Bobby Ross Jr.

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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'Where's the beef!?' in TV station's report on Oklahoma petition asking Muslims to 'go home'

'Where's the beef!?' in TV station's report on Oklahoma petition asking Muslims to 'go home'

"It certainly is a big bun."

"It's a very big bun."

"A big, fluffy bun."

"It's a very big, fluffy bun."

Readers of a certain age will remember the old Wendy's commercial in which two gray-haired ladies admire the size of a hamburger bun, while a third woman asks the obvious question about the tiny patty: "Where's the beef!?"

I was reminded of that question when I saw an Oklahoma television station's report on a purported petition in my home state asking Muslims to "go home." I avoid as much local TV news as I can, so I came across the story link via Tennessee-based Godbeat guru Bob Smietana's Twitter feed.

The top of the story:

DEL CITY, Okla. – A metro woman says fear about her religion led to an unusual encounter this week.
The Muslim woman says a woman asked her to sign a petition asking that all Muslims “go home.”
The run-in took place this week outside a gas station in Del City.
“Muslims are a peaceful people,” said Deb Beneta. “I wish people would see us as humans and not this mythical Muslim monster.”
Unfortunately for Deb, fear of the religion may be near an all-time high.

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Big scoop for Sarah: Former GetReligionista scores exclusive on Mark Driscoll resignation

Big scoop for Sarah: Former GetReligionista scores exclusive on Mark Driscoll resignation

We're proud to say we knew you way back when, Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

The former GetReligionista scored a major scoop Wednesday with her Religion News Service report on the resignation of Mars Hills Church pastor Mark Driscoll:

(RNS) Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church Tuesday (Oct. 14), according to a document obtained by RNS.
The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family — even physically unsafe at times — and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.

Other major news organizations quickly jumped on the story, including CNN.

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Houston, we have a church-state controversy: Sermons, subpoenas and the First Amendment

Houston, we have a church-state controversy: Sermons, subpoenas and the First Amendment

So, the other rocket blasting off in the news this week?

It's social media in the wake of the City of Houston subpoenaing pastors' sermons. Twitter, not for the first time, is abuzz with outrage and opinion.

Amid all the noise, the challenge for a journalist is to present the key facts and details in a fair and unbiased manner — and to help readers understand the relevant legal and constitutional questions.

For example, is a sermon about the moral issues involved in a law (the Houston equal rights ordinance, in this case) a political statement or an application of life to faith? 

On a national level, two former GetReligionistas — Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service and Mark Kellner of the Deseret News National Edition — are among the Godbeat pros seeking to bring clarity to the issues involved.

The Houston Chronicle gave the story front-page treatment today, albeit not a banner headline.

 

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Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

While working on a story on Christians and immigration a few years ago, I witnessed a mother's tearful farewell to her son, who was being deported.

CHICAGO — On a dark street, a mother weeps. 
At 4:45 a.m., she stands outside a two-story brick building surrounded by razor wire, her sobs drowning out the drum of machinery at a nearby factory. 
The Spanish-speaking woman just said goodbye — through a glass panel at a federal deportation center west of Chicago — to her son Miguel, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. 

Recalling that emotional scene, my interest was piqued by a front-page Chicago Tribune story on Roman Catholic Archbishop-Designate Blase Cupich making immigration reform a top priority.

The top of the Tribune's meaty, 1,300-word report:

Immigrant rights activists are hailing Chicago's next Roman Catholic archbishop, hoping that Blase Cupich's outspoken advocacy for their cause translates to meaningful changes to local and state laws that would make Illinois the friendliest state for immigrants.
"It's always very encouraging to hear your faith leader calling on what you believe is a human rights issue," said Erendira Rendon, a lead organizer for the Resurrection Project, a Pilsen-based community development organization. "We've been grateful for Cardinal (Francis) George's support of immigration reform, but it's exciting to see the new archbishop is going to make it a priority."

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5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass outside a Packers game, Holly Meyer has the Godbeat covered

5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass outside a Packers game, Holly Meyer has the Godbeat covered

Holly Meyer cheers for the Green Bay Packers, eats a lot of cheese and tells stories about northeast Wisconsin.

Meyer, a reporter for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., splits her time between early-morning breaking news and the Godbeat.

Her religion writing earned her the 2014 Cassels Religion Reporter of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at small-sized newspapers.

She grew up in rural Illinois and started her reporting career at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s student newspaper.

"That’s where I learned you can get paid to do this really neat job," said Meyer, a 2009 graduate.

Her first professional gig was at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, where she spent about three years and covered everything from ranch families to police shootings. She joined The Post-Crescent's metro team in 2012.

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Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

At first glance, this week's Reuters story on "a new battleground of religious freedom" appears to be a fair and balanced account.

But upon further review, here's the problem: While the story quotes two sides, it really only reflects the perspective of one.

Consider how the story is framed:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - With the U.S. gay marriage battle looking increasingly like a lost cause for conservative opponents, a last battleground may be their quest to allow people to refuse services to gay men and women on religious grounds.
Some conservative groups have seized on what they consider religious freedom cases, ranging from a Washington state florist to bakers in Colorado and Oregon who are fighting civil rights lawsuits after refusing to provide goods and services to gay couples.
"You'll have more instances where religious liberty will potentially come into conflict with this new redefined way of understanding marriage," said Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group established to defend religious freedom.
Campbell represented New Mexico's Elane Photography, a small company that was sued after the owner declined to provide services for a same-sex commitment ceremony.
Such cases, experts said, will likely become more common after action by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts this week extended gay marriage to more than half the states.

Did you catch that? Conservative religious types want to "refuse services" to gays. That's the narrative throughout the story, and certainly, that's how same-sex marriage activists portray the situation.

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Ghost of Cowtown: That crucial missing question in Texas story on Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity

Ghost of Cowtown: That crucial missing question in Texas story on Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity

Here at GetReligion, we like to go ghostbusting.

Today, I decided to do so deep in the heart of Texas — in Cowtown, to be specific.

This Fort Worth Star-Telegram headline drew me in:

Carters build hope, homes with Habitat for Humanity

Before even reading the story's lede, two things made me wonder if this report would include a religion angle: Jimmy Carter's well-known Baptist faith and Habitat's nonprofit Christian mission of "seeking to put God's love into action."

So I grabbed my hammer, nails and ghostbusting equipment and clicked the Star-Telegram link:

FORT WORTH — Henry Wills never thought he would own a home, much less have a former president help build it.
But on Monday, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, swung hammers and hauled wood with hundreds of other Habitat for Humanity volunteers, including country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, to help build the Willses’ home in Fort Worth’s Central Meadowbook neighborhood.
“I never thought I would be able to work beside a president,” Wills said, grinning. “I am just elated on what is going on. I always wanted my own home, but I never think it would arrive. But God is good.”

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Sorry, that was my 2014 Holy Ghostbusting Sensor (thank you, editor Terry Mattingly, for providing all of GR's contributors with the latest model) going off.

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How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

"Daily Beast stupidity," said the email's subject line.

"I realize this headline might just be dramatic on purpose, but seriously: The church is not a business or something," the tipster wrote to GetReligion.

The headline in question (cue the dramatic music):

Can These Texas Churches Survive Ebola?

And the subhead:

The virus appears to be contained within a Dallas hospital for now, but concerns are spreading fast through local parishes, where congregants may have personal experience with Ebola’s deadly toll.

Clickbait, anyone?

Granted, we at GetReligion have acknowledged our struggle to determine the dividing line between The Daily Beast's progressive advocacy and its news coverage. In this case, the story — unlike the headline — is actually pretty informational and even-keeled.

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