Search Results for: evangelist

NYTimes warns: Evangelistic speech near the National Mall!

Are there any GetReligion readers out there who remember the mini-media storm back in 1999 when the Southern Baptist Convention published a series of booklets to guide church members in their prayers for the conversion of members of other faiths?

As you would expect, some faith leaders were quite offended by this, especially Jews who — readers with really long memories will recall — had previously been involved with a Southern Baptist or two about issues linked to prayers and Judaism.

I went to an event in 1999 at a Washington, D.C., think tank in when some Jewish leaders dialogued with Southern Baptists, in a very constructive manner, about the wisdom of these guides, the centrality of evangelism to Baptist theology, etc., etc.

In the question-and-answer session, a Washington Post scribe asked, in a rather blunt manner, why Southern Baptists were allowed to print and circulate these kinds of materials.

I was stunned. So was the very liberal rabbi in the chair next to me. I asked a question that went something like this: “Did I just hear someone from the Washington Post question whether evangelistic speech is covered by the First Amendment?” The Reconstructionist rabbi said, “I think that’s what just happened.”

Why do I bring up this story? Well, this is what I thought of when I hit an interesting passage in a New York Times story about the Green family (of Hobby Lobby fame) and its attempt to build a massive Bible museum on prime land in Washington, D.C.

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Houston, we have a Presbyterian ‘evangelist’ problem (correction)

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Correction: The Houston Chronicle’s coverage was much more extensive than reported below. Read our apology to the Chronicle and senior reporter Mike Tolson.

In her recent “State of the Godbeat 2014″ report for GetReligion, Julia Duin noted that the Houston Chronicle once had two full-time religion writers. These days, that big Texas paper has one writer covering religion, along with some other beats, Duin reported.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that a major religion news story in the nation’s fourth-largest city — the narrow decision by the First Presbyterian Church of Houston to remain in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — generated 262 words in the Chronicle. That’s a glorified news brief, folks.

I was pleased to see that The Texas Tribune gave about three times that much space to the story, although I found the headline and lede paragraph a bit misleading.

The Tribune’s headline:

Houston Church Opts Not to Defect From Denomination

The lede:

HOUSTON — An influential Houston church voted on Sunday not to defect from the nation’s largest Presbyterian body. The vote stands in marked contrast to a slate of wealthy Texas congregations that have left the denomination over a disagreement about biblical interpretation and homosexuality.

Here’s my question: At this point, wouldn’t most readers assume that a majority of members voted to stay in the denomination?

It’s not until the fourth paragraph that we learn otherwise:

The results were tight. Of the 1,681 members voting, 1,085 cast ballots in favor of leaving PCUSA. That was just 36 votes shy of the necessary two-thirds to align with the new evangelical denomination.

So, in other words, 65 percent of the church supported leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), but the total fell just shy of the supermajority. Yes, that’s far below the 89 percent of Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas members who voted last fall to leave the denomination. Still, the actual vote breakdown is a crucial detail that belongs in the first sentence, not the fourth, if you ask me. To the Chronicle’s credit, its short report did just that:

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Are there Muslim evangelists?

How far should the press go to acculturate their overseas news stories — to make them palatable to an American audience while also being true to the underlying facts? NPR Morning Edition reporter Lauren Frayer had a great story last week that “gets religion”, but also brought this issue to mind.

Her report broadcast on Pakistan’s Aamir Liaquat was an example of solid reporting. Her story entitled “Pakistani Televangelist Is Back On Air, Raising Fears” meets the Orwell test for journalism as it is free from cant, has a moral compass, is well researched and well crafted. But were the correct nouns used?

Here is the lede:

Pakistan’s most famous, and infamous, TV evangelist has been rehired by a top station. In 2008, Aamir Liaquat made on-air threats against a religious minority, the Ahmadis. Those comments were followed by widespread violence against the group. Liaquat’s return to the airwaves has rekindled the controversy.

As Pakistan’s media has expanded in recent years, there’s been a rise in Islamic preachers with popular TV call-in talk shows. And they’ve had their share of scandal. One famous TV host fled the country after embezzlement allegations. Others are accused of spewing hate speech

That’s the case for Pakistan’s most popular televangelist, Aamir Liaquat, who’s just been rehired by the country’s top TV channel despite accusations that he provoked deadly attacks in 2008.

I have some small knowledge of the political and religious culture of Pakistan and can say she knows what she is talking about. I encourage you to listen to the broadcast. To often Western reporters are parachuted into overseas hotspots and report on issues they know nothing about — either mangling the facts or mouthing a script written by others. My colleague at GetReligion M.Z. Heminway reported on a particularly egregious howler along these lines committed by the New York Times.

I applaud NPR for bringing this story to an American audience. Given the growing U.S. involvement in the Muslim word, it behooves the American press to cover these stories and not confine them to the ghetto of specialist publications.

In writing about the Muslim world, however, I wonder how appropriate it is to use Christian terminology. Terms such as “fundamentalist Muslim” are often dropped into stories to give Western readers some context or equivalence. In the headline of this story, and in the opening paragraphs the term evangelist and televangelist are used to describe Liaquat. Is that right?

Using the Associated Press style book as a guide, using this terminology is not wrong — but it is not quite right either. It states:

evangelist

Capitalize only in reference to the men credited with writing the Gospels. The four Evangelists were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In lowercase, it means a preacher who makes a profession of seeking conversions.

Conversions to what? To proselytize is the verb that means to attempt to convert someone to another faith or point of view, while a Muslim evangelist traditionally has been someone who seeks to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. Turning to Wikipedia provides little clarity as it defines an evangelist as one who practices Christian evangelism, while the Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary further refines evangelist as a:

Protestant minister or layman who preaches at special services [or] an enthusiastic advocate <an evangelist for physical fitness>

On one level it may well be appropriate to use terms familiar to readers to illustrate a story. That is after all the purpose of an analogy. But is this appropriate when language is available to describe the same fact set in the terms of the culture being described?

A Muslim preacher who seeks to evangelize is called a sheikh or imam. Da‘wah, meaning the issuing of a summons, call or invitation, is the duty of every Muslim to invite people to their faith or to recall lapsed or nominal Muslims to a deeper faith.  A Muslim who practices da‘wah, either as a preacher, religious worker or someone engaged in a faith-building community activity is called a da‘i, plural du‘at.

To a Muslim audience, Aamir Liaquat is a da‘i — someone who seeks to renew the Muslim faith, proselytize non-Muslims, and combat false teaching. Yes, he is an enthusiastic advocate for Islam, but should Christian terms be used to describe this activity when then are Muslim terms to describe such actions?

At the same time there is a danger in taking this too far.

A Saturday Night Live skit that aired on 10 November 1990 and can be viewed here made fun of the mock Spanish some television reporters used on air. Entitled “NBC News Employees”, the skit starred Latino actor Jimmy Smits and the shows regular cast.  The scene opens with a reporter speaking on air from Nicaragua, who says the word Nicaragua in a hyper-Spanish phonology.  The skit progresses with the Anglo characters pronouncing Spanish place names (Los Angeles, San Diego, Honduras), foods (enchilada, burrito), and even sports teams (Denver Broncos) in a ridiculous Spanish accent.

Jimmy Smits’ character, Antonio Mendoza, is introduced to the Anglo reporters and says his name with an American English accent.  The other actors respond by saying his name with an excessive accent and Smit’s character becomes more and more uncomfortable as the skit progresses. He finally states:

If you don’t mind my saying, sometimes when you take Spanish words and kind of over pronounce them, well its kind of annoying.

So, GetReligion readers, is it kind of annoying to use Muslim terms for Muslim religious leaders in news stories? Is it too politically correct, or effete — perhaps pretentious? Unnecessary? Ridiculous? A tele-sheikh? Or is it demeaning to the non-Western world to subsume all things into an American milieu? What say you?

Is candidate Rick Santorum an “evangelist”?

The first word that a journalist needs to think of when writing about former Sen. Rick Santorum is “conservative” and the second is “Catholic.”

Yes, I am well aware that in 2005 Time magazine named him one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals, which simply makes no sense at all in terms of doctrine and heritage. Ah, but who cares about religion when you can use “evangelical” as a political label? Thus, Time noted that Santorum “may be a Catholic, but he’s the darling of Protestant Evangelicals.” Conservative, daily Mass Catholics tend to think highly of him, too, but nevermind.

Readers may also recall that former New York Times editor Bill Keller memorably twisted the senator’s faith, as well, in his essay that sort of compared traditional believers with those who embrace space aliens. The correction dutifully noted: “The essay also erroneously includes Rick Santorum among politicians affiliated with evangelical Christianity. Mr. Santorum is Catholic.”

Cable television watchers may have noticed that Santorum continues to seek the GOP presidential nomination and, this time of year, that means courting Iowa evangelicals. Alas, there appear to be no Catholics in Iowa.

‘Tis the pre-primary season. Thus, the DC bureau of the McClatchy Newspapers recently produced this news feature about the candidate, with the headline, “Rick Santorum’s presidential ambition is rooted in his faith.”

One would assume that the words “his faith” in that headline refer to the faith that is practiced by Santorum.

The story opens like this:

WASHINGTON – For former Sen. Rick Santorum, it’s always been about faith.

Deep religious faith fuels Santorum’s conservative politics. It’s what propelled him into becoming one of Congress’ leading opponents of abortion, same-sex marriage and wrongdoing by fellow lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation. Faith is the key ingredient that also powers Santorum’s long-shot drive for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

The story accurately notes that Santorum continues to stress moral and cultural issues in a year in which most Americans are worried about the economy. However, social issues remain crucial in GOP primary season (ask Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney) and Santorum soldiers on.

The top of the report is dominated by politics and then, at last, 10 paragraphs or so down, readers are returned to the main subject:

A devout Catholic and father of seven children, Santorum was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 at age 32. He was a member of the so-called “Gang of Seven” House GOP freshmen who rankled House leadership in both parties by highlighting check-writing abuses by their fellow lawmakers at the now-defunct House bank. …

In the Senate, Santorum became known for his social conservatism. … Santorum’s stances earned him a solid following among religious conservatives and a spot on Time magazine’s 25 most influential evangelists list in 2005. It also earned him the enmity of many Democrats, women’s groups, abortion rights advocates and gay rights supporters, who disliked what they considered Santorum’s holier-than-thou attitude.

The 25 most influential WHAT?

Oh my, was that word “evangelists?” Would that be “evangelists” as in Christian men and women who evangelize nonbelievers, often in large public rallies?

So the conservative Catholic is an “evangelist” as well as, in political terms, an “evangelical.” One cannot help but flash back to 2004 and that edgy Books & Culture essay by sociologist Christian Smith of the University of Notre Dame, the piece entitled “Religiously Ignorant Journalists: In search of Episcopals and evangelists.”

All together now, let’s read aloud this ever memorable passage near the top:

As a scholar of American religion promoted to journalists by my university’s PR department as an alleged expert, I constantly receive inquiries from reporters wanting background, quotes, and contacts for religion stories they are writing. Usually they have one or two days to complete the story. As often as not, the journalist mispronounces the name of the religious group he or she is covering.

“Evangelicals” is one of their favorites to botch. Often in our discussions, journalists refer to ordinary evangelical believers as “evangelists” — as if the roughly 70 million conservative Protestants in America were all traveling preachers like Billy Graham and Luis Palau — or, more to the point, televangelists like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert. Hey, aren’t all evangelicals really pretty much like these last two, or rather as many reporters tend to see them — scandal-prone limelight seekers with ambitions to impose a repressive Christian moral order on all America? Other journalists simply cannot pronounce “evangelicals” at all. They get confused and flustered, and after a few uncomfortable tries at “evangelics” and “evangelicalists” they give up and resort to referring to evangelicals simply as “them.”

So, to the McClatchy bureau, we must say, “Correction please.”

NOTE: In your comments, please discuss the journalism issues in this post, not your opinions of Santorum or his candidacy.

When is an ‘evangelical’ not an ‘evangelist’?

As an admirer of his political life and work, I know a few things about the late Sen. Mark Hatfield.

I know that he was very open about his faith and was involved in many private circles of believers that practiced, in the best sense of the word, “evangelism” on behalf of the Christian faith. In that sense, and in that sense alone, it might be possible to call the senator an “evangelist.”

However, I doubt that he ever was a preacher or a leader in the large- or small-scale public rallies or crusades that are commonly linked to the word “evangelist,” in the sense that the Rev. Billy Graham is the world’s best known evangelist.

So, with that said, what’s going on with this short Richmond Times-Dispatch salute to Hatfield? Note that the headline has nothing to do with the article itself.

The headline:

Mark Hatfield: Evangelist

The top paragraphs:

Oregon Gov. Mark Hatfield delivered the keynote address at the 1964 Republican Convention that nominated Barry Goldwater for president. Intransigents subsequently would vilify Hatfield for being not only a moderate but a RINO.

Hatfield served in the Senate for many years and looked the part. A man of intense religious faith, he lent an evangelical perspective to politics. His opposition to capital punishment and to abortion suggested his seamless approach to issues relating to human life. Christianity Today saluted him. The religious right did not.

Clearly, the editorial-page staff thought that the word “evangelist” was, in some way, the same word as “evangelical.” That’s really strange, for scribes working in a sort-of Southern state such as Virginia.

Simply stated, the headline is wrong.

Thus, this calls for another visit with sociologist Christian Smith and his famous (to some infamous) Books & Culture essay entitled, “Religiously Ignorant Journalists.” This text should be posted in many newsrooms, methinks, for occasional inspirational reading. The opening goes like this:

Today I received a phone message from a journalist from a major Dallas newspaper who wanted to talk to me about a story he was writing about “Episcopals,” about how the controversy over the 2003 General Convention’s approval of the homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, would affect “Episcopals.” What an embarrassment. How do I break the news to him that there are no “Episcopals”? Actually, they are called Episcopalians. Of greater concern, I wonder how this journalist is going to write an informed and informing story in a few days about such an important and complex matter when he doesn’t even know enough in starting to call his subjects by their right name.

What I have learned, however, over the years, is that this journalist is not alone in his ignorance. As a scholar of American religion promoted to journalists by my university’s PR department as an alleged expert, I constantly receive inquiries from reporters wanting background, quotes, and contacts for religion stories they are writing. Usually they have one or two days to complete the story. As often as not, the journalist mispronounces the name of the religious group he or she is covering.

“Evangelicals” is one of their favorites to botch. Often in our discussions, journalists refer to ordinary evangelical believers as “evangelists” — as if the roughly 70 million conservative Protestants in America were all traveling preachers like Billy Graham and Luis Palau — or, more to the point, televangelists like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert. … Other journalists simply cannot pronounce “evangelicals” at all. They get confused and flustered, and after a few uncomfortable tries at “evangelics” and “evangelicalists” they give up and resort to referring to evangelicals simply as “them.”

Words have meanings, folks. As Smith goes on to note, can you imagine news executives hiring people who mangled legal and political terms in the same way?

I know. It’s an old subject. It’s still out there and it’s still important. Some people just don’t get it.

Evangelist blowhards

So a man named John Stott died last week. Sure, he was no Amy Winehouse, but the English pastor, theologian, intellectual and author was kind of a big deal for global evangelicalism.

After Christianity Today (for disclosure, where I work full-time) posted the first obituary, the Associated Press quickly followed with a news story, and the New York Times and The Guardian eventually posted obituaries.

It wasn’t surprising that most reporters didn’t fall all over themselves to write about his death, but I would have expected a little more in the mainstream. For instance, its ironic that while Time magazine named Stott one of the most 100 influential people in 2005, they posted nothing about his death.

Sure, Stott didn’t pray with presidents, but he influenced a generation of evangelicals, especially its leaders. If reporters needed to connect it to public office, they could have pointed out that he was chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II. If they needed a little controversial hook, maybe they could have explored the annihilationism angle (becoming non-existent rather than tormented in hell) with the recent debates about Rob Bell and universalism. But these are only slices of Stott’s widespread influence, and we might grade the coverage with a “meh.”

What prompted a GetReligion post for me, though, was the Los Angeles Times obituary, posted Sunday with the headline “The Rev. John Stott dies at 90; influential Anglican evangelist.” Although Stott did lots of personal evangelism (encouraging conversion), I’m not sure “evangelist” is the right term, since he was not an itinerant preacher to the masses in the manner of Billy Graham. Then we have the deck, which draws directly from the text of the article.

Unassuming but erudite, the pastor was considered a mentor to Billy Graham and Rick Warren. He was a principal framer of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant that launched the global evangelical movement.

Stott definitely helped frame the modern, global evangelical movement, but he certainly did not launch it the same way you would launch a formal institution. Then there’s the framing of the lead.

The Rev. John Stott did not fill stadiums with the faithful like his longtime friend, Billy Graham, or give the invocation at a presidential inauguration, as megachurch pastor Rick Warren did for Barack Obama. Yet he was a giant of the evangelical world — perhaps the most influential evangelist most people have never heard of.

The Times probably wants to connect to its California audience with the Rick Warren reference, but it’s funny to me that the reporter thinks that Warren’s invocation prayer is his most influential moment (Purpose Driven Life anyone?). Like Billy Graham, politics has been part of Warren’s ministry but just one sliver of his influence. This illustrates a larger issue in journalism where reporters search so hard for the obvious story that they fail to see the big picture. Here’s how the piece ends:

He also was famous for his simple lifestyle. For three months every year for 50 years, when he wasn’t living in his spare London flat, he retreated to a tiny cottage in Wales where he wrote his books by lantern light. It was not until several years ago that, over his objections, electricity was finally installed.

Really? That’s how you end an obituary on someone who shaped a religious movement?

Separate from the newspaper’s fine obituary, the news of Stott’s death prompted The New York Times‘ columnist Nicholas Kristof to write about why Stott illustrates the kind of evangelical he loves, rather than those bigoted, homophobic, blowhards. We don’t usually discuss columns here, but since it was a newsier column, we’re bringing it into this roundup.

Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic, and many who claim to be “pro-life” seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who won headlines and disdain.

But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.

I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.

It’s a tough life at those cocktail parties.

Don’t get me wrong: Kristof does some great reporting and I highly recommend his book Half the Sky, but he seems to pick and choose what he likes about a religious group. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that there are values intrinsic to a religious body that leaders don’t abandon because it’s viewed as backwards or less pragmatic (Catholics and contraceptives in Third World countries, for instance). There are these things called “doctrines,” in other words, that are rather important in most religious traditions.

Instead, we might consider David Brooks’s column from 2004, where the idea that Stott might be considered the “evangelical pope” first appeared.

Stott is so embracing it’s always a bit of a shock — especially if you’re a Jew like me — when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It’s like being in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.

Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward.

Brooks worked harder to understand Stott — beyond what he personally approved of — so that he could explain why Stott was so unique, both the obvious stances on policy and lifestyle and also the less visible theology and ideas that set Stott apart.

Pod people: Oprah, mainline evangelist

We are going to be done with Oprah Winfrey finale stuff sooner or later. I promise.

However, you will not be surprised — if you read some of the amazing first-person sermons that appeared in major media after her last rite — that I was still thinking about America’s favorite guru when it came time for this week’s Crossroads taping. That’s the GetReligion podcast, of course. Click here to listen to it (or head on over to iTunes and get it automatically every week).

I don’t want to add a whole lot here to what gets said in the podcast, but I do want to connect a few of the dots about why this subject fascinates me so much.

Let’s start here. If you had been reading GetReligion from the get go, you know that we have always argued that the shape and content of the Religious Left has been one of the most under-covered subjects in the mainstream press. The Religious Right has generated oceans of ink, while many corresponding subjects, debates and trends on the left have received little attention.

I mean, right now in Google News, a search for “Religious Left” gets you 19 references. A few minutes later, a search for “Religious Right” gets you 330. Actually, that’s a down day for the right. It’s time for a Sarah Palin bus tour!

I bring this up because, in my opinion, the decline of the Protestant mainline left — a basic fall of about 40 percent in membership in the last third of the 20th century — was one of the most under-covered subjects in that era. But while the moral, cultural and religious left declined in pews, pulpits and at altars, it’s clout evolved and grew elsewhere.

Like on television, at the mall and at the multiplex. And in Oprah’s Book Club.

One could also make the case that, without the decline of the mainline left, there never would have been a growing hole in the public square to be filled, for better and for worse, by the Religious Right.

So the Religious Right became the huge news story. The opening that allowed its rise? That received less analog and digital ink.

This leads us to that amazing Sally Quinn quote the other day in the Washington Post “On Faith” cyber-section, the one about the Rt. Rev. Oprah Winfrey and her impact on American civil religion (I think that is what she was saying changed):

In recent years, religious behaviors have changed dramatically. More people have left traditional religions to join congregations which are self validating. Gone were the fire and brimstone, you’re-all-going-to-hell-unless-you-accept-Jesus-Christ-as-your-personal-savior, the judgment, the fear, the punishment. Many religious and spiritual leaders have taken the lead on this, realizing people don’t want to be lectured to and made to feel guilty for common human failings. People want to feel hopeful, as though they matter. They want to feel empowered.

Oprah led the way.

So Oprah led the way to a faith without fear, judgment or punishments — eternal or temporal. A faith without a Savior who would ever dare to say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As a reporter, Quinn’s summery of the Oprah gospel sounds like the message that has grown to become the heart of the mainline liberal Protestant faith, especially at the level of seminaries and ecclesiastical bureaucracies.

So here is my question: Was Oprah the most successful mainline Protestant evangelist of her era? If so, why does her theology work so well at the mall and not in the sanctuaries of many or most mainline churches? I don’t know how one would investigate that story — but there is a story there.

Enjoy the podcast.

Who’s calling who an “evangelist”?

PastorsTonySusanandChoirSo what do you think of when you hear or read the word “evangelist”? Perhaps it would be better to frame the question this way: “Who do you think of when hear or read the word ‘evangelist’?”

I would predict that the average consumer of the news would give a simple response to the second question — “Billy Graham.” Truth is, Graham does fit the most common Protestant definition of that term. Here is a typical dictionary reference:

evan-ge-list
Date: 13th century

(1) often capitalized: a writer of any of the four Gospels
(2) a person who evangelizes; specifically: a Protestant minister or layman who preaches at special services

Now, with this in mind, consider the following attempts by the Associated Press to report on the conviction of the bizarre preacher and, many would argue, cult leader Tony Alamo of Arkansas. Here is the headline and the top of an early version of the story:

Jurors convict evangelist in sex-crimes trial

TEXARKANA, Ark. – A federal jury has convicted evangelist Tony Alamo on charges he took underage girls across state lines for sex. …

The jury found the 74-year-old Alamo guilty of all 10 counts he faced. The indictment accused him of taking girls as young as 9 across state lines as early as 1994.

Now, I have no way of knowing what happened next at the main Associated Press copy desk or at the regional bureau. But something happened that, only an hour later, radically improved the top of the story.

It’s possible (I am an idealistic guy, at heart) that someone said, “Wait a minute. Who is this Tony Alamo and what does he do? What is he actually famous for? Is this guy actually a Christian ‘evangelist,’ in any meaningful sense of that word?” It’s possible that someone who has been around for a few years even said, “Wait a minute. Isn’t this the guy who kept his wife’s corpse in the living room all those years because he was sure she was going to rise from the dead?”

Whatever happened, this is what the top of the basic Associated Press report looked like one hour later. The headline is still messed up, but check out the lede:

Jurors convict evangelist on 10 sex-abuse counts

TEXARKANA, Ark. – Tony Alamo, a one-time street preacher who built a multimillion-dollar ministry and became an outfitter of the stars, was convicted Friday of taking girls as young as 9 across state lines for sex.

Alamo stood silently as the verdict was read, a contrast to his occasional mutterings during testimony. His five victims sat looking forward in the gallery. One, a woman he “married” at age 8, wiped away a tear.

“I’m just another one of the prophets that went to jail for the Gospel,” Alamo called to reporters afterward as he was escorted to a waiting U.S. marshal’s vehicle.

Now folks, that’s much, much better. Instead of a mere label — “evangelist,” leaning toward “evangelical” — we have some carefully chosen words that described what this man was known for doing. Accuracy is important.

Show us, don’t tell us. Give us information, not vague labels. And it helps if you know what the word mean when you use them. The second report is greatly improved. Bravo.

On a personal note, let me confess that this story caught my eye for a simple reason. I actually met this strange fellow years ago while I was at the Charlotte Observer.

Alamo was in town to distribute anti-Catholic screeds and raise money and, somehow, he made it past security and got into the newsroom to put some of his disgusting tracts in the open mailboxes of all of the reporters and editors. Yes, he was dressed as Elvis at the time.

As you would imagine, this rather freaked everybody out. Also showed up next to my desk, on his way out, and said that he thought that I needed to write a column about him. I passed.

Photo: Tony and Susan Alamo in the glory days.


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