Waco

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

Once upon a time, I was an expert on life in Waco, Texas. I spent six years there in the 1970s — doing two degrees at Baylor University — and have had family ties to Jerusalem on the Brazos for decades, some of which are as strong than ever.

The Waco I knew didn’t have lots of civic pride. For many people, things went up and down with the state of affairs at Baylor. Even the great Willie Nelson — who frequently played in a Waco salon back then — had Baylor ties. And talking about Baylor means talking about Baptists. We used to joke that there were more Baptists in Waco than there were people. We had normal Baptists, conservative Baptists, “moderate” Baptists and even a few truly liberal Baptists. Welcome to Waco.

This old Waco had a dark side — a tragic, but normal, state of things in light of America’s history with race and poverty. Many of the locals were brutally honest about that. And in recent decades, Waco has had tons of bad luck, media-wise. Say “Waco” and people think — you know what.

As you would imagine, the fact that Waco is now one of the Sunbelt’s hottest tourism zones cracks me up. But that’s the starting point for a long, long BuzzFeed feature that I have been mulling over for some time. Here’s the epic double-decker headline:

”Fiixer Upper” Is Over, But Waco’s Transformation Is Just Beginning.

HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines helped convert a sleepy Texas town into a tourist mecca. But not everyone agrees on what Waco’s “restoration” should look like.

There is an important, newsworthy, piece of news writing buried inside this sprawling, first-person “reader” by BuzzFeed scribe Anne Helen Petersen. It’s kind of hard to find, since the piece keeps getting interrupted by chunks of material that could have been broken out into “sidebars,” distinct wings of the main house.

Here’s the key question: Is this story about Chip and Joanna Gaines and their Magnolia empire — the hook for all that tourism — or is it about Antioch Community Church and how its evangelical, missionary mindset has shaped efforts to “reform,” “reboot” or “restore” distressed corners of Waco?

The answer, of course, is “both.” That creates problems, since there are so many elements of the “good” Waco news that clash with BuzzFeed’s worldview. Thus, the goal here is to portray (a) the shallow, kitschy aspects of Waco’s current happiness before revealing (b) the dark side of this evangelical success story.

This vast, multilayered feature is built, of course, built on Peterson’s outsider status and her contacts with former — “former,” as in alienated — members of the Antioch-Gaines world. There’s no need to engage with the views of key people who are at the heart of these restoration efforts because, well, this is BuzzFeed, a newsroom with this crucial “ethics” clause in its newsroom stylebook:

We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women's rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides. 

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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: Thanksgiving, missionary death, Jordan Peterson, hurricane heroes, homeless church

Friday Five: Thanksgiving, missionary death, Jordan Peterson, hurricane heroes, homeless church

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!

I’ve been mostly away from the news this week, enjoying my favorite holiday.

If I missed any important headlines that I should have included here, by all means, leave a comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is an international story, so you might have missed it. The Washington Post reports from New Delhi on an American missionary who tried “to meet and convert one of the most isolated hunter-and-gather tribes in the world” by offering them “fish and other small gifts.”

Instead, the Post reports that “the tribesmen killed him and buried his body on the beach, journals and emails show.”

The story offers revealing insights from the journal as well as quotes from the missionary’s mother.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: As often happens, the words “Jordan Peterson” in a headline tend to attract attention.

Last week’s No. 1 most-read post was by our editor Terry Mattingly — the piece that he wrote to support last week’s “Crossroads” podcast. The headline on that: “Why is Jordan Peterson everywhere, right now, with religious folks paying close attention?” Here’s a bite of that:

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Friday Five: Chick-fil-A, Southwest pilot's faith, Waco anniversary, clergy sex abuse scandal and more

Friday Five: Chick-fil-A, Southwest pilot's faith, Waco anniversary, clergy sex abuse scandal and more

I have a confession to make, dear reader.

I eat too much Chick-fil-A. Way too much Chick-fil-A.

I love Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits for breakfast. I love Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches — minus the pickles, which I know is heresy to some— for dinner. I love anything on the Chick-fil-A menu for Sunday lunch. Or, I mean, I would if Chick-fil-A would just do me a favor and open on Sunday.

Go ahead and encourage me to #EatMorChikin (not to mention waffle fries). I'm just not sure it's possible. My waistline will back me up on this.

Yes, in case you're wondering, there's a religion news angle on Chick-fil-A in this week's Friday Five.

Let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: A devout Christian pilot with "nerves of steel" calmly maneuvers a Southwest Airlines flight to the ground after a blown engine kills one passenger and injures seven others.

How can that not be the religion story of the week?

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Death outside Waco: Did Mount Carmel believers die because the experts didn't get religion?

Death outside Waco: Did Mount Carmel believers die because the experts didn't get religion?

The subject of the class at Baylor University was contemporary movements in American religious life. On this particular day, the subject under discussion -- with the help of a guest speaker -- was debates about the meaning of the hot-button word "cult."

I was taking the class as part of my master's degree studies during the late 1970s in Baylor's unique church-state studies program, an interdisciplinary program build on studies in history, theology, political science and law. This particular class was important, since legal disputes about new religious movements have helped define the boundaries of religious tolerance in our culture.

To paraphrase one of my professors: Lots of people with whom you would not necessarily want to have dinner have helped defend your religious freedom. True tolerance is almost always tense.

The speaker in our class that day was a soft-spoken leader in a ground that would become infamous more than a decade later -- the Branch Davidians. His name was Perry Jones and it would be another five years or so until a young guitar player and Bible-study savant named Vernon Howell would arrive at the group's 77-acre Mount Carmel headquarters. Howell, of course, would change his name to David Koresh. Jones' daughter Rachel married Koresh, who would eventually become a polygamist.

The main thing I remember about listening to Jones that day, and talking to him after class, was his consistent emphasis on pacifism and biblical prophecies about the End Times -- remaining doctrinal ties back to Seventh-day Adventism, the movement from which the Davidians split decades earlier.

Why share this information? Well, this was the rather personal frame around the contents of my On Religion column this past week and the "Crossroads" podcast that followed. (Click here to tune that in.)

Both focused on religious issues -- in journalism and public life -- addressed in the six-part Paramount Network miniseries called "Waco," which will run through the end of this month.

It was, to say the least, rather haunting to see Perry Jones fatally wounded in the dramatic recreation of the first moments of the two-hour gunfight on Feb. 28, 1993 that opened the 51-day siege outside Waco by an army of federal agents. The hellish fire that ended it all -- its cause remains the subject of fierce debates -- claimed the lives of 76 men, women and children.

Were the Branch Davidians truly a "cult"?

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Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

Dang! Don't you hate it when that happens?

I was going to open this week's "Crossroads" podcast post -- click here to tune that in -- by saying that the Regents and administrators at Baylor University (yes, my alma mater) are being forced to draw a bright line between worshiping God and mammon, the latter in the form of big-time sports.

To be blunt, what we are seeing is a clash between two competing religions.

So what -- dang it! -- happened? This week, that legendary Godbeat muse -- the ever-quotable historian Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago Divinity School -- wrote one of his "Sightings" commentaries on precisely that topic. The headline was, literally, "Two Religions Make News."

Marty was, of course, referring to the painful headlines out of Waco, with the housecleaning -- football head coach Art Briles and President Ken Starr, in particular -- linked to a scandal about fumbled attempts to deal with, or cover up, or both, claims of sexual assaults by Baylor athletes.

Whoever will check the sources (below) or others easily available to them will note that virtually all stories stressed that Baylor was a Christian, particularly a Baptist, university. The press doesn’t identify most other schools denominationally, unless the school name banners it -- as in Southern Methodist University. Newswriters don’t say that Princeton is Presbyterian, etc.

But Baylor does not hide its official and traditional faith commitment, and puts it to work in many policies, such as compulsory chapel for students for a year or two. Let it be noted, as we will note, that some features of the commitment are strong: a “Top Ten” (in some measures) religion department, notable graduate programs, and not a few eminent scholars. But they are in the shadows cast by the scandal right now.

So that's one religion. And the other is pretty obvious.

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God forgives. What about bikers? Sin, death and dollars near Jerusalem on Brazos

God forgives. What about bikers? Sin, death and dollars near Jerusalem on Brazos

It had to be Waco, right? It had to be a Sunday showdown in a shopping mall neo-Hooters on the edge of Jerusalem on the Brazos, the city where there are more Baptists than people, on the opposite side of town from the site of the Branch Davidians cable-TV firestorm.

Like or not, Waco is a kind of -- in the words of one police official on the scene -- "Anytown, USA." If suburbanites can end up in the line of fire during a bikers vs. bikers vs. police melee in Big Box shopping land in Waco, it can happen anywhere (or at least anywhere in the zip codes that draw bikers).

I'll be honest and admit that I was not looking for religion ghosts in this story, even if the drama unfolded near my old haunts in Waco.

However, the co-founder of this weblog -- the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc -- did more than his share of reading and sent me a URL to an interesting Sojourners commentary on the showdown between the dominant Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the emergent Cossacks, who were said to have ties to the national Hells Angels. The headline: "The Theology of a Biker Gang." The key passage:

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the U.S. And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:
God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

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Got news? When is a desecrated memorial a big story?

If you have been reading this blog much in the past week (greeting to the thousands of readers who came here through tweets and emails linked to THAT POST by M.Z. Hemingway) then you know that there have been numerous protests — large and small — across the nation marking the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. Some of you may, repeat may, have seen coverage of these events in your local newspapers. On the major broadcast networks? Not so much.

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