This was one call for water-leak help that the next-door neighbors in Middletown, Ohio, could not ignore.
"The landlord arrived and found Pattie topless, stoned and unconscious on her living room couch. Upstairs the bathtub was overflowing -- hence, the leaking roof," noted J.D. Vance, in his "Hillbilly Elegy" memoir about the crisis in America's working class that shaped his family.
"Pattie had apparently drawn herself a bath, taken a few prescription painkillers and passed out. … This is the reality of our community. It's about a naked druggie destroying what little of value exists in her life."
Vance was in high school at the time and dramas of this kind kept creating a dark cloud over his life. Many of his questions had moral and religious overtones, especially among people with roots back to the Bible Belt culture of the Kentucky mountains.
"Why didn't our neighbor leave that abusive man?", wrote Vance. "Why did she spend her money on drugs? Why didn't she see that her behavior was destroying her daughter?" And ultimately, "Why were all of these things happening … to my mom?"
Economic woes played a part, he said, but the elegy of hillbilly life involves psychology, morality, culture, shattered communities and families that are broken, or that never formed in the first place. Yes, there are religious issues in that mix.
"It's a classic chicken and egg problem," said Vance, reached by telephone. "Which comes first, poverty and economic problems or people making bad moral decisions that wreck marriages and homes? Clearly people -- children especially -- are caught in a vicious cycle."
It's crucial that religious leaders face this crisis, rather than continuing to build their sanctuaries and schools in prosperous areas, he said. After all, problems that plague distressed urban and rural settings will reach many "safe" suburbs -- soon.
Anyone who knows Appalachia knows that some of these woes -- poverty, alcohol and others -- have been around for generations. But "conditions keep changing and making things worse," he said, such as the lose of industrial "Rust Belt" jobs, waves of new drugs and generations of young people who have never lived in a stable home, with their fathers under the same roof.
Vance's own life story is both typical and highly unusual. He grew up in what locals called "Middletucky," after his family left Jackson, Ken., in the heart of coal country. His mother was trained as a nurse, yet she struggled with drugs, at least five marriages and countless romantic partners.
Depending on how one defines family ties, Vance said he has about a dozen stepsiblings. In one searing biographical passage, he describes the seemingly endless series of households, addresses and relationships he experienced between third and ninth grade. Nothing was more destructive than the "revolving door" of father figures, he said.
Vance escaped, even graduating from Yale Law School, because of his grandparents and disciplines he learned in the U.S. Marines. His "Mamaw and Papaw" are heroes in this story, providing love, stability and a quirky sense of moral order.
Social workers, clergy and others who want to help those trapped in the underclass must focus on saving marriages and the extended-family ties that can protect children, he said. That will require face-to-face work with troubled people.
When his Mamaw moved north, he noted, her Bible stayed in her lap, she prayed constantly and she insisted that God had a plan. However, she never felt comfortable in local churches. Back in Jackson, church people knew who she really was, including the fact she almost killed a man when she was 12 and later lost nine children, in agonizing miscarriages. The fact that she cursed like a sailor and had a gun wasn't the whole story, back home.
In those hills, stressed Vance, his people were poor, but they retained a sense of identity linked to the towns, churches and schools they called home. For better or worse, they had big families and a real community.
"You simple have to have help," he said. "You can't do this alone. If it's just me and my mom and all her boyfriends, then I never would have made it out. … The single individual, or even one stressed-out nuclear family, is not enough. You have to see the bigger picture."
Moments before the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, an Islamic State leader warned "Crusaders" that this rite was being held on a North African beach for a reason.
Previous videos of ISIS fighters "chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time" were filmed in Iraq and Syria, he noted, in fluent English. "Today, we are … south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message."
When the slaughter was over, the lead executioner stressed again: "We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission."
Time after time, Pope Francis has refused to take this bait -- consistently stating his conviction that true Islam promotes peace, not violence. He said this again when a reporter asked about the murder of the elderly Father Jacques Hamel in France.
"I don't like to speak of Islamic violence," said Francis, flying home from World Youth Day in Poland. "When I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy -- this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law -- and these are baptized Catholics! …
"If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence. … Not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad -- there's everything."
The terrorists who slaughtered the Egyptian Christians, he added, were quick to "show us their identity cards" as part of the Islamic State. "But this is a fundamentalist group which is called 'ISIS.' But you cannot say -- I do not believe -- that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist."
The pope's stand has caused debate among Catholics and other Christians, as well as quiet tensions with Christians in the ancient Middle Eastern churches. However, he has drawn praise from mainstream Islamic leaders, who stress the fact that ISIS has massacred countless Muslims who have rejected its radical vision of the faith.
Now, in a new issue of its magazine Dabiq -- entitled "Break the Cross" -- ISIS has responded directly to the pope of Rome, arguing that Francis has been misled by Muslims who are themselves heretics. ISIS leaders also claim that the views of Francis clash with those of earlier popes, including his predecessor Benedict XVI.
"Despite the clarity of past and perished popes regarding their enmity for Islam and its teachings, the current pope, Francis, has struggled against reality to advertise the apostate's perversion of Islamic teachings as the actual religion of Muslims," argues one essay in this Dabiq attack, translated into English by the Clarion Project (.pdf here).
"So while Benedict and many before him emphasized the enmity between the pagan Christians and monotheistic Muslims, Francis' work is notably more subtle, steering clear of confrontational words that would offend those who falsely claim Islam, those apostates whom the Crusaders found played the perfect role for their infiltration into Muslim lands."
Quoting from the papal document "The Joy of the Gospel," the ISIS statement claims that "Francis continues to hide behind a deceptive veil of 'good will,' covering his actual intentions of pacifying the Muslim nation. This is exemplified in Francis' statement that 'our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence'."
The bottom line: Ongoing conflicts between the Islamic State and the West, as well as all Muslims who reject its view of the faith, are not about politics, economics or even the logic of ordinary wars. No, the ISIS leadership insists that this global war is about religion, whether Pope Francis wants to admit it or not.
"We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah -- whether you realize it or not -- by making partners for Him in worship, you blaspheme against Him, claiming that He has a son, you fabricate lies against His prophets and messengers, and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices," argues one Dabiq essay.
"The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam."
One after another, news reports about violence at Catholic churches in France kept stacking up.
There was a mysterious fire on a church altar in Provence. Elsewhere, someone attacked the tabernacle containing the unleavened bread used in the Mass, scattering hosts on the floor. Attackers destroyed crosses and crucifixes in graveyards.
None of this surprised the Pro Europa Christiana Federation, which collects French media reports on anti-Christian acts of this kind. In 2015 they found 810 similar attacks in France.
But the murder of Father Jacques Hamel was different. The attackers interrupted a Mass, shouting "Allahu Akbar" and references to the Islamic State. The duo forced the elderly priest to kneel at the altar, where they slit his throat in what may have been an attempted beheading.
A nun who escaped -- Sister Danielle -- told reporters: "They told me, 'you Christians, you kill us.' They forced him to his knees. … That's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror."
This drama unfolded in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, named for St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, noted Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Australia, during a "Mass In Time Of Persecution" in Sydney.
"Though we welcome the solidarity of those of other faiths, and while we recognize that this was very much an attack on France, on civilization, on all religions more generally, we cannot ignore the fact that this was also a targeted attack on our Christian faith," he said.
"The two terrorists meant to go into a Catholic church. They meant to kill a priest of Jesus Christ. They meant to take nuns and faithful laity as hostages. They were not just looking for any old building, with any old people inside. And the terrorists underlined the meaning of their actions by engaging in a ritual sacrifice of the priest before the altar and a mock homily. So their act was not just murder, but also sacrilege, desecration, blasphemy."
Yes, Father Hamel had a history of kindness to the Muslim community. But in the end, his death was best described with a term rooted in Christian history, said Fisher, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Hamel died "in odium fidei" -- due to an act committed in "hatred of the faith."
"This is a term Catholics use," he explained, "to describe the characteristic death of a martyr, as one who dies for his or her faith, and because of that faith."
There were, however, Catholics who questioned claims that Hamel's murder was driven by religion, even the radicalized, twisted version of Islam proclaimed by ISIS.
Crucial to this debate was a statement after the murder by Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
Pope Francis, he said, "has been informed and participates in the pain and horror of this absurd violence. … We are particularly affected because this horrific violence took place in a church, a sacred place where the love of God is proclaimed, with the barbaric killing of a priest."
If the pope called the murder "absurd," then it it would be a rush to judgment to call this act "in odium fidei," argued Austen Ivereigh, author of "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope."
"In describing Rouen murder as 'absurd,' Pope refers to its pointless banality. Don't glorify it/them by ascribing religious etc. motives," wrote Ivereigh, on Twitter. "So many of my coreligionists are falling into the trap set by ISIS. Trying to turn Fr Hamel's pointless murder into a sacralized act."
Catholic conservative Phil Lawler sharply disagreed, stressing that the terrorists knew why they killed a priest at a church altar.
"If you believe that he is a martyr, you can't say that his murderers acted irrationally. If you believe that they acted irrationally, you can't call him a martyr," argued Lawler, in a CatholicCulture.org commentary.
"A delusional schizophrenic might kill someone, selected at random. That would be a tragedy, but not a martyrdom. The victim might be a wonderful person; he might even be a canonizable saint. But he would not be a martyr, because he did not die as a witness to the faith. Father Hamel did. … He is not the first such victim; he will not be the last."
Couples looking for a wedding venue in Albuquerque, N.M., used to be able to consider the modern, high-tech facilities at Desert Springs Church.
That was then, before the word "marriage" became a legal landmine.
This is now. This nondenominational flock's leaders recently decided that they needed to update their foundation documents for the age after the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Thus, their written policies now specify that the only weddings held there will be rites requested by church members -- as in believers who have vowed to honor its doctrinal statement.
On marriage, that doctrinal statement now reads: "We believe that God created human beings in his image in two embodied sexual kinds -- male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). We believe that God designed men and women to unite in marriage, which is complementary, involving one of each sexual gender, exclusive, and permanent." A detailed support document adds: "Gender is a part of God's good creation and is bound to its roots as a biological reality. It is identifiable at birth. …"
In other words, the church's leadership realized that, in this litigious day and age, they would have to define, in highly specific terms rooted in doctrine, who could get married in their church. That would be safer than trying to define -- in a legal crunch -- who could not hold a wedding rite there.
"In some ways, all of this is a bummer," explained the Rev. Trent Hunter, the church's pastor for administration and teaching, in a telephone interview. "You don't go into ministry to be restrictive. You don't want to do things that limit the scope of your ministry. But we're learning that you can't take any of this for granted, because the government is forcing us to be very open and specific about what we believe and why. …
"So we're wearing our beliefs on our sleeves. We have to serve our members with great clarity, and we're trying to serve the public by being as honest as we can be."
There's more to this than weddings. Desert Springs Church also changed its printed policies on what civic or faith groups can meet in its buildings. Once again, church leaders created a direct link between the policy and their doctrinal statement, stating, "our facility is only available for ministries of our church or for ministries we formally partner with" after evaluating the doctrinal commitments of these groups.
All of these changes were based on advice in "Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits," a short legal guide prepared for churches, schools and parachurch ministries by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Alliance Defending Freedom think tank.
Another key issue, especially for religious schools, is clarity in job descriptions. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that religious organizations have every right to take doctrinal issues into account when hiring and firing staff members. However, Desert Springs heeded the legal guide's advice to anticipate future changes, should the government attempt to "distinguish between explicitly religious roles in a church and roles that are not spiritual in nature," wrote Hunter, at the Canon & Culture website.
Thus, the church now specifies -- in writing -- that staff must sign the church doctrinal statement and that "all employees are expected to provide spiritual counsel from the Scriptures over the phone or in person as needed. … In other words, every employee of our church represents Christ in their role and does so in concrete ways."
In the past, the leaders of many religious organizations may have feared clarity on these kinds of issues, in part because they associated ink-on-paper doctrinal statements with ancient creeds and ecclesiastical hierarchies.
Now, Hunter said, some clergy and laypeople may fear negative publicity and even protestors at their front doors.
"We've been running on auto-pilot for a long time and things were going pretty well, or so we thought," he said. "But things have changed. … It's not just legal stuff. We have to change how we explain what we believe to people inside our churches and to the public, as well. We must become more aware -- as pastors -- when we are dealing with people who are involved in all of these issues."
PROVO, Utah -- From the start, the "Utah compromise" on religious liberty and key gay-rights issues had that special sex appeal that made news.
Journalists knew it was impossible to produce this 2015 Utah bill without the cooperation of leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons in the Republican-dominated state legislature. Powerful LGBT leaders were in these negotiations, as well, and endorsed the final product.
The key -- for politicians using Utah as a template -- was that both sides made important compromises, while defending their core beliefs and goals, said the church's top lawyer, at a recent Brigham Young University conference on "Religious Freedom in an Era of Social Change."
"Some may be shocked to hear this, but not all religious freedoms are equally important," said Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel for the LDS church. "Defenders of religious freedom have to decide what is closer to the essential core of religious freedom and what is more peripheral. To do otherwise risks weakening our defense of what is essential.
"If everything that could even loosely be considered 'religious' is treated as equally important, then effectively nothing religious is important."
Thus, the "Utah compromise" banned LGBT discrimination in housing and employment, while including explicit protections for religious organizations and their institutions, along with "carve-out" clauses protecting the beliefs of many individuals. County clerks, for example, are not required to approve gay marriages, but officials had to make other options easily available.
Wickman stressed that religious institutions must be able to defend and practice their own doctrines and traditions, selecting leaders and retaining members loyal to their faith. Believers must retain their First Amendment rights to politely share their beliefs with others, while fully participating in public life.
Recent flash points involving religious liberty and sexuality have centered on businesses operated by believers and religious institutions such as schools and social ministries, which often interact with the public, he said. Religious leaders must face reality and increase local, state and national efforts to defend the rights of believers who are doctors, lawyers, educators and small-business owners. Clashes over parental rights loom ahead, especially for those who choose to homeschool their children.
Powerful cultural forces are seeking to "characterize those with traditional beliefs as bigots," said Wickman. "The risk is that traditional believers and their religious institutions may eventually be relegated to pariah status -- officially recognized as 'equal citizens,' while in practical reality marginalized and penalized for their faith."
It's hard to believe that, as recently as 2013, coalitions of Democrats and Republicans passed religious-liberty bills in states such as Kansas and Hawaii, said law professor Brett G. Scharffs, director of the BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Then, in 2014, major corporations began backing those who argued that bills defending religious liberty were merely shields protecting anti-LGBT forces. Political wars erupted in Indiana, Arizona and elsewhere.
Faith and sexuality are both powerful forces close to the heart of personal identity, stressed Scharffs. However, traditional believers cannot win a "zero-sum game conflict" with the sexual revolution in today's America. Thus, face-to-face efforts seeking compromise are crucial -- even as that work gets harder.
"We need strategies that will lower, rather than raise, the temperature and volume surrounding these controversies," he said. "We cannot expect the fire to be put out by people whose tools are matches and gasoline. We cannot allow the debate to be dominated by those whose primary tools are the bullhorn or math that requires us to express our ideas in 140 characters or less."
Obviously, added Wickman, pluralism is supposed to be the new American norm. The question is whether that pluralism will apply equally to all, requiring people whose lives center on radically different beliefs to find ways to live in tolerance.
The wisdom contained in the U.S. Constitution will not provide easy, automatic answers for all of these issues.
"As citizens of this nation, we have a duty to work with our fellow countrymen to find workable solutions to vexing problems -- including clashes of rights and fundamentally competing interests," said Wickman. "Making peace sometimes requires that we make compromises -- not compromises on our doctrines, beliefs or moral standards, of course, but compromises in the application of religious freedom to the practical realities of life in this diverse nation."
Once a year, Seymour United Methodist Church held a "Laity Day" in which folks from the pews would handle all the clergy stuff one Sunday -- including the sermon.
The year was 1984, early in the Rev. Charles Maynard's decade at this fledgling congregation near Knoxville, Tenn. He already knew that one active member had a knack for motivational speaking, since she coached the University of Tennessee's Lady Vols basketball team.
"This was before she turned into 'PAT SUMMITT,' you know? For me she was just a lady at church named 'Pat,' " said Maynard, now the district superintendent of the region's Maryville District. "I asked her to speak and she said she didn't feel comfortable doing that sort of thing. …
"But the next year she said, 'Yes.' She talked about teamwork and linked everything to people having their own roles in the Body of Christ. It was all very biblical and she did a great job. I mean, she's Pat Summitt."
Things started changing after she coached the U.S. team to gold at the 1984 Olympics and the "Lady Vols started winning everything in sight," he said.
One thing didn't change. While Summitt's work demanded lots of time and travel, her family stayed as "active at church as the coach of a national powerhouse could possibly be," said Maynard. "It was pretty obvious that she had been raised in a Methodist church in rural Tennessee. It showed. Her faith went down deep."
Summitt's death at age 64, after a five-year fight with Alzheimer's disease, unleashed a national outpouring of tributes. With her intense, blue-eyed stare, she became an icon of excellence over four decades, eight national NCAA championships and 1,098 wins, the highest Division 1 total for any basketball coach -- male or female. Her athletes had a 100 percent graduation rate.
Then came the devastating 2011 diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic. Months later, in a dialogue included in "Sum It Up," her autobiography co-written with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, Summitt was blunt.
"Sometimes I wish God hadn't given me so many issues," she said.
Jenkins replied: "What kind of issues?"
"Personal issues," said Summitt. "I guess they made me who I am. I guess they made me better. One thing I've learned. … How powerful God is."
Later in the book, Summitt said she realized that "none of us have a perfect life here on earth. … We're not here to be completely satisfied. Nor are we in command -- not even of our own bodies. We borrow, we don't own. I know that everything I've been given came as gifts from God, and he has a way of reminding us, 'This is my work.' "
Behind the scenes, Summitt endured six miscarriages before the birth of her son, Tyler, and faced divorce, after 27 years of marriage. Her body was ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis. Then came Alzheimer's disease.
As a sign of their unity, Summitt and Tyler -- active in Knoxville's giant Faith Promise Church -- were baptized together in May 2012 to "go public with their faith," according to the Pat Summitt Foundation obituary.
Tyler Summitt added: "For 64 years, my mother first built her life upon a strong relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Her foundation was also built upon love of her family and of her players, and love of the fundamentals of hard work which reflected her philosophy that 'you win in life with people.' "
Anyone who worshiped and prayed with her knew that, said Maynard, who baptized Tyler as a baby. Summitt knew who she was, he said.
In another book with Jenkins, there's a scene in which the undefeated 1998 Lady Vols team, shortly before winning the championship, began singing the Gospel classic, "Love Lifted Me" in the dark on their bus.
"I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. When the master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters he lifted me. Now safe am I. Love lifted me."
"Pat wouldn't have broken out singing that hymn on her own, but she would have joyfully joined in and encouraged it," said Maynard. "She wouldn't have forced anything, but she would have embraced it.
"She was a doer of the faith, not a talker. But she wasn't hiding."
If the liberal wing of Baptist life down South started naming saints, one of the first nominees would be former President Jimmy Carter.
But it's crucial to note that the man who put "born again" into the American political dictionary is Baptist, but no longer Southern Baptist. His theological views have evolved, leading to his 2000 exit from the Southern Baptist Convention. Take marriage and sex, for example.
"I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don't see that gay marriage damages anyone else," Carter told The Huffington Post last year.
Plenty of Baptists agree, but have not felt free to be that candid, according to Don Durham, a former leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. For 25 years the "CBF" has served as a network for Baptists on the losing side of the great Southern Baptist wars of the 1980s. Now, Durham said, the "volume has been turned up" in behind-closed-doors CBF debates about sexuality.
"It's time to have substantive and open conversations about the genuinely difficult disagreements we have over how to organize the institutional expressions of how we will relate to sisters and brothers who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or who
understand themselves as queer," wrote Durham, in an essay circulated by Baptist News Global, an independent website at the heart of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship life.
"I'm not naive. I know we will never have uniform responses to the many questions such conversations will hold -- and we don't have to. However, let's not be institutionally naive either. … There are now too many for whom our institutional expressions around LGBTQ topics are no longer tenable for us to pretend any longer that we can distract one another from that topic by focusing on all of the other things on which we agree."
It's crucial to understand that membership in the CBF is incredibly flexible and allows great freedom for individual Baptists and congregations that, to one degree or another, support its work, said Durham, reached by telephone. Many congregations in the network openly support gay marriage, in word and deed. Many others do not.
The issue is a CBF "homosexual behavior" policy. This institutional policy -- no longer linked to its website -- states in part: "As Baptist Christians, we believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness. … Because of this organizational value, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual."
It's hard to have an "honest, open dialogue" with LGBTQ people, "while we're stiff-arming them with this policy that just keeps pushing them away," said Durham. His essay noted that he left a key CBF job after being shouted down in a staff meeting, when he suggested that the network apologize for its stance on gay issues.
This Cooperative Baptist Fellowship struggle is similar to challenges facing many religious flocks in an era of rapid change, including the rising number of Americans who reject all denominational ties, said Baptist historian Nathan Finn, dean of the Union University School of Theology and Missions.
The CBF network, he added, is especially interesting since it links many who embrace the post-denominational age, others whose beliefs would be "right at home in liberal mainline Protestantism" and "progressive evangelicals" who continue to stress evangelism and missions.
"The era of safe, generic Protestantism is gone," said Finn, a theological conservative. "Small-o Christian orthodoxy is now considered weird and offensive in America. … At this point you have to decide what you believe and take a stand. That's the moment of truth the CBF is facing."
Indeed, many people are convinced, stressed Durham, that changes on LGBTQ issues will "scare lots of people and they'll leave," taking their checkbooks with them.
"Well, people are already leaving," he said. "This issue is so important to many young Baptists that are still in the CBF, as well as to many who have left. We will not be able to avoid this conversation forever."