Baylor University

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

Once upon a time, I was an expert on life in Waco, Texas. I spent six years there in the 1970s — doing two degrees at Baylor University — and have had family ties to Jerusalem on the Brazos for decades, some of which are as strong than ever.

The Waco I knew didn’t have lots of civic pride. For many people, things went up and down with the state of affairs at Baylor. Even the great Willie Nelson — who frequently played in a Waco salon back then — had Baylor ties. And talking about Baylor means talking about Baptists. We used to joke that there were more Baptists in Waco than there were people. We had normal Baptists, conservative Baptists, “moderate” Baptists and even a few truly liberal Baptists. Welcome to Waco.

This old Waco had a dark side — a tragic, but normal, state of things in light of America’s history with race and poverty. Many of the locals were brutally honest about that. And in recent decades, Waco has had tons of bad luck, media-wise. Say “Waco” and people think — you know what.

As you would imagine, the fact that Waco is now one of the Sunbelt’s hottest tourism zones cracks me up. But that’s the starting point for a long, long BuzzFeed feature that I have been mulling over for some time. Here’s the epic double-decker headline:

”Fiixer Upper” Is Over, But Waco’s Transformation Is Just Beginning.

HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines helped convert a sleepy Texas town into a tourist mecca. But not everyone agrees on what Waco’s “restoration” should look like.

There is an important, newsworthy, piece of news writing buried inside this sprawling, first-person “reader” by BuzzFeed scribe Anne Helen Petersen. It’s kind of hard to find, since the piece keeps getting interrupted by chunks of material that could have been broken out into “sidebars,” distinct wings of the main house.

Here’s the key question: Is this story about Chip and Joanna Gaines and their Magnolia empire — the hook for all that tourism — or is it about Antioch Community Church and how its evangelical, missionary mindset has shaped efforts to “reform,” “reboot” or “restore” distressed corners of Waco?

The answer, of course, is “both.” That creates problems, since there are so many elements of the “good” Waco news that clash with BuzzFeed’s worldview. Thus, the goal here is to portray (a) the shallow, kitschy aspects of Waco’s current happiness before revealing (b) the dark side of this evangelical success story.

This vast, multilayered feature is built, of course, built on Peterson’s outsider status and her contacts with former — “former,” as in alienated — members of the Antioch-Gaines world. There’s no need to engage with the views of key people who are at the heart of these restoration efforts because, well, this is BuzzFeed, a newsroom with this crucial “ethics” clause in its newsroom stylebook:

We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women's rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides. 

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Death outside Waco: Did Mount Carmel believers die because the experts didn't get religion?

Death outside Waco: Did Mount Carmel believers die because the experts didn't get religion?

The subject of the class at Baylor University was contemporary movements in American religious life. On this particular day, the subject under discussion -- with the help of a guest speaker -- was debates about the meaning of the hot-button word "cult."

I was taking the class as part of my master's degree studies during the late 1970s in Baylor's unique church-state studies program, an interdisciplinary program build on studies in history, theology, political science and law. This particular class was important, since legal disputes about new religious movements have helped define the boundaries of religious tolerance in our culture.

To paraphrase one of my professors: Lots of people with whom you would not necessarily want to have dinner have helped defend your religious freedom. True tolerance is almost always tense.

The speaker in our class that day was a soft-spoken leader in a ground that would become infamous more than a decade later -- the Branch Davidians. His name was Perry Jones and it would be another five years or so until a young guitar player and Bible-study savant named Vernon Howell would arrive at the group's 77-acre Mount Carmel headquarters. Howell, of course, would change his name to David Koresh. Jones' daughter Rachel married Koresh, who would eventually become a polygamist.

The main thing I remember about listening to Jones that day, and talking to him after class, was his consistent emphasis on pacifism and biblical prophecies about the End Times -- remaining doctrinal ties back to Seventh-day Adventism, the movement from which the Davidians split decades earlier.

Why share this information? Well, this was the rather personal frame around the contents of my On Religion column this past week and the "Crossroads" podcast that followed. (Click here to tune that in.)

Both focused on religious issues -- in journalism and public life -- addressed in the six-part Paramount Network miniseries called "Waco," which will run through the end of this month.

It was, to say the least, rather haunting to see Perry Jones fatally wounded in the dramatic recreation of the first moments of the two-hour gunfight on Feb. 28, 1993 that opened the 51-day siege outside Waco by an army of federal agents. The hellish fire that ended it all -- its cause remains the subject of fierce debates -- claimed the lives of 76 men, women and children.

Were the Branch Davidians truly a "cult"?

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Chicago Tribune reporting on Wheaton College hazing incident seems solid, but pay close attention

Chicago Tribune reporting on Wheaton College hazing incident seems solid, but pay close attention

Infuriating.

That's the only way to describe the reported circumstances of a hazing incident involving football players at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical college in the Chicago area.

I say "reported circumstances" because we don't know all the facts at this point.

But what do know makes one's blood boil: Let's start at the top of the Chicago Tribune's front-page story, which seems extremely solid:

Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.
A DuPage County judge signed arrest warrants and set $50,000 bonds against the players — James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, Noah Spielman and Samuel TeBos — late Monday afternoon. Prosecutors charged the athletes with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.
They are expected to turn themselves in to authorities this week.

Keep reading, and here is the part that doesn't make sense to me: The accused are still playing — or have been playing — football for Wheaton:

The victim, who the Tribune is not naming, left the conservative Christian school shortly after the incident and now attends college in Indiana.
"This has had a devastating effect on my life," he said in a statement to the Tribune. "What was done to me should never occur in connection with a football program or any other activity. ... I am confident that the criminal prosecution will provide a fair and just punishment to the men who attacked me."
The college released a statement late Monday saying it was "deeply troubled" by the allegations because it strives to provide an educational environment free from hazing and reflective of the school's religious values. The school said it hired a third party to investigate the allegation last year and took "corrective actions," but officials declined to provide details on any punishment, citing federal privacy laws.
Sources told the Tribune that several players were required to perform 50 hours of community service and write an eight-page essay reflecting on their behavior.

Over at the American Conservative, Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher opines:

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#RNA2017: Religion journalists gather in Music City — and GetReligion is on the scene

#RNA2017: Religion journalists gather in Music City — and GetReligion is on the scene

If you're not following it already, here's a Twitter hashtag for you: #RNA2017.

The Religion News Association's 68th annual conference is underway is Music City — Nashville, Tenn. — and two GetReligionistas (Julia Duin and I) will be on the scene.

At the conference this morning, a new survey on U.S. religion was released by Baylor University. Both Religion News Service's Adelle M. Banks and The Tennessean's Holly Meyer had quick stories on the embargoed findings.

Here is the RNS lede:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — Americans who voted for President Trump are often very religious, believe in an authoritative God and hold traditional views about gender.
A new Baylor Religion Survey also found that Trump supporters are more likely than other voters to see Muslims as threats to America and to view the nation as a Christian one.
Almost three-quarters of Trump voters said Islam is a threat, compared with 18 percent of those who voted for Hillary Clinton. An even higher percentage — 81 percent — of Trump voters strongly agreed that Middle East refugees are a terror threat, compared with 12 percent of Clinton voters.
“Today, divisions in the American public are stark,” said Paul Froese, a Baylor University sociology professor and director of Baylor Religion Surveys. “We can trace many of our deep differences to how people understand traditional morality, theology and the purpose of our nation.”

And from The Tennessean:

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Conservative, moderate, liberal: A few more thoughts on Baylor, Baptists and theological labels

Conservative, moderate, liberal: A few more thoughts on Baylor, Baptists and theological labels

In my post Thursday, I delved into the religious background of Baylor University's first female president — a Baptist supportive of female senior pastors.

In that post, I noted that the Dallas Morning Newsin a front-page story — referred to Baylor as a "conservative Baptist school."

I wrote:

I'm not certain that "conservative Baptist" is the best description for Baylor, particularly in Texas. Longtime observers know that Baylor in the 1990s "survived a fierce struggle between conservatives and moderates at the Southern Baptist Convention." As Christianity Today notes, Baylor maintains a relationship with the moderate (in Baptist terms) Baptist General Convention of Texas, which "selects a quarter of Baylor’s board of regents and provides a sliver of its annual operating budget."

I also suggested that describing Baylor as "conservative" was questionable given its hiring of a president, Linda Livingstone, who has attended churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF, I said, "includes progressive Southern Baptist and former Southern Baptist congregations."

My post drew some excellent feedback from two longtime observers of Texas Baptists — and I wanted to highlight their insight in this follow-up post.

The first comment came from Jeffrey Weiss, the former award-winning Godbeat pro for the Dallas Morning News. Given that Weiss is in the midst of a cancer battle about which he has written eloquently for his own newspaper and Religion News Service, I was especially grateful to hear from him.

Here is what Weiss said:

I would gently suggest that BGCT remains "conservative" if one need not be extreme to justify the word. CBF is a different story, however. Fascinating!

I always appreciate gentle comments from faithful readers. Many thanks, kind sir!

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Baylor again has a Baptist president — its first female head — and other relevant details on her hiring

Baylor again has a Baptist president — its first female head — and other relevant details on her hiring

By now, you probably heard that scandal-plagued Baylor University has hired a new presidentits first female one.

The lede from the Dallas Morning News' front-page report:

Baylor University has hired its first woman president in its 172-year history, the university announced Tuesday, as the school works to recover from its long-running sexual assault scandal.
Linda Livingstone, the dean of George Washington University’s business school and a former faculty member at Baylor, was the unanimous choice of the university’s regents, the school said.
She will begin June 1.
Livingstone steps in to steer the university after a sexual assault crisis led to the ousting of her predecessor last May. Baylor parted ways with university president Ken Starr, as well as the football coach and the athletic director, in a sweeping reaction to the school’s botched handling of rapes and other attacks, including those by football players.

Obviously, Baylor's decision to hire a woman to deal with its ongoing rape scandal is the major news development.

But GetReligion readers no doubt are interested in specific religious details concerning the new leader of "the world's largest Baptist university" — as the news media and Baylor itself often refer to the Waco, Texas, institution.

Such details are scattered throughout the secular newspaper and Christian media reports that we scanned. When put together, those accounts begin to paint a portrait of Livingstone's faith background.

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Another chapter in the tragic story of sin and scandal at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university

Another chapter in the tragic story of sin and scandal at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university

You can't buy the kind of front-page publicity the New York Times gave Baylor University the other day.

Honestly, you wouldn't want to.

This was the Page 1 headline Friday as the national newspaper added another, in-depth chapter to the sad story of sin and scandal at the world's largest Baptist university: "Baylor's Pride Turns to Shame in Rape Scandal."

The New York Times focuses on one rape victim while providing a detailed overview of the string of sexual assault cases involving Baylor football players that have made national headlines for months. 

Before discussing the recent coverage, I'll remind readers of GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly's past posts on the scandal at his Waco, Texas, alma mater. Our own tmatt (who as a student journalist in the 1970s was involved in student-newspaper coverage of issues linked to sexual assaults) expounded last year on what he describes as "the 'double whammy' facing Baylor (with good cause)": 

First, there is a solid religion angle here as the Baylor Regents try to defend their school, while repenting at the same time. Does Baylor want to live out its own moral doctrines? ...
Then there will be sports reporters covering the Baylor crisis and the complicated sexual-assault issues [that NCAA officials are said to be probing] on those 200 or so other campuses. I am sure (not) that the sports czars at other schools never blur the line between campus discipline and the work of local police. Perhaps some other schools are struggling to provide justice for women, while striving to allow the accused to retain their legal rights (while also remembering that a sports scholarship is a very real benefit linked to a contract)?

In a related post, tmatt delved into this key question:

Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

My own limited, personal experience with Baylor came in 2003 during my time with The Associated Press in Dallas. For a few months, it seemed like I spent half my life driving back and forth on Interstate 35 as I covered the slaying of 21-year-old basketball player Patrick Dennehy and the ensuing disclosure of major NCAA violations in Baylor's basketball program.

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Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

How many barrels of printer’s ink (it's a metaphor these days) have been expended on the rise of the “nones,” Americans who tell pollsters they have no religious identification?

The following material may not be worth a story in itself, but provides perspective as reporters continue to interpret this important phenomenon. What are the patterns that suggest where this story came from and, thus, where it might be going next?

Pew Research surveys show “nones” have increased from 16 percent of American adults in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014, and are fully a third of young adults. (Young adults have always drifted away from religion, so the significant point is indications they’re not returning as they mature.)

Writing in the conversation.com, University of Southern California sociologist Richard Flory advises us that, first, “nones” are a mishmash of very different types and, second, most aren’t really anti-religion and often reflect certain religious traits. Those who call themselves flat-out atheists who reject gods and the supernatural, or devout agnostics, are very small segments.

From ongoing research by USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Flory sees such variants as the familiar “spiritual but not religious,” marginally interested non-attenders, occasional attenders, those generally open to the supernatural but uninvolved, and those vaguely spiritual but not devoted to any specific content.

We get much the same from Philip Jenkins of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, in a patheos.com blog written by historians.

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The Big 12 hits stop button on expansion: So ESPN avoids faith issue in new coverage?

The Big 12 hits stop button on expansion: So ESPN avoids faith issue in new coverage?

I grew up in Texas during the glory days of the old Southwest Conference (which was a pretty tough time to be a Baylor University fan, until the legendary Grant Teaff came along). Thus, even though I live in the heart of SEC Country, I still pay close attention to what is happening over in the Big 12 (yes, which currently has 10 members).

At the moment -- in terms of journalism -- there is much more to Big 12 gazing than watching football. Yes, there is a religion-news hook here. The question of whether the Big 12 will add new members to get back to 12 has turned, in part, into yet another battle between LGBTQ activists and allies of traditional religious groups.

Notice that I did not say this is a religious-liberty conflict.

The Big 12 is, of course, not a government agency. We are talking about a private, voluntary association of schools and, thus, the conference's leaders are pretty much free to create and tweak their membership requirements whenever and however they choose to do so. Voluntary associations -- left and right -- can define their own rules and, well, doctrines.

This brings us to the Big 12 candidacy of Brigham Young University and, in the long run, it's easy to see questions being raised about the Big 12 status of charter-member Baylor. Yes, this is another story linked to religious private schools having the right to promote and even protect the religious doctrines on which they were founded. Hold that thought.

As always, if is good to pay close attention to the ESPN coverage of this controversy. It's significant that the BYU controversy received zero ink in the most recent report on the Big 12 decision not to expand. Here is the key material from the top of that report:

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