Pentecostalism

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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Miracle of technology bites Houston Chronicle and mars excellent reporting on faith-healing evangelist

Miracle of technology bites Houston Chronicle and mars excellent reporting on faith-healing evangelist

Media blogger Jim Romenesko called attention to an embarrassing photo mishap by the Houston Chronicle.

The text of the Texas newspaper's correction:

Correction, Feb. 17, 2015
A photograph appearing with a story on page A1 about Reinhard Bonnke on Monday was digitally manipulated by the evangelist's organization to superimpose the preacher's image on a crowd of about 1.6 million gathered for a 2000 crusade in Lagos, Nigeria. Mary-Kathryn Manuel, U.S. director for Bonnke's Christ for All Nations, said the photo was a combined shot of the crowd during daylight hours and Bonnke preaching after nightfall. The photo, provided to the newspaper by Bonnke's crusade, was not represented to the newspaper as a digitally altered image. The Houston Chronicle apologizes for this error.

Unfortunately, the doctored photo marred the Chronicle's excellent reporting on Bonnke.

The top of the newspaper's meaty, 1,500-word report:

Strange things happen when African evangelist Reinhard Bonnke begins preaching, believers will tell you. The blind see. The deaf hear. And — most astoundingly, as in the case of a Nigerian man — the dead live.
Such "miracles" trace their authority to the pages of the New Testament, and Bonnke's ministry is careful to stipulate that God is the power behind such "signs and wonders." Still, events such as the purported resurrection of auto crash victim Daniel Ekechukwu during Bonnke's November 2001 crusade in Onitsha, Nigeria, have made the fiery German evangelist a charismatic star of the developing world.
At 74, Bonnke - still relatively unknown to secular Westerners - is the chief proselytizer at Florida-based Christ for All Nations, a globe-spanning ministry that claims to have saved more than 75 million souls and, in one recent single year, garnered almost $15 million in grants and contributions.
This week, Bonnke will bring his message to Houston for two nights at the BBVA Compass Stadium, his fourth stop in his first American crusade.
"At every single meeting we see these miracles," said Daniel Kolenda, Bonnke's top lieutenant, ministry heir-apparent and designated spokesman. "It just happens in an unobtrusive way and all glory goes to Jesus. You might think we're just a miracle show coming to town, like a circus, but what we're after is salvation, saving souls."

That dramatic opening certainly grabs a reader's attention. 

 

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A flawed, sadly one-sided longread about the lives of Oral and Richard Roberts -- that is still worth reading

A flawed, sadly one-sided longread about the lives of Oral and Richard Roberts -- that is still worth reading

First things first. I have done my share of work, as a reporter and as a mass-media professor, with faculty from a wide range of Christian colleges and universities. Perhaps this is why I have heard of Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

However, if you are interested in the history of religion on America, there is also a good chance that you know about Evangel, because, as its website notes:

Evangel University, the first Pentecostal liberal arts college chartered in America, opened its doors on September 1, 1955.

Why bring this up? I imagine that, out in the congregation of GetReligion readers, there are others who follow the @Longreads list that promotes lots of amazing journalism that is written in, well, a "longreads" feature style. It's a must-follow for anyone who teaches or practices journalism (or does both at the same time).

Well, the other day @Longreads alerted me to a feature story about a topic that has long interested me -- the status of the kingdom of one of North America's most interesting evangelists and broadcasters, the late Rev. Oral Roberts. The article ran at This Land Press, under the headline: "The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty." (Interview with author Kiera Feldman here.)

This is an article worth reading, especially if -- like me -- you worked your way through that great media firestorm in the 1980s that many called "Pearlygate." I have also spoken on the campus in recent years.

Still, there are holes and a few flaws in this feature and some major missed opportunities.

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Blue mourning in New York City: More glimpses of megachurch attended by slain officer Rafael Ramos emerge

Blue mourning in New York City: More glimpses of megachurch attended by slain officer Rafael Ramos emerge

More than a few GetReligion readers have sent us a link to a CNN profile of slain New York City police officer Rafael Ramos.

The headline gives away the reason why:

NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos saw streets as his ministry

The story, published before services for Ramos this weekend, opens like this:

New York (CNN) — Rafael Ramos was an unusual cop.
He saw the streets of New York as his ministry.
In fact, he was just hours away from becoming a lay chaplain and graduating from a community-crisis chaplaincy program before he and fellow New York police Officer Wenjian Liu were gunned down in their patrol car Saturday in Brooklyn.
The gunman in the two officers' killing, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, was found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds at a subway station immediately after the slayings.
Services for Liu are pending. On Friday, a police honor guard took Ramos' casket into Christ Tabernacle in Glendale, New York, where an afternoon wake was being held. The visitation will be followed by a memorial service at 7 p.m. ET and a funeral service Saturday morning.

CNN provides a little more insight on Christ Tabernacle (first referenced in tmatt's Tuesday post) and includes a comment from the Rev. Adam Durso, the church's executive pastor:

Ramos was active in his church.
He served as an usher and as part of the church's marriage ministry and life group ministry, Durso said.
"When his team was scheduled to serve, we never worried about whether Ralph would be there with his team to help. He was a humble man and was willing to help at any capacity, helping people to their seats, moms with their baby carriages or the elderly in and out of our elevator," Durso said in a statement.

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Rites of mourning, anger and faith in New York City's changing public square (updated)

Rites of mourning, anger and faith in New York City's changing public square (updated)

Anyone looking for the high-church rites of American civil religion need only pay a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where the symbols of government, power, duty and sacrifice are blended into the religious traditions of those who have died.

The same thing happens in major cities, especially in New York, when police officers and firefighters die in the line of duty. This is made perfectly clear in a lengthy and fascinating news feature from the metro desk of The New York Times, following the stunning execution of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

All of the political intrigue is included in this story, of course, amid the rising and very public tensions between the city's police and Mayor Bill de Blasio. If you have not already seen it, watch the video at the top of this post for one of the key events.

But this story focuses on the next step -- the funerals. Will the mayor speak? What happens if he chooses to do so? The mayor has already stated that he will attend both events.

"Events"? How about "worship services"? This is where the story, briefly, gets very interesting:

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