Pentecostalism

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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Sports Illustrated surfs past an interesting fact in its Sportsman 'legacy' salute to Magic Johnson

Sports Illustrated surfs past an interesting fact in its Sportsman 'legacy' salute to Magic Johnson

I don't know about you, but every now and then I get into conversations (often on commuter trains, in my case) with other sports fans in which someone will ask, "So who are your top three sports heroes?" Well, that's pretty easy for me because -- as an old guy -- mine have been carved in stone for quite some time.

No. 1? That's the greatest professional basketball player ever -- Bill "How many rings do you have?" Russell. How does a Baptist preacher's kid in Texas end up as a fanatic fan of the greatest Boston Celtic of all time? His original autobiography was at the local library.

No. 2? I was in Texas, so Roger Staubach has to be near the top. And I've been a golfer since childhood, so then you have Jack Nicklaus. Right? Feel free to put your top three in the comments pages.

Anyway, I started with this overture because Earvin "Magic" Johnson is near the top of my top 10 and, honestly, I have him No. 2 on my hoops list. Yes, above Michael Jordan and Oscar Robinson may top Jordan, as well. I tend to favor guys who made every man on their teams better.

So I know quite a bit about Magic and his story. I've read most of the major long-reads and watched most of the documentaries. I know that he lived a very, very wild life that fueled all kinds of rumors when the HIV bomb hit. Where were you when you heard that news? I was in a parking lot at Denver Seminary, trying to find tissues in my car.

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Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

The Church of England has, after several decades of debate, voted to allow women to become bishops. As the New York Times story noted, in the lede, this act "overturned centuries of tradition."

That is true, but it's important for readers to understand why that matters and to whom it matters. This is especially true since, while the Church of England is important, it no longer represents the statistical future of Anglicanism worldwide. The story notes:

“Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together,” the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said after the vote.
Two decades after the first female priest was ordained, the issue of women taking senior roles in the church hierarchy remains divisive. As recently as 2012, the proposal had been defeated by six votes.
But Archbishop Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who supported the vote from the start, had warned fellow church leaders this year that the public would find the exclusion of women “almost incomprehensible.”
On Monday, however, he acknowledged that a split in the worldwide Anglican community was now a serious possibility. “Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” he said.

The heart of this story is found in Welby's hope that Anglicans will be "moving forward together" which is then contrasted, a few lines later, by his comment that without "prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures." Via media, at best.

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Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness?

Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness?

When a man smashed his car into a controversial Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma Capitol recently, it made national news.

Authorities reported that 29-year-old Michael Tate Reed II said "Satan told him to do it," and even though the suspect was taken to a mental health facility, predictable headlines followed.

But did the devil really make him do it? 

Or did mental illness?

My late grandfather Earl Nanney, a Southern Baptist, was a sweet man who rose before dawn on Sundays and played gospel music at an ungodly volume. But he battled mental illness all his adult life. My late grandmother Edith Nanney dealt with Grandpa’s frequent stints in jail and mental hospitals.

My family's experience makes me sensitive to others whose loved ones struggle with mental illness.

I was pleased to see The Oklahoman — in Sunday's edition — dig deeper into Reed's case and produce an in-depth piece of real journalism on the challenges that he and his family have faced.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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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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Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

I have said this many times, but I have nothing but admiration for the reporters who work in war zones and in lands ravaged by disasters of all kinds.

It's hard enough for reporters, when covering complex issues, to do adequate background research and keep their facts straight -- even under the best of circumstances. My church-state issue file folder (yes, materials on dead tree pulp) is almost 40 years old. I have hundreds of similar files and I need them.

So imagine that you are in Liberia and trying to cover the Ebola outbreak, with all of its scientific, political, medical, ethical and legal implications. Yes, and issues of racial equality and economic justice. Yes, and there are religion ghosts, as well. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of face-to-face reporting at scenes in the heart of the crisis?

Thus, the first thing I want to say about a recent Washington Post report (headline: "Liberia already had only a few dozen of its own doctors. Then came Ebola") is that it is stunning and a must-read look at the lives of those with the courage to walk the halls of hospitals and treat the sick and dying in Monrovia, Liberia. How, exactly, does one take careful interview notes when wearing a full-protection hazmat suit?

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