Neil Young, Superstar: Doug LeBlanc at Get Religion is reporting that Neil Young and NPR are teaming up to kill God. That’s because Doug doesn’t know that Neil Young is God.
Middle ground blahs: The NYT‘s Laurie Goodstein turns in an entirely servicable piece on the growing number of evangelical chaplains in the Air Force. Numbers; anecdotes; academic talking heads — everything is there, except the life of the story. As a perfectly-excuted piece of conventional journalism, this article is a case study in how newspapers alchemize ethnography into sociology. There are glimpses of close-up and gestures toward the big picture, but Goodstein never abandons the close horizons of the middle ground.
Spinning the Gospel: Skip the chatter and go right to the fight; or, get some background…
Noel Black, editor and publisher of the “gay cowboy” tabloid Toilet Paper, is hardly a friend of fundamentalism, but he is friends with fundamentalists. His Colorado Springs monthly includes a regular photographic feature called “Church Kicker” (this month’s, however, depicts a nude “Church Whipper”), but it’s also home to columns and forums by Rob Brendle, associate pastor of New Life, a conservative congregation of 11,000 in Colorado Springs that I wrote about in the May Harper’s, “Inside America’s Most Powerful Megachurch.” That title may be debatable, but New Life’s influence isn’t. Its founder, Ted Haggard, advises George W. Bush, hobnobs with Ariel Sharon, and leads the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals in the public sphere with a mix of radical conservatism on economic, sexual, and war-related questions and surprising moderation on environmental issues.
Defending his boss and his church, Brendle vigorously challenged my article on a number of blogs, prompting Black to ask the pastor if he’d like to take a crack at the source — me. Brendle was game. I was reluctant, however. I wanted to take the journalist’s fifth: “The article speaks for itself.” In another situation, I would have. But shortly after the article appeared — or rather, disappeared, when an unidentified magazine enthusiast bought nearly every copy of the issue within driving distance of Colorado Springs the day it hit the stands — New Life sent an email to its members warning them to not act “weird” when media came to visit. The email defined “weird” according to the norms of New Life worship — dancing, jumping, and “spiritual warfare.”
I read the email as spin. Rob Brendle says it’s theology. I criticized his church’s lack of transparency here on The Revealer. So when Black suggested Brendle and I hold an email debate for the Toilet Paper, and Brendle agreed, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Some people say…something: Press critics routinely decry labels such as “conservative” and “liberal,” but this useless story in the conservative The Washington Times is evidence of the need for some degree of labeling. Summary: One group has changed its policy on sexual abstinence counseling. Another group is upset. But yet another group approves. A fourth group says the first group is wrong, and offers as evidence the fact that — oh, forget that. No, no facts here. Just some people saying some things.