As U.S. Attitudes Change, Some Evangelicals Dig In; Others Adapt

The audience at last month's Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Ky.

The audience at last month’s Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Ky. cvi photography hide caption

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America’s culture war, waged in recent years over gender roles, sexuality and the definition of marriage, is increasingly being fought inside evangelical Christian circles. On one side are the Christians determined to resist trends in secular society that appear to conflict with biblical teaching. On the other side are the evangelicals willing to live with those trends.

Percent saying homosexuality should be accepted by society

For Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the key question is “whether or not there is a binding morality to which everyone is accountable.”

Mohler is a cofounder of the biannual Together for the Gospel conference, which brought together thousands of evangelicals last month at a sports center in Louisville, a few miles from the Southern Baptist campus. Electronic signs around the top of the arena carried such messages as “We Were Born Out of Protest” and “We Stand On Scripture Alone, Not Man’s Wisdom.”

“Our theme for this year is, ‘We Protest,’ ” Mohler tells NPR. “You might say [it’s] putting the ‘protest’ back in Protestantism.” He and his fellow conservative leaders urge Christians to take a “biblical” stand against such things as no-fault divorce, extramarital sex, transgenderism, and gay marriage. His new book is We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong.

Mohler and other conservatives are pushing against strong headwinds, however. Survey data show that the number of Americans who think divorce is morally acceptable has increased significantly in recent years, while disapproval of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has declined sharply. [Click to see changing attitudes on homosexuality and same-sex marriage by religion.] The latter holds true even for white evangelicals, among the groups most resistant to LGBT rights. For church leaders like Mohler, the challenge is unmistakable.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is urging conservatives to put the "protest" back in Protestantism.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is urging conservatives to put the “protest” back in Protestantism. Emil Handke/Southern Baptist Theological Seminary hide caption

toggle caption Emil Handke/Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Conservative Christians in America are undergoing a huge shift in the way we see ourselves in the world,” Mohler says. “We are on the losing side of a massive change that’s not going to be reversed, in all likelihood, in our lifetimes.” In his view, Christians must adapt to the changed cultural circumstance by finding a way “to live faithfully in a world in which we’re going to be a moral exception.” (It is this goal, Mohler says, that explains the passage of “religious liberty” laws to protect people who want to express their opposition to same-sex marriage or transgenderism.)

‘At Odds With What Everyday People Believe’

Living as the moral exception was the prospect facing the Together for the Gospel attendees. Most were young men, training to be pastors in Southern Baptist churches. The Southern Baptists are one of the Protestant denominations that do not ordain women, even as church deacons. Some Southern Baptist congregations do not even allow divorced men to serve as pastors.

Many in their millennial generation may reject conservative thinking on social issues, but the young men who choose to be Southern Baptist pastors have full knowledge of the church teachings. Their church mandate is somewhat limited: not to persuade the broader culture of new moral truths but rather to help their own congregants live their lives as a “moral exception” to the rest of society.

“The Bible makes claims about what is right and wrong, and those claims are often at odds with what everyday people believe,” says Southern Baptist seminary student Joshua Van der Merwe, 24, of Louisville, during a break between conference sessions. “Christians are called to protest and to witness to what the Bible claims to be right and wrong.”

An insistence on strict Bible-based standards of morality may exclude some of those everyday people, however.

For them, one alternative is Ridgewood Baptist Church in a working-class suburb of Louisville. The pastor, Matt Johnson, grew up as a Southern Baptist, but his church is one of a group that broke from the Southern Baptist Convention about 25 years ago. It now serves a diverse congregation, and the men and women who make up Johnson’s lay advisory “Dawnings” committee advocate that it opens doors to everyday people.

“Let’s offer words of hope,” Johnson prayed at a recent Dawnings meeting. “Hope for the future of what could happen here, who could come here and find a place to belong.” The committee members included Janney Gilbert, a medical office manager whose son is gay, Estelle Power, a retired former deacon who became involved in the church after a painful divorce, and Janelle Perry, whose mother was the first female deacon at Ridgewood and who now serves as the church’s youth director.

“I’ve been here all my life, and Ridgewood is not the same church we were 40 years ago,” Perry says. “Everyone can come. Some people are taken aback by that — [and] women deacons. And we’ll let most anybody attend. … We’re just open-armed.”

It is not that the church serves highly educated liberals who might be expected to support a progressive agenda. The surrounding community, according to Johnson, is “a conservative area, with a lot of folks who feel disenfranchised. I’d say it represents the new face of poverty.”

The Role Of Women

Economic stress can be hard on marriages, and Ridgewood’s membership includes several people who have been divorced. “I don’t know what I would have done without this church,” Power says. “I felt I was the only person in the world that was going through a divorce.”

Now 76, Power says she has found others at Ridgewood whose lives didn’t necessarily fit a church ideal. She can relate to them, she says, because of her own experience.

“I’ve made some friends, just saying hello,” she says, “and somebody would say, ‘You’re so kind.’ I said, ‘No, I’m just who I am.’ But I do think that it makes you a little more humble when you go through something.”

Power grew up in rural Kentucky with divorced parents. Her father drank too much, but listened faithfully to Baptist preachers on the radio. Having heard bad things all her life about women who divorced, she welcomed the less judgmental attitude at Ridgewood.

“There are people who have stopped going to church because they think that all that church is is a place where you’re being condemned,” Johnson says, “and where you’re just told, ‘This is what you have to think.’ ” Such people, he says, are among those whom he now hopes to reach with his own ministry.

The church’s rupture with the Southern Baptist Convention was in a dispute over the role of women. Southern Baptists believe that men and women “complement” each other but are not interchangeable, which is why women are not allowed to serve in prominent church leadership roles.

Mohler says the church position on complementary gender roles may seem outdated but comes straight from the Bible.

“It’s an entire pattern of complementarity that we see woven throughout the account of scripture,” he says, “from Genesis 1:26-28 all the way to the Book of Revelation. So it’s not a minor matter to suggest that the church can somehow just update its understanding of gender. This is where we must be found faithful, regardless of the cultural understanding around us.”

More than 15 million Americans attend Southern Baptist churches. Many Christians yearn for the certainty and direction that come with a life based on a strict reading of the Bible. With the culture rapidly changing around them, however, the future of conservative evangelical Christianity is not clear.

By contrast, the more moderate Baptist churches would seem to have an ever-growing market. On the other hand, some of the people who have soured on the Southern Baptist approach now reject church altogether. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population is declining, so the growth prospects for a congregation like Ridgewood Baptist are also unclear.

From the outside, with a cross prominently placed on the plain brick front, it looks like any other Baptist church in Louisville. Nick Wilson, the church pianist and most prominent gay member, says he would never have approached Ridgewood had he not heard it was a welcoming church.

“Driving by, seeing Ridgewood Baptist Church, I would not stop,” he says. “I would just assume that I already know what’s going on inside those doors, and I’m not welcome, or I don’t want to be part of it, and would go on.”

Nick Wilson’s story on being Baptist and gay will air on All Things Considered and publish online later today.

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More Than A Mistress: Madame De Pompadour Was A Minister Of The Arts

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, may be best known as King Louis XV's Chief Mistress. But she was also a highly educated tastemaker, a patron of the arts, and an artist in her own right.

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, may be best known as King Louis XV’s Chief Mistress. But she was also a highly educated tastemaker, a patron of the arts, and an artist in her own right. Heritage Images/Getty Images hide caption

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When Louis XV, King of France, first met the woman who would become his chief mistress, she was dressed as a domino, and he was dressed as a plant. It was 1745, and Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, had been invited to a masked ball at Versailles. If this sounds like a chance meeting, it wasn’t — her family had been strategizing to orchestrate this very moment for years.

“They envisioned her having this role when she was just a bourgeois young girl living in Paris, and they made it happen,” explains Columbia University art historian Susan Wager.

Not long ago, Wager discovered a leather portfolio of etchings made by Pompadour. For over a century, the portfolio and the etchings inside had gone unrecognized. Wager discovered it at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., among a batch of items founder Henry Walters bought in 1895.

“I was so thrilled,” she recalls. “When I pulled that out of the box in the manuscripts room, my heart started to pound. I could barely talk.”

In this etching, circa 1758, Pompadour captures her pet spaniel, mid-trot.

In this etching, circa 1758, Pompadour captures her pet spaniel, mid-trot. Ariel Tabritha/Kimber Wiegand/The Walters Art Museum hide caption

toggle caption Ariel Tabritha/Kimber Wiegand/The Walters Art Museum

Wager curated an exhibit of those etchings and other works by Pompadour, which is now on view at The Walters.

“She was one of the smartest women ever associated with the French crown,” says University of Pennsylvania professor Joan deJean, author of The Age of Comfort.

A well-educated tastemaker, she hung out with Enlightenment intellectuals like Voltaire and Diderot and she lobbied for the publication of France’s first encyclopedia.

“She’s a real brand name in the world of style,” says deJean (just think of the name of Elvis Presley’s haircut!) “She was like a minister of the arts.”

Pompadour was a patron of artists — their chief customer — says Wager: “She would give them money to make paintings and have them put in her houses so people could see them there.”

And Pompadour herself made art. “She brings the most talented gem carver to live with her at Versailles,” Wager explains. “She buys a drilling machine — which is the tool that you need — puts that in her apartments, and has him come and live there and make gems for her.”

This carnelian and gold ring shows the profile of Asclepius, Greek god of medicine and healing.

This carnelian and gold ring shows the profile of Asclepius, Greek god of medicine and healing. Susan Tobin/The Walters Art Museum hide caption

toggle caption Susan Tobin/The Walters Art Museum

And not only did he make gems for her — but he taught her how to make them as well. She carved little scenes and cameos into semi-precious stones — carnelians, topaz — for rings and bracelets. To make a permanent record of the gems, Pompadour had artists draw them, and then she learned to make etchings from the drawings.

Some of the stones, rings and delicate, charming etchings are on display at The Walters: One sketch depicts love and friendship. Another shows a beautiful woman reaching her hand out to a cherub, the two intertwined with a garland of flowers. In a third, Pompadour’s little pet spaniel looks up expectantly, tail wagging, paw lifted.

There were 52 etchings in all. Pompadour made fewer than 20 copies of them and gave them as gifts. She put her own set in a lemon-yellow leather portfolio — the one that Wager found.

Columbia University art historian Susan Wager found this yellow, leather portfolio among a batch of items purchased by museum founder Henry Walters in 1895. Inside were etchings by Madame de Pompadour.

Columbia University art historian Susan Wager found this yellow, leather portfolio among a batch of items purchased by museum founder Henry Walters in 1895. Inside were etchings by Madame de Pompadour. Ariel Tabritha/Kimber Wiegand/The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore hide caption

toggle caption Ariel Tabritha/Kimber Wiegand/The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

“It has this gorgeous, gold embossed coat of arms at the center and all this gold lacework,” Wager says.

Wager did some Nancy Drew sleuthing with this portfolio: She knows it was Pompadour’s personal set because it’s printed on different paper than the other surviving sets (indicating it was a first-run printer’s proof). There’s also a hand-written table of contents inside — no other surviving set has that list.

Wager’s breath was taken away when she found that portfolio, and Louis XV likely felt the same way when he first met the beautiful Madame Pompadour at that Versailles ball in 1745.

It didn’t take long for Louis to move her into a fancy Versailles apartment, where she became Chief Mistress. His wife, Queen Marie, is said to have remarked, “If there must be a mistress, better her than any other.” At court, Pompadour was careful to stay on the queen’s good side, and show her respect.

Five or so years after they met, the relationship between Pompadour and the king changed. Diaries and letters report that in 1750 Pompadour switched floors at Versailles.

“But what’s really remarkable is that she still remained at court in the position of official mistress for the rest of her life even though there was no longer a sexual relationship,” says Wager.

Louis relied on her as a trusted friend and advisor — she was also an arts patron, administrator, organizer and facilitator.

Here, Pompadour shows Love encircling Friendship with a floral garland.

Here, Pompadour shows Love encircling Friendship with a floral garland. Ariel Tabritha/Kimber Wiegand/The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore hide caption

toggle caption Ariel Tabritha/Kimber Wiegand/The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

“There’s this famous line — ‘The King only loves you for your staircase,'” Wager says — referring to the circular staircase Louis constructed at Versailles to connect his room to his mistress’ room. “But I think it means so much more than that — this idea of the staircase as this mediating passage … She was mediating between members of the court and the king. They would say ‘I want to say this to the king.’ And she’d say, ‘No, wait, let me tell him. Let me translate it into my own words and I’ll come back to you.’ She was, in all sorts of ways, manipulating this idea of the staircase — of the passage — in an artistic, in an intellectual and in a political way.”

Pompadour may have been brought on as a mistress, but she ended up being much more than that. Her artwork is on display at The Walters through the end of May.

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Methods For Reforming Neo-Nazis Help Fight The Radicalization Of Muslims

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Imagine this scenario: A young Muslim leaves home to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Thousands of young men from Europe have done exactly that in the past two years.

But here’s the twist: Imagine that just weeks after arriving, the young man realizes he’s made a terrible mistake. What does he do now?

If he’s American, his options are few. Even attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS is considered providing support to a terrorist organization, a federal offense that carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years in prison.

But if the young Muslim is German, he might be in luck. The German government is looking at new ways to work with what are essentially ISIS dropouts, and it is drawing from its previous work with right-wing extremists. It appears many of the same methods used to reform neo-Nazis are directly applicable to young people who are taken in by violent Salafist groups like ISIS.

“We got a phone call from a family who told us their son had gone to ISIS, and after two weeks, he realized, ‘OK, that’s not for me, that is not what I expected, that is not what I wanted to do. I want to come home,’ ” says Julia Berczyk, a counselor at a Berlin-based rehabilitation program called Hayat-Germany.

Hayat means “life” in Arabic, and in many ways, counselors at this program are trying to provide a new lease on life for young Muslims who radicalize and then regret it.

The process usually begins with a phone call. In the case Berczyk cites of a young man who wanted to return, Hayat advised his family to contact German authorities. Parents are typically reluctant to do that, Bercyzk says, because reporting on their children could send them to jail. But given the alternative — the possible death of a relative on the battlefield — parents tend to follow Hayat’s counsel.

“We’ve found that calling the authorities early can be quite an advantage in the court later on,” says Berczyk. “Because the authorities see, okay, this guy was really trying to get out of there, and the family was willing to cooperate with us and they were open about it. That can actually have a very positive effect on sentencing later on.”

According to official tallies, some 700 Germans have traveled to Syria to join groups like ISIS since 2012; hundreds are believed to have returned. So it isn’t surprising that German authorities are eager to use all means available — whether it is parents or hotline calls or friends and friends of friends — to identify ISIS followers in Germany and possibly de-radicalize them before they turn violent. Hayat-Germany is part of that official effort; it is funded by Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

Just this spring, an ISIS defector returned to Europe and turned over a thumb drive that contained thousands of the group’s job applications. German authorities have the documents and officials there tell NPR that the information has been very helpful in their effort to locate returnees in Germany.

Similarly, an American ISIS defector from Virginia turned himself into Iraqi Kurdish forces back in March. Officials expect such defections will only increase. Hayat says there could be more cases for leniency. If someone who traveled to Syria didn’t fight, for example, but instead helped ISIS with IT or translated for the group, German authorities take that into account. (So far, U.S. authorities haven’t made those kinds of distinctions.).

Hayat-Germany grew out of a program called Exit-Deutschland, which targeted neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists, groups that German authorities have been working to deradicalize and fold back into Germany society for years. Berczk says the Hayat program is premised on the belief that the lessons from working with right-wing extremist programs can be applied to radical Islamists as well.

“There is a commonality between extremist ideologies,” she says. “But also if we are talking about sects and cults, there are certain things that all these groups have in common.”

That’s good news because it means authorities can mine their long experience with neo-Nazis and apply it to the relatively new problem they face with ISIS now. Of course, each case is different, which is what makes deradicalization complicated.

But in a general way, Hayat-Germany says the key component in these programs is family. Studies have shown that by strengthen family ties, parents and siblings end up providing the support young people were missing and subsequently sought and found in extremist groups.

Among other things, Hayat counsels the families to avoid confrontation when they are trying to convince relatives to come back from Syria. Recruiters in the jihadist camps tell new arrivals that conflict with their families is inevitable. They warn them that if they reach out to those they have left at home, they’ll be chastised and ordered to return.

The problem with their families, the recruiters say, is they just don’t understand ISIS followers and the depth of their faith. If families get angry — even if it comes from worry — this plays right into the recruiters’ hands.

That’s why Hayat tells parents not to demand a return, but instead to suggest their relatives leave Syria and settle in a third country, far away from the battlefield, and start a family and a new life. Once the young people are out from under ISIS’ spell, families have a better chance of convincing them eventually to come home. Strategies to make this happen come from counselors at Hayat.

Quintan Wiktorowicz, an academic who did field studies on radicalization in Jordan and the U.K., now runs Affinis Labs, which tries to use innovation and entrepreneurship to solve community problems like radicalization. He was responsible for engagement programs at the White House and developed counter-radicalization initiatives for the State Department. He says Hayat’s remedies — from hotlines people can call to engaging the families of radicalized youth in counseling sessions — are strategies that have been effective across ideologies.

“Although there are different pathways to radicalization and the ideologies vary across extremists groups, the underlying drivers are very similar,” he said.

The drivers usually come in three parts: an extreme level of frustration, a sense of powerlessness and exposure to an ideology that not only resonates emotionally, but also offers a solution to the frustration.

“The mechanics, whether you are a right-wing extremist or embracing ISIS, are very similar,” he says.

Wiktorowicz says the one constant in successful programs is that they are very individualized in order to address the grievances that drove someone to extremist groups in the first place.

“It is incredibly labor intensive to do rehabilitation and de-radicalization because you have to take into account what experiences and psychological needs lead them down the path to extremism in the first place,” he says.

The bright spot in this is that not all of ISIS’ followers are such hard cases.

“For individuals who join social reasons or because of an identity crisis, then you have a better chance of customizing the rehabilitation intervention,” he says.

When it comes to ISIS followers, particularly those from the U.S., there’s a general sense that young men and women have traveled to Syria as part of a group of friends. Or they think traveling to Syria will help them bear witness to history and be part of what ISIS has called a homeland for Muslims.

Setting them straight on that is possible with counseling. Hayat’s hotline for families and would-be returnees has become so popular, its reach has gone beyond Germany. Denmark has a hotline. The U.K. and France have been setting up something similar too. Hayat-Germany says it has counseled some 200 extremists from all over the world. Bercyzk wouldn’t say if any calls had come in from America.

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WOOP, There It Is! Four Steps To Achieve Your Goals

Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen has found there can be a big downside to positive fantasizing.

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If you can dream it, you can do it, right? Right? Well … not so fast. While fantasizing feels good and believing in yourself is surely better than not, research shows that keeping your head in the clouds can keep you, er, from reaching the stars. This week Shankar talks with psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation.

Through the years, Oettingen has studied dieters, students, job seekers, love seekers, people recovering from physical injuries, and other strivers. She’s found they all have something in common: Those who have stronger, more positive fantasies about reaching their goals are actually less likely to achieve them. They lose fewer pounds, earn worse grades, receive fewer job offers, stay lonely longer, recover from injury more slowly.

But there is a way to reach more of our goals and make our wildest (realistic) dreams a reality. It’s called WOOP, or Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Kara McGuirk-Alison, Maggie Penman and Max Nesterak. Special thanks this week to Daniel Shuhkin. To subscribe to our newsletter, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, @karamcguirk, @maggiepenman and @maxnesterak, and listen for Hidden Brain stories every week on your local public radio station.

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More Journalists Leaving Las Vegas Review-Journal After Sale To Billionaire

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was bought by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson late last year.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was bought by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson late last year. John Locher/AP hide caption

toggle caption John Locher/AP

With Monday’s departure of reporter Jennifer Robison from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, none of the three journalists who helped uncover the secret sale of the newspaper to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson remains at the company.

Robison, who took a job in communications for Pacific Gas and Electric Company in San Francisco, left after the exits of her former colleagues, reporters Howard Stutz and James DeHaven.

The last remaining member of the team that uncovered the Adelson ownership – @_jrobison -announces her departure from @reviewjournal

— Howard Stutz (@howardstutz) May 9, 2016

After Adelson and his family bought the Review-Journal late last year in a secret transaction, the journalists in the paper’s newsroom turned their investigative reporting skills inward. NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik said the deal was “initially intended to keep the new owners’ identity secret from the public and the newsroom itself.” He wrote:

“The paper’s reporters covered the mystery and subsequently identified the Adelsons despite the efforts of the paper’s publisher to delay and soften the coverage. The paper’s editor was among those who subsequently left. Promises of scrupulous disclosure of the Adelsons’ interests were scaled back.”

DeHaven was already on his way out when the story broke, as he told CNN last year. He now works as a Montana statehouse reporter for the Helena Independent Record.

Howard Stutz, a long-time casino industry reporter, announced last week that he was leaving the newspaper to work with the Las Vegas law firm Greenberg Traurig. As NPR member station KNPR reported:

“After 11 years covering the gaming industry for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Howard Stutz has stepped down.

“Stutz’s tenure as a reporter and columnist in Las Vegas lasted some 30 years, with time spent with both the Las Vegas Sun and Review-Journal.

“His latest tenure at the Review-Journal included covering a devastated casino industry following the Great Recession in 2008.

“And, being part of the team of reporters who confirmed Sheldon Adelson’s $140 million purchase of Nevada’s largest newspaper.”

A flood of reporters and editors left the newspaper after it was bought by the Adelson family, citing curtailed editorial freedom, murky business dealings and unethical managers. As David reported in April, one veteran columnist, John L. Smith, left the paper because he couldn’t write about “two of the state’s biggest players, including his newspaper’s new owner.”

“Smith had written columns for the Review-Journalfor nearly three decades, with a frequent focus on Adelson, one of the most powerful figures in Nevada gambling and national Republican politics. The billionaire sued Smith for libel over a passage in a 2005 book about power players of Las Vegas.

“Smith prevailed in court, but paying the fees helped bankrupt him. (NPR told that remarkable story, including a rabbi’s offer of a secret $200,000 payoff from Adelson for Smith to admit libel, earlier this year.) Years later, the case has helped trigger the end of Smith’s career at the Review-Journal, as his new bosses cited it as a conflict of interest.

“Smith says new management implemented a new policy earlier this year: He could not cover anything to do with Adelson. The then-acting editor, Glenn Cook, regretfully conveyed the decision from publisher Craig Moon. Smith says he took issue: ‘I said, “He’s the one who sued me, he lost, and I’m conflicted?” ‘

“Smith says Cook told him: ‘You can’t do it or you’ll be fired.’ “

Last week, the newspaper’s features editor, Stephanie Grimes, announced her departure, too, via a post on Medium. She said the journalists in the newsroom “felt paranoid, communicating in whispers and texts about the latest rumors lest we were overheard by — well, we didn’t know.” Grimes wrote:

“I believe in the power of journalism and I believe in the great reporters in the RJ newsroom — including on my own team. But as much as I love the idea of the Review-Journal, my trust in the company as an institution has died a slow death over the past five months. Its management has failed on too many occasions to live up to the standards we so rigidly hold others to on a regular basis.”

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It's a twister! Tornado stars in Colorado couple's prom photo

A couple of eastern Colorado teenagers posing for a traditional prom photo received a unique memento as the girl’s mother snapped the shot with a tornado in the background.

Heidi Marintzer of Wray, Colorado, said that when the twister first appeared Saturday on the horizon, she and her 15-year-old daughter, Ali, along with the girl’s boyfriend, Charlie Bator, 18, had sought shelter indoors.

Then, when the twister started to move away, Heidi Marintzer went outside with the teenage couple and they posed for photos in a neighbor’s backyard, with the tornado in the background.

“We were just like, we can’t believe this, it’s so beautiful and yet it’s a tornado,” Marintzer said in a telephone interview.

Two photographs taken by Marintzer that feature the twister, with one showing the couple hugging and the other a close up of Ali with her tongue out, have gained widespread media attention and gone viral on social media.

The twister was estimated to be more than 2 miles (3.2 km) away when the photo was taken, Marintzer said.

Ali and Charlie subsequently attended their prom at Wray High School in the town of about 2,300 people. The event was delayed by about 45 minutes because of the twister, Marintzer said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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