Concerning that 'prominent' 'Mormon' 'bishop' peeping around at a ladies dressing room

Concerning that 'prominent' 'Mormon' 'bishop' peeping around at a ladies dressing room

Take, for example, the word “bishop.” What does this term mean in (a) the Church of Rome, (b) the United Methodist Church, (c) the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (d) various Pentecostal denominations and (e) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly known to newsroom pros as the “Mormons.”)

While we’re at it, what does “evangelical” mean in the title of the ELCA, one of America’s most doctrinally progressive-liberal flocks?

Words matter. So you just knew we were in for a rough ride, journalistically speaking, when headlines like this one began to sprout online: “Peeping Tom in Nashville Store Turns Out to Be High-Ranking Mormon Leader.” Things got really rough when local-TV news kicked in.

Now, I realize that this particular headline ran at a Patheos advocacy site called — Friendly Atheist. But this online post did combine lots of the issues and stumbles one could find elsewhere. Let us attend:

It’s bad enough that a man in an H&M retail store inside the Opry Mills shopping center in Nashville, Tennessee was caught spying on a woman whom he led into a dressing room (apparently acting like a sales rep).

It’s even worse that the man’s wife attempted to stop the woman from calling police.

But the kicker? The man in question, Stephen Murdock, is a Mormon bishop.

Combine the present-tense reference to this man bing a bishop with the phrase “High-Ranking Mormon Leader” and it would appear that a member of the church’s national hierarchy had fallen.

Here is how The New York Post summed up the crucial information about Murdock’s standing:

A high-ranking member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was busted taking photos of a woman in a store’s dressing room, according to police and church officials.

Steven Murdock, 55, a Mormon high councilor and one-time bishop, encouraged a woman to use an empty changing stall at an H&M in a Nashville mall, where she then saw a phone camera pointed at her, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Nashville Tennessean.

Like I said, religion-news can get complicated.

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Yes, John Earnest put 'Christian' label into play: That's half of an equation reporters need to cover

Yes, John Earnest put 'Christian' label into play: That's half of an equation reporters need to cover

The following headline at the Progressive Secular Humanist weblog at Patheos was meant to be a grabber and it certainly achieved its goal.

Check this out: “Christian Terrorist John Earnest Issued Manifesto Before California Synagogue Shooting.”

That manifesto included some stunning pull quotes that were totally valid material for mainstream news reporters. Try to get through this Earnest passage without wanting to spew your morning beverage:

My God does not take kindly to the destruction of His creation. Especially one of the most beautiful, intelligent, and innovative races that He has created. Least of all at the hands of one of the most ugly, sinful, deceitful, cursed, and corrupt. My God understands why I did what I did. …

To my brothers in Christ of all races. Be strong. Although the Jew who is inspired by demons and Satan will attempt to corrupt your soul with the sin and perversion he spews—remember that you are secure in Christ.

Patheos blogger Michael Stone added, with justifiable snark: “Can you feel the Christian love?”

Yes, reporters also need to note that Earnest said, in that same manifesto, that he didn’t soak up this twisted version of Christianity while frequenting church pews with his family. His hateful, deadly heresies grew out of a private, secret life online, listening to true radicals. Church members tried to talk to him, but he turned away.

Nevertheless, there is no question that reporters will have to deal with two clashing versions of Christianity when covering this story — that white supremacist brand proclaimed in this digital testimony and the Orthodox Presbyterian — uppercase “O” is part of the name — faith taught in his family’s congregation. In this case, the accused gunman did everything that he could to put the word “Christian” into play.

It helps that leaders of the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church decided to let journalists sit in on part of the confession and healing process. Here’s the top of a key USA Today report:

SAN DIEGO — Before Saturday, John T. Earnest was known only as a quiet, successful student and an accomplished pianist.

On Sunday, his church reeled, calling a special session to address the news: Earnest had been detained in connection with Saturday’s deadly synagogue shooting near San Diego. His name had also been linked to a racist online posting that praised mass shooters, spoke of a plan to "kill Jews," and extensively cited scripture. …

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Weekend thinker with a punch line: Please take this 'You might be an evangelical if ...' quiz

Weekend thinker with a punch line: Please take this 'You might be an evangelical if ...' quiz

Sorry for the social stereotypes, but the video at the top of this post -- or the comedy riff at the heart of it -- was the first thing that I thought of a week or two ago when I saw a tweet from Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post that proclaimed: "This is a fun quiz. Are you an evangelical?"

Obviously, that link went into my "GetReligion Guilt" file.

Of course, "Are you an evangelical?" isn't that far from, "You might be an evangelical if ..." You can understand how I guy (that would be me) who grew up in a Southern Baptist pastor's home in Texas would make the leap to Jeff Foxworthy.

Now, I realize that there already are lots of websites with one-liners built on this concept. For example, at the "Progressive Christian" site at Patheos you'll find examples such as these:

If you have strong opinions about when, precisely, Amy Grant “sold out,” then you might be an evangelical.
If the first time you saw your uncle’s shot-glass collection, you wondered where he got all those fancy communion cups, then …
If you’ve ever forgotten to set your clock back at the end of Daylight Savings Time and your first thought at seeing the empty church parking lot was, “Oh no, I’ve missed the Rapture,” then …
If you never watched “Highway to Heaven,” not because it was too preachy, but because it aired on Wednesday nights, then …
If you knew that “Wednesday nights” in the previous joke was a reference to prayer meeting, then …

But, semi-seriously, there is a reason that your GetReligionistas have dedicated so much digital ink over the years to discussions of what the word "evangelical" does or does not mean.

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Are Christian conservatives the new media bogeymen for all Donald Trump policies?

Are Christian conservatives the new media bogeymen for all Donald Trump policies?

I was in Washington, D.C., this past week on a journalism assignment that put me, as a reporter, in touch with a lot of Christian conservatives.

Naturally, I was curious as to whether any of these people had anything to do with President Donald Trump’s transgender announcement. The ones I talked with denied they had.

I was aware of other issues they were discussing, so I believed their assertion that transgender issues weren’t on their list, much less near the top. So I found it odd that these same conservatives were blamed for Trump’s announcement in some news reports.

Here’s what the Associated Press led with. Note that the headline on this piece said, “Trump transgender ban nod to Christian conservatives,” not just “conservatives."

WASHINGTON (AP) -- His agenda stalled and his party divided, President Donald Trump veered into the nation’s simmering culture wars by announcing plans to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
Much of the political world -- prominent conservatives and Trump administration officials, among them -- was surprised and confused by the president’s sudden social media pronouncement. But on the ground in North Carolina, Tami Fitzgerald was elated.
“It was pretty high up on our wish list,” said Fitzgerald, executive director for North Carolina Values Coalition, which has fought for that state’s so-called “bathroom bill.” Fitzgerald said she found it “ridiculous” that the American taxpayers were being forced to pay for treatment and surgery that violates the conscience of most of the American public.”
Trump’s abrupt announcement amounted to a direct political lifeline to his most passionate supporters. In his chaotic first six months in office, Trump has lost sizable support from independents and some Republican voters. But polls show white evangelicals remaining loyal -- and essential to stabilizing his political standing.

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The Tao of Western journalists understanding Eastern traditions via The New York Times

The Tao of Western journalists understanding Eastern traditions via The New York Times

It's not often a news story or feature geared toward the general public mentions the indigenous Chinese religion known in the West as Taoism (also spelled Daoism), but The New York Times managed to produce one last week. So how’d America’s newspaper of record do?

Let’s call it a less than “A” effort. But it did expose the difficulties that Western news media tend to encounter when trying to explain Eastern traditions that view religious beliefs through an entirely different lens — which is why it merits a GetReligion post.

I'll say more about that later. But first let’s deal with the merits of this particular Times story. Please read it in full to better follow my reasoning.

The focus was the impact that organized religion -- China’s traditional faith movements, in particular -- are contributing to the nation’s newfound emphasis on environmental awareness. Taoism, in the form of a $17.7-million “eco-friendly” temple located on a “sacred site” named Mao Mountain, provided the anecdotal lede.

The piece itself only superficially sought to explain Taoist beliefs and their role in contemporary Chinese society. It utterly failed to address questions such as, what’s the justification for a $17.7-million temple when Taoist philosophy has a clear emphasis on the virtue of simple living?

(One thing Eastern and Western religions apparently share is the human affliction we’ll refer to as the edifice complex — also known in some American Buddhist circles as “spiritual materialism.” Ah, but that’s a post for another time.)

Nor does the Times story break new ground -- but how many news features actually do?

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Flashback 2015: Revealing Top 10 lists from Religion Dispatches and Patheos Evangelical

Flashback 2015: Revealing Top 10 lists from Religion Dispatches and Patheos Evangelical

So far, your GetReligionistas have shared quite a few Top 10 story lists marking the end of the year -- like here, here, here and here, with an attached podcast here. These have ranged from the Religion Newswriters Association list to that of the Associated Press. I found it interesting (commentary here) that the top AP story -- period, as in the top story in the whole world -- was a religion news story, but that wasn't the top story in the RNA poll. Go figure.

Obviously, I find these lists fascinating, in part because they show us (a) just how complex the world of religion news really is and (b) the unique points of view (which can, in some cases become biases) that affect how scribes and editors see the world of religion news. There is much to learn in these lists, both for news professionals and news consumers.

In the next couple of days I will be posting a number of additional lists covering religion news in 2015, from a variety of different points of view.

Please let me know if I missed one or two that you would like to see posted.

Let's start with the Religion Dispatches list of the "Ten Religion Stores That Went (Mostly) Missing in 2015." The whole idea here, of course, is that these are stories that, from the point of view of Peter Laarman, SHOULD have received more coverage in the past year.

Read them all. But here are a few that caught my eye:

2. The struggle of the Black Church to come to terms with #BlackLivesMatter.
In some cities there has been visible conflict between Old Guard pastors (many of whom still identify with the 20th century civil rights movement) and the New Guard of fearless youth, many of whom are not shy about showing contempt for the pastors.

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A radio talker’s new online faith-friendly sideline -- 'Life. Explained'

 A radio talker’s new online faith-friendly sideline -- 'Life. Explained'

News and commentary sites about religion continue to proliferate, adding to journalists’ headaches on how to parcel out their limited reading time.

Among others, the Religion Guy’s spot checks include from the venerable Religion News Service, led by interim editor Yonat Shimron, a Godbeat vet out of Raleigh, N.C. Then there is  Nicholas Hahn’s, and of course our own

A standout mainstream media site is "Acts of Faith," at The Washington Post (edited by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey).

Then for gobs of opinionated comment representing all imaginable viewpoints there’s (Full disclosure: The Religion Guy writes “Religion Q and A” items for the “Public Square” section of to provide a bit of non-sectarian information there. Those pieces are also posted by GetReligion.)

The latest entry comes from tart-tongued Laura Ingraham, 52, the most-listened-to woman in the conservative talk-radio universe. Her went online in July.

Despite the name, this is not a website focused on “pro-life” issues, though that outlook is evident in some of the postings. The site’s slogan is “Life. Explained.”  

Good. Luck. With. That.

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Moving day: Back home at

Moving day: Back home at

So, here we are once again -- back home at, where Doug Leblanc and I first pitched camp more than 10 years ago.

As I explained in the exit post at Patheos, this whole week is going to have a kind of Christmas in July feel to it. Why is that?

Well, we have been working on this move for a long time, a very long time -- since the last month or two of 2013. It's hard to move a website from a commercial, very complicated website like the Patheos hub to a completely different platform. Our decade-plus archive contains millions of words and thousands or hyperlinks, images and comments that you want to bring with you.

So the goal was to make this move (cue: drum roll) back on our 10th anniversary -- which was Feb. 2. That was technically impossible, for reasons that we don't have time to discuss. 

Thus, this week is going to have a kind of Christmas in July, 2nd of February on August the 4th sort of feel to it. Does that make sense? 

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10 years of GetReligion: State of the Godbeat 2014

Ever since the Washington Post dumped its massive On Faith blog, there’s been more chatter about where the religion beat is headed these days. True, On Faith has found a new — and more attractively designed — home, but has anyone else noticed the Post spinning off other specialty blogs to new homes? In late 2004, when I did an assessment for — “Help Wanted on the Religion Beat” — I mourned how major papers were increasingly hiring inexperienced journalists to cover religion news.

A decade later, it’s a big deal if anyone — experienced or not — is hired to a full-time job covering religion.

Journalism has seen a sea change in the past decade-plus due to the Internet taking over how news is produced, distributed and funded. Every beat is feeling the pain, as reporters in all specialties — and above a certain age — are losing their jobs. Whole newspapers have gone online only, or cut back to only a few days a week. Not only have religion beat reporters been shed like autumn leaves, all sections of the typical newsroom have been hit with layoffs and buyouts, including one Chicago newspaper that ditched its entire photo staff in one swoop.

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