Joel Osteen

What a world we live in: 'Reality Criticized For Not More Clearly Distinguishing Itself From Satire'

What a world we live in: 'Reality Criticized For Not More Clearly Distinguishing Itself From Satire'

During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast — click here to tune that in — host Todd Wilken and I talked about the ongoing war between The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian news satire site, and the progressive fact checker squad at Snopes.com.

Oh, and as often happens in discussions of religion and public life, the threat that (trigger warning) Chick-fil-A seems to pose to American civilization ended up in the mix.

Here’s a typical question from the discussion: Is it satire to satirize contemporary satire by pretending to think that the satire is actual real news?

Or something like that.

The bottom line is that real news is starting to sound like satire. As the Bee said the other day: “Reality Criticized For Not More Clearly Distinguishing Itself From Satire.” At the same time, lots of satire is starting to sound like subtle (or not so subtle) forms of real — or some would say “fake” — news. Take the top of this New Yorker piece for example:

Customers across the nation who turned out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day were in for a surprise, as the chicken restaurant chose today to launch a new product, Hate Sauce.

Delighted customers mobbed the restaurants to try the zesty new sauce, with many chicken fanciers ordering their sandwiches with extra hate. “It’s so spicy it makes your mouth feel like it’s on fire — like a gay couple in hell,” said Harland Dorrinson, who sampled the sauce at a Chick-fil-A in Orlando.

That’s pretty blunt and, thus, it’s easy to assume that it’s satire (which it is).

But how about the quotes in the following story about a Chick-fil-A war at the University of Kansas?

“KU granted Chick-fil-A, a bastion of bigotry, a prime retail location in the heart of our campus,” KU’s Sexuality & Gender Diversity Faculty and Staff Council said in a letter sent this week to Chancellor Doug Girod, the provost’s office and the athletic department.

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Bee advised: Amid religious and political tumult, readers may welcome a good chuckle

Bee advised: Amid religious and political tumult, readers may welcome a good chuckle

Behold this recent "news" item:

DALLAS, TX -- Pastor Robert Jeffress, longtime supporter of President Donald Trump, has publicly accused Jesus of Nazareth of having "Trump Derangement Syndrome" after reading that the Christ condemned adultery in the Sermon on the Mount.

A baffled Jeffress read Jesus's words condemning not only adultery but looking at a woman lustfully and immediately concluded the Rabbi was simply exhibiting symptoms of deranged, unfair hatred of Donald Trump. ...

Here's another one:

WASHINGTON -- In an alarming show of religious extremism and complete disregard for the separation of church and state, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was spotted by news reporters serving food to the homeless.

Kavanaugh performed the frightening display of religious devotion alongside an organized group of radicalized Catholics, whose extremist mission appears to be helping the needy. Local news crews leaped out of the bushes and caught him in the act, asking him, "What do you have to say for yourself, BIGOT?" 

As you surely perceived, this is not real fake news but fake real news, that is to say fictional satire, posted by The Babylon Bee

Hey, in times of political and religious tumult, everyone can use a good chuckle. 

The online Bee, which first hit an unready readership two years ago, is religion’s equivalent of the devoutly secular The Onion, whose recent gibes include an item headlined “Sessions Vows To Protect All Deeply Held Religious Bigotry.”

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Friday Five: Southern Baptists and Catholic bishops and White House Bible verses, oh my! What a week!

Friday Five: Southern Baptists and Catholic bishops and White House Bible verses, oh my! What a week!

Looking for religion news? It's "Everywhere" this week.

Southern Baptists in Dallas? Yep.

Roman Catholic bishops in Florida? Yep.

Bible references at the White House? Of course.

"This week has been a religion writer's dream," said Bob Smietana, veteran Godbeat pro.

"When 'Bible' is trending in one of the most secular regions of America [San Francisco], you know you need to hire more religion writers," said Kaya Oakes, who writes for a variety of publications.

Preach it!

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

1. Religion story of the week: Obviously, there's no shortage of possibilities this week. But given our half-dozen posts on the Southern Baptist Convention (just since the last Friday Five), it's hard to argue with the annual meeting in Dallas as the week's top story.

To catch up here are those posts (with Terry Mattingly's podcast post still to come):

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Lakewood Church as family empire: Houston Chronicle business reporter gets it right

Lakewood Church as family empire: Houston Chronicle business reporter gets it right

Every so often, the Houston Chronicle covers some aspect of the Osteen empire at Lakewood Church, the nation’s largest Christian congregation. In the late 1980s when I worked at "the Chron,"  I followed the Rev. John Osteen, the patriarch who founded Lakewood in the 1960s and built it into a famous congregation with a TV ministry and an international outreach.

At the time, Lakewood was in northeast Houston and its billboards advertised the place as the “Oasis of Love.” I wrote a 1988 story about their move into a new building that John Osteen boasted only cost $5 million (while other megachurches were spending five times that on their capital projects) so that extra money could go to missions. Then in 2005, Lakewood moved across town to the 16,000-seat Compaq Center (former home of the NBA Rockets) on a major freeway smack in the middle of town.

Starting May 31, the Chronicle came out with “The Preacher’s Son,” a three-part series about its pastor, Joel Osteen, the son who took over when his dad died in 1999. The main writer was not a religion reporter but a business writer, as there was much emphasis on Lakewood Church as a $90 million/year business complete with financial statements and property records. The result was a wealth of information on the church I don’t think has ever been released.

The first part of the series kicks off with a segment from one of Osteen’s sermons, then:

This is how Osteen has become the nation's most ubiquitous pastor and one of its wealthiest. He has earned the allegiance of the hopeless, the doubtful and the downtrodden with a credo of beguiling simplicity: Don't dwell on the past. Think positive. Be a victor, not a victim.

A self-described "encourager," he rarely addresses or even acknowledges the fundamental mysteries of Christianity, let alone such contentious issues as same-sex marriage or abortion. Instead, he exhorts listeners to take charge of their destinies and confront whatever "enemies" they face -- debt collectors, clueless bosses, grim medical diagnoses, loneliness.

In an era of bitter cultural and political divisions, he has redefined what it means to be evangelical by dispensing with the bad news and focusing solely on the good. His vanilla creed has proven irresistible, especially to those down on their luck.

Then the focus shifts to the numbers:

Broadcasts of its thunderous, music-filled services reach an estimated 10 million U.S. viewers each week on television -- and more via websites and podcasts. Many of them go on to buy Osteen's books, devotionals, CDs, DVDs and other merchandise.

A 24-hour Sirius XM station, launched in 2014, expanded his domain to include people commuting to work or running errands.

He has taken Lakewood on the road with monthly Night of Hope events, lavishly produced spectacles of prayer and song that fill stadiums across the country at $15 a ticket. Attendees post branded photos from the events on Facebook and Twitter, where Osteen has amassed a combined 28 million followers.

His 10 books, self-help manuals filled with homespun wisdom about the power of positive thinking, have sold more than 8.5 million printed copies in the U.S. alone, according to NPD BookScan.

It's religion as big business, run by a close-knit family that excels at promoting Osteen as an earnest, folksy everyman. 

That does nail it, you must admit.

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Friday Five: Biblical bombshell (not), Joel Osteen deep dive, Onion-style real headlines and more

Friday Five: Biblical bombshell (not), Joel Osteen deep dive, Onion-style real headlines and more

I bring you an update today courtesy of The Religion Guy.

Those of you who are regular GetReligion readers know that The Guy is Richard N. Ostling, who was a longtime religion writer with The Associated Press and Time magazine and received the Religion News Association's lifetime achievement award in 2006. Here at GetReligion we call him the "patriarch."

Back in March, Ostling wrote about a manuscript fragment of the Gospel of Mark supposedly dating back to the 1st Century A.D. He put it this way:

A long-brewing story, largely ignored by the media, could be the biggest biblical bombshell since a lad accidentally stumbled upon the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. Or not.

Here is the update from my esteemed colleague:

In case anyone is pursuing this story idea, it now appears that  “not” is the operative word. Brill has issued the long-delayed volume 83 of its Oxyrhynchus Papyri series and turns out Oxford paleography expert Dirk Obbink dates this text far later. It's still an important early find, but not the earth-shattering claim that was made by several evangelical exegetes. The so-called Papyrus 5345 fragment covers six verses, Mark 1:7-9, 16-18.

Daniel Wallace, who first announced the forthcoming bombshell in a 2012 debate with Bart Ehrman, explains what happened and apologizes to Ehrman and everyone else in a post on his blog. Also notable is this new posting by Elijah Hixson at a technical website about textual criticism. Hixson’s May 30 overview for Christianity Today shows there’s still a story the news media might explore.

         Good lessons here for journalists as well as biblical scholars. 

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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What makes a GetReligion post go viral? Wish I knew, but these were my Top 10 posts of 2017

What makes a GetReligion post go viral? Wish I knew, but these were my Top 10 posts of 2017

Happy New Year!

As we plunge into 2018, I'm excited about another year of writing for GetReligion. At this journalism-focused website, we highlight both positive and negative examples of mainstream reporting on religion news. 

I write four posts a week (including the all-new "Friday Five"). That adds up to 200 times a year that I offer my insights and opinions. Some of my posts go viral on social media. Others, um, do not. 

These were my 10 most-clicked posts of 2017:

10. Bravo! Washington Post religion writer delves masterfully into the faith of Sarah Huckabee Sanders

9. Oh no, look what Trump's done: He's appointed someone to Cabinet who ONCE PRAYED

8. Chicago Tribune reporting on Wheaton College hazing incident seems solid, but pay close attention

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Yes, 'evangelical' is a religious term (#REALLY). You can look that up in history books

Yes, 'evangelical' is a religious term (#REALLY). You can look that up in history books

Over the years, your GetReligionistas have asked variations on the following question many times: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Faithful readers will recall that, in 1987, I had a chance to ask the Rev. Billy Graham that question and, basically, he said that he no longer felt confident that he knew the answer. He then proceeded to frame "evangelical" in terms of ancient Christian doctrines, saying that he defined an "evangelical" as someone who believes all the doctrines in the ancient Nicene or the Apostles creeds. Graham stressed the centrality of belief in the resurrection and that salvation is through Jesus, alone.

However, if you follow the news, you know that most pollsters, politicos and journalists no longer believe that "evangelical" is primarily a religious word. During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I discussed this puzzle as we tried to make sense out of a recent "Newsmax's 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" list.

Take a second and scan that list, if you will. Note that, after the predictable Billy Graham nod at No. 1, the next nine are Graham’s son Franklin, Joel Osteen, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Jerry Falwell Jr., Joyce Meyer, Vice President Mike Pence and the married Hollywood duo of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

In my new "On Religion" column on this topic, historian Thomas Kidd made the following observation about the Newsmax list:

Disputes about the meaning of “evangelical” are so sharp that “several people on this list would not even agree that some other people on the list are ‘Christians,’ let alone ‘evangelicals’ as defined by any set of core doctrines,” said historian Thomas Kidd of Baylor University, whose research includes work on American religious movements, including the roots of evangelicalism.
Making this Top 100 list, he added, seems to be linked to “some kind of prominent position in media or politics or both,” as opposed to “leading successful churches or Christian organizations. ... I would imagine all these people believe that Jesus is the Son of God and they may even share some ideas about the authority of scripture -- but that’s about it.”

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Lessons (long ago) from Hurricane Harvey news: Yes, even Brits fussed about Joel Osteen

Lessons (long ago) from Hurricane Harvey news: Yes, even Brits fussed about Joel Osteen

“A week is a long time in politics,” is a saying attributed to the late Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of Britain from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1976. What is of vital importance today, for politicians and the press, may be of no concern a week later.

A week? What about a month?

This phrase, like that attributed to Harold MacMillan, “events, dear boy, events,” has worked its way into the fingers of journalists around the Anglosphere. It is a handy cliche to be trotted out by the hack who wishes to appear world weary and sophisticated, and who is also pressed for time and cannot think of something original to say.

Biographers of Wilson and MacMillan claim not to be able to verify if or when these phrases were ever uttered by their subjects. Yet, provenance is no longer important when they appear in an article -- they serve to set a tone.

If one looks back in time, that furor over Joel Osteen’s alleged callousness towards those seeking shelter from Hurricane Harvey in Houston is a fine case study of reporting via tone. In American the press, social media and the television networks had extensive coverage of the report the telegenic pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston had failed to open his 16,000-seat church to those fleeing the rising flood waters in Houston.

The story seemed to be everywhere -- then 10 days later it was nowhere to be found (except in commentary pieces, of course).

The reason? “Events, dear boy, events.” Hurricane Irma, etc., displaced Hurricane Harvey in the press cycle and the lidless eye of Mordor media turned its gaze from Texas to Florida and back out into the Atlantic Ocean.

But back to that Houston case study.

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Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.

Those who can’t find lodging are bunking up with friends or in churches

Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)

The website Mic.com has especially concentrated on mosques, such as this feature about an Orlando mosque offering shelter from Irma and this piece about Houston mosques offering shelter from Harvey.

The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account

TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.

Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship?

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