Virginia

Kick 'em out? Southern Baptists seek ways to fight sexual abuse in autonomous local churches

Kick 'em out? Southern Baptists seek ways to fight sexual abuse in autonomous local churches

Before we take a look at what appears to have been the key development at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, let’s pause and discuss a few matters linked to how America’s largest non-Catholic flock does business.

One of the first things reporters learn (.pdf here), when they show up at national SBC gathering, is that the people attending are not “delegates” — they are “messengers” from local churches. Again, this is a sign of the degree to which Baptist identity is built on church authority residing in autonomous local congregations. The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention that exists when it is in session. It can vote to create a publishing house, or mission boards or an “executive committee” to do specific tasks in between conventions.

But SBC folks get testy when reporters assume that Southern Baptists are supposed to be organized like Presbyterians, Methodists or, heaven forbid, Episcopalians. What makes SBC meetings so wild is that all kinds of people in that big room can grab a floor microphone. With that in mind, let’s look at a crucial part of a New York Times story, focusing on efforts to handle sexual-abuse issues:

Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.

The pastors voted to create a centralized committee that would evaluate allegations against churches accused of mishandling abuse. They also approved an amendment to their constitution that would allow such churches to be expelled from the convention if the allegations were substantiated.

“Protecting God’s children is the mission of the church,” the denomination’s president, J.D. Greear, said on Tuesday morning as he addressed the gathering. “We have to deal with this definitively and decisively.”

Wait a minute. SBC “pastors” voted to take these steps? Since when are all of the SBC “messengers” pastors?

The Times should correct that error immediately. It appears that the same mistake showed up in a 2018 Times story and I missed it at that time. As in:

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About that 'concerned citizen' who nailed Northam: Was there a religion ghost in this big story?

About that 'concerned citizen' who nailed Northam: Was there a religion ghost in this big story?

As the political soap opera in Virginia rolls on and on and on, I think it’s important to pause and remind journalists where all of this started — with an argument about religion, science and philosophy.

I am referring, of course, to Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments about the proposed Virginia legislation that included controversial language about late-term abortions.

In this firestorm about race — a totally valid story, of course — it has been easy to forget the role that abortion played in this equation.

I say this because of a story that ran the other day at The Washington Post that, in my opinion, should have received more attention. Here’s the bland headline from that: “A tip from a ‘concerned citizen’ helps a reporter land the scoop of a lifetime about Northam.” Let’s walk through this, starting with the overture:

The reporter who exposed the racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook page said a “concerned citizen” led him to the story that has prompted widespread outrage and calls for the Democrat’s resignation.

Patrick Howley, editor in chief of the website Big League Politics, first reported … the existence of a photo on Northam’s page of his medical school yearbook depicting a figure in blackface standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood.

“It’s very easy to explain,” Howley, 29, said in an interview. …. “A concerned citizen, not a political opponent, came to us and pointed this out. I was very offended [by the photo] because I don’t like racism.”

Ah, but why was the “concerned citizen” acting? Isn’t that the big idea here, perhaps worthy of mentioning in the lede and the headline?

The Big League Politics editor, naturally, wanted to talk about politics. However, to its credit, the Post team dug deeper and hit this:

The source of the tip appears to have been a medical school classmate or classmates of Northam who acted as a direct result of the abortion controversy that erupted earlier in the week, according to two people at Big League Politics, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

“The revelations about Ralph Northam’s racist past were absolutely driven by his medical school classmate’s anger over his recent very public support for infanticide,” one of the two said.

Now, why was the “concerned citizen” so angry about the abortion debate, going so far as to use the “infanticide” language of Northam’s critics?

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Say what? Newborn would be 'resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired'

Say what? Newborn would be 'resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired'

For lots of people, this was the story of the week — if you saw it covered anywhere.

Say what? If you were following any moral and religious conservatives on Twitter late this week, then you saw the explosion of outrage about proposed Virginia legislation that cranked up the flames under a topic that has long caused pain and fierce debate among Democrats — third-trimester abortion.

However, if you tend to follow mainstream media accounts on Twitter, or liberal evangelicals, or progressives linked to other religious traditions, then you heard — not so much. Ditto for big-TV news.

Now why would this be?

After all, the direct quotes from Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia were pretty out there, if you read them the same way as the leader of Democrats For Life, Kristen Day, who put the i-word in play — infanticide.

Once again, no one has to agree with her, but there are fierce debates about how many Democrats would welcome new restrictions on abortion, especially after 20 weeks or “viability.”

What’s the fight about? On one side are those who see Northam & Co. opening a door that leads — with a wink and a nod — to horrors that are hard to contemplate. On the other side are those who see the right to abortion under attack and want to protect every inch of the legal terrain they have held for years, and perhaps even capture new ground.

On the pro-abortion-rights left, what happened in Virginia — what Northam and others advocated — is not news. The news is the right-wing reaction — it’s the “seized” meme — to those words. And, of course, the tweeter in chief piled on.

Want to guess which wide the Acela-zone press backed?

Here’s the headline at The New York Times: “Republicans Seize on Late-Term Abortion as a Potent 2020 Issue.”

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The very definition of old news, and what a joy to read: A feature on a 400-year-old church

The very definition of old news, and what a joy to read: A feature on a 400-year-old church

About five years ago, I traveled to rural Iowa to report on a 156-year-old church surrounded by corn and soybean fields and a cemetery where generations of deceased members rest in peace.

The news angle was that the tiny congregation was working hard to survive despite immense challenges facing it and similar houses of worship.

As part of the same "Rural Redemption" project, I spent a Sunday with a 200-year-old assembly in the farming and coal-mining country of southeastern Ohio.

I thought those churches had long histories!

But Washington Post religion writer Julie Zauzmer recently wrote about an Episcopal congregation in rural Virginia that is marking 400 years — 400 years! — in 2018.

The Post's headline pretty much nails it:

This 400-year-old church is older than almost any institution in America

This won't be a long post because my basic message is simple: This is an interesting, well-reported story, and I'd urge you to read it. 

What did I like about it? I'll quickly mention three things.

But first, let's set the scene with the compelling lede:

BURROWSVILLE, Va. — Long before American independence, before the Pilgrims even landed at Plymouth Rock, there was Martin’s Brandon Church.

And now, the Rev. Eve Butler-Gee looks at her flock at the same Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church in amazement. “They’re faithful. Every single one of them is engaged and active,” she said. But then again, it’s no wonder: “They’ve been doing this for 400 years, and they’re not about to stop now.”

The church, one of the oldest in the United States that still operates, celebrates its 400th birthday this year. And for many families in the rural congregation, the pink-colored house of worship near the James River has been part of their family stories for a very large portion of that time.

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Washington Post attempts near-impossible: Profiling Virginia's Tony Bennett without mentioning faith

Washington Post attempts near-impossible: Profiling Virginia's Tony Bennett without mentioning faith

Tony Bennett — the coach, not the singer — is quirky. Mysterious. Someone who believes "it's okay to be different."

That's the basic storyline for an in-depth Washington Post profile of Bennett, whose Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team enters March Madness as the No. 1 overall seed.

Strangely enough (ghosts, anyone?), the Post manages to write 1,850 words about Bennett without any reference to terms such as "faith," "Christian" and "prayer."

Those familiar with Bennett will understand why that's so remarkable. More on that in a moment.

But first, the Post's haunted opening paragraphs:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Most everyone had taken shelter by now, but Tony Bennett was walking in the rain. In his mind, some things are worse than a downpour.
Bennett was making his way to work 87 minutes before tip-off against Virginia Tech, a late arrival for most college basketball coaches but early for the Virginia coach, a man who detests idle time. And though a cozy security tent sat a few dozen yards away, a crowd was beneath it on this February afternoon, so Bennett made his way between a wall and a television truck.
Even Bennett’s staff used to find some of his quirks odd, but when you’re the coach of the nation’s No. 1 team and the architect of an ACC powerhouse, it’s all part of the plan.
“Certain things are sacred to me,” Bennett would say a bit later, and among those are efficiency, maximizing potential and — perhaps most precious in a profession filled with self-promoters — his privacy.

Hmmmm. Are those really the only things sacred to Bennett?

Let's keep reading:

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Time to work up those walkups to the Supreme Court’s big transgender moment

Time to work up those walkups to the Supreme Court’s big transgender moment

On March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the Gloucester County School Board case, its first encounter with the growing transgender rights movement.

Journalists, it's time to work up those walkups.

The basics: The Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice notified all U.S. public schools last May that to qualify for continued federal funding they need to follow each student’s sense of personal  “gender identity,” as opposed to birth biology, regarding access to “sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams (.pdf document here)."

That change redefined  “sex” under Title IX of the anti-discrimination law in question. For 44 years before that, the government thought “sex” meant  biological gender, not an identity that may conflict with it. In the current case, an anatomically female Virginia high schooler who is transitioning wants to use boys’ toilets instead of unisex facilities the school provides. Local school districts are caught between transgender rights appeals and community concerns about privacy and security.

The case’s significance is not ended by the February 22 decision of the incoming Donald Trump administration to rescind the Barack Obama directive for now. Access to locker rooms and showers are also part of this hot-button debate.

With gay marriage legalized throughout the United States by the Supreme Court, the LGBTQ movement is focusing all its moxie on transgender rights. The belief that gender is “assigned” at birth but flexible, rather than fixed by biology, gains cultural clout from important segments of the Democratic Party, big business, the academic world, the entertainment industry, professional and college athletics, and the like.

That poses a major challenge for advocates of religious liberty, already on the defensive with other issues.

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No ghosts here: Faith in the 'Vindication' of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

No ghosts here: Faith in the 'Vindication' of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

There was big news in Virginia on Thursday.

The banner headline atop today's Richmond Times-Dispatch makes that evident.

This is the straight-news, inverted-pyramid version of what happened:

Federal prosecutors on Thursday moved to drop their corruption case against former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, bringing to a close a case that gripped the state capital, tarnishing the former governor’s reputation and the state’s.
In a brief motion, federal prosecutors asked the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to send the case back to a district court. There, the U.S. will file a motion to dismiss the indictment against Bob McDonnell — once touted as a potential Republican candidate for national office — and against Virginia’s former first lady.
“Today is a great day in which my family and I rejoice,” Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “More than 3½ years after learning of an investigation, the final day of vindication has arrived.”
The Justice Department said in a brief statement: “After carefully considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision” overturning Bob McDonnell’s convictions “and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made the decision not to pursue the case further.”
In September 2014, a federal jury in Richmond convicted Virginia’s 71st governor and the former first lady on corruption charges stemming from their acceptance of more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., then-CEO of Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting the company’s dietary supplement, Anatabloc.

So where is the religion angle in this long-running political drama? Why highlight this story here at GetReligion?

Because there's a strong faith component to the former governor's reaction to the dropped charges — and the Times Dispatch absolutely nails that focus in its coverage.

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Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

The Atlanta Journal Constitution raises Deep South, Civil War-era caricatures in its weekend story on cultural stresses in Tennessee.  And it does so in almost a robotic, paint-by-the-numbers style.

The article strains mightily to contrast urbane, liberal city dwellers with backward, "ignorant" -- yes, one source uses that word -- country folk. It takes a patronizing attitude toward these yahoos and pits people on the street against scholars and think-tankers. It even compares so-called "bathroom bills" in some states with "White" and "Colored" signs from segregation days.

How else to read paragraphs like:

Across the country -- the South in particular -- a wave of bills, proposals and court fights in recent months are again ramping up the culture wars. The measures come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a decision many religious conservatives see as an assault on their beliefs.

And:

The South finds itself in the middle of that conflict. It’s a place where city folks may have a decidedly different take on social issues than their peers in the country, a region where progressive notions rub up against more traditional, conservative values.

For context, the article brings Georgia's"religious liberty" bill -- complete with sarcasm quotes -- vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. There's also Gov. Bill Haslam vetoing a bill to make the Bible the state book in Tennessee, then signing a bill to let counselors refer out people who conflict with their "sincerely held principles" -- yes, more sarcasm quotes -- to reject gay, lesbian, transgender and other clients. Would it be better for these religious counselors to handle these cases, even though they have a clear conflict of interest?

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The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

It's rare to write about the same news topic twice in the same day, unless it's one of those hot-button topics that's driving people crazy on social media. That's a sobering thing to say, but there you have it.

However, I am truly fascinated with the depth of the questions being raised in early discussions of the silver box recently unearthed by the Jamestown Rediscovery team. This morning I raised some questions about a massive Washington Post piece on this topic and now, lo and behold, The Atlantic has posted a report on the same topic.

The Post piece pivoted on a question: Is the small silver box, containing human bones, found buried with colonial leader Gabriel Archer a reliquary or not? If it is a reliquary, in the ancient Christian sense of that word, then what saint or martyr were some of the colonialists venerating in this manner? 

Now editors at The Atlantic -- based on interviews with some of the same experts -- have published a lengthy piece that appears to be much more certain about several key facts. Check this out:

After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.

“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”

If that box is what Horn, in this new interview at least, seems certain that it is, then there are logical conclusions that can be drawn. Big ones.

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