Pentecostalism

After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

Is there anything new to say, at this point, about the Rev. Jordan Brown, his Church of Open Doors and the mysterious case of the alleged Whole Foods hate cake?

The short answer is, "no." Of course, that tells us something about these viral, digital media storms that blow up on Twitter and then fade away. At some point, there is real reporting that needs to get done.

The key, is this point, is that there is little evidence that the same mainstream media that ran with the story early on -- The Austin America Statesman, for example -- are interested in exploring the next stage of the drama. In a post the other day, and in our "Crossroads" podcast this week, I suggested that it would be important to find out more about Brown's congregation -- such as whether it's alive and viable. (I just noticed that it's last schedule worship service was at noon on April 3 -- the week after Western Easter).

So what happens this Sunday?

Now, a GetReligion reader went online and dug out some basic, very helpful information that would have added some depth to the tsunami of early online items about this alleged hate crime:

I am not a journalist but I did do some checking on the Church of Open Doors. The "congregation" meets in the community room/area of an apartment complex. The official mailing address is a post office box at an establishment named "Drive Thru Postal". On the "church" website, there is no mention of governance or oversight.
According to Facebook link, the "church" utilizes MailChimp, I went to MailChimp and found the archive of emails for the "church" and the majority of them are pleas for money. This is the most recent:

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Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Certainly we have all heard of the philosophical conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does.

Here’s similar one: If a large, symbolic religious event occurs but there’s little-to-no mainstream press around to cover it, did it have an impact?

Last Saturday, thousands of Christians filled the Los Angeles Coliseum for Azusa Now, a 110th anniversary gathering for Los Angeles' famed 1906 Azusa Street revival that birthed the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Saturday's event was organized by Lou Engle, head of a youth revival movement known as The Call. Early PR for the April 9 event suggested 100,000 people would show up -- a neat trick in that the stadium only fits 93,000 -- but hopes were high. Some 50,000 were said to be registered; not a small number.

I was researching an article on a related event, so was checking around the Los Angeles mediascape to see if there was so much as an advance news story. The only thing I found was an offhand mention of the event in the Los Angeles Times in relation to the newspaper’s Festival of Books. Odd, I thought.

During the weekend, I scoured the Times, the Orange County Register, even the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Nothing. OK -- maybe the Christian Broadcasting Network? Nothing. Christianity Today? Nada. Local TV? Nope. Now on Sunday, the Register did have something on a gathering of beach corgis.

And the Times naturally talked up the “thousands” that attended its book festival. It was even doing live updates of the event.

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Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Attention all supporters of strong, accurate religion-beat reporting: What is the first question a journalist needs to answer for readers when covering a "Lutheran church" story, especially when it is linked to controversy?

Let me raise the stakes a bit higher. This question is especially true when dealing with a flock located in Minnesota or elsewhere in the upper Midwest, which is often called the Lutheran Belt in American life because there are so many Lutheran congregations in that region.

The question: So what kind of Lutherans are we talking about?

Are we dealing with a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which, despite the presence of the E-word in the name, is a liberal flock on key issues of doctrine and moral theology? Or how about the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, located on the right side of the mainline Protestant world? Or how about the smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is also more doctrinally conservative than the ELCA?

So check out the top of this major story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this month. Yes, you'll have to look for clues in this long passage:

North Heights Lutheran, the one-time megachurch of Arden Hills, has run out of prayers.
The church is shutting down, the apparent victim of a civil war that has split it apart. After 70 years of weekly worship, the church’s last service will be Sunday.
“This took me by surprise,” 20-year member Zelda Erickson said Monday after learning of the closing at an announcement during Sunday’s church service. “I feel terrible about this.”

North Heights once had Sunday attendance of 3,400 at two church locations. But attendance has fallen recently to several hundred -- not enough to keep the church afloat.

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Think piece after crazy week: Two logical experts strive to define the term 'evangelical'

Think piece after crazy week: Two logical experts strive to define the term 'evangelical'

Any short list of topics that your GetReligionistas have been harping about from Day 1 of this weblog, 12 years ago, would have to include the mainstream news media's struggles to understand the already vague term "evangelical" (and its more conservative cousin, "fundamentalist").

In other words, this whole "Donald Trump is an evangelical" and/or "Donald Trump is the savior of the evangelicals madness" is just a more intense version of a journalistic problem that has always been around.

Here at GetReligion, this is not our first rodeo. Take it away, Bobby Ross Jr.! Also, I have written three national, "On Religion" columns about this issue as well. The headlines on those pieces are as follows: "Define 'evangelical' -- please," "Define 'evangelical' -- again" and "Define 'evangelical' -- 2013 edition."

Anyway, the evangelical pros at Christianity Today ran a very timely essay the other day with a totally logical double-decker headline:

Defining Evangelicals in an Election Year
A new research method could help us get beyond political stereotypes.

This is a must-read think piece for this weekend, in part because it was written by a highly qualified duo, if you are looking for authoritative voices on this subject. The Rev. Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pollster Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville. Here is a key slice of this essay, containing the thesis:

... Who is an evangelical? Many pollsters and journalists assume that evangelicals are white, suburban, American, Southern, and Republican, when millions of self-identifying evangelicals fit none of these descriptions. ... We think there is a more coherent and consistent way to understand who evangelicals are -- one based on what evangelicals believe.

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Vote for Trump! Vote for Hillary! Vote for Jesus at this racially diverse S.C. megachurch!

Vote for Trump! Vote for Hillary! Vote for Jesus at this racially diverse S.C. megachurch!

"One church's vote for Jesus" was the headline on a story I wrote a few years ago on a Washington, D.C.-area congregation that declared itself a "politics-free zone."

This was the lede:

LAUREL, Md. — People of all political persuasions are welcome at the Laurel Church of Christ.
Politics is not.
“Believe it or not, it almost destroyed this church at one time because we’re so close to Washington,” said adult Bible class teacher Stew Highberg, who retired from the Air Force and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The politics of the president and the House and the Senate would creep in,” explained Highberg, a former Laurel church elder. “So we had to put a moratorium on it. You’ll get booted out of here if you start talking politics.”
He was joking about that last part. Mostly.
More than 300 people worship with this fast-growing Maryland church: Roughly three-quarters work for the federal government, the military or a government contractor or have a family member who does.
“We figure we can try to convince people they’re wrong politically, or we can try to persuade them to follow Jesus,” preaching minister Michael Ray said. “We pick Jesus.”

I was reminded of that Maryland congregation when I saw a front-page story in today's New York Times on a South Carolina megachurch.

According to the Times, Redemption church in Greenville, S.C., is "a church where races unite, politics divide."

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Vice Sports lets Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., preach about Cam, sports and maybe even God

Vice Sports lets Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., preach about Cam, sports and maybe even God

Unless you have been on another planet, you are aware that the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl L.

You also probably know that National Football League MVP Cam Newton was sacked six times, knocked down a dozen-plus times and ended the game in a state of frustration and even rage. This followed, of course, weeks of public discussion of whether many fans don't approve of his joyful, edgy, hip-hop approach to celebrating life, football, his team and his own talents.

This led to the press conference from hell, when Newton -- forced by the NFL to take questions in the same space, within earshot, of the Broncos' victory pressers -- had little to say, while his eyes said everything. A sample:

What's your message to Panthers fans?
"We'll be back."
Ron [Rivera] said Denver two years ago had a tough time and they bounced back. Do you take that to heart?
"No."
Can you put a finger on why Carolina didn't play the way it normally plays?
"Got outplayed."
Is there a reason why?
"Got outplayed, bro."

You get the idea. With that as a backdrop, let's move into GetReligion territory -- in the form of a long, long Vice Sports piece by Eric Nusbaum about the Newton family and, especially, a Sunday morning spent listening to the superstar's Pentecostal preacher dad, Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., of the Holy Zion Center of Deliverance. The headline: "The House that Built Cam."

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Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Want a sense of time passing?

Read some of the many lists of "famous dead" cranked out this week. The Religion News Service does its part with a brisk list of 23 spiritual leaders who departed in 2015. Let's see how well they did.

RNS opens with a nice, measured lede:

They preached and inspired. They wrote and taught. Some lobbied in the halls of government. Others toiled to protect the environment and educate the young. Several died at the hands of persecutors.
Here is a list of notable faith leaders — and a champion of secularism — who left us in 2015.

From there, the list goes by date of death, rather than alphabetical order. First is Andrae Crouch, who merged several musical genres -- gospel, rock, country, even Hawaiian -- to electrify crowds and get even secular people to listen. As RNS reports, Crouch's songs not only found a home in hymnals, but won Grammys.

RNS seems to have taken care for broad religious representation. I count four Catholics, two Muslims and two United Methodists. I also see one each of several others -- Jewish, Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal.

The list includes a brief rundown on each person, which is a service even for readers like myself, who are more than casually interested in religion. Some of the names make you go "Oh, yeah, I remember him!" People like:

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Hey New York Times editors: Why ignore hellish details in story of Ugandan marytrs?

Hey New York Times editors: Why ignore hellish details in story of Ugandan marytrs?

The questions for this morning are rather simple: (a) Who were the Ugandan martyrs, (b) why were they killed and (c) why are they so symbolic for millions of Christians in the growing churches of Africa?

These questions are especially important, since Pope Francis has just visited Uganda to mark the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Catholics among the 45 believers who -- with Anglican martyrs, as well -- were tortured, beheaded, hacked to death and burned on the orders of King Mwanga II in the late 1800s.

Why did this happen? What does it have to do with the rapid growth, and the beliefs, of the church in modern Africa?

Quite a few mainstream news organizations -- The New York Times in particular -- were vague, silent or inaccurate when dealing with the answers to some of these questions. But let's start with a report from CBS and the Associated Press that included the essential details.

NAMUGONGO, Uganda -- Pope Francis on Saturday honored the Ugandan Christians who were burned alive rather than renounce their faith a century ago, urging today's Catholics to follow in their missionary zeal and spread the faith at home and abroad.
A somber Francis prayed at shrines dedicated to the 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic martyrs who were killed between 1885 and 1887 on the orders of a local king trying to thwart the influence of Christianity in his central Ugandan kingdom. According to historians, the Christians were also killed because they refused the king's sexual advances, citing the church's opposition to homosexuality.

This report also touched on the fact that the sexual politics of Africa remain strikingly complex and even tragic, as believers here wrestle with a web of colonial-era and tribal beliefs and customs, with the constant pressure of Islam on many borders.

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CNN on 'fundies,' ordinary believers, evangelicals or, heck, somebody out there in voting booths

CNN on 'fundies,' ordinary believers, evangelicals or, heck, somebody out there in voting booths

The politics team at CNN recently produced a major story about religion and politics, one so long and so serious in intent that a loyal GetReligion reader wrote me a note saying that he was confused and thought this had been produced by Al-Jazeera English.

The story is about the Religious Right, which means that by unwritten journalistic law it should have fit into one of two pre-White House race templates. If you have followed coverage of religion and politics at all, you have seen these two templates many times.

No. 1 argues that the power of the Religious Right is fading (because America is growing more diverse and tolerant), which will create major problems for the Republican Party.

Template No. 2 argues that the power of the Religious Right is as strong as ever (the dangerous quest for theocracy lives on), which will create major problems for the Republican Party.

You can see the basic approach in this long, long report by scanning the epic double-decker headline:

Fear and voting on the Christian right
A wedding chapel went out of business because its evangelical owners refused to host a same-sex wedding celebration. Conservative Christians are on edge -- and they could sway the presidential election.

Clearly the goal in this story was to tell the story of some soldiers on the front lines in the First Amendment wars, offering the wedding-chapel owners tons of space in which to offer their views. Some GetReligion readers were impressed with that. Others, however, were troubled for reasons that we'll get to in a moment. Pay attention for the fine details here in the overture:

They called her a bigot, a homophobe, even a racist, which was strange, because the two gay men were white and so was Betty Odgaard. The angry people on the Internet told Betty she would die soon, that her death would be good for America, and then she would probably go to hell.
Betty had other ideas about her final destination, but she agreed it was time to go. "Take me home," she prayed, without effect. Revenue kept declining. Two years passed. One night this summer, just after the Görtz Haus wedding chapel closed forever, she and her husband sat in the basement and thought about the choices they'd made in the name of God.

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