In the age of megachurches, communion has become a big business

The lights dim in the five-story, 9,100-seat sanctuary of Southeast Christian Church as the sound of a synth keyboard begins to swell. On three jumbotron-sized screens suspended above the pulpit, the verse John 15:9 is displayed: "I have loved you even as the Father loved me. Remain in my love . . ."

One of the members of the worship team, a man in a white T-shirt and silky tan bomber jacket, brings the microphone up to his lips and launches into a heartfelt rendition of "Simple Kingdom," a contemporary Christian song released in 2022 by the husband and wife duo Bryan and Katie Torwalt.

His voice is backed by light bass plucks, piano chords in the key of C and the crinkle of thousands of tiny plastic wrappers being peeled back. This is what communion sounds like in many churches across the U.S. today.

Southeast Christian Church, which has been operating in Louisville, Ky., since 1962, has been the country's fourth-largest church since 2019, according to the bimonthly evangelical magazine Outreach, which annually lists the 100 largest and fastest-growing churches in America. Under the Southeast umbrella, there are nine campuses across Kentucky and Indiana with a cumulative weekly attendance of about 23,000 people, most of whom take part in weekly communion.

. . . the crinkle of thousands of tiny plastic wrappers being peeled back. This is what communion now sounds like in many churches across the U.S.

While the sacrament of communion or the Eucharist — which is present in many Christian denominations and involves consuming bread and wine in remembrance or exaltation of the body and blood of Jesus Christ — has shifted in presentation and delivery over the centuries, most contemporary churches have similar systems.

Parishioners may be called to the pulpit to receive bread or a wafer from a church leader and to drink from a common cup of wine or — in the case of some more conservative denominations — grape juice. Alternatively, deacons may pass around a tray of wafers or small hunks of bread, followed by small disposable cups of juice. This is a common enough approach that most religious goods stores carry specific communion trays with slots for 1-ounce cups.

However, in the age of megachurches — as well as that of a global pandemic, which caused many churches to reconsider the sharing of bread and use of a common cup — an alternative delivery system for the Eucharist has increased in popularity in recent years. And it's something of a booming business.

These days, when attendees enter Southeast, they're guided to a row of long tables filled with small, plastic two-packs of wafers and juice. These aren't a new product, but they have been primarily used to deliver the sacrament to individuals who are hospitalized or otherwise infirm, or when worshiping outside the walls of a physical church. When indicated by leadership from the pulpit, worshipers serve themselves and eventually dispose of the cups and wrappers in the large recycling cans that are now stationed outside the sanctuary doors.

It's arguably more efficient than more traditional deliveries of the sacrament, and it reduces close person-to-person contact in the time of COVID-19. However, it's also more expensive.

While Southeast Christian Church didn't respond as to which brand of communion packs it uses by press time — or how much the sacrament costs it on a week-to-week basis — several of the most popular companies that make them, such as TrueVine and Fellowship Cup, price their products similarly.

A box of 500 communion packs from TrueVine, for instance, costs just under $150. That means that serving 23,000 attendees, as in the case of Southeast Christian, would cost about $6,900 every week. Compare that to the cost of a box of 1,000 individual communion wafers from Broadman Church Supplies, which is available for $18.99 on Amazon.

This is a wildly different budgeting reality than those experienced by most small to midsize churches.

Episcopal priest Kira Schlesinger has led two churches, including a small church in Nashville with an average Sunday attendance of 75 people, as well as a midsize church in San Francisco with a weekly Sunday attendance of about 150.

"At my church in Nashville, we had a bread guild who made the communion bread every week, so our only costs were the wine," Schlesinger wrote to Salon Food. "I don't think it was broken out in the budget, but we'd buy large bottles of Taylor port [which cost about $15] whenever we needed them — maybe every two to three months. At my current church, we just returned to the common cup after doing wafers only since we regathered in person."

Schlesinger's current annual budget for the sacrament is $4,000, but that also includes purchases such as candles, linens and vestments. Within her denomination, specifically, using the popular plastic communion packs would be at odds with environmental concerns that she and her congregation hold.

However, as The Christian Chronicle reported in 2021, for many churches, the "rip and sip" communion cups may be the new normal.

"Before COVID-19, 21st Century Christian — a major source of communion supplies to Churches of Christ — sold the 'rip and sip' communion cups to only two congregations that used them weekly," Cheryl Mann Bacon wrote for the outlet.

Others would order small boxes for hospital visitation or homebound members, according to Matthew McInteer, CEO of the company, based in Nashville, Tenn.

"We couldn't get them from suppliers fast enough."

"Come March 2020, we sold more in two weeks than the entire previous year — a 16-fold year-over-year increase," McInteer told The Chronicle. "We couldn't get them from suppliers fast enough."

Surveys of church members conducted by both The Christian Chronicle and The Jenkins Institute, a ministry based in Nashville, found that many attendees were apathetic to the shift to "rip and sip" communion. It didn't augment, nor did it distract from, the experience.

Meanwhile, McInteer said many of his customers have indicated that they may keep purchasing communion packs at current levels for the foreseeable future.

"We've definitely talked to a lot of customers who have said, 'We may end up using these forever,'" he told The Chronicle. "But they are more expensive, and they don't taste very good."

You're throwing away the most flavorful part of the turkey —  but your butcher isn't

A few Novembers ago, during Thanksgiving week, I went to my local butcher shop. As I waited in a nearly block-long line, I watched customer after customer leave with a paper bag straining under the weight of a massive farm-fresh turkey. The man in front of me paid $82 for his turkey; the woman in front of him paid $112.

When I was finally face-to-face with The Butcher — a caricature of a man with a meat cleaver tattoo and a Bob Belcher mustache — I asked if he had any necks for purchase.

"What's that sweetheart? Necks?" he shouted over the din of customers chatting and meat grinders whirring. "Waddya need 'em for? Your dog?"

I had a recipe that called for them, I replied.

He called to the back: "Noel, grab me a bag of necks for the lady!"

Noel, a wiry teenage boy who had a pack of Marlboro Lights tucked into the pocket of his grimy white apron, slung a heavy plastic bag onto the countertop scale. I reached for my wallet and jokingly asked, "What's the damage?"

The Butcher rolled his eyes into the back of his head and lightly tossed the plastic bag of necks between his two palms like a pitcher preparing for an inning. "I mean, nobody buys these here," he said."How 'bout a dollar a neck?"

That was the year my Thanksgiving main cost $10.

When thinking of a Thanksgiving turkey, it's easy to mentally divide it into only two categories: white meat and dark meat. If you're picky (or lucky, depending on your family), you may be able to score a more specific part of the bird, such as the legs or wings. Rarely, however, does anyone clamor for the turkey neck. In fact, in the case of supermarket turkeys, the necks are often removed or relegated to a slimy plastic bag of giblets that gets jammed into the cavity.

But I had just bought Chris Shepherd and Kaitlyn Goalen's stunning James Beard Award-nominated cookbook, "Cook Like a Local: Flavors That Can Change How You Cook and See the World." Of Shepherd, Penguin Random House wrote:

A cook with insatiable curiosity, he's trained not just in fine-dining restaurants but in Houston's Korean grocery stores, Vietnamese noodle shops, Indian kitchens and Chinese mom-and-pops. His food, incorporating elements of all these cuisines, tells the story of the city, and country, in which he lives. An advocate, not an appropriator, he asks his diners to go and visit the restaurants that have inspired him, and in this book he brings us along to meet, learn from and cook with the people who have taught him.

Flipping through the recipes — braised goat with Korean rice dumplings and fried vegetables with caramelized fish sauce — I found myself lingering over one in particular: Vietnamese braised turkey necks.

At one of Shepherd's first jobs as a chef, there was a sous chef named Antoine Ware, who would always ask for the chicken or duck necks left over from butchering whole birds for the menu. He would then braise the necks "into a brilliant stew with brown roux and Worcestershire sauce and serve it over rice for staff meal." This version, Shepherd wrote, was distinctly Creole in flavor; Ware told him it was something that his mom, who was from Louisiana, used to make.

"Then one day, when visiting my favorite Vietnamese crawfish spot in Houston, Crawfish & Noodles, I saw braised turkey necks on the menu," he wrote. "I ordered it and couldn't believe how similar it was to Antoine's version. It was basically the same thing, plus fish sauce. The synergy of it was amazing; here I was sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant, eating boiled crawfish next to pho, next to turkey neck that reminded me of a Creole friend."

The subsequent recipe sounded phenomenal. It was packed with nuanced layers of flavor, built from smoked paprika, thyme, garlic, fresh-sliced onion, fish sauce, dark brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and Crystal hot sauce (of course!). That year, I carefully dried, braised and seasoned the turkey necks. As Shepherd promised, they were indeed delicious. I carefully packed up my Dutch oven with the punchy stew and took it to my best friend's house, where we spent the day ladling it over fluffy white rice and sopping it up with sourdough toast tips.

It was perfect.

Much like oxtails, turkey necks require a little coaxing to become tender, hence why braising, which consists of lightly frying a cut of meat and then simmering it in a cooking liquid for a prolonged period of time, is an ideal method here.

And like other cuts of meat that are cartilage, collagen and connective tissue-heavy — again, oxtails, but also like chicken wings and feet — turkey necks are tremendous for making stock. As the cartilage breaks down during the cooking process, which typically happens once meat reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, collagen breaks down and turns into gelatin, which imbues stock and stews with a tremendously rich flavor.

Thus, if you aren't looking to depart dramatically from a typical Thanksgiving turkey in the form of, say, Shepherd's recipe, turkey necks are still worthwhile to seek out this time of year in order to pack extra flavor into seasonal favorites like gravy and stuffing by way of making a richer turkey stock.

And during a year — and a season — in which everything costs a bit more than in years past, thanks to issues like lingering supply chain issues and inflation, turkey necks reign supreme in the affordability department. Right now, you can get more than 2 pounds of turkey necks for $6.91 at H-E-B — which isn't too far off from the $1 per neck deal that turned me into a convert.

Kimberly Guilfoyle hawks 'MAGA' steaks from company stripped of Better Business Bureau accreditation

Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former advisor to President Donald Trump's failed re-election campaign who later become engaged to his eldest son, is hawking steaks for a meat delivery service whose Better Business Bureau (BBB) accreditation has been revoked. In online reviews, customers allege that the curated meat boxes from Good Ranchers, which may cost hundreds of dollars, are not only a "rip off" but also sometimes never arrive.

On May 15, Guilfoyle uploaded a video of herself standing over a smoking indoor grill, flipping thin cuts with little visible marbling over the flames. "I'm here with these beautiful steaks from goodranchers.com," she says. "And this is the way you show your family you love them — by buying this meat that is born and raised here in the United States."

Guilfoyle continues by claiming "85% of the meat that they sell in stores today is not even from the United States." That statement is inaccurate; according to the Department of Agriculture, only 8 to 12% of the beef sold in the US comes from foreign sources. (Guilfoyle may be referring to grass-fed beef, of which 75 to 80% is imported, though often processed in the US.)

According to a review of its website by Salon, Good Ranchers' mail-order beef bundles begin with the $179 "Ranchers Classic" and top out at the $1,299 "Prepper Kit" — which includes 17 pounds of bone-in steaks, 15 pounds of boneless steaks, 15 pounds of signature ground beef and 40 pounds of various chicken breasts.

While many of the reviews on the Good Ranchers website from "verified buyers" are positive, reviews elsewhere online include allegations from customers who claim that they paid hundreds of dollars for beef that never showed up.

"I restarted my subscription, ordering $139.00 box," a customer who identified as Lisa G. wrote on the BBB profile for the company. "I got an email last night announcing it had come. We were home at 9:28 when the email came in and went straight to the front porch, but there was no box, and we've received nothing."

Lisa G. said she attempted to contact the company, but she did not receive a response.

"My next move is to stop payment through my bank or have them pursue the company for restitution," she added.

A customer named Karen W. described a similar experience. "I have been trying to contact you via email for the past 3 days," she wrote. "My order/shipment went to another state and I would like to have this corrected. Please respond to my emails."

In the string of one-star reviews on the BBB profile for Good Ranchers, customers also complained about issues such as the quality of its beef and difficulties contacting customer service. Five patrons used either the phrase "rip off" or "ripped off."

"Don't waste your money. Poor quality of meat. Good sales pitch though!!" Kristen M. wrote. "I would love to send this meat back. I was ripped off."

"I paid $203 for beef and got ripped off. Con man selling the steaks," Jeff M. added. "Told me there were 20 steaks in a box and there were 10. Filets were 2 oz and filled w fat and chewy and filled with veins. Could not eat any of the filets and used for pulled beef sandwiches. Totally deceived. Would never buy these again. $203 is a lot of money."

In the latter instance, Good Ranchers responded to the complaint. "Jeff, We're sorry your experience with us what not a great one ! We want to make it right," they wrote. "We offer a 100% Money back guarantee." (A statement containing a satisfaction guarantee and email for customer support are listed on the company's website.)

It's unclear if that complaint, which was dated August 4, 2021, was resolved. However, the Board of Directors of the BBB revoked Good Ranchers' accreditation on Dec. 2, 2021, "due to failure by the business to adhere to the BBB requirement that Accredited Businesses meet and abide by" several standards. They included addressing disputes forwarded by the BBB quickly and in good faith; approaching all marketplace transactions and commitments with integrity; and providing responses to complaints that are professional and explain "why any relief sought by the company cannot or should not be granted."

Salon's request for comment was not returned by Good Ranchers prior to the publication of this article. Though the BBB "cannot guarantee the accuracy or truthfulness of a review," it takes "steps to minimize misuse and improve consumer experience." These steps, which are detailed on its website, include confirming that "a marketplace interaction took place between the reviewer and the business" and giving "the business an opportunity to respond to the review."

Guilfoyle does not mention these allegations in her advertisement for Good Ranchers, but she does offer purchasers a Trump-adjacent coupon code. As she wrote on Twitter, "Use code ULTRAMAGA to get 2 POUNDS of American wagyu burgers FREE with your first order."

On the company's website, you can also enter to win a meet-and-greet with conservative commentator Candace Owens or read endorsements from Charlie Kirk or Ben Shapiro. A quote from Donald Trump Jr., meanwhile, claims that "you support American Patriots when you shop with the great people at Good Ranchers."

With these advertisements, Guilfoyle and her fiancé continue the Trump family legacy of mixing red meat not only with politics but also with business.

In 2007, Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks, which were supplied by Buckhead Beef, an Atlanta-based company and subsidiary of Sysco. The steaks, which were sold via QVC and the Sharper Image, arrived in bundles that ranged from $199 to $999. The latter retailer reportedly yanked the product after only two months because of poor sales. The trademark for Trump Steaks was eventually canceled in 2014.

That didn't stop Trump, as Salon reported, from trotting the name back out like nothing happened at a campaign event in 2016. Between mocking fellow candidates like "little Marco" Rubio and "lyin' Ted" Cruz, servers provided attendees with what were advertised as "Trump Steaks." However, press on hand "started tweeting pictures . . . of the wrapped steaks, labeled Bush Brothers, the West Palm Beach butcher that supplies all of Trump's South Florida properties."

In the end, those attendees got their red meat. If the reviews are any indication, will those who order steaks based on Guilfoyle's recommendation get theirs?

Frozen food and feminism: Matt Gaetz's dog whistle about microwave meals isn't new

In 1960, three years before the publication of Betty Friedan's seminal feminist text "The Feminine Mystique," Peg Bracken published her own book. It began like this: "Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them."

The aptly named "I Hate to Cook Book" was built on convenience foods — crushed cornflakes, frozen vegetables, powdered soup mixes and Spam. During an age when the United States' culinary godfather James Beard was ascending as an evangelist of sorts for "fresh, wholesome, American ingredients," Bracken's book was subversive — and it was successful for it. As the New York Times reported in the wake of Bracken's death in 2007, more than 3 million copies of the "I Hate to Cook Book" had been sold in various editions.

In the foreword to a re-release of the book, Bracken's daughter, Johanna, wrote that her mother's book was "written in a time when women were expected to have full, delicious meals on the table for their families every night" and offered women "who didn't revel in this obligation an alternative: quick, simple meals that took minimal effort but would still satisfy."

Times may have changed since the "I Hate to Cook Book" was first published, but there are still those who would prefer women to be culturally obligated to the kitchen — all while they perpetuate the myth that feminism killed cooking.

Only last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted, "How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?"

It's not a particularly inventive attempt at slamming women who are concerned about their access to reproductive healthcare being torpedoed. The "cat lady" is a now a standard, if softer, clichéd stand-in for the "bra-burning feminist" who trades in a potential husband and children for feline companionship. And for as long as there have been modern kitchens, there have been men worried women are planning to leave them — ostensibly for acts of civil disobedience and an Amy's broccoli and cheddar bake.

It's a convenient narrative to regurgitate: this notion that feminism is responsible for the perceived downfall of American cooking. Among the alt-right, it's become standard fodder for memes comparing "The Tradwife" (shorthand for the "traditional wives" alt-right men seek) to "Liberated Feminists." In one heavily-circulated meme, the "tradwife" is depicted as having a "slim figure from her healthy homemade meals and active lifestyle," while the feminist is "chubby from her diet of fast food and microwave meals."

Even beloved food writer Michael Pollan once wrote for the New York Times Magazine that "The Feminine Mystique" was "the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression."

However, this connection between a perceived rejection of home-cooking and feminism flattens both the history of so-called convenience foods and what "traditional domesticity" actually entailed.

This connection between a perceived rejection of home-cooking and feminism flattens both the history of so-called convenience foods and what "traditional domesticity" actually entailed.

As Eater reported, the mid-century transition to cooking with frozen ingredients or relying on full frozen meals was actually sparked by war — not "The Feminine Mystique." During World War II, canned goods "were sent to soldiers overseas and Americans were encouraged to purchase frozen foods. Frozen also used fewer ration points than canned, according to the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association's (NFRA) website."

During this time, women were encouraged to pitch into the war effort and seek employment outside the home. This was even reflected in advertisements for convenience foods. A wartime ad for Shredded Ralston whole wheat cereal, which featured both men and women, emphasized that the meal was "ready-to-eat when I'm ready" and was punctuated with patriotism.

"No wonder Uncle Sam says, 'Eat foods like this every day,'" it said.

The production of canned choices and frozen foods only continued to ramp up following the war, which did dovetail with an increased number of women continuing to seek work outside the home. Did convenience foods spark that transition? More accurately, they supported women's ability to have that choice because, in addition to changing cultural attitudes about gender equality, they didn't have to spend hours getting dinner on the table.

If they wanted to, that was their choice — a simple statement that gets glossed over in discussions about "traditional" gender roles. For a very long time, women didn't have the choice to step away from the stove unless they possessed a certain type of financial or social privilege. When right-wing men bemoan the loss of the traditional mid-century housewife, they ignore the fact that until World War II, middle-class American families typically had one or more servants to help around the house. In 1940, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 2.6 million domestic servants, or almost one job in 20.

Before there was canned soup or bags of frozen peas, there were live-in cooks and servants. The advent of convenience foods simply made the ability to shed that responsibility more accessible.

So what are Gaetz or men in search of a "tradwife" really saying when they toss out the "microwave meal" dog whistle? They want to return to a time where they personally don't have to have a stake in domestic labor. Whether it's actually their wife or a servant doing the work, it doesn't matter — as long as they aren't the one having to pick up a whisk.

Now, as a food writer, I love to cook. It's both my work and my primary hobby. As such, I recognize that my view of cooking is borne from a certain kind of privilege — one that many, many Americans also possess. Our cultural understanding of what food is has largely shifted from a backbreaking responsibility to an optional form of leisure, fun and entertainment.

And while Friedan and other feminists of her era didn't kill home cooking, she certainly would have appreciated the idea that it was optional. After all, Freidan wrote that "a baked potato is not as big as the world." Who cares if you need to microwave that potato to fully experience the world outside the kitchen?

Juneteenth soul food festival canceled in Arkansas after all-white panel of hosts revealed

In a moment that feels like it was pulled from an episode of "Atlanta," a Juneteenth soul food festival in Arkansas was canceled as quickly as it was unveiled after word spread that all of the "featured hosts" for the event were white.

On Tuesday, a Twitter user shared an image of a poster for the event, with the caption: "Somebody has to explain this to me."

The June 17 event, which had been scheduled to take place at the Little Rock War Memorial Stadium, promised "3 floors of food from some of Arkansas' top restaurants and caterers." It also advertised three featured hosts: Rex Nelson, the senior editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Heather Baker, the president and publisher of AY Media Group; and David Bazzel, an Arkansas radio and TV personality. All three individuals are white.

Juneteenth, which was finally recognized as a federal holiday in 2021 under President Joe Biden, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. Its name stems from June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, issued General Order No. 3, which announced that in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, "all slaves are free."

Several months later, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the final four border states that had not been subjected to former President Abraham Lincoln's order.

As Vice President Kamala Harris said during the ratification of the day's federal holiday status, Juneteenth has gone by many different names, including Black Independence Day — which is why the disconnect between the event's purported celebration of Black history and the apparent erasure of Black voices as "featured hosts" was so egregious.

Egregious enough that some Twitter users spent much of yesterday debating whether the ill-conceived poster for the event was real or perhaps some kind of prank. "Please tell me this is fake. Please," one user wrote, while another joked: "There will be raisins in the potato salad."

As the Arkansas Times reported on Tuesday afternoon, the poster shared on social media was a proof that had somehow been leaked. Regardless, event organizer Muskie Harris, a Black former Razorback football player and former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, announced that he was pulling the plug on the event, which was supposed to have a theme of "unity."

"I got a rope around my neck, and I'm tarred and feathered over an event that's already dead," Harris told the outlet. "It just got perceived in the wrong way, and my sponsors said to leave it alone. It's dead. It's dried up."

The Arkansas branch of The Urban League, which was one of the organizations listed on the poster proof as a beneficiary, quickly took to Facebook to clarify that it wasn't even aware of such a planned event.

"Please read — the Urban League of the State of Arkansas is and was not involved in any aspect of this program," the organization posted Tuesday afternoon. "We are concerned about the appearance of participation without our approval. It's unfortunate that some failed to recognize the optics and the absolute need to engage prior to this being developed."

Though he's sitting out this Juneteenth, Harris indicated to the Arkansas Time that he might try to plan another event next year.


'I do not like gay cookies': Conservatives vow to boycott Oreo over new ad

A new two-minute short film about coming out, collaboratively produced by Oreo and PFLAG, has predictably gotten under the skin of conservatives. Already, Greg Kelly and Ben Shapiro are among the right-wing talking heads vowing to boycott "gay cookies" following Oreo's public display of LGBTQ allyship.

"The Note," which was directed by Alice Wu ("Saving Face" and "The Half of It"), depicts a young Chinese-American man practicing a coming-out speech before a few close family members. Before the young man shares his truth with his grandmother, his mom slips him a note. "She might be my mother," it reads, "but you are my son."

The video ends with a message for viewers to pay it forward. "Coming out doesn't happen just once," it says. "Be a lifelong ally."

Related: "For the morning gays": The importance of LGBTQ-owned cafes as sober, queer spaces

"The Note" is, for sure, a tearjerker. Despite my admitted initial cynicism about "rainbow capitalism" and whether a multi-billion dollar corporation can assert itself as an ally, Oreo is doing all the right things here. According to Fast Company, the film — which was refreshingly not released as part of a Pride Month campaign — was accompanied by a $500,000 donation to PFLAG.

What's more, there's history here. "The Note" follows the 2020 short film "OREO Proud Parent," which was also released in conjunction with PFLAG. In it, a woman brings her girlfriend home to meet her family.

Initially, the dad is chilly towards the same-sex couple, but everything changes after he witnesses a neighbor look disparagingly at them. The video ends with the dad painting his white picket fence the colors of the rainbow.

Is it a little on the nose? Sure, but the film's message that "a loving world starts with a loving home" is a poignant one — especially amid current events. In addition to Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" law, transgender students are facing increased discrimination and violence.

"'The' Note is not Oreo's story," Oreo senior brand manager Olympia Portale said in an interview with Fast Company. "Oreo is there to lend our megaphone to the community we want to support, to illustrate the message we, as a brand, want to stand behind is a great place to start."

Instead of engaging with the message of allyship, several conservatives pundits responded by vowing to boycott "gay cookies."

"COOKIE!" Newsmax host Greg Kelly wrote on Twitter above a photo of Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. "I love COOKIES. C is for COOKIE. COOKIE IS FOR ME. I do NOT like GAY COOKIES. 'Sexuality' has NOTHING TO DO with the Cookie experience. Cookies are for ALL! Basically Cookies are 'asexual'---why is the WOKE LEFT messing around with OREOS?!?! STOP THE INSANITY."

In a more concise tweet, Lila Rose, the founder of a movement dedicated to ending abortion, told Oreo to "stop sexualizing children."

With the passage of the controversial "Don't Say Gay" law, Florida Republicans revived the deadly "queers recruit" myth. While Oreo is newly feeling the heat, Disney has thus far been a more prominent recipient of conservative wrath.

As Salon's Amanda Marcotte recently wrote, "Fox News has run a dizzying number of segments accusing the company of 'sexualizing children' and creating 'propaganda for grooming.' This is unhinged QAnon stuff, designed to give credence to the conspiracy theories of the growing right-wing cult that believes Democrats run a secret conspiracy of blood-drinking pedophiles."

Kelly followed up his tirade about the sexualization of the Oreo with a tweet comparing the taste of the creme-filled chocolate cookies to "driveway gravel."

"Not MOIST. Even Nabisco knows the truth--the cookies are too DRY," Kelly wrote in his review of the more than 100-year-old sandwich cookies. "Milk Reliant, not a stand alone cookie. Go with the FIG NEWTON. We don't care about Mr Fig's orientation!"

"Commenters quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of Ben Shapiro's attempted barb by sharing images of him shopping at Home Depot in 2021."

Ben Shapiro, who infamously weighed in on a different moist-to-dry spectrum after listening to the Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion song "WAP," tweeted a link to "The Note." The accompanying caption read, "Your cookie must affirm your sexual lifestyle."

Commenters quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of Shapiro's attempted barb by sharing images of him shopping at Home Depot in 2021. Georgia's controversial Election Integrity Act of 2021 — which President Joe Biden dubbed "Jim Crow in the 21st century" — was then under a tremendous amount of heat from major corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta.

As Forbes reported at the time, Home Depot, on the other hand, stayed silent — prompting calls for a boycott. In a show of support, Shapiro filmed himself shopping at the home improvement retailer and emerging from a check-out line with a single piece of wood in a plastic bag.

"Your wood must affirm your conservative lifestyle," one Twitter commenter wrote below Shapiro's post.

As Zachary Petrizzo wrote for Salon in 2021, conservatives love to announce boycotts of prominent brands — but they somehow never pan out as planned.

"By the end of the boycott, an unknown number of Fox News viewers were just left with expensive coffee machines they had tossed off balconies or otherwise obliterated."

"Then there was the occasion in 2017 when Sean Hannity fans destroyed their Keurig coffee machines to back the Fox News host after the company pulled its ads from Hannity's program over his defense of Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore," Petrizzo wrote. "Hannity tried to save the advertiser (and the valuable ad dollars) by giving away 500 Keurig machines, but it was too late. By the end of the boycott, an unknown number of Fox News viewers were just left with expensive coffee machines they had tossed off balconies or otherwise obliterated."

In 2016, angry Breitbart readers dumped Kellogg's cereal down toilets because the manufacturer of Corn Flakes wanted nothing to do with Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman was Steve Bannon.

And in 2021, Trump called for a boycott of Coca-Cola over the company's aforementioned objections to Georgia's Election Integrity Act. As recounted by Salon, a Coke bottle was spotted on Trump's desk only a few days later.

To that end, it will be interesting to see just how long conservatives' newfound allegiance to Fig Newtons and Hydrox cookies lasts.

The dark side of Mother Teresa's order, according to nuns who left

One of the most striking things about the new podcast "The Turning: The Sisters Who Left" is how some of the former nuns describe their experiences with life behind the walls of Mother Teresa's world-famous order, the Missionaries of Charity: in language reminiscent of the way we talk about cults.

This article was originally published at Salon

They use terms like "isolation" and "brainwashing." They were only permitted to write home once a month and visit home once every decade. They describe what it feels like to look at a single human: as having a direct line to holiness.

Of course there were beautiful, spiritually affirming moments, too — times where these women felt achingly close to the God for whom they'd given up their normal lives — but for some, the suffering and separation were too much. "The whole idea was to make you feel as alone as possible," Kelli Dunham, a self-described "ex-nun," said.

It was enough to make some fantasize about escaping — and some did. Through "The Turning," a new 10-episode podcast by Rococo Punch and iHeartMedia, producer and host Erika Lantz tells their stories.

"I really am interested in stories that don't have a clear right and wrong," Lantz told Salon in an interview. "I think there's a lot of gray in the story. There are different sets of facts and, depending on what perspective you're using to look at them, you might have a very different opinion of what they mean."

Understanding their journeys starts with understanding the cultural power of Mother Teresa herself. Though she wasn't canonized as a saint until 16 years after her death in 1997, she was recognized as saintly by many in the Catholic church and beyond long before then due to her charitable work, especially after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

The order she founded in 1950, the Missionaries of Charity, ran soup kitchens and opened and staffed orphanages and schools for the underprivileged across the globe (though not without some controversy), and still manages homes for the terminally ill. Over the course of 71 years, thousands upon thousands of women took vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor."

Because of that, Lantz said, Mother Teresa's name has become a "synonym for kindness."

"It's like the shorthand in our culture," she said. "When I started working on this project, I noticed that people would drop her name as a metaphor. Even in 'Tiger King,' and this isn't a direct quote, but you had someone introduce Carole Baskin as 'the Mother Teresa of Cats.'"

Many of the women with whom Lantz spoke, even if they had left the order, said that the reverence towards Mother Teresa was absolutely warranted. "She was so close to God and you knew it when she was there," one said.

But life within the order Mother Teresa had created was hard.

The sisters kept a rigid schedule that began at 4:30 a.m. and only included 30 minutes of unstructured recreation time, which was most often spent catching up on work that hadn't gotten done. Though they were required to go everywhere in pairs, the nuns were never allowed to have private conversations and would instead recite prayers together.

This was to encourage chastity, a virtue that, as Lantz found out in her reporting, Mother Teresa was strict about maintaining, almost to the point of paranoia. After all, the Missionaries of Charity were spiritually wed to Jesus and were organized to "satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls."

It's a telling detail that Mother Teresa was so intently focused on Christ's crucifixion. While, as Lantz put it in "The Turning," one would anticipate that the scriptural passages that would have most impacted Mother Teresa would have centered on Jesus' interactions with the poor, sick and hungry, she was perhaps most moved by how his pain catalyzed his holiness.

This was reflected in how the sisters lived in their respective convents, the series reports. Why would you pray from a chair when you could kneel on the hard ground? Why would you open the windows or wear one less layer when you could simply swelter? Why, as in the case of one nun, would you rest in bed after sustaining major burns when you could go back to work in almost unspeakable pain?

However, as Lantz found out, the emphasis on achieving holiness through suffering didn't stop there. As is revealed early in "The Turning," the sisters would frequently engage in self-flagellation.

Mary Johnson, a former nun and author of "An Unquenchable Thirst" — who also spoke with Salon back in 2013 about her experiences in the order — joined the Missionaries of Charity when she was 19 after seeing Mother Teresa on the cover of TIME Magazine.

She detailed her first self-flagellation session to Lantz, remembering how the bundle of cords she was given left her upper thighs streaked with red and white lines. In the bathroom stall next to her, there was another, more experienced nun doing the same thing.

This shocked Lantz, who said that the effects of that kind of trauma, even if self-inflicted, are lasting for many of the former sisters.

"I don't think anyone pictures Mother Teresa and imagines that her sisters are whipping themselves daily," she said. "I know Mary Johnson had told me, at one point, she asked her now-husband to beat her — he did not, I should say —because she craved a way to have relief from guilt."

As Johnson told Lantz, the extreme nature of the religious order is part of its appeal, but it also contributes to some of the "cultishness."

"It did surprise me that multiple sisters started using words like 'cult' or 'mind-control' or being 'brainwashed,'" Lantz said. "It doesn't necessarily mean those women thought they were in a cult, but it often felt like the closest thing they could compare it to. And it's interesting — often we think of cults as being on the fringes of society, but here we have the Catholic Church and Mother Teresa, who is so admired around the world."

"I think it's important to look at any institution with power with a critical eye and examine what role that power plays," she added. "When you have a strict vow of obedience, where the superior is a direct voice of God, you're creating a power dynamic."

Throughout "The Turning," Lantz examines how that power dynamic played out in other ways through abuses, betrayals and forbidden love. She also teases out, quite beautifully, a question that many will enter the series thinking: "Why didn't these women leave sooner?"

"It's hard because you believe that Jesus has been fervently calling you to this, it's what you must do," Lantz said. "Once you take that vow of obedience, that includes obeying God's will for you. Then Mother Teresa is also telling you that you've been called. It's hard to leave that. For some it's impossible."

Why Anna Duggar stays: A woman who left Quiverfull movement says 'there's a huge martyr's mentality'

Vyckie Garrison remembers watching Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of the then-TLC program "14 Children and Pregnant Again!" on television and feeling a twinge of envy. It was 2004, and Garrison had seven children of her own whom she was raising and homeschooling within her fundamentalist, "radically pro-life" Christian community in Nebraska.

"I remember thinking, 'Look at her actually doing it,'" Garrison told me in a phone call from her new apartment in Albania. "I was in awe of her. Her kids, they seemed like they were completely on-board. They have the same mentality and the same giving spirit. She was my idol. Well, not 'idol' because we couldn't have idols, but, you know."

The Duggar family's foray into reality television also marked many Americans' first introduction to Quiverfull ideology, a theological movement that interprets the Old Testament Psalm, "Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of [children]," as a command to reproduce often, sans any birth control or family planning. For the record, the Duggars don't claim to be Quiverfull, though they do reference that verse on their website in response to the question, "Why have such a large family?"

TLC positioned the Duggars, led by Michelle and husband Jim Bob, as a benign oddity, a kind of oversized "Waltons" family where episodes centered largely on pregnancy announcements, chaperoned courtships and managing a home large enough for the family.

Over the course of a decade, the family eventually ballooned up to 19 children. There was some controversy along the way, as the Duggars actively lobbied against abortion access and for legistlation that discriminates against transgender individuals; writer Nina Burleigh described the family as "good TV. Good, sugarcoated rat poison, politically speaking."

But it wasn't until 2015 that their fame bubble would finally burst, when it was revealed that the couple's eldest son, Josh Duggar, had molested at least five girls — four of whom were his sisters — when he was 14 or 15 years old.

TLC canceled the show and several months later, Josh was at the center of another sexual scandal. During a data breach at Ashley Madison, a website that caters to users seeking discreet affairs, it was revealed that Josh was a user of that site. He issued an apology saying that he was "the biggest hypocrite" and that he had been "viewing pornography on the Internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife."

Fast-forward to this year. On April 29, Josh Duggar was arrested and later released on bail after being charged in federal court with receipt and possession of child pornography, including images of minors under the age of 12.

Josh Duggar isn't the only evangelical Christian man to see scandal in recent years — there's been former Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelist Bill Gothard and megachurch pastor Dave Reynolds, to name a few — but the very public nature of his family's life before his conviction, especially as it relates to childbearing and parenthood, makes his fall somehow more striking.

Just a few weeks before his arrest, Josh's wife, Anna, had announced the couple was pregnant with their seventh child. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Josh could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted and Anna will be left to essentially raise their family on her own.

It's a stark reality, the kind unfit for even the most salacious TLC show, that spotlights the dark underbelly of patriarchal Christianity. While men are sold a promise of life where they are revered as the spiritual head of the household — a life in which their virility and manhood is unquestioned — when it comes to the Quiverfull movement, what's in it for the women?

* * *

Unlike Anna Duggar and many women in Quiverfull families, Vyckie Garrison was not raised in the church.

It wasn't until she became pregnant during a short-lived relationship with an older man who had lied about having a vasectomy, ending up in the offices of a faith-based crisis pregnancy center, that she was first introduced to some of the basic principles of "Christian family values."

While she waited for the results of her pregnancy test, she was shown the 1984 anti-abortion film "A Silent Scream." When the staff returned to confirm that Garrison was pregnant, they informed her by saying, "God blessed you."

"I didn't think I had any option but to be a mom, but I knew I was going to suck at it," Garrison said. "That's when I really started turning towards religion. I wanted a map, a guidebook, 'Motherhood for Dummies.'"

Garrison found it in the curriculum and radio programs of Focus on the Family, an evangelical parachurch group that rails against pre-marital sex, LGBTQ rights, divorce and abortion and promotes "the permanence of marriage" and "the value of children."

While homeschooling her daughter, Angel, Garrison was introduced to fundamentalist Christian women who viewed motherhood as a mission field.

"There was a lot of talk of women being submissive and anti-birth control or, as we put it, 'radically pro-life,'" Garrison said. "I had health complications that made [getting pregnant] a life-threatening condition, but it's really pushed on the moms that you should be like Jesus and you are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes."

Garrison, who was married at this time to a man named Wesley Bennett, went on to have six more children despite the health risks because it's what she thought the Bible called her to do.

"The women would tell me, 'Missionaries risk their lives every day and they do it because it's their calling,'" she said. "'When they get to heaven, they'll get their martyr's crown.' There's a huge martyr's mentality."

Garrison embraced the lifestyle, even starting a newspaper for families that adhered to the Quiverfull philosophy. In a blog post that she'd written before becoming pregnant with her seventh child, Garrison said, "Whether a couple has a dozen children or only one, it is important to welcome them in the same spirit in which we would receive the Lord Jesus Himself."

However, things at home were reaching a boiling point.

Bennett eventually became verbally abusive, "very controlling and wanted to know everyone's thoughts." Furthermore, Garrison was seemingly always on the verge of a complete physical and mental breakdown due to the toll a seemingly endless cycle of nursing and pregnancies was having on her body.

"But I had that martyr's mentality; I was going to do everything to ensure this home for my kids," she said. "But I looked at my kids and they were not thriving. I sucked at homeschooling and they were not happy."

She began corresponding with her uncle, an inquisitive atheist who asked her questions about her chosen lifestyle. When Garrison realized that, other than pointing to scripture he didn't believe in, she didn't have answers for why she lived how she did, something clicked. She realized that she and her children both deserved better.

A few weeks later, she fled to Kansas City to stay with a friend; when she eventually returned after divorcing her husband, she successfully retained custody of her seven children.

Garrison is an atheist now and lives in Albania, halfway across the world in an apartment where you can catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea from the living room window.

In the years since her "quivering days" she co-founded and maintained the blog "No Longer Quivering," a resource for women like her who plan on leaving the movement.

"The women, they get into it for the kids," she said. "But that's also why they get out."

* * *

In her academic essay, "Christian Patriarchy Lite: TLC's 19 Kids and Counting," Christy Ellen Mesaros-Winckles said that while the concept of being "barefoot and pregnant" lost overall social cachet decades ago, it's still alive and well in the Quiverfull movement.

And while, Mesaros-Winckles said, the theology underlying the Duggars' beliefs was often underplayed, "conformity and a rigid male leadership hierarchy often place women in the Quiverfull movement in subservient roles."

According to Garrison, that's the system in which she found herself trapped — and in which Anna Duggar, who has been conspicuously silent about her husband's various scandals, likely feels trapped as well.

Is she blameless? Perhaps not. But she is undoubtedly a victim of a patriarchal system designed to make women feel like they don't have a choice to leave.

"The situation she is in is just impossible," Garrison said. "The only way she can save herself and her children — she would just have to give up her idea of her faith."

'Blew my mind': Son of Sam serial killer may not have acted alone -- according to new Netflix show

Netflix's new series "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" digs into the idea that there's more to the Son of Sam serial killer case we thought we knew . . . and that we're still not safe.

Starting in July 1976, over the course of 13 months more than a dozen men and women in New York were shot in seemingly random attacks. These would become known as the Son of Sam murders after police found a handwritten note left at a crime scene in which the killer referred to himself as Son of Sam and promised the violence would continue.

As the city was gripped by growing fear, police embarked on what was then one of the biggest manhunts in the city's history. Eventually, they arrested David Berkowitz, a young man living in Yonkers who greeted law enforcement by saying, "Well, you got me." He would go on to confess to all of the shootings and claim that "Sam" was a spirit who spoke to him through a black Labrador that belonged to his neighbor, who, it should be noted, was also named Sam.

However, a new Netflix docuseries, which is largely based on the writings of the late crime journalist Maury Terry, looks into the theory that Berkowitz likely didn't act alone — and that he was actually part of a wide-spreading Satanic cult.

It sounds outlandish enough that "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" director Joshua Zeman said that, at first, he thought that it was just nonsense.

"Of course I didn't believe it," Zeman told Salon in a recent interview. "Not in the least. I thought it was all Satanic panic."

However, the more Zeman started digging into Terry's work, including his book about Berkowitz called "The Ultimate Evil," the more plausible it became. "And honestly, it scared the s**t out of me."

However, while some law enforcement officials agreed with Terry, and pointed to evidence that there had potentially been different shooters during some of the attacks, many just wanted the case to be closed. Amid the tension, Terry's reputation — and ultimately, his sanity — was under attack.

Zeman spoke with Salon about the making of the four-part docuseries, how the Son of Sam murders changed the face of tabloid journalism, and how Maury Terry made a "deal with the devil" in his reporting,

There are several main throughlines in "The Sons of Sam" that I want to talk about, but the one that was particularly interesting to me as a journalist was the way the business of news shifted after the publishing of the Son of Sam letters by reporter Jimmy Breslin. Could you talk some about how the case impacted journalism?

I think that's one of the most interesting things as well, especially as a true crime journalist. It wasn't just the investigation and it wasn't just Maury. I just think people don't really understand the impact that the Son of Sam story had on modern-day journalism.

In essence, journalism, true crime journalism and true crime changed with the Son of Sam. It started a tabloid war, which happened between the Daily News and the New York Post, but this is also where [Rupert] Murdoch realizes one of the most important lessons of his professional career: Fear sells better than sex.

You can look back and see that he was using the Son of Sam as kind of a test case. The landscape of journalism today — you can actually chart a path from "Son of Sam and that early fearmongering, which was coming from both sides, to the rise of tabloid journalism. It literally started like two or three years after Son of Sam with the rise of "A Current Affair," "Inside Edition," Bill O'Reilly, Maury Povich and that kind of reporting.

That idea, "fear sells," is so important when it comes to how true crime is made today.

Right, it definitely feeds into how we cover crime and serial murder. I think we are coming to a bit of a reckoning in terms of coverage and what it means. I'm not just talking about victim-blaming and some of the subtle things, but understanding what our role as creators and consumers is. I love true crime, I love true crime fans, but at the same time, I think we need to kind of understand what this all means.

It's interesting you bring that up because there is a point early in the series where, again, Jimmy Breslin appeared on television amid the Son of Sam' manhunt. He's talking about how people are interested in the murders and an interviewer poses the question to him, "Do you think that's a healthy interest?" How do you grapple with that same question as someone who is producing true crime?

I've done three true crime series and two true crime documentaries, right? I wouldn't call it "healthy," but for me, well — what's interesting about true crime isn't the murder part of it. It's what lies beneath the surface. It's the social stories and the social justice stories that we tell that lie underneath. Whether that's stories, for example, about how the internet was theoretically was supposed to make the world safer, but in the eyes of some sex workers, it makes it far more dangerous. Or how, in other cases, true crime allows us to look at law enforcement through a different lens.

It has shown us how much more transparent law enforcement needs to be.

[True crime] shows us how trauma goes and there's no such thing as closure. Like, I could tell you all the stories that I've learned and that's far more important than this kind of "murder" part of it — the blood splatter, the "CSI" effect, right?

This feels like an apt time to bring up Maury Terry. How did you two initially connect?

I had done a film about five missing children in my hometown of Staten Island called "Cropsey." While I was investigating that case, we kept hearing rumors from a lot of the cops and journalists that somehow these missing children were connected to the Son of Sam case and, more importantly, that Berkowitz didn't act alone. There was a cult behind him and that these missing children were connected to that cult.

I didn't initially believe it, but [after reading "Ultimate Evil"] I went to go meet Maury and I found him to be just this super interesting kind of character. He knew so much about true crime, especially in New York. He knew all about the cases that I was fascinated with, but he knew the truth behind them — what we didn't learn in the New York Post or the Daily News.

But at the same time, he had obviously fallen down the rabbit hole and, as a true crime journalist, I looked at his story as a cautionary tale for myself, but also a cautionary tale for everyone. He was so invested in the truth and the idea of truth. The most ironic thing is you end up having a serial killer telling him, "Look, dude, no matter how much evidence you have, the world is not going to believe you."

That moment blew my mind.

There's this moment in the documentary where Maury Terry described how he had a perfectly normal life before the Son of Sam case, but that it was almost impossible for him to go back to that normalcy. Having looked at this case and his writings closely, what do you think the tipping point for him was?

That's interesting. The switch, in my eyes, flipped right when the book came out because the police called him a crackpot. And, to an investigative journalist, that's the worst thing in the world. At the same time, I think there was this wave of Satanic panic flowing across the United States and suddenly, that movement looked to Maury for validation.

In turn, Maury found validation in the Satanic panic movement because, suddenly, here were a bunch of people who were willing to listen to what he had to say. He made a deal with the devil and sold his soul to the tabloid press in exchange for coverage. But tragically, I think that ended up undermining the veracity of his original investigation.

In the series, you spoke with a historian who studies the occult and he made the statement that once you start looking for symbols or messages associated with the occult, you're going to start seeing them everywhere. As a filmmaker, were you worried about falling down the same rabbit hole Maury did once you started checking into those connections?

It's funny, I didn't want to do the documentary at first because I was afraid of falling into that same rabbit hole that Maury Terry had fallen into. I didn't want to do it. I was like, "Oh my God, this guy — he's gone."

The irony of me saying that is that I've already fallen. In a way, doing this documentary was the breadcrumbs to find my out. It sounds kind of falsely meta, but it's not. Sometimes these cases become your life, and that's no joke.

It's alluring though, right? What's so interesting was going through all this news footage with the idea that Berkowitz didn't act alone. I was looking at it from a slightly different perspective and I would start seeing things and question, "Was that real? Was it not?" It was super fascinating.

I've seen a fair amount of true crime documentaries where directors have to obviously overcome not having archival footage of the event they're covering. You had a wealth of footage. What was the process of gathering and disseminating that footage like?

I originally didn't want to make this documentary, right? Despite Maury Terry telling me again and again — begging me to please do this documentary — I went off and made another series about the Long Island Serial Killer called "The Killing Season." While I was making that film, Maury Terry passed away.

Suddenly, I got a call from his family saying, more or less, "He left you his files." In those files was all this footage that he had, some of his numerous interviews with David Berkowitz. For some reason, he had never told me had those files. He never told me about the footage.

Suddenly I said, "Okay, now we can make a documentary." A lot of the process was just going through stuff and weeding it out. It was an embarrassment of riches, and then his book is a 600-page sprawling epic, if you will. The challenge was trying to get as much in there as possible while still telling a cohesive story. I could have done eight episodes so easily, honestly.

Speaking of Maury's book, how did you come to the decision to have Paul Giamatti narrate his writings?

I had worked with Paul at one point a long, long time ago. We had discussed that he has a certain affinity for the . . . esoteric. He likes things that are interesting and cool. And Paul just has a knack for embodying a character, whether on-screen or in audio.

And when Maury's family called me up, they said, "Wow, Paul Giamatti is so good. He was so good I forgot it wasn't Maury."

"The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" is now streaming on Netflix

New 'bombshell' motion in 'Making a Murderer' case points finger at someone else Steven Avery knew

There's new movement in the "Making a Murderer" case, but whether it inspires a Netflix follow-up remains to be seen. For now, Steven Avery is still behind bars after being convicted of murdering photographer Teresa Halbach.

"Making a Murderer" attorney Kathleen Zellner filed a motion Monday afternoon in Manitowoc County that alleges Avery's nephew Bobby Dassey was seen moving Halbach's car onto the Avery property. A former Wisconsin newspaper delivery driver signed a sworn affidavit attesting that he notified the sheriff's office at the time of Halbach's disappearance that he witnessed this, but was never contacted for more information.

"Mr. [Thomas] Sowinski was a motor-route driver for Gannett Newspapers, Inc. and delivered papers to the Avery Salvage Yard in the early morning hours of November 5th of 2005," the motion reads. "Prior to delivering the newspapers to the Avery Salvage Yard, he turned onto the Avery property and witnessed two individuals, a shirtless Bobby Dassey ("Bobby") and an unidentified older male pushing a dark blue RAV-4 down Avery Road towards the junkyard."

As Zellner told The Patch reporter John Ferak, "this is an evidence bombshell in the Avery case."

As outlined in the popular Netflix docuseries "Making a Murderer," Avery was once already wrongfully convicted and served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit, though was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003. Two years later, as Avery was in the midst of civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County to recover $36 million dollars in damages for his wrongful conviction, he and his nephew, Brendan Dassey — who is Bobby's brother — were arrested in connection to Halbach's murder.

Her car, a dark blue RAV-4, was found by law enforcement on November 5, 2005, just hours after Sowinski alleges he saw it being pushed by Dassey. However, when Sowinski called the sheriff's office to file a report, he says he was told by a female officer, "We already know who did it." He was told to leave his phone number, but no one ever called to follow up on his tip. That phone call was not included in evidence during Avery's trial either.

The newly filed motion — which can be viewed in its entirety here — has left viewers of the series with some questions. Here's what you need to know about how it could impact the Halbach case.

What role did Bobby Dassey play in Steven Avery's conviction?

As Zellner mentions in the motion, Bobby "was the State's primary witness against Mr. Avery at his trial." Prosecutor Ken Kratz told the jury that Bobby was the last person to see Halbach alive and that he should be recognized for his credibility as "an eyewitness without any bias."

During the trial, Bobby told the jury that he observed Halbach, who was a photographer for Auto Trader Magazine, arrive on Avery's property and begin taking photographs of his mother's van. He testified that he then saw her walk to Steven Avery's door.

"After seeing this woman walking toward your Uncle Steven's trailer, did you ever see this woman again?" Kratz asked, to which Bobby responded, "No." He testified that when he returned from hunting later that evening, Halbach's vehicle was no longer in the driveway.

What does this mean for Steven Avery's legal case?

Zellner argues that the prosecution committed a Brady violation because they suppressed evidence that was favorable to the defense and was material to an issue at the trial.

The motion reads: "The suppressed evidence from Mr. Sowinski was favorable to the defense and material to a pivotal issue in trial because it would have 1) destroyed the credibility of Bobby as the State's primary witness; 2) established that Bobby was directly involved in the murder of Ms. Halbach; and 3) established that Bobby planted evidence to frame his uncle, Mr. Avery."

Consequences of a Brady violation can include having a conviction vacated, as well as disciplinary actions against the prosecutor.

Will this impact Brendan Dassey's conviction?

Brendan Dassey's attorneys have long maintained that his confession that he assisted in the murder of Teresa Halbach was coerced by Manitowock County law enforcement. However, after navigating through lower courts, his legal team failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case in 2018. His only chance at parole is in 2048; he's been serving in prison since he was 16 years old.

However, in a 2019 interview with the Daily Beast, Zellner said that if Avery is freed that may "ultimately help him" as Brendan Dassey's legal team could go back to the lower court in Wisconsin with new evidence to dispute the validity of the confession.

"But the problem in the post-conviction world is there are so many procedural hurdles," she said.

Who was the second man allegedly seen pushing the car?

According to Sowinski, the man pushing the car with Bobby was at least 6-feet tall and had a beard between 8 to 12 inches long. Zellner said in her interview with The Patch that the man does not match the description of Scott Tadych — whom she has previously theorized might be involved in the murder — and "it certainly does not match Steven Avery."

For now, the man remains unknown.

Piers Morgan lashes out at 'delusional Duchess' and 'woke brigade' in lengthy new rant

Former ITV commentator Piers Morgan — who walked off the set of "Good Morning Britain" earlier this month after being called out for incendiary comments about Meghan Markle — has doubled down on his assertions that Markle is lying about the racism she experienced as a member of the British Royal Family.

In a lengthy opinion piece for The Mail on Sunday Morgan chronicles his feelings, day by day, since the "Good Morning Britain" fallout on March 9. The rant ranges from detailing threats that his sons have received and weighing in on the Teen Vogue editor debacle, to defending Sharon Osbourne and of course dismantling everything in that bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The longer Markle and Prince Harry went on, the less he believed. The most sensational implication, Morgan alleges, is that their son, Archie, was barred from being a prince because of his skin color.

"It sounded complete nonsense when she said it, and it is; he's not a Prince because, technically, the great grandchildren of the Monarch are not bestowed with titles 'Prince' or 'Princess' unless they're in the direct line to the throne," Morgan wrote.

"This rule applies regardless of the child's mother's ethnicity. So, the most serious assertion, one that has already sent racially charged America into a tailspin of outrage, was a falsehood presumably designed to cause maximum harm to the Royals."

He also disagreed with Markle's claims that the British tabloids targeted her specifically because of systemic racism.

"Meghan's had no worse media treatment than other Royal brides such as Diana, Fergie, Kate, Camilla or even that other Monarchy-rattling American divorcee, Wallis Simpson," he wrote. "But she's the first to claim negative press has been motivated by racism, and it's a very dangerous charge to make with so little to back it up."

Morgan also said that he quit his position at ITV because he refused to issue an apology for statements he made on-air about disbelieving Markle's assertion that, after having persistent suicidal thoughts while pregnant, she sought help from a senior royal but was rebuffed because "it wouldn't be good for the institution."

"I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry," Meghan said in the interview with Winfrey. "I knew that if I didn't say it, I would do it. I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

Morgan latched onto this story on "Good Morning Britain," saying, "Who did you go to? What did they say to you? I'm sorry, I don't believe a word she said, Meghan Markle. I wouldn't believe it if she read me a weather report."

In response, more than 41,000 viewers wrote in to Ofcom, the United Kingdom's media regulator to complain. However, Morgan said he wasn't going to issue an apology just to satisfy the "woke brigade."

"I reached a moment of total gut clarity," Morgan wrote in his column. "[F]**k it, I wasn't going to apologise for disbelieving Meghan Markle, because the truth is that I don't believe Meghan Markle. And in a free, democratic society, I should be allowed not to believe someone, and to say that I don't believe them."

Morgan also wrote about the repercussions of "The Talk" co-host Sharon Osbourne supporting him. Osbourne, who exited the show as of last Friday, came under fire initially when she tweeted "@piersmorgan I am with you. I stand by you. People forget that you're paid for your opinion and that you're just speaking your truth."

Twitter users began responding that Osbourne herself was racist for aligning herself with Morgan. This led to Osbourne engaging in a fiery argument with her co-host Sheryl Underwood, who is Black, about why people were calling her racist or why Morgan's statements were racist.

"I will ask you again, Sheryl," Osbourne raged. "I've been asking you during the break. I am asking you again — and don't try and cry because if anyone should be crying, it should be me — this is the situation. You tell me where you have heard him say — educate me, tell me – when you have heard him say racist things. Educate me! Tell me!"

Osbourne eventually apologized for her behavior, then backtracked, even as reports about her allegedly using racist slurs with her former co-hosts resurfaced.

Morgan said that what happened to Osbourne and him was "outrageous," but it isn't really about Markle.

"She's just one of many whiny, privileged, hypocritical celebrities who now cynically exploit victimhood to suppress free speech, value their own version of the truth above the actual truth, and seek to cancel anyone that deviates from their woke worldview or who dares to challenge the veracity of their inflammatory statements," Morgan wrote.

"No, it's about a far bigger issue than one delusional Duchess . . . As Winston Churchill said: 'Some people's idea of it [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.'"

Speaking of prime ministers — Morgan also used his lengthy diatribe as an opportunity to tease that a political run may be on his mind. He recounted an encounter with a flower seller who allegedly stopped him on the street to say, "Piers, mate, you should be Prime Minister. We'd all vote for you. You stand up for what you believe in."

Morgan replied, "I mean, who on earth would vote for a polarising, scandalous journalist with a posh name who refuses to apologise for anything . . ." This isn't the first time Morgan has hinted at his political aspirations. In January, he told The Sun, "Listen, if it's my turn to serve, and the people want me, who am I to ignore the will of the people?" Subtle.

According to Variety, Associated Newspapers, which is the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, lost a court battle with Markle recently over a copyright dispute, although the group is appealing the judgment.

How Evangelicalism's racist roots and purity culture teachings catalyzed the Atlanta killings

On March 16, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, killed eight people during three separate spa shootings outside Atlanta. He cited "sexual addiction" as his defense, which started a sort of media tug-of-war about Long's motivations, especially after Atlanta Police reported that Long told them the killings weren't "racially motivated."

This article originally appeared at Salon.

However, seven of the gunman's eight victims were women; six were identified as Asian and at least four of those killed were of Korean descent. Their names were Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon C. Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong A. Yue.

Despite the denials, the killings are a hate crime that exists at the intersection of misogyny, xenophobia and racism, and underpinning it is the toxicity of Evangelical purity culture. Long was a longtime member of Crabapple First Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Church in Macon, and reportedly told police that he viewed the people who worked at the spas as "temptations" he needed to "eliminate," indicating that he set out with the intention of attacking Asian women whom he perceived to be sex workers. Police have given no indication that the victims were sex workers.

Long's statement is reminiscent of how some Christian men excused the actions of the late apologist Ravi Zacharias who, as Christianity Today reported in an explosive 2020 expose, was credibly accused after his death in May of sexually abusing multiple massage therapists who worked at two day spas he co-owned in the Atlanta suburbs. Several of the women were immigrants, and it was late rrevealed that a different woman, who was also an immigrant, told investigators that "after he arranged for the ministry to provide her with financial support, he required sex from her." She called it rape.

His posthumous fall from grace was a shock to many Evangelical Christians; his organization Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was viewed by many as a successor to that of late evangelist Billy Graham, and former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at his funeral.

But then came the excuses.

Nick Stumbo, the founder of Pure Desire Ministries, a Christian organization that is dedicated to giving participants "freedom from unwanted sexual behavior" through group and individual counseling, wrote a blog post about sexual misconduct among Christian leaders following news of Zacharias' sexual abuse.

"Here's a truth you might be missing: they aren't doing this on purpose," Stumbo said. "These leaders aren't trying to live a double life, not most of them anyway. Most of them are trying — desperately trying — to live a God-honoring life, do the ministry they have been called to do, and banish the 'deeply troubling and wholly inconsistent' conduct from their lives."

He continued: "Their hearts cry out to do the right thing. Their soul longs for real freedom. But a deep rut of sexual dysfunction continues to trip them up and take them to places they never meant to go."

To many Christian men like Stumbo, the women who spoke out against Zacharias weren't victims; they were anonymous stumbling blocks in a great man's life, obstacles to be bested. It's a line of thinking that is deeply rooted in Evangelical teaching and colored by the tradition's insidious sexism and racism — which were on full display through Christian right's overwhelming support of former President Donald Trump — all of which Long would have become well acquainted with during his time in the church.

* * *

Purity culture became a pop culture buzzword in the mid-2000s after several young pop stars — including the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato — donned purity rings. While most of these celebrities eventually took off their rings as they grew out of their totally wholesome Disney-approved images, as I've written about before, in my Evangelical church, purity wasn't something you could simply shed.

If you were a woman, premartial sex would render you essentially worthless. There were a variety of metaphors that were used to illustrate this: Women who had sex were sticks of gum that, after being chewed by someone else, were rendered less flavorful for the next person who planned to take a bite. We were the roses with our petals torn off, a shattered perfume bottle, a damaged bicycle. "Nobody wants damaged goods," a youth leader once explained to me.

And while inherent to all these metaphors was the implication that women were the inanimate objects that were acted upon, there's also the simultaneous belief that it is a woman's God-given mandate to prevent the men in her life from "stumbling" towards lust.

We were given these lessons, too: Don't wear tight-fitting pants as they can cause a man to think impure thoughts. Depending on how you are naturally built, maybe you'll be told that you shouldn't even be wearing pants at all and are assigned to navigate adolescence in a series of dowdy skirts. Shirts should be cut no lower than the length of two horizontal two fingers below your collarbone. Body jewelry is frowned upon and make-up should be kept natural.

"Only harlots wear liquid eyeliner," another youth pastor once told us.

Women's status as stumbling blocks to purity — or even as intentional temptresses — is only amplified in Bible studies that are targeted at Evangelical men. "Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time" is a best-selling series of books about Christian sexuality.

"A red-blooded American male can't watch a major sporting event without being assaulted by commercials showing a bunch of half-naked women cavorting on some beach with some beer-soaked yahoos," one passage reads. "What's a man to do?"

It continues: "To attain sexual purity as we define it, we must starve your eyes of the bowls of sexual gratification that comes from outside your marriage. When you starve your eyes and eliminate 'junk sex' from your life, you'll deeply crave 'real food' — your wife. And no wonder. She's the only thing in the cupboard and you're hungry!"

Let's put aside, for now, the really problematic assertion that a healthy marriage is one in which you have sex with your partner just becase they're there and you have no other options in your sexual cupboard. The term "assaulted by commercials'' is interesting in that it plays into another common Christian narrative — that of spiritual battles. You put on the "armor of God," as written about in Ephesians, to engage in the fight between good and evil.

In Christians' daily lives, temptation is something to be attacked head-on and vanquished. It's language that is frequently espoused from the pulpit, and language that also bears a striking resemblance to Long's statement to police in which he said he described his victims as temptations to be eliminated.

* * *

Evangelical purity culture is dangerous in that, despite promising the opposite, it positions women as dehumanized, sexual objects — a walking collection of body parts that can provoke temptation — and that it is their responsibility to keep men from straying.

This is especially true for women of color, who have long been exoticized through the church's particular brand of colonialist missionary work.

The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek term euangelion meaning "gospel" or "good news," and per the New Testament book of Mark, Christians are commanded to "go into all the world and preach the good news." Growing up in the church, I vividly remember missionaries visiting for special services once they had returned to the States to set up old-school slideshows packed with photographs from their trips. They would talk about the work — handing out Bibles, leading church services, building houses of worship — they had done in these countries, which were often positioned as almost otherworldly.

While, as the Atlantic reported, some Christian denominations are currently trying to pull back from the "white savior complex" style of mission work in favor offering genuine humanitarian aid or serving their own communities more intentionally, the International Mission Board, which is the Southern Baptist Convention's missionary society, still describes their work as "bring[ing] the good news to the helpless and the hopeless."

While Long may assert that his crimes weren't "racially motivated," growing up in a the Southern Baptist church, he would have been familiar with this language — language that is reminiscent of what I heard from the pews in the '90s — that was meant to both encourage a sense of "otherness" and excuse attempts at domination, cultural and otherwise, of people of color, including those of Asian descent.

Long isn't the only example of how the ugliness of the rhetoric behind that language, as well as the misogyny that underpins it, can dangerously collide in public and encourage violence. Donald Trump was a thrice-married candidate that paid hush money to an adult entertainer and bragged about grabbing women by the genitals. His blatant racism only escalated during his term in office and his use of the phrases "Wuhan flu" and "China virus" directly contributed to the current rise in violence against Asian Americans.

And he enjoyed overwhelming support from Evangelical Christians along the way.

Some have left the church because of it. As Salon reported, Beth Moore, a major female Evangelical leader, announced earlier this month that, as a survivor of sexual assault, she "can no longer identify with Southern Baptists." Meanwhile, the #LeaveLOUD movement is gaining momentum among Black Christians who no longer see a home for themselves in white Evangelical spaces. In both instances, denominational leadership reportedly seems more keen to stomp out voices of dissent than do the work necessary to unravel generations of harmful teachings.

On Friday morning, Crabapple First Baptist Church, Long's home church, released a statement about the killings.

"We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word," it said. "Aaron's actions are antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church. In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the actions of Aaron Long as well as his stated reasons for carrying out this wicked plan."

It continued: "No blame can be placed upon the victims. He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires. The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires nor do they bear any blame in these murders. These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible."

The language used, the focus on sex, only continues the narrative that a man in the church has been raised to believe is the expected, natural order of his existence without acknowledging its roots. The culture that the church chooses to perpetuate tells a more complicated story specifically dealing with race.

As the Washington Post reported, Long's church is part of a group in the Southern Baptist Convention called Founders Ministries that has pushed the convention in a more conservative direction in recent years. The group has described the labeling of "white fragility" as "racism" and called critical race theory "godless and materialistic ideologies."

And while there's no evidence currently online about the church's teachings about sexuality — following the killings, Crabapple First Baptist deleted their social media accounts, including photographs and videos of past sermons — Long's own dehumanizing language about his victims tells us enough.

Armie Hammer accused of rape and 'other acts of violence'

Actor Armie Hammer has been accused of rape by a woman identified as Effie. The woman, who held a press conference on Thursday with her attorney Gloria Allred, said that the alleged sexual assault took place in 2017, during which the actor "violently raped [her] for over four hours in Los Angeles," and that she thought Hammer was going to kill her.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

As IndieWire reported, Effie indicated that she had met Hammer in 2016 when she was 20, and the two engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship with him until 2020.

"On April 24, 2017, Armie Hammer violently raped me for over four hours in Los Angeles," Effie said during the press conference, "during which he repeatedly slapped my head against a wall, bruising my face. He also committed other acts of violence against me to which I did not consent."

"I thought that he was going to kill me," she said, adding that he then left "with no concern for my well-being . . . I have come to understand that the immense mental hold he had over me was very damaging on many levels."

Allred said, "We look forward to learning if Mr. Hammer, rather than his representatives, will be willing to assist investigators in their search for the truth."

In January, a social media account called House of Effie posted screengrabs of sexual text messages allegedly sent by Hammer between 2016 and 2020. Some of the fantasies described in the screenshots are graphic, including one in which Hammer said he wanted to "bite pieces off of" the recipient. In another, he said, "I am 100% a cannibal. I want to eat you. F**k. That's scary to admit. I've never admitted that before."

Allred did not comment on whether her client was behind the social media page.

The salacious headlines about Hammer being a cannibal wrote themselves, and eventually the actor dropped out of two projects — "The Offer," a Paramount+ series about the making of "The Godfather," and "Shotgun Wedding," a comedy with Jennifer Lopez. Hammer was then dropped by WME, his agency.

Hammer issued a statement at the time: "I'm not responding to these bulls**t claims but in light of the vicious and spurious online attacks against me, I cannot in good conscience now leave my children for four months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic. Lionsgate is supporting me in this and I'm grateful to them for that."

On Thursday, his attorney, Andrew B. Brettler of Lavely & Singer, issued an additional statement to Variety.

[Effie's] own correspondence with Mr. Hammer undermines and refutes her outrageous allegations. As recently as July 18, 2020, [Effie] sent graphic texts to Mr. Hammer telling him what she wanted him to do to her. Mr. Hammer responded, making it clear that he did not want to maintain that type of relationship with her.
It was never Mr. Hammer's intention to embarrass or expose [Effie's] fetishes or kinky sexual desires, but she has now escalated this matter to another level by hiring a civil lawyer to host a public press conference. With the truth on his side, Mr. Hammer welcomes the opportunity to set the record straight.

Brettler added that all of Hammer's interactions with his sexual partners have been "completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory. . . . [Effie's] attention seeking and ill-advised legal bid will only make it more difficult for real victims of sexual violence to get the justice they deserve."

Variety reported that Hammer is being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department. "We can confirm that Armie Hammer is the main suspect in an alleged sexual assault investigation that was initiated Feb. 3 of this year," a spokesperson for the LAPD told the publication.

Effie hopes that Hammer will finally be held accountable for his actions.

"I feel immense guilt for not speaking out sooner, because I feel that I might have been able to save others from becoming victims," she said. "By speaking out today, I hope to prevent others from falling victim to him in the future. I want other survivors of sexual assault around the world to feel empowered and know that they are heard, believed, understood, supported, and loved."

Evangelicals lost a major female leader over Trump supporter hypocrisy – will other women follow?

Beth Moore has been viewed for decades, as the "Evangelical Julia Roberts meets Oprah," according to Anne Helen Peterson's recent "Culture Study" newsletter. Moore has published over 20 Bible studies, and her Living Proof conferences drew thousands of women who would pack into stadiums to hear her speak about topics like insecurity, forgiveness and godliness. A 2008 simulcast of her speaking called "Living Proof Live" is estimated to have been watched by over 70,000 people at 715 locations.

As a Southern Baptist, Moore established herself as a singular voice in a denomination that is dominated by male thought leaders, and offered a generation of evangelical women an opportunity to see themselves in her and through her work. Now, however, Moore has announced she's breaking from the Southern Baptist Convention largely because as a sexual assault survivor, she couldn't reconcile with evangelicals' overwhelming, hypocritical support of Donald Trump. This raises the question of whether her followers, and other women, will follow suit.

"I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists," Moore told Religion News Service Tuesday. "I love so many Southern Baptist people, so many Southern Baptist churches, but I don't identify with some of the things in our heritage that haven't remained in the past."

LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention which has published her books in the past, also confirmed the break with Moore.

The rift between Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention began in 2016, days after the Access Hollywood tape, in which former president Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women's genitals without their consent.

Moore tweeted at the time, "I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it."

She followed up by encouraging Christians to "wake up" to the environments of entitlement that women have had to navigate. "Are we sickened?" she tweeted. "Yes. Surprised? NO."

As she told Religion News Service, she was disheartened that Trump ascended to become "the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America." She also expressed shock that he was so embraced by the denomination — one that has long contributed to and been guided by "purity culture" — despite Trump's cavalier attitudes towards sexual assault.

However, if you've paid attention to news surrounding evangelical leaders over the last several years, it's not surprising. In 2020, former Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. tumbled into one scandal after another, before finally, officially plummeting from grace.

It began in 2019 when, as Politico reported, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen helped "clean up racy 'personal' photographs" of Falwell's wife, Becki, including one of her in a French maid costume, which Falwell had allegedly sent to a number of employees at his evangelical university.

Then there were the photos of Falwell that surfaced last August, showing him with his pants partially unzipped and his arm around a woman whom he later claimed was his wife's assistant. Two weeks later, he claimed that his wife had engaged in a "fatal attraction type" affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant-turned-Miami businessman. Granda then released a statement of his own claiming that Falwell both knew of and observed his sexual relationship with Becki "from the corner of the room." Later, he posted a statement on Twitter describing Falwell as a "predator," who had sent Granda an image of a female Liberty University student exposing herself at their farm.

The hypocrisy felt overwhelming, as students at Falwell's university are all required to adhere to a strict code of conduct called "The Liberty Way," which forbids premarital sex, same-sex relationships, alcohol and "obscene language," while also requiring that students "dress modestly at all times."

It's worth noting that Falwell was an adamant supporter of Trump, and that he wasn't the only alleged predator. Since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, as the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported in 2019. They also found that in the past 20 years, more than 700 victims have been abused, with some urged to have abortions and "forgive their abusers."

Their investigation came after, as I reported in 2018, there was a call to put together a register of "Southern Baptist clergy and staff who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse."

Instances of sexual assault and harassment are both enmeshed in the denomination's fabric and rarely brought to light. Those who perpetuate the abuse rarely see consequences when it comes to their standing in the Convention.

Take, for example, a 2018 case when the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson — a key figure in the denomination's resurgence over the past decade — was fired when the board of trustees found that he had "lied about his treatment of an alleged rape victim in 2003, and that in 2015 he tried to meet, with no other officials present, with another woman who had reported a sexual assault so he could 'break her down,'" according to the Washington Post.

Additionally, Tennessee megachurch pastor Andy Savage stepped down that year from his position after confessing to having had sexual contact 20 years ago with Jules Woodson, who was at the time a high school student in the group he led as youth pastor. While Savage describes his actions as a "sexual incident," Woodson wrote that Savage drove her to a deserted back road, sexually assaulted her, then asked for forgiveness and pleaded with her "not to tell anyone what had just happened."

Some congregants hoped these headline-grabbing incidents would cause change, and leaders spoke about said change broadly.

"The #MeToo moment has come to American evangelicals," wrote Albert Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Facebook in 2018. "And I am called to deal with it as a Christian, as a minister of the Gospel, as a seminary and college president, and as a public leader."

However, Southern Baptist support for Trump didn't waver through his presidency, nor his attempt at re-election, and there's a possibility that as key female figures like Beth Moore exit the denomination, other women may go with them — especially those who have been victimized by men in church leadership.

There's a growing precedent for women looking to leave the denomination. As Sarah Stankorb wrote in her piece "These Evangelical Women Are Abandoning Trump and Their Churches," women all over the country were having crises of faith because male leadership supported "the thrice-married, profane, biblically illiterate, sexually predacious candidate [who] mirrored no beatitudes," all while demanding their sexual purity.

Purity culture wasn't really about the sanctity of the family, but the subjugation of women, Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, minister and author of the 2018 book Healing Spiritual Wounds, told Stankorb. Women who had been taught not to even "front hug" male friends for fear of stirring their sinful sexual impulses watched as Donald Trump became entangled with evangelical culture. "He could go around talking about grabbing women by their pussies, but women were shamed for any sort of sexual act before marriage," Howard Merritt says. "The hypocrisy of it just became massive."

And that hypocrisy and sexism, combined with female leaders like Moore leaving the denomination, could cause an exodus of emboldened, like-minded women.

Kate Bowler, a historian at Duke Divinity School who has studied evangelical women celebrities, said Moore's departure is a significant loss for the Southern Baptist Convention. Bowler told the Religion News Service that Moore is one of the denomination's few stand-alone women leaders, whose platform was based on her own "charisma, leadership and incredible work ethic" and not her marriage to a famed male pastor.

"Ms. Moore is a deeply trusted voice across the liberal-conservative divide, and has always been able to communicate a deep faithfulness to her tradition without having to follow the Southern Baptist's scramble to make Trump spiritually respectable," Bowler said. "The Southern Baptists have lost a powerful champion in a time in which their public witness has already been significantly weakened."

The 8 biggest bombshells from Oprah's Meghan and Harry interview -- from racist royals to tabloid bias

In CBS' highly anticipated special on Sunday night, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, spoke to Oprah Winfrey, opening up about their decision to leave the British royal family and the fractured relationships they left in their wake.

It was an explosive interview — enough so that it cost CBS a license fee of between $7 million and $9 million to air, per The Wall Street Journal — in which Harry described how meeting Meghan made him realize that he was trapped within the system of the royal family. This was only exacerbated by concerns over Meghan's mental health, the blatant racism to which she and their son, Archie, were subject, and ruthless tabloid scrutiny.

The couple realized together they wanted something different, and have since relocated to California, where they are focusing on a number of media projects, including a documentary co-produced by Winfrey about mental wellness and illness, and bringing attention to systemic racism.

"I'm just really relieved and happy to be sitting here with my wife by my side," Harry said. "Because I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for [Diana] going through this process by herself all those years ago. Because it has been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we have each other."

Here are the biggest takeaways from the interview:

Meghan had "very clear and real" thoughts of suicide during her pregnancy with Archie and was denied help

Perhaps the biggest revelation during the couple's interview with Oprah was that Meghan said life as a royal threatened her mental health and left her feeling deeply isolated; this culminated while she was pregnant with her son, Archie, in 2019. She described persistent suicidal thoughts.

"I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry," Meghan said. "I knew that if I didn't say it, I would do it. I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

Meghan said she asked a senior royal (among them, Prince William, Duchess Kate, Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla, Prince Edward, Countess Sophie, Princess Anne and Queen Elizabeth) about seeking inpatient care, but was rebuffed because "it wouldn't be good for the institution."

At that point, Meghan said, she was left without options. She had surrendered her passport and driver's license upon joining the family. "I couldn't, you know, call an Uber to the palace," she said.

Harry has also spoken about his own struggles with mental health. In a 2017 interview with The Telegraph, he said that he came "very close to total breakdown on numerous occasions, when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions are coming to you from every angle," and that this led to years of panic attacks.

As a result, he said he knew he and Meghan needed to get out for both the health of his family, and indicated that he thought of his mother, the late Princess Diana, during the process.

"My biggest concern was history repeating itself," he added. "And what I was seeing was history repeating itself, but far more dangerous[ly] because you add race in, you add social media in."

At least one royal family member expressed "concerns" over "how dark [their son Archie's] skin might be" when Meghan was pregnant with him

While Meghan was pregnant with their son Archie, she said, there were "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born," since Meghan is biracial. There has been much speculation over who would have instigated or participated in those conversations, but in a Monday interview with CBS This Morning, Winfrey said she ruled out two people during an unaired conversation with Harry.

"He did not share the identity with me, but he wanted to make sure I knew — and if I had an opportunity to share it — that it was not his grandmother nor grandfather [Queen Elizabeth or Prince Philip] that were part of those conversations," she said.

Additionally, Meghan said she and Harry actually did want a prince title for Archie so he could have access to security, but the royal family did not follow the usual conventions and denied the title.

The depth of the U.K. tabloids' power and bias revealed

"There is this invisible contract behind closed doors, behind the institution and U.K. tabloids," Harry told Oprah. He then indicated that certain members of the British royal family would wine and dine certain reporters to get better press.

"There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations," he said.

Meghan said that certain tabloids would have holiday parties at the palace.

"There is a construct that's at play there and because of the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and inciting so much racism, really, it changed the risk level because it wasn't just catty gossip," she said. "It was bringing out a part of people that was racist in how it was charged – and that changed the threat, that changed the level of death threats, that changed everything."

The couple did not spend much time refuting specific tabloid stories, though they used one as an illustration of how the press would turn stories around on Meghan. Oprah had asked about reports that Meghan had made Kate, Prince William's wife, cry during an argument about dresses for the flower girls.

According to Meghan, the opposite was true; Kate had actually made her cry, but the palace wouldn't allow anyone to speak publicly to set the record straight. However, Meghan said, Kate later apologized and sent flowers.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry played a role in the couple's move to the United States

Right before the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March, a British tabloid published the exact location where Harry and Meghan were living outside of Vancouver. The couple, who were in the middle of "stepping back" from their roles as senior royals, were without a royal security detail and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who had been aiding in their protection, had announced they were going to scale back the assistance they were offering.

"Suddenly it dawned on me, 'Hang on, the borders could be closed,'" Harry told Oprah. "The world knows where we are. It's not safe, it's not secure. We probably need to get out of here."

That's when help came from an unexpected source: actor, director and producer Tyler Perry.

For three months Meghan, Harry and Archie stayed at one of Perry's houses in Southern California with a full security detail. According to Markle, the couple didn't "have a plan," but Perry's kindness "gave us breathing room to try to figure out what we were going to do."

They didn't elaborate on the story any further, but some have speculated on social media that Perry may have opted to help the couple since they were, in part, fleeing the racist harassment of the British tabloids and a royal family that wouldn't stand up for them.

"They were willing to lie to protect other members of the family," Meghan told Oprah, without specifying to whom she was referring. "But they weren't willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband."

Prince Charles has stopped taking Harry's calls

British tabloids had run multiple stories alleging that Harry had "blindsided" his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, with his and Meghan's decision to step away from their roles as senior members of the royal family. Harry denied this in his conversation with Oprah, saying that he had too much respect for her.

"I had three conversations with my grandmother, and two conversations with my father before he stopped taking my calls," Harry said. "And then he said, 'Can you put this all in writing?'"

Harry believes his father won't speak to him anymore because he had taken his life into his own hands and was acting outside royal tradition.

"This is not a surprise to anybody," he said. "It's really sad that it's got to this point, but I've got to do something for my own mental health, my wife's and for Archie's as well."

He continued: "I feel really let down. Because [my father's] been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like, and Archie's his grandson."

Meghan and Harry had a secret backyard wedding before the televised Royal Wedding

According to Meghan, when she walked down the aisle during her and Harry's internationally aired royal wedding on May 19, 2018, the couple had already been married for days.

"Three days before our wedding, we got married," Meghan said. "We called the archbishop and we said, look, 'This thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us."

Harry punctuated the revelation by singing the phrase, "Just the three of us" to the tune of "Just the Two of Us." According to Meghan, the vows they have framed in their bedroom are from that private ceremony.

The couple is expecting a girl

In one of the lighter moments of the interview, Meghan and Harry revealed that they were expecting a baby girl sometime this summer and that this would likely be their last child.

"To have any one or any two, but to have a boy and then a girl — what more could you ask for?" Harry told Oprah. "But now we've got our family. We've got the four of us, we've got our two dogs. Done."

Meghan and Harry had originally announced their second pregnancy on Feb. 14. "We can confirm that Archie is going to be a big brother," the couple said in a statement. "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are overjoyed to be expecting their second child."

They're living off the inheritance left to him by Princess Diana

Harry told Oprah that he and Meghan were financially "cut off" from the royal family early last year, and have since relied on the inheritance left to him by his mother.

As The Telegraph reported, Prince William and Harry were both left around $8 million by their mother, which was invested and accrued interest. On his 30th birthday, Harry ultimately inherited $30 million.

"I've got what my mum left me, and without that, we would not have been able to do this," Harry said.

Harry said that he thinks his mother may have anticipated this turn of events."I think she saw it coming," he said. "I certainly felt her presence throughout this whole process."