A Bible Belt mayor, an extramarital affair and a newspaper savvy enough to cover the religion angle

A Bible Belt mayor, an extramarital affair and a newspaper savvy enough to cover the religion angle

When the dateline on a news story is Nashville, Tenn., there isn't always a religion angle.

But almost always?

Yes, that's a pretty safe statement. At least was the case during the year I spent in that Bible Belt state capital, covering faith and politics for The Associated Press.

In late 2015, I praised The Tennessean's decision to hire a full-time religion writer — Holly Meyer — after eliminating the position when veteran journalist Bob Smietana left the paper in 2013. In my post two years ago, I proclaimed:

The prodigal Godbeat has come home to Music City!

The USA Today Network publication's investment in Meyer and religion journalism expertise keeps paying dividends. The most recent example came last week after Nashville Mayor Megan Barry confessed to an extramarital affair.

Way up high in the initial main news story on Barry's affair, quotes attributed to the mayor hinted strongly at holy ghosts:

Mayor Megan Barry said Wednesday she had an extramarital affair with the police officer in charge of her security detail, an extraordinary admission that rocks the popular Nashville mayor's first term.
Barry, in an interview with The Tennessean on Wednesday afternoon, apologized "for the harm I've done to the people I love and the people who counted on me" but said she won't be resigning. 
She confirmed the affair with Metro police Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr., which began in the spring or summer of 2016, just months after she entered office the previous fall. Forrest submitted his retirement papers Jan. 17. His final day was Wednesday. 
"We had an affair, and it was wrong, and we shouldn't have done it," Barry, a Democrat, said, looking down as she spoke softly and slowly. "He was part of my security detail, and as part of that responsibility, I should have gone to the (police) chief, and I should have said what was going on, and that was a mistake.
"People that we admire can also be flawed humans, and I'm flawed, and I'm incredibly sad and sorry for the disappointment that I will see in those little girls' faces. But, what I hope they can also see is that people make mistakes, and you move on from those."

But just a bit later in the story — directly from the mayor's mouth — came this direct reference to the Almighty:

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Washington Post digs into the nitty-gritty of how the Amish offered forgiveness

Washington Post digs into the nitty-gritty of how the Amish offered forgiveness

For those with long memories, Oct. 2 was the 10th anniversary of the massacre of several Amish school children in Lancaster County, Pa.

Lots of news outlets did anniversary stories about the event. As I’ve scanned a few of them, I noticed the Washington Post interview with Terri Roberts, mother of the man who murdered five girls and injured five more.

What I noticed was how the reporter got access to survivors –- and their parents –- that I hadn’t seen other mainstream reporters get. Unless you have major contacts inside such a community, first-person interviews with the Amish are notoriously tough to find.

Yet, here were several such interviews, all on the theme of how do the major players of such a drama deal with each other when the son of one of them has done the unforgivable?

NICKEL MINES, Pa. — A single word in black cursive font hangs above a large double-pane window in Terri Roberts’s sun room. It says “Forgiven.”
The word -- and the room itself, a gift built by her Amish neighbors just months after the unimaginable occurred -- is a daily reminder of all that she’s lost and all that she’s gained these past 10 years.
The simple, quiet rural life she knew shattered on Oct. 2, 2006, when her oldest son, Charles Carl Roberts IV, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse on a clear, unseasonably warm Monday morning. The 32-year-old husband and father of three young children ordered the boys and adults to leave, tied up 10 little girls between the ages of 6 and 13 and shot them, killing five and injuring the others, before killing himself.

The story of how the Amish gathered around the Roberts family is well known. But what happened after that?

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Stephen Glass confesses in The New Republic: Sin, penance and a search for redemption?

Stephen Glass confesses in The New Republic: Sin, penance and a search for redemption?

During a graduate-school readings class on trends in 20th Century Judaism, I was asked to read Simon Wiesenthal's classic book, "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness." Here is the Amazon description of this amazing and unforgettable book:

While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS. Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to -- and obtain absolution from -- a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing.  But even years after the way had ended, he wondered: Had he done the right thing? 

After the actually telling of this real-life parable, the book offers a large collection of short essays in which Jewish and Christian ethicists and theologians discuss that haunting question. With a few exceptions, the Christians say that -- after the soldier's repentance -- Wiesenthal should have offered words of comfort, if not forgiveness. Most Jewish thinkers -- citing the tradition that forgiveness should be granted by victims, alone -- support Wiesenthal's silence.

This brings me to Hanna Rosin's 6,000-word piece in The New Republic about her encounter with Stephen Glass, the former journalist whose faked stories (see the movie "Shattered Glass") sparked a crisis that threatened the magazine's future. This story, as you would imagine, has been the subject of a tsunami of water-cooler chatter here in Beltway land.

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Two forgiveness stories that are worth your time

Forgiveness has been making a lot of headlines lately, at least it seems to me. Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the evil committed by priests who molested children (for more insight, see George Conger’s post Wednesday). A Louisiana congressman who campaigned on a Christian family values platform requested forgiveness for an extramarital affair.

In Texas, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist found “one of the most moving accounts of forgiveness” ever involving a severely wounded victim of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage. In California, the Contra Costa Times reported on the “power of forgiveness” by a burned Oakland teen’s mother.

But I wanted to call special attention to two recent stories on forgiveness.

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Politics, sin and serious reporting in La. bayou country

As I’ve shared before, I spent a few years of my early childhood in West Monroe, La., where my dad attended the White’s Ferry Road School of Preaching. That now-defunct school was operated by the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, now known nationally as the home congregation of the Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame. Through my work with The Christian Chronicle, I remain in touch with a number of White’s Ferry Road church leaders and members.

Given my personal connection, national news out of Louisiana bayou country tends to catch my attention. The latest headlines involve Congressman Vance McAllister, who ran on a Christian family values platform but got caught in a compromising video with a woman who is not his wife. (I met McAllister’s predecessor, Rodney Alexander, several years ago when he caught a ride on a private plane that the White’s Ferry Road church’s disaster relief ministry chartered to assess Hurricane Katrina damages.)

The brouhaha over McAllister prompted this Facebook post by my good friend John Dobbs, who preaches for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La., across the Ouachita River from West Monroe:

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Media obsession dangers: Pope and gay priests edition

Ermagerd, everybody! The Pope has renounced all church teaching on everything! Stop the presses! Start them again! Freak out!

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