Evangelicals

Hot-button question: Is the history contained in the New Testament reliable?

Hot-button question: Is the history contained in the New Testament reliable?

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

How can we get people informed about the results of academic biblical scholarship, work that completely undermines the ordinary popular conception of Christianity and faith? Why are Christians not interested in the truth?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

“What is truth?”, Pilate asked Jesus. Or did he? America’s “Jesus Seminar” claimed the Roman tyrant never spoke those famous words and, for that matter, much else in the New Testament never happened either. Norman worries that people aren’t “informed.” Sunday School and CCD may not teach  doubts, but people who don’t know about media promotion of biblical disputes must be living under a rock.

Various degrees of skepticism usually characterize the “higher criticism” conveyed at U.S. colleges. The Jesus Seminar represented the radical wing. Even liberals scoffed at the theatrics when Seminar panelists voted on the authenticity of each verse. The verdict: “82 percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels were not actually spoken by him” while there was a “16 percent historical accuracy rate” for the 176 recorded events in Jesus’ life.

At least Jesus was indeed crucified, the Seminar said. However, two panelists doubted he even existed. They had to discount not only the Gospels but Paul’s letters 20 years after the crucifixion, Roman and Jewish writers (Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, Josephus), and other documents.

Skepticism is nothing new and originated in Europe’s “Enlightenment” era, especially in Germany.

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Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

If you listen carefully to this week Crossroads podcast (click right here to do so), you can hear question after question passing by, questions that simply cannot be answered at this time -- yet questions that could be hooks for major news stories later on.

Here's the big question, one that I asked on a radio show several months ago and discussed again in a post this week: Will the principalities and powers at the NCAA choose (as is their right as leaders of a private, voluntary association) to eject religious private colleges and universities that (as currently is their right as private, voluntary associations) ask students, faculty and staff to live under lifestyle covenants that, among other doctrines, affirm that sex outside of traditional marriage is sin?

OK, let's back up and ask an important question that precedes that monster: Will major American businesses -- the economic giants that sponsor events like bowl games and the hoops Final Four -- hear the cries of LGBT activists and begin pressuring the NCAA to make this change?

Maybe there is a question in front of THAT one, such as: At what point will ESPN or some other force in the entertainment industrial complex begin what amounts to a "go to the mattresses" campaign to force this question on the NCAA?

So, the questions keep coming.

What will the leaders of the big religiously conservative private schools that are in the cross hairs on this issue -- think Baylor and Brigham Young -- do when forced to make a choice between the faiths that define them (and religious supporters with children and money) and the prestige and money connected with big-time athletics?

Yes, host Todd Wilken pressed me -- as a Baylor alum -- to offer an educated guess on what I thought Baylor leaders would do when push comes to shove.

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Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

On the sexuality beat, much news involves the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 gay marriage mandate. In particular, should government should protect, or penalize, artists and merchants who want to avoid cooperating with same-sex wedding rites due to religious conscience?

Journalists need to understand that this is a mere skirmish compared with far more potent church-state fights that inevitably lie ahead.

Meanwhile, transgender conflicts are fast gaining media momentum. At issue: Should public lavatories and shower rooms be open to transgender individuals whose “gender identity” is the opposite of their birth genetics and anatomy? In other words, biological men using women’s rooms and vice versa. 

The national headlines cover federal and state actions, but the same problem will soon be coming to a public school near you -- if it hasn’t already.

What does this have to do with religion-news work? Well, religious groups and individuals are usually at the forefront of those favoring traditional toilet and shower access.

Frank Bruni, whose New York Times columns neatly define the Left’s cultural expectations, sees the wedding merchant and lavatory debates as one and the same. In both cases, he asserts, a ”divisive, “cynical” and “opportunistic” “freakout” by conservatives has “egregiously” violated LGBT equality. Thus the “T” for transgender and “B” for bisexual are fully fused with the victorious lesbian and gay causes.

Christian organizations judged to be “anti-LGBT” are on the list of “hate groups” from liberals’ influential Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Honoring Harriet Tubman, a Methodist, Republican, evangelical woman for the ages

Honoring Harriet Tubman, a Methodist, Republican, evangelical woman for the ages

After considerable backing and forthing, the Obama administration  announced April 20 that it will put Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill. She’ll be the first African-American honored on U.S. currency, and one of very, very few women to be given this honor -- even briefly. Martha Washington and Pocahontas briefly held this distinction, and Susan B. Anthony dollar coins remain in circulation, but are no longer minted.

Tubman, the famed savior of slaves via the “underground railroad” and a Republican, supplants Democratic President Andrew Jackson, who’ll be relegated to the bill’s back along with the continuing White House image. The quip of the week prize goes to conservative economist and columnist John Lott, who tweeted: “On $20 bill, Ds replace Andrew Jackson, a founding father of D Party, w Harriet Tubman, a black, gun-toting, evangelical Xn, R woman.”

Also fast on the draw was Religion News Service, issuing “5 faith facts” about this devout Methodist in a format the wire has used to good effect with various 2016 candidates. The facts:

Tubman was nicknamed “Moses” after the biblical rescuer because she led  hundreds of slaves to freedom and attributed such bravery to faith in God. She experienced many vivid dreams and visions that she believed came from God.

Her favorite song in a personal hymnal she collected was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” She believed that God directed her to go on the hunger strike that raised $20 to free her own parents from slavery. Her death-bed words in 1913 quoted Jesus Christ, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

It will be interesting to see how much the mainstream news-media coverage notes the powerful religious faith that drove this activist to glory.

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Washington Post raises another one of 'those' Jerry Falwell, Jr., gun questions

Washington Post raises another one of 'those' Jerry Falwell, Jr., gun questions

As best I can tell, there are plenty of important subjects in public life on which Jerry Falwell, Jr., and I would sharply disagree.

For starters, there is the whole Donald Trump thing. Also, it certainly appears that we disagree on some basic gun-control issues, since I lean toward stricter controls.

However, I have always thought that the most important skill in Journalism 101 is the ability to accurately quote someone with whom one disagrees. With that in mind, let's return to a recent controversy involving Falwell and editors at The Washington Post.

Do you remember the mini-media storm in which the Post noted that Falwell had urged Liberty University students to purchase handguns and learn how to use them should they ever be attacked by heavily armed terrorists? What? That isn't the story that you remember?

This issue was clarified in a latter headline and updated text, but now it's back.

So let's start at the beginning -- again.

Watch the CNN clip at the top of this post and then reading the following. Here is the quote as published in the Post:

“It just blows my mind that the president of the United States [says] that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control,” he said to applause. “If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …,” he said while being interrupted by louder cheers and clapping. “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, chuckling.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”

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Adam LaRoche plays by HIS own rules? That's what his story is about? #Seriously

Adam LaRoche plays by HIS own rules? That's what his story is about? #Seriously

You knew there was going to be some kind of sequel to the amazing story of Adam LaRoche and his decision to walk away from millions of dollars because Chicago White Sox leaders had second thoughts about allowing his son Drake to come to work with him day after day.

Sure enough, ESPN assigned reporter Tim Keown to do one of those ultra-personal feature stories -- built on a long, exclusive interview -- that come a week or two after a media firestorm that created way more heat than light.

So we get a deep feature piece, precisely the kind that makes me think there is some chance that ESPN will finally take seriously the religion angle of a major story. Take that headline for example: "Adam LaRoche goes deep on his decision to walk."

Now, this story does include all kinds of interesting details and colorful anecdotes, while answering a few obvious questions. Some LaRoche critics, for example, thought it was strange that this loving dad wanted his son to spend so much time around, well, baseball players. Aren't they known for being a bit, well, profane and crass?

Yes, LaRoche knew that Drake would be stretched a bit. Thus, I loved the evidence that some of the players actually tried to clean up their acts a bit. For example:

In 2012, Nationals utilityman Mark DeRosa cut a deal with Drake: I'll pay you every time you catch me swearing.

"Ten bucks a word."

So how much did the kid make? You can look it up.

Now, the whole idea is that LaRoche -- #duh -- has a different set of priorities than your average millionaire jock.

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About Time's infamous 'Is God Dead?' cover -- a paradigmatic 50th anniversary

About Time's infamous 'Is God Dead?' cover -- a paradigmatic 50th anniversary

In olden times the major U.S. news magazines often ran major religion takeouts at Easter time. Fifty years ago Time greeted the holy weekend with the stark “Is God Dead?” cover story (hit the pay wall here), rousing its top newsstand sales since World War Two and a record pile of letters to the editor.

The lede:  “Is God dead? It is a question that tantalizes both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect that the answer is no.” The article pursued that duality, not only doubt but problematic aspects of fashionable skepticism.

Author John T. Elson (1931-2009) was no faith-basher but an intellectually inquisitive Catholic who worshiped regularly at Manhattan’s St. Ignatius Church. This uber-talented religion writer was largely unheralded in that era when Time barred bylines. Later, he was a senior editor or A.M.E. who often supervised the Guy during 19 years as the news magazine’s religion writer.

The God article raised a classic journalistic issue as  pertinent as the latest Trump outburst: Does media sensationalism distort reality and harm the culture? After all, only a handful of “mainline” Protestant theologians were the “Christian atheists” of 1966. But Elson captured a cultural moment other media were pondering. Weeks beforehand, John Lennon had remarked that “Christianity will go” and “we’re more popular than Jesus now.” Another Elson cover story later that year profiled the Episcopal Church’s doubt-drenched Bishop James Pike.  

God didn’t die.

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On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

On divorce: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever Machiavelli?

So we have another major document from Pope Francis, with yet another wave of coverage in which the pope's intentions -- just as much as his words -- are the focus of a tsunami of media coverage.

Of course, "Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family)" wasn't just another 60,000-word church document. This apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis followed tumultuous synods on issues linked to marriage, sex and family life. The stakes were higher.

After reading waves of the coverage, and commentaries by all kinds of Catholics, I was struck by the degree to which journalists continue to view the work of Pope Francis through a lens that was perfectly captured in the following Associated Press statement (note the lack of attribution) about an earlier papal media storm:

Francis has largely shied away from emphasizing church teaching on hot-button issues, saying the previous two popes made the teaching well-known and that he wants to focus on making the church a place of welcome, not rules.

The "Amoris Laetitia" coverage offered more of the same formula, which can be summed up as,"The pope didn't change any church documents, but it's clear that he's trying to change such and such (wink, wink)." Thus, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) returned to a familiar question: Is Pope Francis acting like a loving pastor or a clever, stealth-mode liberal Machiavelli?

To be perfectly frank with you, I was intrigued by the degree to which traditional Catholics were divided on this issue, in their discussions of this document -- especially on the issue of Catholics receiving Communion after second, civil marriages. I am always intrigued when conservatives take stands that make other conservatives nervous and liberals take stands that make other liberals nervous.

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The Atlantic on Texas cheerleaders: In this case, old-time religion comes across as reasonable

The Atlantic on Texas cheerleaders: In this case, old-time religion comes across as reasonable

Four years after a group of East Texas cheerleaders took on their school district to fight for the right to have religious-themed banners at their school football games, Atlantic Monthly takes a trip into flyover country to talk to the girls.

Some of these young women have already graduated from high school and have been able to get a wider perspective on their battle. I thought the magazine’s take on it all had very little snark and some actual respect for these teenagers. Kountze, by the way, is just north of Houston.

So here's how this lengthy piece started:

The cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, have been painting Bible verses on the banners they hold up at football games for nearly four years. Players line up on Friday nights behind a big stretch of unrolled butcher paper, busting through it as they run onto the field. Instead of a negative slogan, along the lines of “Kill the Tatum Eagles,” the girls wanted to write messages that were more positive, ones “that were really encouraging and honorable to God,” as one of them put it. They proposed this at their cheer camp in the summer of 2012. After the moms who sponsored the club got sign off from the school principal, the girls made their first signs, sporting messages like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” from Philippians, or “A lion, which is strongest among beasts and turns not away from any,” a Proverbs verse. (Kountze High is home to the Lions.)
Ever since, they have been embroiled in the high-profile legal battle those banners sparked. Early in the 2012 season, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Kountze Independent School District’s superintendent alleging that the district was violating the Constitution by allowing a student group to hold up religious messages at a school-sponsored event. After consulting counsel, the superintendent told the town’s high-school principal to shut down the Bible-verse banners. Some of the girls and their parents decided to sue the district and won a temporary injunction. Since then, the case has been bouncing around the Texas state-court system, mostly on a series of procedural claims. The Texas Supreme Court heard the case and sent it back to the Court of Appeals in January; that court is set to consider the case again any day now.

What’s different about this piece is that the cheerleaders and their more activist parents are portrayed as unlikely newsmakers who stumbled into this national drama and are doing their best to stand up for student self-expression.

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