Mark Burns

2016 in review: A GetReligionista reflects on his Top 10 most-viewed posts

2016 in review: A GetReligionista reflects on his Top 10 most-viewed posts

Journalists love year-end lists.

It's our way of filling holiday space with content we've already produced so we can focus on more important things, like family, Christmas lights and New Year's celebrations.

Um, just in case my boss is reading this (instead of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" for the umpteenth time), what I meant to say was: "Year in review" lists are a great way to reflect on the past year while thoughtfully looking ahead to the new one. 

I write four posts a week for GetReligion. In a year, that adds up to more than 200 times that I share my critiques of religion news coverage (or lack of coverage) by the mainstream media. 

Since you do me the courtesy of reading my posts and frequently commenting on them — both here on the website and via channels such as Twitter and Facebook — I thought you might be interested in my most-read posts of 2016. 

There's a mix of sports, politics, entertainment, human interest, Godbeat news and culture war stuff among my top 10. And yes, Donald Trump figures in two of the top three posts.

Drum roll, please ...

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Spiritual visions: Behind the scenes of Donald Trump's 'inner circle of evangelical advisors'

Spiritual visions: Behind the scenes of Donald Trump's 'inner circle of evangelical advisors'

I've tended to brush aside Donald Trump's alleged spiritual awakening as political pandering (think "Two Corinthians" controversy).

As a husband and father, I couldn't bring myself to vote for a candidate who bragged about his ability to grab women by the ... well, you know what he said. 

But — now that Trump has been elected as the nation's 45th president — here's a serious question to ponder: Is there any chance that the foul-mouthed, womanizing billionaire really is a "baby Christian" who has embarked on a journey of faith?

That question came to mind as I read Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias' excellent, behind-the-scenes account of Trump's pastoral team on Election Night:

In the dark hours of early Wednesday morning, moments after Donald Trump gave his victory speech to a cheering ballroom in New York, the president-elect paused backstage with Pentecostal pastor Paula White.
With vice-president-elect Mike Pence and their families nearby, White prayed over them, asking God to guide them in wisdom and to protect them in the days ahead. Just days earlier, White was traveling with Trump on his plane when he brought up how Harry Truman surprised everyone by winning against Thomas Dewey in 1948.
Now, Trump prepares to enter the White House after an upset of his own. For White, “God’s hand and purpose in this” is hard to miss—thousands of Christians, she says, joined her in three days of prayer and fasting in anticipation of the outcome. “I haven’t personally seen it since 9/11 when the body has really come together,” she says.

This is just the latest insightful reporting by Dias on the pastors at the center of Trump's campaign.

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Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White

Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White

A new story by Elizabeth Dias, the Time magazine religion and politics correspondent, offers more insight into the friendship between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and televangelist Paula White.

Overall, it's a well-done report, although it sparked a question or two that I'll pose below.

First, let's check out Time's lede:

Donald Trump’s son Eric was glowing when he sat down at a Cleveland restaurant next to Orlando pastor Paula White. “Your prayer did it, Paula,” Eric told her. The younger Trump’s teleprompter had broken the night before as he prepared to address the Republican National Convention. “I thought I was going to have to wing 15 minutes to them all,” he said. “You prayed, and the prompter went back on.”
Eric Trump is not the only member of his family who has come to rely on White, 50, a popular televangelist who believes that intercessory prayer can have an immediate impact on shaping events. After she saw Eric, she went to her room in the Trump campaign’s Cleveland hotel, where she spent the next four hours praying for Donald Trump as he prepared for his prime-time convention address. Then at the candidate’s invitation, she met the Republican nominee, his wife Melania and 10-year old son Barron for another circle of prayer in their room.
“I do remember asking God to give him his words and his mind, and to use him—that it would not be his words but God’s words, that he would just really be sensitive to the Holy Spirit,” White recalled in an interview with TIME weeks later. “I probably [interceded] against any plot or plan or weapon of the enemy to interfere with the plan or the will of God.” That evening, White rode in Trump’s car with his family to the arena.

Keep reading, and the Trump-White story is relatively brief — less than 750 words. That's different from the deep dive that Dias earlier produced on "Donald Trump's Prosperity Preachers." You may recall, too, that I praised the Time writer's profile of Mark Burns ("Meet Donald Trump's Top Pastor") back in July. 

In her previous story, Dias asked White about the prosperity gospel:

Theologically, the belief that God wants people to be rich is controversial. Prosperity preachers often interpret Jesus’ teachings about abundant life in Christ financially, and that has earned them a bad name in many evangelical circles. White says her message is not “all about the money,” but a holistic gospel message of “well-being and opportunity,” which also addresses suffering. “How can you create jobs for people who want to work?” she says. “If you want to call that prosperity, yes, I believe in prosperity.”

For more insight on that angle, see former Time religion correspondent Richard Ostling's excellent GetReligion post from July on "The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

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Who is Mark Burns? Prosperity gospel takes center stage at Republican National Convention

Who is Mark Burns? Prosperity gospel takes center stage at Republican National Convention

Who is the Rev. Mark Burns?

That's what some may be wondering after the South Carolina pastor's prayer caused a minor kerfuffle on the opening night of the Republican National Convention (as opposed to the major social media storm over apparent plagiarism in Melania Trump's speech).

Plenty of folks, on the left and right, were not amused by what Burns had to say.

Here's a hint for journalists: When delving into Trump's faith, it seems, the prosperity gospel is an appropriate place to start. That is not exactly breaking news. Nonetheless, it's certainly a relevant, timely topic for journalists to explore. Especially when it comes to Burns. So what happened in the coverage in this prayer mini-firestorm?

A personal note: I was not familiar with Burns until he stepped to the podium of a Donald Trump rally that I covered earlier this year for The Christian Chronicle:

As thousands welcomed Trump to the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Friday, an African-American pastor named Mark Burns -- who preaches for the Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, S.C. -- led an opening prayer.

Burns assured the crowd that Trump believes in Jesus Christ and said -- with his election -- “Christians will again have a friend in the White House.”

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