Daily Beast approaches satire territory when ‘reviewing’ Carson’s congregation

Tina Brown, who founded The Daily Beast, will readily admit the news site’s name is an homage to Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop,” in which the newspaper tub-thumping for war was called “The Beast.”

But Brown’s website approached satire not only in its name when it sent a reporter to poke around a congregation with which this writer is intimately familiar, the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. In its report, Brown’s reporter demonstrated a breathtaking lack of basic knowledge about religion -- certainly about Christianity -- or even what people do when they go to worship services these days. Click here to read that story.

Disclosure: I’ve been a member at Spencerville since 2003, have attended weekly worship there, and still am on the rolls, not having yet transferred my records to a local Adventist congregation in Utah.

Oh, some fellow named Dr. Ben Carson is a member there, along with his family. You might have heard about his connections to the Seventh-day Adventist faith.

It’s not unusual for the press to poke around the church of a presidential candidate’s choice, especially if that church is either little-known or perhaps controversial. In 2008, Trinity United Church of Christ was put under a media microscope not only because Barack Obama was a member there. but also because the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor, had issued many sermons that were, shall we say, a bit caustic about America and its role in the world. Four years later, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a media-led “Mormon Moment” when Mitt Romney, a lifelong member, returned missionary and former bishop, ran for the presidency.

Now it’s Adventism’s turn. Gideon Resnick, “a journalist with a fervent interest in politics, peach rings and rap mixtapes” was sent by Brown’s minions on a field trip to inspect this curious tribe of people from which Carson has sprung forth, Quixote-like, to tilt at the White House.

Or so the tone of the article (original headline, “Ben Carson’s Church: We’re Glad He’s Not Here”) might have us believe. Buckle your seat belts, gentle reader, because you’re about to discover some amazing, astonishing, out-of-this-world things.

The Spencerville congregation meets in a church. With wood paneling. And a pipe organ (a rather nice one, if you ask me) and -- gasp! -- stained glass windows. The natives there practice something called tithing and offers envelopes in which donations may be placed. Most astounding of all, these, er, Christians believe some guy named Jesus is going to return to Earth for the “end of times”!

Pardon my sarcasm, but Resnick, and perhaps his editors, know little -- and apparently researched even less -- about just what Christians (of just about any stripe) are, believe or do:

”Followers abide by many elements of Evangelical Protestant doctrine but emphasize the importance of the Saturday Sabbath, promote religious liberty, focus on diet and health, and want to preserve conservative values like same-sex marriage. They are also firm believers in the eventual Second Coming of Jesus Christ and that those who don’t accept him linger in eternal sleep rather than go to hell.”

While I was surprised to learn same-sex marriage is now a “conservative value” Seventh-day Adventists want to “preserve” -- it isn’t generally regarded as a "conservative" principle and, no, Seventh-day Adventists don’t endorse it -- it was the “firm believers in the eventual Second Coming of Jesus Christ” bit that surprised me.

So far as I am aware, just about every Christian communion in the world today -- Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Pentecostal and even the Quakers -- are “firm believers in the eventual Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” That kind of defines Christianity: We’re Christ-followers, and we believe that Jesus will return, as promised at the end of the Gospel accounts.

Reporter Resnick, clearly miffed by a request from an Adventist communication director to not interview Spencerville members while on church property, went on to spin all sorts of things about the congregation, and the parent body, that are just patently false. His account is an almost textbook case of why the press “doesn’t ‘get’ religion,” to borrow a phrase.

Attending a worship service on November 14, the morning after the terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Resnick hears Adventist Pastor Chad Stuart ask congregants to join in prayer for the victims, suggesting this is one more indicator of the end times, although Stuart “careful to not distinguish the attacks in Paris as the sole sign of the imminent salvation.”

And while the approach of the end of days may seem like an odd idea to some, especially when tethered to calamitous world events like the Paris terrorist attack, 41 percent of Americans said they believe that Christ will return by 2050, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center poll. Carson has an 87 percent approval rating with white born-again evangelicals.

Millions upon millions of American evangelicals have been raised to read their morning newspaper “with the Bible in their other hand,” to borrow an old phrase. True, date-setting hasn’t worked out well for evangelicals such as the late broadcaster Harold Camping, or for the Millerite forerunners of Adventism, for that matter. Yet for Resnick to call the core belief of millions “an odd idea” belies fundamental knowledge of what Christianity is looking towards. Lacking that perspective, it seems difficult for The Daily Beast to enlighten readers, as opposed to titillating them.

Resnick’s discussion of what Seventh-day Adventists believe will happen to those who don’t accept Christ as Savior (not, in his words, “give themselves up for Jesus”), shows still more confusion:

“At the Second Coming of Christ, the trumpet of God and the voice of the archangel looks down and the dead in Christ will rise first,” Stuart told me. “At that point people will go up to heaven. We don’t believe in a god that tortures people for all eternity.” This is a departure from the work of [Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G.] White, who referenced hell in many of her writings.

Um, no. Ellen White, whom Adventists believe exercised the gift of prophecy during her years of ministry, believed in annhiliationism, as do present-day evangelicals such as Edward Fudge, Clark Pinnock and the late John R. W. Stott. White may have “referenced hell in many of her writings,” but didn’t depart from the Adventist’s teachings.

There's tons more that could be disputed here, but space, even pixels, won't allow it. At its core, The Daily Beast article seemed dedicated to producing more heat than light, more sizzle than steak. That’s fine if you’re seeking clicks, less so if you pretend to actually inform your readers.

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