drugs

Testifying in The New Yorker: Jia Tolentino on her childhood inside Houston's 'Repentagon'

Testifying in The New Yorker: Jia Tolentino on her childhood inside Houston's 'Repentagon'

Gothic first-person accounts of growing up in a Christian subculture have become modern Americans’ equivalent of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. They serve as a vast collection of subjective narratives, often focused on the horrors of authority figures who encourage virginity, offer awkward alternatives to pop music (or welcome it uncritically), favor novels about the Apocalypse and otherwise fill the cavernous spaces of megachurches with conformists.

It’s difficult to read such accounts without wishing for more details. In “Ecstasy,” which appears in the May 27 edition of The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino writes this about her life in a Houston megachurch she calls the Repentagon. Here’s a sample:

“Three girls were electrocuted when a light blew out in the pool where they’d been swimming, and this tragedy was deemed the will of the Lord.”

Sensible journalism questions should be obvious: Who deemed it the will of the Lord? Was this declaration from the pulpit? Did it come from one of those boorish pew-dwellers who think it’s comforting to say the Lord must have needed a few new angels in heaven? Was it someone who speaks only of God’s sovereignty but never of living in a fallen world where random deaths are happenstance? Did this assertion represent even a plurality among members of the Repentagon, which Tolentino, for reasons she does not specify, never identifies as Second Baptist Church, one of the Bible Belt’s best known megachurches?

Tolentino’s account stands out because it is not solely a story of deprivation and unresolved anger. This paragraph leaps off the page:

I have been walking away from institutional religion for half my life now, fifteen years dismantling what the first fifteen built. But I’ve always been glad that I grew up the way that I did. The Repentagon trained me to feel at ease in odd, insular, extreme environments, and Christianity formed my deepest instincts. It gave me a leftist world view — a desire to follow leaders who feel themselves inseparable from the hungry, the imprisoned, and the sick. Years of auditing my own conduct in prayer gave me an obsession with everyday morality.

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Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Friday Five: Christians + free press, John Allen Chau, exorcisms, dope pastor, foster care crisis

Is it possible to love Jesus and journalism?

Count me among those who do.

As such, I can’t help but endorse Daniel Darling’s column for Religion News Service this week on “Why Christians should support a free press.”

Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, writes:

Restoring faith in our media institutions is a shared responsibility. Christians should not only see the value of a free press but should support robust reporting, even journalism that reveals the misdeeds and sins in our own communities. Transparency doesn’t hurt the advance of the gospel. After all, the death and resurrection of Christ lay bare the gritty reality of every human heart.

In other words, a newspaper article cannot reveal anything about us that God doesn’t already know.

Meanwhile, the media could learn from some of the criticism of consumers. Too often, in our day, it seems that an undercurrent of bias exists against Christian ideals, even in subtle ways in which stories are reported or given the weight of breaking news or national importance. Too often journalists, especially on social media, seem to cheerlead rather than report.

Amen and amen.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: For the second week in a row, the death of American missionary John Allen Chau occupies this space. I’ll echo my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin, who said earlier this week that she “figured the story would be just a blip in the daily news flow.”

Some of the notable mainstream press coverage since Duin’s post includes NPR religion and belief correspondent Tom Gjelten’s piece titled “Killing Of American Missionary Ignites Debate Over How To Evangelize” and RNS’ in-depth report (by national correspondents Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins) on the same subject.

But some of the must-read material on Chau’s death has come not in the form of news stories but rather first-person opinion pieces. Look for some insightful analysis of that in a think-piece post coming this weekend from GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly.

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Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

So here is a rather stupid question to ask news consumers in the age of social media and online news. Did you hear that there was apparently some kind of police raid on a drug-fueled gay orgy at one of the most prestigious addresses in Vatican City, an apartment building many call the Holy Office?

All kinds of people live there, but it also is known as home base for the Vatican's powerful -- in terms of working to promote traditional teachings -- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Combine this location with activity that fits years and years of rumors about a "gay lobby" at the highest levels of Catholic hierarchy and the odds are good that you will get a news-media firestorm.

Maybe you saw the story at The New York Daily News, since this is the kind of subject that has "tabloid" written all over it. The headline: "Vatican police raid drug-fueled gay orgy at top priest's apartment." Let's look at the top of this report.

Vatican police raided a drug-fueled gay sex party at a top priest’s apartment near the city, according to an Italian newspaper report.
The apartment’s occupant, who was not named by police, serves as a secretary to Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, a personal adviser to Pope Francis.
The apartment belongs to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith -- the branch that reviews appeals from clergy found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, according to Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which first published the explosive report. Police raided the apartment in June after neighbors complained of unusual behavior among frequent nighttime visitors.
Police arrested the priest and hospitalized him to detox him from the drugs he had ingested, according to the newspaper. ... He’s currently in retreat at a convent in Italy, according to the report. Coccopalmerio’s aide was reportedly under consideration for promotion to bishop.

Now, you may not have seen the Daily News report. On newsstands in the Big Apple, that would have been sitting right next to The New York Post, proclaiming (it what is a rather restrained headline for this newspaper): "Vatican cops bust drug-fueled gay orgy at home of cardinal’s aide."

Let's face it. Readers had lots of opportunities to see a lurid headline about this case.

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What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

BARBARA’S QUESTION:

My son is in his 20s. He’s a devoted Christian. He also loves motorcycles. I hate them, and have seen too many young people killed on them. He says ‘Mom, if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ How can I caution him and make him take me seriously? I think the Lord gives you the good sense to make good decisions.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

“Religion Q and A” usually avoids personal issues on which mere journalists have little to offer. But Barbara raises an important topic to examine: What in fact does Christianity say about protecting yourself from physical harm?

Mom certainly has a point, given National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. On a per-mile basis, U.S. motorcyclists are killed in traffic 27 times more often than those using other vehicles, and they’re 6 times more likely to suffer injuries short of death. The latest report last August said 2015 motorcycle fatalities jumped 8.3 percent from the prior year, to 4,976, with 1,365 of these involving alcohol impairment. The proportion of motorcyclists among all traffic deaths was 11 percent in 2006 and increased to 14 percent in 2015.

As politicians and the media popularize expanded marijuana usage, on top of the huge and lethal problem of drunk driving, all categories of highway homicide may well increase. A 2013 report showed 10 million people age 12 and up admitted driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We lack good numbers on how often pot or other drugs cause deaths with motorcycles or otherwise because police lack a reliable roadside test, and those who die often combine drugs with alcohol so it’s impossible to say which substance was to blame.

One thing about motorcycling, though. At least the hands are engaged so riders aren’t distracted with text messaging, an increasing and deadly plague.

All of the above, combined with the son’s cavalier and immature remark about death and danger, bring us to the broader theme of what his Christian religion teaches.

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Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

One of the most challenging assignments in the world is stuffing 10 pounds of sugar into a five-pound sack.

Reporters face this all the time: A carload of details that must be crammed into a small shopping bag.

Such may well have been the lot of investigative reporter Laura Ungar of the Louisville Courier-Journal, a daily now noted as "part of the USA Today network." After six months of reporting, she delivered a devastating three-part series on the HIV epidemic that still plagues Austin, Indiana, a town less than 40 miles north of the paper's offices, in a region known as "Kentuckiana."

Let me be clear: This is important work touching on a vital topic of national interest, and it deserves a wide readership, I believe. How HIV gripped this town, how addictions to opioids opened the floodgates, how transmission the virus is being fought and what the human and policy consequences are should concern every American. After all, as noted in the two-year-old PBS NewsHour video above, one trucker hiring a prostitute in Austin could subsequently carry the infection hundreds of miles away.

The articles focus on the health care and policy issues, subjects well within the reporter's wheelhouse. But we also get glimpses of faith elements at both ends of the series.

The glimpses left me wanting more.

The first piece begins with a discussion of the Christian physician laboring to help save the town, and the final installment boldly proclaims Austin as "having faith" in the midst of the crisis, Ungar -- or her editors -- seem to hold back when discussing the exact nature of faith that's involved.

The final installment's headline, "Healing Austin: Faith lifts small town from depths of HIV plague," could lead a reader to expect a more detailed discussion of just what that faith is, how it is practiced, what it entails. The subhead is equally promising: "As the outside world moves on, [a] small city draws on faith to save itself from drugs and disease."

Everyone who imagines we're going to get a few tales of tent revivals and the old "sawdust trail," please raise your hand.

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When real life imitates The Onion: Welcome to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Colorado

When real life imitates The Onion: Welcome to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Colorado

It's "Punk'd" day at GetReligion.

Either that or the farcical newspaper The Onion has taken over real-life headlines.

My day started with this 100 percent serious tweet from Sarah Pulliam Bailey, the former GetReligionista who now covers religion for the Washington Post:

Donna Trump accidentally put money in the Communion plate at a church in Iowa wapo.st/1QSRuhX 

Later, I came across this weekend story from the Los Angeles Times:

The creed includes weed for these Colorado Christians

I don't guess we have to ask anymore what the Los Angeles Times is smoking. (I kid. I kid.)

Now, at this point I should stop the sarcasm (if only momentarily) and remind all of us (mainly myself) of the role of a journalist — specifically one writing about religion:

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Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

Pod people: Did journalists (and clergy) take Robin Williams seriously?

I don't know about you, but I am still thinking about that soft, disturbing voice inside the haunted head of superstar Robin Williams. That's why Todd Wilken were still talking about that topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

As I discussed in my first post on the actor's suicide, Williams was very open -- during his entire adult life -- about the troubling nature of the voices he heard that made his improvisational genius possible, along with the voices that urged him to end it all -- either slowly, through substance abuse, or quickly, through suicide. Remember the quotes that were included in so many of the mainstream obituaries?

"You're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump!' " he told ABC News.

Or maybe this one:

 "The same voice that goes, 'Just one.' … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that's not the possibility."

Now, one does not need to leap into religious talk-radio land, where some people oh-so-compassionately suggested that Williams was possessed by demons, to recognize that Williams was being quite candid about the presence of evil and temptation in his life. It appeared that he took that very, very seriously.

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These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

Nice lede. Interesting subject matter. Variety of sources.

I enjoyed a recent San Jose Mercury News feature on health care sharing ministries. (Hat tip to the Pew Research Center's daily religion headlines email for highlighting the story this week.)

Let's start at the top:

Go to church, be faithful to your spouse and shun tobacco, booze and drugs.

Promising to adhere to that "biblical lifestyle," more than 300,000 Americans are taking advantage of a little-known provision in the nation's health care law that allows them to avoid the new penalties for not having health insurance.

Long before Christian groups and Obamacare opponents cheered last month's Supreme Court ruling that allows many private businesses to stop offering certain types of birth control they find immoral, the 4-year-old law gave its blessing to Americans to opt out of the insurance mandate if they object on religious grounds.

So many instead are enrolling in "health care sharing ministries" that spread medical care costs among people of similar beliefs. Participants make monthly contributions to help cover each other's major health care costs, but forgo coverage for most routine care.

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