Big coverage of Memphis pastor and woman he assaulted provides perfect #ChurchToo hook

Big coverage of Memphis pastor and woman he assaulted provides perfect #ChurchToo hook

Although the #ChurchToo hashtag was invented two months ago, it got a huge boost this week with the revelations of the saga of an errant minister at a Southern Baptist church in Memphis. And with the same deliciousness that reporters pounced upon the Roy Moore imbroglio, they’re covering this scandal in excruciating detail.

Why shouldn’t they? I'd venture that #ChurchToo is evangelical Protestants having the same existential crisis about their congregations as Catholics did after revelations of their priestly sex abuse crisis hit the fan in 2002. 

About this latest drama, we start with the latest news in the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, the hometown of the erring pastor.

A canceled book deal is the latest repercussion for Memphis pastor Andy Savage as the ripples continue to spread from his admitted sexual encounter with a 17-year-old high school senior in Texas 20 years ago.
Also, a petition calling on him to resign his position at Highpoint Church is gaining momentum online, with 836 signatures out of a 1,000-signature goal Tuesday evening.
The victim, Jules Woodson, says, meanwhile, that she is "disgusted" by Savage's public apology and doesn't agree that the matter was "dealt with" at the time as Savage suggested. Woodson has come forward with her story in the vein of others in the #metoo movement.

The story is unbelievably rich in irony, including the fact that the pastor regularly did pre-marital counseling with couples he encouraged to live sexually pure lives.

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Tax-free housing for ministers unconstitutional? Chicago Tribune has the newsy scoop

Tax-free housing for ministers unconstitutional? Chicago Tribune has the newsy scoop

If you're like me, you may not be real familiar with the clergy housing allowance.

However, my minister friends assure me the allowance — a U.S. tax break — is a big, big deal.

Elimination of it would "significantly increase the tax burden, and hence, diminish the spendable income, of ministers everywhere," Dallas preacher Gordon Dabbs told me. "If and when it goes away, I would expect to see staff cuts at some churches and, almost certainly, some choosing to leave full-time (paid) ministry as it will no longer be financially viable for their families."

Why do I bring this up now? Because the housing allowance is facing a federal court challenge, as Chicago Tribune religion writer Manya Brachear Pashman highlighted in a meaty story earlier this week:

Chicago clergy are fighting a federal judge’s recent ruling that tax-free housing allowances for clergy violate the separation of church and state.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago will be asked to weigh in on the challenge to the so-called parsonage allowance — an Internal Revenue Service benefit that allows clergy to exclude from their tax returns the compensation earmarked for mortgage payments, rent, utility bills or maintenance costs.
The ministerial tax break has been on the books for more than 60 years and is cited by many houses of worship, particularly smaller, independent ones, as an important financial underpinning to carrying out their mission.
But it has become the latest target of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a self-proclaimed guardian of church-state separation based in Madison, Wis., that challenged the tax break, and won, in a Wisconsin court.
“This is a huge privilege and benefit for churches because tax-free dollars go further,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “They have been allowed to pay lower salaries when it’s all taxpayer subsidies. Clergy pay less, and everyone else pays more.”
Chicago-area clergy say an end to the tax-free housing allowance would drastically reduce their take-home pay, limit how close they can live to their houses of worship and impede their ministries, which often offer safety nets for the communities they serve.
“The housing allowance makes all the sense in the world,” said the Rev. Chris Butler, pastor of Chicago Embassy Church, a small Pentecostal congregation on the South Side, who plans to appeal. “If I’m looking to be God’s pastor to this community and be available to folks inside and outside the congregation, in a city like Chicago, whether I’m doing that as a pastor or an imam or the head of a nonprofit organization, it makes all the sense in the world that I live in that community. In a lot of these kinds of organizations, my church included, we’re not making the world’s biggest salary. This allowance is so important.”

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Yo, Gray Lady! Where is Tua Tagovailoa going after leading Alabama to national title? To church ...

Yo, Gray Lady! Where is Tua Tagovailoa going after leading Alabama to national title? To church ...

If you are a sports fan and live in the United States of America (or you live overseas and care about American-style football), then you have probably heard this name during the past few days -- Tua Tagovailoa.

It's an unusual name, but this freshman quarterback at the University of Alabama came off the bench the other night to throw several touchdown passes, including a go-for-broke bomb that won his team a national championship.

What else do we need to know about him? Well, his post-game comments made it very, very clear what Tua wants people to know about his life and, yes, his faith. One of his comments even raises this interesting question: Is it possible for a Pentecostal Christian to shout "Roll Tide!" in an unknown, celestial tongue?

Hold that thought, because it's interesting to note how elite media -- think The New York Times, of course -- handled this young man's story, as opposed to how he described things when offered a chance to do so. Let's start with the Times profile of Tagovailoa, which ran with this headline: "How Tua Tagovailoa Stepped Up, Dropped Back, and Saved Alabama."

ATLANTA -- While some of the Alabama players were gasping for oxygen on the sideline, others were committing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and at least a couple were trying to prevent a teammate from punching an assistant coach, a teenager was saving the Crimson Tide from the brink of a public collapse.
The freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, a 19-year-old backup quarterback from Honolulu, had stepped into a dire situation Monday night. Alabama trailed by 13 points at halftime of the national title game when Tagovailoa took over the offense and calmly engineered one of the more improbable comebacks in college football championship history.

So let's move down in the story, were readers are offered this information about this remarkably calm young player:

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Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

Debate continues: These evangelical insiders think Trump era creates a 'crisis' for the faith

The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.  

Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”

Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”  

Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.

Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering  if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”

“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.

The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.”

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Believe it or not, Newsweek folks still don't know who Dr. James Dobson is and what he does

Believe it or not, Newsweek folks still don't know who Dr. James Dobson is and what he does

Ah, come on! Didn't I just have to write one of these echo chamber, "Here we go again" posts?

Indeed, that would be the case ("Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants"), exactly 24 hours ago.

Well, now I have to write another one, because someone at Newsweek just messed up, again, providing a variation on a screwed-up theme, once again, that has haunted copy-desk folks at that news magazine since the earliest days of GetReligion.

Here's the new headline, in that all-caps style that appears to be the current Newsweek norm: "TRUMP IMPEACHMENT MUST BE PREVENTED THROUGH DAY OF FASTING AND PRAYER, EVANGELIST SAYS."

Now, it helps to know that the "evangelist" in this case is the activist, counselor and author whose name is "Dr. James Dobson." Let's flash back to an early, early GetReligion post by Doug LeBlanc, which ran with this headline: "That's Dr. Dobson to you, punks." It noted a 2005 correction at Newsweek that humbly noted:

In our Aug. 1 issue, a sidebar on lobbying groups ("A User's Guide to the Groups") incorrect[ly] identifies James Dobson as a reverend. He in fact has a Ph.D. in child psychology and goes by Dr. Dobson. Newsweek regrets the error.

LeBlanc noted that Newsweek had to turn around and run a similar correction the following year, after the same mistake. Thus, the co-founder of this blog added, wryly:

Newsweek sure seems to have the correction in a macro somewhere. ... The style guardians at Newsweek might consider adding a stylebook entry for Dobson, James, Ph.D.

Now, it's time to slightly expand that correction. Here is the top of the new Trump-related report:

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The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

Some of you may remember how, in late July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was appointed to a U.S. State Department post that champions religious freedom.

Five months later, he’s still in Kansas.

On Monday, the White House renominated him for the post after Democrats refused to allow his -– and other failed nominations -– to roll over into the New Year. The White House’s action also gave politicians a wake-up call that this is an issue the Trump administration cares about.

Weirdly, a New York Times story blamed the governor for the impasse.

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was giving a tender goodbye.
Speaking to a roomful of fellow Republicans over lunch at the Wichita Pachyderm Club last month, he mused about his next act, a post in the Trump administration as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which was announced in July.
“As I pass from the stage here in Kansas, I leave with a warm thought and good feelings of all the good-hearted people in this wonderful state of Kansas,” said a smiling Mr. Brownback, whose seven years at the helm have been punctuated by a firm turn to the right and a revolt from some in his own party.

The governor had a replacement: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon.

It has been nearly six months since Mr. Brownback, 61, announced that he would be leaving for a new job during his second term as governor. The holdup appears to be in Washington: A Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination and narrowly endorsed him in October, but he did not receive a vote in the full Senate.
A new year has brought new complications. Though Mr. Brownback has been renominated to the post, a relatively low-profile appointment, he will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

The story goes on to talk about how awkward things are in Kansas because Brownback is like the perennial guest who won’t leave. It mentions a Kansas City Star editorial that tells Brownback he should resign for the good of the state, even though it doesn’t say how the governor is supposed to pay his bills during the interim.

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The theology behind Oprah's 'stirring, spiritual call to arms' at Golden Globes? Time magazine nails it

The theology behind Oprah's 'stirring, spiritual call to arms' at Golden Globes? Time magazine nails it

Unless you live in a cave with no television, social media feeds or electricity, you know about Oprah Winfrey's "stirring, spiritual call to arms" at the Golden Globes.

Winfrey's speech — tied to the #MeToo movement — "has fans dreaming" of a presidential run by the talk-show icon and Democrats from Hollywood to Iowa "captivated" by the possibility.

Here at GetReligion, editor Terry Mattingly suggested months ago: "Yes, the religious left exists: Can you think of a logical person (Oprah) to serve as its leader?"

Oh, her.

But speaking of religion, have the breathless news reports since Sunday night acknowledged — or mostly ignored — Oprah's Gospel-meets-New Age religious maven role? 

Take a wild guess.

However, a leading Godbeat pro has an extremely insightful story on the surprising theology shared by Oprah and, believe it or not, her potential 2020 adversary, President Donald Trump.

I'm talking about Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias, who notes that Trump and Winfrey both "preach a gospel of American prosperity, the popular cultural movement that helped put Trump in the White House in 2016."

More insight from Dias' highly relevant piece:

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Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants

Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants

It is, without a doubt, the question that I hear most often when I have a chance to meet -- face to face -- with GetReligion readers. It's one of the questions I keep seeing in reader emails.

This question: Do we ever get tired of having to address the same journalism issues over and over, writing posts that include links back to previous posts, which then link back to earlier posts and on and on?

That's right: Same as it ever was. It's kind of a deja vu all over again thing.

Yes, we do get rather tired of doing this. However, we keep hoping that at some point journalists will, you know, take an interest in basic facts about how religious institutions -- on the left and right -- do their work as voluntary associations. Why avoid relevant doctrinal and even legal information in stories about controversial issues?

So, before we get to the Inside Higher Ed coverage of the North Park University campus minister who was suspended after performing a same-sex marriage rite, let's do that flashback think that we have to do every now and then. The headline on this earlier post: "Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case." Here is the echo-chamber overture:

I know. I know. Trust me, I know that your GetReligionistas keep making the same point over and over when digging into mainstream news coverage of LGBTQ teachers (or people in other staff positions) who, after making public declarations of their beliefs on sex and marriage, lose their jobs in doctrinally defined private schools.
We keep making the point over and over because it's a crucial question when covering these stories. When are reporters and editors going to start asking the crucial question?
The question, of course, is this: Had the person who was fired voluntarily signed an employee lifestyle (or doctrinal) covenant in which they promised to support (or at least not openly oppose) the teachings at the heart of the religious school's work?

That brings us to the Rev. Judy Peterson at North Park and this headline: "Gay Wedding Costs College Pastor Her Job."

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Media watchdog catches a whopper in New York Times feature on gay life in Lebanon

Media watchdog catches a whopper in New York Times feature on gay life in Lebanon

Sometimes you just have to wonder whether someone’s simply asleep at the wheel.

Yes, even at The New York Times, which I consider journalism's preeminent global-news operation.

I say that, despite the Times many imperfections. To which I'd add this ambitious but seriously flawed story about gays, lesbians and transsexuals trying to survive in Lebanon. Here’s its opening paragraphs.

Throughout the Middle East, gay, lesbian and transgender people face formidable obstacles to living a life of openness and acceptance in conservative societies.
Although Jordan decriminalized same-sex behavior in 1951, the gay community remains marginalized. Qatar, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen all outlaw same-sex relations. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by flogging or death.
In Egypt, at least 76 people have been arrested in a crackdown since September, when a fan waved a rainbow flag during a concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay singer.
If there is one exception, it has been Lebanon. While the law can still penalize homosexual acts, Lebanese society has slowly grown more tolerant as activists have worked for more rights and visibility.

What’s that, you say? You clicked on the link to the story provided above and that’s not how the lede actually reads? Instead of “Middle East,” the story now refers to the “Arab world”?

Well, you're correct. Let me explain.

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