Offering nuts and bolts of what preacher Jeffress said about building biblical walls

Offering nuts and bolts of what preacher Jeffress said about building biblical walls

Sometimes the best way to cover an address -- or a sermon -- by a very controversial figure is to set out to accomplish one basic, but essential task.

Just. Quote. What. Was. Said. 

In this case, if there are people who will be angered by this controversial Southern Baptist preacher's words, then quoting the text accurately and at length will probably make them angry. Can I hear an "Amen"?

At the same time, quoting his words at length -- in context, with minimal editorial framing -- will probably please the preacher's supporters. Of course, there are plenty of preachers who won't be happy with what journalists write, no matter what. That's just the way things go, sometimes.

This brings us to Sarah "Yes, she used to be a GetReligionista" Pulliam Bailey's quick take in The Washington Post on the pre-inauguration sermon by the Rev. Robert Jeffress, the lightning-rod (for pretty much everyone, including many young evangelicals) leader of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.

This sermon was delivered in the small sanctuary of St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House. It was not a major media event and, thus, it is significant that the digital version of the Post report ends with the verbatim text of the sermon. Bravo. 

After offering a lede that stated the obvious (but didn't drown readers in venom, like CNN) -- Jeffress has a "history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays" -- Bailey launched into a combination of direct quotes and paraphrases that let Jeffress speak for himself. The political angles were highlighted, but not pounded into the reader's head with a mallet. Thus, readers learned that Jeffress:

... compared Trump to the story of the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel.

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Old story of Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggart's onetime accuser, shows that faith details matter

Old story of Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggart's onetime accuser, shows that faith details matter

Until just recently, you'd have to have been a rather deep-in-the-weeds religion nerd to remember Pastor Marvin Gorman, a pentecostal preacher who, like the much-more-famous Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, was once affiliated with the much more mainstream Assemblies of God. 

Gorman, 86, who passed to his rest on January 4 in New Orleans, was one of the first, in 1987, to formally accuse Swaggart of adultery, and he had the photographic evidence to support the charge.

As the New Orleans Times-Picayune captured it:

Rev. Gorman was brought down in an epic feud that sullied the Pentecostal movement three decades ago. In 1986, Swaggart, a fellow Assembly of God televangelist based in Baton Rouge, accused him of adultery. Swaggart also helped blow the whistle on Jim Bakker, an Assembly of God televangelist in Charlotte, N.C., for an extramarital affair with a church secretary.
In response, Rev. Gorman circulated photographs of Swaggart and a prostitute at an Airline Highway motel in Metairie, leading to Swaggart's downfall, and he sued Swaggart for defamation. He won a $10 million award, although the parties later settled out of court at $1.85 million.
By this time all three men's ministries were in ruins. Rev. Gorman declared bankruptcy, Bakker went to prison and Swaggart's empire collapsed.

Those of us in or around the Godbeat in those days know how tumultuous a time it was. But it was long, long ago, and the media could be forgiven for having moved on to the latest prosperity gospel preacher who's set to pray at Donald Trump's inauguration, or something else more contemporary.

I believe, however, that it's important to remember the lives and works, good or bad, of those who've labored in the vineyards of faith, and thereby hangs, I would also suggest, a journalistic tale. 

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Hysteria? CNN's one-sided obsession with Robert Jeffress goes way over the top

Hysteria? CNN's one-sided obsession with Robert Jeffress goes way over the top

Before any inauguration, media all over town are snooping about, hoping to get unusual stories that no one else is getting. I spent 16 years working in Washington, D.C., so I know the drill.

When CNN learned who was preaching the early morning pre-inauguration sermon to the Trump family, its piece on the lead preacher sounded more like Adolf Hitler himself was showing up. I am no fan of this particular Baptist preacher, but I also don't like journalistic attempts to nuke someone using every weapon in the advocacy journalism arsenal.

Just try to count the scare quotes in this one. Note that every possible alarming fact (yes, lots of them are valid) was thrown in as one more reminder that Donald Trump likes to surround himself with people not fit for polite company. Try to find any sign that the CNN team even considered seeking voices on the other side.

(CNN) A pastor with a long history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays is scheduled to preach at a private service for President-elect Trump and his family on Friday, shortly before Trump takes the oath of office.
The pastor, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, is a Southern Baptist who vigorously campaigned for Trump during the final months of the presidential election and is a member of his evangelical advisory board. "I love this guy!" Trump has said of Jeffress. ...
Usually the Inauguration Day service draws little notice, much less controversy. But offering Jeffress such a prominent pulpit is likely to irk religious minorities, particularly Muslims, many of whom were already angered by the President-elect's stoking of suspicions about Islam during the campaign.

Earth to CNN: You do know that Trump could care less about whether he irks anyone?

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As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

Buried in a new Pew Research Center poll on a broad-range of American political concerns is a finding that has the potential to radically scramble American Jewry's long association with the Democratic Party. Not surprisingly, the lightning-rod Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of this.

The finding? For the first time, it appears that Americans who are registered Democrats are as statistically likely to favor the Palestinians as they are Israel.

Ladies and gentleman, this is potentially big news -- assuming the polling is accurate.

Not because of the small number of Jewish voters who exist on a national scale relative to the overall number of registered American voters (Jews account for only about 2 percent of the entire American population).

But because of what this could mean for Jewish campaign contributions, Jewish political activism and Jewish voting in future presidential, congressional and other contests in New York, California, Florida and other states with large Jewish concentrations. (I'm referring here to non-Orthodox Jews; the 10 percent of so of American Jews who identify as Orthodox already largely support Republican politicians.) 

Political reporters at mainstream American news outlets, as far as I can tell, paid comparatively little initial attention to the survey finding. I suspect this is because of the avalanche of stories they've been producing on the outgoing Obama presidency and the incoming Trump administration.

Even Israeli and American Jewish outlets initially paid less attention to the Pew finding than I would have imagined, probably for the same reason cited just above.

Hey, religion reporters. Why not pick up the slack?

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Oh no, look what Trump's done: He's appointed someone to Cabinet who ONCE PRAYED

Oh no, look what Trump's done: He's appointed someone to Cabinet who ONCE PRAYED

Hey Washington Post, I have a question.

Please forgive me if I come across the wrong way. However, here's what I want to know: Are you serious!? 

Yes, I understand it's impossible to fit all the important context and details in a 140-character-or-less tweet.

But really, this was the best you could do?:

Trump picks former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, who once led a prayer for rain, for agriculture secretary

Am I reading that right? Is the newspaper that exposed Watergate really suggesting that the most important detail about a Cabinet appointee is that he "once led a prayer?"

Stop the presses!

I mean, is the political staff of the Post really so out of touch that they think somebody praying is first-sentence material for a breaking news alert?

ccording to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans say they pray every day. I'm assuming that during a drought, a few of them might pray for rain. No word on the percentage of reporters and editors in the Post newsroom who believe in prayer.

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NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?

NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?

The very first item posted here at GetReligion -- written on Feb. 1, 2004 and the site went live the next day -- had this headline: "What we do, why we do it."

That was a long time ago. This piece, obviously, was a statement of purpose for the blog. Several million words of writing later, there are lots of things in it that I would update (and I have, here and here), but few things I would change.

In that first post, co-founder Doug Leblanc and I introduced the concept of mainstream news stories being "haunted" by religion "ghosts" -- a term your GetReligionistas are still using today. And I am about to use it again right now while probing a lengthy NBC News piece that ran online with this dramatic double-decker headline: 

Democrats: Left in the Lurch
The curious decline and uncertain future of the Democratic Party

Before we look at a few haunted passages in this long story, let's flash back to GetReligion Day 1 and review our whole "ghost" thing. The essay starts like this:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.
They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

According to this NBC News feature, the current distressed state of the Democratic Party at the level of state and national races (including Hillary Clinton's loss to Citizen Donald Trump) is based on race and maybe this other strange something that has to do with the culture of cities vs. people in rural America, or working-class people vs. elites, or something

But the key R-word is "race," not You Know What. It's "race" and race alone.

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Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

The notion of caring for those at the end of life's journey is a relatively new one, dating back about 70 years to the work of Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician who began working with the terminally ill in 1948. In 1974, Florence Wald, a dean of Yale University's nursing school, teamed up with a chaplain and two physicians to start the Connecticut Hospice in Bradford, Conn.

Since then, at least 5,800 hospice programs have been organized in the United States, according to the most recent figures available (2013) from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. There's no doubt these programs span a spectrum from highly secular to highly spiritual. It's the latter that has caught the attention of The New York Times, where the notion that organizations serving the needs of those in their final days seems to be a rather new concept.

Some background: Until a few months ago, a triple-amputee named B.J. Miller ran the 30-year-old Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, California, where patients went to confront the end of life, receive palliative care and even, in one case, help plan a wedding for the family member of a hospice patient.

Thanks to the Times, we know these things take place in the city by the bay, and what interesting, innovative things they are! Read on:

... Miller also seemed to be on the cusp of modest celebrity. He’d started speaking about death and dying at medical schools and conferences around the country and will soon surface in Oprah’s living room, chatting about palliative care on her “Super Soul Sunday” TV show.
... Vicki Jackson, the chief of palliative care at Massachusetts General Hospital ... pointed to the talk Miller gave to close the TED conference in 2015. Miller described languishing in a windowless, antiseptic burn unit after his amputations. He heard there was a blizzard outside but couldn’t see it himself. Then a nurse smuggled him a snowball and allowed him to hold it. This was against hospital regulations, and this was Miller’s point: There are parts of ourselves that the conventional health care system isn’t equipped to heal or nourish, adding to our suffering. He described holding that snowball as “a stolen moment,” and said, “But I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin, the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet, in this universe, mattered more to me than whether I lived or died.” Miller’s talk has been watched more than five million times. And yet, Jackson told me: “If I said all that — ‘Oh, I could feel the coldness of the snowball ...’ — you’d be like: ‘Shut. Up. Shut up!’ But no one is going to question B.J.”

 

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No pro-lifers? Journalists find that Women's March on Washington doesn't want them

No pro-lifers? Journalists find that Women's March on Washington doesn't want them

When I first moved to Washington, D.C. in 1995, one of my first assignments was to cover the annual March For Life that commemorates the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

It was around that time that the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians asked to be a part of the march, only to have its chief organizer tell them they weren’t welcome.

Everyone I knew disagreed with this organizer –- who has since died -– because most people felt abortion was so evil, there needed to be a much larger coalition opposed to it other than the usual suspects. The PLAGL folks marched anyway and they were welcomed, as far as I know. They have been marching for years, now.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, culturally speaking.

The Women’s March on Washington, slated for this Saturday, was supposed to be about women, right? It turns out access to abortion is one of the basic principles in this march, which, The Atlantic reported Monday, puts one group of women in a bind.

Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

Nevertheless, the magazine reported, organizers had originally granted a pro-life group partner status in the rally. But once that news got leaked out, the organizers did an about face.

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Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

As I've mentioned previously, "One church's vote for Jesus" was the headline on a story I wrote a few years ago on a Washington, D.C.-area congregation that declared itself a "politics-free zone."

This was the lede:

LAUREL, Md. — People of all political persuasions are welcome at the Laurel Church of Christ.
Politics is not.
“Believe it or not, it almost destroyed this church at one time because we’re so close to Washington,” said adult Bible class teacher Stew Highberg, who retired from the Air Force and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The politics of the president and the House and the Senate would creep in,” explained Highberg, a former Laurel church elder. “So we had to put a moratorium on it. You’ll get booted out of here if you start talking politics.”
He was joking about that last part. Mostly.
More than 300 people worship with this fast-growing Maryland church: Roughly three-quarters work for the federal government, the military or a government contractor or have a family member who does.
“We figure we can try to convince people they’re wrong politically, or we can try to persuade them to follow Jesus,” preaching minister Michael Ray said. “We pick Jesus.”

I was reminded of that Maryland congregation when I saw a front-page story in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on elephants and donkeys sharing church pews.

The Pittsburgh story was written by Peter Smith, the Post-Gazette's award-winning religion reporter (and a longtime favorite of your GetReligionistas). Given the byline, I knew that I would find the piece fair, interesting and thought-provoking. But just to make sure, I went ahead and read it. 

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