Washington

Mainstream media have some explaining to do about Black Hebrew Israelites. Also: It's complicated

Mainstream media have some explaining to do about Black Hebrew Israelites. Also: It's complicated

“I still can't believe that the *black Israelites* are playing a key role in a multi-day national controversy,” Washington Post political writer Dave Weigel tweeted Monday as the various videos of whatever happened Friday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were dissected again and again.

“If you live in a big east coast city you've been putting in headphones and ignoring those guys your whole life,” Weigel added.

Here at GetReligion, my colleagues already have delved into various crucial angles of the brouhaha. Read the latest here, here and here.

But let’s go ahead and delve into another one, especially since the Black Hebrew Israelites angle is so fascinating and, believe it or not, important to grasping the full story.

Kudos to the Washington Post, which turned to Sam Kestenbaum, a contributing editor at The Forward, to write an explainer on the group:

In the initial media churn, they were nearly missed.

But a small band of Hebrew Israelites, members of a historic but little-known American religious movement, may actually be at the center of a roiling controversy that has gripped the nation in recent days.

It began with a now-viral video clip, filmed Friday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in which high school students from a Catholic school in Kentucky appeared to be in a faceoff with a Native American elder, who was beating on a drum. The boys, some wearing red hats with President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, appeared in the clip to be mocking a man, named Nathan Phillips. The clip was widely understood as being centrally about the dangers of Trumpism, and the teens were condemned.

But a longer video soon bubbled to the surface, widening the lens. It showed how a group of half a dozen Hebrew Israelites had, in fact, been goading and preaching at both the Native Americans and high schoolers, using profanity and highly provocative language, for nearly an hour. Phillips later told journalists that he was seeking to defuse tensions between the Israelite group and the high school students by stepping in between them.

But who are these Hebrew Israelites?

From there, Kestenbaum does a nice job of explaining the group’s history. I won’t attempt to summarize here but rather point you to his full article.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Preparing for the global Catholic sex-abuse summit: What would 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick do?

Preparing for the global Catholic sex-abuse summit: What would 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick do?

Has anyone heard from Archbishop Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick lately?

Actually, the fallen cardinal has been in the news in recent days. But some may ask if this new news about the old McCarrick news breaks new ground. The bottom line: With the world’s Catholic bishops poised for a headline-grabbing February summit focusing on the sexual abuse of children, does it matter what is happening with McCarrick?

I would argue that McCarrick still matters, in part because of the ties that bind him to key Catholic leaders steering efforts to solve the abuse puzzle. That’s a key theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in). Another question: Did the silence that surrounds the McCarrick scandal (Hello Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano) play any role in the sudden exit of Vatican press maestro Greg Burke? Hold that thought.

Let’s start with the Associated Press report from those relatively dead news days last week: “Lawyer: McCarrick repeatedly touched youth during confession.” Did anyone see that headline in their local newspapers a few days after Christmas? Here are key parts of the overture:

The Vatican’s sexual abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has expanded significantly after a man testified that the retired American archbishop sexually abused him for years starting when he was 11, including during confession.

James Grein testified … before the judicial vicar for the New York City archdiocese, who was asked by the Holy See to take his statement for the Vatican’s canonical case, said Grein’s attorney Patrick Noaker. …

Grein initially came forward in July after the New York archdiocese announced that a church investigation determined an allegation that McCarrick had groped another teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Grein’s claims, first reported by The New York Times, are more serious.

A crucial new claim is that some of the abuse took place during the sacrament of confession. What, pray tell, does Catholic canon law say about that?

Let’s keep reading, before we return to material addressed in this week’s podcast.

Grein also gave “chilling” details about alleged repeated incidents of groping during confession — a serious canonical crime on top of the original offense of sexually abusing a minor. Grein had previously not made public those claims, but Noaker confirmed his testimony to The Associated Press. Grein also allowed McCarrick’s defense lawyers to listen to his testimony by telephone.

Grein testified that McCarrick — a close family friend who baptized Grein — would take him upstairs to hear his confession before celebrating Mass for the family at home.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What did Vatican know? When? Crucial letter emerges to pin down a specific date

What did Vatican know? When? Crucial letter emerges to pin down a specific date

Let's try to leave Pope Francis out of the picture, for a moment.

Instead, ask this simple journalism question: What did Vatican officials know about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians and when did they know it? 

Pinning down specific dates is crucial, during the hurricane of allegations surrounding the blistering testimony (full text here) offered by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador from 2011-2016. The key is confirming information about the network of cardinals and other church officials who promoted and defended McCarrick.

When trying to nail down this kind of detail, editors really -- repeat REALLY -- like it when reporters find hard evidence to back up their sources. Yes, dated letters fit the bill.

With that in mind, let's discuss a major development in the McCarrick case that may, or may not, have surfaced in your news feed -- at least in a place where you could find it.

The key date (at least, at this point): 2000.

Let's start with a flashback to the bombshell July 16 report in The New York Times ("He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal."). In many ways, this was the story that created the current media storm. Toward the end, there is this significant passage:

In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.

At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.

So would it be a big story -- something bigger than a wire-service report buried inside a newspaper -- if confirmation of this letter surfaced, offering hard evidence of a key detail in the Vigano testimony?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Does anyone remember the mini-wave of "Jesusland" maps that grew out of the nail-biter 2000 U.S. presidential election? Click here for some background on that.

Well, the famous maps of all those flyover country red states and the northern and coastal blue states evolved into images pitting "Jesusland" against the "United States of Canada" or the "United States of Liberty and Education."

You get the idea, especially if you check out some of the F-word map options that should not be repeated in public.

I thought of this the other day when I read the Crux feature that ran with this headline: "Reactions to Pope allegations offer x-ray of a divided Church." Truth is, at the time I was swamped with all of the commentary and advocacy-news reports about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter (see full text here). Thus, I really appreciated a rather calm look at one newsy angle of the story, from high altitude (so to speak). 

What emerged was this thought -- are the doctrinal wars in the American Catholic Church creating another Jesusland map?

What this Crux story did was chart some of the early reactions to this crisis by bishops who are speaking on the record. Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- Within hours of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s blockbuster claims that Pope Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of abuse, the bishop of Tyler, Texas issued a statement saying he found those claims to be credible, asking that it be read at all Masses on Sunday.

“I do not have the authority to launch such an investigation, but I will lend my voice in whatever way necessary to call for this investigation and urge that its findings demand accountability of all found to be culpable even at the highest levels of the Church,” wrote Bishop Joseph Strickland. He went on to include the 11-page testimonial of the former papal ambassador to the United States on his diocesan website.

OK, where is Texas on the Jesusland map? 


Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dawn in Washington: Former GetReligionista offers spiritual advice on sex abuse and healing

Dawn in Washington: Former GetReligionista offers spiritual advice on sex abuse and healing

At some point, the hot story of the moment -- the latest wave of the multi-decade Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal -- will demand in-depth think pieces on a number of subjects branching out of its central, horrifying core.

GetReligion readers, of course, know that I am convinced that -- so far -- this news story has three angles:

I. The abuse of young children (pedophilia).

II. The abuse of teens, almost all of them male (ephebophilia).

III. The abuse of seminarians and young priests, usually by powerful homosexuals at seminaries and in the church's local, regional, national and global power structures.

What ties them all together? That's the overarching story, which I have described in several posts

The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders -- left and right, gay and straight -- have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

Now, in the near future, one of the valid angles that I hope mainstream journalists will cover is this: How do victims of abuse recover from these hellish events in their lives?

You can write that story focusing on secular experts, and that would be valid. At the same time, it would also be valid to look at how traditional Catholics view abuse recovery, often focusing on spiritual disciples and healing.

If reporters want to write that second angle they can start by placing a call to former rock journalist, headline writing superstar and GetReligionista Dawn Eden Goldstein. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

The whole story of retired Cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick has reached the stage where reporters, as well as concerned readers, simply have to ride the waves of coverage and wait to connect the hellish dots. The victims are starting to tell their stories.

But let's pause to note a significant change in the shape of the clergy abuse story that has haunted Catholic leaders in America (and elsewhere) since the mid-1980s.

Reporters who have covered this story for decades -- such as my colleague Julia Duin -- have always known that this was a tragedy on three levels, in terms of law, science and even moral theology. But it's hard to tell the bigger story, when the victims remain silent, often because of pressure from parents and clergy.

Level I: Pedophilia -- The sexual abuse of prepubescent children. These cases have received the most news coverage.

Level II: Ephebophilia -- The widespreed sexual abuse of under-aged children and teens.

Level III: The sexual harassment and abuse of adults, often young seminarians.

A bombshell report from The New York Times -- "He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal" -- opened the floodgates, in terms of urgent discussions of sins and crimes at Level III. 

Now the Times team is back with a report that, in the words of Rocco Palmo of the Whispers in the Loggia website, is "a nuclear bomb." The Times headline: "Man Says Cardinal McCarrick, His ‘Uncle Ted,’ Sexually Abused Him for Years."

With a devastating three-word tweet -- "Millstone, neck, sea" -- columnist Ross Douthat of the Times (a pro-Catechism Catholic) has pointed readers to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 6:


Please respect our Commenting Policy

Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Museum of Bible is hot news, no matter what

Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Museum of Bible is hot news, no matter what

The debates began during World War II and raged through the following decades among human-rights advocates, private art collectors, museum leaders and others.

The Nazis stole astonishing amounts of Jewish art on an unprecedented scale (something like the legendary 1204 rape of Byzantium by Crusaders). Some of that art vanished. Some went to art collectors, and museums, with leaders who argued that the greater good was to save it for viewing by future display. Some insisted these treasures must be returned to the heirs of the families who owned them. But what if there were no heirs?

Now, similar arguments are raging about antiquities looted by the Islamic State as it ravaged the ancient communities, monasteries, churches, mosques, libraries, etc., of Iraq and Syria. Treasures hit the black market in the Internet age and, again, arguments raged about whether it is legal or moral to purchase these items, rather than leaving them in the hands of ISIS. But did purchasing them fund terrorism? It would appear so. Would it have been better to have let these items vanish into the hands of collectors who would hoard them out of sight? How could these treasures be returned to religious communities that, in some cases, no longer exist?

To say the least, the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame and its Museum of the Bible got caught up in these scandals, producing waves of headlines. The crucial issue: At what point does trading for these items cross the line into theft and encouraging theft?

So what makes a museum controversial? That was the question at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

As it turns out, there are all kinds of reasons for people -- secular and religious -- to argue about the new Museum of the Bible, just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Some of these issues ended up in a Washington Post feature that was the focus of my recent post on this subject. Headline: "Washington Post religion team (thank God) gets to offer first look at the Museum of the Bible."

At the heart of the Post piece was a fascinating, and perfectly valid, damned if you do, damned if your don't question about this museum.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post religion team (thank God) gets to offer first look at the Museum of the Bible

Washington Post religion team (thank God) gets to offer first look at the Museum of the Bible

From the very beginning, there have been several ways of viewing the Museum of the Bible, the ambitious project near the National Mall spearheaded by the wealthy Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby. For example:

* This is Washington, D.C. This is all about politics, like everything else.

* Some critics claimed that it would be a church-state violation to allow the museum to be built close to the mall, and the Smithsonian museums -- even with private money on private land. That argument might work in France, but in the United States of America?

* There's no other way to say this, except to say it: Many folks inside the DC Beltway simply thought this whole idea was TACKY, a kind of Religious Right theme park near sacred secular ground covered with Real Stuff.

* From the beginning, there were tensions between people with evangelical dreams that the building would witness to their brand of faith and scholars around the world -- in a variety of traditions, including evangelical Protestantism -- whose expertise would be essential to completing the project.

* A more subtle point: Is the Museum of the Bible simply too big, too ambitious, to survive as a tourism-driven project? The natural comparison is to the Newseum, a massive, expensive, valid project (I used to take Washington Journalism Center students there every semester) that is now swamped in millions of dollars of red ink. Note, however: Admission to the Bible museum will be free. Can that last?

You can see all of these themes, and more, swirling through the recent Washington Post feature about the Bible museum, which -- here is the crucial point -- was produced by the newspaper's religion-desk professionals (as opposed to the Style section or even the political desk). The headline: "Sneak peek: D.C.’s huge new Museum of the Bible includes lots of tech -- but not a lot of Jesus."

But "not a lot of Jesus"? What's that all about? Here is the overture:

The Museum of the Bible, a massive new institution opening next month just south of the Mall, is just as notable for what it ­includes -- vivid walk-through re-creations of the ancient world, one of the world’s largest private collections of Torahs, a motion ride that sprays water at you, a garden of biblical plants -- as for what it leaves out.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Ideal doctoral dissertation for the Trump Epoch: Washington's religious lobbyists

Ideal doctoral dissertation for the Trump Epoch: Washington's religious lobbyists

Last May 9, Donald Trump tweeted (yes, at 3:05 a.m.) that the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore is “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals,” not to mention “a nasty guy with no heart!”

As beat specialists know, Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, had issued numerous sharp moral denunciations of Trump during the campaign.

Nonetheless, Moore has now found one deed of President Trump worth praise. The Baptist was first out of the box in religious maneuvering over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, within hours rallying 52 evangelical Protestant leaders to endorse the Episcopalian. The 52 declared that the “Senate should work diligently to confirm his appointment without obstruction.” Good luck with that.

By coincidence, the day of the Gorsuch announcement patheos.com blogger Jacob Lupfer lauded the ERLC’s effectiveness as the socio-political voice of America’s biggest Protestant denomination. Lupfer said the experts consider this “highly professional” shop to be “definitively the premier conservative evangelical public-policy organization,” which outpaces “just about any other faith group involved in politics.”

Lupfer admits he is “an unlikely person” to say such things, considering his own  disagreements with the Baptists' views.

But here is an alert for scribes: In April he completes a Georgetown University political science dissertation about religious lobbies in Washington, D.C. This study should provide journalists good grist for an article, with a book sure to follow, and Lupfer will remain a quotable source throughout the Trump Epoch.

Moore issued a Christmastime semi-apology if anyone thought he scorned  Christians who voted for Trump, explaining: “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality, and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.” He's also come under fire from some Southern Baptists because his agency supports religious freedom for Muslims seeking to build new mosques. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy