#ChurchToo

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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Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything

Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything

It was in 1981, while I was doing my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that I had a long conversation with the late George Cornell of the Associated Press about the state of mainstream religion-news reporting. Cornell used to say that he was, basically, the AP religion reporter responsible for all of Planet Earth.

That was, I think, the first time I heard him work his way through a list of the wire service's Top 10 stories of a given year, noting that most of them contained some essential news "hook," or set of facts, linked to religion.

Now, Cornell was not claiming that each of these stories was a "religion" story, per se. He was saying that reporters couldn't understand what was happening in these events and trends without taking the religious angles seriously. He didn't say that these stories were "haunted" by "religion ghosts" -- to use the defining image of this weblog -- but that was basically what he meant. I've been thinking about his words for decades.

I remember that he said there were lots of events that were not, in and of themselves, "religion stories." Take, for example, the Roe v. Wade decision at the U.S. Supreme Court. For most editors, that was a "political story." But how could a reporter cover it without talking to  religious leaders and activists, on both sides? Another example: I wrote my Baylor graduate project about "civil religion" themes in the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Note that those were specific events, with complicated backstories. During this week's long "Crossroads" podcast, host Todd Wilken and I went into "extra innings," so to speak, talking about this year's Top 10 religion stories, according to a poll of members of the Religion News Association. Click here to tune that in.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the No. 1 item, which was different in the RNA list and then in my own. Here is the top RNA item.

1. Conservative evangelicals gain strong representation in the Trump administration, notably with Vice President Mike Pence, and on the president's informal religious advisory body. Trump maintains strong grassroots support among white evangelicals, polls show.

Now, for me, Pence was a 2016 story. So was the strong old-guard Religious Right presence in Donald Trump's political base during the GOP primary season. So what was the "big event" linked to that 2016 story that made it the top individual "story" of 2017?

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Blast from the past: Charlotte Observer catches up with Jessica Hahn — yes, THAT Jessica Hahn

Blast from the past: Charlotte Observer catches up with Jessica Hahn — yes, THAT Jessica Hahn

You never forget certain names in the news — even though you may go years without hearing them.

I think of Pat Boone, who was a major celebrity decades ago but — at age 83 — is not nearly as well known to younger Americans. Boone spoke briefly at this year's Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., and joked that a fellow speaker told him, "I know who you are. I thought you died." (In case you're curious about Boone, read the interview I did with him at the RNA meeting.)

Just this week, the death of Cardinal Bernard Law — "the disgraced former archbishop of Boston whose failures to stop child molesters in the priesthood sparked what would become the worst crisis in American Catholicism," as The Associated Press described him — pushed him back into the headlines. Fifteen years ago, of course, Law was at the center of the clergy sex abuse scandal sparked by a Boston Globe investigation. At that time, I was religion editor at The Oklahoman, and I remember covering the June 2002 meeting in Dallas where then-Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating was appointed to lead a national review board charged with monitoring U.S. bishops' new policy on clergy sexual abuse. (Read Julia Duin's post on news coverage of Law's death.)

I've found that readers like "What ever happened to?" stories. They appreciate knowing — months or even years later — how life turned out for a particular newsmaker. We journalists, on the other hand, often neglect to go back and provide such updates. Generally, there is plenty of new news to keep us busy. 

Occasionally, though, reporters find intriguing stories in blasts from the past: A recent one comes courtesy of the Charlotte Observer's veteran religion writer, Tim Funk, who interviewed Jessica Hahn — yes, that Jessica Hahn.

If your response is, "Jessica who?" then you probably also wouldn't recognize a rotary telephone or have any clue about dial-up internet. 

Good news for you: Funk's story does an excellent job of providing historical background and context so that his story makes sense — and would be worth a read — even to those fresh to the story of Hahn and her relationship with disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker. (There's another name that will need no introduction to readers of a certain age. Read Terry Mattingly's 1996 column on Bakker's conspiracy theories.)

At the top of his Hahn story, the Observer writer gets right to the point:

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