Austin serial bomber

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

I write more than 200 posts a year for GetReligion.

My pieces range from our bread-and-butter critiques of mainstream news media coverage of religion to our weekly Friday Five columns highlighting each week’s major (or just plain quirky) developments on the Godbeat.

At the end of each year, I’m always curious to see which posts caught the attention of the most readers.

What makes a GetReligion post go viral? In 2017, key ingredients included Joel Osteen, same-sex wedding cakes and the Mark of the Beast. The previous year — 2016 — Donald Trump’s “Two Corinthians,” Merle Haggard’s Church of Christ mama and a rare opening of a Chick-fil-A on Sunday were in the mix.

2018? Well, let’s check out the top five posts for GetReligionista Julia Duin, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself.

We’ll start with Julia, for reasons that will become obvious:

5. How journalists can nail down the rest of the Cardinal McCarrick story – for good

4. Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

3. Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

2. Another #ChurchToo: The Chicago Tribune investigates Bill Hybels in 6,000 words

1. The scandal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and why no major media outed him

See any common thread there? That’s right — McCarrick and the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal were huge news and big traffic drivers to GetReligion in 2018, as was the related #ChurchToo news that also made headlines.

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Friday Five: Paige Patterson furor, Jehovah's Witnesses abuse, Austin bomber's life, NRA prayer and more

Friday Five: Paige Patterson furor, Jehovah's Witnesses abuse, Austin bomber's life, NRA prayer and more

This is going to be a briefer-than-normal intro to Friday Five.

That's because I've been on vacation most of the week (read: hanging out at the ballpark watching my beloved Texas Rangers take two out of three from the Detroit Tigers).

Suffice it to say that I haven't kept up with religion headlines as much as I usually do. My thanks to boss man Terry Mattingly for some help with this week's five.

Let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey's trip to Texas to report on Paige Patterson's controversial comments concerning domestic violence and divorce is the obvious pick this week.

I'll link to the former GetReligion contributor's front-page report, but for more details and other vital coverage, check out Bailey's Twitter feed.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: This time around, Julia Duin has the No. 1 post. That was a commentary entitled "Jehovah's Witnesses and sexual abuse: The Philadelphia Inquirer lays it out."

A close second: Another tmatt post, this time on "How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel."

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Journalists have to ask familiar questions, when 'religious' people turn to violence

Journalists have to ask familiar questions, when 'religious' people turn to violence

There are so many questions to ask, and all of them need asking as journalists probe the "why" question in the "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" of the Austin bombings.

First things first. As Bobby Ross Jr. noted earlier (please see that post), 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt grew up in an intensely Christian home and he has expressed views that can -- in some sense of this vague word -- be called "conservative." He was active in a small, racially diverse church and then in a popular megachurch.

Well, the prodigal Texan in me wants to note that quite a few people in Texas go to church, even in the Austin area. Lots of them go to megachurches, since many things in Texas -- as you may have heard -- tend to be big.

Also, lots of people in Texas are committed to home-schooling their children. As with any form of intense education, some children like that more than others.

I say all of this to make one point: Journalists need to investigate all of these religion angles because this young man's faith -- or his loss of faith --  may turn out to be crucial. Most of all, law officials seem to be focusing on finding the source of the pain, anger and "darkness" that seized Conditt's life in the days, weeks or months leading up to the bombings.

Where would you start, reading between the lines in this passage from the main Associated Press report?

Conditt’s family said in a statement they had “no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in.” ...

Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of Conditt’s parents in Pflugerville for about 17 years, said he watched Conditt grow up and that he always seemed “smart” and “polite.” Reeb, 75, said Conditt and his grandson played together into middle school and that Conditt regularly visited his parents, whom Reeb described as good neighbors.

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Reporters delve into the religion of Mark Conditt, the dead man identified as Austin's serial bomber

Reporters delve into the religion of Mark Conditt, the dead man identified as Austin's serial bomber

For residents of Austin, Texas, weeks of terror ended Wednesday when Mark Conditt — identified as the serial bomber responsible for killing two people and badly wounding four others — blew himself up.

As reporters began delving into the 23-year-old Conditt's background, religious details — some more concrete than others — quickly emerged.

My thanks to GetReligion reader Deann Alford, a Texas-based journalist and author, who alerted us to crucial facts in an Austin American-Statesman story. The key: The religious questions linked to this story are valid hooks to investigate — right now. But authorities say they see no clues, so far, to motives in these acts.

The Austin newspaper interviewed Jeremiah Jensen, 24, who was homeschooled in the same community as Conditt:

The two were close in 2012 and 2013, said Jensen, who would often go to the Conditts’ home for lunch after Sunday church service and attended Bible study and other activities with him. Jensen said Conditt came from a good family, was athletic, enjoyed rock climbing and parkour and was a “deep thinker.”
“When I met Mark, he was really rough around the edges,” Jensen said. “He was a very assertive person and would … end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation. A lot of people didn’t understand him and where he was coming from. He really just wanted to tell the truth. What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it. He loved to think and argue and turn things over and figure out what was really going on.”
Jensen said Conditt attended regular church services at the Austin Stone Community Church on St. John’s Avenue.
“I know faith was a serious thing for him,” he said. “I don’t know if he held onto his faith or not. … The kind of anger that he expressed and the kind of hate that he succumbed to — that’s not what he believed in in high school. I don’t know what happened along the way. This wasn’t him.”

A little later in the story, there's this:

The Austin Stone said in a statement it had no records of Conditt or his family’s active involvement in the church or interactions with staff members.
“We love and grieve with our city and we continue to pray for the victims and their families who were affected by these recent tragedies. We are cooperating with law enforcement with any pertinent information we can find that may be of help as they continue their investigation,” the church said in a statement.

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