Where was the press? The new $23 million Falls Church Anglican sanctuary gets zero coverage

Where was the press? The new $23 million Falls Church Anglican sanctuary gets zero coverage

Near the end of 2006, I was working on one of my biggest stories of the year: The mass exodus of 11 Episcopal churches from the Diocese of Virginia, the nation’s largest Episcopal diocese.

It was a huge story and it wasn’t completely certain that on that sunny, cold Sunday if all the theologically conservative churches in northern Virginia would decide to leave en mass.

They did and this created headlines for weeks after that. The largest church that left was The Falls Church Episcopal (TFCE), a large complex worth about $24.7 million with its new-ish sanctuary, a historic chapel and cemetery on 5.5 acres right in the middle of the city named after it (and only a few blocks from where I lived). Built in 1734, its vestry included George Washington, who was elected in 1763.

Members voted 1,228 to 127 to leave, which doesn’t reflect the fact that some 2,000 people regularly attended there.

Fast forward five years and it turns out the courts didn’t look too kindly on the 11 churches taking some $40 million worth of property with them. All of that had to be returned to the Episcopal Church, including money in their bank accounts.

The conservatives, now part of the Anglican Church of North America, were officially out on the street.

As for the Falls Church, as former GetReligionista Mollie Hemingway reported in 2012, the Episcopalians who moved back into that facility (see second photo) included 178 members with an average Sunday attendance of 74, which was 4% of what the Anglicans were bringing through the door. How this group was going to pay the mortgage and other bills — roughly $800,000 a year — was never brought up by anyone reporting on them at the time.

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Pulpits vs. pews: Thinking about choices that mainline Protestants make on Election Day

Pulpits vs. pews: Thinking about choices that mainline Protestants make on Election Day

Anyone listing turning points in American politics would have to include that day in 1980 when candidate Ronald Reagan went to Dallas and faced a crowd of 15,000 evangelical, Pentecostal and fundamentalist Christian leaders.

Reagan told them, “I know you can’t endorse me. But ... I want you to know that I endorse you.”

The mainstream press grasped the importance of that declaration.

However, a recent symbolic move by leaders on the left didn’t get anywhere near as much ink (analog or digital). I am referring to that resolution (.pdf here) by the Democratic National Committee stating, in part:

WHEREAS, religiously unaffiliated Americans overwhelmingly share the Democratic Party’svalues, with 70% voting for Democrats in 2018, 80% supporting same-sex marriage, and 61% saying immigrants make American society stronger; and

WHEREAS, the religiously unaffiliated demographic represents the largest religious group within the Democratic Party, growing from 19% in 2007 to one in three today. …

Therefore, the party saluted “religiously unaffiliated Americans” because of their advocacy for “rational public policy based on sound science and universal humanistic values. …”

This really isn’t news, for religion-beat pros who have been paying attention. After all political scientist John C. Green of the University of Akron connected these dots in 2012, when the Pew Forum released its “Nones on the Rise” report. Here is a chunk of an “On Religion” column that I wrote at that time:

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 — with 75 percent supporting Barack Obama in 2008. The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

"It may very well be that in the future the unaffiliated vote will be as important to the Democrats as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party,” said Green, addressing the religion reporters. "If these trends continue, we are likely to see even sharper divisions between the political parties."

At that time, Green noted that a party led by atheists, agnostics and Nones might have trouble making peace with several key flocks in the Democratic Part’s historic base — such as African-American Protestants, Latino Catholics and blue-collar believers in the American heartland.

This brings me to this weekend’s “think piece” by progressive Baptist pastor and scholar Ryan Burge, whose work with @Religion_Public has made him a must-follow voice in Twitter (@ryanburge).

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Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

In many ways, it was the perfect “white evangelical” horror story.

So you had an African-American sixth-grader who reported that she was bullied by three boys who taunted her with racial insults and cut off some of her dreadlocks. This took place at a “Christian” school where Karen Pence, as in the wife of Donald Trump’s loyal vice president, has taught off and on for more than a decade.

It’s a story that, in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I explored on three levels, as in the three parts of a click-bait equation.

First, there is the story of the accusations of an alleged assault, which turned out not to be true, according to the girl’s family.

That was a tragic local story. What made it a national story?

That’s the second level of this story — the key click-bait link to Trump World. That was especially true in a rather snarky NBC News online report (which even worked in an LGBTQ angle, due to the school’s doctrinal statement on marriage and sex).

But that wasn’t the angle that interested me the most. No, I was interested in the school itself. I imagine that lots of readers much have thought to themselves (I will paraphrase): What in the world is a black girl doing enrolled at the kind of white evangelical Trump-loving alleged Christian school that would Mrs. Mike Pence would be teach at for a dozen years or so?

Thus, I was interested in the following paragraph of factual material that was included in two Washington Post stories about this case:

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Friday Five: Forgiveness and justice, Scouting and faith, Tree of Life anniversary, Eric Metaxas

Friday Five: Forgiveness and justice, Scouting and faith, Tree of Life anniversary, Eric Metaxas

I’m back home in Oklahoma after a two-week trip that took me from Las Vegas (for the Religion News Association annual meeting) to Searcy, Ark. (for the 96th Bible lectureship at Harding University, the alma mater of Botham Jean).

Other stops along the way included Los Angeles, a Rust Belt town in Ohio and Chick-fil-A drive-thru lines in at least three states.

I’m looking forward to resting up a bit this weekend.

First, though, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: I highlighted the viral story of “The hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother” in a post Thursday.

I focused on a splendid front-page story in the Dallas Morning News. Among the plethora of coverage by major media, another good piece was this one in the Washington Post looking at the debate over forgiveness that the hug ignited.

My post noted that the brother wasn’t the only person to hug convicted murder Amber Guyger. The judge did, too, and gave her a Bible.

I wrote:

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'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

I’ve written 15 stories for either the Washington Post Magazine or the newspaper’s Style section, most of which have been lengthy features highlighting an interesting individual. I know a little bit of what goes into choosing a topic for such prominent placement.

Let’s just say that a lot of thought goes into it.

So, I’m not complaining about the magazine featuring Planned Parenthood’s arts and entertainment director and her huge influence on how abortion is portrayed in Hollywood. What I gripe about is the absence of a similar several-thousand-word piece featuring an articulate woman on the opposite side of the issue.

Where’s the magazine piece on Abby Johnson, the heroine of the recent movie “Unplanned” and the Texas activist who left Planned Parenthood to now work against them? It’s not there.

Or Kristan Hawkins, an evangelical-turned-Catholic convert who turned Students for Life from a tiny group into an organization with 1,200 chapters in 50 states; who has four kids, two of whom have cystic fibrosis? She lives in DC’s Virginia suburbs, probably a mere hour’s drive from the Post’s downtown office.

So, let’s delve into this paean to Planned Parenthood’s “woman in Hollywood.”

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday at Planned Parenthood’s New York headquarters, and I’m watching TV. Specifically, I’m watching a series of scenes clipped from movies and TV shows, all of which have two things in common: The woman beside me, Caren Spruch, had a hand in them, and each one features an abortion…

Spruch is the rare person in the abortion rights movement for whom the past few years represent a long-awaited breakthrough in addition to a series of terrifying setbacks. She’s Planned Parenthood’s woman in Hollywood — or, in official terms, its director of arts and entertainment engagement. She encourages screenwriters to tell stories about abortion and works as a script doctor for those who do (as well as those who write about any other area of Planned Parenthood’s expertise, such as birth control or sexually transmitted infections). It’s a role she slipped into sideways, but one that now seems to be increasingly welcome in Hollywood.

In the past year or two, word of Spruch’s services has started to filter through the film industry. “Nobody used to call me,” she says. “I would be watching TV and going to the movies and figuring out who I thought might be open to including these story lines. Now I have a couple of repeat clients. Now people call me.” She estimates that Planned Parenthood has advised on more than 150 movies and shows since that first effort with “Obvious Child.” Writers who have relied on her advice tell me they feel a secret kinship with one another. “We could see hints of her in all the TV shows coming out, from ‘Shrill’ to ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ” says Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of “Obvious Child.” “It’s really wonderful. She’s like Planned Parenthood’s secret weapon.”

In case you’re not familiar with “Obvious Child,” a trailer is included atop this post.

Spruch is a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so much so that I couldn’t find her listed on Planned Parenthood’s main site. Her LInkedIn profile tells nothing of her past. I’m curious what Spruch gets paid for all this work, but the article doesn’t say. There’s very little bio about the woman herself.

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USA Today buries lede (here we go again) in big report on sexual-abuse 'window' laws

USA Today buries lede (here we go again) in big report on sexual-abuse 'window' laws

When it comes to criticizing the press, William Donohue is what he is. The president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has never used a flyswatter when a baseball bat will do.

This time, Donohue has released a statement about a USA Today story that had already caught my attention, one that ran with this headline: “The Catholic Church and Boy Scouts are lobbying against child abuse statutes. This is their playbook.

This feature is yet another cheap-shot attack that buries or blurs crucial information that readers need in order to understand this complex subject. How? Here is Donohue, with a metaphor that is blunt, to say the least. He starts by calling out the reporters, by name, and then pretending they are now in their sixties. This just in: They have both been accused of sexually abusing a cub reporter three decades earlier.

Nothing can be done about their alleged misconduct because the accuser came forward only yesterday, and the claim is beyond the statute of limitations. But a new law is being considered that would suspend the statute of limitations for one year. … The law, however, only applies to those who work in journalism. If someone was molested by a priest or a rabbi, the new law would not apply.
 
What would Marisa and John have to say about that? Would they protest, arguing that the law was unjust because it singled out journalists? What if they enlisted the support of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and it agreed to tap an army of lawyers to fight the bill — wouldn't they feel that was justified? And how would they react if their critics called them every name in the book, branding them and the SPJ "criminals" for skirting punishment for their outrageous behavior?
 
We all know what they would say. 

The Big Idea: This USA Today report hides or, at best, obscures the fact that Catholic leaders do not oppose sexual-abuse laws that apply to public institutions and nonprofits, as well as to churches and other religious bodies. The church opposes laws that single out religious groups.

To see what happened in this piece, let’s flash back to a GetReligion post on a similar story: “Big news on New York's child sexual abuse law – buried in 22nd paragraph of Gray Lady's story.” Here are two chunks of that:

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Hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother

Hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother

Stunning.

Absolutely stunning.

That’s the only way to describe what happened in a Dallas courtroom Wednesday.

If you pay attention at all to the news, you know what I’m talking about, of course: the hug seen around the world.

The hug, as you know, followed an amazing gesture of forgiveness that nobody — absolutely nobody — saw coming.

Here’s how it played out on the front page of today’s Dallas Morning News, the local newspaper that has covered this story so well from start to finish.

I was driving home from Harding University — the Searcy, Ark., college where Botham Jean earned his accounting degree — when I stopped for gas and briefly checked Twitter.

That’s when I learned that Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer convicted of murder in Jean’s 2018 shooting death, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. She had faced five to 99 years in prison.

I learned, too — and this part was more surprising — that Jean’s younger brother, Brandt, had made an incredible victim impact statement in which he forgave Guyger, urged her to follow Jesus Christ and then asked to hug her.

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That question again: Why did America 'lose its religion' around 1990? Or did it?

That question again: Why did America 'lose its religion' around 1990? Or did it?

Six days after the eminent Emma Green of The Atlantic and TheAtlantic.com walked off with three major first-place prizes at the Religion News Association convention, her staff colleague Derek Thompson plunged into a perennial puzzle on the beat. The breathless headline announced, “Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?”

Once again, we’re talking about the growth of “Nones” who shun religious affiliation.

One can hope Thompson did not write that hed and was denied the right to change it. As the commentariat is well aware, America did not lose its religions (American religions are always plural) . Rather, “organized religion” began losing more individuals — mostly from the mushy middle of the spectrum, in terms of practicing a faith — though dropouts often retained an intriguing melange of religious ideas and practices.

Thompson asks, “What the hell happened around 1990?”

Was that really a magic year? He cites three explanations from Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith for the rise of the nones — the end of the Cold War (yep, that came in 1989-1991), alleged alienation due to Republicans’ link with the “Christian Right” (which had long roots and gained visibility starting earlier, in 1980), and the 9/11 attacks by radical Muslims that sullied all religions (and occurred a full decade later). On the last point, you’d have thought damaged esteem for Islam would inspire renewed interest in Christianity and Judaism.

The year 2000 might be a better starting point for America’s religious recession. And any analysis should note that the important “Mainline” Protestant decline started way back in the mid-1960s. The biggest evangelical group, the Southern Baptist Convention, only began to slowly slip in 2007. As for Thompson’s nones, Pew Research cites the noticeable lurch downward from 2007, when they totaled an estimated 36.6 million, to the 55.8 million count just seven years later.

Chronology aside, Smith himself might agree with The Guy on the big flaw in the journalistic ointment. This is another of those many thumbsuckers that are interested mostly in white evangelical Protestants. The writer largely ignores other large faith sectors like Catholics, Mainline/liberal Protestants and African-American Protestants of various kinds. And what about Latino Pentecostals?

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Hail Mary passes and Lombardi in daily Mass: Catholicism ignored in NFL 100 coverage

Hail Mary passes and Lombardi in daily Mass: Catholicism ignored in NFL 100 coverage

The NFL turns 100 this season. You may have noticed the “100” anniversary logo on footballs, jerseys and in TV commercials. You may have noticed all of those Peyton Manning mini-documentaries.

This anniversary has also given newspapers, sports sites and TV stations a chance to look back at the players and coaches who made NFL history.

Exactly what is included in those histories matters. Mentioning statistics, great plays, Super Bowl performances and impact on the sport are all a given. What about what players and coaches believed? What about their motivations? es, how about religion and the impact it left on the game? These are very important questions that have not been answered fully (or some cases even explored) in many of the retrospectives that have been rolled out this season.

Football and religion are not such strange bedfellows. The league has been — and currently is — loaded with outspoken Christians. Evangelicals have included Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Reggie White, Tony Dungy, Nick Foles and Carson Wentz. There have also been some prominent men who also happen to be devout Roman Catholics to make gridiron history. Harrison Butker, Matt Birk, Philip Rivers, Don Shula, Roger Staubach and Vince Lombardi are a few notable ones.

Before players took a knee to protest the national anthem, it wasn’t so unusual to see them praying before the opening kickoff. And, of course, some of those kneeling protesters have been praying.

It’s the faith of some of these men that has been overlooked — whether intentionally or not — in the “NFL 100” celebrations. Let’s look specifically at Lombardi, the great Green Bay Packers coach.

Under Lombardi, the team won five NFL championships in a span of just seven years during the 1960s (including three in a row). Those victories also included winning the first two Super Bowls. After all, Super Bowl champions are presented with the Lombardi trophy.

Lombardi isn’t only arguably the best coach in NFL history, but he was a devout Catholic who wasn’t shy about his faith. Major mainstream newspapers and TV networks have largely ignored the Lombardi faith angle.

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