Obituaries

A whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin, the preacher's daughter who became 'Queen of Soul'

A whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin, the preacher's daughter who became 'Queen of Soul'

If you're reading the tributes to Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76, then you know that religion is a vital part of her story.

It's impossible to write the Queen of Soul's obituary without giving prominent attention to her upbringing as the daughter of a Baptist preacher.

Her gospel roots, after all, influenced not just her musical career but her entire life.

Good news: Major news organizations are giving a whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the faith angle.

For example, here is the opening of the Los Angeles Times' lengthy obit:

Aretha Franklin, the preacher’s daughter who became the “Queen of Soul” and forged the template of the larger-than-life pop diva with her exuberant, gospel-rooted singing, has died. She was 76.

Franklin died Thursday of advanced pancreatic cancer, according to her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.

In a career she began as a teenager in the 1950s, Franklin went from singing in her father’s Detroit Baptist church to performing for presidents and royalty as she took soul music to its creative and commercial pinnacle.

Meanwhile, this big chunk of religious background (my apologies for the length of this blockquote) is included in The Associated Press' main obit:

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Old story of Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggart's onetime accuser, shows that faith details matter

Old story of Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggart's onetime accuser, shows that faith details matter

Until just recently, you'd have to have been a rather deep-in-the-weeds religion nerd to remember Pastor Marvin Gorman, a pentecostal preacher who, like the much-more-famous Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, was once affiliated with the much more mainstream Assemblies of God. 

Gorman, 86, who passed to his rest on January 4 in New Orleans, was one of the first, in 1987, to formally accuse Swaggart of adultery, and he had the photographic evidence to support the charge.

As the New Orleans Times-Picayune captured it:

Rev. Gorman was brought down in an epic feud that sullied the Pentecostal movement three decades ago. In 1986, Swaggart, a fellow Assembly of God televangelist based in Baton Rouge, accused him of adultery. Swaggart also helped blow the whistle on Jim Bakker, an Assembly of God televangelist in Charlotte, N.C., for an extramarital affair with a church secretary.
In response, Rev. Gorman circulated photographs of Swaggart and a prostitute at an Airline Highway motel in Metairie, leading to Swaggart's downfall, and he sued Swaggart for defamation. He won a $10 million award, although the parties later settled out of court at $1.85 million.
By this time all three men's ministries were in ruins. Rev. Gorman declared bankruptcy, Bakker went to prison and Swaggart's empire collapsed.

Those of us in or around the Godbeat in those days know how tumultuous a time it was. But it was long, long ago, and the media could be forgiven for having moved on to the latest prosperity gospel preacher who's set to pray at Donald Trump's inauguration, or something else more contemporary.

I believe, however, that it's important to remember the lives and works, good or bad, of those who've labored in the vineyards of faith, and thereby hangs, I would also suggest, a journalistic tale. 

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Election-year theodicy? Washington Post explores rise of faith-haunted, political obits

Election-year theodicy? Washington Post explores rise of faith-haunted, political obits

So do you remember Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Va.? Her name surfaced recently in a way that was both humorous and poignant, during a "Crossroads" podcast about the "lesser of two evils" dilemma faced by many voters in this year's White House campaign.

All over America, people were talking about her obituary in The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Some people thought this was a hoax, perhaps something from The Onion. The folks at Snopes.com quickly verified that this viral sensation was the real deal.

If you do not recall the details, here is how the Noland obit opened:

NOLAND, Mary Anne Alfriend. Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68. Born in Danville, Va., Mary Anne was a graduate of Douglas Freeman High School (1966) and the University of Virginia School of Nursing (1970). A faithful child of God, Mary Anne devoted her life to sharing the love she received from Christ with all whose lives she touched as a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend and nurse. ...

You could see, in the Noland obituary, that this family's faith was woven into this story and linked, somehow, to the disdain they felt toward the two major candidates (depending, of course, on the outcome of the crucial FBI primary and the growing revolt among GOP delegates, many of them cultural and moral conservatives).

Surely this obituary was a one-of-a-kind heart cry, right? As it turns out, it was not. That leads us to a quite amazing feature in The Washington Post that ran under the headline, "Disdain for Trump and Clinton is so strong, even the dead are campaigning."

Did this feature deal with the moral and religious elements of this phenomenon? Sort of.

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Kleenex alert: Tale of tragedy, irony and Christianity

It’s not every day that an obituary of a non-celebrity appears above the fold on a major daily newspaper’s front page. Rarer still is the mention, nay prominence, of a faith story unfolding within.

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Closer to God than all the diagrams in the world

An obituary of Father Robert F. Capon in the New York Times? Sounds great. It begins:

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