Thomas S. Monson

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

I write more than 200 posts a year for GetReligion.

My pieces range from our bread-and-butter critiques of mainstream news media coverage of religion to our weekly Friday Five columns highlighting each week’s major (or just plain quirky) developments on the Godbeat.

At the end of each year, I’m always curious to see which posts caught the attention of the most readers.

What makes a GetReligion post go viral? In 2017, key ingredients included Joel Osteen, same-sex wedding cakes and the Mark of the Beast. The previous year — 2016 — Donald Trump’s “Two Corinthians,” Merle Haggard’s Church of Christ mama and a rare opening of a Chick-fil-A on Sunday were in the mix.

2018? Well, let’s check out the top five posts for GetReligionista Julia Duin, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself.

We’ll start with Julia, for reasons that will become obvious:

5. How journalists can nail down the rest of the Cardinal McCarrick story – for good

4. Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

3. Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

2. Another #ChurchToo: The Chicago Tribune investigates Bill Hybels in 6,000 words

1. The scandal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and why no major media outed him

See any common thread there? That’s right — McCarrick and the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal were huge news and big traffic drivers to GetReligion in 2018, as was the related #ChurchToo news that also made headlines.

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Friday Five: Minister tax break, Mormon death, The Crown's religion, Trump's dirty words and more

Friday Five: Minister tax break, Mormon death, The Crown's religion, Trump's dirty words and more

I watched the first season of "The Crown" on Netflix with my wife, Tamie.

I enjoyed it, although I wouldn't say I was goo-goo over it. When the second season came out, we caught an episode or two. Then my bride binged on the rest of it one day while I was busy with something more important (probably playing Words With Friends on my iPad). 

Suffice it to say that I haven't made it to the part featuring Queen Elizabeth II and the Rev. Billy Graham. (Right now, Tamie and I are in the middle of "Greenleaf," an Oprah Winfrey-produced drama featuring a black megachurch in Memphis, Tenn. That series reminds me of "Dallas," but with religion, not oil, as the family business. But I digress.)

Back to "The Crown": The Washington Post published an excellent Godbeat piece on it this week. More on that in a moment.

First, thought, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

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Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

The fact that there are major theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians isn't exactly breaking news.

In fact, the Religion News Association stylebook entry on Mormons notes, "Because of their extra-biblical scriptures and beliefs about God and Jesus (they reject the Nicene Creed, for example), Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches do not regard Mormons as Christian."

But last week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, put those differences back into the spotlight.

In a 700-word news report headlined "Evangelicals And Mormons Are Political Allies, But Theological Rivals," NPR contrasted President Trump's warm statement after Monson's death with leading evangelicals' negative words concerning the Mormon leader's LDS faith:

Trump's own faith is not a centerpiece of his political identity. But those two faith communities — Mormons and evangelicals — have historically been the religious groups most closely identified with the Republican Party, and they have long aligned on such culture war issues as same-sex marriage, gender roles, transgender rights and abortion.
However, those shared political views do not translate to a theological alliance. In contrast to Trump's warm remembrance, many evangelical leaders responded to Monson's death with unsparing criticism of the LDS teachings he represented.
"False religion is a judgment from God, and Monson's life is a testimony to the enslavement that false religion brings," wrote James White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix and the author of 24 books on evangelical theology.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was similarly harsh, using the occasion of Monson's death to highlight what he called "the great distinction between biblical Christianity and Mormonism."
"Should we consider the Mormon Church ... as a Christian denomination?" Mohler asked in his daily podcast. "No, we should not. It simply fails every major test of historic Christian orthodoxy."

Overall, NPR did a nice job — particularly for a quick-hit daily news report — of hitting a few high points of why Mormons and evangelicals often align politically but not theologically,

I do wish NPR had noted more clearly this big theological distinction: Mormons' contention that "all authentic Christianity vanished by the 2d Century and God needed to restore the authentic faith and church authority uniquely through American founder Joseph Smith Jr."

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A floating podcast: Are evangelicals more confused than usual, these days? #REALLY

A floating podcast: Are evangelicals more confused than usual, these days? #REALLY

This week's "Crossroads" podcast is a bit different, for several reasons.

In the headline, I called this a "floating" podcast because, well, I phoned into the Lutheran Public Radio studio from a cruise boat in the Bahamas (the final stage of some wonderful 40th wedding anniversary celebrations). So I was "floating," at the time. Also, the podcast isn't going to be posted on the GetReligion website right away because our tech person is (continuing the wedding theme) on his honeymoon. So click here to access the Issues, Etc., version of this show.

Now, to the topic. Host Todd Wilken asked me to take a look at an NPR essay that ran with this headline: "2017 Has Been A Rough Year For Evangelicals."

Yes, we are talking about yet ANOTHER elite-media look into the identity crisis among many evangelical leaders in the era of Donald Trump. But before we get into the heart of that essay, check out the lede:

As 2017 ends, evangelical Christians in the United States are suffering one of their periodic identity crises. Unlike other religious groups, the evangelical movement comprises a variety of perspectives and tendencies and is therefore especially prone to splintering and disagreement.

Yes, the first half of that is basically fine -- since anyone with any exposure to the American brand of evangelicalism knows that debates about doctrine and identity have been common through the decades. But what's going on with the statement that evangelical churches and institutions contain a "variety of perspectives and tendencies" and, thus, are somehow uniquely prone to divisions, debates and disagreements?

I laughed out loud the first time I read that.

So American Catholicism is a fortress of cultural conformity? Ditto for Lutherans and Anglicans?

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Duck, duck, goose: Three different approaches to covering Mormon church president's death

Duck, duck, goose: Three different approaches to covering Mormon church president's death

As a young journalist fresh out of college, I applied for a business editor position in small-town Oklahoma.

As part of the interview process, the newspaper's top editor asked me to write an obituary — for myself.

The exercise both tested my writing skills and gave me an opportunity to enlighten my potential boss on what made me tick. I guess I passed the exam because I got the job. (I drove extra carefully on the way home, hoping to avoid the tragic car wreck I had just described.)

Very few people get to write their own obit, which leaves the story of their life — if their life merits an obit at all — to others to tell.

I mention this because — even though I am not a Mormon — I was interested in how various major news organizations covered this week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wonder what Monson would have thought of the way these the following three ledes characterized him. (I'll reveal the source of each lede later in this post and pose a question or two.)

Lede 1:

Even as he ascended to the pinnacle of a worldwide faith, Thomas S. Monson never stopped being a Mormon bishop.
He was the same affable leader, folksy preacher and care-taking friend after becoming the LDS Church’s 16th president in 2008 as he was during his more than five decades as one of the faith’s 12 apostles.
During Monson’s nearly 10-year presidential tenure, which ended with his death Tuesday night at age 90 of causes incident to age, Mormonism faced some of the most intense public scrutiny in its history — from a divisive vote over gay marriage to high-profile Mormon candidacies for president, and a hotly debated policy for same-sex couples and their children. Still, the private prophet stayed largely behind the scenes, showing up unexpectedly at funerals, comforting the bereaved, visiting the sick and, before her death, caring for his wife, Frances.
“With tender feelings we announce that Thomas S. Monson, president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died this evening at 10:01 p.m. in his home in Salt Lake City,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in an email Tuesday at 11:39 p.m. “He was with family at the time of his passing.”

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Ah, the journalistic beauty — and boredom — of Mormon leadership succession

 Ah, the journalistic beauty — and boredom — of Mormon leadership succession

On the religion beat, it doesn’t get any better than a papal election. The international media go bonkers with speculation on who’s up or down in the cardinals’ secret maneuvering to select the next occupant of Peter’s throne, accompanied by sidebars on the arcane process, and culminating in those twice-daily gatherings in Peter’s square to watch for chemically-induced white smoke.

Analysis of the papabile (“pope-able”) personalities often turns out to be amusingly off-base. (You can forgive the Religion Guy for noting that Time magazine was the only major medium to name John Paul II as a prospect in 1978, because total credit goes not to yours truly as the New York religion writer but to crackerjack correspondents back when the weekly operated a Rome Bureau.)  

By contrast, contemplate the journalistic beauty –- and boredom –- in picking a new head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”).  If reporters have the time this week, they can already update their prepared  articles on the man who will take charge upon the death of President Thomas S. Monson, who turns 88 on August 21.

(At the church-owned daily Deseret News, Monson was an ad executive and later general manager of its parent publishing and printing firm. The church operates without professional clergy so that, remarkably, its doctrinal authorities have secular careers minus the academic training in theology expected of the average Protestant parson or Catholic parish priest.)  

 As Godbeat veterans will be well aware, the new president is automatically the man (yes, necessarily a male) with the earliest date of admission into the LDS church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It’s as though the longest-serving cardinal would always become the next pope.

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