Ethics

Catch a Deuteronomy reference? Another #ChurchToo case emerges in Tacoma

Catch a Deuteronomy reference? Another #ChurchToo case emerges in Tacoma

Most everyone has heard of the imbroglio that drove famed Willow Creek Church pastor Bill Hybels from his Chicago-area pulpit in recent months -- because that received tons of mainstream news coverage.

Fewer news readers have heard how the #ChurchToo movement has filtered down to lesser-known clerics.

Thanks to former GetReligionista Mark Kellner who alerted me to the story, I’ve been following recent revelations in the Tacoma News Tribune about a local Assembly of God pastor who’s been forced from his pulpit after similar complaints: Sexually suggestive remarks, a relationship with another woman that allegedly turned physical and a prior investigation that cleared him of all wrong. He leads a 4,500-member congregation, which is megachurch level here in the religion-parched Pacific Northwest.

The bottom line? This is a story that really needed attention from a religion-beat pro.

The Trib first came out with this story on July 2, updated it a day later here, then filled in various holes and updated it again this past Sunday with the following: 

Revelations surrounding Tacoma megachurch pastor Dean Curry have reached the crisis stage.

Last week, Curry stepped down as leader of Life Center Tacoma in response to a complaint of physical misconduct with an ex-employee. This week, a former church board member filed formal complaints with federal and state agencies, alleging prior instances of sexual misconduct by Curry with female church employees and congregation members.

The complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Human Rights Commission come from Julee Dilley, who was elected to the Life Center Board in 2014. She said she and her husband left the church in 2016 over concerns about Curry’s conduct and the church’s response to it.

The allegations described in Dilley's complaint appear to be distinct from the more recent misconduct charge brought to the Northwest Ministry Network by the former church employee. That record is confidential, and the employee has not been identified publicly.

What so often happens in these instances is a reporter publishes a few facts he can prove.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Despite risks in a time of audience skepticism, anonymous sources can be invaluable 

Despite risks in a time of audience skepticism, anonymous sources can be invaluable 

We live in an ethical epoch when editors at BuzzFeed and Politico have no scruples when a reporter sleeps with a prime source on her beat, after which she lands a prized New York Times job, at the very top of the journalism food chain.

Not that flexible conflict-of-interest standards are anything new. Ben Bradlee, as lauded as any journalist of his era, exploited a close friendship with President John F. Kennedy when he was Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, giving fits to his competitors at Time. Bradlee was covering events that, one could argue, that he had helped shape in his conversations with Kennedy.

In 2018, such stuff matters more than ever, given the low esteem of “mainstream media” performance. The latest evidence comes in a survey reported June 11 by the American Press Institute, The Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago.

We learn that 35 percent of Americans have a negative view of news organizations, and 42 percent think news coverage veers too far into commentary, while 63 percent want to get mostly facts alongside limited analysis. Importantly, 42 percent don’t understand how the use of anonymous sources works and 68 percent say the media should offer more information about story sources.

President Donald Trump’s frequently fake “fake news” attacks on reporters, of course, continually involve complaints about unnamed sources. For sure, the Washington press corps, which makes such lavish use of anonymous sources in coverage critical of the Trump administration, must do everything possible to maintain accuracy and fairness.

Once upon a time -- in 2005 -- the staff Credibility Group formed in the wake of the horrid Jayson Blair scandal advised New York Times colleagues in a report titled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust [.pdf here].” It warned that the daily should “keep unidentified attribution to a minimum” and “energetically” enforce limits across the board -- in hard news, features, magazine sections, and with copy from the growing number of freelance contributors.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Will Southern Baptists do more than pass a resolution on #SBCToo sins and crimes?

Will Southern Baptists do more than pass a resolution on #SBCToo sins and crimes?

The 2018 Southern Baptist Convention is in session and, so far, the news out of Dallas has been pretty predictable. The big news, if you are into that civil-religion thing, is that Vice President Mike Pence will address the gathering tomorrow.

Baptist Press has a live blog here, with the status of resolutions and other votes, and an actual live-cam up is streaming here (and here on YouTube).There's lots going on at several hashtags, such as #SBC18, #SBC2018 and #SBCAM18. The official Twitter feed for the meeting is right here.

As I wrote yesterday, in a high-altitude overview post, I think the key to the meeting will be actions -- not just resolutions -- to change policies in seminaries linked to counseling and reports of domestic abuse. Also, watch for efforts to create some kind of SBC-endorsed clearing house collecting official reports of abuse by clergy and church leaders.

The highlight of the pre-convention events was a panel discussion focusing on domestic violence and abuse in the church. This was the latest evidence of a conservative consensus -- at least among current and emerging SBC officials -- on minimum steps toward reform. A report in The Tennessean opened, logically enough, with remarks from popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, one of the key women speaking out on #SBCToo issues. A key passage:

"None of us want to throw stones, but it keeps us from even responding to a criminal situation because we think, 'Listen, I've had my own sexual dysfunction,' " Moore said. "There is a long, long shot of difference between sexual immorality and sexual criminality that we have got to get straight."

Once again, we see a strong emphasis on the difference between sin and crime, a line that lots of clergy and church counselors have struggled to recognize. Continuing, with fellow panelist Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:

Russell Moore, who is not related to Beth Moore, said he has seen abusers time and again misuse grace in such a way that it hides them from being held accountable. He said that destroys what the New Testament teaches about the meaning of grace. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Click that URL: 'Acts of Faith' newsletter pauses to reflect on Southern Baptists and journalism

Click that URL: 'Acts of Faith' newsletter pauses to reflect on Southern Baptists and journalism

When I was the religion-beat pro in Charlotte in the early 1980s -- first at The Charlotte News and then at The Charlotte Observer, as well -- the great Southern Baptist Convention civil war was coming to a head.

Charlotte was and is a great religion town. When one of your main drags is the Billy Graham Parkway, you live in a town that gets religion.

When I was there, Charlotte was the only major city south of the Mason-Dixon Line in which there were more Presbyterians (several brands of those, however) than there were Baptists. The town was also a power center for the "moderate" Southern Baptists who turned out to be on the losing side of the great SBC showdown with those preaching "biblical inerrancy."

I spoke fluent Southern Baptist, since I grew up the home of a well-connected Southern Baptist pastor in Texas. I was ordained as a Southern Baptist deacon when I was 27 years old. In the Charlotte news market -- in which I urgently attempted to cover both sides of the SBC war -- some local conservatives concluded that I was a liberal.

Then I moved to Denver, which was a fading liberal mainline Protestant town in a region that was evolving into a power center for evangelicals. I did my best to cover both of those camps fairly and accurately and the old powers that be soon concluded I was some kind of Bible Belt fundamentalist, or something.

Why bring this up? Because there is a fascinating passage in a recent Washington Post "Acts of Faith" newsletter that, for me, called these experiences to mind.

But first, what is this newsletter thing? It's digital, but it's not really an online thing. The Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein use it as an email platform for sharing insights behind the news. Since your GetReligionistas just love that kind of info, I think everybody should sign up for this digital newsletter.

So here is the URL for this edition of the newsletter. Go to the end and there's a place to manage Post online newsletters and features.

Then click here to sign up for this digital newsletter. The all-purpose Acts of Faith website is right here.

Now, back to the SBC material, from Boorstein, that reminded me of the old Charlotte days: 

In the last couple weeks the Post religion team has been unusually focused on Southern Baptists, as one of the giants in their movement fell from power dramatically because of various comments and actions related to women.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Lakewood Church as family empire: Houston Chronicle business reporter gets it right

Lakewood Church as family empire: Houston Chronicle business reporter gets it right

Every so often, the Houston Chronicle covers some aspect of the Osteen empire at Lakewood Church, the nation’s largest Christian congregation. In the late 1980s when I worked at "the Chron,"  I followed the Rev. John Osteen, the patriarch who founded Lakewood in the 1960s and built it into a famous congregation with a TV ministry and an international outreach.

At the time, Lakewood was in northeast Houston and its billboards advertised the place as the “Oasis of Love.” I wrote a 1988 story about their move into a new building that John Osteen boasted only cost $5 million (while other megachurches were spending five times that on their capital projects) so that extra money could go to missions. Then in 2005, Lakewood moved across town to the 16,000-seat Compaq Center (former home of the NBA Rockets) on a major freeway smack in the middle of town.

Starting May 31, the Chronicle came out with “The Preacher’s Son,” a three-part series about its pastor, Joel Osteen, the son who took over when his dad died in 1999. The main writer was not a religion reporter but a business writer, as there was much emphasis on Lakewood Church as a $90 million/year business complete with financial statements and property records. The result was a wealth of information on the church I don’t think has ever been released.

The first part of the series kicks off with a segment from one of Osteen’s sermons, then:

This is how Osteen has become the nation's most ubiquitous pastor and one of its wealthiest. He has earned the allegiance of the hopeless, the doubtful and the downtrodden with a credo of beguiling simplicity: Don't dwell on the past. Think positive. Be a victor, not a victim.

A self-described "encourager," he rarely addresses or even acknowledges the fundamental mysteries of Christianity, let alone such contentious issues as same-sex marriage or abortion. Instead, he exhorts listeners to take charge of their destinies and confront whatever "enemies" they face -- debt collectors, clueless bosses, grim medical diagnoses, loneliness.

In an era of bitter cultural and political divisions, he has redefined what it means to be evangelical by dispensing with the bad news and focusing solely on the good. His vanilla creed has proven irresistible, especially to those down on their luck.

Then the focus shifts to the numbers:

Broadcasts of its thunderous, music-filled services reach an estimated 10 million U.S. viewers each week on television -- and more via websites and podcasts. Many of them go on to buy Osteen's books, devotionals, CDs, DVDs and other merchandise.

A 24-hour Sirius XM station, launched in 2014, expanded his domain to include people commuting to work or running errands.

He has taken Lakewood on the road with monthly Night of Hope events, lavishly produced spectacles of prayer and song that fill stadiums across the country at $15 a ticket. Attendees post branded photos from the events on Facebook and Twitter, where Osteen has amassed a combined 28 million followers.

His 10 books, self-help manuals filled with homespun wisdom about the power of positive thinking, have sold more than 8.5 million printed copies in the U.S. alone, according to NPD BookScan.

It's religion as big business, run by a close-knit family that excels at promoting Osteen as an earnest, folksy everyman. 

That does nail it, you must admit.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Aborting for Down syndrome -- and eventually autism? Slate doesn't spot the religion ghost

Aborting for Down syndrome -- and eventually autism? Slate doesn't spot the religion ghost

Not long ago, I was at a picnic with a family whose youngest daughter has Down Syndrome. The child never stopped moving and she had a predilection for (1) Running into the street and (2) Finding the nearest mud puddle and getting herself as dirty as possible. Keeping her still while we ate was a fantasy.

It was impossible to talk for more than a few sentences before the child would run off. I kept on wondering: How do they do it? And knowing in many ways, they are not doing it; that the mom never gets a break except for the few hours a day when the child is in kindergarten.

There’s literature out there about the joys of a Down Syndrome kid, but the reality can be much more complex and even cruel, which is why I was interested in a story in Slate titled “Choosing Life with Down Syndrome.”

It begins with a profile of Celeste Blau, a married woman in her early 30s living in a Cleveland suburb who discovers during her pregnancy that her first child has Down syndrome (DS).

Thanks to advances in pre-natal testing, it’s pretty easy to find out whether your child has the disorder. Typically, one learns of it at about 20 weeks, when a lot of women have ultrasounds to see if they have a boy or girl.

Though not widely discussed in public, the default assumption in certain milieus is that aborting after a Down syndrome diagnosis is now the natural and obvious thing to do. Introduction to this option is, after all, a primary purpose of prenatal testing. In several recent op-eds in the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus articulated the view of the “silenced majority” of women who would have aborted a fetus with Down syndrome if prenatal tests had come back positive: “That was not the child I wanted. That was not the choice I would have made,” she wrote. “You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision.”

The piece then goes into the numerous pieces of actual and proposed legislation now out there that makes it a crime for a woman to abort a child solely because he or she has Down Syndrome.


Please respect our Commenting Policy

It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

If you are following the Southern Baptist Convention's #MeToo crisis, with the not-so-graceful retirement of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, then there is no question about the newsiest "think piece" for this long weekend.

But let's pause a second before we get to that commentary -- "The Wrath of God Poured Out: The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention," by Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, Jr.

The big story behind the story of Patterson's fall is a high-stakes showdown between two generations of Southern Baptist leaders.

Patterson is one of the iconic figures in the old-guard SBC wing that is linked to the old Religious Right. While Mohler is 58 years old, he became president of Southern when he was 33 and, ever since, has been a cornerstone personality in a wave of SBC leaders who are very theologically conservative, but have a radically different style and agenda than the old guard, especially on matters of race and other hot-button issues in public life.

So glance, for a few moments, at the YouTube video at the top of this post. It's a 2015 panel at Midwestern Baptist Seminary discussing this topic -- "Passing the Baton: Raising Up the Next Generation of SBC Leaders." The moderator is Paige Patterson. Mohler is one of the panelists. Listen long enough to get the flavor of things.

Then head over to this much discussed Christianity Today commentary by another symbolic SBC leader, the Rev. Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College, who holds the Billy Graham chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism. This piece followed an earlier Stetzer piece asking Patterson to stand down on his own -- pronto -- including his high-profile role as keynote speaker in June at the national SBC gathering in Dallas.

In the new piece, Stetzer added:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fertility frontier: Washington Post delves into God's work vs. that of modern science

Fertility frontier: Washington Post delves into God's work vs. that of modern science

I saw the most intriguing story about new fertilization techniques and religion recently, only to discover that the Washington Post has a huge collection of articles and videos about every facet of the explosion of baby-making technologies under the heading of “Fertility Frontier.”

There’s a video series about a single 29-year-old woman (and Post staffer) wondering if she should freeze her eggs; a Facebook group devoted to fertility discussions; and a cluster of other articles about ways to beat the reproduction odds.

This newest one, about the intersection of religious dogma with this runaway technology, ran in an attractive package of graphics and text. A few paragraphs into the story, we learn why the world of religion must come to terms with the latest in fertility science, even if it disagrees with it.

Since then, in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and related technologies have produced some 7 million babies who might never have existed — roughly the combined population of Paris, Nairobi and Kyoto — and the world’s fertility clinics have blossomed into a $17 billion business.

The procedures have amplified profound questions for the world’s theologians: When does life begin? If it begins at conception, is it a sin to destroy a fertilized egg? What defines a parent? Is the mother the woman who provides the egg or the woman who gives birth? What defines a marriage? If a man’s sperm fertilizes an egg from a woman who is not his wife, does that constitute adultery?

The moral questions are rapidly becoming more complex. Researchers are working to advance gene-editing tools that would allow parents to choose or “correct for” certain preferred characteristics; to create artificial wombs that could incubate fetuses outside the body for nine months; and to perfect techniques to produce “three-parent” babies who share genetic material from more than two people.

What’s clear in the story, is that all the people profiled have decided to ignore religious or moral objections to assisted reproduction when their ability to have their own biological children is at stake. This included Catholics who ignored their church's teaching that because IVF creates fertilized embryos that must be disposed of, the technology as a whole is immoral.

Some religious leaders have objected to using gene editing on embryos or in ways that could affect future generations, arguing the human genome is sacred and editing it violates God’s plan for humanity… the Vatican is convening meetings to discuss its moral implications, including one this week in Rome.


Please respect our Commenting Policy

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

Let's face it, it's going to be hard to do a GetReligion-style critique of a breaking hard-news story in The Washington Post that runs with this byline: "By Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein — May 23 at 6:44 AM."

Luckily, Wednesday is Bobby's normal day off here at GetReligion. He was all over Twitter, into the wee, small hours of this morning, waiting for another shoe to drop in this high-profile drama in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.

So what can I say about a story reported by a current GetReligionista, a former GetReligionista and one of the nation's most experienced religion-beat professionals?

Let's start with the obvious, focusing on the crucial thread that unites those three names: This was a job for experienced religion-beat reporters.

Yes, there will be Southern Baptists -- young and old (hold that thought) -- who may debate one or two wordings in the story that finally ran this morning with this headline: 

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

There are leaders in all kinds of religious groups who, when push comes to shove, want to see a public-relations approach to anything important that happens to them and their institutions. When it comes to bad news, they prefer gossip and PR, as opposed to journalism.

Meanwhile, you can find the following in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Let's focus on two crucial decisions that faced the team writing this latest story about the long, twisted tale of Patterson and his views on sexual abuse.

First of all, this story is quite long, for a daily news story. However, it really needs to be read in the context of Sarah's earlier exclusive, the one that you know the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were discussing behind those executive-session doors. You also know that this Post report spend some time being "lawyered up." I'm talking about the story that ran with this headline:

Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

Please respect our Commenting Policy