divorce

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

Let's face it, it's going to be hard to do a GetReligion-style critique of a breaking hard-news story in The Washington Post that runs with this byline: "By Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein — May 23 at 6:44 AM."

Luckily, Wednesday is Bobby's normal day off here at GetReligion. He was all over Twitter, into the wee, small hours of this morning, waiting for another shoe to drop in this high-profile drama in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.

So what can I say about a story reported by a current GetReligionista, a former GetReligionista and one of the nation's most experienced religion-beat professionals?

Let's start with the obvious, focusing on the crucial thread that unites those three names: This was a job for experienced religion-beat reporters.

Yes, there will be Southern Baptists -- young and old (hold that thought) -- who may debate one or two wordings in the story that finally ran this morning with this headline: 

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

There are leaders in all kinds of religious groups who, when push comes to shove, want to see a public-relations approach to anything important that happens to them and their institutions. When it comes to bad news, they prefer gossip and PR, as opposed to journalism.

Meanwhile, you can find the following in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Let's focus on two crucial decisions that faced the team writing this latest story about the long, twisted tale of Patterson and his views on sexual abuse.

First of all, this story is quite long, for a daily news story. However, it really needs to be read in the context of Sarah's earlier exclusive, the one that you know the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were discussing behind those executive-session doors. You also know that this Post report spend some time being "lawyered up." I'm talking about the story that ran with this headline:

Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

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Let us attend: A reminder that Southern Baptists have their own rules when they play chess

Let us attend: A reminder that Southern Baptists have their own rules when they play chess

If you are going to watch religious leaders play high-stakes chess, it helps to know that the rules are quite different in various churches, denominations and other large religious institutions.

Why can't Catholics act more like Episcopalians? Well, there are different doctrines, different rules. Why are Global South believers, and folks in growing sections of the U.S. Sunbelt, so much more powerful in the United Methodist Church than in the Episcopal Church? There are different rules shaping the conventions that make the rules.

Long ago, I watched United Methodists elect new bishops while gathered at the historic Lake Junaluska Conference Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It was easy to watch the clergy engage in face-to-face negotiations about candidates while gathered under the giant trees surrounding the open-air sanctuary. Every now and then the politicking would pause, and everyone would bow their heads as a prayer was read for the Holy Spirit to guide the voting. When the prayer was over it was back to business.

Now, the Southern Baptist Convention game is played on several levels -- as journalists are learning during the debates about the future of the Rev. Paige Patterson, in the wake of debates about his statements about domestic abuse, divorce, women, etc.

You have the public game, of course, with activists on both sides doing that thing they do in their own media forums. Then you have the fact that -- as a seminary president -- Patterson ultimately answers to the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (click here and dig into the story). Those trustees are selected by the SBC, through its elected leaders. The SBC meets once a year as a convention to do business.

Note the word "convention." This is not a denomination or "Church." It is a complex association of congregations, with local associations, state conventions and then the big national SBC meetings once a year. There are actions the SBC can only take during the two days in June that it does business.

Rest assured that the most important meetings in this current affair are taking place behind closed doors and in conference calls. At that level, almost all flawed, oh-so-human institutions are alike. Every now and then, however, SBC leaders release public statements that are read like Russian tea leaves.

This brings me to that Baptist Press item at the end of this last week, with the headline: "Gaines addresses Patterson, racial diversity, SBC."

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Southern Baptists, domestic violence and divorce: Will SBC '18 be a must-cover press event?

Southern Baptists, domestic violence and divorce: Will SBC '18 be a must-cover press event?

What happens if the Rev. Paige Patterson -- one of the two generals who led the conservative revolt that seized the SBC in the late '70s and early '80s -- insists on standing in the media spotlight and delivering the official convention address?

What happens if the convention's resolution committee is buried in resolutions making it absolutely clear that (a) Southern Baptists believe domestic violence is a crime as well as a sin and (b) that the safety of the abused is Job 1 and that the careful, essential work of reconciliation and attempting to save the marriage follows justice and the abuser's repentance?

What happens if there are demonstrations, not just by outsiders, but by the young generations of SBC conservatives whose voices last year helped produce the historic resolution condemning the alt-right and white supremacy?

Yes, we had a lot to talk about during this week's "Crossroads" podcast that focused on the complex story surrounding Southern Baptist debates -- on Twitter and in the media -- about domestic violence, divorce, the Bible and a Patterson interview tape from 2000 about all of the above. Click here to tune that in. You can click here to see my original post on this topic.

For an update, here's the top of a new Washington Post story (by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey) about the controversy:

FORT WORTH -- A prominent Southern Baptist leader whose comments about spousal abuse set off a firestorm last week said in an interview Friday that he couldn’t “apologize for what I didn’t do wrong.”

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New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

To put things in country-music terms, this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to that) is about pain, sorrow, alcohol, divorce, blue-collar families, coffee, hard times, opioids and God.

Oh, and waffles.

If you don't live in Waffle House America, let me explain. We are talking about a chain -- in 25 states -- of old-school, Southern-style dinners that serve breakfast 24/7 and attract large numbers of workers and rural folks who don't work normal schedules.

If you want to laugh about the Waffle House world, you can listen to the country-fried tribute song by Stephen Colbert (a native of South Carolina) and alt-country star Sturgill Simpson, entitled, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads."

But the podcast isn't really about laughter. It's about the complex issues that affect ministry to many hurting people in this slice of the American people.

My chat with host Todd Wilken focused on my "On Religion" column this week -- which is about a United Methodist pastor in Alabama who is doing some interesting things while trying the reach working-class people. His name is Pastor Gary Liederbach and he uses his local Waffle House as his unofficial office on weekday mornings.

This anecdote sets the tone:

One recent morning, Liederbach sat down at the diner’s middle bar, where the line of side-by-side chairs almost requires diners to chat with waitresses and each other. He didn’t see the empty coffee cup of a rough, 50-something regular whom, as a matter of pastoral discretion, he called “Chuck.”
When Chuck came back inside from smoking a cigarette, he lit into Liederbach with a loud F-bomb, blasting him for taking his seat.

 

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Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announce a 'separation': Might faith play a role in this story?

Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announce a 'separation': Might faith play a role in this story?

It was one of those zippy entertainment stories produced during the PR festivals that are scheduled before the release of major motion pictures.

In this case, journalists were covering a sci-fi flick called "Passengers."

As always, superstar Jennifer Lawrence -- who grew up in mainstream, middle-class America -- was candid to the point of near-embarrassment, producing the following fodder for Tinseltown discussion. This is from Vanity Fair:

“I had my first real sex scene a couple weeks ago, and it was really bizarre,” Lawrence admitted to fellow actresses Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett during The Hollywood Reporter’s awards-season roundtable. “It was really weird.” ...
Lawrence said she couldn’t get past the fact that she had to film a love scene with a married man.
“It was going to be my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach,” Lawrence explained. “And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. ...”

The married co-star on the other end of the kiss was, of course, rising superstar Chris Pratt.

Other than the fact that Pratt is married -- half of the Hollywood power couple with actress Anna Faris -- it also helps to know that he is one of the most outspoken evangelical Christians in Hollywood (click here for more Vanity Fair coverage). Hold that thought.

That leads us to the current explosion in tabloid America, care of People magazine, of course:

Chris Pratt has stepped back into the public eye after he announced his separation from wife Anna Faris.

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Pastor of America's largest parish retires, with lots of (solo) shots at Catholic conservatives

Pastor of America's largest parish retires, with lots of (solo) shots at Catholic conservatives

A long time ago -- the early 1980s -- I wrote a front-page feature for The Charlotte Observer about life in the tiny Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. The news hook was an interview with the first bishop of what was, at that time, America's smallest diocese.

Things have changed in the Queen City, when it comes to Catholic life. In fact, if you follow news about American Catholicism you know that one of the most important stories is the explosion of Catholic statistics in the Bible Belt, including the Deep South and the Southeast. The rising Catholic tide in the Southwest is, to a large degree, linked with issues of immigration. That's a factor in the South, but the growth is also linked to large numbers of converts and transplants from the North.

Just the other day, Crux ran little story -- "In the U.S. South, the Church is in ‘growth mode’ " -- focusing on a meeting of bishops from the South. It noted:

“We are all in a growth mode. That’s a good thing,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta told the Diocese of Charleston’s newspaper The Catholic Miscellany.
“We are spending part of our time here talking about the need to establish new parishes, expand pastoral outreach, and respond to growing numbers both from immigration and those moving here from other parts of the country,” the archbishop continued. “We all are sharing in this growth.”

So, the Observer recently had a perfect opportunity to dig into some of these complex and important subjects.

The hook for this long story was the retirement of Msgr. John McSweeney, the senior priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church -- America's largest Catholic parish. To add to the symbolism, the lede notes that this New Yorker was the first priest ordained in the Charlotte diocese.

This is where things get interesting. This long, long piece is based on an interview with the outspoken McSweeney and, well, that is that. The bottom line: He is highly critical of many things that would be affirmed by traditional or even middle-of-the-road Catholics in the Bible Belt. As the Observer puts it, he believes the Catholic Church often puts the "Book of Law before the Book of Love."

Who gets to respond to his views on a litany of hot-button topics?

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God-talk in Politico: Website gingerly approaches Trump's religiosity in profile

God-talk in Politico: Website gingerly approaches Trump's religiosity in profile

The late Phyllis Tickle, doyenne of writers about religious publishing, has a warm place in my heart for her 1997 book, "God-Talk in America." (And, yes, it's partly because she said something nice about one of my books therein.)

But when we consider "God-talk" today, much of that discussion must center on President Donald Trump and his administration. A nearly infinite number of pixels have been spilled in the analysis of Trump's references to faith versus the rather coarse lifestyle he embraced in his pre-campaign days. I am sure armies of reporters are checking into any current rumors.

Now, as we approach the 100-day mark of the new administration, Politico jumps into the God-talk arena, asking, "Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?" Here's the opening:

President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks -- calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.
He's also taken other steps to further cultivate a Christian right that helped elect him, granting new levels of access to Christian media and pushing socially conservative positions that don't appear to come naturally to him.
One of the first interviews Trump sat for as president was with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.
“I’ve always felt the need to pray,” Trump said in that late-January interview. “The office is so powerful that you need God even more because your decisions are no longer, ‘Gee I’m going to build a building in New York.’ … These are questions of massive, life-and-death.”
“There’s almost not a decision that you make when you’re sitting in this position that isn’t a really life-altering position,” Trump added. “So God comes into it even more so.”

But don't let the semi-friendly tone fool you, gentle reader. 

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News ghosts on the march: Thinking about cohabitation and the ties that don't bind

News ghosts on the march: Thinking about cohabitation and the ties that don't bind

There are times when it's easy to forget how many moral and cultural changes have taken place in North America, and the world, during the past half century or so.

When it comes to news, the tendency is to focus on stories that create the flashiest headlines. In the world of religion news, most of those have focused on LGBTQ issues. How many reporters will flock to the scene when the Episcopal Church consecrates its first trans bishop? Quite a few, it is safe to say.

However, when you look at statistics, even bigger changes have been taking place elsewhere -- among the lives and, from a biblical point of view, the sins of others. For example, if you talk to pastors -- in the most conservative, traditional churches -- you will discover that one of the most divisive issues they face, week after week, is how to handle the weddings of couples who have already been living together. Often the hottest arguments are with the parents of these young, or not so young, people.

This brings me to an interesting think piece in Christianity Today that ran with this headline: "The Three Myths of Cohabitation." As you would expect, CT knows that there are religion angles in this topic. However, for mainstream news reporters, this is a question-and-answer interview that is haunted by news angles -- national and global -- for those with the courage to cover them. Here's the overture:

According to a recent sociological study, cohabitation has a notably deleterious impact on one particular group: kids. “As marriage becomes less likely to anchor the adult life course across the globe, growing numbers of children may be thrown into increasingly turbulent family waters,” writes Bradford Wilcox in Foreign Affairs.
A professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, Wilcox and his colleagues recently completed a new study, The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe. The report is the fourth edition of the World Family Map project -- which tracks various indicators of family health -- and is sponsored in part by the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies.
The main study included the United States and 16 European countries. “We were looking at the odds that kids who were born to married or cohabitating parents will still be with their parents when they turn 12,” says Wilcox.

At the heart of the interview, obviously, are "three myths" about this widespread global trend in sex, marriage and family life. There is no way to sum this all up.

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'Iran' plus 'divorce' in the news: Did faith have anything to do with this boy's horrible death?

'Iran' plus 'divorce' in the news: Did faith have anything to do with this boy's horrible death?

In the very first GetReligion post in 2004, Doug Leblanc and I created a concept that has been central to this blog's work ever since -- the idea of religion "ghosts" in mainstream news reports.

The basic idea is that many important stories are shaped, in part, by religious beliefs and traditions, but journalists often fail to realize this (or don't want to deal with it). Thus, you get a "haunted" story in which readers can sense that something important is missing, but they can't tell what.

As you would expect, readers frequently send me emails with a URL to a news report and then the phrase, "Major ghost in this story," or something like that. The key is that they often don't tell us what they think the ghost is.

Here is a perfect example, taken from The Washington Post. The headline hints at the horrors in this hellish case: " ‘A crime so horrific’: Mom gets 50 years for poisoning, burning her 5-year-old son."

In the two years since she poisoned her 5-year-old son with cold medicine and staged a fiery car crash with his body wedged on a back-seat floorboard, Narges Shafeirad has never publicly said why she did it.
On Monday, in a Maryland courtroom, she had her chance. Shafeirad, 35, spoke about a bitter divorce and custody fight she was enduring, and how she’d been ­depressed.
“I was a broken woman,” she said, adding that her son was everything to her. “I am still not able to believe that I have lost my son.”
Shafeirad’s words -- spoken just before she was sentenced to 50 years for the murder of Daniel Dana -- left the judge in front of a packed courtroom searching for an explanation.

One more horrible detail, out of many:

Earlier in the hearing, prosecutors listed bruises and abrasions around Daniel’s mouth that showed how Shafeirad force-fed him a full bottle of cold medicine. She continued doses every two to four hours until he was dead, according to prosecutors.

Now, why did our reader think that there was a religion ghost in this story?

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