Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Denhollander’s memoir on vast gymnastics scandal is a landmark for religion as well as athletics

Denhollander’s memoir on vast gymnastics scandal is a landmark for religion as well as athletics

Countless books have landed on The Religion Guy’s desk over decades and rarely has he cited one as a “must read” or “book of the year.”

But such descriptions are appropriate for Rachael Denhollander’s candid memoir “What Is a Girl Worth?” about exposing the vast sexual-abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. The evangelical Tyndale House issues her book on Sept. 10 alongside a four-session study guide, and the author’s non-salacious “How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?” for young readers.

Attorney Denhollander, the first person to publicly lodge accusations against MSU athletics osteopath Larry Nassar, has a unique status. She is a heroine named among Time’s 100 Most Influential People, Glamour’s Women of the Year, recipients of ESPN’s Courage Award and Sports Illustrated’s Inspiration of the Year. At the same time, she’s the wife of a doctoral student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, while raising four young children and she uses her hard-won celebrity to present Christian truth.

An account of the worst sex-abuse case in its history is obviously a landmark for U.S. sports, but this is also a vitally important story for religion writers, and most certainly for Denhollander’s fellow evangelical Protestants, who are now following Catholicism in stumbling through #MeToo crises. (Along the way, journalists will relish the inside account of her byplay with investigative reporters and the media horde.)

Denhollander alone bravely lodged public accusations against predator Nassar, a big shot in gymnastics. Eventually, he faced 332 accusers of all ages including Olympic superstars, the Feds unearthed his stash of 37,000 child pornography files and he was sent to prison for life. MSU was forced to pay $500 million in damages, but any USA Gymnastics payout is problematic because it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

What’s vitally important in this sordid narrative is helping readers comprehend the severe psychological damage that sexual abuse creates in the victims. “It follows you. It changes you forever.” And then why, like Denhollander, victims often raise protests long after the incidents, or never raise them at all. They feel nobody will believe them, and for good reason. And they fear the cost that will be paid by the accuser. For Denhollander, that cost was enormous.

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Theology of Baptist seminary's lament: Slavery is the headline, but a few media reports mention sin

Theology of Baptist seminary's lament: Slavery is the headline, but a few media reports mention sin

In inside-the-Beltway speak, by releasing an extensive report on its racist past, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., decided to “hang a lantern” on its problem. (It’s a term that readers of Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” will understand.)

In other words, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s oldest educational institution, wanted part of the story to be about how blunt and candid the seminary was in acknowledging its historic sins.

The basic point is that when something is really bad, you want to be the person who tells the public that it's really bad. 

Mohler did that Wednesday in releasing a report that has drawn — and rightly so — extensive national media coverage.

The lede from the New York Times:

The first and oldest educational institution of the Southern Baptist Convention disclosed in a report Wednesday that its four founders together owned more than 50 slaves, part of a reckoning over racism in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The 71-page report released by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a recitation of decades of bigotry, directed first at African slaves and later at African-Americans. Beginning with the founding of the seminary in Greenville, S.C., in 1859, the report found that the school, with few exceptions, backed a white supremacist ideology.

“The moral burden of history requires a more direct and far more candid acknowledgment of the legacy of this school in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy,” wrote R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the seminary, which is now in Louisville, Ky.

Over at the American Conservative, blogger Rod Dreher praised Mohler for the release of the report:

I have an immense amount of respect for Albert Mohler and the institution he leads, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for having commissioned a hard-hitting report looking into the seminary’s racist past. This is a profoundly Christian act of historical reflection and repentance. Read the report and Mohler’s cover letter here. 

But the Times’ coverage — like that of most other mainstream news reports that I saw — lacked any mention of the theological angle.

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Attention media folks: That White House PR event upset many on Southern Baptist right

Attention media folks: That White House PR event upset many on Southern Baptist right

To understand what's happening at the top of the Southern Baptist Convention these days, you really have to be willing to believe that, in the end, many religious believers truly believe that religious doctrine matters more than partisan politics.

Yes, I know. The headlines insist otherwise. Headlines tend to increase a few picas in size the minute the word "evangelicals" gets connected to the words "Donald Trump."

Here's a case in point. This past week, The New York Times basically ignored the dramatic national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention -- with lots of developments linked to women and Baptists of color -- until it was possible to write a story with this headline: "Pence Reaches Out to Evangelicals. Not All of Them Reach Back."

But, hey, at least that one story did make an important point: One of the crucial tensions inside this particular SBC gathering was between clashing camps of solid "evangelicals." Actually, lots of people on both sides of that SBC debate about the Pence appearance would, under other circumstances, be called "fundamentalists" in the sacred pages of the Times.

This brings me to this weekend's think piece, which was written by Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of the 9Marks Journal and an active leader at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of a new book entitled, "How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age."

The headline: "Truth, Power, and Pence at the SBC." Here's how this essay opens: 

I’m sitting here at the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier today Vice President Mike Pence addressed the convention. We were told he initiated the offer to speak. I wish we had not accepted.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m grateful to God for our nation. I want him to bless it. But here’s a question for my fellow Southern Baptists and evangelicals more broadly: can you name a place in the Bible where God sends a ruler of a (non-Israelite) nation to speak to God’s people? Is the pattern not just the opposite?

Now, what's this all about? Is it a missive from a "moderate" (which means "liberal," in current SBC speak) at an urban church in a blue-zip DC zip code within shouting distance of the Capitol dome? 

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RNS wonders why more people are avoiding the MDiv degree in U.S. seminaries

RNS wonders why more people are avoiding the MDiv degree in U.S. seminaries

There was a fascinating piece by Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service last week about how more people in seminary are opting for two-year master’s degrees instead of three-year master’s of divinity degrees.

To most people, this may sound like an ecclesiastical yawner but stay with me. There’s some really interesting trends in there, trends that have been building up since the 1980s and the rise of pastoral counseling.

Back in 1992, I got a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry, one of 11 Episcopal seminaries. I always felt the seminary favored the MDiv folks, while we MA students were definitely second class. This was beyond annoying in that the MA'ers were paying the same tuition amounts per year as the MDiv’ers.

But the three-year degree folks were seen as the real reason a seminary exists -- to get people into positions as priests and bishops in our denomination. The master’s degree earners were all laity whose callings weren’t held in the same esteem. So I was surprised to hear RNS saying that the MA degree is actually preferred these days.

This excerpt starts a few paragraphs into the article:

The gold standard for church leaders -- the Master of Divinity -- is losing some of its luster to its humbler cousin, the two-year Master of Arts.

“People are trying to get the training they need and get out,” said (Sean) Robinson, 28, who graduated Friday (May 11) from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It all boils down to time and convenience and the culture and lifestyle we see today.

A new projection from the Association of Theological Schools, the main accrediting body for seminaries in the U.S. and Canada, finds that the number of seminary students enrolled in various Master of Arts degrees will likely exceed the number of Master of Divinity students by 2021.

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About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

Suffice it to say, I received more than a few emails yesterday asking for my reaction to yesterday's Washington Post story by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey that ran under this long, detailed, dramatic headline: "Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job? Churches threaten to pull funds after months of Trump controversy."

One email late last night, which I will decline to share, offered a 500-word plus dissection of the whole piece focusing on this question that many others were asking: Was it accurate to say that the Rev. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, "indicated" that he was prepared to ask Moore -- the denomination's high-profile point man in Washington, D.C. -- to resign on Monday?

As you would imagine, this quickly morphed into discussions of whether Moore -- a consistent #AntiTrump #AntiHillary voice during the madness of 2016 -- was going to be fired.

Out of all of his blunt quotes about Trump, and there are many, here is one from an op-ed in The New York Times that I think expresses what Moore was consistently saying:

Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.

As you would imagine (and I say this as someone who was openly #AntiTrump #AntiHillary), more than a few people in Southern Baptist circles argued -- in public and behind the scenes -- that Moore's opposition to Trump was the same thing as offering support to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

This brings us to the overture of Bailey's much circulated story, a story that was updated with quite a bit of new material on Monday evening.

Concern is mounting among evangelicals that Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, could lose his job following months of backlash over his critiques of President Trump and religious leaders who publicly supported the Republican candidate. Any such move could be explosive for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which has been divided over politics, theology and, perhaps most starkly, race.

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Words to think about: Al Mohler asks who has the power to define 'truth' in this media age

Words to think about: Al Mohler asks who has the power to define 'truth' in this media age

During the days since The Washington Post published religion-beat pro Sarah Pulliam Bailey's much discussed essay, "Evangelicals, your attacks on ‘the media’ are getting dangerous," several readers have sent us links to published responses online.

I have declined to post several of them because I don't want to point readers toward often nasty, straw-men attacks on (a) the skills, and even the Christian faith, of a highly talented and respected former colleague and (b) my own profession as a mainstream-media journalist.

Obviously, GetReligion is known for taking shots at organizations in the mainstream media that, as we say, "just don't get religion" (Hello Dean Baquet). There is a difference, however, between attacking, and documenting, case-studies of media abuse and simply saying (to wax theological for a moment) that an entire profession/vocation is Satanic, somehow, and certainly not part of God's good creation.

One of my few criticisms of Sarah's essay here at GetReligion was that I thought it was a bit soft on the fact that many religious believers, not just evangelical Protestants, have been prejudiced against journalism for a long, long time (not just during the Donald Trump melodrama) and that includes academic elites who simply think journalism is a shoddy, shallow line of work. Truth be told, religious readers in lots of academic and denominational buildings need to realize that they are part of the problem, when it comes to a lack of intellectual and cultural diversity in American newsrooms.

But this brings me to an essay responding to Sarah that is worth serious thought, offered by the Rev. Al Mohler, a podcasting commentary star who is also president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Actually, this is an edited transcript of the Dec. 9 episode of his "The Briefing" podcast, which ran with this title: "The Real Consequences of Fake News: Why Evangelicals Should Be Concerned With The Truth."

Mohler opens with some comments on the Bailey text. Let's listen in to that process, with Sarah's quotes in italics:

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Shocking! Leading Southern Baptist urges Christians not to attend same-sex weddings

Shocking! Leading Southern Baptist urges Christians not to attend same-sex weddings

Stop the presses!

The Louisville Courier-Journal — a Gannett newspaper that all too often eschews quality journalism in favor of advocacy on same-sex issues — reports this "shocking" news:

The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says in a new book that Christians should not attend a same-sex wedding ceremony — even of their own child — because it “signals moral approval” of the union.
Writing in “We Cannot Be Silent,” R. Albert Mohler Jr. says that while it may be “excruciatingly difficult” to boycott gay weddings of friends and loved ones, “at some point attendance will involve congratulating the couple for their union. If you can’t congratulate the couple, how can you attend?”

Can you believe it? A leading Southern Baptist theologian who believes God ordained marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman says Christians shouldn't — by their presence — endorse same-sex rites that they consider sinful. 

Again, I say: Stop the presses!

If the Courier-Journal holds to its usual, biased form, this story will proceed to quote lots of folks aghast and outraged at Mohler's comments while — surprise, surprise! — finding none who agree with him.

Sure enough, that's the case:

Gay-rights activists and some clergy denounced the book, to be published Oct. 27 by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, saying it will further divide gays and their families.
“Dr. Mohler's self-righteous intractability on this issue — even banning followers from simply attending the weddings of their LGBT loved ones — can cause nothing but strife, heartache and hardship,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign.
The Rev. Joseph Phelps, pastor of independent Highland Baptist Church, praised Mohler’s intellect but called his words “harsh and offensive,” and said they will cause “damage and division” in “families and society.”

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Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister

Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister

If you quote a gay-rights activist at a protest, what should you call him?

The Louisville Courier-Journal describes the Rev. Maurice Blanchard as "a gay-rights activist." 

Blanchard appears pretty high up (the sixth paragraph, to be precise) in this Courier-Journal report:

As a youth growing up in an evangelical household in North Carolina, Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten said he got some firsthand experience with "conversion therapy" when, as an adolescent, he came out as gay.
His parents sent him to a religious counselor to try to eliminate "my sinful desires," an experience that left him depressed, isolated and, at times, suicidal.
"It's an experience I still have scars from," he said.
Monday, Guldenschuh-Gatten, 32,  joined about 40 others in front of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to protest a three-day conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors on homosexuality and transgenderism.
Organized by the Fairness Campaign, protesters prayed and held signs opposing what they call misguided efforts at counseling based on the belief homosexuality and transgenderism are wrong or sinful. It prompted horn honks and shouts of support  from drivers passing by the bucolic seminary grounds on Lexington Road.
"This is absolutely and utterly wrong," said the Rev. Maurice Blanchard,  a gay-rights activist in Louisville. "It's spiritual abuse, that's what it is."

Like the Courier-Journal, The Associated Press turns to Blanchard as a go-to source among the protesters.

Before we consider the AP's approach to Blanchard, though, here's the AP's newsy lede:

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AP embraces cliches, labels in seminary prez profile

Sorry, I just finished reading The Associated Press’ feeble attempt at profiling Albert Mohler on his 20th anniversary as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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