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Falwell Jr., Liberty University share GetReligion's post on Politico story — but did they actually read it?

Falwell Jr., Liberty University share GetReligion's post on Politico story — but did they actually read it?

Another bizarre twist in the Jerry Falwell Jr. story came Tuesday when the Liberty University president accused former board members and employees of an “attempted coup.”

That claim came a day after a long, negative Politico piece on Falwell quoted two dozen anonymous sources characterized as “current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell.”

How bad are things for Falwell and Liberty?

Well, both of their official Twitter accounts tweeted my GetReligion post from Monday in which I declared, “Sorry, but Politico's long exposé on Jerry Falwell Jr. lacks adequate named sources to be taken seriously.”

If you missed that post, you really should read it before finishing this one. What I am about to say will make much more sense with that background in mind. Also, that post has generated a lot of good discussion along with a few typical troll comments from people who obviously didn’t take time to read what I wrote.

Of course, a few folks on Twitter (here and here, for example) asked if Falwell and Liberty actually read what I wrote.

After all, my post was no fan letter to Falwell.

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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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CNN clarifies a piece of Catholic dogma: Getting the Immaculate Conception details right

CNN clarifies a piece of Catholic dogma: Getting the Immaculate Conception details right

If you look up the word "conception" in a dictionary, it's not all that hard to understand.

At Dictionary.com, the first definition is: "the act of conceiving; the state of being conceived." The second meaning is, "fertilization; inception of pregnancy."

On the religion beat, this is -- #DUH -- a crucial thing to remember when covering anyone who makes a reference to the Catholic Church's doctrine known as the Immaculate Conception (click here for the Catechism explanation). The key Catechism concept:

Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854

For some reason, many mainstream journalists -- those who are not skilled religion-beat pros -- tend to confuse the Immaculate Conception of Mary with the doctrine proclaiming the Virgin Birth of Jesus, which is affirmed by all creedal Christians. This can show up in all kinds of bizarre references in news coverage (click here for a classic M.Z. Hemingway GetReligion post from 2013).

This leads us to in interesting twist on this topic, a clip in which CNN's Chris Cuomo gets to read the doctrinal riot act to Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who served up a strong early nominee for the most bizarre religion image of the year.

Things get weird as Gaetz offers a "Deep State" theory about professionals inside the U.S. government who are trying to take down Donald Trump. Yes, we are talking about those five months of missing text messages between two big-league Trump haters. The CNN piece notes that Gaetz said, on Fox News:

"It would be the greatest coincidence since the Immaculate Conception that it just happened to be the case that right after Obama sics the intelligence community on Trump, the text messages go dark, and they only reappear the day that Robert Mueller is hired to investigate the President. Come on, the American people won't believe that's a coincidence, and I don't believe it, either."

Then on "Cuomo Prime Time," there was the following.

Let us attend.

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In Comey's America, a news boomlet for the political theology of Reinhold Niebuhr

In Comey's America, a news boomlet for the political theology of Reinhold Niebuhr

The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations have scumbled long-standing visions of America's role in the world. During times past, the then-regnant “mainline” Protestantism might have addressed matters, but its intellectual impact has eroded. Are any resources from this or other segments of American religion equipped to provide moral guidance on foreign policy for such a confusing time?

 That’s a big fat story theme, which brings us to the current boomlet to reclaim the “Christian realism” of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Niebuhr was deemed the nation’s “greatest living political philosopher” by his ally Hans Morgenthau, a noted foreign policy analyst. In more recent times, Niebuhr has been lauded by former Democratic Presidents Obama and Jimmy Carter.

Yet, surprisingly for a theological liberal and longtime Socialist, Niebuhr also has moderate and conservative disciples. Jack Jenkins proposed in a May 18 ThinkProgress piece that President Trump’s “greatest ‘conservative’ opponent may turn out to be” Niebuhr. Others utter hosannas in a Niebuhr documentary premiered in January at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, where he taught for 32 years.   

Another fan, of all people, is the hyper-newsworthy James Comey, late of the FBI, who mentioned this to New York Magazine years ago. In March, Ashley Feinberg of gizmodo.com even unmasked Comey as a Twitter user under Niebuhr’s name. The Comey angle is fleshed out in “The F.B.I. and Religion,” co-edited by Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman (University of California Press) and in a May 19 Weitzman article for Christianity Today.

Comey’s 1982 senior thesis at William and Mary compared the Reverend Niebuhr’s political theology favorably over against that of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of the conservative Moral Majority. Both men cited Scripture and advocated Christian political involvement, Comey observed, but Niebuhr always recognized the ambiguities and shunned “America-first” fulminations.  

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Some crucial faith facts, in New York Times report on the young ISIS honeymooners

Some crucial faith facts, in New York Times report on the young ISIS honeymooners

When telling stories involving people motivated by faith, it is crucial for readers to be able to hear the voices of these individuals describing their beliefs and motivations. But what happens when it is either impossible to interview the key people, perhaps for legal reasons, or they have no intention of answering questions from journalists or anyone else?

This is where the Internet and, especially, forums linked to social media have become so important in this day and age. You can see how this works in a recent New York Times story, which centers on the latest shocking tale of young people from the American heartland who have been arrested while trying to flee the evils of America to join the Islamic state.

The story, this time, unfolds in Starkville, Miss., a university town in which the locals, as the Times team states in classic elite mode, "tend to be proud of Starkville’s relative tolerance." The key players are Muhammad Dakhlalla, a young man from an outgoing, community oriented Muslim family known as "a walking advertisement for Islam as a religion of tolerance and peace." His fiancé, 19-year-old Jaelyn Young, is an honor student, a cheerleader and a  recent convert to Islam. The two tried to marry as Muslims, but her father refused to grant his permission. Their plan was to say they were flying to Turkey on their honeymoon.

Obviously, legal authorities have been following their activities via email and social media. That leads to this brief, but revealing, exchange:

Ms. Young, who three years ago was broadcasting silly jokes on Twitter and singing the praises of the R&B singer Miguel, had more recently professed a desire to join the Islamic State, according to an F.B.I. agent’s affidavit in support of a criminal complaint. On July 17, the day after a young Muslim man in Chattanooga, Tenn., fatally shot five United States servicemen, Ms. Young rejoiced, the affidavit alleges, in an online message to an F.B.I. agent posing as a supporter of the Islamic State.
“Alhamdulillah,” she wrote, using the Arabic word of praise to God, “the numbers of supporters are growing.”

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An ultra-Orthodox case that is anything but

So said Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Joseph Gribko in a story that USA Today published Friday regarding a divorce sting.

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Got news? Mother Jones on ghosts in FBI's Hasan probe

Your GetReligionistas normally do not spend much time looking at ideological media outlets, such as National Review or Mother Jones.

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