Tony Campolo

CNN on Clinton's pastor: It's Friday! But Sunday's coming! Or familiar words to that effect ...

CNN on Clinton's pastor: It's Friday! But Sunday's coming! Or familiar words to that effect ...

Once again, I feel the need to respond to some emails requesting my take on a sad, but rather interesting, feature story at CNN.

The headline is certainly a grabber, one that wouldn't be surprising at a "conservative" news outlet or two (or more). But it's news, sort of, when CNN is the prime MSM outlet that goes with this: "Hillary Clinton's pastor plagiarized portion of new book."

This is actually a strong feature story, even though -- as readers stressed -- it includes a sort of "this wasn't really all that big a deal" coda. What is looming in the background is a rarely discussed trend, which is that lots of preachers (past and present) have a tendency to quote all kinds of people without getting into the details about sources. Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

So back to that CNN report. Here is the overture:

(CNN) Hillary Clinton's longtime pastor plagiarized the writings of another minister in a new book scheduled to be released on Tuesday.
"Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," is based on emails that the Rev. Bill Shillady, a United Methodist minister, wrote to Clinton from April 2015 through December of last year. Shillady described his emails as a way to minister to a candidate in perpetual motion.
The pastor and politician formed a spiritual bond after meeting in New York in 2002. Shillady co-officiated at Chelsea Clinton's wedding in 2010, presided over Clinton's mother's memorial service and blessed her grandchildren. Clinton is a lifelong Methodist.
Clinton appears on the cover of "Strong for a Moment Like This," and wrote a foreword for the book praising Shillady and his writings. She is scheduled to appear at an event next month in New York promoting the book. A spokesman for Clinton did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The key, however, is that Shillady failed to credit the source for some material that ended up in what CNN called an "especially emotional devotion." The source was a March 2016 blog post by the Rev. Matthew Deuel of Mission Point Community Church in Indiana.

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That cushy Bart Campolo profile: Why weren't the tough, logical questions asked?

That cushy Bart Campolo profile: Why weren't the tough, logical questions asked?

A lot of folks are talking about a piece in the New York Times Magazine that profiles Bart Campolo, the born-again atheist son Tony Campolo, famous progressive evangelical activist and media-friendly buddy of President Bill Clinton.

This is a very readable, albeit totally non-critical, look at a new spokesman for a growing movement that is linked to the whole coalition of atheists, agnostics, religiously unaffiliated "nones" and the old religious left.

The writer, Mark Oppenheimer, wrote the “Beliefs” column for the Times for six years, at which point he did his own exit interview this past summer. (The most astonishing thing in that interview was his remark that he’s paid $3/word for his freelance work. Maybe .00001 percent of all freelancers get paid sums like that).  

Oppenheimer also did a Q&A with GetReligion back in 2012. The bottom line is that he is a brilliant columnist and magazine-style writer. Those looking for hard-news content are going to be frustrated.

The Campolo article begins with a long intro about a bike accident he had in the summer of 2011 and then:

For most of his life, Campolo had gone from success to success. His father, Tony, was one of the most important evangelical Christian preachers of the last 50 years, a prolific author and an erstwhile spiritual adviser to Bill Clinton. The younger Campolo had developed a reputation of his own, running successful inner-city missions in Philadelphia and Ohio and traveling widely as a guest preacher. An extreme extrovert, he was brilliant before a crowd and also at ease in private conversations, connecting with everyone from country-club suburbanites to the destitute souls he often fed in his own house. He was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings. Now, lying in a hospital bed, he wasn’t sure what he believed any more.

After the accident:

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That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?

Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing? 

Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?

Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?

People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.

For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted:

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#DUH: Sarah Pulliam Bailey nails breaking news on evangelicals and same-sex marriage

#DUH: Sarah Pulliam Bailey nails breaking news on evangelicals and same-sex marriage

Evangelicals + same-sex marriage = major headlines this week.

If you pay attention to religion news, you've undoubtedly noticed that.

Of course, tmatt posted Tuesday on the New York Times' front-page story on the sex debates and the quiet evangelical left. In that same post, he referenced breaking news involving a prominent evangelical progressive, Tony Campolo, who revealed Monday that he now supports "the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church." Also, tmatt said reporters should keep an eye on statements by former Christianity Today editor David Neff.

No surprise here, but Sarah Pulliam Bailey -- a former GetReligionista who now covers religion for the Washington Post -- pounced on Campolo's statement and related developments and produced an excellent breaking news report.

Bailey's meaty lede:

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Stay tuned: The New York Times probes sex debates and the quiet evangelical left

Stay tuned: The New York Times probes sex debates and the quiet evangelical left

One of the hot social-media stories right now, in the world of religion news, is the New York Times piece that ran under this headline: "Evangelicals Open Door to Debate on Gay Rights." Note, in particular, that the word used is "debate" rather than the omnipresent liberal Protestant word "dialogue."

There really isn't anything new in this story, for those who have covered the evangelical left for the past quarter century or so. The news is that this debate is now in The New York Times, the bible of our culture's principalities and powers (that be). Even though there is little news content here, this piece does offer a fascinating update on three issues that we have been discussing here at GetReligion ever since we opened our cyber-doors a decade ago.

I. The news media consistently show a lack of interest in covering the actual beliefs -- doctrinal, not political -- of believers on the religious left. The assumption seems to be that their views are so obviously correct that there is no need to cover the fine details or let leaders in these pews and pulpits discuss why they believe what they believe.

For example, it will be interesting to watch mainstream media coverage of the long-expected announcement by the Rev. Tony Campolo, one of America's best known evangelical progressives, that he -- in the words of the Baptist News Global report -- now "supports the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church." Reporters should also watch what is said, and not said, by those hailing Campolo's decision, such as retired Christianity Today editor David Neff. Again, it is crucial to look for what they are actually saying about Christian doctrine, not U.S. laws or public policy.

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