It is at times difficult to figure out today's incarnation of The Forward, a left-leaning Jewish news website based in New York City.
A century or so ago, it began life as the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language daily for Jewish immigrants. Its political cast was on the socialist side, something that abated slightly during the 1990s when Seth Lipsky, later to resurrect the New York Sun, edited what was then a weekly publication.
Today, the Forward exists in print as a monthly magazine, and pumps out a continual stream of content for the web. John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine and a New York Post columnist, is not -- to say the least -- a fan of its coverage of the State of Israel, using the Yiddish word for "scandal" in a tweet:
I mention all that not to "bury" the Forward but to add some context before I praise it. The website ran a rather interesting and informative story about a group of non-Jews, also known as gentiles, who observe Jewish holy days and eschew celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
From the article:
On the night of Rosh Hashanah, thousands of people will leave work, gather in congregations across the globe and worship God, the ruler of the world. Ten days later they will begin a fast and gather again to pray, this time atoning for their sins.
On both occasions they will praise Jesus Christ and pray for his return.
They are not Jews, nor are they Jews for Jesus. Rather, these congregants are members of an evangelical Christian movement called the Living Church of God. On the days Jews know as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, these Christians celebrate what they call the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement.
“We’re not trying to be Jewish,” said Dexter Wakefield, a Living Church minister and the church’s spokesman. “We’re obeying God’s commandments. The holy days have great meaning for the Christians who keep them.”
Living Church of God is one of a few evangelical groups that observes Christianity as it believes Jesus observed it, according to the dictates of the Hebrew Bible. That means no Christmas and no Easter — holidays the church rejects as pagan in origin. It also means that members observe their Sabbath like the Jews: from Friday night to Saturday night. The mainstream Christian custom of observing the Sabbath on Sunday, they believe, is another deviation from the authentic Christianity of Christ.
I like the way this story starts off, and the way in which they frame the observances of the Living Church of God, whose headquarters are in Charlotte, N.C. The group's founder and leader, Roderick C. Meredith passed away in May of this year; the video above is a LCG-assembled survey of his core teachings.
So what's the journalism "problem"? There's one, which in and of itself is not a badge of shame, per se, but still raises a journalistic issue. It's that old question: What does the word "evangelical" mean?
To say the Living Church of God is an "evangelical group" will likely raise hackles among LCG members. LCG, you see, is an offshoot of an offshoot of the now-former Worldwide Church of God founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. At one time, Armstrong was seen on as many television stations as any other religious broadcaster and was said to bring in as much in donations as Billy Graham and Oral Roberts combined.
Living Church founder Meredith was one of Armstrong's first students, and held key leadership roles in the Worldwide group for nearly 40 years.
Armstrong's church, ironically, never had more than 125,000 members, and fractured after his 1986 death. In subsequent years, Worldwide leaders moved the group away from Armstrong's doctrines, and tens of thousands left for Meredith's group (originally known as the Global Church of God, until a schism there ripped things apart) and other organizations. Those other groups, by the way, join with the Living Church of God in observing the Old Testament holy days, as I reported for the Deseret News in 2014.
It's not a big thing, but tossing the "evangelical" label around without understanding who is and who isn't an evangelical illustrates a common media problem. In the case of the LCG, not only does the group position itself outside of evangelicalism on many points, holy days included, it also holds a "binitarian" view of the Godhead, with God the Father and Jesus as members and the Holy Spirit as the Father's "impersonal force."
Yes, we're in the theological weeds here. However, accuracy is crucial. Is there such a thing as a non-Trinitarian evangelical?
Despite this, let me praise the Forward for being willing to write, without opprobrium, about a group of worshipers who challenge the norms of Christianity (evangelical or otherwise) and whose practices would interest many of their readers. Just be careful where you slap that "evangelical" label, please, won't you?