Fort Worth

Friday Five: Jarrid Wilson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Wedgwood Baptist anniversary, Ostling on Godbeat

Friday Five: Jarrid Wilson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Wedgwood Baptist anniversary, Ostling on Godbeat

Welcome to the published-later-in-the-day-than-usual edition of Friday Five.

I’m on a reporting trip to Tennessee with my regular job, and GetReligion Editor Terry Mattingly graciously gave me extra time to write this.

After that brief intro, let’s dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is the story that I just can’t get out of my mind: the death of pastor, author and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson by suicide.

In a post Thursday, tmatt delved into Religion News Service’s initial coverage of the tragedy. Look for much more discussion in a post Saturday related to GR’s weekly podcast.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: My post declaring that “Sorry, but Politico's long exposé on Jerry Falwell Jr. lacks adequate named sources to be taken seriously” was our No. 1 analysis of the week.

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In Baptist circles, which is the more powerful position: SBC president or SBC seminary president?

In Baptist circles, which is the more powerful position: SBC president or SBC seminary president?

I have a fair amount of experience reporting on the Southern Baptist Convention, going back two decades when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman and traveled to the denomination’s annual meetings.

In my time with The Associated Press in Dallas, I did a 2004 series on the 25th anniversary of the 1979 conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year, freelancing for the Washington Post, I covered an all-night meeting at which Paige Patterson was removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

But I’ll acknowledge that I’m no expert on the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. For example, I don’t have a clear idea of whether the Southern Baptist Convention’s president — an elected role generally filled by a pastor — is a more powerful, substantial position than serving as president of one of the denomination’s six regional seminaries. It seems to me that perhaps the seminary presidents are bigger, more major players in the long term.

The reason I bring this up is that the ongoing news coverage of the SBC’s sex abuse scandal — in which Patterson keeps making all the wrong kind of headlines — typically cites Patterson’s past SBC presidency before mentioning his tenure as seminary president.

In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — which should be as informed on this story as anyone — seems somewhat confused about which role Patterson was kicked out of last year.

Here’s the lede of the Star-Telegram’s report on a lawsuit (warning: the details are chilling) filed last week:

A woman who said she was threatened and humiliated after reporting multiple rapes to former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson has filed a lawsuit against him.

The lawsuit, which was filed by a former student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaryin Fort Worth, was unsealed this week. 

It says the woman was the victim of multiple violent sexual assaults on the school’s campus by a fellow student, who also was employed at the seminary, in 2014 and 2015. But even before she became a student, the lawsuit says, the seminary “was not a safe place for young women.”

But here’s the deal: Patterson was president of the SBC in 1999 and 2000. That was 20 years ago.

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'Why do you want Bishop Olson to be removed?' Yes, Texas newspaper's survey seems, um, one-sided

'Why do you want Bishop Olson to be removed?' Yes, Texas newspaper's survey seems, um, one-sided

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a somewhat lengthy story out today reporting that “Hundreds of parishioners from across the Diocese of Fort Worth have begun the process to ask Pope Francis to remove Bishop Michael Olson.”

The story quotes in quite a bit of detail a canon lawyer named Philip Gray, who is president of The St. Joseph Foundation. The Star-Telegram says he “is advising the groups, gathering evidence and writing the petition.”

Strangely enough, though, the piece doesn’t quote a single upset parishioner.

So it’s only a minor surprise that the paper has a form at the bottom of the report asking for feedback from readers:

Do you want the Vatican to investigate Bishop Michael Olson or the Fort Worth Diocese? We want to hear your story.

But the wording of one of the questions in particular doesn’t seem entirely, um, impartial.

Here it is:

Why do you want Bishop Olson to be removed?

Not do you want Bishop Olson to be removed? But why do you want Bishop Olson to be removed?

That won’t skew the submissions at all, will it?

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Will United Methodist Church be ripped apart? Ahead of big meeting, here's a fair analysis

Will United Methodist Church be ripped apart? Ahead of big meeting, here's a fair analysis

The United Methodist Church’s much-anticipated meeting on same-sex marriage rites and whether homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” is just a few weeks away.

It’ll be Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.

In advance of the church’s historic General Conference, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram did a deep dive on the subject — and it’s a generally fair, informative read, as one observer noted on Twitter.

As far as I know, the Star-Telegram doesn’t have a religion writer per se. But the Fort Worth paper has done some excellent work on the Godbeat in recent times, including a must-read investigation on sex crimes in independent fundamental Baptist churches late last year. That project was produced by investigative reporter Sarah Smith, who left the Star-Telegram soon thereafter to join the Houston Chronicle.

The in-depth story on the United Methodist Church was written by Hanaa’ Tameez, who covers diversity for the Star-Telegram.

Tameez open her piece with an anecdote from a Methodist congregation grappling at the local level with the questions facing the entire denomination:

COLLEYVILLE — On a Tuesday in January, pastor Katie Lewis was surprised to have even 26 members of the United Methodist Church of Colleyville attend her study group on human sexuality and same-sex marriage.

In a group of mostly middle-aged white congregants, opinions ranged widely. One man said he felt pressure to accept LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage from “more liberal” members from the East and West Coasts. Others quickly disputed that idea, saying the issue is a concern in Colleyville as well.

“Whether you know it or not, someone in your life is struggling to be accepted for who they are,” one woman told the group.

Lewis said she felt the conversation was necessary ahead of the United Methodist General Conference this month in St. Louis. The conference meets every four years, but a special session was called to vote on a plan regarding same-sex marriage and the acceptance of LGBTQ clergy in the church.

The United Methodist Church faces the possibility of a schism because of the vote. It’s inevitable that people will leave the church because of how polarizing the issue is, according to congregants, clergy and experts. It’s also possible entire congregations could leave the denomination.

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A tearjerker of a faith story: Three members of Texas family killed in crash, and four others hurt

A tearjerker of a faith story: Three members of Texas family killed in crash, and four others hurt

Try to look at that photo and not shed a few tears.

The three children pictured were hurt — badly hurt — in a crash that killed their parents and an infant sister. Another brother also was hospitalized but released after a few days.

I came across the story on the Metro & State section cover of today's Dallas Morning News.

Before I saw the photo, the headline grabbed my attention:

Orphaned siblings lean on one another, faith

So apparently, there is a religion angle to this sad story. I read the lede and then turned to the jump page, interested in learning more.

The Dallas newspaper quotes the children's great-aunt Teresa Burrell, whose home state offers the first clue about the family's possible religious affiliation:

"They've come so far," said Burrell, who flew south from her Utah home to be with her niece and nephews, "but we know there's a a tough road ahead. They're in so much pain." 

Angela, 8, was in a coma for days after the crash. She's stable and able to speak now, but casts cover half of her body to support her legs, which were crushed. Brain trauma also caused her to suffer memory loss, and she had to be told twice that her parents and sister did not survive. 

Zachary, 5, suffered a broken back and internal injuries, and has recently been fighting fevers and other complications. Burrell said he was conscious throughout the crash and has had night terrors because of it.

He lost his first tooth after waking up from his coma and was happy to discover that the tooth fairy makes hospital visits.  

Wyatt, 4, also suffered severe head trauma and was in a coma. Several strokes left half of his body paralyzed, but with the help of physical therapy and lots of prayer, Burrell said he's now walking again, and even trying to run around.

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A Texas-sized battle over an urban school district's transgender-friendly bathroom policy

A Texas-sized battle over an urban school district's transgender-friendly bathroom policy

The bathroom wars rage on.

A battle over the Fort Worth, Texas, school district's newly enacted transgender-friendly bathroom policy — which received no advance public hearing — is front-page news today in both of the Metroplex's major dailies.

You can read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story here and the Dallas Morning News story here. Rod "Friend of This Blog" Dreher of the American Conservative offers some insightful analysis here.

The lede from the Dallas newspaper:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick again called for the resignation of the Fort Worth school superintendent on Tuesday, protesting his implementation of a bathroom policy for transgendered students. But he was greeted with boos and several area figures told him to butt out.
Fort Worth became ground zero in Texas’ political fight over transgender rights after Patrick demanded the resignation of Superintendent Kent Scribner, saying he implemented a district policy to support transgender students without properly consulting parents.
Hundreds showed up to get into the district’s regular Tuesday board meeting as the line wrapped around the building and down the block. Some held signs reading “Trans Rights Matter” while others simply had one word: Repeal.
A majority of the 20 speakers who had a chance to address trustees spoke in favor of the transgender policy. Those who opposed it had dozens of supporters in the room, too.

I read both stories in a hurry and am still digesting the intricacies of the Fort Worth debate as well as the news coverage.

Quick impression: Both stories quote sources on both sides and seem to do an adequate job of explaining the arguments involved.

However — and maybe I'm totally wrong — the Star-Telegram report seems less than impartial. Tell me if I'm off-base here.

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Talking Dallas, twisters, theodicy and the Book of Job -- from one theological perspective

Talking Dallas, twisters, theodicy and the Book of Job -- from one theological perspective

Spring is approaching in the Sunbelt, which means one thing to people in places like North Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Western Tennessee.

Here come the tornadoes.

As someone who was a child in Wichita Falls on April 3, 1964 (and several other relevant dates), I know quite a bit about the astonishing, random, mysterious power of twisters. If you were looking for a natural phenomenon that can jump start a debate about "theodicy" -- the technical term for "God in the dock" arguments about good and evil -- a tornado will do the trick.

What does it mean when a twister destroys a neighborhood and leaves a church standing? What does it mean when the church is destroyed, as well? No, I don't think this is a denominational thing.

To cut to the chase, I was glad when The Dallas Morning News did something interesting the other day, offering a question-and-answer piece that ran with this headline: "Texas Faith: How a loving God can permit killer tornadoes." It's well worth the time and raises some interesting questions and hints at ONE TAKE on some answers. Hold that thought.

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