The Blind Side

Sin and scandal at Ole Miss, the sequel: USA Today digs into the faith and character of Hugh Freeze

Sin and scandal at Ole Miss, the sequel: USA Today digs into the faith and character of Hugh Freeze

Last week we highlighted a haunted ESPN story on "How a phone call to an escort service led to Hugh Freeze's downfall."

We pointed out the glaring omission of certain words from the in-depth piece on the Ole Miss football coach's resignation.

Words such as Jesus, God, church and faith.

Now we are back with the same subject matter but fewer holy ghosts, courtesy of USA Today, which poses this question: 

Who is Hugh Freeze?

As we previously noted, it's impossible to answer that question without delving into his professed faith. Kudos to USA Today for recognizing that.

The religion angle figures up high — and throughout — the national newspaper's report:

OXFORD, Miss. — Hugh Freeze stood outside his house near a muscular dog earlier this week when a reporter approached.
“You better watch this dog,’’ Freeze said, and a moment later he added, “I can control him.’’
But less than two weeks after he abruptly resigned as head football coach at the University of Mississippi, the narrative of the once-charmed coach has spun beyond control.
Freeze, 47, was the devout Christian who beat Nick Saban and Alabama two years in a row, built a team that climbed to No. 3 in the polls and, at least in the eyes of the Ole Miss faithful, could do little wrong. A husband and father of three daughters, he often tweeted Bible verses or religious words of inspiration.
Another side has emerged, though. Before he resigned on July 20, Freeze was under scrutiny for alleged recruiting violations. Ole Miss has self-imposed several penalties, including a postseason ban, and an NCAA investigation continues.
His downfall was ultimately the result of what Ole Miss officials called a "pattern of personal misconduct," and the revelation that a phone call from Freeze's university-issued cell phone had been made to a number associated with a female escort.

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Hollywood discovers God! Again! Seriously, this New York Times piece is worth reading

Hollywood discovers God! Again! Seriously, this New York Times piece is worth reading

I've been around the Godbeat scene so long that I can remember the days when journalists would wait four of five years before they would write the same Big Trend Story all over again.

You know the ones I'm talking about. Things like the whole "Death of the Religious Right" story or the latest update on "Why megachurches are getting bigger." And did you know that interfaith marriages are a big deal in modern Judaism?

Another one of the standards has been the "Hollywood discovers that religious people watch movies" story. Because of my longstanding interest in this topic (hint, hint), I have been watching journalists discover this trend over and over ever since "Field of Dreams" and  "Home Alone." Hey, do you remember Michael Medved? Then in 2009, The Los Angeles Times even interviewed me about the roots of this trend behind the hit movie, "The Blind Side."

You can blame Mel Gibson and "The Passion of the Christ," of course, but there is more to this evergreen story than one or two big-ticket items.

Still, I was cynical when I saw this New York Times headline the other day: "Secular Hollywood Quietly Courts the Faithful." I expected another quick-turn news feature about this "hot topic."

In this case I was wrong. The basic message of this in-depth business feature was that this is a topic that is not new and that it is not going away, in part because Hollywood has entered an era in which making profitable niche-market films is almost as important as making special-effects blockbusters. And then there is the trend of evangelical churches adding massive video screens to their sanctuaries, so that preachers can spice up their sermons with video clips.

Instead of settling for shallow coverage of the latest wrinkle in this old story, this Times piece went for the deep dive. Here is the overture:

The Rev. Roderick Dwayne Belin, a senior A.M.E. Church leader, stood before a gathering of more than 1,000 pastors in a drafty Marriott ballroom in Naperville, Ill., this month and extolled the virtues of a Hollywood movie.

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Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

So what is this week's "Crossroads" podcast actually about?

Well, on one level it's about the "Christian" humor website called The Babylon Bee. But on a deeper level, it's about what happens when the word "Christian" is turned into an adjective defining a form of popular culture. At that point, all kinds of interesting and even distressing things take place. There are news stories in there, folks.

For example, when you hear someone talking about "Christian" rock 'n' roll, doesn't that (if you are of a certain age) make you think of that famous "Seinfeld" episode that included the riff about the car-radio buttons? Here's a flashback, from an "On Religion" column that I wrote long, long ago:

As she pulled into traffic, Elaine Benes turned on her boyfriend's car radio and began bouncing along to the music.
Then the lyrics sank in: "Jesus is one, Jesus is all. Jesus pick me up when I fall." In horror, she punched another button, then another. "Jesus," she muttered, discovering they all were set to Christian stations. Then the scene jumped to typical "Seinfeld" restaurant chat.
"I like Christian rock," said the ultra-cynical George Costanza. "It's very positive. It's not like those real musicians who think they're so cool and hip."

It's all about the world "real." We are not talking about "real" musicians, here. We are talking about "Christian" rock. Thus, when most people hear the phrase "Christian" rock, they probably think of this rather than this (please click these URLs).

What do you think of when you hear people talk about "Christian" movies? Do you think of this or of this?

How about the fine arts? When you think of Christian paintings, do you think of this or, well, of this?

I could go on. "Christian" humor, including satire, is not new -- in fact, it's ancient.

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What he said! Yes, Hollywood wants more Christian $$$$

In this morning’s email newsletter from the folks at Religion News Service, editor Kevin Eckstrom raised his eyebrow high (no, honest, you can sense it in the copy) and quipped: Pretty sure we’ve seen about 5,429 versions of this story already.

Right. We get it. Hollywood is trying to lure Christian audiences to the cineplex. Again. Meanwhile, it other news …

Well, “this story” was the new feature in The Los Angeles Times that ran under an oh-so-predictable double-decker headline that proclaimed:

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