Pentecostalism

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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Connecting dots between Santo Daime and blurring lines between religions

Connecting dots between Santo Daime and blurring lines between religions

I attended a Bob Dylan concert in Baltimore some years back where I fell into conversation about Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman and his music with a high-schooler sitting next to me. Suddenly, it hits this kid: "Wow! You're from the '60s!" I smiled. But the kid had it right. I felt like an archeological artifact.

Yes, I lived as a college student and as a working journalist, when I wasn't just hanging out, in New York's East Village and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. I covered Jerry Rubin's Yippies and Berkeley's People's Park. And despite the cliche, I remember that period of my life quite clearly. I know what I did.

By which I mean that in addition to a lot of brown rice and mung beans, I consumed a fair quantity of psychedelic drugs, natural and synthetic, in, shall we say, non-clinical settings. I do not recommend that anyone follow my example. But I was fortunate and avoided trouble. Moreover, I experienced altered states of consciousness that provided my first hint that there was more to life than the every-day material world, and that spirituality and religious tradition would be profoundly real and important to me.

Why this confessional now? To grab your reading attention, of course. It's called a lede.

Now that I apparently have it, let's discuss a recent story in The New York Times about an experimental Brazilian prison program that provides select maximum-security convicts with a plant-based psychedelic brew in the hope it will mitigate their anti-social behaviors. In short, it's meant as psycho-spiritual therapy.

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What are the biggest Christian flocks in America these days?

What are the biggest Christian flocks in America these days?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What are the major Christian denominations in the U.S.?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Numbers. Numbers. Numbers.

The Pew Research Center snagged some headlines April 2 with projections on world religions as of 2050 that are worth pondering. Among other things, we’re told high birth rates will make world Islam almost as large as Christianity, India will surpass Indonesia as the nation with the biggest Muslim population, Muslims will constitute 10 percent of Europeans, and will surpass the number of religious Jews in the U.S.

Rachael’s question brings us back to the present day, to just the United States, and to Christians only. This has long been an easy topic thanks to the National Council of Churches and its predecessor, the Federal Council, which since 1916 issued yearbooks stuffed with statistics and other information. These annuals became more vital after 1936 when the U.S. Census stopped gathering data from religious groups.  Unfortunately, the N.C.C. hasn’t managed to issue its “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches” since 2012 due to shrinking staff, budget, and program, and has no firm plans for any future editions. Any volunteers out there to produce this all-important reference work?

Some data were outdated or rough estimates, but it’s what we’ve had and, on the whole, reasonably representative. Here were  “inclusive” memberships for U.S. groups reporting at least 2 million members in that latest and perhaps last yearbook from 2012:

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Mirror, mirror: Press wrestles with a clash between open discrimination and rare acts of conscience

Mirror, mirror: Press wrestles with a clash between open discrimination and rare acts of conscience

A wise journalism professor once told me that it always helps, when trying to think through the implications of a controversial story, to try to imagine the same story being seen in a mirror, in reverse.

So let's say that there is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.

Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event -- the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Whose religious rights are being violated? Can both sides find a way to show tolerance?

This is, of course, a highly specific parable -- full of the unique details that tend to show up in church-state law and, often, in cases linked to laws built on Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) language. It's clear that the gay Christian businessman is not asking to discriminate against an entire class of Americans. He is asking that his consistently demonstrated religious convictions be honored in this case, one with obvious doctrinal implications.

Is there any sign that reporters covering the RFRA madness in Indiana and, eventually, in dozens of states across the nation are beginning to see some of the gray areas in these cases?

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Carlton Pearson gains a cheerleader in the Dallas Morning News

Carlton Pearson gains a cheerleader in the Dallas Morning News

He may have given up preaching hellfire, but Bishop Carlton Pearson still likes DMN-nation. The Dallas Morning News gave the Chicago-based minister a free 450-word ad when he spoke at a local church.

It's hard to blame the paper for having some fun. Pearson deserted classic Christian beliefs like sin, salvation and the danger of eternal punishment, pitching a universalist Gospel of Inclusion instead. Now he's a preacher turned pariah, although he's found new friends.

So Pearson is good copy. But did DMN have to turn cheerleader for him, right from the first paragraphs?

Bishop Carlton Pearson caught hell when he said there was no hell.
The trailblazing minister, who was mentored by Oral Roberts and became an adviser to presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, lost nearly everything after 2000 when he said he had an epiphany: There is no such thing as eternal damnation. He even told The Dallas Morning News that the devil himself could be saved.
Pearson was declared a heretic by fellow Pentecostal ministers and membership at his Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa plummeted, as did cash offerings. He lost his homes and other possessions.

Which Pentecostal ministers would those be? Well, DMN mentions Oral Roberts, who died in 2009. His son, Richard, is still at the helm of the family business, though. And he's not hard to find. Why not ask what he says, rather than what Pearson says his opponents say?

That's just one of several unasked questions:

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Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Time to take a quick dip into my folder of GetReligion guilt, where some important stories have been calling for my attention. In particular, I wanted to note that debates about military chaplains, always a controversial church-state subject, have flared up once again in the news.

At the center of the debate this time around is Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a chaplain who has in the past handled the rather difficult challenge of keeping up with Navy SEAL units. Now, a Military Times article notes that he may be tossed out of the Navy after 19 years for "allegedly scolding sailors for homosexuality and premarital sex." Readers are told:

Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" letter on Feb. 17 after his commanders concluded that he is "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his current assignment at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.
Modder denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the dismissal with attorneys from the Liberty Institute, which advocates for religious expression in the military and in public institutions. Modder has served more than 19 years and could lose his retirement benefits if the Navy convenes a board of inquiry and officially separate him before he completes 20 years of service.

As often happens in these stories, the crucial question of what actually happened in these encounters between the chaplain and the soldiers making complaints is hard to discern, since the details all come from the accusers. Also, military chaplains treat the details of these one-on-one encounters as completely confidential (even chaplains who are not in traditions that include Confession).

Thus, the Gannett newsroom notes that the Navy's letter of complaint included offenses such as:

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RNS calls out United Methodists as same-sex marriage holdouts

RNS calls out United Methodists as same-sex marriage holdouts

"Looking at you, Methodists," says yesterday's "Slingshot," the newsletter of the Religion News Service -- about an event that isn't even about Methodism. It's about Tuesday's action of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships.

"With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support," RNS says after PCUSA's Tuesday decision. And right from the lede, the story turns up the heat on United Methodists:

(RNS) With the largest Presbyterian denomination’s official endorsement Tuesday (March 17), American mainline Protestants have solidified their support for gay marriage, leaving the largest mainline denomination — the United Methodist Church — outside the same-sex marriage fold.

The story acknowledges that the Methodists are unlikely to accept gay marriage, especially because their African brethren strongly oppose it. But then RNS tries to show how abnormal that's becoming:

But the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and now the Presbyterian Church (USA)  sanctify the marriage of two men or two women. The 3.8 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gives congregations the autonomy to decide for themselves.

The story piles it on, quoting a researcher for the Public Religion Research Institute saying that support for same-sex marriage among "white mainline Protestants" has grown drastically over the last decade -- 67 percent among U.S. Methodists, compared with 69 percent of Presbyterians. And it gets even more vehement:

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CNN's giant love song to D.E. Paulk and the emerging world of liberal Pentecostalism

CNN's giant love song to D.E. Paulk and the emerging world of liberal Pentecostalism

So, did anyone out there in GetReligion reader land manage to make it all the way through that epic CNN.com report entitled "How the Ultimate Scandal Saved One Pastor," focusing on the life and times of the Pentecostal superstar Archbishop Earl Paulk Jr. and his secret son (for years called his nephew) the Rev. D.E. Paulk?

I can understand it if you gave up before the end. The sexual and political politics in this four-act drama are stunningly complex and scandalous and that's the whole point. It's the story of the sins of a megachurch pastor who, within a certain niche of Pentecostalism, became a powerful player in -- the key for CNN, of course -- one political corner of the Religious Right. It's about the sins of the father, literally, and the impact on the son who finally breaks free and becomes his own person, a young hero who slays his own dragons.

Here's the material that sets up the drama:

His life before was so complicated that D.E. simply told curious church visitors who said his name sounded familiar to "Google me."
Google gives part of his story: How the Paulks built the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church into one of the nation's first and largest megachurches; how three American presidents honored their church; how the place imploded after the revelation about D.E.'s biological father. But the headlines don't say what happened to D.E. afterward.
How did the revelations affect his relationship with Don Paulk, the man who raised him; the person he still calls dad. Did his uncle, Bishop Paulk, ever apologize? How could D.E. even set foot in church again?
The headlines also don't explain what happened to D.E.'s mother, Clariece. How did she explain her actions to her son and husband? Did the marriage survive? Clariece Paulk, 76, recently told me that she prayed for over 20 years that no one would discover her secret. At times, Bishop Paulk would apprise D.E. from a distance and say to her, "He kind of looks like me in the shoulders."
"I'd be so afraid that somebody would see a picture of him and Donnie Earl at the same age, and I tried to hide the pictures," she said. "I lived in fear, just misery."
D.E.'s story is not just about a scandal. It's about fate. Are we all captive to the arc of our family history, no matter what we do?

Big stuff, requiring lots of photos and thousands of words.

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Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

"To live at all is miracle enough," in the words of poet Mervyn Peake. And sometimes, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the miracle is in how someone can endure suffering -- and her friends endure with her.

The sensitive feature story tells of the crisis in Rhonda Hill's life as the devout laywoman develops a brain hemorrhage. The 1,000-word article speaks of miracles, but it's more about suffering and trust.

Hill, a Lutheran official in the Milwaukee area, is the type of woman who would spend 14 weeks studying a single Bible book, Acts, with other women. She and her friends are the type to quote scripture and sing hymns all the time.

And they see God's benevolent hand, no matter what. Even at the start, when Hill started vomiting and collapsing into a chair at work.

Her friends take her to the emergency room; then the story takes a startling turn:

It was the first of many miracles, Hill, her friends and her family say. They see the hand of God — alongside those of her physicians — in every positive development, every piece of good news. Had they taken her home, as Hill had insisted, she could have lapsed into a coma, doctors told her. She could have had a stroke, or bled to death.
"One of the doctors came in here and told her she had a miracle," said Shirley Stewart, Hill's 73-year-old grandmother, who had been holding vigil in her room around the clock for days.

While the doctors test and treat, Hill's friends -- and her grandmother, a Pentecostal pastor -- hold a round of prayers, hymns and Bible readings at the hospital. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Hill's support circle spans denominations, with bishops and pastors joining laity in the vigil:

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