Prosperity gospel

Calling attention to 'important AP investigation on physical and sexual abuse' at N.C. church

Calling attention to 'important AP investigation on physical and sexual abuse' at N.C. church

If you pay attention to religion headlines, you've probably heard about the exclusive Associated Press story this week on "years of ungodly abuse" at a North Carolina church.

The investigative piece — a mountain of a wire service report at more than 4,000 words — delivers the journalistic goods.

Here's a big chunk of the opening, which sets the scene:

SPINDALE, N.C. (AP) — From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror — waged in the name of the Lord.
Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told The Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.
Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.
"I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists," said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.
Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical church with hundreds of members in North Carolina and branches in other countries, also subjected members to a practice called "blasting" — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.
As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the church's controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.
The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church. Many initially were reluctant to break their silence because they had hidden their pasts from new friends and colleagues — and because they remain afraid of Whaley.

If you don't have time to read the full report, there's an abridged version — about 1,100 words — that hits the high points.

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Spiritual visions: Behind the scenes of Donald Trump's 'inner circle of evangelical advisors'

Spiritual visions: Behind the scenes of Donald Trump's 'inner circle of evangelical advisors'

I've tended to brush aside Donald Trump's alleged spiritual awakening as political pandering (think "Two Corinthians" controversy).

As a husband and father, I couldn't bring myself to vote for a candidate who bragged about his ability to grab women by the ... well, you know what he said. 

But — now that Trump has been elected as the nation's 45th president — here's a serious question to ponder: Is there any chance that the foul-mouthed, womanizing billionaire really is a "baby Christian" who has embarked on a journey of faith?

That question came to mind as I read Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias' excellent, behind-the-scenes account of Trump's pastoral team on Election Night:

In the dark hours of early Wednesday morning, moments after Donald Trump gave his victory speech to a cheering ballroom in New York, the president-elect paused backstage with Pentecostal pastor Paula White.
With vice-president-elect Mike Pence and their families nearby, White prayed over them, asking God to guide them in wisdom and to protect them in the days ahead. Just days earlier, White was traveling with Trump on his plane when he brought up how Harry Truman surprised everyone by winning against Thomas Dewey in 1948.
Now, Trump prepares to enter the White House after an upset of his own. For White, “God’s hand and purpose in this” is hard to miss—thousands of Christians, she says, joined her in three days of prayer and fasting in anticipation of the outcome. “I haven’t personally seen it since 9/11 when the body has really come together,” she says.

This is just the latest insightful reporting by Dias on the pastors at the center of Trump's campaign.

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Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White

Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White

A new story by Elizabeth Dias, the Time magazine religion and politics correspondent, offers more insight into the friendship between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and televangelist Paula White.

Overall, it's a well-done report, although it sparked a question or two that I'll pose below.

First, let's check out Time's lede:

Donald Trump’s son Eric was glowing when he sat down at a Cleveland restaurant next to Orlando pastor Paula White. “Your prayer did it, Paula,” Eric told her. The younger Trump’s teleprompter had broken the night before as he prepared to address the Republican National Convention. “I thought I was going to have to wing 15 minutes to them all,” he said. “You prayed, and the prompter went back on.”
Eric Trump is not the only member of his family who has come to rely on White, 50, a popular televangelist who believes that intercessory prayer can have an immediate impact on shaping events. After she saw Eric, she went to her room in the Trump campaign’s Cleveland hotel, where she spent the next four hours praying for Donald Trump as he prepared for his prime-time convention address. Then at the candidate’s invitation, she met the Republican nominee, his wife Melania and 10-year old son Barron for another circle of prayer in their room.
“I do remember asking God to give him his words and his mind, and to use him—that it would not be his words but God’s words, that he would just really be sensitive to the Holy Spirit,” White recalled in an interview with TIME weeks later. “I probably [interceded] against any plot or plan or weapon of the enemy to interfere with the plan or the will of God.” That evening, White rode in Trump’s car with his family to the arena.

Keep reading, and the Trump-White story is relatively brief — less than 750 words. That's different from the deep dive that Dias earlier produced on "Donald Trump's Prosperity Preachers." You may recall, too, that I praised the Time writer's profile of Mark Burns ("Meet Donald Trump's Top Pastor") back in July. 

In her previous story, Dias asked White about the prosperity gospel:

Theologically, the belief that God wants people to be rich is controversial. Prosperity preachers often interpret Jesus’ teachings about abundant life in Christ financially, and that has earned them a bad name in many evangelical circles. White says her message is not “all about the money,” but a holistic gospel message of “well-being and opportunity,” which also addresses suffering. “How can you create jobs for people who want to work?” she says. “If you want to call that prosperity, yes, I believe in prosperity.”

For more insight on that angle, see former Time religion correspondent Richard Ostling's excellent GetReligion post from July on "The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

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New York Times magazine finally connects Donald Trump with prosperity theology

New York Times magazine finally connects Donald Trump with prosperity theology

Every so often, you run across a piece of writing that is simply beautiful and, at the same time, laden with religion ghosts. Such was this New York Times Magazine piece on Donald Trump, written by a reporter fortunate enough to get significant face time with him. 

Ghosts? You may ask, what does this have to do with religion? More than you think.

First, the reporter doesn’t spare himself or his fellow media elitists for not deigning to cover Trump because he was plebian and, well, they were not. 

This is blunt: “I was, of course, way too incredibly serious and high-­minded to ever sully myself by getting so close to Donald Trump,” he writes.

And yet his lead in the polls kept growing. He was impolite company personified, and many Republican voters were absolutely loving him for that. They seemed to be saying en masse that even if Trump could be crass and offensive at times (or, in his case, on message), could he possibly be any worse than what politics in general had become?

Trump, the writer learns is infinitely easier to approach than Hillary Clinton. This was a relief:

... for political reporters accustomed to being ignored, patronized and offered sound bites to a point of lobotomy by typical politicians and the human straitjackets that surround them. 

Now, what comes next is long but essential. Pay close attention to this:

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