sexual abuse

Matt Chandler's Southern Baptist Convention 'interview' shows how not to deal with bad press

Matt Chandler's Southern Baptist Convention 'interview' shows how not to deal with bad press

Earlier this week, tmatt wrote about and spotlighted a New York Times bombshell about what certainly appeared to be the cavalier approach a major Southern Baptist megachurch took to dealing with a sexual predator in its midst.

A summation of the Times piece is further down in my post, but the damage done by this article was so extensive that the Rev. Matt Chandler, the pastor, broke away from his sabbatical to fly to Birmingham in an attempt to salvage his reputation. He showed up at a lunch meeting of Baptist pastors to answer questions from an emcee but — here’s the key — not to take questions from the audience.

The video of that “interview” is atop this piece. It’s a headshaker and a perfect example of how way too many religious leaders think journalism is supposed to be public relations. The pastor’s first sentence out of the blocks is, “I’m here because I don’t want what we’re trying to do to lose momentum and steam.”

It’s not “I’m concerned for the victim and her family,” or “I feel we messed up and I want to apologize,” but no, he doesn’t want to derail his church’s expansion plans. (Additional note - it’s been pointed out to me that Chandler was referring to movement within the SBC for a meaningful resolution on the abuse issue, not about his church’s future, so I stand corrected there.)

The Times reporter who’d broken the story tweeted that she planned to attend the pastor’s appearance. I still haven’t found out whether she managed to nab him in the hallway beforehand or afterwards.

She did run this piece on his speech:

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Yes, this is a hard news story to cover: More talk about The Atlantic and modern exorcists

Yes, this is a hard news story to cover: More talk about The Atlantic and modern exorcists

The Bible doesn’t come up, all that often, here at GetReligion, unless we are talking about news stories that mangle a crucial piece of scripture. Remember this M.Z. Hemingway classic about the Ascension of Jesus? Or how about this M.Z. post, about The New York Times and Easter?

Anyway, to understand this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), I need you to pause and read the Gospel According to St. Luke, chapter 8: 26-36.

The key: Try to look at this through the eyes of a journalist who was going to mention this New Testament passage in a news report. We are doing part of a discussion of that interesting feature that ran the other day in The Atlantic, focusing on the sharp rise in requests for the ministry of exorcists in today’s Catholic church. So, here is our Bible story for today:

Then they arrived at the country of the Ger′asenes, [a] which is opposite Galilee. And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.)

Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed.

Now, my goal here is not to ask readers — as skeptical journalists — whether they believe this story or not. I am not asking whether readers think this is a mere folk story, as opposed to being inspired scripture handed down by the early church. I am not asking for a scientific evaluation of this text.

I am simple noting that it is hard to read this passage and not grasp that the reality of evil and the demonic is part of the Christian tradition. What we also see her is an archetypal image of the work of the exorcist, especially that of a priest acting in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

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The Atlantic dares to ask if exorcisms (and thus the supernatural) may be real after all

The Atlantic dares to ask if exorcisms (and thus the supernatural) may be real after all

Five years ago, I had a chance to eat lunch with the late William Peter Blatty, an articulate Catholic apologist who won an Academy Award for turning his novel, "The Exorcist," into a stunning Hollywood screenplay.

Yes, I called Blatty a Catholic apologist.

Why? In part because he viewed his masterwork as a vehicle for criticizing this materialistic age. Here is a chunk of that column, in which Blatty explains his motives. In “The Exorcist”:

The fictional Father Damien Karras experiences paralyzing doubts after his mother's death. Blatty was typing the second page of his earliest take on the story when he received the call that his mother had died.

"I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a statement that the grave is not the end, that there is more to life than death," said Blatty, in a Bethesda, Md., diner near his home, not far from the Georgetown neighborhood described in "The Exorcist."

After studying the explicit details in the journals of exorcists, he decided that a story about "what happens in these cases could really be a boost to the faith. It could show people that the spiritual world is real."

The bottom line: "The Exorcist" scared the hell out of millions of people. 

This brings me to the feature story in The Atlantic that stirred up lots of online conversation over the weekend, the one with this haunting double-decker headline:

American Exorcism

Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.

A serious piece of journalism on this topic faces a big question: How much space should be dedicated to the views of people who, well, think demon possession is real? As Blatty noted, it is impossible to talk about this topic — exorcisms — without debating evidence that the material world is not all that there is. (Click here for a Rod Dreher discussion of this angle.)

Toward the end of this long feature, reporter Mike Mariani offers this summary of what he was seeing, hearing and feeling:

Pore over these spiritual and psychiatric frameworks long enough, and the lines begin to blur. If someone lapses into an alternate identity that announces itself as a demon bent on wresting away that person’s soul, how can anyone prove otherwise? Psychiatry has only given us models through which to understand these symptoms, new cultural contexts to replace the old ones. No lab test can pinpoint the medical source of these types of mental fractures.

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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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Jehovah's Witnesses and sexual abuse: The Philadelphia Inquirer lays it out

Jehovah's Witnesses and sexual abuse: The Philadelphia Inquirer lays it out

Late last month, a crime and justice reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer came out with the kind of religion-and-sex-abuse story that’s sadly become all too familiar these days. What’s unusual about this story is that it’s about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Witnesses are one of the toughest religious groups to cover. In the years I spent in religion reporting, I can only remember one time that the Witnesses cooperated with me as I reported a news story. That was when, as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, I went door-belling with the Witnesses sometime in the late ‘80s.

Now, they also tried to convert me, but that’s just a typical day in the life of a religion reporter, believe me.

I was amazed at how rude people were to the Witnesses. I connected with them during that time, but since then, I’ve never had any luck getting any response from the Witnesses for any other story. That is why I was impressed when an Inquirer reporter did this lengthy piece on sexual abuse in this very private, even secretive, religious group.

A second was all it took. A second was all he needed.

The little girl was 4, round-faced and freckled and dressed in her Sunday best. She was fidgeting next to her father inside the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Red Lion, York County -- a safe, familiar space for a family that spent nearly all of its free time preaching and praying.

Martin Haugh was momentarily preoccupied, doling out assignments to his fellow Witnesses for their door-to-door ministry work. When he looked down for his daughter, she was gone. Haugh plunged into the slow-motion panic of every parent's worst nightmare.

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Thinking about Justin Welby and the Church of England, in prose blending praise with candid acid

Thinking about Justin Welby and the Church of England, in prose blending praise with candid acid

Let me begin with a note to digital obsessives who care about this kind of thing, since I hear from readers of this kind every now and then.

In the software categories and tags for this weekend's "think piece," I have included the word "demographics," even though this feature from The Guardian about Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Church of England does not include a direct reference to statistics about marriage, divorce, gay marriage, birthrates or other topics of that kind.

No, the goal of this opinion piece by Andrew Brown -- no friend of traditional forms of Christianity -- is to praise Welby for steering Anglicanism in the direction of compromise with the modern world. The headline: "With piety and steel, Justin Welby has the church in his firmest grip." Anyone looking for praise or even constructive criticism of low-church evangelicals or Global South Anglicans can look elsewhere.

However, this piece has its moments of brutal candor about the state of Anglican life, doses of acidic reality mixed in with the praise. The information contained in these passages is especially interesting, since it it comes from a voice on the left. If conservative Anglicans made the same comments, they would be easier for many readers to dismiss.

As an introduction, here is a lengthy summary passage that follows a discussion of Welby's actions in one controversial case linked to alleged sexual abuse of a minor by a famous clergyman.

The whole show was typical of Welby’s style as Archbishop of Canterbury: he combines energy, ruthlessness and a determination to get the church moving, through a mixture of public theatricality and arm-twisting behind the scenes. He has been archbishop for five years and next month will publish a fat state-of-the-nation book that covers almost all the current areas of political and cultural dispute in the church. ...
(H)e loves the work of nudging and manipulation. When he was trying to get the bishops of the worldwide Anglican communion to agree to meet again after decades of wrangling over gay sex and female bishops, he spent much of his annual holiday ringing the heads of the member churches for 20 minutes each -- not how most people would choose to spend their holidays. And though he disclaims the ability to select bishops, ever since he drove through the legislation to make women bishops in 2013, the holy spirit has somehow ensured that half of the bishops appointed have been women, among them Sarah Mullally to the prominent see of London, and Jo Bailey Wells, his former chaplain, to be bishop of Dorking.

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Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.  

Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”

Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”  

Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.

Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering  if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”

“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.

The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.”

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Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Let's talk about the religion of the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama.

No, not that candidate.

I'm referring to Doug Jones, the Democrat facing the much-discussed Republican -- Roy Moore -- in Tuesday's election.

The Washington Post's Acts of Faith has an article with an intriguing headline noting that "Roy Moore isn't the only Christian running for Senate in Alabama." The article offers specific details on Jones' faith up high, rather like a news article.

But this is not a news article, even though this is certainly a topic that deserves solid, hard-news coverage. This article is clearly labeled "analysis." A key passage:

Jones belongs to Canterbury United Methodist Church, a 4,000-member congregation in Birmingham’s suburbs. Over the past 33 years, he has been an active participant in Sunday school, even teaching occasionally, and has driven the church bus to bring older members to services.
“It’s fair to say Doug has been a very active Christian,” according to former Birmingham-Southern College president Neal Berte, who first met Jones when he was working at the University of Alabama in the 1970s and attends church with him. “He is a principled leader, but … not in the sense of, ‘You either believe the way I do or there’s no room for you.’”
Through his campaign staff, Jones declined an interview. His spokesman, Sebastian Kitchen, said in a statement: “As a person of deep faith, Doug believes in Christ’s call to minister to all people -- regardless of their background, race, or religion. Unfortunately, Roy Moore instead uses religion to divide people, instead of trying to join together to make progress.”
In an article in the Birmingham News, Jones spoke openly about how his faith commitments drive his professional commitments of justice, fairness and respect.
“I go to church. I’m a Christian. I have as many people of faith that have been reaching out to me about this campaign,” he said. “They want someone who cares about all people, not just a select few. That’s what I think the teachings of religion are, is the caring about the least of these, the caring about all people, and making sure there’s a fairness to everything.”

Good stuff. I'm definitely interested in Jones' faith. Anyone following the Alabama U.S. Senate race should be.

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Let's be clear: It's rape, not a relationship, when a youth pastor impregnates a teen

Let's be clear: It's rape, not a relationship, when a youth pastor impregnates a teen

Jimmy Hinton is sick and tired of so-called "inappropriate relationships" between youth pastors and teenagers.

In such a case, Hinton declares, it's not a "relationship," it's a "rape."

He's absolutely right. More on the latest case drawing his ire in a moment. But before we get to that, a little background.

I first shared Hinton's story, headlined "A child molester's son shines a light," in The Christian Chronicle in January 2015:

SOMERSET, Pa. — Jimmy Hinton grew up at the feet of the wolf.
For 27 years, his father, John Wayne Hinton, proclaimed the Gospel to the sheep of the Somerset Church of Christ — a century-old congregation in this southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining community.
“I went into ministry because of him,” said Jimmy Hinton, 35, the middle child of 11 brothers and sisters.
But three years ago, the son — who became Somerset’s preacher in 2009 — learned a horrible secret: John Hinton was a longtime child molester who had sexually abused young girls and escaped discovery for decades.
Jimmy Hinton uncovered the truth after an adult molested as a child confided in him. The Holy Spirit, he believes, drove his response. 
“I believe you,” he told the victim.
He reported his father to police and prompted an investigation that resulted in the pedophile preacher, now 65, pleading guilty to sexually assaulting and taking nude photographs of four young girls, ages 4 to 7.
While his father — inmate No. KP7163 — serves a 30- to 60-year sentence in Rockview State Prison, Jimmy Hinton works to help heal his home congregation and create awareness far beyond Somerset, a town of 6,300 about 75 miles east of Pittsburgh.

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