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Lessons from the past: Who is building a super-ministry in ruins of Jim Bakker's dream?

Lessons from the past: Who is building a super-ministry in ruins of Jim Bakker's dream?

As a former religion-beat guy in Charlotte, and a veteran of the Jim Bakker and PTL wars of the 1980s (click here for my flashback), I was -- of course -- very interested in The Charlotte Observer's lengthy update on the status of the old Heritage USA.

Here's the totally logical headline on this solid -- but narrow -- feature: "Jim Bakker’s theme park was like a Christian Disneyland. Here’s what happened to it." What's missing? Hold that thought.

As the story notes, Heritage USA was supposed to grow into a kind of Disneyland for charismatic Christians, but things fell apart before the 2,300-acre complex reached the roller coaster ride through heaven and hell stage of development. For those in need of a refresher on why there is this:

Construction had already begun by then on two other mega-projects: A sand castle with a 10-story turret that would house the world’s largest Wendy’s restaurant, and a high-rise hotel to be called Heritage Grand Towers. When finished, reported the Heritage Herald, a weekly newspaper for tourists and those living on the PTL property, the tower’s “elegantly furnished” 500 rooms would include 100 honeymoon suites “for couples who come to Heritage USA to renew their marriages.”
Two months later, Bakker suddenly resigned amid financial and sexual scandal. His plans were scrapped, the ongoing construction halted. Today, three decades after Bakker’s dreams gave way to a nightmarish spell of bankruptcy, lawsuits and prison, many of the magnets that once drew people to Heritage USA are long gone.

The architectural corpse that gets the most attention in this piece -- fittingly enough -- is Bakker's never-finished, never-occupied 21-story tower. It continues its slow decay, while the current owners dream of expanded ministries that sound eerily familiar.

This is the crucial part of the story that I hope Observer editors return to, in depth, in the future. Why? Well, I am biased because this is the part of the story that I kept writing newsroom memos about in the early 1980s, trying to convince editors that there was a national-level story at the foundation of the Bakker scandals.

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Taking Pat Summitt's faith seriously: Sally Jenkins on treating the elderly with dignity

Taking Pat Summitt's faith seriously: Sally Jenkins on treating the elderly with dignity

As you would expect, the news coverage of the death of Pat Summitt has faded at the national level. She was a very important person in the world of women's sports, a legend even, but life moves on. Yes, we will get to that amazing first-person piece by columnist Sally Jenkins in a moment.

Here in East Tennessee, the coverage has continued. Here in Lady Vols territory, she was a local institution and, for many, a person who lived near someone they knew, or they bumped into her at a grocery store, met her at a sports event at a local school or, yes, they knew her from church.

Last week, I wrote a GetReligion piece in which I argued that it was strange for the mainstream press to have ignored the role that Christian faith played in this strong woman's life. This was especially true in light of a reference, in the official obituary posted online by the Pat Summitt Foundation, to the fact that she was baptized, with her son Tyler, in a ceremony of some kind of 2012. This was a year after her Mayo Clinic diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease and a few weeks after she stepped down as coach of the Lady Vols basketball team.

I immediately began hearing from lots of people that there was much more to that story than one event in 2012. Actually, you could catch a hint of that in the language used in that official obituary.

She was most proud of one special moment they shared that outshines all the others. On May 5, 2012, Pat and Tyler were baptized together. On this day, they decided together to go public with their faith and professed their love for and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. On this day, they created the ultimate and eternal memory, together.

The point of my earlier post was not that this baptism was a story in and of itself, but that this event was part of a larger picture.

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New York Times seeks political (as opposed to pastoral) content of Wedding at Cana

New York Times seeks political (as opposed to pastoral) content of Wedding at Cana

The Pope Francis guy is still traveling around down there in South America and, gosh dang it, he keeps preaching sermons. Isn't that unkind of him?

These sermons, of course, mix commentary about Catholic teachings and life in the public square -- as if the pope was arguing that faith and life are on the same level, as opposed to real life being on the ground floor in the created order, with religious truth claims either (a) locked in a private closet or (b) mysterious things that are stored, with God, in an attic above our heads (perhaps one without a pull-down ladder, even).

Once again, I am not arguing that journalists have to believe what the pope believes. I am not arguing that they need to produce sermon summaries or evangelistic pamphlets. I am saying that, in order to accurately cover him, journalists need to understand that this man is not delivering political stump speeches as he stands at pulpits next to altars at which he will celebrate the Mass.

Pope Francis is preaching. The faith elements are part of the content, not words that create an irrelevant frame for the real news, which by definition has to be about politics.

This conflicts, as I said the other day, with the "mainstream journalism Grand Unified Theory" stating that "no matter what the pope cites as his reasons for visiting a land or region, he is actually there for political reasons. He is there in an attempt to impact the lives of real people through political ideas or actions (as opposed to through sacraments, biblical truth, etc.)."

Now, to its credit, the New York Times team attempted, the other day, to cover a sermon while leaving some of the religious language intact. There is even a biblical reference in there! Here's the lede:

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Is adjunct academia indeed the devil's bargain?

All the necessary components were there: 83-year-old woman, beloved and career adjunct professor, cancer patient, devout and traditional Catholic, poor both in spirit and pocketbook, released unceremoniously from Duquesne University after 25 years of semester-to-semester service.

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