Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Is Beth Moore really taking on the 'evangelical political machine,' whatever that is?

Is Beth Moore really taking on the 'evangelical political machine,' whatever that is?

I arrived in Houston in 1986 as a freshly minted religion reporter for the Houston Chronicle. This was about the same time as Bible teacher Beth Moore was becoming known as a master teacher of women. This was an era, in lots of evangelical churches, when women weren’t supposed to be teaching men in any way, shape or form.

She wasn’t famous at that point, although I vaguely remember hearing about her. She got her start leading aerobics classes at First Baptist Church in Houston, one of several megachurches in the city. By the time I arrived she was segueing into teaching Bible studies for women and the rest is history.

Well, almost. For 30-some years, she’s been a best-selling Christian author who hasn’t said much that’s controversial — until Donald Trump started running for president. According to a new profile on her in The Atlantic, 2016 was the year when everything changed.

These days, the profile says, Moore is taking on “the evangelical political machine” — singular. But is she really? Is there one group of evangelicals active in American politics, or is the reality more complex than that?

When Beth Moore arrived in Houston in the 1980s, she found few models for young women who wanted to teach scripture. Many conservative Christian denominations believed that women should not hold authority over men, whether in church or at home; many denominations still believe this. In some congregations, women could not speak from the lectern on a Sunday or even read the Bible in front of men. But Moore was resolute: God, she felt, had called her to serve. So she went where many women in Texas were going in the ’80s: aerobics class. Moore kicked her way into ministry, choreographing routines to contemporary Christian music for the women of Houston’s First Baptist Church. …


Her Bible studies were what made her famous.

A publishing career followed, further magnifying Moore’s influence. She was the first woman to have a Bible study published by LifeWay, the Christian retail giant, and has since reached 22 million women, the most among its female authors. Today, her Bible studies are ubiquitous, guiding readers through scriptural passages with group-discussion questions and fill-in-the-blank workbooks. “It would be hard to find a church anywhere where at least some segment of the congregation has not been through at least one Beth Moore study,” Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (and no relation to Beth) told me.

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After the Cakeshop case: Justice Kennedy cites need for First Amendment guidelines -- then punts

After the Cakeshop case: Justice Kennedy cites need for First Amendment guidelines -- then punts

It's the question that journalists have to be asking right now, along with the legal pros on both sides of future First Amendment clashes between sexual liberty and religious liberty. 

Now what?

To be blunt, was the 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (.pdf) a signal (a) to religious believers of all stripes that it's open season, in terms of rejecting LGBTQ customers or (b) to blue-zip-code politicians that they are free to stomp on the First Amendment rights of traditional religious believers, only while using cool, calm legal logic rather than the heated prose used in Colorado?

As always, the key lines to parse were written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Here is the essential material, as quoted by USA Today:

Kennedy acknowledged that business owners generally cannot deny equal access to goods and services under a neutral public accommodations law. Otherwise, he said, "a long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws."

"The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts," Kennedy said. "These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

It's interesting that Baptist Press, when focusing on the same bottom line, made a strong effort to note the degree to which Kennedy once again affirmed LGBTQ rights:

"Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth," Kennedy said. "For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. At the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression."

He wrote, "The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

So reporters, what phrases jump out at you, as you look to the future of this story?

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Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Ever since the 1980s, I have been telling editors and journalists that conflicts about religious liberty were going cause some of the biggest news stories on the American horizon.

Anyone who has been reading GetReligion since 2004 knows that I've been saying that, over and over. Amen If you listen to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, looking ahead into 2017, you're going to hear more about that. No apologies.

The roots of this concern run back to my graduate-school work in Baylor University's church-state studies program, where -- in 1977-78 -- we could hear the early rumblings of what would become Bob Jones University vs. United States case.

Why is that important? Do you remember this crucial moment in the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell debates about same-sex marriage?

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?
GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I, I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is, it is going to be an issue.

That's why religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling, in his recent pair of memos looking ahead to 2017, stressed that religious-liberty cases -- linked to LGBTQ issues, again -- would remain on the front burner for major American newsrooms. Click here and then here for those two Ostling posts.

You can see the same themes again, over and over, in the recent "Acts of Faith" year-beginner piece at The Washington Post by religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (yes, a former member of the GetReligion team). The headline: "Here’s what we think will be the major religion stories of 2017." Here is the overture:

The new year could be turbulent for religion in America.

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Journalists must look to the left, as Anglican Communion goes into 'stoppage time'

Journalists must look to the left, as Anglican Communion goes into 'stoppage time'

Over time, mainstream journalists around the world have gradually come to realize that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the "Anglican pope." In most news coverage these days, he is referred to as the "symbolic" leader of the global Anglican Communion or as the "first among equals" when the Anglican archbishops are doing business.

Let's focus on that second image for a moment, as I point out one or two elements of the flood of news coverage of the "special," as opposed to normal, gathering of the Anglican primates in Canterbury the last few days.

If Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is the first among equals, then it is important for journalists to realize that the other archbishops really do see themselves as, well, equal among the equals. Thus, when you are working through the tsunami of global coverage of the vote by the Anglican primates to "suspend" the U.S. Episcopal Church from many official roles in the Anglican Communion (don't forget Father George "GetReligionista emeritus" Conger at Anglican Ink), it helps to focus on the previous actions taken by the primates on issues linked to the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.

Yes, we are back to that complicated Anglican timeline thing. There is no way to avoid it.

When you look at the current events in the context of an accurate timeline, it's clear that (a) the Episcopal Church has merely been placed in "time out," (b) that the global primates really do think this dispute is about the Bible and marriage, (c) that the state of sacramental Communion among Anglican leaders remains as broken as ever and (d) that all Canterbury has really achieved, with this meeting, is send the contest into extra innings (or perhaps "stoppage time" is a better term among global Anglicans).

So where to start?

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Gays and Georgia: Mainstream media ignore the religious angle

Gays and Georgia: Mainstream media ignore the religious angle

The gay rights/religious rights battle is back in Georgia, where a religious freedom bill died in the last legislative session. As the next session opens today, mainstream media -- some from far away -- are watching closely at this embryonic state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The battleground of religious rights versus gay rights is back in Georgia, where a religious freedom bill died in the last legislative session. As the next session opens today, mainstream media -- some from far away -- are watching closely at this embryonic state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Unfortunately, all of that close watching misses the usual religious ghosts, and other stuff.

How many people have Georgia on their minds? Apparently they do in Portland, Maine, where the Press Herald ran a Tribune News Service advance on the Georgia session. It says RFRA is actually one of three such bills coming up.

But for a news organization once known for its conservatism, the article starts out awfully skewed toward the opposition:

ATLANTA — A public campaign by some of the biggest companies in the world launched Wednesday in Georgia, aimed at assuring gay employees and customers ahead of one of the latest legislative battles over religious freedom and gay rights.
Google, banking giant SunTrust and AT&T joined stalwarts including Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and UPS among nearly 100 businesses and universities that have signed on to the effort so far, which they have jointly dubbed "Georgia Prospers."
It marks the first organized effort by business and education leaders against a "religious liberty" push at the state Capitol that many in the gay community fear could allow discrimination – and that the corporate world fears would make an economic pariah of the Peach State. Religious liberty supporters, however, cast it as a new line of defense to protect people of any religion from interference.

To TNS, then, the important part is not that the bill is back, threefold; it's that corporations say these issues of principle will hurt business. Note also that the article puts "religious liberty" in sarcasm quotes, but not gay rights.

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Washington Post makes nice to Liberty University -- again!

Washington Post makes nice to Liberty University -- again!

Has lightning struck twice at the Washington Post? In November, the newspaper ran a nuanced, fair-minded look at Liberty University. And this week, they did it again!

"For many at Liberty University, guns and God go hand in hand," says the new headline, which used to be equivalent to "Coordinates set -- commence bombardment." But no, this is a full-bodied, 2,100-word feature that uses a broad array of voices and avoids cheap shots.

True, the story is occasioned by the "fiery call" by university president Jerry Falwell Jr. for staff, students and faculty to start carrying firearms in the wake of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. "Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here," WaPo reports him saying Dec. 4 at a student convocation.

But the Post counters the image of wild-eyed yahoos that many mainstream media might have raised. One way is quoting students like senior Kyle Garcia: "It's not about Christians waving guns around. It's about protecting yourselves from some people who want to kill." Another is noting, as the Post did in November, that Liberty has hosted talks by the liberal Bernie Sanders as well as the conservative Ted Cruz.

Here's a good summary from the new story:

Falwell’s comments on guns — including pointed language about "those Muslims," which he later said was referring only to Islamic terrorists — put a fresh spotlight on a fast-growing university with a distinctive blend of cultural conservatism, religious faith and academic ambition. Liberty aspires to be a flagship for the nation’s evangelical Christians, a position that would offer power to influence society far beyond the campus. Politicians already recognize the potency of Liberty’s stage, which can reach the nation’s evangelical audience on a mass scale.

The sizable workforce -- reporting by Godbeat veterans Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, with Nick Anderson as the main writer -- gets a satisfying range of facts in this article. We learn that the university is big on sports but not fraternities; that morality is left more to individual judgment than a few years ago (although shorts are still banned from class); that the campus includes an osteopathy college and a cinematic arts program that produces full-length films. And although Liberty teaches creationism, readers may be surprised to know it boasts a gene sequencer and a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.

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RIP David Carr: A struggling Catholic voice at The New York Times is gone

RIP David Carr: A struggling Catholic voice at The New York Times is gone

If you closely followed the career of media critic David Carr, then you knew that he was a practicing Catholic, yet he also made it clear that he wasn't sure if he was a faithful Catholic. For many readers -- fans and critics -- this made him the perfect New York Times Catholic.

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote about some of this in a GetReligion post back in 2011 and, in one of her first bylines at The Washington Post, she produced a quick piece on the religion-angle in Carr's death. Try to ignore this, from the new Post piece:

New York Times journalist David Carr, who died Thursday, had a complicated relationship with religion. In his 2009 book “The Night of the Gun,” Carr wrote about his father’s faith compared with his own.
“My father is a man who swears frequently goes to church every day, and lives his towering faith,” Carr wrote. “I am a man who swears frequently, goes to church every Sunday, and lives in search of faith. He is a man who believes that I am not dead because nuns prayed for me. I am a man who believes that is as good an explanation as any.”

A kind of brass-tacks, but vague, faith shows up again in the most famous passage from that book, in which Carr rips into his own life, exposing a man so hooked on drugs that he would place his own children at risk. How many of you have already seen a piece today in which the following passage -- with good cause -- is featured?

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Define 'mainstream,' give three examples: Joshua Harris kisses nondenominational evangelicalism good-bye?

Define 'mainstream,' give three examples: Joshua Harris kisses nondenominational evangelicalism good-bye?

If you have never heard of the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," by Joshua Harris, then you probably didn't know any homeschooling parents during the past generation or so. Whether you agreed with this 2003 bestseller or not, it would be hard to imagine a more counter-cultural book being jammed into the backpacks of legions of American teen-agers.

This was especially true if you had friends who attended one of those nondenominational, often "seeker friendly," generic or community churches that had vaguely biblical names on the signs out in their vast suburban front lawns.

The essence of nondenominational evangelicalism is its tendency to be defined by inspirational celebrities and the media products that they produce. If that is the cast, then Joshua Harris -- the man behind the book with the classy hat on the front -- had his share of years in that niche-marketing spotlight.

Thus, I genuinely appreciated the recent Washington Post piece that dug into the decision by Harris to step away from his nondenominational life and reboot his approach to ministry. However, before we look at this story, we do need to take a look at a rather strange word in that headline:

Pastor Joshua Harris, an evangelical outlier, heads to mainstream seminary

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End-of-2014 odds and ends: Including John L. Allen, Jr., on Pope Francis and the press

End-of-2014 odds and ends: Including John L. Allen, Jr., on Pope Francis and the press

Fire and brimstone? Wait for it.

I have a few odds and ends for you, on this strange Friday in between New Year's and the weekend that comes before, for many people, the Monday (Boo!) that marks the start of the new working year. Is there anyone out there near a computer?

As always, there have been many end of the religion-news year pieces to read. I thought two deserved a bit of attention here because they offered some interesting comments -- implied or direct -- on mainstream press coverage of this topic.

For example, the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., turned his usual "Vatican stories that were overlooked" theme on its head this year, for the simple reason that very few things get overlooked in the age of Pope Francis (other than his statements against, oh, abortion and in favor of religious freedom). More on that Crux list in a moment.

The simple fact of the matter, Allen noted, is that this pope's relationship to the press has become a force field that changes almost everything, including the public perception of this statements. Consider, for example, that "fake sugar coating" speech about Christmas and materialism, his annual address to the Curia and his Urbi et Orbi message on Christmas Day. Allen summarizes what happened in this manner:

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