T.D. Jakes

The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

My apologies for the clickbait title.

But I had to get you here so I could congratulate a colleague: my fellow GetReligion contributor Julia Duin.

If you follow religion headlines, you've probably already heard about the Washington Post Magazine's in-depth — really in-depth — profile of televangelist Paula White and her role as pastor to President Trump.

Perhaps, though, you missed Duin's byline on the piece.

As she described it on Twitter, her magnum opus — 6,408 words in all — took four months to research and write.

I won't even pretend to be able to offer an unbiased critique of my colleague's work. But I will share a variety of tweets from the Twitterverse praising Duin's "fascinating," "fantastic," "must-read," "quite a meaty profile":

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Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

It's time for a trip into my thick guilt file of news pieces that I wanted to get to a week ago (or more). However, most of my work this past week focused on Las Vegas, for reasons I am sure readers will understand.

Instead of Las Vegas, this post is about Southern Baptists and Phoenix. It's also about the negative side effects, in terms of news, of current trends in newsroom budgets (and I'm not just talking about editors declining to hire religion-beat professionals).

Now, please trust me when I say that I have spent lots of time studying the economic dominoes that keep falling in newsrooms during our industry's money crisis, which is primarily being caused by weak revenues from advertising, both digital and analog.

I know that there are fewer reporters, even in the healthiest of newsrooms. I know that those reporters are being stretched thinner and thinner, with some being forced -- often by editors -- to cut corners while delivering more news, in more formats, on shorter deadlines, with fewer copy editors watching their backs.

At the same time, travel budgets are thinner than ever (maybe even for crucial subjects, like sports and, gasp, politics).

So I understand why many newsrooms are not sending reporters -- in the flesh -- to cover some major news events that drew live coverage in the past. Take this summer's Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.

However, CNN showed up -- in the person of feature correspondent Chris Moody. I will argue that, because Moody was there in person, the odds may have been tilted in his favor when it came time to land a major scoop the other day, the one with this headline: "Exclusive: Evangelicals urge more action from Trump against alt-right."

Hold that thought.

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Time for another journalism look at the rise of U.S. Protestant megachurches?

Time for another journalism look at the rise of U.S. Protestant megachurches?

Religion writers are well aware that notably large Protestant “megachurches” have mushroomed across the United States this past generation. But they’re still expanding and it might be time for yet another look at the phenomenon.

 If so, the megachurch database maintained by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research is an essential resource.  The listing is searchable so, for instance, reporters can easily locate such citadels in their regions through the “sort by state” feature.

Hartford defines a megachurch as having consistent weekly attendance of at least 2,000.

There’s a big caveat here: The statistics on attendance, necessarily, are what’s reported by the churches themselves. Such congregations numbered 350 as recently as 1990 but Hartford has by now located 1,667 and there are doubtless others, so untold millions of people are involved.

Overwhelmingly, these big congregations are Bible-believing, evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal -- with only half of one percent labeling themselves “liberal” in doctrine.  

Hartford’s data will be a mere launching pad to get experts’ analysis of these newfangled Protestant emporiums and how they are changing the style and substance of American churchgoing. A starting point for that would be this 2015 overview (click for .pdf) from Hartford’s Scott Thuma and Warren Bird of the Leadership network.

They report, for instance, that “the megachurch phenomenon hasn’t waned” and “newer and younger churches are regularly growing to megachurch size.” More and more of them are spreading to multiple sites. An increasing population of adherents participates with church online rather than in person.

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Heresy in headlines: Raising questions about our social-media addiction and online buzz

Heresy in headlines: Raising questions about our social-media addiction and online buzz

They say most American Christians have little interest in doctrine. Perhaps the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation will briefly change that. Yet theological debates can produce lively news stories, and lately heresy has been in the headlines.

Emily McFarlan Miller, a Protestant-beat specialist with Religion News Service, proposed the “Top 5 ‘heresies’ of 2016” in an interesting December 29 piece. Then a January 3 Washington Post article by theologian Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary-California associated the H-word with President-elect Donald Trump because he favors Paula White and other “prosperity evangelists who cheerfully attack basic Christian doctrines.”

Miller’s list has two items that got considerable mainstream media ink:( 1) The ruckus over ousted Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins and whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. (2) Contentions that an ambiguous 2016 decree from Pope Francis means Catholics who remarry without annulments can receive Communion.

The other three debates were mostly limited to evangelical Protestant circles. Philadelphia Pastor Liam Goligher accused theologian Wayne Grudem and other “complementarians” who see wives as subordinate to husbands of heresy in also subordinating Jesus the divine Son to God the Father. The two other disputes involve Georgia Southern Baptist Andy Stanley, said to undercut the Bible’s unique authority and the centrality of Jesus’ Virgin Birth.

Horton spurns the “word of faith” or “prosperity gospel” movement as a merger between the “new thought” typified by Christian Science and Norman Vincent Peale’s “positive thinking.” In addition to White, Horton targets Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. (White, who will pray at Trump’s inauguration -- see this recent Julia Duin post here at GetReligion -- rejects the “prosperity” label for herself.)

This theological news causes the Religion Guy to contemplate our omnipresent social media.

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A holy ghost in Dallas: 'Servant leader' steps into key public office in the Lone Star State

A holy ghost in Dallas: 'Servant leader' steps into key public office in the Lone Star State

Dear Dallas Morning News: Please ask the obvious follow-up question.

That's my simple request of the major Texas daily as it reports on new Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson.

No, I'm not suggesting a holy ghost in Johnson's first name, although it certainly wouldn't hurt for a reporter to ask if there's a story behind it.

But the more newsworthy detail missing from the Morning News' coverage relates to Johnson's description of herself as a "servant leader."

This was the Dallas newspaper's lede early last month when Johnson's appointment was announced:

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday appointed a new Dallas County district attorney who says she sees herself as a "servant leader" who wants the public to believe in the prosecutors at the DA's office.

Again in today's newspaper — in a story on Johnson's swearing in Monday — the Morning News includes this note:

Johnson calls herself a "servant leader" who wants to work with residents to make the district attorney's office better. 

Here's the question: What — or better yet, who — is Johnson's inspiration for that description of her leadership style? Could it possibly be Jesus Christ, who says in Mark 10:42-45 of the New Testament:

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Shocking news! T.D. Jakes doubts something!

“Replate 1A.” That was a favorite dry reaction at my old newspaper whenever someone announced something obvious, as if were front-page news. That’s what I said when the Hollywood Reporter labeled T.D. Jakes as “a man of God who admits he has wrestled with doubt.” Clearly, the reporter hasn’t read Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama, let alone St. Paul or the prophet Elijah.

It’s one “revelation” of the Reporter’s lengthy profile on the Dallas-based author, pastor and filmmaker. The 2,200+ word story reads like a rambling patchwork of bio, indepth, newsfeature and inside baseball.

In the process, it veers among trade savvy, admiration and more interest in Jakes’ business side than his spiritual side. But at least it seems to get the facts right. Mostly.

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