Texas Monthly

The liberal reporter and the conservative pastor: Inside Texas Monthly's big story on 'Trump's Apostle'

The liberal reporter and the conservative pastor: Inside Texas Monthly's big story on 'Trump's Apostle'

Social media went nuts this week — overwhelmingly positive nuts — over the official trailer for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a film starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers that will hit theaters just in time for Thanksgiving.

As Esquire notes, “The film is based on a profile of Mr. Rogers that journalist Tom Junod wrote for Esquire in 1998. In the film, Matthew Rhys plays a fictionalized version of the writer, embarking upon the profile of the kids television icon with initial reluctance before forging a friendship with his subject, the true guru of pretty much everything that’s good in the world.”

Hmmmm, a movie about the relationship that develops between a journalist and his subject.

Perhaps this formula could work for a future movie about Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas and a leading evangelical adviser to President Donald Trump.

Except that — when Hollywood tells Jeffress’ story — he’s not likely to be portrayed as “the true guru of pretty much everything that’s good in the world.” Instead, think Dick Cheney in “Vice.”

The basis for the Jeffress screenplay? The big screen could do worse than Texas Monthly’s long August cover story on “Trump’s Apostle.”

Writer Michael J. Mooney sets the scene this way:

Here’s Robert Jeffress, talking to the hundreds of thousands of people watching conservative cable news on a typical Friday evening, and he’s defending President Donald Trump against the latest array of accusations in the news this week. And he isn’t simply defending Trump—he’s defending him with one carefully crafted Bible-wrapped barb after another, and with more passion, more preparation, more devotion than anyone else on television.

As Lou Dobbs finishes his opening remarks, Jeffress laughs and nods. It’s early January, about two weeks into what will prove to be the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are missing paychecks, worrying about mortgages, car payments, utility bills. Some have started going to food banks. But Dobbs waves his hand up and down and tells Jeffress that he hasn’t heard anyone—“literally no one!”—say they miss the government. The jowly host revels in Trump’s threats that the shutdown could continue “for months, if not years,” if that’s what it takes to get more wall built on America’s border with Mexico.

Jeffress, speaking from a remote studio in downtown Dallas, agrees completely. “Well, he’s doing exactly the right thing in keeping this government shut down until he gets that wall,” he says.

Jeffress is the senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas, a 13,000-member megachurch that’s one of the most influential in the country, but he’s known best for appearances like this one: he’s often on Fox & Friends or Hannity or any number of sound-bitey segments on Fox News or Fox Business. His own religious show airs six days a week on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. He has a daily radio program too, broadcast on more than nine hundred Christian stations across the country, though it’s TV he loves best. Dobbs invites Jeffress onto his show nearly every week.

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Why did Ross Perot turn on George H.W. Bush, another rich Texan? Look for a religion ghost

Why did Ross Perot turn on George H.W. Bush, another rich Texan? Look for a religion ghost

Here’s the parting shot offered by Ross Perot, in an interview a few years ago with The Dallas Morning News: "Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, I'll be Texas dead. Ha!"

No doubt about it, Perot was a Texan. However, the prodigal Texan in me (my chosen label) can still remember some of the holes in the mainstream press coverage of Perot’s gadfly political career — if that was, in fact, the real goal of his crucial first White House campaign. So many journalists simply settled for saying that Perot was a Texan, when they needed to ask what KIND of Texan he was.

You see, Perot wasn’t your ordinary Texan. He wasn’t even your ordinary rich Texan in Dallas.

Perot rose to become a Highland Park Texan. He wasn’t just rich, he was a certain kind of rich within the structures of Texas life. If you want a glimpse inside that world, check out this 1976 classic from Texas Monthly: “The Highland Park Woman.”

To cut to the chase, this kind of conservative Texan — much like the liberal tribe located in Austin — is embarrassed by all those other Texans. Most of all, they are opposed to all of those, well, religious nuts out there in ordinary Texas.

So this leads me to the big question that I kept asking as I read some of the mainstream news obituaries for Perot: Why did he do it? Why did Perot turn on George H.W. Bush — from the Houston version of the Highland Park tribe — and try to take him down? What was the elder Bush’s fatal sin?

Well, let’s look back to a 1992 feature in the New York Times to find some of the information that was omitted from the Perot obits, as well as most of the coverage of his public life. Read this carefully:

Mr. Perot espoused a kind of fiscal conservatism and toward the end of his campaign a strong law-and-order theme. But he also drew cheers when he staunchly defended a woman's right to choose an abortion and when he bashed the religious right. Indeed, in the voter survey, only 34 percent of Mr. Perot's voters said they attended religious services at least once a week, compared with 42 percent in the survey sample as a whole.

Mr. Perot's army seems to include a strong libertarian streak: people seeking a measure of freedom from what they perceive as the heavy hand of institutions, religious as well as governmental. If the fundamentalist right holds sway in the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party, Perot followers could go elsewhere.

What did Bush do wrong? Why, there may have been other sins (like Gulf War 1.0), but it was crucial that George H.W. Bush betrayed his class by abandoning his support for abortion rights, while taking other steps to court the world of religious and cultural conservatism.

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Was it counseling or confession? A crucial twist in the cold-case murder trial of a priest

 Was it counseling or confession? A crucial twist in the cold-case murder trial of a priest

Anyone who has spent much time on the Godbeat knows that religion is complicated and that, when dealing with issues of doctrine and religious law, things can get even more confusing.

It's crucial to get the details right, including using the correct words, using these terms accurately and then helping readers understand why these fine details matter.

Thus, I would like to praise a recent Washington Post story about the infamous, and very complicated, cold-case investigation into the 1960 rape and murder of former beauty queen Irene Garza in McAllen, Tex. However, I want to praise this feature while also noting one strange choice of words that will worry many readers, especially Catholics.

Now, it's crucial to know that Garza's faith is at the heart of this story, since she was a daily-Mass Catholic. (Click here for a previous post about coverage of this case.)

One day this young woman went to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and she never came back. The last person to see her alive was the priest who heard that confession, the Rev. John Feit.

There were good reasons to suspect the 27-year-old priest of murder, including another priest's testimony that Feit had scratches on his hands after midnight Mass -- only a few hours after Garza went to confession. However, the case was complicated on several levels, including fears among local political leaders and clergy that charging a priest with murder might hurt Sen. John Kennedy's chances, as a Catholic, to win Texas in his campaign for the White House.

So what evidence cracked open this old case? This is where the Post feature includes one vague word -- precisely at the point where precision was crucial. Here is the crucial passage:

... (I)n April of 2002, the San Antonio police department received a phone call from a former priest in Oklahoma City -- Dale Tacheny. He explained that in 1963, he had lived at a Trappist monastery in Missouri and counseled a priest from San Antonio.
“He told me that he had attacked a young woman in a parish on Easter weekend and murdered her,” the caller said, according to Texas Monthly. In a letter, Tacheny identified Feit and recounted how he took the woman to the parish house to hear her confession. After hearing her confession he assaulted, bound and gagged her, Tacheny said.

So there are two questions that should be asked at this point.

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Damned by association: BuzzFeed 'news' story goes after the 'Fixer Upper' couple

Damned by association: BuzzFeed 'news' story goes after the 'Fixer Upper' couple

Yesterday, the quasi news-entertainment-gossip-vent site Buzzfeed posted a piece about a couple who has put together a very popular HGTV show about home remodeling. Their crime: They attend a megachurch where, the subhead said, "Their pastor considers homosexuality to be a 'sin' caused by abuse -- whether the Fixer Upper couple agrees is unclear." 

Buzzfeed was angling to rally a digital mob after this couple, but that's not quite what happened.

Yes, this click-bait piece did get a lot of traction on social media within a few hours, much of which was furious reaction from liberals and conservatives alike who felt the article was nothing but a hit piece. Responses on Twitter ran quite the gamut from calling Buzzfeed “the new Inquisition” to one poster who wondered, “I thought it was the alt-right folks who were bringing back McCarthyism.”

Here's how Buzzfeed started it all:

Chip and Joanna Gaines’ series Fixer Upper is one of the most popular shows on HGTV. The couple has recently graced the cover of People magazine; their book, The Magnolia Story, has been on the New York Times’ best-seller list for five weeks; and they were the subject of a long profile in Texas Monthly that credited them with revitalizing the city of Waco, Texas, where the show is set and where their businesses are located.

So far, so good. Then:

They are also, as they detail in The Magnolia Story, devout Christians — Joanna has spoken of and written about her conversations with God. (God told her both to close her store to spend time with her children, and then to reopen it a few years later.) Their church, Antioch Community Church, is a nondenominational, evangelical, mission-based megachurch. And their pastor, Jimmy Seibert, who described the Gaineses as “dear friends” in a recent video, takes a hard line against same-sex marriage and promotes converting LGBT people into being straight.

The Buzzfeed folks may not realize this yet, but a lot of evangelical pastors oppose same-sex marriage.

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Texas Monthly finds an evangelical who gets climate change, then drops the ball (updated)

Texas Monthly finds an evangelical who gets climate change, then drops the ball (updated)

Personally, I was agnostic about climate change until I spent last year in Alaska. Living in Fairbanks and hearing ordinary people talk about the winters getting warmer, how the cold isn’t what it used to be and hearing how “break-up” (the melting of Alaska’s vast rivers) is happening earlier and earlier each spring, made a believer out of me.

The winter I was there (2015), the Iditarod was held in Fairbanks for the second time in its history because Anchorage had no snow. When I visited the Alyeska ski resort to try some downhill just east of Anchorage, we had to schuss in a bowl near the top, as all of the runs at the base were bare.

All the evangelical Christians I met up there accepted climate change as a fact, so it’s intrigued me as to why so many in the Lower 48 are fighting it. Which is why I was attracted to this article in Texas Monthly that explains why one evangelical scholar is for it. It begins:

One clear day last spring, Katharine Hayhoe walked into the limestone chambers of the Austin City Council to brief the members during a special meeting on how prepared the city was to deal with disasters and extreme weather. A respected atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, the 43-year-old had been invited to discuss climate change, and she breezed through her PowerPoint slides, delivering stark news in an upbeat manner: unless carbon emissions were swiftly curbed, in the coming decades Texas would see stronger heat waves, harsher summers, and torrential rainfall separated by longer periods of drought.
“Why do we care about all of this stuff?” Hayhoe asked. “Because it has huge financial impacts.” The number of billion-dollar weather disasters in the United States had ballooned from one or two per year in the eighties to eight to twelve today, Hayhoe explained as she pulled up a slide with a map of the country. “Texas is in the crosshairs of those events, because we get it all, don’t we? We get the floods and the droughts, the hailstorms and the ice storms, and even the snow and the extreme heat. And we get the tornadoes, the hurricanes, and the sea-level rise. There isn’t much that we don’t get.”

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So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

As long-time GetReligion readers know, I am a conflicted Baylor University graduate. I had great times there and rough times, as well. The later were almost all linked to attempts by student journalists, including me, to do journalism about subjects that cause tension on all campuses (think Penn State), but especially at private, religious colleges and universities.

What kinds of subjects? Well, like sexual assaults. Hold that thought.

These ties that bind have led to lots of GetReligion work because Baylor is frequently in the news. Open the search engine here, enter "Baylor" and you will find pages of material about press coverage of complicated events at my alma mater. Here's how one early post opened:

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world's largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call "Jerusalem on the Brazos." It didn't take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Or how about this language, drawn from one of my national "On Religion" columns?

Every decade or so Baylor University endures another media storm about Southern Baptists, sex and freedom of the press. Take, for example, the historic 1981 Playboy controversy. It proved that few journalists can resist a chance to use phrases such as "seminude Baylor coeds pose for Playboy." ...
I know how these Baylor dramas tend to play out, because in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which students tried to write some dangerously candid news reports. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire.

So now we have another Baylor controversy in the news, potentially a scandal, that involves sin, sex and, wait for it, college football. As you would expect, there has been coverage. But has the word "Baptist" played a significant role? This is an important question, since Baylor has plenty of critics that consider it a hive for right-wing fundamentalists, while others believe it has compromised and modernized too much.

In terms of hard news, the key story is from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

 

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Clear eyes, full heart, can't stop advocating for abortion

Last night, reporters were very excited to tweet extensively about an abortion filibuster going on in Texas.

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