sex abuse

Ready, set, go! The much-anticipated Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting starts in 3, 2, 1 ...

Ready, set, go! The much-anticipated Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting starts in 3, 2, 1 ...

Sex abuse. Women’s roles. Abortion.

All could make headlines at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, which starts Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala.

But as The Associated Press notes, the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the nation’s Protestant denomination for months is expected to dominate the yearly gathering.

That scandal started, of course, with a bombshell investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The Texas papers have kept at the investigation and delivered a final piece of their series Sunday. That front-page report focused on “Baptist abuse victims’ battle: silence, survival, speaking out.” It’s certainly a worthy read in advance of the SBC meeting.

Just two years ago, someone (OK, maybe it was me) whined about reporters’ seeming lack of interest in the SBC’s meeting. But in 2019, the gathering is, no doubt, the journalistic place to be.

GetReligion’s own Richard Ostling offered a tip sheet last week for news writers covering the Baptist extravaganza, as he put it. And on Sunday, GR editor Terry Mattingly featured a think piece by the SBC’s Russell Moore.

Already, The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer — who is covering the meeting with her Gannett colleague Katherine Burgess of Memphis’ Commercial Appeal — has filed her first story from Birmingham.

Meyer reports from a pre-convention meeting of the denomination’s executive committee:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee took steps Monday to make it clear that it can kick out churches that show a disregard for sexual abuse. 

While the ability to sever ties with such churches already exists, the executive committee voted to enshrine in the convention's constitution that addressing sexual abuse is part of what it means to be a Southern Baptist church

"In the culture, situations and issues arise from time to time where we need to make explicit what has already been implicit," said Pastor Mike Stone, chairman of the executive committee. "These actions are a confirmation of what Southern Baptists have always believed."

The top administrative body, which acts on behalf of the convention when it is not in session, also supported a bylaw change on Monday that would form a special committee to address misconduct allegations, including sexual abuse, against churches. 

The new panel would conduct inquiries — not investigations — into the allegations and make a recommendation to the executive committee about whether the convention should be in fellowship with the church in question. 

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Wow! In infuriating case of sex abuser Larry Nassar, a victim touts a message of grace and forgiveness

Wow! In infuriating case of sex abuser Larry Nassar, a victim touts a message of grace and forgiveness

Yes, journalism matters.

The Larry Nassar case is Exhibit A, as the Indianapolis Star rightly points out.

Meanwhile, these words — from Judge Rosemarie Aquilina — went viral Wednesday as she sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison: "I've just signed your death warrant."

For the purposes of this post, I want to praise the Washington Post's Acts of Faith section for catching — and reporting on — a key victim talking about her Christian faith. More on that in a moment.

First, though, the gory basics of Nassar's case, via The Associated Press:

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The former sports doctor who admitted molesting some of the nation’s top gymnasts for years under the guise of medical treatment was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison by a judge who proudly told him, “I just signed your death warrant.”
The sentence capped a remarkable seven-day hearing in which more than 150 women and girls offered statements about being abused by Larry Nassar, a physician who was renowned for treating athletes at the sport’s highest levels. Many confronted him face to face in the Michigan courtroom.
“It is my honor and privilege to sentence you. You do not deserve to walk outside a prison ever again. You have done nothing to control those urges and anywhere you walk, destruction will occur to those most vulnerable,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said.
Nassar’s actions were “precise, calculated, manipulative, devious, despicable,” she said.

Back to the Post: We're entering what GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls #PositiveBobby territory. Praise is good for relationships, of course. But for media criticism websites? It's not always a recipe for reader clicks.

But I'm going to go ahead and say that I appreciated the Post's report and the story's willingness to quote victim Rachael Denhollander — in her own words — on grace and forgiveness.

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A sex abuse scandal, a divided church and three questions for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A sex abuse scandal, a divided church and three questions for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In a way, church leadership disputes are like car wrecks — ugly but impossible to ignore.

I still recall a piece my wife, Tamie Ross, then religion editor for The Oklahoman, wrote 15 years ago concerning a church where an internal squabble had resulted in police calls, changed locks and offers of more than $250,000 for the pastor to resign.

This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch grabbed my attention with a front-page story on "The battle for First Christian Church of Florissant."


The lede sets the scene:

FLORISSANT — A nine-piece band plays inside a church auditorium, and three projection screens hang overhead, including one in the center that flashes lyrics. The band’s repertoire consists of Christian songs that could easily be mistaken for mainstream pop music. First Christian Church of Florissant members stand, clap and sway in response.
Yet, as he prepares to deliver his sermon, Pastor Steve Wingfield apologizes for the small crowd at the long-standing megachurch.
Wingfield has strawberry blond hair and is dressed in a black, long-sleeved, buttoned shirt and gray khakis as he digs into the current series of sermons focusing on the “Path to Restoration.” Today’s message is about broken relationships, a hardship afflicting even the closest knit families, including church families.
“If you want to be part of an imperfect church family, where flawed people are trying to figure this thing out together, you’re welcome here,” Wingfield tells a half-filled auditorium, while revealing details about his home life, including his role as a grandfather.
Members of the church are trying to figure things out, though whether the congregation has managed to do that in any kind of unified way is up for debate.

Keep reading, and the Post-Dispatch explains the circumstances behind the turmoil.

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As the Hillsong world turns, questions about sex, the media and what a pastor said

As the Hillsong world turns, questions about sex, the media and what a pastor said

Leaders of the Australia-based Hillsong Church — described by Religion News Service as "one of the most influential religious brands across the globe" and by The New York Times as "one of the more influential global megachurches" — held a news conference in New York last week.

The Christian Post apparently didn't like the questions asked by mainstream reporters.

NEW YORK — Brian Houston, senior pastor of Australia-based Hillsong Church, was hit with a series of critical questions during a press conference in New York City on Thursday, just hours before he was to take the stage at Madison Square Garden to preach before more than 5,000 Hillsong Conference attendees.
Houston, 60, appeared visibly nervous as he sat alongside his wife and Hillsong Church co-pastor Bobbie Houston and his son and Hillsong United frontman Joel Houston, who also pastors at Hillsong NYC with Carl Lentz. Lentz rounded out the quartet of church representatives at the press conference, where the group welcomed local media to probe them about the conference kicking off that night and issues related to their ministry work through the multi-city megachurch.
Once the floor was opened up for questions, however, it became clear that some members of the press were more interested in hearing about the sex abuse committed by Brian Houston's father in the 1970s, how Hillsong Church spends its money, and how the senior pastor handles cultural relevancy, specifically when it comes to issues of sexuality.

As regular GetReligion readers may recall, The New York Times just last month published a front-page story on Hillsong's international appeal and its place in the modern American religious scene.

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'Blase'd and confused: Media overlook crucial factor in Francis's choice of Chicago archbishop

'Blase'd and confused: Media overlook crucial factor in Francis's choice of Chicago archbishop

If you have been following coverage of the news that Pope Francis has named Spokane, Wash., Bishop Blase Cupich to replace Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago, you know that the mainstream media is busily spinning the choice as a slap in the face to conservatives.

The adjective of choice being used to describe the prelate is "inclusive," as in the New York Times headline "Pope Sets Tone in U.S. by Naming Inclusive Prelate as Chicago Archbishop." In like fashion, the Times' lede exemplifies the joys and hopes of the liberal press:

In his first major appointment in the United States, Pope Francis named Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., on Saturday to be the next archbishop of Chicago, replacing a combative conservative with a prelate whose pastoral approach to upholding church doctrine is more in keeping with the pope’s inclusive tone.

As a member of the faithful in the archdiocese that is to be Cupich's new home, I find such facile, "inclusive"-vs.-"conservative" analysis simply irresponsible. It doesn't do justice to Cupich, who, as Thomas Peters has said, has robustly defended Church doctrine on marriage and human life. It certainly doesn't do justice to George, who, as Rocco Palmo observed, has labored hard to uphold the Catholic social-justice teachings that the media considers "liberal," particularly civil rights. Most of all, it doesn't do justice to Francis, who, as Cupich has noted, often warns against "ideological interpretations of the Gospel."


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