A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

If I have learned anything in my 40 years working on the religion beat (and studying it), it's this: Repentance is really hard, even for the leaders of religious institutions.

Some would change that to say "especially" for the leaders of religious institutions.

This is true, I have found, for leaders on both the theological left and right (as anyone knows who has covered sex-abuse scandals among Catholic clergy). And many evangelicals choose to hide the sins of leaders. Ditto for leaders of liberal Protestant flocks.

As we are finding out during the current American tsunami of ink about sexual harassment and assaults, this trend is also found in Hollywood, inside the D.C. Beltway and elsewhere. That's rather obvious. It's also obvious that religious leaders should do a better job of handling sin than other folks. Some do. Many do not.

This brings me to an important Washington Post headline that many GetReligion readers made sure that I saw over the weekend: "How a conservative group dealt with a fondling charge against a rising GOP star." Similar stories ran elsewhere.

So how did Family Research Council leaders deal with the sins of Ohio Republican Wesley Goodman? They tried to shut him down, while seeking to keep things private and -- in the age of easy-to-copy emails -- got caught. This journalism truth is also clear: Many evangelical leaders, like their liberal-church counterparts, would rather line up for anesthesia-free root canals than cooperate with mainstream news reporters.

Here's the top of the Post story, which features tons of references to emails and documents to support key points:

On a fall evening two years ago, donors gathered during a conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel near Washington to raise funds for a 31-year-old candidate for the Ohio legislature who was a rising star in evangelical politics.

A quick aside: Yes, I winced at the reference to "evangelical politics."

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Reporting on Paula White and the White House: Trying to tell her side of the story

Reporting on Paula White and the White House: Trying to tell her side of the story

Those of you who may have read my lengthy profile on Paula White in this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine may not know that it was this GetReligion post a year ago and then this one that helped make the Post story happen.

Her spokesman, Johnnie Moore, noticed these posts, and contacted me to express thanks for their fairness.

Mercenary creature that I am, the wheels started turning in my head. A lot of publications, I thought, would be interested in knowing the inner life of this woman; the backstory behind her relationship with President Donald Trump and how she has hung on over the years despite scandals that would deck most people.

So I floated a trial balloon: Would Paula, I asked him, consent to appearing before dozens of journalists at the Religion News Association convention in Nashville in September? As a member of the conference committee, I was putting together a panel and I wanted her to be on it. Through Moore, she said yes. (Note: I’ll be referring to everyone by their last names in this piece except for Paula).

By this time, I was in contact with pros at the Post’s Sunday magazine, since I have written 14 stories either for the magazine or the Style section. Most of the pieces were several thousand words long, including my latest: A 2015 profile on Alice Rogoff, wife of inside-the Beltway billionaire David Rubenstein and (at the time) publisher of the Anchorage-based Alaska Dispatch News. T

he folks at the magazine were definitely interested in a story. Paula was on the road so much that I didn’t get through to her until June to explain what a story of close to 6,000 words would entail. We agreed that I’d spend three days following her around Washington, D.C. in late July.

Early in the afternoon of July 27, I was standing at the Northwest gate on Pennsylvania Avenue impatiently waiting for the right media person to allow me in. I didn’t know there was a titanic battle raging right then between communications director Anthony Scaramucci (who would be fired the following week) and chief of staff Reince Priebus who was about to be ousted.

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There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

There's more to discussions of church-security fears than guns, guns, guns and more guns

If the following USA Today story wasn't real, then some journalist would have had to have made it up.

You see, coverage of shootings in churches almost always lead to mini-waves of reports about a tricky and controversial subject -- efforts to keep churches safe and secure. Yes, we talked about church security during this week's podcast, so click here to tune that in.

The overused word "controversial" applies in this whole subject because of the tension between increased calls for gun control (which I support, especially when we're talking about military-grade weapons) and people discussing the use of off-duty police and trained volunteers to protect churches.

In news media coverage, this can turn into left-leaning calls for gun control vs. people in large, almost always conservative churches packing concealed weapons. In other words, the whole thing turns into another discussion of guns, guns, guns and more guns.

Thus, the headline on that aforementioned USA Today story: "Two accidentally shot in church while discussing church shootings." And here's the heart of that story:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A man accidentally shot himself and his wife at an east Tennessee church on Thursday while he was showing off his gun during a discussion on recent church shootings, police said.
Elder members of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were cleaning up about 1 p.m. after enjoying a luncheon held to celebrate Thanksgiving. They began talking about guns in churches, according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.
A man in his 80s pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and said, "I carry my handgun everywhere," according to Parks. He removed the magazine, cleared the chamber, and showed the gun to some of the men in the church. He put the magazine back in, apparently loaded a round in the chamber, and returned the gun to its holster, Parks said.

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Can teens study the Bible on non-sectarian terms? This project says ... yes they can

Can teens study the Bible on non-sectarian terms? This project says ... yes they can

Few if any U.S. media noted that Nov. 12–18 was National Bible Week, but the origin of the observance has feature potential for this time next year.

That’s because in 1941 the NBC radio network, with the blessing of President Roosevelt, launched the first Bible Week by devoting a Sunday to on-air readings from the Good Book, something unimaginable in 2018. And as it happened, the chosen date was Dec. 7, so Scripture had to be interspersed with breaking news bulletins on Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack.

Here’s a different bid for biblical penetration of culture, in case your outlet hasn’t covered it yet. Since 2005, the non-profit Essentials in Education (E.I.E.) of New York City has campaigned for U.S. public high schools to offer elective courses on the Bible that are academically valid, fully legal under the U.S. Constitution, and acceptable to believers of any religion –- or none.   

E.I.E. does this with “The Bible and Its Influence,” its innovative and carefully non-sectarian textbook, sold in print and digital formats. The publication (.pdf here) benefits from a notably broad lineup of 40 consultants, with lawyers and public school educators alongside Jewish, “mainline” Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Mormon representatives.

To date, “Influence” has been taught in 640 schools in 44 states (the exceptions are Delaware, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming). Nine states have passed laws that encourage schools to offer such non-sectarian Bible courses (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Kentucky, which joined the list in June).

The latest angle, discussed at an Oct. 24 presser, is efforts to go global. There have been discussions with members of parliament in Brazil, Finland and Great Britain;  pilot projects in Canada, Rwanda, South Korea, Taiwan and Communist China; and academic conferences on this concept in Australia, the Philippines and even Hindu-dominated India.

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The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

My apologies for the clickbait title.

But I had to get you here so I could congratulate a colleague: my fellow GetReligion contributor Julia Duin.

If you follow religion headlines, you've probably already heard about the Washington Post Magazine's in-depth — really in-depth — profile of televangelist Paula White and her role as pastor to President Trump.

Perhaps, though, you missed Duin's byline on the piece.

As she described it on Twitter, her magnum opus — 6,408 words in all — took four months to research and write.

I won't even pretend to be able to offer an unbiased critique of my colleague's work. But I will share a variety of tweets from the Twitterverse praising Duin's "fascinating," "fantastic," "must-read," "quite a meaty profile":

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Sex crimes and sins in the past: Pay attention to Bill Clinton's skilled use of the faith card

Sex crimes and sins in the past: Pay attention to Bill Clinton's skilled use of the faith card

Long ago, I was a strong supporter of Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, in part because of his early willingness -- as a Bible Belt Democrat -- to seek compromises on government policies linked to abortion. I was even more hopeful about the future of a young politico from Tennessee, Sen. Al Gore, whose pro-life voting record came in at 80-plus percent.

Yes, there was a time when both men were, in the context of the Democratic Party, clearly to the right of center on moral and cultural issues. They weren't "blue dog" Democrats, but they were close.

Things changed.

Now Bill Clinton is creeping back into the news during America's tsunami of headlines -- justified, methinks -- about sexual harassment and worse in Hollywood, inside the DC Beltway and elsewhere. On the cultural and political left, those who are concerned about the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, as well as accusations against one Roy Moore of Alabama, are being asked if they are rethinking their views on former President Clinton. As in this New York Times headline: " 'What About Bill?’ Sexual Misconduct Debate Revives Questions About Clinton."

This is an important story (ditto for this strong online essay at The Atlantic by the always readable Caitlin Flanagan). But as you read it, please see if you sense -- as I do -- the presence of a "religion ghost" (to use the GetReligion term).

You see, Clinton never really repented of his sins -- in legal and political terms. He outlasted his critics, on that front, and survived. Instead, as a progressive Baptist, he did his repenting in religious language that connected with Americans, but had little practical impact. I think that's a crucial element of the story of his survival.

Here is the overture of the New York Times piece:

WASHINGTON -- Another woman went on national television this week to press her case of sexual assault by a powerful figure. But the accused was not Roy S. Moore or Harvey Weinstein or Donald J. Trump. It was Bill Clinton.

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Unitarian parking slots vs. the homeless makes for quirky story in The Seattle Times

Unitarian parking slots vs. the homeless makes for quirky story in The Seattle Times

Just over a week ago, I was complaining about how the massive Seattle Times project on homelessness was not spotlighting the religious element.

I spoke too soon. On Wednesday, a delicious story appeared with a cast of unusual players.

The villains are local Unitarians who are more obsessed with how the local trees are faring than the poor at their door. Everyone involved is all eco-conscious blue-state folks, but in the end, the bottom dollar is the bottom dollar.

Headlined “When do churches stop caring about people more than SUVs?” the story dishes out irony in buckets.

When University Unitarian Church leaders asked their congregation for thoughts on its $17 million renovation of their almost 60-year-old church in Ravenna, the response was mostly typical of a liberal Seattle church.
Will it have all-gender bathrooms? Could it be solar-powered, with electric-car charging stations? Is the new sanctuary ceiling too high, contributing to a corporate, rather than spiritual, feeling during worship?
Only one of the UUs -- a casual term for Unitarian Universalists, whose roots began in Christianity but count many agnostic and atheist churchgoers among their numbers -- asked about a cluster of three cottages on the property, which house 10 formerly homeless people. What would happen to them?
Preserving the houses and bringing them up to code would cost an additional million. Instead, the church will tear them down -- and replace them with 17 parking spots.

The reporter then interviews Brendi London, a resident who suffers from depression and PTSD, who will be displaced by the remodel, then a mental health specialist who tries to find housing for the poor in the city’s skyrocketing housing market. 

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Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

When I started in journalism — back when cavemen and Terry Mattingly roamed the earth — reporters at major newspapers typically didn't write their own headlines.

They'd file their story to an assigning editor, who would give it a first read, ask questions, make revisions and eventually ship it down the line, either to another assigning editor or to the copy desk. It was not unusual for a handful of editors to handle a story — particularly a major one — before it hit the press and landed on readers' driveways before sunup.

The copy desk — often late at night — would check for grammar, spelling and Associated Press style errors. And at some point, a slot editor would place the story on a page with a headline that could be any number of lines and columns, depending on the ads around it.

Before the days of easy fixes online, the copy editors saved reporters from egregious and embarrassing mistakes in smelly black ink. But yes, sometimes, those same editors — under deadline pressure — came up with headlines that were, um, less than representative of what the story actually said.

So a common defense of the writer class to headline fails was: "Reporters don't write their own headlines." In other words, don't blame us!

Is that still true? In the web-first age, do writers still depend on editors to craft their headlines? In some cases, yes. But in general, it varies. So I have no idea who wrote the headline on the USA Today story I want to highlight today.

But I will say this: The newspaper's story on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (click here if you somehow have no idea what I'm talking about) is interesting and informative.

The headline? Not so much:

Same-sex marriage foes stick together despite long odds

Blah.

That's not really what the story is about. 

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How ugly can the Roy Moore story get? That depends on who created 'Bernie Bernstein'

How ugly can the Roy Moore story get? That depends on who created 'Bernie Bernstein'

Deep inside my ancient file cabinets packed with notes from the analog journalism era, there is a folder full of strange letters from readers.

Yes, we're talking pre-email. I still get an actual dead-tree-pulp letter every now and then.

This folder is dedicated to mail that is so strange, so bizarre, that I just can't throw this stuff away. The all-time worst/best latter was an epistle that was about 25 pages long -- typed on a manual typewriter -- describing, in excruciating detail, why biblical prophecies proved that Barbra Streisand is the Antichrist.

That's the first thing I thought about when I read the latest Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction stories out of Alabama. Yes, we're talking about the news coverage of that robocall in which a very non-Southern voice proclaims:

Hi. This is Bernie Bernstein. I’m a reporter for The Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old, willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000. We will not be fully investigating these claims however we will make a written report.

As you would expect, The Washington Post story on this incident is crucial. It's solid, but -- as a guy who lives in the Bible Belt -- it left me wondering about one element of the story. Hold that thought. Here is the top of the Post report:

A pastor in Alabama said he received a voice mail Tuesday from a man falsely claiming to be a reporter with The Washington Post and seeking women “willing to make damaging remarks” about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in exchange for money.
The call came days after The Post reported on allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago, sparking calls by leading Republicans for him to abandon his campaign for the U.S. Senate in a special election to be held Dec. 12.
Pastor Al Moore of Creola, Ala., said he received the call on his cellphone a little after 7 a.m. Tuesday from a private number, which he did not answer.

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