Sins of a fallen civil rights hero

jameslbevel narrowweb  300x413 0It was one of those ugly newspaper stories that makes you read and read until it becomes hard to turn away — kind of like seeing a car wreck happen in slow motion.

The details are terrible enough in and of themselves, focusing on the sentencing of former civil rights leader James Luther Bevel to 15 years in prison for having sex with one of his daughters.

Bevel is, in his own right, a lesser known but still historic figure (details here). He was a key aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was especially influential on matters related to Vietnam. He was the composer of many “freedom songs” in the Civil Rights Movement and helped organize the March on Washington. Later in life, he shifted to the right and was a vocal supporter of the election of Ronald Reagan to the White House.

What made me keep reading was Bevel’s refusal to take responsibility for his own actions. Why is that so important? Keep reading.

We are told, in reporter Jonathan Mummolo’s Washington Post story:

When Bevel took the stand at his sentencing hearing, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Gigi Lawless asked whether he accepted responsibility for his actions. He said he did not but added that he hoped to reconcile with his family.

Bevel was convicted of unlawfully committing fornication with his daughter Aaralyn Mills sometime between 1992 and 1994, when she was 14 or 15. The Washington Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. Mills agreed to be named. …

In testimony… Mills, 30, said she was saddened by the fact that Bevel had not owned up to what he had done to her.

“I never imagined he would lie,” Mills said. “He’s been violent, mean, abusive, but he’s always been honest.”

Putting this into religious language, Bevel refused to repent. This kind of language is important because of a several key details that a buried far down in the Post account.

This story, you see, is haunted on several levels and the details get worse and worse.

During the trial, Bevel said repeatedly that he did not have sex with Mills. He said he has had 16 children through relationships with seven women and testified that as a minister and teacher, he has often educated people, including his children, on the “science” of sex and marriage. …

Outside court, Mills said she has forgiven her father.

“Forgiveness is not about him; it’s about my peace of mind,” she said. “The reality is, he doesn’t forgive himself.”

On one level, the former copy editor in me was left asking this question: If Bevel is still a minister, what kind of minister is he? Why wasn’t he identified on first reference as the Rev. James Luther Bevel? At the same time, what kind of minister has 16 children through relationships — note, not marriages — to seven women?

Attempting to look up the details only makes matters more confusing. It appears that Bevel is a graduate of an American Baptist Seminary, yet one biographical site identifies him as “pastor of the Hebraic-Christian-Islamic Assembly in Chicago” and that, as a minister, he was also a leader in “Chicago’s Council of Mothers, West Side Baptist Minister’s Conference, WorkShip Coalition and the Nation of Islam.”

See what I mean? This story identifies Bevel as a minister or allows himself to identify himself in this manner. Is this true? Is he connected with a church or a religious movement of some kind? Why not include these crucial details in a story about such a terrible — dare I use this word — sin?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • carl

    The religion of a main character in a scandal is an important part of the story only if all three of the following are true:

    1. The religious group in question has some significant social standing.

    2. The main character in the story can be held up as representative of the group.

    3. The author of the story has an interest in discrediting the main religious group.

    Ted Haggard was a much bigger story, but he committed no crime. He was simply a closet homosexual. Yet his prominent position, and the hypocrisy of his behavior allowed him to be presented as representative. The not-so-subtle message was “See, they are all like this; sexually repressed prudes who want to control you even as they act out in secret. Don’t listen to them!” But who exactly does Bevel represent? What significant religious group can be discredited through his crime?

    Reporters often treat religions as secular power centers. They aren’t really concerned with what different religions believe or teach. They consider such doctrines little more than metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that rational people have long since discarded. Reporters instead are only concerned with the impact of religion on Realpolitik. If there is no impact on Realpolitik (as in this case) then it just doesn’t matter.

    carl

  • Jerry

    If Bevel is still a minister, what kind of minister is he? Why wasn’t he identified on first reference as the Rev. James Luther Bevel?

    I found his web site where I read amongst other things that he is a minister and

    Today, Rev. Bevel serves as the Interim Director of the Prayer Academy in Emelle, Alabama and works with the Apostolic Advancement Association (REACH, Inc.) under the leadership of Bishop Luke Edwards.

    http://www.jameslutherbevel.com/Page325.htm “Prayer Academy” Emelle Alabama does not turn up much. Looking for Reach Bishop Luke Edwards Bevel and a couple of variants again did not turn up anything. So in this case a simplistic google search is not definitive linking him to the organizations he claims to be working for/with.

    In this case, I’m not sure that I agree with Terry’s comments. The news story mentions his testimony which is fair enough but does not otherwise refer to him as a minister. So I think on balance that the story was properly written.

    But I was also thinking about the recent blog entry that created comments about media coverage of scandals on the right versus on the left. Given Bevel’s ideological change with age including once running as a republican, this could be said to be a scandal of his maturity as a Republican. But I think it’s clear that the coverage is due to his history on the left.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Folks, folks….

    I am asking an Associated Press style question, again.

    If he is a minister, he is a minister. It’s a title. Why is this some kind of theoretical question based on whether we like his church or not or consider it a valid group or not.

    Also, there is no question that he is an historic figure. Period. I mean, he witnessed the shooting of MLK, Jr. He was at the heart of that movement.

  • carl

    [#3] tmatt

    I don’t understand. You asked:

    Why is this some kind of theoretical question based on whether we like his church or not or consider it a valid group or not.

    But your post concludes:

    This story identifies Bevel as a minister or allows himself to identify himself in this manner. Is this true? Is he connected with a church or a religious movement of some kind? Why not include these crucial details in a story about such a terrible — dare I use this word — sin?

    This doesn’t seem like a style question. It seems an open invitation to evaluate the motives of the reporter for his decision to exclude further information. If the details were crucial, and even so were not included, then must there not be a significant point of interest here beyond style?

    carl

  • Jerry

    I am asking an Associated Press style question, again.

    If he is a minister, he is a minister. It’s a title.

    So if I send some money to the Universal Life Church and they ordain me a minister, then I’m a minister? The unstated question behind my post was: who decides? If I say “God told me that I’m a minister” is that sufficient? Is calling myself one sufficient? If I fill in the online form does that make me a minister? I don’t know the AP style, so I think you missed the boat here if you wanted to involve non-reporters in the discussion. I even went to http://alumni.imsa.edu/org/hadron/ap.pdf to try to find the answer to this question but did not succeed.

    So how does a reporter decide using the AP stylebook whether or not someone should be referred to by the title minister?

  • Dave

    It’s important to identify the religious body to which a minister is attached, to get comment from them about this strayed member of their clergy. If no such body can be identified and the fact that the person claims to be a minister is important enough to be mentioned, then the fact that it’s self-designated needs to be mentioned, too.

    One need not attribute anti-church malice to the MSM as carl does. Never assume malice when ignorance cover the facts.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Carl:

    My questions focused on why the newspaper seems to have violated style. I was requesting information. Normal information.

  • carl

    [#6] Dave wrote:

    One need not attribute anti-church malice to the MSM as carl does. Never assume malice when ignorance cover the facts.

    Unless of course the MSM has a well-established history of displaying anti-church malice. If such is the case, then it eventually becomes prudent to assume malice. An enemy reveals himself through his actions even if his words say otherwise.

    carl

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    He “testified that as a minister and teacher, he has often educated people, including his children, on the “science” of sex and marriage.”
    If this is his euphemism for sexual abuse of minors, then, knowing the organizations where he worked as teacher and minister is very relevant. There may be more victims out there.

  • Dave

    Carl (#8), imho if you look at all the available facts, including the supposed anti-Hindu bias in reporting community violence in India, the simplest hypothesis is that MSM reporters have no use for any church, to the point of not knowing anything about them, but no particular animus against any one church. What gets up their nose is hypocrisy, a church leader creating scandal or acting opposite to the church’s moral precepts.

    In The Front Page a cub reporter, told to cover a sex-fiend story, asks a seasoned reporter what a sex fiend does. The reply is, “Sells newspapers.” Substitute straying clergy for sex fiend and you’ve pretty much got the MSM take on churches.


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