Jean's national celebrity just keeps growing.

Among the countless stories about her, the New York Times' Jeff Arnold had a really interesting feature this week on "A Day in the Life of Sister Jean, Media Darling." A note from the piece:

William Behrns, Loyola’s assistant athletic director for communications, is one of two staff members who have been assigned to sort the requests for time with Sister Jean since the Ramblers’ success thrust them -- and her -- onto the national stage last week. Behrns estimated that as of Monday evening, his office had received 75 requests for interviews with Sister Jean, from outlets including “The Tonight Show,” newspapers, radio stations and cable television networks.

Here on the religion beat, we do love this kind of detail:

Sister Jean wakes before dawn, an hour earlier than usual, and immediately spends time in her daily prayer and meditation. She routinely, and almost ironically this week, asks God for a peaceful day. She then meditates on a gospel story; lately, her choices have centered on reminders of God’s love for his children. “Whether we win or lose,” she said in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday morning, “God is still with us.”

Loyola will face Kansas State, a No. 9 seed, in the South Region final Saturday night. USA Today calls it "an epic underdog battle." 

But enough about Sister Jean and Loyola -- for now anyway. Let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This story just broke, and I'm sure we'll have more to say about it here at GetReligion. But the Chicago Tribune has published an in-depth piece on allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against one of the nation's most prominent evangelical pastors: Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church.

In lengthy comments to the Tribune, Hybels denied any wrongdoing.

However, the importance of the story was noticeable in how quickly Christianity Today put together a rewrite (and more) of the Tribune's report. The leading evangelical magazine suggested that "the megachurch may have a #ChurchToo problem, one that pits co-founder Bill Hybels against some of his longtime friends."

The Tribune's story -- written by Godbeat veteran Manya Brachear Pashman and enterprise reporter Jeff Coen -- impressed me as meticulous and fair, but Willow Creek is pushing back strongly against it.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Terry Mattingly's critique of the New York Times visiting a fading abbey that plans to court spiritual-but-not-religious folks occupies the No. 1 spot this week.

Gaining quickly in the No. 2 spot: my overview of reporters delving into the religion of Mark Conditt, the dead man identified as Austin's serial bomber. That post was part of a 1-2 punch Thursday that was followed by tmatt's insightful analysis -- tied to the Conditt case -- on questions journalists must ask whenever "religious" people turn to violence. Bottom line: The same rules apply to Islam, Christianity, etc.

3. Guilt folder fodder (and more): Apparently -- as you may have read in the news -- there are dueling children's books about Vice President Mike Pence's pet bunny.

One book "is a gay romance between two bunnies that was the brainchild of the HBO comedy host John Oliver," as the New York Times gleefully reported in its A section.

To understand the tone of the piece -- which I think purports to be a news story -- this line is all you need to read:

Ms. Pence’s book is more sober children’s fare. It is not known if it identifies Marlon Bundo’s sexual orientation at all. 

Um, OK. And did you notice which charities would profit from each book?

4. Shameless plug: Hamil R. Harris -- a friend of GetReligion and a personal friend of mine -- is a former longtime reporter for the Washington Post. I don't know of any other journalist as tied into and informed about black churches as Harris.

I'm honored to share a byline with Harris on the front page of The Christian Chronicle's April issue, which just went to press. The story compares the legacies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Marshall Keeble, who died 16 days apart in 1968. Keeble was a famous traveling evangelist who baptized an estimated 30,000 people.

But Harris' excellent journalism on the 50th anniversary of the King assassination extends beyond the Chronicle: For the Washington Post, he recently wrote an article headlined "Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, where should the black church go from here?" And for USA Today, he did a story noting that "As racism resurges, many look to the pulpit King left behind."

5. Final thought: If you missed it Tuesday night, the Religion News Association had a nice chat on covering spring holidays.

You can find it at hashtag #ReligionReport.

That's it for this Friday Five.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

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