Bill Hybels resigns at Willow Creek: Thank goodness, real pros got to cover this story

Bill Hybels resigns at Willow Creek: Thank goodness, real pros got to cover this story

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the most basic facts.

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, the Denver area was in the middle of a remarkable boom era for evangelical megachurches. There were congregations that -- in the space of 12 months or so -- attracted several thousand members.

During a classroom discussion one day. a student from overseas (I think it was Russia) asked an interesting question: Why are there no old, unattractive, balding superchurch pastors? Why are they all young, super attractive and really funny? And how can you be a pastor when you have 7,000 members or more? Were these men pastors or celebrities?

The Americans laughed, but the laughter was rather weak.

I thought about that exchange when I was reading some of the early coverage of the latest scene in the ongoing drama of the Rev. Bill Hybels and the massive Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago.

Obviously, Hybels is more than a pastor who founded a giant evangelical megachurch 42 years ago. He is the creator of what amounts to a new Protestant mini-denomination -- more than a mere parachurch network. He has been a hero -- a celebrity -- among moderate evangelicals who want to make sure that the world understands that they aren't like all of those other tacky evangelicals.

There's a reason that GetReligionista Julia Duin's original #ChurchToo post about the accusations against Hybels has attracted nearly 18,000 readers.

With all that in mind, let me say something very obvious about the main news reports about the Hybels resignation.

These stories are, as a rule, long, detailed and full of nuance. In other words, look at the bylines on the following stories in the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and the hard-news website at Christianity Today.

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As Sikhs make headlines, the Vancouver Sun tries a little psychotherapy (and it works)

As Sikhs make headlines, the Vancouver Sun tries a little psychotherapy (and it works)

There’s been a lot in the Canadian press recently about Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and their dealings with Sikhs. More than 30 years ago, a Sikh man living in British Columbia shot a visiting Punjabi official from India and ended up serving five years in prison. Normally, such folks wouldn’t be allowed within blocks of the Canadian prime minister.

Which is why a lot of people were shocked a few weeks ago when the shooter ended up at a Mumbai reception sponsored by the Canadian government and was on the invite list for a similar event with Trudeau in Delhi.

Naturally, more questions were asked as to just who and what is Canada’s Sikh minority. Which is why the Vancouver Sun’s spirituality and diversity columnist Douglas Todd decided to interview the folks in the Sikh community who know where all the bodies are buried: Psychotherapists. Here's what he came up with:

Canadian journalists have been reporting on how Trudeau and his entourage, including Sikh MPs, invited a convicted Sikh terrorist to diplomatic galas in India, and how early videos have been uncovered linking the NDP leader to Sikh activists and militants pressing for a separate homeland in India called Khalistan.
The Canadian news media have, in the midst of the commotion, sometimes been accused by activists of stereotyping the country’s roughly 500,000 Sikhs, “by portraying all Sikhs as violent extremists.” Sensitivity has been exacerbated by U.S. cases, following the 2001 terrorist attacks, where some turban-wearing Sikh Americans have been attacked, even killed, after being mistaken for Muslims…
However, as Sikh activists urge Canadians to find out more about what Sikhs think, there is one source we have not heard from: Professional psychotherapists of Punjabi Sikh origin. Such insiders work on the front lines with the country’s eclectic Sikhs, especially when they’re distressed.

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Hey Houston Chronicle, what does it mean that superintendent accused of bullying 'found God?'

Hey Houston Chronicle, what does it mean that superintendent accused of bullying 'found God?'

Yes, there's a religion angle in the case of a Houston-area school superintendent accused of bullying a classmate as a teen. More on that in a moment.

But first, the crucial background: The top story in Sunday's Houston Chronicle concerned the furor surrounding the leader of the 77,000-student Katy Independent School District, west of Houston.

Superintendent Lance Hindt has made national headlines since a man named Greg Barrett accused Hindt of bullying him as a teen.

“Lance, you were the one who shoved my head in the urinal,” Barrett told Hindt at a March 19 school board meeting.

The Chronicle noted:

Since then, Hindt’s tenure as superintendent has come under nationwide scrutiny amid questions about his leadership and how long someone should be held responsible for something they might have done as a teenager.
Hindt denied the incident, but the controversy continued to snowball as allegations surfaced that an 18-year-old Hindt had beaten a man into a five-day coma and had thrown weights at his teammates. Hindt canceled a scheduled interview last week with a Houston Chronicle reporter but answered questions by email.
“I was disappointed by the accusation because it simply was not me who was involved in the incident described,” Hindt wrote. “I by no means suggest that the gentleman was not bullied, only that I was not part of it. Bullying is wrong. Period.”
The allegations have left the community of over 300,000 divided, with a petition to terminate and another in support of the superintendent circulating on the internet. The two sides are squaring off on Facebook, and a few are lobbing hate email to board members and threats of violence against the superintendent and his family.

So far, no religion angle.

And honestly, I wasn't reading the story as a GetReligion media critic. I was simply interested in the subject matter.

But then — bam! — came the faith element:

Some are stunned that Hindt initially seemed to chuckle when the allegations were made and didn’t offer an apology. Hindt, who previously led the Allen and Stafford school districts, told staff in an email last week that he was not a perfect teenager and has since found God.

Alrighty. Now we've got a religion angle. My immediate question: Exactly what does it mean that Hindt has "found God?"

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Seeking complex reactions to latest Pope Francis ink? Head over to Crux, not New York Times

Seeking complex reactions to latest Pope Francis ink? Head over to Crux, not New York Times

So Pope Francis has spoken, once again. This time we are talking about an apostolic exhortation -- Gaudete et Exsultate ("Rejoice and Be Glad") -- that includes pastoral comments aimed at Catholics in general, but also specific shots at his critics on the doctrinal right.

So let's say that you are looking for news coverage that includes voices on both sides of the Pope Francis debate. You want to hear from people who have just been attacked by the pope. You also want to hear from doctrinal conservatives, as well as liberals, who embrace what the pope had to say, or who see his message as consistent with that of other recent popes.

So, where do you look for coverage that does more than -- let's be honest -- serve as a public-relations office for Pope Francis?

Do you choose a website that specifically focuses on Catholic news or do you turn to America's most powerful newsroom, a newspaper that in the past has been highly critical of Catholic leaders?

That's a trick question, right? In this case, you want to check out Crux to get complex reactions to this apostolic exhortation, while The New York Times gives readers all Francis, all of the time (with zero input or information from critics of this pope).

Which newsroom showed the most independence from the papal powers that be? That would be (drum roll please) the website for a Catholic audience. It's also interesting to note which report framed this document primarily in political terms. Here's the overture at the Times ("Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing").

VATICAN CITY -- Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Monday morning.
Pushing back against conservative critics within the church who argue that the 81-year-old pope’s focus on social issues has led him to lose sight of the true doctrine, Pope Francis again cast himself, and the mission of the Roman Catholic Church, in a more progressive light.

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U.S. press bestows blessing on 'frenemy' Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman, perhaps prematurely

U.S. press bestows blessing on 'frenemy' Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman, perhaps prematurely

Following a weekend in New York -- where I made sure to down a couple of the Big Apple’s unofficial, official drink, the egg cream (I prefer vanilla) -- I returned to my current home in Maryland, where I proceeded to go through my waiting mail.

There he was -- again. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (often referred to as MBS), his face gracing the cover of the latest issue of Time.

But of course. Media speaking, it’s his moment in the spotlight. Heir to the throne of his critically important Arab nation, American news media offered up near blanket coverage of his now completed three-week visit here.

The question is, how to portray him?

As a modernizer out to update the public face of traditionally uncompromising, Saudi-style Wahhabi Sunni Islam by, among other things, allowing women to drive cars and speaking about allowing public movie theaters to open (amazing, but that’s what passes for reform in socially constricted Saudi Arabia, even in 2018)?

As a two-faced but media-savvy, all-powerful monarch in-waiting who imprisons his domestic foes and financially shakes them down, while simultaneously trying to divert attention from his nation’s horrible human rights record so as to gain strong Western support for Saudi Arabia in its building conflict with Iran, with which it fights a devastating proxy way in Yemen?

My view?

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Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

If you have read GetReligion over the years, you may have seen previous posts in which your GetReligionistas asked this question: In terms of journalism, what exactly is The Huffington Post, exactly?

It's a news and commentary website, obviously.

Ah, but there's the issue: Where does the commentary stop and the news begin? Is it possible to separate the opinion and advocacy from the hard-news reporting in some of the features at HuffPost? This is a question writers at this blog have had to ask about a number of different newsrooms in our foggy digital age.

Yes, that buzzworthy HuffPost piece about the trial of Noor Salman -- the widow of gunman Omar Mateen -- does contain elements of commentary. Yes, it is first-person, magazine-style journalism. It is also a blockbuster that raises all kinds of questions about any role that religious faith -- specifically, a radicalized, ISIS-style Islam -- played in this deadly attack.

Salman was found not guilty of helping her husband plan the attack. That's big news. But what's the larger story here? Here is a crucial passage near the top of the piece, which ran with this main headline: "Everyone Got The Pulse Massacre Story Completely Wrong."

Almost overnight, a narrative emerged that until now has been impossible to dislodge: Mateen planned and executed an attack on Pulse because he hated gay people.
“Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people,” Tim Teeman wrote in The Daily Beast. The massacre was “undeniably a homophobic hate crime,” Jeet Heer wrote in The New Republic. Some speculated that Mateen was a closeted gay man. He was likely “trying to reconcile his inner feelings with his strongly homophobic Muslim culture,” James S. Robbins wrote in USA Today.  
There was compelling evidence of other motivations.

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Concerning evangelicals, Trump and Stormy Daniels, named sources are more credible

Concerning evangelicals, Trump and Stormy Daniels, named sources are more credible

First is not always best.

That's my quick critique of the NPR story that made such a splash Friday. You know, the one that reported evangelical leaders are very concerned about swirling allegations "about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter." 

Those leaders, NPR said, "are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June."

Alrighty, but where's the story coming from?

The answer would be "four sources with knowledge of the planned meeting." In other words, we have what has become all too frustratingly common in the Trump era: a narrative based on anonymous voices.

Bottom line: Such sources know what they're talking about. Or they don't. You can trust them. Or you can't. And therein lies the problem.

I'll admit my bias: I wish major news organizations would stop using anonymous sources (who have an agenda or wouldn't be talking). Make people go on the record (so readers will have more information on which to judge a source's agenda). Or simply don't quote them. It's that simple.

Anonymous sources do nothing to improve the credibility of journalism in an age in which the president of the United States scores cheap political points by criticizing what he calls the #FakeNews media.

After quoting the anonymous sources, NPR includes a named source — yah! — who pooh-poohs much of the earlier storyline:

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WPost story on small-town gay activist vs. local Baptists raises more questions than answers

WPost story on small-town gay activist vs. local Baptists raises more questions than answers

There are times when I run across a very well-written piece that makes a poignant point and communicates an effective message. Yet, at the same time, there’s this uneasiness.

Such is a piece out this week in the Washington Post Magazine. With a headline that read “The Last Frontier for Gay Rights: A powerful liberal activist, a rural conservative town and a debate that won’t end,” it’s about a small North Carolina town.

I’ve written some 15 stories for the same magazine for the Post’s Style section, most of them profile or long-form narratives like this one. You may be familiar with the story I did last November for the magazine about Paula White, spiritual advisor to Donald Trump. So, I know how it takes months of hard work to produce these pieces and it sounds as though writer Tiffany Stanley spent a similar amount of time working on this article.

With few exceptions, the magazine has stuck to stories with relevance inside the Beltway. Since the residents of this western North Carolina county have nothing to do with Washington, D.C., I'm guessing the magazine, which got a new editor last year, is expanding its reach. There's a lot here, so please stick with me:

Word spread fast through the county that fall. Comments streamed across Facebook and in the halls of the high school and through the pews of churches: There was a gay-straight alliance starting up at Alexander Central High. It would be known as the P.R.I.D.E. Club: People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Equality. Its detailed acronym notwithstanding, theories about it swirled.
There were rumors that the school would have “transgender restrooms,” or that a “homosexual-based curriculum” would be used in health and physical education classes. Some community members were upset about the school district’s lack of communication. A woman wrote in to the town newspaper: “It is heartbreakingly sad that our morals have come to this.”
The sense of siege extended to adults — on all sides of the controversy. Robbin Isenhour-Stewart, an art teacher and the club’s co-adviser, said she received “biblical hate messages” taped to her classroom door. The Rev. Phil Addison, a Southern Baptist minister, said he found trash on his lawn and his mailbox kept getting knocked down; he suspected it had to do with his public criticisms of the club. “I don’t know that it was them,” he told me, “but if not, it was a huge coincidence.” David Odom, a school board member, said his daughter came home asking why he was taking the Bible out of schools.

We hear next about a school board meeting packed with church members because their pastors asked them to attend. Also at the meeting was:

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Stats on future of faith in Europe: What happens when Christendom's heart weakens?

Stats on future of faith in Europe: What happens when Christendom's heart weakens?

The original saying, I think, was this: "When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold (or words to that effect)." The meaning is pretty obvious.

Then people started spinning off variations. One of the most common is this: "When America sneezes, the world catches cold." In this case, we're talking about American economic clout, but there are many variations -- as this nice NPR feature explains.

But I'm convinced the true cultural equation is this one: "When Europe sneezes, America catches the cold." The whole idea is that Europe tends to be several decades ahead of America, when it comes major trends in arts, culture, etc."

Now what about religion? That's basically what we talked about in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Well, for decades now, demographers have known that the active practice of religious faith was fading in most (not all) of Europe. Once again, France has been one of the easiest places to see this trend. However, in the past decade or so -- Hello, Church of England -- it's been easy to see the same struggles in other pews.

Now, several years ago here in America, we had a hurricane if ink and newsprint when the Pew Forum released its famous "Nones on the Rise" study, showing a sharp increase in the number of "religiously unaffiliated" Americans, especially among the young. The term "Nones" has been all over the place, ever since (including here at GetReligion).

Why? Well, for starters there were big political overtones. This paragraph from one of my "On Religion" columns pretty much sums that up:

The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters. ... The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

In other words, a coalition of atheists, agnostics and "Nones" is now to the Democratic Party what the Religious Right (broadly defined) is to the Republican party -- the grassroots heart.

So here is the question that host Todd Wilken and I talked about this week: If the "Nones" study has received acres of headlines, why has there been so little American coverage of that stunning new Benedict XVI Centre study entitled "Europe's Young Adults and Religion"? 

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